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March 19, 2005

Why do Republicans hate marriage

This whole mess with Terry Schiavo is outrageous in so, so many ways. But I have one simple question... if "one man and one woman" marriage is so great and perfect, why is Congress stomping all over the traditional prerogatives spouses have to decide difficult matters like this? The GOP's actions are an attack on the sanctity of marriage. Seriously. Thank God David and I have living wills-- and durable powers of attorney-- but these rights are exactly the rights that inhere in civil marriage and a great example of the rights denied to us through marriage.

In case anyone missed it, the message of the new, fasc-tastic Republikan party is this: we're for individuals rights (and states' rights) until you do something we disagree with, at which point we will try to control your life, micromanage your death, and make a hideous media-political spectacle of what was already a tragedy.

Let me say this very clearly to my friends and family. If anything like this ever happens to me and somehow my wishes aren't followed, I don't want you just to stop feeding me. And don't wait 13 years to do something, either! I want 80cc of morphine, a bullet to the head, or whatever it takes--and wherever I end up, I'm sure I'll see some of you there. OK? Thanks!

February 28, 2005

The TSA Trap

After our recent discovery, while checking in for a flight, that the name "David Smith" is on the No-Fly List, I've been thinking a lot about the illusory nature of airline security. But not as much as tech legend John Gilmore. His hometown paper has a great profile of the SUN co-founder and EFF funder that also chronicles his efforts to read the law that requires US citizens to show government-issued ID to board a plane. The article is great:

The government has been so unyielding on disclosure that men with the name David Nelson suddenly found themselves ejected from flights. Somewhere in the system, the name came up on the newly created "No Fly" list. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., found himself in the same dilemma. When baggage screeners were caught pilfering, prosecutions were dropped because a trial would require a discussion of "Sensitive Security Information."

When John Gilmore demanded proof that the airport ID rule met Constitutional muster, the government at first declined to acknowledge it even existed.

Gilmore's famed eccentricity is put to awfully good service in this cause. He is asking questions that most of us can't afford to (he's worth millions) out of the sheer necessity of travel. We may not even have time to notice we're submitting to ever-more-arbitrary "security" requirements. But he's smart enough to notice and ornery enough to stick with what most would consider a Quixotic effort.

"I will show a passport to travel internationally. I'm not willing to show a passport to travel in my own country," Gilmore said. "I used to laugh at countries that had internal passports. And it's happened here and people don't even seem to know about it."

Indeed.

February 24, 2005

Yikes!

A my friend Jan, who will hopefully soon be leaving Poland, sends this terribly disturbing article about the state of affairs there. His hometown of Cracow is at the center of a "gay panic" that is helping neo-fascist Catholic politicians cement their hold on Polish civic and political life. It's a reminder that however bad things might be here, others have it much worse.

Poland's incestuous marriage of nationalism and religion, whose most virulent and succesful mainstream political embodyment is the rightist League of Polish Families, has dire consequences for queers and women. There is an obsessive insistence on reproduction. The right-wing repeats ad nauseam the argument of Poland's falling birthrate. "The fatherland is in danger," politicians and the media cry out. "Poles are dying, there are no new generations, lesbians, gays and pedophiles do not reproduce. On the contrary, they are out to ambush and deprive your children!" In the past 12 months, the outlines of what is, in fact, a nationalist mobilization against an imagined enemy, queers, have become clear.

While Bush is making stops in the "democracies" of Eastern Europe, he might remind people that even in democracies the abuse of minorities is a slippery slope. Oh, wait-- he uses the same tactics at home! What's worse, the Poles are importing American homophobes to make their gay-bashing arguments. What we don't stop here can quickly spread abroad!

Anyway, read the article.

February 22, 2005

Good practice for America's future as China's bitch

I often wonder how Bush justifies his reflexive obedience to the will of the Saudis. My new theory, after reading this is that it might be a good thing. After just a few more years of Wal Mart helping the masses send all America's jobs--and money--to China, we will have to be even more accomodating to China than Bush currently is to the Saudis. We don't want it to be too much of a shock, now do we? [Cue new national anthem, Pets by Porno for Pyros.]

Even by those standards, though, Bush's praise for a recent "anti-terrorism" conference help by the Saudis is stunning:

President Bush earlier this month dispatched top White House official Frances Fragos Townsend to head an official U.S. delegation attending an "anti-terrorism" conference in Saudi Arabia -- a conference that aired vile anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist canards. Saudi Cleric Aed Al-Qarni noted at the conference that "The first to kill and use terrorism in the world were the Jews," according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI); the cleric went on to describe September 11th as "an American terror attack."

According to White House press secretary Scott McClellan, President Bush spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah on February 14th and "complimented the Crown Prince on last week's successful counter-terrorism conference in Saudi Arabia."

In addition to the American delegation led by Townsend, who serves as President Bush's Homeland Security Advisor with the rank of Assistant to the President, the conference included participation from nations including Iran, Syria and Sudan -- all state sponsors of terrorism, according to the Department of State. Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ) first warned President Bush to avoid the conference in a February 4th letter to Bush.

Throughout and surrounding the conference, various Saudi clerics noted that "Jews and the Christians are Allah's enemies," and that Jihad -- including attacks by insurgents in Iraq -- is appropriate. In a poem read before Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, it was noted that Osama bin Laden "was sent by the Jews."

Isn't it great to know that a president who thinks the Kyoto Treaty and the World Court aren't appropriate fora for US participation agreed to participate in an event like this? Once again: What if Clinton had done it?

February 17, 2005

Why Karl Rove gives me the creeps

Karl Christian Rove

It's not just the long history of dirty campaign tricks or his penchant for championing conservative activist judges or even the fact that he is almost singularly responsible for the rise of George W. Bush.

What really bothers me about Karl Rove? He's a consultant.

Mr. Rove does not need to believe in what his clients are doing in order to devise and implement a strategy to meet their objectives. Karl doesn't have to be sincere, he just needs to be well rehearsed. As long as he is being paid his skills are at your disposal and he will do his best to see that you win, regardless of the cost.

His promotion to deputy White House Chief of Staff is particularly alarming because now he is able to exert his considerable communications skills over a much broader set of issues both domestic and foreign. I, for one, wonder just how much control he wields within the WH especially with respect to the process for granting press passess.

And speaking as the deputy WH CoS, Mr. Rove continues to undermine discourse in favor of talking points.

February 07, 2005

Guns and Butter

Maybe I can save you some time. I found what I was looking for here: a short list of the bad stuff compiled by Senate gadfly Jim Jeffords.

* Environment. Cuts the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget by 5.6 percent from $8.02 billion to $7.57 billion, culminating in an almost 10 percent cut over two years. Most cuts come in efforts to maintain and improve the nation's clean water infrastructure.

* Veterans. More than doubles the co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs and would require some to pay a new fee of $250 a year for the privilege of using the Veterans health care system.

* Health Care. Cuts Medicaid funding by $45 billion over 10 years and eliminates 28 health programs, totaling $1.36 billion. These programs range from rural hospital grants (cuts $39.5 million) to emergency medical services for children (cuts $20 million).

* Job Training. Cuts federal spending on job training by a half-billion dollars. Federal job training programs, including dislocated-worker training, will be cut by $200 million. Federal aid to states for job training, including funding to train veterans, will be cut by $300 million.

* Amtrak. Eliminates all funding for Amtrak, calling bankruptcy proceedings as the solution for our nation's rail system.

* Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP). Cuts LIHEAP by over 8 percent, from $2.2 billion to $2 billion.

* Parks. Cuts the National Park Service by 3 percent from $2.31 billion to $2.24 billion.

This is also where I found the link to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities budget assessment.

Anything else I could say would just be stating the obvious.

January 25, 2005

Stalinists. I hate those guys.

I don't mean to be a poster of only bad news, but when I sent a link to my previous post, I was told by a rather well informed reader that he had seen nothing in the US press about the SPD walkout during the Holocaust memorial.

Yesterday I read this story from Google's list of sources, few of which were US press based. (This may have changed by the time you read this. Here's hoping.)

A few choice quotes:

...some 20 members of the Russian parliament from the Motherland and Communist parties, demanded that Jewish organisations be banned throughout Russia on the grounds that they are extremist in nature, hostile to the Russian populace and implicated in ritual child murder.

... the MPs suggested that Jews themselves engineered anti-Semitic attacks against themselves ...

...the whole democratic world is today under the financial and political control of international Jewry...

What year is it, anyway? 1939?

I do like this response, quoted in Ha'Aretz:

"I'm not a psychiatrist, and I can't help them if they're crazy," said Russia's co-chief rabbi, Berel Lazar.

January 24, 2005

Nazis. I hate those guys.

It's the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and here in central Europe, feelings are running very high. There's a thoughtful commentary in the Times on the recent scandalous walk-out by Saxon members of the National Party of Germany (NPD) during a moment of silence for the victims of the Holocaust.

There's no denying that Dresden was a bloodbath and that many innocent people lost their lives. I can't do the whole moral equivalency thing where you equate the bombing of Dresden with the millions of lost lives in Europe, Jewish and otherwise. They're all lost lives, ruined by Nazism.

What sticks in my throat and infuriates me nearly beyond words is the blantant racism and sheer stupid insensivity of the NPD. I'm pretty sure no one is stopping the NPD - or anyone else for that matter - from commemorating the bombing of Dresden. Hell, we all learned about Dresden in grade school history classes and I don't remember being taught that it was an event that glorified the allies and downplayed the loss of human lives. It was a firebombing. There was death and destruction everywhere. Yet the SPD can't acknowledge that Auschwitz, too, was a tragedy beyond description.

Neo-Nazism is on the rise in former Eastern Germany. In Saxony, the SPD got just over 9 percent of the vote. You could conclude that one in ten people you'd meet when walking the streets of modern Dresden supports the SPDs racist platform. This is terrifying. Combine this with the rhetoric coming out of Iran these days about the Zionist agenda (thank you Dick Cheney) and you end up with the world looking pretty scary for this latke eating member of the tribe.

January 22, 2005

Adieu Nate!

This will make more sense if you've read all the comments on this entry. It was just a comment, but it deserves a post.

Nate, Peter's right. We've indulged you enough. Your final comment to Terry was beyond the pale. No more of you.

This country used to make fun of people like you--the Scopes Trial and all that. For the past 25 years, we've indulged you--and look what's happened. We're losing our country! If you want a theocracy, go to Iran. And if you want a place to espouse your views, get you own damn blog. You are not welcome here any more.

January 20, 2005

Inaugural Feelings

FTHEPRESIDENT.jpg

That's "F" as in John F. Kerry, of course-- you didn't think we were that coarse, did you? You can buy a window sticker in this lovely design from the good folks at Dontblamemeivoted4Kerry.com.

January 18, 2005

Your brain is the real battleground

Apparently, different sections of our brain react to each other in the creation and retention of our opinions. And recent work done by Dr. Joshua Freedman and his team at UCLA shows this is true regardless of whether you're a Republican or a Democrat (from his 1/18/05 NYT editorial):

While viewing their own candidate, both Democrats and Republicans showed activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with strong instinctive feelings of emotional connection. Viewing the opposing candidate, however, activated the anterior cingulate cortex, which indicates cognitive and emotional conflict. It also lighted up the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area that acts to suppress or shape emotional reactions.

These patterns of brain activity, made visible on the f.M.R.I.'s, suggest that both Bush and Kerry voters were mentally battling their attraction to the other side. Bush voters wanted to follow Mr. Kerry; Kerry voters found appeal in Mr. Bush. Both groups fought this instinct by arguing to themselves that their impulses were wrong. By recalling flaws associated with the opposition, the voters displaced attraction with dislike. Because the process happened nearly instantaneously, only the final sense of dismay reached full awareness.

So we now have scientific proof for the efficacy of the tactics employed by Rove & Co. If you flood the airwaves with enough negative propaganda about the opposition you will enable the victory of your candidate in the battleground of the voters' brains.

Lesson to the Dems: Go Negative - Early and Often!

Half Mast

I've been relatively quiet around the political issues lately while taking a little break to recover from well, you know. But with the inauguration just around the corner, I think it's time to get back up on that soapbox and start making noise.

Here's a pretty good place to start. The Age has a story about the lavish plans for the the inauguration ball:

...Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted - if not cancelled - in wartime," Mr Weiner wrote. He suggested that the money could pay for 690 Humvees and provide a $US290 bonus for each soldier in Iraq.

He cited President Franklin Roosevelt, who celebrated his 1945 inaugural with cold chicken salad and pound cake...

In my head I've been writing my letter to the White House, to be sent on J20. It's a little reminder to those in the White House that 52% does not a mandate make. That the man in the Oval Office said that he would work for unity. That the world watches while America makes her move.

Yeah, I get that it's probably going to be deleted by some White House staffer. Which is why I've also planned to write my reps, Jim McDermott, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell, to thank them for making the effort to represent me accurately and to support them in the upstream battle that they are continuing to fight for Civil rights. And the environment. And diplomacy under, for crying out loud, Condeleeza fucking Rice. You know, the one the Chevron tanker was named after? 40 million on the inauguration when nearly 80 million American live without health insurance? Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure we could insure them for .5 million a piece. It's basic math, people!

It's a kind of a haul from here to the embassy, but if I do manage to get there, I hope I won't be the only one, dressed in black, quietly flying the American flag at half mast on what is, to me, a day of tragic national mourning for the American that I love.

January 07, 2005

republicans are creepy

Republicans in Virginia are even creepier. You thought Virginia was for haters? Well, it's also apparently for creepy legislators who would jail a woman for having a miscarriage. That is, unless she reports it to the police within 12 hours. You can read more about it on Daily Kos.

I'm also creeped out by the designation of a fetus as a "product of conception." Although this is obviously an attempt to advance an anti-abortion agenda by making the "death" of a few cells (since the law does not specify a gestational stage after which it would be necessary to report it) something for the police to get involved in, and although it's extremely creepy to pass a law making something so personal and potentially painful into a humiliating public event, the designation "product of conception" has a very cold, dehumanizing sound that seems not to advance the thinking of a fetus as a person.

But then again, fetuses can't donate to the Republican party.

January 04, 2005

"Saving" social security

In addition to the ridiculous set of ideas entailed in "privatizing" social secuity, W now wants to change the way benefits are indexed--away from a complex calculation based on a number of factors relating to standard of living, to a flat index based on the consumer price index. What does that look like? naSocial_010405.gif

Wouldn't it make much more sense just to raise the retirement age to 70 (in a nod to shifting demographic realities)? Oh wait... sense. Reality. Sorry, wrong president!

Read the whole WaPo article if you weren't sufficiently pissed off this week.

December 30, 2004

I can't find any accounts of Dino Rossi demanding a revote in the 2000 presidential election

But you would think he would have, since he's demanding one for the Washington State gubernatorial race that was so close. Even though there is a winner and all, and Gregoire won by a vote of the people and not a court appointment.

Quoth the loser: "I would not want to enter my governorship with so many people viewing my governorship as illegitimate."

I wonder if he would have said the same to W four years ago...

Stingy Bastards

Are We Stingy? Yes


Published: December 30, 2004
President Bush finally roused himself yesterday from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation of Sunday's tsunamis in Asia. He also hurried to put as much distance as possible between himself and America's initial measly aid offer of $15 million, and he took issue with an earlier statement by the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who had called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." "The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," the president said.

According to the Washington Post: "Bush's first inauguration cost about $40 million. President Bill Clinton's second inauguration cost $29.6 million."
And then you look at the money that was donated after the attacks of Sept. 11th!

How embarressed am i for being an american right now? Have we become a nation that is so empathetic and self-serving that we find it more important to spend money on a presidential ceramony and not on human life?

We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.
The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush's turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.
Bush administration officials help create that perception gap. Fuming at the charge of stinginess, Mr. Powell pointed to disaster relief and said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." But for development aid, America gave $16.2 billion in 2003; the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, those numbers were $13.2 billion for America, and $29.9 billion for Europe.
Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year, but the account has yet to disperse a single dollar.
Mr. Bush said yesterday that the $35 million we've now pledged "is only the beginning" of the United States' recovery effort. Let's hope that is true, and that this time, our actions will match our promises.

USA Today: Treasonous rag

Editor and Publisher is the trade rag for the rag trade (you know, the newspaper business) and they are just a wee bit freaked out. It seems that USA Today founder Al Neuharth recently ran a remarkably un-shrill opinion piece in USAT suggesting that the US bring our troops home. "'Support Our Troops' is a wonderful patriotic slogan," wrote the 80-year-old WWII veteran. "But the best way to support troops thrust by unwise commanders in chief into ill-advised adventures like Vietnam and Iraq is to bring them home. Sooner rather than later. That should be our New Year's resolution."

E&P printed a column that mentioned--not endorsed--this relatively mild viewpoint... but from the letters they got you would think he had advocated running al Zarqawi for Senate from Illinois. Really, read their roundup of reader responses. They include such nuggets of patriotism as:


Joe McBride, Fort Dodge, Iowa: “Mr. Neuharth, thanks to you and your ignorance the terrorists are probably booking their flights to the U.S. now! If we pull out of Iraq with the job unfinished the terrorists will be bombing McDonalds, and blowing up malls and schools here, killing our innocent men, women and children.”

These terrorists, do you figure they use Expedia to book the flights?

Duggan Flanakin, Austin, Texas: “Neuharth should be tried for treason along with a lot of other blowhards who should be spending their energies condemning the barbarism of our enemies, the same people who destroyed the Twin Towers.“

This just in: The Iraqis did not blow up the Twin Towers! I say we get that put on a branding iron and track down the Red State idiots still pumping that lunacy and pop a helpful reminder right on their foreheads!

Boots Harvey, Brentwood, CA: “One must recall that Churchill had to put up with the likes of Lord Haw-Haw, William Joyce, and his propaganda during WWII. In the end William Joyce was executed for giving aid and comfort to the enemy during war time. Would that the same fate befall Al Neuharth!”

So... if Neuharth is giving "aid and comfort," where does that put us? Figure we have FBI files yet?


Mel Gibbs: “The Patriot Act will put both of you (Neuharth and Mitchell) on trial for treason and convict and execute both of you as traitors for running these stories in a time of war and it should be done on TV for other communist traitors like you two to know we mean business. This is war and you should be put in prison NOW for talking like this. Who the hell do you people think you are? You give aid and comfort to our enemies and aid them in murdering our proud soldiers. You people are a disgrace to America. Your families should be put in prison with you, then be made to leave and move to the Middle East ...This is a great Christian nation and god wants us to lead the world out of darkness with great leaders like President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Communists like Al and Greg will soon be in prison and on death row for your ugly papers. We won the election and now you are mad. We own America and all the rights, you people are trash, go back to Russia and Africa and take your friends with before we put you on death row after a fair trial.”

Again with the "aid and comfort." A) Ownership society or not, you don't "own" rights. B) "Russia and Africa really says it all about this, doesn't it?

So: to recap. Opinion pieces: bad. Questioning war: evil. Wanting to bring home the troops: helping Osama blow up malls and McDonaldses. 80-year-old veterans who disagree with Resolute Leader: first against the wall when Bush really gets serious about terrorism.

This isn't like McCarthyism. It's worse. McCarthy was far, far to the right of all but the John Birch lunatics in the hinterlands. Some fair percentage of Bush's supporters are so far to the right of him that we should be really frightened. (Which of course we are.)

Good news (from Arkansas!)

An Arkansas judge has ruled unconstitutional a law that bars gay people from becoming foster parents. When is the last time you read words like this in the news?

"The testimony and evidence overwhelmingly showed that there was no rational relationship between the . . . blanket exclusion [of gays] and the health, safety and welfare of the foster children," [Judge] Fox wrote.

The whole article is below.

Arkansas Foster Child Law Stricken
Anti-Gay Provision Unconstitutional

By David Hammer
Associated Press
Thursday, December 30, 2004; Page A05

LITTLE ROCK, Dec. 29 -- An Arkansas judge Wednesday declared unconstitutional a state ban on placing foster children in any household with a gay member.

Ruling in a case brought by the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox said the state Child Welfare Agency Review Board had overstepped its authority by trying to regulate "public morality."

At issue was a 1999 board regulation that gays cannot become foster parents and that foster children cannot be placed in any home with a gay member under its roof.

The ACLU had argued that the regulation violates the equal-protection rights of gays. But the judge's ruling did not turn on that argument.

Instead, Fox noted that the Arkansas legislature gave the child welfare board the power to "promote the health, safety and welfare of children" but that the ban does not accomplish that. Rather, he said the regulation seeks to regulate "public morality" -- something the board was not given the authority to do.

"The testimony and evidence overwhelmingly showed that there was no rational relationship between the . . . blanket exclusion [of gays] and the health, safety and welfare of the foster children," Fox wrote.

Rita Sklar, director of the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU, expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

"He made extensive findings of fact and he accepted everything we entered into the record refuting the state's reasons for the regulation, including these ridiculous claims that gay people are more likely to do drugs or have diseases," Sklar said.

Arkansas allows gay men and lesbians to adopt children permanently, and its specific ban on fostering is unique.

A Florida ban on adoptions by homosexuals was recently upheld in a federal court and an appeal by the ACLU is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Utah and Mississippi also restrict gay adoptions. Mississippi prohibits gay couples from adopting, but not gay individuals. Utah's ban is a state law that bars any cohabiting couples who are unmarried -- gay or heterosexual -- from adopting or fostering.

Fox heard extensive testimony in the Arkansas case over the past year. Several board members testified that they had personal problems with the idea of gay men and lesbians engaging in sex.

Fox cited the testimony of sociologists and psychologists that gay people can be as loving and caring foster parents as heterosexuals and that the children of gay adoptive parents can be as well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual couples.

When Kathy L. Hall, lawyer for the state board, argued at the end of the trial that social mores stand against homosexuals serving as parents, Fox noted that women were once prohibited from voting and racially mixed marriages were illegal in many states.

Hall could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Messages left at her office and on her cell phone were not immediately returned.

At the trial, she argued that foster children were under particular stress and in need of normalcy. She said the state needs to look out for the best interests of those children.

"It's one thing to hear about it [homosexuality] or see it on TV as opposed to knowing it's going on in the room next door," Hall said.

December 23, 2004

You forgot Poland!

The Poor Man quotes beloved-by-the-America-right Solidarity leader Lech Walesa saying something W would clearly much prefer us to forget:

"America failed its exam as a superpower," says Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity trade-union leader who became Poland's first post-Communist president. "They are a military and economic superpower but not morally or politically anymore. This is a tragedy for us." Mr. Walesa laments what he sees as America's squandered leadership because he thinks the EU isn't ready for prime time.... [C]an Europe offer itself and the wider world a vision to match, and perhaps one day even supplant, America's role as "leader of the free world"? ...

"We shed our blood for them but they don't treat us well," says Mr. Walesa, who visited the U.S. this fall to meet officials and politicians. He had no trouble getting a visa himself but made little headway in securing easy entry for his compatriots. "America doesn't like Poles; it only likes Walesa," he says.

December 11, 2004

Target: ANWR

Since the news broke about the nominee Sect'y of Energy, I've been trying to find out who IS this guy, Sam Bodman. Because of the election and our collective frenzy over the erosion of our civil rights, it's easy to forget about what's happening with the environment while we're looking the other way.

We know the administration is dying to get in to ANWAR, just as as they'd been dying to get in to Iraq:

"We'll pursue more energy close to home in our own country and in our own hemisphere so that we're less dependent on energy from unstable parts of the world," Bush said.

His inexperience makes him look like just another Yes man in the agreeable Bush cabal. Dirt is hard to find on him, which will probably make him a shoe-in for approval. I did find this little bit from the Center for American Progress:

Samuel Bodman, III, deputy secretary of Commerce Bodman has led administration efforts to stall greenhouse gas controls from his position as chair of the federal Interagency Working Group on Climate Change Science and Technology, which took the lead in devising the administration’s “Climate Change Strategic Plan.” The National Academy of Sciences has criticized this plan for lacking tangible goals and agency responsibilities, and failing to build on prior science to assist policymakers. Previously, from 1988-2001,

Bodman was CEO/president of Cabot Corp., a major Boston based chemical producer. Cabot operates a “grandfathered” facility (built before 1972 and therefore allowed to evade major air pollution controls) that is one of the top polluters in Texas,10 and was cited in a 2002 United Nations report for illegally exploiting Congolese natural resources during the country’s civil war11 (charges Cabot denies). In October 2003, Bodman was nominated to be deputy secretary of the Treasury Department.

With the Republican majority sitting in the leg, ANWR is going to be a really hard one to save. It's time to start working those connections to constiutents with Republican reps. It's also time - again - to think about what you're driving and how often you're driving it. I'm a firm (and naiive) believer in voting with your gas tank.

December 09, 2004

Blame Canada

Finally some good news to post! Canada's Supreme Court just ruled that same-sex marriages are allowed under the Canadien Constitution. Apparently their system is set-up differently than ours in several ways (that turn out to not matter because the Prime Minister and the legislature are behind federal legislation that would legalize same-sex marriages across the entire country) so this isn't the final step, but it is pretty darn close.

So, I hate to say it, but I can see why our friends would take this as a sign that crossing to the other side (of the border) is a good thing. Let's hear it for shopping with favorable exchange rates!

December 02, 2004

December 01, 2004

Funding the Recount for Washington State Governor

Currently, Dino Rossi has a 42-vote lead over Christine Gregoire, and he was certified as governor elect today. With such a tiny margin, I think the state should automatically do another count, but for another to occur, the Washington State Democrats need to pay 25¢ per ballot for a manual recount. This could wind up costing $1 million, and the party needs to put up $750,000 by tomorrow, 2 December, to make the state get started.

I'd hate to see the party spend that kind of money only to have Rossi still win, and if Gregoire came out ahead, the Republicans would surely challenge that, so the final outcome is quite unknown. I'm in no hurry, though, to have Rossi as our governor. Hmm.

You can donate to make this happen. Both time and money are required.

November 30, 2004

When does Orwell stop being so relevant?

James Connaughton's job title is Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality but he states publicly that our government will "continue their partnership with the oil and gas sector" while working only with environmental organizations who are "constructive" in terms of "prioritizing domestic production."

I don't know if I'm disgusted at the blatant misuse of power slash violation to our environment by those entrusted to protect it or actually relieved that at least they're finally being upfront with their objectives; which are the same as Chevron's and the opposite of the Sierra Club's.

November 22, 2004

The Ghost of Harry Truman

I'm pretty sure I learned in grade school civics that a Senator is elected to serve the people. I'm pretty sure I learned that the government was broken up in to three branches for checks and balances so no one wing would have to much power, too. But this all kinda flies in the face of what I read on Slate this morning about Arlen Specter and his loyalty oath.

Here's Dahlia's concise yet terrifying spin: "In order to claim the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter was forced to abandon future personal or independent judgment—the very judgment the people of Pennsylvania elected him to exercise. He has pledged—in advance of knowing who they are—to endorse the president's judicial nominees and to vote for a highly controversial GOP rule change to end filibusters and effectively terminate dissent of any sort in the Senate."

The position Specter sought to hold has been completely declawed by the actions he took to ensure he would hold that seat. Does Specter need a gentle reminder that he was elected to represent the PEOPLE, not the President? Arlen, you've gone from John McCain to Colin Powell with the flick of a wrist. Stand by for the Power Point presentation.

November 16, 2004

Why stop with Darwin?

If evolution is now just a liberal theory, what's next for the fashionable Christo-nut? Geocentricity, apparently. That's right: Copernicus got it wrong. And the Bible tells them so.

Condi takes charge

How wrong was I about the Sec'ty of State? SO wrong! This is un-frickin-believable.

November 15, 2004

Ohio Recount Ready To Go

Thanks to the presidential candidates of the Libertarian Party (Michael Badnarik) and the Green Party (David Cobb), there will apparently be a recount of ballots in Ohio. After raising about $150,000 for costs related to the recount, the candidates are now looking to raise another $100,000 for costs associated with fielding observers. There's more information— and an opportunity for you to donate— on Cobb's web site.

There's no doubt in my mind that we as a country need to resolve ballot-counting problems, both those lingering from November 2 and those likely in the future. I also have no doubt that we and the world would be in a better state in four years with Kerry at the helm. However, I'm not so upset that Bush is the one in office with the meager majority of support and facing the resolution of problems that he started or stirred up. I'm hopeful that the country can learn some lessons from four more years (barring impeachment) of Bush that it might not if his supporters could pin blame on Kerry. A landslide election for Kerry would have been great, but I'm not sure about a win from a tiny majority.

The Changing of the Guard, Part Deux

No one but no one is the least bit surprised about Colin Powell, right? I skipped that bit of news and went right on to finding out the buzz around who's next in line for the Sec'ty of State.

I'm sure it could change over the course of the week, but this morning, the press suggests the pick of the litter is John Danforth. Salient points for me about this guy? He went to Yale where he studied Divinity and Law. Oh, and look, he's heir to the Ralston-Purina fortune. Also on his resume? Mediation of the civil war in Sudan.

There's more detailed lefty dirt on Danforth here. It's worth checking out. We gotta keep a close eye on these people.

Okay, next up: Condi?

November 07, 2004

November 06, 2004

"A victory for people like us"

This WaPo article is required reading. It is important we try to have compassion for these people, who have been thoroughly deceived. They are not the problem. But the part of me that believes, like they do, in "personal responsibility" hopes they realize at some point that you can't eat "moral values," and that when your three kids get sick, health insurance is a bit more expedient than prayer alone.

November 05, 2004

A great, sad email

The wise men at Lawyers, Guns and Money post a long and thoughtful email from a gay friend of theirs at Microsoft. Do any of us know this guy? He needs a hug and big round of applause. (Do not read this if you're feeling really bad, or starting to feel better.)

Apologies all around

Let the world know you're sorry about what happened.

November 04, 2004

It Rings Hollow

I was duped.

Up until yesterday, I thought the 2004 Presidential election was about the important things. The war. Terrorism. The Economy. Jobs. Healthcare.

I was wrong.

[continued]

The 2004 election was about values (as expertly described by Terry in the discussion about morality yesterday). What's more, this election has always been about values. This election wasn't lost by the left on Tuesday, or in October, or even this year. It was lost four years ago, when the Bush Administration's strategy for re-election was set. This strategy has been brilliantly executed since then, and I'm horrified in the realization that we were part of the tactics.

Karl Rove's re-election strategy for Bush was, from the outset, to mobilize the "base" of fundamental conservatives who (somewhat suprisingly) did not turn out in droves in the 2000 election -- perhaps dissuaded by eleventh-hour revelations about Bush's drunk-driving conviction. Although we knew about this strategy, I think we missed some of the tactics, which in retrospect seem perfectly clear. To mobilize the base, values have to be the primary issue, which means that there can be no sacrifices from the electorate to the war in Iraq or the war on Terror before the election -- meaning that the bill gets added to the ballooning deficit rather than paid by a war tax. Government involvement in faith-based initiatives is necessary, so that the campaign can use church lists to drive evangelicals to the polls. Policies of opposing stem cell research, the elimination of funding for pregnancy-prevention programs overseas, and the widespread attack on science all served to fire up the base. And the masterstroke was the support for the Federal Marriage Amendment (which Bush was against before he supported it -- almost certainly at Rove's behest). The FMA had no chance of succeeding as legislation, of course, but it sure did serve to fire up the base. With hindsight, it almost seems likely that the failure of the FMA was the objective, not a setback to the Bush campaign. With the failure of the FMA came successful state-level constitutional amendments in 11 states, all either traditional Red states or swing states like Ohio. These amendments attracted fundamentalists to the polls in droves, with devastating effect for Kerry in Ohio.

Think about that for a moment. An entire swathe of policy, from social issues, to the war, to taxation, to the deficit, may have been adopted not because they were best choices for Americans, but because they were cynical tactics in a ploy for re-election. Cheney recently claimed that Kerry would say anything to get elected. But as President, it seems that Bush would do anything to get re-elected. And as President, with the power to set policy in alignment with the strategy to mobilize the base, Bush had a powerful advantage that Kerry was unable to overcome.

The absolute cynicism of this incenses me, but worst of all, I feel used. Activists on the left were part of the Rove strategy, and we played along exactly as we were meant to do. It horrifies me that VirginisIsForHaters.org was part of Rove's strategy. Its effect was probably small in comparison to Gavin Newsom marrying gay couples in San Francisco, or Andrew Sullivan's blog, or 30 minutes of Fox News at any hour of the day, but the possibility that we could have contributed to Bush's re-election in any way horrifies me to the core.

But most of all, I'm afraid. I'm afraid because this strategy succeeded. Despite massive turnout drives on the left, we still lost. And that means there are more of them than there are of us. I couldn't really understand the emotions I felt yesterday -- the closest thing I could compare it to was grief. But then I realised it was shock -- shock that fully 50% of the people in this country hate me and hate who I am. Suddenly, I felt like I no longer belonged.

That's what I'm afraid of: them. Today's Op-Ed piece in the NYT today, The Day The Enlightenment Went Out, captures it perfectly: there are more people in this country that believe in the Virgin Birth than believe in Darwinian evolution. (Thanks, Rachel, for pointing that article out.) And I have a real fear that things can only get worse in that regard. As the article points out, "it is often observed that enemies come to resemble each other". I am truly afraid that with the rise of fundamentalism over the next 4 years that this country is going to become more like Iran than like any country I would want to live in.

In his victory speech yesterday, Bush said this:

So today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.

But the promise rings hollow. By invoking the Constitution, in which Bush sought to enshrine bigotry and hatred with the FMA, he belies his true intentions. After the 2000 election, Bush promised to be a uniter while embarking on a specific strategy to divide the nation for the purpose of his own re-election, so why should I believe him now? The only hope I have is the very fact that this time around, he's not seeking re-election. Perhaps the best strategy for the Republicans is to move back to the centre to broaden support. It's certainly the only strategy that offers any hope to the other half of us.

Yesterday, I was terrified that I was going have to leave this country with Jay and lose almost everything else I loved: my home, my urban family, the city and the mountains I love so much. I didn't know whether I had a choice -- not because Jay would insist (he wouldn't, and he hasn't), but because I wasn't sure if I could live in a country that doesn't want me. Last night I told Jay that I don't want to leave, and he asked me what it would take, how much worse it could get, before I would go. I said I didn't know. But now I think I can answer in the negative at least -- I know what would keep me here. I've decided to hold onto that small sliver of hope that the second Bush term will see a move back to the centre for the Republican party. That the next Supreme Court appointment will not be a fundamentalist determined to overturn Roe v Wade. That foreign policy will more towards cooperation and conciliation, not hostility. That environmental, health and educational policies will again follow science and not doctrine. It's a small hope I know -- as I mentioned on election night, divisiveness is the convergent strategy in modern politics -- but I'm going to hold on to it for now.

But if it doesn't pan out, and Bush moves even further to the right, I just don't know what I'll do.

AmericaBlog: Did gays cost Kerry the election?

AmericaBlog gives a good answer to the question that has been keeping us up nights:

So did gays cost Kerry the election? No. Gays and lesbians did not push the issue forward and did not press Kerry to be more forthright. It gained national prominence because of court rulings and the natural desire of U.S. citizens to claim their basic civil rights. The Bush campaign played on hate and bigotry -- constantly making gay slurs about Kerry and Edwards, passing out fliers in some states that lied and said Kerry would allow gay marriage and ban the Bible, going back on his word and pushing a Constitutional Amendment that for the first time would take away basic civil rights of Americans rather than bringing new people to the table and the list goes on. Gays didn't lose Kerry the election. But hatred and bigotry against gay Americans certainly helped Bush win.

Blaming gay Americans who believe they deserve the same basic civil rights as everyone else for losing the election is like blaming slaves for the Civil War. Gays aren't too uppity. Bigots are too backwards.

There's more, but that's the core of it. Well said.

MoDo today

Think she's feeling a little bad about being so hard on Kerry? Great column today, but don't read it if you're still feeling shaky.

By MAUREEN DOWD

With the Democratic Party splattered at his feet in little blue puddles, John Kerry told the crushed crowd at Faneuil Hall in Boston about his concession call to President Bush.

"We had a good conversation," the senator said. "And we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing."

Democrat: Heal thyself.

W. doesn't see division as a danger. He sees it as a wingman.

The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule. He doesn't want to heal rifts; he wants to bring any riffraff who disagree to heel.

W. ran a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq - drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals, or "values voters," as they call themselves, to the polls by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

Mr. Bush, whose administration drummed up fake evidence to trick us into war with Iraq, sticking our troops in an immoral position with no exit strategy, won on "moral issues."

The president says he's "humbled" and wants to reach out to the whole country. What humbug. The Bushes are always gracious until they don't get their way. If W. didn't reach out after the last election, which he barely grabbed, why would he reach out now that he has what Dick Cheney calls a "broad, nationwide victory"?

While Mr. Bush was making his little speech about reaching out, Republicans said they had "the green light" to pursue their conservative agenda, like drilling in Alaska's wilderness and rewriting the tax code.

"He'll be a lot more aggressive in Iraq now," one Bush insider predicts. "He'll raze Falluja if he has to. He feels that the election results endorsed his version of the war." Never mind that the more insurgents American troops kill, the more they create.

Just listen to Dick (Oh, lordy, is this cuckoo clock still vice president?) Cheney, introducing the Man for his victory speech: "This has been a consequential presidency which has revitalized our economy and reasserted a confident American role in the world." Well, it has revitalized the Halliburton segment of the economy, anyhow. And "confident" is not the first word that comes to mind for the foreign policy of a country that has alienated everyone except Fiji.

Vice continued, "Now we move forward to serve and to guard the country we love." Only Dick Cheney can make "to serve and to guard" sound like "to rape and to pillage."

He's creating the sort of "democracy" he likes. One party controls all power in the country. One network serves as state TV. One nation dominates the world as a hyperpower. One firm controls contracts in Iraq.

Just as Zell Miller was so over the top at the G.O.P. convention that he made Mr. Cheney seem reasonable, so several new members of Congress will make W. seem moderate.

Tom Coburn, the new senator from Oklahoma, has advocated the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions and warned that "the gay agenda" would undermine the country. He also characterized his race as a choice between "good and evil" and said he had heard there was "rampant lesbianism" in Oklahoma schools.

Jim DeMint, the new senator from South Carolina, said during his campaign that he supported a state G.O.P. platform plank banning gays from teaching in public schools. He explained, "I would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend should be hired to teach my third-grade children."

John Thune, who toppled Tom Daschle, is an anti-abortion Christian conservative - or "servant leader," as he was hailed in a campaign ad - who supports constitutional amendments banning flag burning and gay marriage.

Seeing the exit polls, the Democrats immediately started talking about values and religion. Their sudden passion for wooing Southern white Christian soldiers may put a crimp in Hillary's 2008 campaign (nothing but a wooden stake would stop it). Meanwhile, the blue puddle is comforting itself with the expectation that this loony bunch will fatally overreach, just as Newt Gingrich did in the 90's.

But with this crowd, it's hard to imagine what would constitute overreaching.

Invading France?

Who is really being used here

From Daily Kos, a heartrending story. It's very easy for us gay folk to feel like we're being used and abused by Bush, Rove & Co., but we are far from being the worst off. The Republicans are preying off the poor, sick, and ignorant because people who are all three are the easiest to exploit for political gain. If you doubt that, read this:

I work at a domestic violence shelter in a rural conservative district in Mich. that is has had its economy gutted by NAFTA and where Christianity dominates the culture.

Yesterday while reflecting about 4 more years of Bush I was talking with a woman staying in the shelter. I will give her a fake name, lets call her Laura B. Laura is 28, pregnant, (never considered an abortion). She finished highschool and did a year of college before dropping out to have a couple of kids with her military husband. Living in Virginia on base with her autocratic mate (he doesn't allow the boys 3 and 4 to say "yeap" they have to answer "yes sir") drove her crazy and she was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. Military dude divorced her and has custody.

She came home to Mom in Mich and ended up at our shelter to try and sort out her life. (Mom has no money either and her own problems.) We, like all secular agencies, have seen a steady erosion of funds.

Laura B. has found a job working in the kitchen at a local faith based Christian College. She makes $6/hour. She drives a dying Ford Escort wagon pays $2.15/gallon for gas. Her latest crisis is her insurance expired on Oct. 9 (her ex-partner cancelled policy). She needs to come up with $211 to get insurance for one month or face a $1,000 fine if she gets caught driving with no insurance. We have some public transportation, Dial-a Ride, minibus runs between 7 am and 6 p.m., M-F $1.50 one-way. She has to be at work at 6am.

She has been walking to work lately but it is about 2 miles she is 5 months pregnant, it is dark at 5 am, and winter is coming. Solution? Go begging at the churches who seem to have money for these things. They will give her the money if she attends bible school. So last night she was at bible school until 9 p.m.

She has never attended our domestic violence support groups as she is too tired at night and goes to bed early but the bible study was not optional.

She was excited about "God's message" when she came back.

This week she moves into low income subsidized housing. Her newest crisis is she has found out when the college is closed for the Christmas holiday (one month) she has no employment. She is hoping to find temporary employment as a seasonal retail worker if the Christmas sales are brisk to tide her over. She doesn't know what she will do when the baby is born, hopes she can work up till the last week (she is on her feet all day with this job). She will be eligible for subsidized daycare.

She voted for Bush because of his "family values."

New Map

Although I'll give up on the US of A long before I cede Jesus to the crazies, since five people have sent me this I feel I have to post it.

new_map.jpg

Oh, Carol also sent me a link to our best bulwark against the planned depredations of our rights. If you are not already a member of the ACLU, join today.

November 03, 2004

Getting through this

I have been composing my post for today all morning, mostly unsuccessfully. There's nothing I can really say that Jay hasn't already, and much more eloquently than I could have, but I also don't want to let this day go unmourned. The hurt, the anger, the fear, and the sadness need an outlet, or might just lose it. They need to be expressed, but I'm not going to guarantee that they'll be expressed with much coherence or grace today. Like Pam, the word that's currently bullying it's way in front of all the others that want to come out is "FUCK!" Still, I'll give it a go.

Misery apparently does love company. It’s made me feel somewhat better knowing that you all are taking this as personally as I am. I woke up this morning not sure how appropriate my emotional response to the election was, the crying, the anger, the profound sadness. But then, reading what Jay and Pam wrote, talking to Anika and Erik, I felt, at least, that I wasn’t alone in wanting to declare a national day of mourning, or some other such recognition of what happened. And maybe something to help steel us against what’s about to come.

The thing is, it does feel personal right now. I assume I am not the only one who was more than a little surprised by how good it felt to go and cast my vote yesterday. Good, that is, in a satisfying, country-loving, wanting to make a difference and feeling like I can sort of way. This was the first time I’d ever gotten involved in a political campaign. The first time I’d canvassed, given money to a candidate, attended a Democratic party event. This was the first time I really felt like my involvement was needed. I’ve followed politics, but I’ve always been more inclined to get involved with specific issue-related causes. Like many other people, I’ve become incredibly jaded about the political process. Politicians are all crooks, that sort of thing. And even the candidates on the Dem side have always been so far to the right of my own beliefs that I never thought of them as particularly representing me.

This time, it was different. The stakes were really high, and I wanted, really, truly wanted, to make this country a better place—to save my home from the madman who is using it to advance his own agenda. I actually felt like it was my duty to get involved, as much as any soldier might feel that it’s her duty to defend her country from external threats. Because I really did feel like getting involved was all about defending my country. I’d taken this place for granted my whole life, and then watched Bush destroy so much that was good and unique about it, and go on to threaten more of the people and ideals I hold dear. I signed up, got involved, cared—deeply—and had hope that things were going to change. That the country I was taught to love but never really gave a thought to was about to be rescued.

And then we lost. And not by the evil machinations of the Bush family disenfranchising thousands of voters or “activist judges” appointing a president, but by the will of the people of this country. So many of us fought so hard against the evil that a majority of this country willing chose yesterday. Which leaves me angry, flabbergasted, and sad. I don’t understand how they could want more of this, and I don’t really know how I can face a country that finally opened its mouth and rejected everything that I thought made it worth loving.
And that’s why I am taking this so personally. I tried to help, but in the end, the people of this country preferred to stay with their kidnappers. I feel rejected by the country.

Which, I think, is also why I’m taking heart in how many of the people are love are in the same place I am. It’s not as lonely as it might seem. We’re here for each other, and the strength that we share with each other will get us through this. And we will get through it, one way or another. The country we hold in our heart is still waiting, and if all we can do is keep the idea of it alive in our little corner of it, then so be it. We’ll nourish it, draw strength from it and each other, and mount the rescue effort again in 2008.

And so I don’t want to end this on a hopeless note, though I’m not feeling much hope at the moment. I want to retreat into the sanctuary of my little world, which is so comfortable and safe, with all of you around me, and pretend the rest of this never happened. But I am taking heart in two other things right now, which I’ll share with you.

Even when the world ends, it seems puppies still wake you up with their wet noses demanding some cuddling. And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches really do have therapeutic value. They’re small things, and certainly don’t begin to make up for what we all lost yesterday, but if there are things that still feel good, it can’t all be lost, right?

Condolences

I thought I should tell you, in case you haven't heard it directly, that our European friends are deeply sorry for our loss. They're in my email and voice mail and they've called, and they want us to know that they're really proud of the hard work we did to try to prevent this from happening, they know we didn't just sit on our fat American asses and let them take it, that we tried to make a difference. They're as mystified by it as we are and they want us to know if there's anything they can do to help.

They know. And they are really sorry for our loss.

When reality fails me

While I am reality-based, many of you know I am a person of faith as well. Reality is failing me today, so I ended up at Saint Mark's on the way to work. The letter below, which I just emailed to my family, is the result.

The bit at the end will not sit well with some of you, but the battle ahead will be as much for the soul of America as the ballot box. So we can't ignore the role that religion will play, or the role of people of faith in making sure that religion becomes, once again, a positive force in our country.

Dear Family--

I am sure that a lot of you are wondering what to say to me in the aftermath of this election. Quite frankly, nothing will console me. I think you all know my views on the dangerous direction Bush is taking our great country, both domestically and abroad. I certainly hope that I am wrong in my fears about what the next four years hold.

But I am certain about one thing: the buck now stops with George W. Bush. With strong majorities in both houses of Congress, there can be no blaming anyone else for the results. As Colin Powell said famously (if not quite correctly about store policies) about Iraq—“Pottery Barn rules: you break it, you buy it.” That goes for this country too. Bush will have almost unprecedented leeway in instituting his policies, and if they fail to produce positive results it will be impossible to hide.

I suppose I should be glad this election was not won, like the last one, by dirty tricks and court challenges. But I am not. Because this election was won with a strategy that is far more reckless and much more personal for me and for David. Bush won by appealing to the basest prejudice and bigotry, with a strategy that put gay marriage at the center of an appeal to people of faith. There is no question that turnout on the anti-gay amendment in Ohio produced the turnout that drove Bush’s victory.

Some of you may feel that Bush was right to do whatever was needed to produce a victory. I would ask you to think long and hard about the “moral values” that lie behind such a strategy. I will never, ever forgive him or his party for the terrible slander they undertook against my family and my person. If any of you really believe that my marriage to David in any way, shape or form could possibly damage anyone else’s relationship to their spouse, please tell me—so that I can be certain to stay far enough away from you to ensure that this will not happen.

Sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? But that is exactly the logic that won the election for this president—an entirely theoretical and baseless supposition of threat that David and I and many of our dearest friends pose to “normal” people. Across the nation, in ten states including Oklahoma, marriage has been “protected” from the likes of David and me. I really hope that this does some good—that straight couples and above all Republican politicians stop divorcing, having affairs, and abusing their spouses because of these laws “protecting marriage.”

Yes, I hope these laws do some tangible good because they have served very effectively to make me feel less safe, less respected, and less welcome in my own country. Not to mention in Oklahoma. The thought of going home fills me with a dread that I daresay few of you have ever had to worry about—I am a member of a minority that is hated, feared and abused, and I have to watch as that fear and hatred is stoked and manipulated for craven political purposes. Again, if that sounds silly to you, please compare my fear of being harassed or beaten—something that happens to gay folks with increasing frequency in this country—to the supposed harm David and I do to everyone else’s marriage. One fear is real, and one is the figment of Karl Rove’s twisted political imagination.

So celebrate victory, as is your right. But please NEVER ask me to respect this president, because he has no respect for me, my vows, or my deep and abiding love for David. And as for Senator Coburn… well, have fun with that one. He’ll be useful to my side for the next six years, saying the outrageous things that many Republicans think but are too politic to say—assuming that there are any limits left in political discourse.

What, you way wonder, are we doing? David and I are in very terse negotiations about moving to Australia. I, frankly, am not sure I have the heart to stay and watch what I fear is unfolding here. Even if everything else turns out well, the crushing burden of debt the country has taken on threatens to cause economic ruin—even the most conservative among you can agree with that. David had talked of moving before the election, but when our fears became fact he became very upset and said “I’ve moved all my life and finally found a place to call home—I don’t want to leave.” We both love Seattle and our “urban family” here, so I imagine we will wait and see.

But any student of history knows that the situation for any minority that has basic rights stripped away by popular vote if truly dire… if we are a “threat” today, how long until we start being called “terrorists”? There is a very real possibility—felt by all thoughtful gay people I know—that this could be the beginning of a time when violence against us moves from mere speech to devastating action. We will not wait for our Kristallnacht, our Reichstag fire—we will speak up and fight for the rights we are due but if the tide turns we will leave for safety’s sake. Words have costs and rhetoric incurs responsibility; if that horrible time comes, it will be due in large part to the low, dishonest rhetoric used to win yesterday’s election.

Though many people I know would consider this to be counterintuitive given the role of religion in this election, I am asking you all to pray about this, for me and for David, and for our country—because that is how I started my day. As I often do when I don’t know what else to do, I stopped by my church on the way to work this morning, a little late for the 8 am service. The nave of the austere Cathedral was open though, and the organist was preparing for a Requiem service to be held Saturday. I slipped into the sanctuary quietly, welcomed by its complete emptiness, and kneeled at a pew in the back of the great open vault. As many times as I had been there, and as many burdens as I had brought, I had never been alone in the Cathedral and that sense of aloneness was both terrifying and deeply beautiful.

The organist played gloriously but it was indeed a rehearsal, with the stopping and repetition that always entails. I heard the same passage four, five times before the organist, high above me in the rafters, moved onto the next. Luckily for me, it was not a particularly dark part of the Requiem, but a lighter section that sounded hopeful, thankful. Suddenly my sitting there and listening was not about music but about all that we imperfect humans do to try to perfect ourselves and the world. Sometimes the feeling is right but the notes are not and we have to try again.

As I listened, I wept, and hoped that the music we all hear today is just a rehearsal—that in the future we will try this again and do better, that when we speak of religion we can speak of love and unity instead of hate and division. However hopeful the notes I heard today, they were part of a Requiem and the part of me that is fearful hopes that it is not a Requiem for the country that we love, that loves freedom and extends hope to those who are suffering and oppressed. Please keep praying, and pray for an end to the false divisions that separate us as a nation and a family. Please pray for me and for David and for all of us who are left feeling frightened. I will pray for you, for understanding, for tolerance, and for the grace that is greater than any sin that we might pridefully impute in each other.

Much love always,

Jay

The Pottery Barn presidency

I sent this in to the Seattle Times Backyard Blog this morning... we'll see what they do with it.

OK my Republican friends... you have the White House and strong
majorities in Congress. Do what you will, but please don't carp about
obstructionist Democrats. And please tell your President to stand up
and start taking responsibility for his actions. Please let the buck
start stopping with him.

Just as Colin Powell invoked the "Pottern Barn Rule" in Iraq--as in
"you broke it, you bought it" (which iss not actually Pottery Barn's
policy but you get the idea)--so is it in play here. There will be
nobody to blame the next four years on. So good luck, godspeed--and
know that a loyal opposition will be taunting you with our
"reality-based" outlook. Unless Bush starts publicly admitting that
God is telling him personally how to run the country, a bit of reality
might actually be a worthwhile contribution to the public discourse.

On a final, personal note, I'm sorry that I lost this election for the
Democrats. Watching as ten states banned gay marriage, it became
painfully clear that conservative voters who turned out for "moral
values" and against the "homosexual agenda" made the difference, just
as that blasted Karl Rove said they would. I'm sorry that David and I
selfishly wanted hospital visitation rights, protection for our joint
property, and the right to pay our taxes together. Apparently, this is
so repugnant to Americans it swamped all other considerations. So it
looks like our status as "walking, talking wedge issue" is ratified.

At this point, the marriage vow that David and I made is what is
holding us together and keeping us here. As we went to bed to bad
news, we said, "Whatever else happens, we have each other." I would,
honestly, prefer to leave the country. Or rather, I feel that it has
left me and moving would just be a matter-of-fact recognition of this
reality. It would be easy to move to David's native Australia--and my
Mother, stuck in Oklahoma, is egging us on, with the proviso that she
wants to join us.

But David, God bless him, wants to stay. Hearing him talk of his love
for Seattle, our home, and our friends here, I realize it would break
my heart to leave. Maybe it already is broken. And maybe that's the
"Pottery Barn Rule" that really matters--your heart belongs to the
country that breaks it.

This is my country, however much so many voters want me to be a
second-class citizen. I can still vote, still march, still protest,
and still raise my voice in celebration of all that is good and
beautiful here. From wherever I go, that's what I will be doing. So
this is no end, just a new chapter. Thanks to the Seattle Times for
the chance to write, and thanks to everyone who has been reading along
the way. From here on out, my friends and I will be on nonfamous.com
trying to make sense of all of this. Because blogging, like politics,
is a way of life.

November 02, 2004

11:50 PM

What are we going to do now?

How voters have ruined democracy

So it looks like the election, whatever the result, is going to be very close. Once again, just as in 2000, the margin between the Democratic and Rebublican presidential challengers will be close to 50-50. How has this happened again? We've seen this not just in the US, but also other major democracies -- recent elections in Australia and the UK have also been just as close.

I blame polling. Not the polling booths of election day -- I'm referring to those surveys, focus groups, and think-tanks that modern politicians use to gauge the popular will before the election. Let me explain. Think of politics as a game (I know, not hard to do) where the objective for each party is to modify its policies in the run-up to an election in response to polling, focus groups, and suchlike, in order to maximise its percentage of the popular vote. In winner-take-all democratic systems like that of the USA and UK, the game is played within a system where there are two contending parties. As this game plays out over time, each party will quickly identify those policies which, if adopted, will cause its popular vote to drop below 50% and thereby lose the election. If so, the logical choice for that party is to adopt the policy of the opponent, or something close to it. The result? On major issues that are relevant to most of the electorate, the parties converge in policy. What's left are those issues that the parties are willing to stand upon on principle and won't lose them the vote. Sadly, in modern politics, the desire to win far outweighs the propensity to stand on principle, and so all we are left with to differentiate the parties are the "wedge issues" at the extremes of politics.

This leaves us with the paradox of modern politics as reflected in the current US election: the two major parties are very similar in the major issues (the economy, the war) but differ wildly in the wedge issues (mainly social issues). And the parties, according to polls, are very, very close to 50% each. Since each party converges to 50% support, election results are no longer driven by any real choice in policy, but rather intransient and essentially random factors. These include the effect of third-party candidates, reliability of polling machines, and which party can most effectively get its supporters to the polling booth.

The irony is, that this is the epitome of democracy. Today, on every major issue, the policy of the ruling (or elected) party represents the will of the majority. Likewise, pluralities determine policy on wedge issues. Problems arise when the will of the plurality determines policy for the otherwise uncommitted majority. Even when the plurality is the majority, the majority can still be objectively wrong.

For this reason, strict democracies aren't a great medium for social progress. (The famous quote sums this up well: a democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.) When slavery in the US was abolished, much more than 50% of the population was against doing so. (In retrospect, we should all agree that the majority was objectively wrong here.) But slavery was abolished because the US was then, much more so than it is now, a representative democracy. We elect leaders and entrust them to make decisions that will benefit us not just now, but also into the future. But today, those leaders are driving by the popular will through the proxy of the poll, rather than by their own judgement. Could slavery, if it existed today with the same popular support it did then, be abolished by today's politicians? The current reactions to the gay marriage issue makes me fear not.

And so we come to the irony of ironies: the voters, via the pollsters, have ruined democracy as we know it. From now on, the decisions that affect our lives in fundamental ways will be driven by Nascar Dad, New York Liberal, and Flyover State Mom.

I am so depressed.

October 30, 2004

I Was Chosen By God To Vote Bush Out of Office

Yesterday's installment of To the Point talked about faith, reality, and Evangelical support for George W. Bush. Sometime after hearing the interview with Janice Kraus (starting around 29:30) of Concerned Women for America, I realized that God has called me to vote against her candidate of choice.

October 29, 2004

Fantastic Turnout Tonight at the "Election Day Training"

I was wondering if I was going to make myself do anything actively political (I know, I know) in the last days before The Apocalypse (or maybe The Exodus). I have serious doubts about effecting anything useful with this effort, but I responded to a friend's invitation to go to University Heights Center tonight, and I'm signed up for the whole f---ing election day as part of my friend's team for canvassing and precinct checking.

There was a phenomenal turnout tonight. I was almost a half-hour early, and the parking lot and surrounding streets were already packed with cars. I'd love to know what the count was, but there were so many people that we easily had as many out in the hall as in the big room at the top north end of the building. I mean, it was truly overwhelming.

October 28, 2004

What it has come to

milwaukee.gif

This was found in a black neighborhood of Milwaukee and posed on Daily Kos.

If these people win I cannot stay.

No Comment

"A survey of deaths in Iraqi households estimates that as many as 100,000 more people may have died throughout the country in the 18 months since the U.S.-led invasion than would be expected based on the death rate before the war. "

Read the whole story here.

October 22, 2004

Triumph after the debates

Triumph the insult comic dog, that is, from the Conan O'Brien Show. The video
is long, but hilariously funny. But also depressing... the mouthpieces on both sides are simultaneously vacuous and overinflated. Triumph was a little harder on the Repubs, though. Seeing Rove, he says, "Bush's Brain! I would have expected a much smaller man!" On encountering Ralph Reed, he says, "If you're going to be against gay rights, you should really take that pole out of your ass."

October 21, 2004

No draft... unless you're a doctor or nurse

U.S. Has Contingency Plans for a Draft of Medical Workers

The Selective Service has been updating its contingency plans for a draft of doctors, nurses and other health care workers in case of a national emergency that overwhelms the military's medical corps.

In a confidential report this summer, a contractor hired by the agency described how such a draft might work, how to secure compliance and how to mold public opinion and communicate with health care professionals, whose lives could be disrupted.

As Kos said, It's just another rumor on the Internets. So probably no need to worry. Right?

October 15, 2004

Because there's no place else to go in Wyoming

This just breaks my heart.

October 13, 2004

Equal Time

I've no doubt that the nonfamousi are already well informed about the Sinclair Broadcasting company's decision to air the anti-Kerry "documentary." This link covers the issue and at the bottom of the page, you'll find an email address for Sinclair.

I have to admit that I stumbled around for years blithely ignoring the consequences of media consolidation. I naively think that the blogosphere negates some of that, but when you learn about the heavy handed partisan politics practices by organizations like Sinclair, you have no choice but to wake the hell up.

October 10, 2004

Dred Scott = Roe v. Wade

We spent some time asking "What the hell?" about the Dred Scott comments from the last debate. We weren't alone. My friend Emily sent me this fine link that deconstructs it nicely for us.

Have you helped out the Kerry campaign yet? Just asking.

October 01, 2004

Revenge of the butterfly ballot

Here we go again. See if you can spot the problem with this absentee ballot, sent to Michigan voters:

michigan-absentee-ballot.png

(I excerpted the President section of the ballot -- you can see the whole thing at the original livejournal entry.) The computer would read a ballot with the first arrow filled in as a vote for Bush, but as you can see the arrow actually points to Kerry.

Good thing Congress passed the Help America Vote Act so things like this wouldn't happen again after Florida ...

September 30, 2004

why you shouldn't bother watching the debates

Invest 25 minutes and find out why the debates won't include anything new or meaningful. This is your plutocracy at work.

September 29, 2004

Finally, somebody has found a pair

Three cheers for the Democrats in this NY Times article. Everyone seems to have forgotten what a prick Henry Hyde is, glad to see he is refresing everyone's memory.


At House Hearing, Quips, Insults and Some Official Business
By DAVID STOUT

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 — The House committee hearing began as a serious discussion about the coming elections in Afghanistan. It ended in insults, so partisan and personal that the committee chairman expressed relief upon adjournment.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage told the House International Relations Committee that he expected the Taliban to try to disrupt the elections in Afghanistan "perhaps even by attempting a large-scale attack on election day itself," Oct. 9.

Mr. Armitage did not suggest that he thought the elections might fail, or that the new Afghanistan might stumble on the road to democracy. In fact, Mr. Armitage had several friendly exchanges with lawmakers of both parties.

The mood seemed to change when Representative Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, seized on President Bush's declaration in Ohio last week that "as a result of the United States military, the Taliban is no longer in existence."

So, Mr. Menendez asked Mr. Armitage, "did you fail to give the president a briefing that the Taliban is still in existence?"

Mr. Armitage said the president meant that the Taliban "is not shackling 28 million people anymore," not that it had literally vanished.

The reply did not entirely satisfy Mr. Menendez, who said, "I think we have to stop sugar-coating the realities of what is happening in Afghanistan and in our other conflicts and be honest with the American people."

Mr. Armitage did not respond directly to Mr. Menendez's "sugar-coating" metaphor, choosing instead to use one of his own. "The Taliban is very much running from hidey hole to hidey hole," he said.

Moments later, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, opined that "nitpicking the president of the United States' words is not really constructive in this type of situation." Mr. Rohrabacher said Mr. Bush had driven the Taliban out instead of unwisely tolerating it, as he said President Bill Clinton had.

A bit later, emotions warmed even more as Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, asserted that Mr. Bush had misled the American people by taking the country to war against Iraq ("It wasn't difficult, because many people have a difficult time getting the details straight"), while the main mission was still Afghanistan.

"And I have never seen such a misuse of our power," Mr. Payne observed.

That was too much for Representative Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican who heads the committee. He said that "calling the commander in chief a liar by every hour on the hour" was simply wrong, and was helpful to "the other side," by which he appeared to mean America's terrorist enemies.

Moments later, Representative Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, said he and his colleagues were "sick and tired" of hearing their patriotism questioned whenever they exercised their responsibilities and rights, as citizens as well as members of Congress.

Mr. Hyde did not mollify Mr. Ackerman a bit. "Nobody questions your patriotism," Mr. Hyde said. "It's your judgment that's under question."

The two lawmakers interrupted each other a few more times, until Mr. Ackerman said, "What's obvious, Mr. Chairman, is that you are a rather vicious partisan."

"Now you're really getting personal," Mr. Hyde observed.

"Well," Mr. Ackerman countered, "I think that willful ignorance is kind of personal also, Mr. Chairman."

"Just remember," Mr. Hyde shot back, "ignorance is salvageable, but stupid is forever."

"I know that," Mr. Ackerman said, "and I'm glad that you've memorized that." He went on to say that Mr. Hyde's insults notwithstanding, he had never called the president a liar.

If nothing else, the session underlined the importance of specificity in language, especially on the eve of President Bush's foreign-policy debate with Senator John Kerry, and the dangers of hyperbole.

"The time has expired, happily," Mr. Hyde said on adjournment.

September 28, 2004

The Justices: also scum

SCOTUSBlog has posted the enture October 2004 Vanity Fair investigative piece that quotes Supreme Court clerks telling us just how ugly and political were the machinations that accomplished the 2000 coup. Talk about your activist fucking judges! You must read this-- just not on a full stomach. As Lawyers Guns and Money's Scott Lemieux notes, "The liberals are simply playing at a different level, inexplicably assuming their opponents are acting in good faith no matter how much evidence of the opposite accumulates. While it's the thieves of the 2000 election who deserve the most blame, let's not forget that the timorous likes of Christopher, Gore, Lieberman, and Ginsburg made it a lot easier."

To quote Digby, "This time, we must operate on that assumption and prepare for a knife fight --- in the courts and in the realm of public opinion. There are no rules other than winning."

September 27, 2004

Election 2004: Lawyers, start your engines

There's a good chance that we may not know the outcome of the Presidential election for many days after November 2. Many of the reasons why have been covered elsewhere, but one provision of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) sn't aware of was mentioned in this BBC article discussing how for the first time, representatives from the OSCE (the European body which has traditionally monitored elections in fledgling democracies) will observe the election. In addition to providing funds to "upgrade" election equipment, HAVA also mandates the concept of a "provisional ballot":

The Help America Vote Act (Hava), passed in October 2002, mandated all states to introduce provisional ballots as a means of avoiding what happened in Florida during the 2000 poll, when thousands of voters incorrectly listed as criminals were alleged to have been removed from voter rolls and turned away.

Under the new system, everyone who believes they are entitled to vote - regardless of whether their name features on a roll or not - may cast a ballot. The validity of their vote will be decided later - although how this will be decided has also been a subject of some speculation.

(My emphasis.) If the election is close, expect not just lawsuits around hanging chads (which will still exist) and faulty electronic voting machines, but also around each end every provisional ballot cast.

September 15, 2004

War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Opportunity is Risk.

Bush's economic policies actually make sense if you replace each occurrence of the word "opportunity" with the word "risk". And of course, that's an easy transposition for a guy like Bush to make:


But if there's one enduring motif in the life of George W. Bush, it is that he's always been sheltered from the consequences of risk -- that is, of failure. Exposed to the draft, he had business and political associates of his father get him a slot in a National Guard unit far from Vietnam. As an oil bidness entrepreneur, he would have gone belly-up on several occasions but for the intervention of more such associates, for whom the notion of helping out the vice president's boy had a certain je ne sais quoi.

Now it all makes sense.

September 13, 2004

Headline of the day

"Putin Seeks to Increase Power, Citing Effort to Fight Terror"

Did Bush, Cheney, and Putin all go to some teen leadership camp in the seventies and plot this out? Something like this:

Putin: OK, Bushy, you get your father's friends to help you steal the White House and then get your Saudi friends to bomb America. The country will collapse in fear. Then, you, Dick, step in and manipulate the fear into an attitude of Us v. Them. It will completely destroy your precious democracy!!! Vodka for all!!

Cheney: Yes! Then, you, Vlady, help your country fall into civil war by not addressing the legitimate issues of minorities. Let some terrorists do to you what we have the Saudi government do here, and then consolidate all power into your office. Death to democracy!! Vodka!!

Bush: He He He.

Read all about Vlady below.

MOSCOW (AP) -- Responding to a series of deadly terror attacks, President Vladimir Putin on Monday moved to significantly strengthen the Kremlin's grip on power, with new measures that include the naming of regional governors and an overhaul of the electoral system.

Putin told Cabinet members and security officials convened in special session that the future of Russia was at stake and urged the creation of a central, powerful anti-terror agency.

``The organizers and perpetrators of the terror attack are aiming at the disintegration of the state, the breakup of Russia,'' he said. ``We need a single organization capable of not only dealing with terror attacks but also working to avert them, destroy criminals in their hideouts, and if necessary, abroad.''

Putin's declaration followed a series of stunning terror attacks blamed on Chechen rebels, climaxing in the three-day school seizure in southern Russia in which more than 330 people were killed.

He said he would propose legislation abolishing the election of local governors by popular vote. Instead, they would be nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislatures -- a move that would undo the remaining vestiges of the local autonomy already chipped away by Putin during his first term in office.

Putin explained his move by the need to streamline and strengthen the executive branch to make it more capable of combating terror.

His critics immediately assailed the proposal as a self-destructive effort that could fuel dissent in the provinces.

``The abolition of elections in the Russian regions deals a blow to the foundations of Russian federalism and means the return to the extremely inefficient system of government,'' said Sergei Mitrokhin, a leading member of the liberal Yabloko party.

Sergei Markov, a political analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, said the president's move against the governors could help curb corruption that has flourished in some regions.

``At the same time, it means ... a lowering of (their) general political authority and a serious lowering of political pluralism,'' Markov told Ekho Moskvy radio.

In another move aimed to strengthen the federal authorities, Putin recommended eliminating the individual races that currently fill half of the seats in the national parliament and have the entire lower house filled by parties on a proportional basis.

Putin said that the move would help foster dialogue by expanding the clout of political parties, but his opponents warned it would further increase the clout of the Kremlin-controlled parliament factions that already enjoy an overwhelming majority in the lower house, the State Duma.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the few opposition deputies, scorned the president's political proposals and said if they were approved, ``the next Duma will be simply virtual, it will consist of just marionette party lists and won't enjoy any authority.''

``How is it possible the president doesn't understand that it won't strengthen the country, it will further tear apart the unity of the country and tear federal organs power away from the people?'' he told Ekho Moskvy radio. ``Yes, the Kremlin's authority will be strengthened, but the country will be weakened.''

Although Putin has been criticized for strengthening his own powers in the past, three weeks of violence and the deaths of 430 people have led to increased support among the Russian people for measures to combat terrorism.

Putin named one of his closest confidants, Cabinet chief of staff Dmitry Kozak, to represent him in the southern district that includes the Caucasus.

Putin said official corruption that had helped terrorists -- such as the issuing of documents ``leading to grave consequences,'' should be punished with particular severity.

He also signaled a possible government crackdown on Islamic groups, proposing that extremist organizations serving as a cover for terrorists should be outlawed.

A new structure called the Public Chamber would strengthen public oversight of the government and the actions of law enforcement agencies, he said. The chamber would involve non-governmental organizations and other groups in the fight against terror.

Putin said that terrorism is rooted in the North Caucasus' low living standards, in widespread unemployment, and in poor education.

``This is a rich, fertile ground for the growth of extremist propaganda and the recruitment of new supporters of terror,'' Putin said. ``The North Caucasus is a key strategic region for Russia. It is a victim of terrorism and also a springboard for it.''

My Brief Career as a Republican

I'm a little worried about the Kerry campaign. See, I signed up to volunteer for them not once, not twice, but three times, and they have yet to contact me. Okay, I thought, the Kerry campaign is full in Seattle and they don't need me. All right. I'll go to the DNC. So I signed up with them twice. And I sent them an email with my phone number, the days I'd be available and a very brief blah de blah about what I know how to do. I stated I'd be willing to help out in any way I can and that I could start immediately. Have they called? Nope. Not once. I get the mass generated emails, the calls to host a debate party, the pleas to write to my senators or contact my neighbors, the stuff that makes the whole campaign seem like a video game. "Host a Q and A night, earn 10 points! Send email to your friends, earn 15 points!"

I don't want to win some virtual game that will get me a skateboard or a t-shirt or a trip to the Sun Dome. I want John Kerry to win the election. I decided to see what would happen if I signed up to volunteer for the GOP. I took a deep breath, went to the Bush/Cheney site, and clicked. I filled out the form, selecting "small business owners", "W is for women" and one other subgroup to join, and god help me, I hit submit. This took me to another form to fill out and that's where I was stumped. Here's the text:

By filling out this form, I acknowledge that I am endorsing President Bush for reelection. I understand that my name may be publicly released as a supporter of the President and that this is a personal, individual endorsement and my organization will be listed for identification purposes only. I further understand that I will be notified by Bush-Cheney '04 prior to being officially associated with Small Business Leaders for Bush-Cheney '04.

See, I ain't filling out a loyalty oath, no matter how cantankerous I'm feeling about the Kerry campaign. Plus, I don't see Bush as elected, so I certainly don't see him as getting reelected. Gad. So ended my days as a volunteer for the Republican party. I'm only mildly disappointed, after all, I was not looking forward to putting on pantyhose and heading over to the campaign HQ at Southcenter. I was probably looking for an excuse not to go through with it, and that creepy loyalty pledge was all I needed.

Still, I'm mad at the Kerry campaign. They've created this vast internet presence but they've overlooked that sitting at the other end of it are people like me. We're wired and willing, they just have to send us a note that says, "Thanks, come downtown on Tuesday at 1030 and talk with our volunteer coordinator." Which is what I'm going to do, even though I've not been invited. I'll ask them if they need help getting in touch with the folks who have volunteered for the campaign, because clearly, they are falling down in that arena. Or maybe they'll tell me they are so overstaffed with eager volunteers that they don't need me. That would be okay too, so long as they tell me SOMETHING.

It's a good thing I'm not a swing voter, or I'd be swallowing the bitter pill of Republicanism because of this.

September 08, 2004

Please tell me this is a joke

Check out the comment from "Dr. Stacy Ingersol" on this post, which claims, in part:

Investigative reporter, Simon Marshall in Cheney: The Story He Cannot Tell (Doubleday) to be released next month, reveals Dick Cheney was recruited into a secret black-ops team called Alpha Major within the Special Forces. Although he "took to the training like a salami to a pizza" it quickly became apparent that Cheney was one of the anti-gods who would not play the game according to the rules of war. Additionally, in defiance to Army regulations, when Cheney went into the field, he defied orders that the officially-damned beret of the Green Beret would not be worn.

Are the Rethuglicans really going to follow up the Swift Boat to Hell campaign with an arms-length effort to suggest that Cheney is, basically, a Tom Clancy character? I wouldn't put it past them, but it really does strain credulity.

The link to the National Federation of Republican Women tell a bit more. Also, the mysterious "Dr. Ingersoll" seems to be making the rounds on a few blogs. Could she be a sort of online Special Forces soldier in a new front on the GOP's war on reality?

September 01, 2004

How "Swift"ly the lies are exposed

Well, well, it seems that smell has been traced to a rat. I didn't read the original Washington Post article, but Misleader.org reports

"Rear Admiral William L. Schachte Jr., the man who claims Kerry was not under fire when he received his first Purple Heart, is a top lobbyist for a defense contractor that recently won a $40 million grant from the Bush administration. According to a March 18 legal filing by Schachte's firm, Blank Rome, Schachte was one of the lobbyists working for FastShip's effort to secure federal contracts.2 On Feb. 2, FastShip announced the Bush administration had awarded it $40 million."

It's just great that a man of integrity is in the White House.

Repub Convention—empty?

I'm going to New York tomorrow for an eight-day excursion. I would have chosen some time when there is not a neo-con horde there, but there's an event at a retreat center in the Catskills this weekend that I want to attend. For at least a few hours, though, I'll be in New York City when Mr. Bush is there, and hope to check out some of the street action in person.

Here's a short piece on Mother Jones's web site about Madison Square Garden being empty. I wonder if we can tell from the television coverage that the cameras are avoiding parts of the floor?

I did consider flying in to Buffalo instead, but ultimately chose the more exciting city, partly because by the time I got down to buying the ticket this week, LGA and JFK were significantly cheaper destinations than BUF.

August 31, 2004

Repub Convention So Far

I think the three biggest messages I'm getting so far from the Republican convention are these:

  • We're very caring people.

  • You're free to vote for us even if you don't agree with our platform.

  • It's the way in which we tell you that it's "our way or the highway" that matters.
With only minor word changes, one of the Republicans said almost exactly what I did in the third bullet.

I wish interviewers in the media would be more challenging on the logic of the interviewee—it would impede the mendacity. "You mean that the Democrats don't want X?" "You say Y, but how does your policy actually demonstrate that?"

I wish the Republican party mascot was a large, angry bull.

August 30, 2004

W, the new Major?

Could George W Bush become the next John Major? Major's narrow re-election as UK PM in 1992 was, by all accounts, a disaster for the British Conservative Party. In this intriguing (but arithmetically-challenged: fourteen years ago?) article, Niall Ferguson argues a GWB re-election could be equally devastating for the Republican Party.

August 18, 2004

Go Freedom

Go far, far from liberated Iraq! Just like al-Jazeera.

August 07, 2004

Fire someone, already, W!

Juan Cole informs us that in defending their politicized terror alert last week, the Bushies (specifically Ridge) outed another importance intelligence source. Loose lips, etc., right? What's important is that W get reelected--protecting sources deep in al Qaeda is cleearly secondary to that!

August 06, 2004

Malkin: "Seattle Hates America." Seattle: "We hate you even more!"

OK, now I really hate this biyotch. And, horror of horrors, she's coming here tonight (Bothell, actually) to speak at a church. We could always do SDS in the parking lot while we picket, right? You think?

August 05, 2004

ICRC: US guilty of war crimes at Gitmo

From the Dep't of Just as we suspected

The International Red Cross issued a strong statement yesterday about the abuse allegations made by released British detainees at Guantanamo against their American captors: The Americans may have committed war crimes.
Read about it in the indispensible Guardian UK.

August 03, 2004

Where will they stop?

Not, apparently, at trying to justify--and revive--one of the worst spasms of paranoia and intolerance in America's history. That's right, from Michelle Malkin, we now have In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror. I am not making this shit up.

If you don't know Malkin, you can check out her blog, preferably on an empty stomach.

She's an established wingnut with impeccable credentials: Town Hall, Creators Syndicate, and Fox News. But I must say I'm shocked to see the idea of internment pop up as a serious suggestion for the war on terror.

From the book's PR materials:

Everything you've been taught about the World War II "internment camps" in America is wrong:
- They were not created primarily because of racism or wartime hysteria
- They did not target only those of Japanese descent
- They were not Nazi-style death camps

In her latest investigative tour-de-force, New York Times best-selling author Michelle Malkin sets the historical record straight-and debunks radical ethnic alarmists who distort history to undermine common-sense, national security profiling. The need for this myth-shattering book is vital. President Bush's opponents have attacked every homeland defense policy as tantamount to the "racist" and "unjustified" World War II internment. Bush's own transportation secretary, Norm Mineta, continues to milk his childhood experience at a relocation camp as an excuse to ban profiling at airports. Misguided guilt about the past continues to hamper our ability to prevent future terrorist attacks. In Defense of Internment shows that the detention of enemy aliens, and the mass evacuation and relocation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast were not the result of irrational hatred or conspiratorial bigotry. This document-packed book highlights the vast amount of intelligence, including top-secret "MAGIC" messages, which revealed the Japanese espionage threat on the West Coast. Malkin also tells the truth about:
- who resided in enemy alien internment camps (nearly half were of European ancestry)
- what the West Coast relocation centers were really like (tens of thousands of ethnic Japanese were allowed to leave; hundreds voluntarily chose to move in)
- why the $1.65 billion federal reparations law for Japanese internees and evacuees was a bipartisan disaster
- and how both Japanese American and Arab/Muslim American leaders have united to undermine America's safety.

With trademark fearlessness, Malkin adds desperately needed perspective to the ongoing debate about the balance between civil liberties and national security. In Defense of Internment will outrage, enlighten, and radically change the way you view the past-and the present.

So really, these were country clubs for Japanese Americans. And Auschwitz was a fat camp, I suppose! This is really beyond the pale. I read first-hand accounts of the camps in college, and it's impossible to live in Seattle and not know the terrible stories of Japanese families who lost their homes and businesses--practically all of Pike Market was Japanese farmers when the war broke out.

There are some chapters in our history that must not be rewritten--this is one of them. I'm sure the Japanese community in Seattle will be protesting this book, and when they do I plan to be with them. This is out of self-interest, not just outrage-- if the government starts throwing people in camps again, you can be sure I'll open my fat mouth and say something that gets me tossed in with them.

Gulfs, Tonkin and Persian

Flawed intelligence, Texas-style politics, swift congressional action, patriotism, pre-approved military action—a piece done by Walter Conkrite that played yesterday on All Things Considered about the Gulf of Tonkin and the U.S. war against North Vietnam describes a situation that seems to have much in common with our recent activities in Iraq.

I caught part of the broadcast before heading in to the theater to see the new Manchurian Candidate, and just played the whole recording—the long, twenty-minute version—from NPR's web site. (I'm not sure what was cut to make the shorter version.) I recommend it. There's audio from Johnson, McNamara, and Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, whose comments in dissent with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution were prescient for what was to follow (but not quickly enough to prevent him from being ousted and replaced by Bob Packwood).

August 02, 2004

Supreme court to decide election ... again?

Imagine the following scenario this coming November 2: the polls have closed, and the result is close. The networks have called Colorado for Bush, but there's only a few electoral college votes in the game. The nations fate hangs in the balance once again, with a result determined by a closely fought referendum in Colorado. Sound familiar?

A group of Colorado citizens have proposed a change to the state's constitution specifying that Colorado's nine electors be apportioned strictly in proportion to the popular vote. This proposal is likely to be voted on in November 2, and the outcome will affect the 2004 Presidential election. Should the Colorado voters approve it, then the presidential candidate elected in Colorato will receive just five or six electoral college votes, rather than the whole nine. (The loser in Colorado would receive the remainder of the electoral votes.) In a close race, this could make all the difference, and is likely to spark a Supreme Court review of the new Colorado electoral law.

Thanks to the votemaster at www.electoral-vote.com for giving us the heads-up on what could easily become the Florida of the 2004 election, and also for providing the new Electoral Vote predictor found on the right.

Sharpton

This would have been more timely last week, but I was on vacation...

Did anyone else watch the Daily Show last week after the convention? Covering the night that Al Sharpton (my favorite of the candidates) spoke, my man Jon shows a truly energized crowd responding to Sharpton. It looked like a great speech. (I missed it live, only seeing the clip.) Then he flashes to the media ripping it to shreds for no apparent reason. Then he shows Brian Williams saying something to this effect: "Wow, you just threw-away your planned speech. What were you scatting up there?" Yes, you read correctly, Brian Williams referrred to his speech as "SCATTING".

Now, we all see, hear and read things that appal us on a daily basis. Usually I get over it in a few minutes with only residual body tension (this began approximately November 2000), but this PISSES ME OFF. Even this whitey sees this as the most blatent of racist statements...

July 30, 2004

Turning a corner, or gone round the bend?

Dear Leader unveiled his new campaign theme today, "we've turned a corner, and we're not turning back." Like so many other things borne of this administration, something about it seems creepy.

I liked Kerry's optimistic, if somewhat goofy, theme of "help is on the way." It reassured me, anyway, because it implied, not so subtlely, that we're all in some pretty desperate need of rescue from the current administration, and the firefighters know exactly which room we're all hiding from the flames in.

But this one is not in the least optimistic. In some ways, it's actually very fatalistic. As in, "yes, we were once a safe, happy nation, but what with all the terrorism and war and such, that's over." But more likely as in, "we were once a nation of laws, but now we're a nation of my rules," or "we were once a representative democracy, but now we're a fundamentalist christian theocracy." The "we're not turning back" part says to me, "so get used to it you liberal whiners. The US you loved so much is gone."

Of course, this all goes along with Bush's unwavering determination to continue along a path once he's set out on it, despite any new evidence that might come along to show there was a better route to follow. The man is not a flip-flopper, and he's made that abundantly clear. He's more of a concrete-filled combat boot. And if there really is no turning back, then I fear we're all going to be sleeping with Luca Brasi by the time Bush is done with us.

July 29, 2004

Sex toys illegal

Alabama hates dildoes. And the 11th Circuit agrees. Says Law.com (link from Sully):

Americans do not have a fundamental right to sexual privacy, a 2-1 decision of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Wednesday.

The split panel upheld an Alabama law -- nearly identical to one in Georgia -- that made the sale of sex toys a crime punishable by up to a year in prison.

This would be funny if it weren't so ridiculous. Please, somebody, show me the government that is SO successful at defending our borders, educating our children, healing the sick and feeding the hungry that it has time to legislate and deliberate about what products consenting adults should be allowed to put in various orifices! Hint: it bloody well is NOT Alabama, where a decent number of people still lack indoor plumbing.

If there was any true conservatism left in the "conservative" movement, they would take one look at this issue and go, "Oooh, don't go there!" But 25 years into the "Reagan revolution," there is apparently nowhere too private, too personal, or too petty for the government to try to insert its prying fingers. And yes, that's exactly the metaphor I wanted--it's almost as if the conservatives are after a government monopoly on the right to drive that dildo home. A vote for Bush is a vote to bend over for the Gross Old Proctologists! My fellow Americans, I say to you now, there is not enough lube in this great country of ours to make that prospect even remotely enjoyable.

July 28, 2004

Once more, with feeling

Hey, just one last reminder that tomorrow is the last day John Kerry can accept campaign contributions, so please do what you can to make one more before he accepts the nomination, and do what you can to remind everyone you know to donate one more time.

http://contribute.johnkerry.com

July 27, 2004

Jimmah!

Former President Jimmy Carter (The Velvet Hammer – thank you Jon Stewart) at the opening night of the Democratic National Convention delivered five principles of national and global citizenship:

“In repudiating extremism we need to recommit ourselves to a few common- sense principles that should transcend partisan differences. First, we cannot enhance our own security if we place in jeopardy what is most precious to us, namely, the centrality of human rights in our daily lives and in global affairs. Second, we cannot maintain our historic self-confidence as a people if we generate public panic. Third, we cannot do our duty as citizens and patriots if we pursue an agenda that polarizes and divides our country. Next, we cannot be true to ourselves if we mistreat others. And finally, in the world at large we cannot lead if our leaders mislead.”

Thank you, Mr. President, for taking it to the Bush Administration.

If you would like to read the entire speech, it deserves reading. Unfortunately, network coverage was and is so limited that we only got the prelims and the Clintons. But thankfully, for political junkies like me, the cable news coverage is incredibly over the top complete. Oh, and by the way, I will be this engrossed, if not more so, when the Republicans hit NYC - I can't wait to see the police picket lines!

July 22, 2004

Hey HRC-- about that donation...

Grrr... the HRC has disinvited Margaret Cho from an upcoming fundraiser in DC in the wake of l'Affaire Whoopi. Spineless, spineless, spineless!

As Kos points out, Dennis Miller can make gay jokes about Kerry and Edwards, and the Governator can call his opponents "girlie men"... and let us not forget the shit that Clinton took every damn day. But making fun of Bush is off limits. Why does the HRC have to be more uptight than a gaggle of Log Cabin Republican tops? I dunno. But until they unclench and put Margaret on that stage, they won't be getting any more money from us!

I'm fascinated, and disgusted

By the determination Republican leaders are demonstrating in their never ending fight to prevent gay people from getting married.

They lost last week, so today they're trying to pass legislation to prevent judges from ruling that states must allow gay marriages to comply with nondiscrimination clauses in state constitutions.

Write your representative. Again. It's hard to get any work done these days. Every day there's some new threat we suddenly have to defend the country from. And they're all coming out of Congress.

One more week to give Kerry-Edwards money

After they accept the nomination and the Federal matching funds, that's it, friends. So cash 'em up today, why don't you? If you contribute by Saturday, you'll even get two free bumper stickers!

Bush scuttles middle class tax cuts

From Pandagon:

"The White House helped to block a Republican-brokered deal on Wednesday to extend several middle-class tax cuts[.]"

But...but...why?

"House and Senate Republicans had badly wanted to pass a popular tax-cutting bill before the Democratic convention next week."

"But in an improbable series of machinations, White House officials opposed the tentative deal worked out between House and Senate Republican leaders that would have extended the tax cuts for two years at a cost of about $80 billion."

...But...but...head hurts...must watch EX-treme Dating...

"[The Bush White House was] fearful of a bill that could draw Democratic votes and dilute a Republican campaign theme, Republican negotiators said."

As a commenter asked, why does Bush hate the middle class? The idea that this had to be blocked because it had TOO WIDE an appeal in Congress shows how insanely twisted the administration's Rove-driven policy/campaign has become.

Heaven forbid anyone dilute a Repub campaign theme--which is apparently "we have to kill the middle class to save it."

Speaking up on abortions

So I am putting this post under the "politics" category instead of "I'm just a girl" because this isn't just a "girl" issue...

In today's NY Times, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about being "irk[ed]" by women who won't acknowledge their own abortions. She goes on to skewer women who abort after finding out that their fetuses have some sort of defect and don't see the procedure as an "abortion" of the same sort as women who abort for other reasons.

I have to think that this criticism is about the meanest thing I have ever read in the NY Times. (Including quotes from Cheney.) Not only to I agree with these women (aborting a fetus bound to suffer and die an early death seems like an act of mercy), but I understand that they need to comfort themselves however they can. That their private justifications should be discussed in the NY Times is antithetical to the whole abortion rights movement. We have fought for decades to make this a private decision that doesn't have to be justified to anyone.

To be fair, she then goes on to "out" herself as having had abortions for purely economic reasons. (I don't want to know this.) And she does say that she supports the rights of all women. But she then goes on to make an argument that it is up to women who have had abortions to speak out and protect their rights. Now thank god I have never had to make this choice, but I would imagine that having conceived a child, look forward to its birth, finding out it is seriously deformed, making the decision to abort, telling everyone "oops, guess I'm not pregnant", and coming to terms with what you went through, (gasp for air), you probably wouldn't really feel like running around defending abortion rights.

So I propose that we all, I repeat all, guard the right to have an abortion with as much fervor as we hold for everything else. Just as I will do everything I can to protect the rights of people of color, minority religions, and gay rights, I ask that you protect this white Lutheran-raised-now-agnostic woman.

July 21, 2004

Count me out

Speaking as an American Jew, I just want everyone to know that I HATE what the Israelis are doing.

The Roadless Traveled

The other day I got email from Maria Cantwell's office. I had to think about it for a while because I didn't really understand the impact of what she was talking about. (Note to Maria: I'm not a total pinhead, but I felt like I had to read this mail several times to find out what the problem is. Could you get some staffers who cut to the chase? "Roadless areas are in danger. Here's why..." Is that so much to ask?)

Here's the deal as I understand it. (The original mail is below.)

'Roadless areas' are no longer automatically protected - each state has to opt-in to the program. The state is responsible for presenting their plan for conservation, then USFS decides, state by state, how that roadless area will be managed.

The other day I got email from Maria Cantwell's office. I had to think about it for a while because I didn't really understand the impact of what she was talking about. (Note to Maria: Hire staffers who cut to the chase when they write your mail. We're busy and overloaded with information, and probably have ADD.)

Here's the deal as I understand it. (The original mail is below.)

'Roadless areas' are no longer automatically protected - each state has to opt-in to the program. The state is responsible for presenting their plan for conservation, then USFS decides, state by state, how that roadless area will be managed.

What's the problem? We have a plan already and according to Senator Cantwell, it works fine. And this opens the door for revisiting access to currently protected areas.

You can read more about the proposed ruling here. Don't be fooled by the language about how this is a "Plan to conserve roadless areas."

The Forest Service is taking comments right now. Overwhelming support by the American people helped put the last roadless area plan in place. Comments now can stop this new plan. You can get information about where to send your comments on the roadless areas site.

You can see Washington's roadless areas here.

And here's Senator Cantwell's mail:

Thank you for contacting me in the past with your thoughts on the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Knowing of your interest, I am writing you today to report a significant change recently announced by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to replace the protections provided by the Roadless Rule with a state petition process.

On July 12, 2004 Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced plans to develop a new rule that would replace the 2001 Roadless Rule with an "opt-in" state-by-state petition process. Under this new proposal, governors must petition the USFS to develop and establish rules that set parameters for conserving roadless areas in their respective states. State petitions would be given 18 months from the effective date of the final rule to be submitted and would identify areas for inclusion and exclusion. Once a state has completed its petition, the USFS would initiate a subsequent State-specific rulemaking for the management of inventoried roadless areas.

I find this proposal unfortunate and unnecessary. The 2001 Roadless Rule was a balanced policy that provided the U.S. Forest Service with the flexibility needed to conduct hazardous fuels reduction activities to protect forest health and rural communities, as well as build new roads in order to protect public safety within inventoried roadless areas. The 2001 Rule also ensures that our national forests will continue to provide clean drinking water for millions of Americans, critical wildlife habitats, and irreplaceable recreational opportunities including hunting, fishing, and hiking.

In addition, the 2001 Rule was thoroughly vetted and enthusiastically supported by the American people. When developing the rule, the U.S. Forest Service conducted an extensive public process, including three years of official review and citizen participation, over 600 public meetings, and hearings on each National Forest and in each Forest Service region. In fact, the proposal garnered over 2.5 million positive comments, more than any other federal rule in history.

The proposed rule will be published by the Federal Register later this week and is available at: www.fs.fed.us. A 60-day public comment period has been established and written comments on the proposed rule may be mailed to: Content Analysis Team, ATTN: Roadless State Petitions, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, UT 84122; faxed to (801) 517-1014; or e-mailed to statepetitionroadless@fs.fed.us. Comments also may be submitted through the web site http://www.regulations.gov. The Forest Service will issue a final rule after it evaluates public comments.

I encourage you to share your views with the Forest Service on this important issue. I appreciate your taking the time to share your opinion on this issue with me in the past,and I will keep you updated on future developments.

Sincerely,

Maria Cantwell
United States Senator

July 20, 2004

Strike a small blow for priority #4 these days

Which is, sadly, what the environment has become, to me at least. And to think, it used to be my biggest issue. But as Pam pointed out, there is so much that right now feels monumentally more oppressive and frightening, taking up our time.

Well, you can hopefully take 3 minutes to sign this petition to support the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which is designed to cut polluting emissions. And at least let them know that we're watching them from all sides.

July 15, 2004

Hersh and horror

Our friends at Sadly, No! have audio of a recent Sy Hersh speech. Among his sickening updates:


Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher."

Presumably, the soldiers in question we're gay--because apparently we cause problems with "unit cohesion." If only there had been less cohesion around a system that jettisoned any last scrap of humanity the US might have still enjoyed in the midst of a war!

John Howard Lies

John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, lies. Given that he's a politician, that should come as no surprise. But www.johnhowardlies.com does an excellent job of cataloguing them in startling clarity.

It's interesting do draw comparisons between this campaign and those against Bush. (The unknown authors of this site -- which is registered to "ABC DEF" from "123 Fourfive St, Surfers Paradise, TAS 7003" -- compare themselves to moveon.org.) Unfortunately the equivalent anti-Bush sites (at least those top-rated on Google), www.bushlies.com and BushWatch.com don't make the point quite so clearly.

Incidentally, I don't really follow Australian politics any more, but I was alerted to this site after its opponents tried to suppress it. As Michael Moore discovered, there's nothing like oppression for getting publicity.

The UnAmerican Practice of Thinking

With each column she does, I'm falling more in love with Barbara Ehrenreich. Really. The woman has a way with words, and what's more, her words actually make sense. I'm writing the Times today to suggest they keep her and dump someone else. This one is a winner.

Anyway, today she's discoursing on the "groupthink" that's being blamed for the ill-conceived decision to invade Iraq based on faulty evidence, (Though, interestingly, even though the entire world has now realized that the premises for invading Iraq were entirely bogus, Bush continues to defend the act. Talk about not flipflopping. This guy is like a pair of cement shoes.) and the general fear that's decended upon this country since 9/11 about not participating in groupthinking.

This line made me pause: "One thousand coalition soldiers have died because the C.I.A. was so eager to go along with the emperor's delusion that he was actually wearing clothes."

Bush is always telling us that these terrorists hate us because of our love of freedom, or some other such nonsense that doesn't make any sense unless you're incapable, like W, of reasoning beyond soundbites. But the their acts on September 11 and the cultural shift that occurred as a result has severely limited our love of freedom as a society, causing our nation to disdain it even, and reject it. So that seems to me like we're losing much more than 1000 coalition soldiers. We've pretty much already surrendered. Those guys in Iraq, then, are like the soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans, fighting to the bloody end, not realizing that the War of 1812 had already been called off.

July 12, 2004

Save the Constitution today

As the Senate debates the Federal Marriage Amendment to strip rights from gay couples, MoveOn.org has launched its United, Not Divided campaign. Click the link to easily send message to your senators, representatived and the President today.

As a reminder, the FMA reads thus:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

Not only would this enshrine discrimination into the constitution, this amendment would remove existing rights now available to same-sex partners (as has already happened in Virginia). The "legal incidents" of marriage certainly includes civil unions already available in Vermont and California, and may also include private contracts such as wills and healthcare directives.

Here's my personal message to President Bush:

This amendment is not about protecting the family. This amendment is about making second-class citizens of gays and lesbians in the United States by removing rights from them. As a gay man with constitutionally-denied access to the "legal incidents" of marriage, however they may be offered: federally, at the state level, or through private contract, my partner and I are at risk of financial, legal and emotional hardship with no redress. The only solution would be to leave the United States.


"Six Degrees of Columbine"

OK, from my inbox, today's candle to light against the darkness (though you should feel free to curse, too). Get to it, people! I will be adding the link presently.

I am writing to you and a few other bloggers asking for help. My name is Tom Mauser and my son Daniel was killed at Columbine High School. If we don't stand up to President Bush and the NRA right now, the assault weapons ban will expire and AK47s and Uzis will be back on our streets. Help honor the legacy of my son and prove that bloggers can make a difference! Thank you, Tom Mauser

So... Nonfamous readers can sign up on our personal petition page here. Please do so! It's a really cool site, but the way. We may want to look into this for VAhaters...

More news on Bush's other war

The one to do everything possible to stop HIV/AIDS prevention. Most recently, the administration is blocking several scientists from attending the International AIDS conference in Bangkok, meaning that a lot of the papers that these scientists wrote had to be retracted. Because it would apparently be a bad thing to share findings in the fight against AIDS?

God, I can't wait until November. Assuming we have an election.

Playing with Elections

I don't know where to begin-- I've been awake for three minutes and already I am confronted with evidence that the sky is falling. CNN reports that our Jefe is looking into how to delay the election. I can't do wit this early, let's just leave it at:"I'm scared."

July 11, 2004

Save the Constitution Sunday

I'm going to skip the editorializing and go right to the point.

From the Seattle Times:

Today — dubbed "Protect Marriage Sunday" — some pastors are expected to urge their congregants to call, e-mail and fax their senators, urging them to amend the Constitution.

You know what to do. And in case you're not sure how, here's the Senate home page that makes it EASY for you to contact your senators. Off you go.

July 10, 2004

Amnesty International condemns US

Apparently Amnesty International's legal staff read my earlier posting on this subject... This is from their website:

Last week the US Supreme Court rejected a central tenet of the administration's "war on terror" detention policy when it ruled that the Guantánamo detainees have the right to challenge their detentions in the US courts. Yesterday, the Pentagon announced the formation of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal scheme under which Guantánamo detainees will be able to challenge their so-called "enemy combatant" status.

"The detainees will not be provided a lawyer for this process, the entirety of which will be conducted within the military," Amnesty International noted. "All forms of evidence will be admissible, including from anonymous witnesses and testimony that may have been coerced."

Amnesty International fears that the narrow record that emerges from this process will then be used to put in front of the US courts when a detainee challenges his detention. The Pentagon has said that the detainees will be informed of their right to file a habeas corpus petition in the US courts.

"We are concerned that what the administration is planning is to have the courts restrict their review to the narrow record that emerges from this Combatant Status Review Tribunal scheme," Amnesty International said. "What it should be doing, at a minimum, is informing the detainees of their right to full judicial review in court and facilitating their access to legal counsel to enable a full and fair process to go ahead."

Read the whole press release for your daily dose of shame.

July 09, 2004

Kerry is boring, thank heavens

This article by Andrew Sullivan is a great example of why he is so frustrating to me. I love much of his writing--especially the pieces collected in Love Undetectable--but his defenses of Bush and attacks on Kerry make my brain hurt. How could a smart homo continue to defend Bush's ill-conceived, disastrously managed war? The article, titled "The Human Anti-Histamine: Kerry bores upward" would be similarly infuriating, but it produced in me an epiphany.

Thank God Kerry is so boring. We need a little boredom in our politics. Just as part of me welcomed the dot-com bust--we were all running on over-caffeinated money-grub turbo-drive 24/7/365 and it was going to kill us--I know that neither the Republic nor we as politically aware individuals can sustain the level of pique we've all been in since at least the Clinton impeachment drive. After almost 12 years of incredible polarization, wouldn't it be great if everyone was just a little bit less focused on the person of the president? Wouldn't it be nice to hear a little more leadership from that other branch, the Legislative, instead of our incredibly Roman tendencies toward Imperator Americana?

A huge amount of the criticism of Kerry from both sides can be boiled down to: "He's not an idealogue!!! What do we do with him???" You would have to go back to, um, the Bush I presidency to get a sense of the relative calm that the prospect of a Kerry administration offers. He was far from my favorite president, a little lacking in "the vision thing" but not a bad guy to have in the White House when it was clear that the world had changed dramatically. Whatever his policies were, he pursued them with an understanding of compromise and some measure of fairness--not the "advance on all fronts and damn the torpedoes" style of his misbegotten son.

So I say, bring on the boredom. Bring on the sentences that are not only complete, but actually deploy complexly coordinated dependent clauses. Bring on the "human anti-histamine," or better. We need a Valium. All of us.

July 08, 2004

July surprise

This shouldn't surprise anyone, but The New Republic is reporting a "July Surprise" plan to bag major al Qaeda fugitives in Pakistan and Afghanistan just in time for the Democratic convention at the end of the month--and definitely before the election:

According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, "The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections."
[Snip]
But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

But really... what's the purpose of propping up a nuke-selling despot if you can't count on him to deliver the mujahadeens in time for the election? Of course, Pakistan is a hornet's nest, and this push could have unintended consequences:

Military action in the tribal areas "has a domestic fallout, both religious and ethnic," Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri complained to the Los Angeles Times last year. Some American intelligence officials agree. "Pakistan just can't risk a civil war in that area of their country. They can't afford a western border that is unstable," says a senior intelligence official, who anonymously authored the recent Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and who says he has not heard that the current pressures on Pakistan are geared to the election. "We may be at the point where [Musharraf] has done almost as much as he can."

Pushing Musharraf to go after Al Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president's reelection is at stake.


July 07, 2004

As I was saying...

Ok, so I'm not as big a fan of John Kerry as of Bruce Springsteen (and yes. I would vote for the boss if he was running. Especially if he chose Joe Torre for his veep). However, I do kinda like the guy. Like I said. He's no Bruce, but he's fine. Anyway, it doesn't really matter what I think of him. What's really important is what I think of W. Which is that he needs to be fired. Retired. RIF'ed. Call it what you will. I just want him applying for unemployment benefits next year.

Alan Blevins apparently feels the same way I do. And for all those who are at all queasy about voting for a guy you're not fanatical about, he's trying to put your concerns to rest.

Free speech--playing into the hands of terrorists

According to Salon, several theater chains in the midwest are refusing to play Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 because they claim it "plays into the hands of the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks and those behind the recent beheadings of Americans in the Middle East." Right. We don't want to criticize the government or exercise free speech in a time of war. We're at war, damnit, and we good little Americans are supposed to shut up and do what dear leader tells us.

Wait, though. I distinctly remember Bush telling us that the whole reason the terrorists hate us is because we're free. In fact, I remember him telling us that many times. They hate us for our freedom of voice and religion and views and driving gas guzzling cars and not bothering to learn any other languages and such. They hate us for exercising our constitutional rights. For even having them.

But somehow trying to squash those rights is not playing into the hands of the terrorists? It's like this all-encompassing trump card, isn't it. It's almost as good as the Bible. You can refute almost any argument you want without ever having to reason it, just by pulling out the terrorist card.

"No, you mustn't show that movie. It criticizes the government and plays into the hands of terrorsists."

"No, you can't wear that shirt opposing the leader. It plays into the hands of terrorists."

"No, you have to let us read your email. Not doing so plays into the hands of terrorists."

"No, you can't be gay and get married. It plays into the hands of terrorists."

To which, methinks, the appropriate reponse should be, "Fuck yourself."

US forces abusing child prisoners

Just when you thought the prison abuse scandals couldn't get any worse, a German TV crew interviews an American soldier who has seen child prisoners in Iraq abused (full translated trasncript at Sadly, No!):

One that knows something about this is Sergeant Samuel Provance, from the US Military. He spent half a year stationed at Abu Ghraib. Today, 5 months later, we meet him in Heidelberg. His superiors have strictly forbidden him to speak to journalists about what he experienced in Abu Ghraib. But Provance wants to talk about it nevertheless. His conscience troubles him. He discusses a 16-year old he handled:

"He was very afraid, very alone. He had the thinnest arms I had ever seen.
His whole body trembled. His wrists were so thin we couldn't put handcuffs on him. As I saw him for the first time and led him to the interrogation, I felt sorry. The interrogation specialists threw water over him and put him into a car, drove him around through the extremely cold night. Afterwards, they covered him with mud and showed him to his imprisoned father, on whom they'd tried other interrogation methods.

They hadn't been able to get him to speak, though. The interrogation specialists told me that after the father saw his son in this condition, his heart was broken, he started crying, and he promised to tell them anything they wanted.

Read the article. It just gets worse. Any chance the US media will pick this up before they absolutely have to?

July 05, 2004

Colin Powell sheds last shred of self-respect

From the great Sadly, No blog, terrifying footage of Colin Powell and other US officials performing a version of "YMCA" for a gathering of Asian security officials. No, I am not making this up. But I wish I were.

July 4 in Bush's America

From Atrios and others, this disturbing item about Bush appearance at a public event in West Virginia yesterday:

Two Bush opponents, taken out of the crowd in restraints by police, said they were told they couldn't be there because they were wearing shirts that said they opposed the president.

So much for the freedoms this Republic was founded on. Happy 4th, y'all.

July 01, 2004

Who knew Catholics had courts?

I'm speechless.

"A Catholic lawyer has filed heresy charges against Sen. John Kerry with the Archdiocese of Boston, accusing the Democratic presidential candidate of bringing "most serious scandal to the American public" by receiving Holy Communion as a pro-choice Catholic. "

Most serious scandal? Hello??? One would think that a devout Catholic would not try to point out just how much serious scandal the Bishops have brought on themselves. I think maybe they should worry about the log in their eye before trying to remove the mote in their brother's. Or think about filing suit on all the Repubs who support the broad use of the death penalty--in direct opposition to the teachings of the Pope himself.

Great Nation article on Bush's HIV sham

Well, leave it to The Nation to point out how completely successful the Bush administration has been at snowing the media, including the NYT. (Seriously, check this Google News query and see how little attention it's getting!)

Apparently the Grey Lady was so moved that Bush uttered the word "condom" last month in a speech that they completely failed to mention the outrageous new CDC guidelines--showing again how even supposedly reputable media organizations are failing us in their most basic reportorial activities.

The Times article didn't even mention these new CDC censorship guidelines, or include any comment on Bush's speech in light of them from Administration critics.They even failed to notice the large and noisy ACT-UP demonstration outside the speech. Dissent wouldn't have been hard to find: When asked about the CDC regs, Representative Barney Frank told The Nation that "one has to reach back to Stalin and Lysenko to find an ideological distortion of science this complete." And Representative Henry Waxman called the CDC guidelines "shameful," and only the latest anti-condom move by an Administration whose policies have been "overwhelmingly suppressing and distorting science" for political purposes (as a sop to the Christian right).

There's Lysenko again, that bastard! Except now I think he's galloping, not just creeping along.

I was exercised about this today, so I thought I'd call Jim McDermott's office. What a painful experience! The guy on the phone spent 10 minutes telling me that this sort of thing happens all the time and there's not much more to do than submit a comment. I finally got him to promise to follow up and find out if the DC office was tracking the issue.

I got much more of a response from an email to David Schmader of The Stranger, who we now know from Virginia stuff. He was similarly outraged and sent it on to Dan Savage, promising they would cover it.

This is clearly one of those stories that for whatever reason the major media are asleep at the wheel on. Thank God for blogs and alternative papers!

Actual text of CDC regulation changes

I'm copying the full text of the proposed changes from the CDC website. It's outrageous.

[Federal Register: June 16, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 115)]
[Notices]
[Page 33823-33826]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr16jn04-106]


[[Page 33823]]

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Part V


Department of Health and Human Services

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Proposed Revision of Interim HIV Content Guidelines for AIDS-Related
Materials, Pictorials, Audiovisuals, Questionnaires, Survey
Instruments, Marketing, Advertising and Web site Materials, and
Educational Sessions in CDC Regional, State, Territorial, Local, and
Community Assistance Programs; Notice

Interim HIV Content Guidelines for AIDS-Related Materials, Pictorials,
Audiovisuals, Questionnaires, Survey Instruments, Marketing,
Advertising and Web site Materials, and Educational Sessions in CDC
School-Based Assistance Programs; Notice


[[Page 33824]]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Proposed Revision of Interim HIV Content Guidelines for AIDS-
Related Materials, Pictorials, Audiovisuals, Questionnaires, Survey
Instruments, Marketing, Advertising and Web Site Materials, and
Educational Sessions in CDC Regional, State, Territorial, Local, and
Community Assistance Programs

AGENCY: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of
Health and Human Services (DHHS).

ACTION: Notice for public comment.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The purpose of this document is to seek public comment on
proposed revision of the Interim HIV Content Guidelines, entitled
``Content of AIDS-Related written materials, pictorials, audiovisuals,
questionnaires, survey instruments, and educational sessions in CDC
assistance programs'' and to seek public comment on the proposed
revisions. The HIV Content Guidelines were last revised in 1992. The
purpose of these revisions are to (1) address advances in technology
(mainly the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web); (2)
increase grantee accountability; (3) be consistent with new public law;
and (4) improve clarity. Additionally, CDC has developed a separate
guidance document for school-based assistance programs.

DATES: Submit comments on or before August 16, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Address all comments concerning this notice to HIV Content
Guidelines Comments, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600
Clifton Road, NE., Mailstop E56, Atlanta, Georgia 30333. Comments may
be e-mailed to HIVComments@cdc.gov or faxed to (404) 639-3125.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: David Hale, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD, and TB
Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, NE., Mailstop E07, Atlanta, Georgia
30333. Telephone: (404) 639-8008.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) has provided funds for HIV prevention programs since
1985. Since then, CDC, as part of the terms and conditions for
receiving these funds, has required that all HIV educational and
related materials must be reviewed by a Program Review Panel (PRP)
designated by the recipient. The purpose of this requirement is to
ensure a careful consideration of the content and intended audience of
the materials and programs because education about preventing HIV
transmission involves effectively presenting information appropriate
for the specific audience. On June 15, 1992, CDC published in the
Federal Register (57 FR 26742) a guidance document for this review
entitled ``Content of AIDS-related written materials, pictorial,
audiovisuals, questionnaires, survey instruments, and educational
sessions in Centers for Disease Control assistance programs''. These
guidelines are currently in effect.
In this notice, CDC is proposing to revise the 1992 HIV Content
Guidelines. The purpose of these revisions are to (1) Address advances
in technology (mainly the advent of the Internet and the World Wide
Web); (2) increase grantee accountability; (3) be consistent with new
public law; and (4) improve clarity. CDC anticipates publishing a Final
Guidance document within 120 days after the conclusion of the comment
period. Additionally, CDC has developed a separate guidance document
for school-based assistance programs.

Summary and Explanation of Revisions for Regional, State, Territorial,
or Local, and Community Assistance Programs

The proposed HIV Content Guidelines now:
(1) Require review and approval of HIV/AIDS educational materials
placed on an organization's Web site. When the requirements were
developed for local review of HIV/AIDS education materials, the
Internet and World Wide Web were not used by the general public as a
major source of information as it is today. As a result, CDC is
proposing revisions to the Guidelines to require that HIV/AIDS
educational materials placed on a grantee's Web site be reviewed and
approved by the organization's designated Program Review Panel (PRP).
This requirement will not apply to materials developed by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services.
(2) Require that funded recipients ensure the PRP has determined
that the materials comply with Section 317P of the Public Health
Service Act. Section 317P was added to the Public Health Service Act in
2000. This Section states, in part, that ``education materials * * *
that are specifically designed to address sexually transmitted diseases
* * * shall contain medically accurate information regarding the
effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of condoms in preventing the
sexually transmitted disease the materials are designed to address.''
(3) Clarify the requirement of the PRP by requiring identification
of a PRP of no less than five persons who represent a reasonable cross-
section of the jurisdiction in which the program is based to ensure
better representation of the community to be served. The current
Guidelines require the identification of a PRP of no less than five
persons who represent a reasonable cross-section of the general
population. The proposed Guidelines require the identification of a PRP
of no less than five persons who represent a reasonable cross-section
of the jurisdiction in which the program is based. This clarification
should ensure better representation of the community to be served.
(4) Require each recipient to identify at least one PRP,
established by a state, territory, or local health department or
educational agency from the jurisdiction of the recipient. This
revision provides jurisdictions with the flexibility to establish the
number of PRPs to meet demand.
(5) Require PRPs to ensure that the title of materials developed
and submitted for review reflects the content of the activity or
program. This revision will ensure that materials and their contents
are clearly stated to the audience.
(6) Require funded recipients to include a certification that
accountable state, territorial or local health officials have
independently reviewed educational materials for compliance with
Sections 2500 and 317P of the Public Health Service Act. This is a new
requirement in the revised Guidelines and follows the same rationale of
Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S.Ct. 2607 (1973) that defines
``obscenity'' by looking to the average person, applying contemporary
community standards, as a way to ensure that material would be judged
by its impact on an average person, rather than a particularly
susceptible or sensitive person, or a totally insensitive one. The
review responsibility, in the proposed Guidelines, is placed at the
state and local level, specifically with state and local health
officials.
(7) Develop a separate guidance document for school-based
assistance programs. The current Guidelines apply to school-based
assistance programs as well as regional, state, territorial, local, and
community assistance programs. The proposed Guidelines separate the
guidance into two documents for ease of use and clarity.

[[Page 33825]]

Summary and Explanation of Revision Applicable Only to Community-Based
Programs

(8) Require funded community-based organizations to identify a
program review panel established by a state or local health department.
While the current Guidelines allow CDC-funded organizations to
establish their own PRP, they are encouraged to use a PRP established
by a health department or another CDC-funded organization. The proposed
Guidelines will no longer permit organizations to establish their own
PRP. Instead, recipients of HIV/AIDS funds are required to identify a
PRP established by a state or local health department within their
state's jurisdiction.

Dated: June 7, 2004.
James D. Seligman,
Associate Director for Program Support, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention.

Interim HIV Content Guidelines for AIDS-Related Written Materials,
Pictorials, Audiovisuals, Questionnaires, Survey Instruments, and
Educational Sessions for CDC Assistance Programs

I. Basic Principles

Controlling the spread of HIV infection and the occurrence of AIDS
requires the promotion of individual behaviors that eliminate or reduce
the risk of acquiring and spreading the virus. Messages must be
provided to the public that emphasize the ways by which individuals can
protect themselves from acquiring the virus. These methods include
abstinence from illegal use of IV drugs as well as from sexual
intercourse except in a mutually monogamous relationship with an
uninfected partner.
For those individuals who do not or cannot cease risky behavior,
methods of reducing their risk of acquiring or spreading the virus must
also be communicated. Such messages are often controversial. The
principles contained in this document are intended to provide guidance
for the development and use of HIV/AIDS-related educational materials
developed or acquired in whole or in part using CDC HIV prevention
funds, and to require the establishment of at least one Program Review
Panel by state and local health departments, to consider the
appropriateness of messages designed to communicate with various
groups. State and local health departments may, if they deem it
appropriate, establish multiple Program Review Panels to consider the
appropriateness of messages designed to communicate with various
groups.
A. Written materials (e.g., pamphlets, brochures, curricula,
fliers), audiovisual materials (e.g., motion pictures and videotapes),
pictorials (e.g., posters and similar educational materials using
photographs, slides, drawings, or paintings) and marketing,
advertising, Web site-based HIV/AIDS educational materials,
questionnaires or survey instruments should use terms, descriptors, or
displays necessary for the intended audience to understand dangerous
behaviors and explain practices that eliminate or reduce the risk of
HIV transmission.
B. Written materials, audiovisual materials, pictorials, and
marketing, advertising, Web site-based HIV/AIDS educational materials,
questionnaires or survey instruments should be reviewed by a Program
Review Panel established by a state or local health department,
consistent with the provisions of section 2500(b), (c), and (d) of the
Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 300ee(b), (c), and (d), as
follows:

``SEC. 2500. USE OF FUNDS.
(b) Contents of Programs.--All programs of education and
information receiving funds under this title shall include
information about the harmful effects of promiscuous sexual activity
and intravenous substance abuse, and the benefits of abstaining from
such activities.
(c) Limitation.--None of the funds appropriated to carry out
this title may be used to provide education or information designed
to promote or encourage, directly, homosexual or heterosexual sexual
activity or intravenous substance abuse.
(d) Construction.--Subsection (c) may not be construed to
restrict the ability of an educational program that includes the
information required in subsection (b) to provide accurate
information about various means to reduce an individual's risk of
exposure to, or to transmission of, the etiologic agent for acquired
immune deficiency syndrome, provided that any informational
materials used are not obscene.''

C. Educational sessions should not include activities in which
attendees participate in sexually suggestive physical contact or actual
sexual practices.
D. Program Review Panels must ensure that the title of materials
developed and submitted for review reflects the content of the activity
or program.
E. When HIV materials include a discussion of condoms, the
materials must comply with Section 317P of the Public Health Service
Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 247b-17, which states in pertinent part:

``educational materials * * * that are specifically designed to
address STDs * * * shall contain medically accurate information
regarding the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of condoms in
preventing the STD the materials are designed to address.''

II. Program Review Panel

Each recipient will be required to identify at least one Program
Review Panel, established by a state or local health department from
the jurisdiction of the recipient. These Program Review Panels will
review and approve all written materials, pictorials, audiovisuals,
marketing, advertising, and Web site materials, questionnaires or
survey instruments (except questionnaires or survey instruments
previously reviewed by an Institutional Review Board--these
questionnaires or survey instruments are limited to use in the
designated research project). The requirement applies regardless of
whether the applicant plans to conduct the total program activities or
plans to have part of them conducted through other organization(s) and
whether program activities involve creating unique materials or using/
distributing modified or intact materials already developed by others.
Materials developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
do not need to be reviewed by a panel. Members of a Program Review
Panel should understand how HIV is and is not transmitted and
understand the epidemiology and extent of the HIV/AIDS problem in the
local population and the specific audiences for which materials are
intended.
A. The Program Review Panel will be guided by the CDC Basic
Principles (see Section I above) in conducting such reviews. The panel
is authorized to review materials only and is not empowered either to
evaluate the proposal as a whole or to replace any internal review
panel or procedure of the recipient organization or local governmental
jurisdiction.
B. Applicants for CDC assistance will be required to include in
their applications the following:
1. Identification of at least one panel, established by a state or
local health department, of no less than five persons who represent a
reasonable cross-section of the jurisdiction in which the program is
based. Since Program Review Panels review materials for many intended
audiences, no single intended audience shall dominate the composition
of the Program Review Panel, except as provided in subsection d below.
In addition:
a. Panels that review materials intended for a specific audience
should draw upon the expertise of individuals who can represent
cultural sensitivities

[[Page 33826]]

and language of the intended audience, either through representation on
the panel or as consultants to the panels.
b. Panels must ensure that the title of materials developed and
submitted for review reflect the content of the activity or program.
c. The composition of Program Review Panels must include an
employee of a state or local health department with appropriate
expertise in the area under consideration, who is designated by the
health department to represent the department on the panel.
d. Panels reviewing materials intended for racial and ethnic
minority populations must comply with the terms of a-c above. However,
membership of the Program Review Panel may be drawn predominantly from
such racial and ethnic populations.
2. A letter or memorandum to the applicant from the state or local
health department, which includes:
a. Concurrence with this guidance and assurance that its provisions
will be observed.
b. The identity of members of the Program Review Panel, including
their names, occupations, and any organizational affiliations that were
considered in their selection for the panel.
C. When a cooperative agreement/grant is awarded and periodically
thereafter, the recipient will:
1. Present for the assessment of the appropriately identified
Program Review Panel(s) established by a state or local health
department, copies of written materials, pictorials, audiovisuals, and
marketing, advertising, Web site HIV/AIDS educational materials,
questionnaires, and surveys proposed to be used. The Program Review
Panel shall pay particular attention to ensure that none of the above
materials violate the provisions of Sections 2500 and 317P of the
Public Health Service Act.
2. Provide for assessment by the appropriately identified Program
Review Panel(s) established by a state or local health department, the
text, scripts, or detailed descriptions for written materials,
pictorials, audiovisuals, and marketing, advertising, and Web site
materials that are under development.
3. Prior to expenditure of funds related to the ultimate program
use of these materials, assure that its project files contain a
statement(s) signed by the chairperson of the appropriately identified
Program Review Panel(s) established by a state or local health
department, specifying the vote for approval or disapproval for each
proposed item submitted to the panel.
4. Include a certification that accountable state or local health
officials have independently reviewed written materials, pictorials,
audiovisuals, and marketing, advertising, and Web site materials for
compliance with Section 2500 and 317P of the Public Health Service Act
and approved the use of such materials in their jurisdiction for
directly and indirectly funded community-based organizations.
5. As required in the notice of grant award, provide to CDC in
regular progress reports, signed statement(s) of the chairperson of the
Program Review Panel(s) specifying the vote for approval or disapproval
for each proposed item that is subject to this guidance.
D. CDC-funded organizations, which are national or regional (multi-
state) in scope, or that plan to distribute materials as described
above to other organizations on a national or regional basis, must
identify a single Program Review Panel to fulfill this requirement.
Those guidelines identified in Sections I.A. through I.D. and II.A.
through II.C. outlined above also apply. In addition, such national/
regional panels must include, as a member, an employee of a state or
local health department.

[FR Doc. 04-13553 Filed 6-15-04; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4163-18-P

June 30, 2004

Bush's War on HIV... education

Just to prove the gravity of the things that are slipping under the radar these days, I had to hear from the great security risk blog about Bush's plan to censor sex-education plans. Wait, not censor, GUT. Not just ignoring condoms, but denouncing them. Read more in the LA Weekly, which says the laws go even further, blocking the vital research that lets us know how people actually get HIV:

Under the new regs, it will be impossible even to track the spread of unsafe sexual practices -- because the CDC's politically inspired censorship includes "questionnaires and survey materials" and thus would forbid asking people if they engage in specific sexual acts without protection against HIV. For that too would be "obscene." (Questions about gay kids have already disappeared from the CDC's national Youth Risk Survey after Christian-right pressure).

The new regulations are in their "comment period" until August 16. So right this minute, send an email (cc: a few hundred friends, too!) and tell the CDC that if they won't tell kids how important condoms are, we'll start stopping every teen we see and showing them how to put one on. I mean sure, we'd get arrested, but it seems a small price to pay.

I ask you again--is this our country? From a President who seeks to get credit for fighting AIDS in Africa, the true obscenity is his willingness to help spread it here.

I love it!

If there was a God of Law it would be David Cole. Read all about his experience with Bill O'Reilly.

The Party Line

One needs no more evidence that the Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq is a full parnter with the US web of disinformation about the Iraq war than this quote from last night's interview with Tom Brokaw:

Allawi: We know that this is an extension to what has happened in New York. And — the war have been taken out to Iraq by the same terrorists. Saddam was a potential friend and partner and natural ally of terrorism.

At least this time our man in Bagdad didn't nod his head in agreement:

Brokaw: Prime minister, I’m surprised that you would make the connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The 9/11 commission in America says there is no evidence of a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and those terrorists of al-Qaida.

There's a partial transcript of the interview here.

The US is truly remaking Iraq in its own image, complete with the faith based politics embraced by our own leader. The administration's stonewalling in the face of facts is hard to take on any day, but watching the supposedly independant Prime Minister of Iraq parrot the party line so accurately made my stomach turn.

Saddam was a tyrant and and a dictator and I've no doubt that many people in Iraq are happy to see him deposed. But I don't understand how the new Iraqi government can stand on the same rhetoric that we used to justify the war. Does Allawi really think it's okay that we bombed the shit out of Iraq in after 9-11, even if it was in supposed self-defense?

Google turns up a few interesting things about Allawi and his ties to the CIA (during the Bush senior years) and unspecified business interests in Saudi Arabia.

What did Condi say? (Can't find the quote, sorry.) Something like, "Make no mistake about it, they will have an independant and sovereign government."


June 29, 2004

Inspiration, and its absence

It seemed so sad during the primary season this year that so many people chose John Kerry as their man over Howard Dean largely because they deemed him more electable. The goal of the election this year, has from the beginning not been about finding a great president to lead us boldly through the next four years, but about firing the current bad president. Howard Dean inspired a lot of us, but he was too liberal and too full of bravado to carry the more moderate democratic voting base, and much too, well, Howard Dean, to get many republican fence-sitters. Kerry was the man. And for one main reason--his electability. And so he's the candidate.

The problem is, that we now have a candidate who a lot of people don't know much about. They didn't choose Kerry because they agreed with his stance on taxes, health care, or same-sex marriage. They chose him because he wasn't a freakshow like Dean (and I mean that in the most flattering way, Howard). They didn't need to know much about him, because they weren't choosing him so much as they were not choosing someone else. Is anyone all that excited about Kerry? Do they know what he stands for? Do they care? Or just that he isn't Bush?

So there are lots of people rallied around Bush. We've got lots of people that are rallied around the cause of getting rid of Bush. But are that many people rallied around Kerry? The polls don't really seem to show it. With approval ratings that low for Bush, Kerry should be riding high, but he's still running pretty even with him. At this point, it's not a race between Kerry and Bush. It's a race between Bush and notBush. (Or nonBush, if you prefer).

And people are worried. Because how can you maintain momentum through to November if you never built any up in the first place? Arianna Huffington is one of those trying to get Kerry to start getting his hands dirty. Together with Joe Trippi, late of Dean's campaign, she's started an online petition asking Kerry to start inspiring voters to want him rather than relying on them to not want the other guy. Why his people aren't pushing for that too, I don't understand, unless there is some strategy to holding back. Otherwise, it makes me a little concerned that they know that if he did open his mouth, we'd want to turn the clock back to the hour before he did.

update on tribunals

OK, here is an update for my posting on tribunals. The news is really fresh, so the story is getting fuller by the minute. Check out this from the Washington Post:

Defense lawyers have criticized the process as stacked against them, but the military has said tribunals would offer full and fair trials.

Smith [Air Force Maj. John Smith, a lawyer who helped draft commission rules]said Monday's Supreme Court ruling made no difference to plans for the tribunals, which the military calls commissions.

"The Supreme Court right now doesn't directly affect military commissions at all," he said. "Everyone would like to move this cases forward as quickly as possible."

Unfucking believable.

I called it!

Well, just one day after the Supreme Court said that the Guantanamo detainees should have access to U.S. Courts, our government has created a military tribunal for them. Can these people not read? What part of "U.S. Court" is unclear?

Of course this is no surprise as this administration's approach to everything is to try to wring all that it can out of any opportunity. Just as it created "enemy combatants" and the Court let that slide, the Court might say this is enough, even though it seemed pretty clear to me that this wasn't what was envisioned. The modus operandi is clearly "let's do 100 things that we know are wrong because we might get away with at least a few" and between the media and the courts and the legislature it usually works out that way. The rule of law is being worn away in front of our eyes and we are just too tired to fight. Sickening.

June 28, 2004

Could the wagons be circling already?

It hasn't been a good summer for the Bush Adminstration, what with Abu Ghraib and the 9/11 commission and Michael Moore to rub the salt into the wound. But something tells me things might get much, much worse.

No-one's saying it out loud yet, but the indications are there. Joe Klein in Time suggests that the recent irritability of Bushies -- Cheney's F-bomb, Wolfie's blast at journalists -- is related to looming revelations, rather than events already passed. Could it be the forthcoming tome from an anonymous CIA official describing failures in the war on terror? (As the author of Primary Colors, Klein has experience in anonymous revelations.) Or could it be simmering scandal around the uranium-from-Niger-to-Saddam story, hinted at on TalkingPointsMemo? And could those hints be related to these conspiracy-laden ramblings about an impeding coup d'état by the CIA following the Valerie Plame outing? Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Justice?

I'm starting to think that we need a category of "politics (yippee!)" as things have gone so well for us lefties lately.

Anyone else think it isn't coincidence that the Iraqi transfer (read "huge news story") happened on the same day that the Supreme Court issued rulings going in large part against the Bush administration? Seems like the slap-down is playing sloppy seconds to the Iraq news.

As for the rulings-- the Court did slap down Bush, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. It is unclear what the practical effect will be. We will have to wait and see how the government acts-- they might choose the obstinent route and "interpret" the opinions very narrowly, which would just delay things while more lawsuits play themselves out.

On the Hamdi case it seems there is some room for interpretation on the issue of if the hearing have to be in US courts or if military tribunals will be sufficient-- the actual language is "a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker"-- that doesn't scream "US FEDERAL COURT" to me. Pretty scary considering that he is a US citizen. I think it is very unclear how fair a military tribunal would be. We don't really know as they are fairly shrouded in secrecy.

On the Guantanamo detainees' case the Court did hold that US courts have jurisdiction, which is fabulous. Frankly I thought that Hamdi was more of a sure thing than this case, but it turns out to be reversed.

And on Padilla...the dissent is awesome. It chronicles the timeline on Padilla's detention and shows how the after his attorney began representing him, the President issued a command to Rumsfeld on a Sunday to take control of him. The District Court held a hearing on Sunday without Padilla's attorney present, where he was given over to the Department of Defense. The next day Ashcroft told the world about Padilla and the next day Padilla's attorney filed the writ. Not knowing where her client was, she filed it in New York-- the last place she had seen him (and where she was appointed counsel). The majority opinion said that since he was in South Carolina by then, the wrong court had the case and refused to rule on it. The dissent points out what complete bullshit this is-- and how it rewards the bullshit action by the government-- and how this type of law is full of holes and exceptions, so why not grant one to Padilla? Stevens calls a spade a spade and says that we all know what is going on here, so just get to it and decide the case on its merits. Of course that is not what happened...

These are huge cases, but there other cases that were decided this week that have major ramifications as well.

June 26, 2004

Presidential Respect

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 last night at the Neptune, which was followed by a speech by Jay Inslee. Inslee asked us all to commit 911 minutes to actual campaign action. Viewers were definitely anti-Bush, but Kerry wasn't terribly popular; considering that this was an event organized by Democracy for Washington, the post-campaign Dean-centric organization, that's not surprising.

Watching the film, I felt surprised that so many in this country would vote for our current fratboy-in-chief. If this happens again... Inslee claims there's a lot of anger brewing across the country, and I hope he's right.

I've been reading news stories about attendance and reactions, and I don't think there are going to be many surprises in that regard (with Dan Bartlett's comment being the prevailing feeling among Bush supporters).

There were many people outside the theater last night trying to hand out all kinds of political information. Considering who will see the film, I wonder if that's the best use of their time. I wasn't surprised to see them there, actually, but I did wonder where the Republicans were—shouldn't they be trying to talk moviegoers out of aborting this administration? I know, it's probably not an effective use of their time either, but I would have enjoyed witnessing the effort.

However, this story in the New York Times has some comments from Republicans who saw the film; it is the quote at the end of the article that has me posting this right now:


"Oh my goodness, I cried," Ms. Moody said. "I'm still trying to process everything. It really makes me question what I feel about the president. I'm still going to respect him as our president, but it makes me question his motives. Of course, I think that's the whole point of the film, to question his motives. But after watching it, I do question my loyalty to the president. And that's scary for me."

Wow. It was kind of scary for me when I seriously questioned my belief in God, but I'd never characterize my failing faith in a president as scary. How many voters feel this way about their choice? And when she says that she'll question his motives but still respect him, what does that mean? I don't think she means the kind of respect one has for a hurricane; in that way, I myself respect the president.

Is she contemplating revising her assessment of him to that of a Good Man who has temporarily gotten confused by his circumstances? (I do think the evil quotient of the administration would drop considerably if the Cheney was excised, but only complete amputation of this executive will really save the government.) Ah, maybe she just believes that the office invests the holder with some justly demanded deference.

June 25, 2004

One last outrage for the day

Today has to be our busiest blogging day ever! But I couldn't resist adding this one from Daily Kos:

"A new series of whimsical public service announcements from the Environmental Protection Agency are lampooning the notion that cars can be made more energy efficient while the ads encourage conservation at home."

Furreal, foos, as Margaret Cho would say. Apparently the want you to buy a new stove instead of a more fuel-efficient car. Believe me, I want a new stove pretty badly, but this is wack.

Classy, really classy.

This is how our (ouch!) Vice-President, the President of the Senate explains how he was justified in telling a U.S. Senator "fuck yourself" at an official Senate event:

He had challenged my integrity. And I didn't like that. But, most of all, I didn't like the fact that after he had done so then he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream. And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms."

EXCUSE ME? Who is acting like "everything's peaches and cream"? Close to a thousand U.S. soldiers have died and Cheney tells us the war was a great idea and then accuses someone else of putting on a happy face? Unbelievable.

The Washington Post points out that the exchange occurred on the same day the Senate passed legislation described as the "Defense of Decency Act" by 99 to 1. The same article details how the White House Chief of Staff reacted when John Kerry said Bush's Iraq policy was "fucked" up:

"That's beneath John Kerry," Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said. "I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language. I'm hoping that he's apologizing at least to himself, because that's not the John Kerry that I know."

No, that's the Dick Cheney that you know.

Ok, I lied

I had to post about this one. On the front page of Bush's campaign site, he has an ad that is so perverted and disgusting. My blood is boiling. He's showing a bunch of lefties, from Gore to Moore to Kerry, talking about the awful things Bush has done leading us into war, with a little chronological and geopgraphical detour to Hitler giving an equally angry speech. I guess he figures that anyone dumb enough to vote for him will buy into the parallels he's trying to draw here, but this, this takes a lot of cakes. There are not words to describe the baseness and tactlessness of our president. Whoever said he was the anti-christ on this board the other day, was most likely correct.

Pressuring your wife into going to sex clubs just isn't cool

Looks like Illinois is about to get a great senator. Republican Jack Ryan has announced that he is dropping out after it was made public that he is a bit of a perv. This wouldn't delight me so much if his opponent State Sen. Barack Obama wasn't such a cool guy.

June 24, 2004

Qui custodiet ipsos custodes

It almost seems perverse to be worrying about ancient artifacts buried in the sands for millennia when citizens are dying by the score in the streets of Iraq, but the irony is to poignant to ignore. As reported on NPR this morning (and, seemingly, nowhere else), the US Army, deployed to Babylon to protect its ancient temple area from the looters who surfaced after the fall of Saddam, is now systematically destroying the site. This includes scooping up most of the archeologically rich sand and dumping it into sandbags.

So, it seems, the proctectors have, in a way, become looters themselves, in much the same way the saviours of Abu Ghraib became torturers. Let's just hope the leader of the free world doesn't likewise turn into "despised international despot".

June 23, 2004

Doctorin' the Bush Doctrine

Quick review: 40 years of boycotting Cuba because, well, because we can. Almost 15 years, billions of dollars in "smart bombs" and two wars against Iraq because they had weapons of mass... errrr, colloborated with al Q... ummm... because Saddam's a "bad man, evil tyrant." We apparently have a whole method for dealing with dangerous totalitarian regimes, and it works like a charm, right!?

So why, then, has the Bush Administration decided, in its infinite and highly doctrinaire wisdom, to coddle the world's most megalomaniacal psycho-dictator? Basically because they have ignored the growing threat (glowing threat?) for three years and have no real choice but to try to play nice! No choice, that is, short of a land war in Asia. Or perhaps an air burst right over it.

As this post on PoorMan's excellent site points out, this is basically the same plan Clinton tried years ago, to Republican howls of "appeasement." Now we have much better evidence of just how far along N. Korea's nuke program is (not to mention those missles that can reach Seattle!), but what's a little appeasement between friends?

Seriously... think about it. I think W kinda likes crazy ol' Kim-- and why not? They both enjoy the benefits of inherited wealth and power, surround themselves with ideologically blinded functionaries who view their leader as infallible, pride themselves on being out of touch with reality, and have a shared love of dressing up in Daddy's military clothes. It's a short jump from "Strong Leader" to "Dear Leader," my friends.

Now that we've bankrupted ourselves in Iraq, how does a little "newk-ya-lurr" conflagration in East Asia sound? It might be a little unpleasant for "Coalition of the Willing" members S. Korea and Japan, but look on the bright side for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. If you reduce your enemies to piles of glow-in-the-dark ash, there will be nobody left you can be accused of torturing. Say goodbye to all the "Geneva Convention" carping by those liberals in the media.

And you know, with the way things are going in Iraq, Bush is going to need another war before the election. Something quick and clean, and easy to schedule in late October. I can hear Rove now: "Thermonuclear war: more sanitary that urban guerilla fighting, and cheaper, too." Why do I have a feeling that would focus-test well with a large portion of the American electorate?

June 21, 2004

Hersh's latest NYer article

We won't get our copy until Thursday or so, but the The New Yorker online has Seymour Hersh's latest damning article about the conduct of the Iraq war. (Hersh, of course, broke the Abu Ghraib scandal and is worth, in a professional sense, the next 50 top journos in the country.)

The gist of this article is so frightening as to be pathetic. Basically, when the Israelis can tell you how badly you've fucked up an occupation, you can be sure you're fucked in an absolute, not a relative, sense. To wit:


A former Administration official who had supported the war completed a discouraging tour of Iraq late last fall. He visited Tel Aviv afterward and found that the Israelis he met with were equally discouraged. As they saw it, their warnings and advice had been ignored, and the American war against the insurgency was continuing to founder. "I spent hours talking to the senior members of the Israeli political and intelligence community," the former official recalled. "Their concern was 'You're not going to get it right in Iraq, and shouldn't we be planning for the worst-case scenario and how to deal with it?'"

Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister, who supported the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq, took it upon himself at this point to privately warn Vice-President Dick Cheney that America had lost in Iraq; according to an American close to Barak, he said that Israel "had learned that there's no way to win an occupation." The only issue, Barak told Cheney, "was choosing the size of your humiliation." Cheney did not respond to Barak's assessment. (Cheney's office declined to comment.)

In a series of interviews in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, officials told me that by the end of last year Israel had concluded that the Bush Administration would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel's strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq's Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Several officials depicted Sharon's decision, which involves a heavy financial commitment, as a potentially reckless move that could create even more chaos and violence as the insurgency in Iraq continues to grow.

So far from improving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iraq war has made Israel less secure (to the extent that they are now running even riskier black ops). Iran, in addition to its likiely nuclear weapons program, now has its spy apparatus deep in "Free Iraq." And the creation of an independent Kurdistan, however much the Kurds deserve one, may create another pariah state that its neighbors will all want to destroy in perpetuity. (Imagine the Middle East with another Israel right in the middle!)

I'm beginning to think W really, truly is trying to bring about the end of the world. I know the saying goes "assume ignorance, not malice," but how much ignorance do we have to endure before assuming the worst?

When, in other words, do we get to "preempt the president"? He launched the war on far shakier evidence than we have against him!

Until now I've giggled at those "Impeach Bush" buttons. But no more. Certainly if he is reelected, I'll be gunning for a repeat of Nixon's second term. Or, perhaps, we could get a taste of Nixon's first term, when VP Spiro Agnew was forced to resign.

June 18, 2004

Mr Pot, meet Mr Kettle

Cheney's not too happy, it seems, about the media reports around the 9-11 commission's conclusion that there were no links between Saddam and al-Qaeda related to the 9-11 plot. Check out this transcript of an interview between Cheney and CNBC's Gloria Borger:

BORGER: Mr. Vice President, I don't think I've ever seen you, in all the years I've interviewed you, as exercised about something as you seem today.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I was. I admit, Gloria, and you and I have known each other a long time. But I do believe that the press has been irresponsible, that there's this temptation to take...

BORGER: But the press is making a distinction between 9/11 and...

Vice Pres. CHENEY: No, they're not. They're not. The New York Times does not. The Panel Finds No Qaida-Iraq Ties. That's what it says. That's the vaunted New York Times. Numerous--I've watched a lot of the coverage on it and the fact of the matter is they don't make a distinction. They fuzz it up. Sometimes it's through ignorance. Sometimes it's malicious. But you'll take a statement that's geared specifically to say there's no connection in relation to the 9/11 attack and then say, `Well, obviously there's no case here.' And then jump over to challenge the president's credibility or my credibility and say ...(unintelligible).

So, the media is "fuzzing up" the connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda, eh? Well, that's a turnaround for the books. Let's compare the fuzziness of the New York Times article with the administration's own statements on the matter (as reported in Slate):

[A]cting pursuant to the Constitution and [the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002] is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
—President Bush, in a letter to Congress outlining the legal justification for commencing war against Iraq, March 18, 2003

The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001. With that attack, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.
—President Bush, May 1 2003 ("Mission Accomplished" speech aboard USS Lincoln)

[a U.S. success in Iraq will mean] that we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.
—Vice President Cheney, Sep 14 2003, Meet The Press

Who's being fuzzy now?

June 17, 2004

The language of torture and the torture of reality

This was going to be just a comment on David's post, but then I had an epiphany and decided it was a bigger point.

I think where we are at is really quite simple: any recourse to external facts is "political," and therefore inadmissable to what we might call the "Bushiverse." Anything that has not already appeared in minutes of the Politburo--whoops, I mean statements of the Press Office-- is simply delegitimized, scorned, and ignored. In the chilling phrase of the day, any threatening or inconvenient fact from outside the Green Zone on Pennsylvania Avenue that they don't want to acknowledge becomes a "ghost prisoner." Like those prisoners, the ideés fixes of the Administration are held indefinitely but never questioned.

I could get all media-philosophe about this (per Baudrillard's analysis of the simulacrum, Bush doesn't have to use force to enact this hegemony of thought because the masses have "pre-capitulated") but it's really more simple. "Think what we tell you to think, say what we tell you to say." This should be a familiar model to those who have followed the rise of the radical right. The White House is now just another station on your talk radio dial.

If Reagan was our first Actor-in-Chief, Bush seems to be our first Talkshow-Host-in-Chief. His butchered elocutions are on par with the staccato stranglings of the AM maniacs, and his ever-certain/over-certain "style" is stolen from Rush Limbaugh--when Rush was high, no doubt.

W (read: Cheney 'n' Rove) seeks to use "Presidential power at its absolute apex" to mold an electorate that merely repeats the words it hears repeated. W would lead us into Dittohead Nation.

Speaking of that "absolute apex," it's worth thinking about the effect of "Bushiversese" on those of us accustomed to the careful use of legitimate language towards the formation of thoughtful opinion and sensible policy. It feels like torture. I don't mean to demean the horrors recently wrought in our name in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. But we've all felt this way. Listening to Bush speak is almost physically painful. Hearing him praise Rumsfeld as "fabulous" today actually made my stomach churn. If one truly listens to what is said, and tries to reconcile it against any external reality, one begins to go mad. At times, I have actually suffered from aphasia--the inability to speak--while watching Bush speak. And those of you who know me know that I consider that, well, torture. In torturing the language, Bush tortures we who treasure it.

We are being robbed of the most important tool, perhaps the only tool, of civil society. Orwell fought against the corruption of language by demagogues his whole career, and summarized all we can ever know (and must never forget) on the topic here.

It must be bliss to be one of those Americans who can listen and nod and hear only the good words: "strong," "freedom," "victory." Eventually, if allowed, Bush and Co. will carry this trend to its logical conclusion: appearing at the podium only to deliver those achingly familiar slogans of Orwellian purity:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
And Goddammit if they are not close today.

And W won't even have to worry about shooting the rest of us. We will have either given ourselves over to the flood of useless syllables and pretty toys, fled the country, or fled inside ourselves--driven mad by the wily madness of the King George.

Rejecting criticism as a political act

Responding to a bipartisan collection of ambassors and generals denouncement of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, Colin Powell merely rejected the criticism as a political act.

Apparently, a "political act" is worthy of no further discussion, and can be denounced solely on the grounds of partisanship. As a result, the fact that this is a political act immediately renders void any of the criticisms contained therein, including that:

[Bush] led the United States into an ill-planned and costly war from which exit is uncertain.

Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated among the nations.

[Bush is] motivated more by ideology than by reasoned analysis.

[The Bush Administration] is not able to rise to the responsibilities of world leadership in either style or substance.

But then, any criticism of the President is, de facto, a political act, which neatly sidesteps the requirements of actually having to respond to such criticisms. How very, very convenient.

June 16, 2004

Forget the polls

Thanks to our ridiculous white elephant electoral college system, tiny fractions of the populations of just a few states will decide the election. While it has been interesting to look at the simple percentage polls, it's getting close enough that we need to start worrying about electoral votes.

The Current Electoral Vote Predictor 2004 lets you do just that. Bush is currently ahead by 18 votes according to the site's projections.

The margins in some of these states are so small that everyone needs to do what they can to ensure that people in those states vote (for Kerry) in November. Those of you with friends in Michigan (17 votes), Wisconsin (10 votes), and Virginia (13 votes) need to call them with a big pep talk--those states are listed as "barely Bush." Perhaps waking up Virginia liberals on their state issues will help a bit in getting them to the polls in November--or maybe they will all have moved elsewhere by then!

June 11, 2004

Losing the war on terror ... and on truth

Consider the following two statements:

Worldwide terrorism dropped by 45 percent between 2001 and 2003. The number of terrorist acts committed last year represents the lowest annual total of international terrorist attacks since 1969.
The number of terrorist events has risen each year since 2001, and in 2003 reached its highest level in more than 20 years.

You can't get more diametrically opposite than that. And yet, these two conclusions are both drawn from the same report, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003, an annual round-up of terrorism activity from the State Department. Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration stands behind the first conclusion (the first quote comes from Dick Armitage). The second comes from a re-analysis of the underlying data by the Washington Post, as reported in this May 17 editorial.

They say in war the first casualty is truth, and this Salon article conducts the field autopsy. The decline in terrorism reported by Armitage is entirely due to a decline in "nonsignificant events". The State Department tallies but refuses to disclose what constitutes a nonsignificant event. Clearly though, a nonsignificant event is something less significant than destroying an ATM or throwing a molotov cocktail at a McDonald's without causing damage, both "significant events" by the State Department's own definition. They won't even disclose who decides what constitutes an event (significant or otherwise), or provide data to validate the nonsignificant events. The data for significant events is, however, tabled and verified, and those have clearly risen, even if you ignore (as the 2003 report curiously did) events after November 11 2003, including the November bombings in Istanbul that killed dozens and wounded hundreds. (And don't get me started on the misleading scale break in this chart of Total US Citizen Casualties.)

Clearly, we are not winning the war on terror, despite State of the Union speeches and daily briefings to the contrary. But when the definition of "to win" is set by Bush creations -- the data in the report was collected by the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Department of Homeland Security -- what other conclusion can you expect?

June 10, 2004

Pray for Reason

To follow up on Paulette's post... I had actually read all of that stuff Pollack mentioned. This probably explains why I sleep so poorly. Everything, that is, except for the Texas Republican Party platform. (I'm scared to think what their 2004 platform will be!) As my friend Trav (who is from Texas) says sometimes: "Keee-rist!"

I love what Pollackis doing with Pray For Reason. I pledged, and the happy little prayer is up on my monitor. Fighting fire with fire, as they say. Can't hurt, right?

Purple sash v Green sash

And you thought the treatment of Iraqi detainees was bad. What about the way the army treats its own soldiers?

June 08, 2004

Where we are, and where we are going

As the media has us dancing to the dirge, possibly the most disturbing story I've yet read on the Bush administration is sailing under the radar. It's in the pay-only WSJ online, but as many other sites have done I'm posting it below.

The article is so stunning that most commentators have skipped right past its status as the ultimate Abu Ghraib smoking gun:

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn't bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn't be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The advice was part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that with conventional methods they weren't getting enough information from prisoners.

The report outlined U.S. laws and international treaties forbidding torture, and why those restrictions might be overcome by national-security considerations or legal technicalities.
...
A Pentagon official said some military lawyers involved objected to some of the proposed interrogation methods as "different than what our people had been trained to do under the Geneva Conventions," but those lawyers ultimately signed on to the final report in April 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began.

The really scary part is this:

A military lawyer who helped prepare the report said that political appointees heading the working group sought to assign to the president virtually unlimited authority on matters of torture -- to assert "presidential power at its absolute apex," the lawyer said. Although career military lawyers were uncomfortable with that conclusion, the military lawyer said they focused their efforts on reining in the more extreme interrogation methods, rather than challenging the constitutional powers that administration lawyers were saying President Bush could claim.
...
The working-group report elaborated the Bush administration's view that the president has virtually unlimited power to wage war as he sees fit, and neither Congress, the courts nor international law can interfere. It concluded that neither the president nor anyone following his instructions was bound by the federal Torture Statute, which makes it a crime for Americans working for the government overseas to commit or attempt torture, defined as any act intended to "inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering." Punishment is up to 20 years imprisonment, or a death sentence or life imprisonment if the victim dies.

"In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign ... (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority," the report asserted.
...
Likewise, the lawyers found that "constitutional principles" make it impossible to "punish officials for aiding the president in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities" and neither Congress nor the courts could "require or implement the prosecution of such an individual."

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

Billmon usefully compares this to Hitler's advocacy (as early as the 1920s) of the Fuehrerprinzip (an authoritarian state with power emanating from the top). He also has some great quotes from the oh-so-Christian lawyer who headed up the commission, juxtaposed against the report's justifications for torture.

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo has this to say about the story:


So the right to set aside law is "inherent in the president". That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means -- a government of laws, not men, and all that.

So that is where we are. The president asserts in his person the right to set aside law, and to protect lawbreakers by his very word. This story isn't hitting the mainstream media with anything like the meteoric force it should, so apparently it falls to us to spread the word. We have an unelected president arrogating unprecedented powers to himself, taking the nation in a patently undemocratic and despotic direction. If we do not make our collective voices heard on this, things can only get worse. Where the nation goes is, as it has always been, our choice and our responsibility.

Security or Legal Factors Could Trump Restrictions, Memo to Rumsfeld Argued

by Jess Bravin
Monday, June 7, 2004
Wall Street Journal

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn't bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn't be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The advice was part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that with conventional methods they weren't getting enough information from prisoners.

The report outlined U.S. laws and international treaties forbidding torture, and why those restrictions might be overcome by national-security considerations or legal technicalities. In a March 6, 2003, draft of the report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, passages were deleted as was an attachment listing specific interrogation techniques and whether Mr. Rumsfeld himself or other officials must grant permission before they could be used. The complete draft document was classified "secret" by Mr. Rumsfeld and scheduled for declassification in 2013.

The draft report, which exceeds 100 pages, deals with a range of legal issues related to interrogations, offering definitions of the degree of pain or psychological manipulation that could be considered lawful. But at its core is an exceptional argument that because nothing is more important than "obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens," normal strictures on torture might not apply.

The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the report argued. Civilian or military personnel accused of torture or other war crimes have several potential defenses, including the "necessity" of using such methods to extract information to head off an attack, or "superior orders," sometimes known as the Nuremberg defense: namely that the accused was acting pursuant to an order and, as the Nuremberg tribunal put it, no "moral choice was in fact possible."

According to Bush administration officials, the report was compiled by a working group appointed by the Defense Department's general counsel, William J. Haynes II. Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker headed the group, which comprised top civilian and uniformed lawyers from each military branch and consulted with the Justice Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. It isn't known if President Bush has ever seen the report.

A Pentagon official said some military lawyers involved objected to some of the proposed interrogation methods as "different than what our people had been trained to do under the Geneva Conventions," but those lawyers ultimately signed on to the final report in April 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began. The Journal hasn't seen the full final report, but people familiar with it say there were few substantial changes in legal analysis between the draft and final versions.

A Pentagon official said some military lawyers involved objected to some of the proposed interrogation methods as "different than what our people had been trained to do under the Geneva Conventions," but those lawyers ultimately signed on to the final report in April 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began. A military lawyer who helped prepare the report said that political appointees heading the working group sought to assign to the president virtually unlimited authority on matters of torture -- to assert "presidential power at its absolute apex," the lawyer said. Although career military lawyers were uncomfortable with that conclusion, the military lawyer said they focused their efforts on reining in the more extreme interrogation methods, rather than challenging the constitutional powers that administration lawyers were saying President Bush could claim.

The Pentagon disclosed last month that the working group had been assembled to review interrogation policies after intelligence officials in Guantanamo reported frustration in extracting information from prisoners. At a news conference last week, Gen. James T. Hill, who oversees the offshore prison at Guantanamo as head of the U.S. Southern Command, said the working group sought to identify "what is legal and consistent with not only Geneva [but] ... what is right for our soldiers." He said Guantanamo is "a professional, humane detention and interrogation operation ... bounded by law and guided by the American spirit."

Gen. Hill said Mr. Rumsfeld gave him the final set of approved interrogation techniques on April 16, 2003. Four of the methods require the defense secretary's approval, he said, and those methods had been used on two prisoners. He said interrogators had stopped short of using all the methods lawyers had approved. It remains unclear what actions U.S. officials took as a result of the legal advice.

Critics who have seen the draft report said it undercuts the administration's claims that it recognized a duty to treat prisoners humanely. The "claim that the president's commander-in-chief power includes the authority to use torture should be unheard of in this day and age," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York advocacy group that has filed lawsuits against U.S. detention policies. "Can one imagine the reaction if those on trial for atrocities in the former Yugoslavia had tried this defense?"

Following scattered reports last year of harsh interrogation techniques used by the U.S. overseas, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, wrote to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice asking for clarification. The response came in June 2003 from Mr. Haynes, who wrote that the U.S. was obliged to conduct interrogations "consistent with" the 1994 international Convention Against Torture and the federal Torture Statute enacted to implement the convention outside the U.S.

The U.S. "does not permit, tolerate or condone any such torture by its employees under any circumstances," Mr. Haynes wrote. The U.S. also followed its legal duty, required by the torture convention, "to prevent other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture," he wrote.

The U.S. position is that domestic criminal laws and the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments already met the Convention Against Torture's requirements within U.S. territory.

The Convention Against Torture was proposed in 1984 by the United Nations General Assembly and was ratified by the U.S. in 1994. It states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture," and that orders from superiors "may not be invoked as a justification of torture."

That prohibition was reaffirmed after the Sept. 11 attacks by the U.N. panel that oversees the treaty, the Committee Against Torture, and the March 2003 report acknowledged that "other nations and international bodies may take a more restrictive view" of permissible interrogation methods than did the Bush administration.

The report then offers a series of legal justifications for limiting or disregarding antitorture laws and proposed legal defenses that government officials could use if they were accused of torture.

A military official who helped prepare the report said it came after frustrated Guantanamo interrogators had begun trying unorthodox methods on recalcitrant prisoners. "We'd been at this for a year-plus and got nothing out of them" so officials concluded "we need to have a less-cramped view of what torture is and is not."

The official said, "People were trying like hell how to ratchet up the pressure," and used techniques that ranged from drawing on prisoners' bodies and placing women's underwear on prisoners heads -- a practice that later reappeared in the Abu Ghraib prison -- to telling subjects, "I'm on the line with somebody in Yemen and he's in a room with your family and a grenade that's going to pop unless you talk."

Senior officers at Guantanamo requested a "rethinking of the whole approach to defending your country when you have an enemy that does not follow the rules," the official said. Rather than license torture, this official said that the report helped rein in more "assertive" approaches.

Methods now used at Guantanamo include limiting prisoners' food, denying them clothing, subjecting them to body-cavity searches, depriving them of sleep for as much as 96 hours and shackling them in so-called stress positions, a military-intelligence official said. Although the interrogators consider the methods to be humiliating and unpleasant, they don't view them as torture, the official said.

The working-group report elaborated the Bush administration's view that the president has virtually unlimited power to wage war as he sees fit, and neither Congress, the courts nor international law can interfere. It concluded that neither the president nor anyone following his instructions was bound by the federal Torture Statute, which makes it a crime for Americans working for the government overseas to commit or attempt torture, defined as any act intended to "inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering." Punishment is up to 20 years imprisonment, or a death sentence or life imprisonment if the victim dies.

"In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign ... (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority," the report asserted. (The parenthetical comment is in the original document.) The Justice Department "concluded that it could not bring a criminal prosecution against a defendant who had acted pursuant to an exercise of the president's constitutional power," the report said. Citing confidential Justice Department opinions drafted after Sept. 11, 2001, the report advised that the executive branch of the government had "sweeping" powers to act as it sees fit because "national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action that characterize the presidency rather than Congress."

The lawyers concluded that the Torture Statute applied to Afghanistan but not Guantanamo, because the latter lies within the "special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and accordingly is within the United States" when applying a law that regulates only government conduct abroad.

Administration lawyers also concluded that the Alien Tort Claims Act, a 1789 statute that allows noncitizens to sue in U.S. courts for violations of international law, couldn't be invoked against the U.S. government unless it consents, and that the 1992 Torture Victims Protection Act allowed suits only against foreign officials for torture or "extrajudicial killing" and "does not apply to the conduct of U.S. agents acting under the color of law."

The Bush administration has argued before the Supreme Court that foreigners held at Guantanamo have no constitutional rights and can't challenge their detention in court. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on that question by month's end.

For Afghanistan and other foreign locations where the Torture Statute applies, the March 2003 report offers a narrow definition of torture and then lays out defenses that government officials could use should they be charged with committing torture, such as mistakenly relying in good faith on the advice of lawyers or experts that their actions were permissible. "Good faith may be a complete defense" to a torture charge, the report advised.

"The infliction of pain or suffering per se, whether it is physical or mental, is insufficient to amount to torture," the report advises. Such suffering must be "severe," the lawyers advise, and they rely on a dictionary definition to suggest it "must be of such a high level of intensity that the pain is difficult for the subject to endure."

The law says torture can be caused by administering or threatening to administer "mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the sense of personality." The Bush lawyers advised, though, that it "does not preclude any and all use of drugs" and "disruption of the senses or personality alone is insufficient" to be illegal. For involuntarily administered drugs or other psychological methods, the "acts must penetrate to the core of an individual's ability to perceive the world around him," the lawyers found.

Gen. Hill said last week that the military didn't use injections or chemicals on prisoners.

After defining torture and other prohibited acts, the memo presents "legal doctrines ... that could render specific conduct, otherwise criminal, not unlawful." Foremost, the lawyers rely on the "commander-in-chief authority," concluding that "without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president's ultimate authority" to wage war. Moreover, "any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president," the lawyers advised.

Likewise, the lawyers found that "constitutional principles" make it impossible to "punish officials for aiding the president in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities" and neither Congress nor the courts could "require or implement the prosecution of such an individual."

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

The report advised that government officials could argue that "necessity" justified the use of torture. "Sometimes the greater good for society will be accomplished by violating the literal language of the criminal law," the lawyers wrote, citing a standard legal text, "Substantive Criminal Law" by Wayne LaFave and Austin W. Scott. "In particular, the necessity defense can justify the intentional killing of one person ... so long as the harm avoided is greater."

In addition, the report advised that torture or homicide could be justified as "self-defense," should an official "honestly believe" it was necessary to head off an imminent attack on the U.S. The self-defense doctrine generally has been asserted by individuals fending off assaults, and in 1890, the Supreme Court upheld a U.S. deputy marshal's right to shoot an assailant of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field as involving both self-defense and defense of the nation. Citing Justice Department opinions, the report concluded that "if a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate criminal prohibition," he could be justified "in doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network."

Mr. LaFave, a law professor at the University of Illinois, said he was unaware that the Pentagon used his textbook in preparing its legal analysis. He agreed, however, that in some cases necessity could be a defense to torture charges. "Here's a guy who knows with certainty where there's a bomb that will blow New York City to smithereens. Should we torture him? Seems to me that's an easy one," Mr. LaFave said. But he said necessity couldn't be a blanket justification for torturing prisoners because of a general fear that "the nation is in danger."

For members of the military, the report suggested that officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders "may be inferred to be lawful" and are "disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate." Examining the "superior orders" defense at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the Vietnam War prosecution of U.S. Army Lt. William Calley for the My Lai massacre and the current U.N. war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the report concluded it could be asserted by "U.S. armed forces personnel engaged in exceptional interrogations except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful."

The report seemed "designed to find the legal loopholes that will permit the use of torture against detainees," said Mary Ellen O'Connell, an international-law professor at the Ohio State University who has seen the report. "CIA operatives will think they are covered because they are not going to face liability."

Copyright © 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc

June 07, 2004

Hitch on The Gipper, with some notes of my own

All weekend, David has been flipping on the TV and announcing "NEWS FLASH: Ronald Reagan still dead!" Clearly, he is new to America's reflexive hagiography, in which dead presidents enter the firmament washed of their sins by an entirely unquestioning media.

Don't get me wrong... I have, in spite of myself, a warm feeling towards Reagan. Indeed, his better qualities (chiefly the ability to communicate like a sentient human being) shine all the brighter with Shrub as a foil. He is the paterfamilias shining in a lot of dim memories of the 1980s. I was, for most of that decade, a dutiful Reagan Youth, even playing him in the 1984 mock elections at my elementary school. I recall shaming my opponent (my blond-tressed nemesis Erika, playing Mondale) with the shocking news that Managua was closer to Dallas than Washington D.C. How could she (or, um, he) remain blind to the red threat to the south? What, I asked, if Mexico fell to the communists?! (I could have titled this "Notes from a Cold War childhood.")

Reagan was, though, eventually the agent of my conversion to liberalism as well. The Iran-Contra affair occured just as I was beginning to study American history in a critical, adult fashion, and I saw it as a threat to the rule of law, which of course it was. The more I dug into the question of America's role in Central America, the more disillusioned I became. My rebellion was swift and strong: by 1988 I had hung a Sandinista flag in my room (to the horror of my grandparents, who had given money to the Contras following their personal friendship with Anastazio Somoza), subscribed to Harper's, and started receiving mail from the ACLU. My mother will be horrified in her latter-day enlightenment to recall once threatening me, upon the arrival of my ACLU membership card, "Not if you are going to live in this house!" The card went in the trash, and I stayed at home. But I would never go back to the simple faith of my youth.

"Times have changed, and we've often re-wound the clock," as Cole Porter put it so well. My mother is in the minority of Americans who have moved left since Reagan. The tidal forces he unleashed have reshaped the country's politics irrevocably. Where before the American narrative was one of progress, Reagan brought us the essentially pessimistic idea that there was a prelapsarian Golden Age that we could and should return to (eliding the excesses of the Gilded Age, Jim Crow, and the policies that led to the Great Depression); what's more, he was able to package this reactionary vision as optimism about America's future. He taught the GOP that the country would buy (on credit, no less) this revanchist vision of a foregone future. He sold us the sugar-plum fantasy of Star Wars defenses, while unable to mention--even once--the bitter reality of AIDS. His leadership could have slowed the epidemic, but of course his communications director was Pat Buchanan, who opined publicly that AIDS was "nature's revenge" on homosexuals.

I could go on... Reagan's disastrous environmental policies, the huge national debt he wrung up, his cavalier attitude towards human rights worldwide, the policy toward Soviet Afghanistan that aided the rise of Osama bin Laden and transnational Islamic militancy in general, his attacks on free speech and freedom of information... the list goes on and on. I do think it's impossible to neglect the fact that his policy toward the USSR, however it looked like brinkmanship at the time, worked out quite well. And his suppleness in recognizing Gorbachev's true willingness to reform is something of a miracle (again, especially compared with W's unchangeable mind). So we'll give him that, and credit his charm. But I think it's critical that we be critical in looking back... something the mainstream media have no interest in doing. Reagan is the patron saint of the right, and they will brook no criticism at all of his record.

Of course, Christopher Hitchens doesn't care about that, and his article on the stupidity of Ronald Reagan in Slate today is an important read. Hitchens, like almost everyone else, has lurched to the right in recent years (especially in his support of the war on Iraq), but not so far that he forgets what he knows to be true. Bless him for being brave enough to tell the truth--something missing from the ad nauseum encomiums to Reagan we'll be enduring for weeks.

May 26, 2004

How Many Invasions Does It Take

Considering the "news" today, I'm thinking about the cost of the Iraq war versus the cost of having an air marshal or two on every flight, thorough inspections in ports, and other policing activities that would do far more to diffuse active terrorist plots than invading and occupying another country—thus creating more people with degrading hope for their lives and an entity upon which to fix their resentment. Hmm.

Stepping back from that, what kinds of things could we have done to change the world with aid rather than bombs for the same price? What if we had focused our energies on making Afghanistan a welcoming place to democratic reforms and legal business? How would the legacy of that kind of activity differ from what we're going to have from the invasion?

Thinking about the actual threat to Americans versus the perceived threat, I'd like to echo something that appeared in a recent issue of Mother Jones: a list of statistics in the style of the Harper's Index. From "Stats of the Union":

In 2001, 476 more Americans died of malnutrition than from terrorism.

Yes, that year.

May 10, 2004

Exporting "incarcerocracy"

America is just barely operating at the standards of democracy these days, but one thing we excel at is locking people up. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, our closest competitors fell far behind. We lock up about 5.6 million of our fellow citizens--2.7% of our population, or one out of every 37 Americans.

So behind the bright and shining lie of "exporting democracy to Iraq," it's clear now after the Abu Ghraib incident that what we've really been exporting is something we have a lot more of on hand--our commitment to lock people up needlessly and then treat them savagely.

This sickening New York Times piece (linked to by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo) drives the point home with quotes like this:

Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.

In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women's pink underwear as a form of humiliation.

At Virginia's Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl.

The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.

The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.


America--home of the imprisoned, land of the sadistic jailer. Are these pictures really a surprise, or are we experiencing the shock of recognition? As we decline into imperial despotism under Bush, Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld, our prisons here and abroad increasingly resemble the apparatus of torture that links evil empires throughout history.

One wonders--how many Iraqis will we have to lock up to ensure a pro-US government is elected there? I'm sure we have somebody working out the math right now.

May 07, 2004

Stupid Kid Things

Every time I see that picture of the young woman with the cigarette in her mouth giving the thumbs up, the same question comes to mind: Who is she? Where did she come from?

Stories are starting to surface. She's got a name. She's 21 year old Lynndie England of Fort Ashby, West Virginia. Here's a quote from one article:

Newspaper reports claim in Fort Ashby, Lynndie England is a being toasted as a hero, with one local quoted as saying that tormenting Iraqis would be no different to shooting a turkey.

Speaking from her trailer, Lynndie England's mother Terrie is quoted as saying her daughter was just doing stupid kid things, and that she was just following orders.

Google Lynndie and you can learn more about her and her home town. But you won't learn the answers to other questions. Like, why are we so surprised? Have we totally forgotten everything we know about history? We fought a war overseas in a place called Vietnam. We sent a bunch of young, undertrained solders to kill, watch their comrades die, and be destroyed themselves. History has shown us how they behaved. Rwanda. Somalia. Kosova. What happened in those places? War destroyed all the rules about human behavior.

When you Google Lynndie, you can find stories that almost - but not quite - defend her actions. Writers will tell you that it's not as bad as what happened to prisoners under Saddam. They'll say it's no My Lai. Yeah, they're probably right. But.

I've been thinking about myself at 21. And I've been thinking about what could have happened in my life to make me turn out to be like Lynndie. You know what? I feel sorry for Lynndie England. Not for what she appears to have done, but for whatever circumstances made her who she is.

May 05, 2004

What was that pot calling the kettle again?

I find it distressing, if not surprising, that the race between Kerry and Bush is still so close. Though I know there is plenty of time before the election, it still would make me feel better if Kerry had a strong lead early on (similar to the way I feel about Yankees/Mariners games).

But the fact that Kerry's been hurt by Bush attack ads accusing him of being indecisive and pandering to special interests really makes me worry that the good people of this country are monumentally stupid. Uhm, so special interests would not include the logging, energy, coal, agribusiness, or automotive industries right? Because those are pretty much the only interests Bush even gives notice to.

And sure, it's true that Bush doesn't waffle, and he isn't indecisive. As we all know, when he makes a decision, he sticks with it, regardless of what happens to prove he was wrong.

Or the Bush campaign accusing Kerry of being "another rich liberal elitist from Massachusetts who claims he’s a man of the people." Because Bush is not just a rich, ultraconservatice elitist from Texas who claims he's a main of the people?

Sigh.

The Disney Version

Breaking news here at Zoka: Disney plans to block release of Michael Moore's new film, Farenheit 9/11, by Miramax. I'll let you news.google it for more details, but here's a link to a poll on MSN.

I think this will probably help the film, actually, much like I suspect Sinclair's blocking of Nightline last week probably increased viewership. (I'd love to see numbers on this.)

April 30, 2004

No more film cameras.... EVER!

First off, 10 points to whomever gets the reference in the headline. Second, it's apparently not safe to take for film to Walgreen's or anywhere else to be developed. A man's bare chest got film trashed at Walgreen's, and the Meijer chain is apparently calling the cops at the first sign of any nudity. Ratting customers out--now that's the way to beat Wal-Mart.

And whom do we have to thank for this? The American Family Association. Grrrrr.

Better off under Saddam?

The Iraqis in these horribly disturbing pictures probably were better off before the Americans arrived. Wow... I'm proud to be an American looking at these. And you have to figure for every outrage like this that comes to light there are 10 more we don't know about. Because of course the US media can't discuss these things. (God bless the Memory Hole.) What's worse, "private military contractors" (read: mercenaries) are doing far worse things with impunity, because nobody on the ground in Iraq can decide who has jurisdiction. (We'll know it is really here the day the government starts blocking the Guardian's website.)

One thing you can be sure of... the Iraqi raped by a PMC isn't making a big distinction between uniformed military and Pentagon contractor. In his terrified, dehumanized eyes it's just another American. We're creating terrorists wholesale in Iraq, making true the fatuous lies W told to get us there in the first place.

April 29, 2004

Scenesters take on Bush

I was a little bit heartened by this article in The Stranger today. Maybe one good effect Bush will have will be to galvanize support of the non-crazy elements of society to take back the country.

What "it" looks like

Dahlia Lithwick's coverage of yesterday's SCOTUS hearings of the Hamdi and Padilla cases is nothing short of excellent. And Hamdi's public defender, Frank Dunham, is my new hero. You need to read the article, listen to clips, and read Fred Korematsu's amicus brief that references the experience of Japanese Americans interned in WWII.

Lithwick starts with the question that should be keeping us all up at night:

How you feel about the indefinite military detentions of Yaser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla will turn largely on what you think life will look like when it starts. By "it," I mean the moment at which fundamental liberties are curtailed by well-meaning governments and the legal system becomes unable to offer relief. Never having seen "it" happen in my lifetime, I'm hardly an expert. German Jews who survived the Holocaust will tell you that it's hard to know at exactly which instant you've crossed the line into "it."

The endangered specied act sleeps with the fishes

One of these days, I'll be driving to work and listening to Morning Edition and hear a story about how the administration made a policy change that is good for the country, good for the environment, good for humanity, or at least good for someone other than business interests.

Today was not that day.

I'd suggest we all send Bush boxes of salmon that he doesn't believe are worth protecting, but I'm sure the paranoid machinations of the administration would take it the wrong way and send secret service agents after us for making a threat against him, like they did to some poor kid who drew antiwar pictures for a school project.

I now firmly believe that Bush and Cheney have a committee somewhere whose sole purpose is dreaming up new ways to fuck up what could be an otherwise ok world.

April 27, 2004

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

This entry isn't really more than links to some articles I've enjoyed in the last several hours from the Washington Post. Three articles in a series, plus a chat transcript (that I recommend reading, too), that profile both the evident division in this country, as well as profiles of two familes, one Republican, and one Democratic.


Oh, but I do ramble on a bit here.

In the article about the division, Senator Jeffords—uniquely independent—calls the division a "chasm", and I also feel it's huge. There are a multitude of issues creating separation, and I think I could personally overlook most of those to unite on things we all want (safe roads, reliable financial markets, freedom to associate, etc.), but there is one belief that astonishes me in mature adults that if mostly expelled might fix most of the division. It is this: that one's belief about reality is so certain that it makes another's reality, where there is conflict, wrong. Not just wrong for the one, but wrong for the other, too, when the other's adherence to the conflicting view neither breaks one's leg nor picks one's pocket.

Of course, passive marginalization of the other's community sucks, too.

One of the family members in the article on the Democrats points out one of the strongest feelings I had when reading about the Republicans: that they can see the world the way they do because nothing is really impinging on their little world.


"They're eating well," Harrison continues. "They've got a roof over their heads. They're feeding their kids. They've got everything. There are no luckier people. How can they complain? About anything?" And yet they do, he says, griping about taxes, about the size of government and about politicians as though every last one of them were a one-dimensional cartoon.

How do the Republicans in this article feel about this?


"They make me feel like I have no hope. They make you feel like, why wake up in the morning?" Lannom says of Blue Americans he sees on TV or hears on the radio. "It's like every time I hear Al Franken speak, the world we live in is sooo bad, everything is going sooo wrong. Is it really that bad?"

"We see life as it is," May says.

"They seem bitter," Lannom says. "They just never seem happy. Every time you hear them talking, they're bitching about something."

"They're whiners," Stein agrees.

Part of me thinks, these people simply aren't suffering enough. At the same time, I often feel overdosed on bleak, too, but that doesn't mean that the problems don't exist.

Harpers has had an article in each of the last two issues that connect to this issue of division. I wish they were available on the web so that you could point and click your way to further engagement. The first is "Lie Down For America: How the Republican Party Sows Ruin on the Great Plains" in the April 2004 issue. I hadn't quite clued in to how consciously the political right uses God and values to manipulate its constituents; this article talks about that and the way it has changed the alleged heartland. (For example, Kansas, once the land of populism.)

The other article is in the May 2005 issue and is titled, "What Democracy? The Case for Abolishing the United States Senate". I've always thought the senate was a funny idea, due to the unequal representation; this article talks about its origins and its parallel to the English House of Lords. I've wished out loud for a single legislative body with proportional representation and a plurality of parties, and I've even wondered how I could make that a reality. (There are some bent on that already—but, curses, I cannot now find their web site—but this article suggests that the English eventually did to the House of Lords what we might more easily do to our Senate than abolish it.)

April 14, 2004

An Ordinary Evening in W's Brain

The press conference last evening was simply horrifying. The spectacle of Bush being forced to think on this feet was so painful as to inspire an ashamed sympathy in me, so much so that I was relieved when he finally turned and walked away from the podium down that majestic red-carpeted hallway. He took no responsibility for anything that has happened on his watch, held ridiculously to the fiction that WMD's might still be found, and painted a gruesome picture of a mind grinding away at the hard work of ignoring what have become rather glaring facts. So busy keeping reality at bay, he could think of no mistake he has made.

Just this morning, several people have mentioned to me this article in Slate, and I do think it is an incredibly important read. I will try to withhold judgment on whether Bush is stupid (a very Bushian exercise in fact-avoidance, really); if you believe this article, his intellectual prowess is rendered largely moot by his refusal to engage in external reality. His insistence that internal consistency alone is proof-positive of correctness (and rectitude) is one of the most solipsistic and inane features of his presidency. Does he fancy himself infallible? (Isn't Kerry the Catholic in this race?)

My Papaw (who, bless his heart, loves W with a fervor previously reserved for Reagan) has always said "Smart people change their minds," but that is exactly what W refuses to do, regardless of the mounting evidence around him. To hear him talk (in oratory that would be mediocre for a small-town mayor), you would think he believes changing his mind to account for reality would amount to going back on his word. To quote Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." (And, for good measure, Auden: "The enlightenment driven away,/ The habit-forming pain,/ Mismanagement and grief:/ We must suffer them all again.")

W famously spent time in New Haven (thinking, one must assume, the same thoughts for four years), but I am willing to bet he never read the poetry of Wallace Stevens (America's foremost insurance executive-cum-poet). Pity that. Wallace's "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven" is one of my very favorite poems, a meditation on learning, religion, poetry, and reality set in a place I love.

The poem's main subject, Professor Eucalyptus, is at once wise and befuddled, prone to beautifully difficult statements and endlessly able to change his mind as he grapples with the challenges of seeing rightly as "an ordinary evening" descends. It is one of the best meditations on thought, reality, and perception that exists, and it provides an excellent gloss on the Problem of W's brain: "The search/ For reality is as momentous as/ The search for god."

W certainly spends a lot of time talking to us about the search for God. As an extraordinarily dark night descends on the globe, we should all pray that God might mention to W in one of their frequent chats how much better and safer the world would be if W would look around for reality at least once in a while.

I've quoted a few poets in this post; these are days we need poetry, to understand how old these supposedly new problems are (wrong wars, mad kings, and the dangers of siting evil always elsewhere than our own hearts). To end with a quote, timely as ever, from William Carlos Willams: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there."

April 08, 2004

Strange Bedfellows

You can hear or read transcripts of Condi just about everywhere today, but with the gay marriage amendment simmering on the stove, I thought it was worth noting this one small thing Ms. Rice said during her grilling this morning:

When our Founding Fathers said, We the people, they didn't mean me. It's taken us a while to get to a multiethnic democracy that works.

I'm sure she didn't mean to make an argument for extended equal rights to all, but I can't help noticing the irony - and projecting to other causes.

April 02, 2004

Nader on Air America

Air America, the new liberal radio network, started on Wednesday. You've got to hear the interview with Ralph Nader. (You can also read a transcript of the interview.) Ralph simply does not get it. He simply does not understand that people are angry about what happened in 2000, and that we just can't take the risk of having that happen again. He doesn't even hope to be elected -- he has no plan for what he would do if he were -- so what is the point? They guy is clearly insane.

March 25, 2004

Scoops and retribution, the email edition

It's a good measure of our standing in the blogsphere that we now get indexed almost instantly in several search engines and blog directories. Thanks to this, we got almost instant feedback from someone I mentioned in a post Tuesday.

Kevin Vandenbroek, fired from his radio talk show in Michigan for a scoop he should have gotten promoted for, wrote to me the next day. With his permission, I'm posting his note, which is sad but a great example of what my friend Tony calls "Casablanca shocking."


Jay:

Thanks for the mention on your blog of my dismissal.

As some stations “police” themselves, here is what I’ve observed as potential criteria in this environment of broadcasting fright:

• Subjective, unreasoned and (perhaps) unconstitutional views of what is offending speech
• Over-cautious owners with a political agenda
• Outside political pressure
• Advertiser pressure
• A combination of the above based on a well-greased GOP machine.

In this post-9/11 world, and as a result of indiscretions by another member of the Jackson family, certain radio stations feel they have carte blanch to rid the airwaves of “undesirable” elements.

In the housekeeping, those that present different political views on the Nation’s airwaves are at risk of being swept into the dustbin with the likes of “Bubba the Love Sponge” and Howard Stern. Will this same standard hold true for Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity?

This wholesaling of wireless free speech should send a chill up everyone that uses their voice in America.

Regards,

Kevin Vandenbroek

In a further exchange, Kevin writes that (despite my fond hopes that some other outlet would snap him up instantly) he's still unemployed. Yet another American work pink-slipped by the Repubs. If We the People fail to return them the favor in November, we're collectively dumber than anyone ever imagined.

March 24, 2004

What did you do before the war on terrorism, Mr Bush?

One of the greatest body blows to the Bush administration from the 9/11 hearings and Dick Clark's revelations has been the comparison between the Clinton and Bush approaches to handling terrorism before the two towers fell.

George Tenet gave gripping testimony in the hearings today -- so gripping that it completely diverted my attention from the dentist who was drilling holes in two of my teeth at the time. He described, in 10 very clear points, how the Clinton administration had dealt blows to al-Qaida in the years leading up to 9/11. I wish I could find the transcript, but alas, I could not. But Dick Clark gives an abbreviated summary on the same topic in this Salon interview (with free access to non-subscribers graciously provided):

The Clinton administration stopped Iraqi terrorism against the United States, through military intervention. It stopped Iranian terrorism against the United States, through covert action. It stopped the al-Qaida attempt to have a dominant influence in Bosnia. It stopped the terrorist attacks at the millennium. It stopped many other terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. embassy in Albania. And it began a lethal covert action program against al-Qaida; it also launched military strikes against al-Qaida.

One of those military strikes was a direct missile attack launched against OBL based on credible intelligence (it missed him by several hours, but killed 20-30 lieutenants). But because this occurred during the Lewinsky scandal and its aftermath, it was widely derided as a "wag-the-dog" incident. Some apologies are due, I think.

On the other hand, Clark describes the Bush administration's attitude in the first 9 months of office like this:

[The Bush Administration] had a preconceived set of national security priorities: Star Wars, Iraq, Russia. And they were not going to change those preconceived notions based on people from the Clinton administration telling them that was the wrong set of priorities ... Prior to 9/11, the Bush administration didn't have an approach to terrorism. They'd never gotten around to creating an administration policy. It was in the process of doing so, but it hadn't achieved that. And it was clear that the national security advisor didn't like this kind of issue; she didn't have meetings on this issue. The president didn't have meetings on the issue of terrorism.

This claim hits fundamentally at Bush's main reason for re-election. And so, of course, the attack dogs are in force. But since they can't attack the substantive claims, they're focussing on the details (many of which are rebutted here), and on the credibility of Clark himself. But as a 30-year veteran, and a Republican, this is one credible guy.

This is the issue that could -- if sustained until November -- cripple Bush. MoveOn.org is even seeking donations to fund a TV commercial on the issue. (I've included their solicitation email, which includes some forceful arguments, below.) Let's hope this isn't all forgotten in two weeks.

Email from MoveOn.org

Dear MoveOn member,

As you may have heard, Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism advisor to Bush, and a registered Republican who has worked in every administration since Reagan, has exposed Bush's mishandling of 9/11 and the war on Iraq.(1) In his book "Against All Enemies," Clarke does an amazing job of presenting the facts and connecting the dots. Instead of refuting Clarke's claims, the Bush Administration has launched a campaign of character assassination, hoping that the story will just go away.(2)

We're committed to stopping that from happening by making sure that the American public hears Clarke's extraordinary comments. If we can raise $300,000 in the next few days, we can run a hard-hitting ad nationally that highlights his message. You can see a rough story board of the ad and donate to get it on the air at: https://www.moveonpac.org/clarkead.html

When the World Trade Center was hit on the morning of 9/11, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice dubbed Richard Clarke, the administration's top counter-terrorism official, "crisis manager."(3) As the White House, which was thought to be the next target, was evacuated, Clarke heroically stayed on, coordinating the government's response from the Situation Room in the West Wing.(4)

Clarke is viewed by colleagues as a hawk, a "true believer" who doesn't play partisan politics.(5) So the shocking facts he revealed about the Bush administration's approach to terrorism before 9/11 and its response after must be taken seriously. On Sunday, Clarke told reporters that the President and Defense Secretary downgraded counter-terrorism and ignored repeated warnings about an al Qaeda attack prior to 9/11. And, perhaps even more explosive, Clarke revealed that President Bush and senior administration officials wanted to bomb Iraq after 9/11 even though they knew that it had no connection to al Qaeda, and that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks.(6)

Already, the White House spin machine is in overdrive. Since they can't rebut Clarke's facts -- which independent witnesses have confirmed(7) -- they're trying to paint him as an angry partisan, even though he's a Republican. But Clarke's words remain a searing indictment of the Bush Administration's campaign against terrorism. Together, if we act today, we can beat back the spin by widely airing a TV ad which gets these uniquely credible comments directly to TV viewers.

You can view a story board of the ad and help us get it on the air now at:
https://www.moveonpac.org/clarkead.html

In his own words, here are some of Clarke's revelations:

* Clarke repeatedly warned the Bush Administration about attacks from al Qaeda, starting in the first days of Bush's term. "But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on."(8) According to another Bush administration security official, Clarke "was the guy pushing hardest, saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S." The official added that Clarke was likely sidelined because he had served in the previous (Clinton) administration.(9)

* In face-to-face meetings, CIA Director George Tenet warned President Bush repeatedly in the months before 9/11 that an attack was coming. According to Clarke, Tenet told the President that "A major al-Qaeda attack is going to happen against the United States somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead."(10)

* On September 12, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld pushed to bomb Iraq even though they knew that al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. "Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.'"(11)

* Also on September 12, 2001, President Bush personally pushed Clarke to find evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks. From the New York Times: "'I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything,' Mr. Clarke writes that Mr. Bush told him. 'See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way.' When Mr. Clarke protested that the culprit was Al Qaeda, not Iraq, Mr. Bush testily ordered him, he writes, to 'look into Iraq, Saddam,' and then left the room."(12)

* The Bush Administration knew from the beginning that there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11, but created the misperception in order to push their policy goals. "[Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush] did know better. They did know better. They did know better. We told them, the CIA told them, the FBI told them. They did know better. And the tragedy here is that Americans went to their death in Iraq thinking that they were avenging September 11th, when Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th. I think for a commander-in-chief and a vice president to allow that to happen is unconscionable."(13)

* The war on Iraq has increased the danger of terrorism. In his book, he writes that shifting from al Qaeda to Iraq "launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."(14)

It's been well reported that President Bush intends to run on his record as a wartime President. Clarke's revelations show how deeply flawed that record is. But if we don't act fast, the public may not have a chance to evaluate the facts for themselves -- the story could go away quickly. With an ad, we can take Clarke's comments directly to the public. Can you help? Check out the script and donate whatever you can to get this story out there at:

https://www.moveonpac.org/clarkead.html

(By the way, if we're unable to use your contribution for the ad you specify, either because of oversubscription or for another unforeseen reason, it is our policy to use your contribution for other advertising, public relations, and advocacy activities.)

Richard Clarke had an intimate view -- perhaps the best view -- of how the Bush Administration responded to terrorism. So we should all listen carefully when he says: "Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know. . . I think the way he has responded to al-Qaeda, both before 9/11 by doing nothing, and by what he's done after 9/11 has made us less safe, absolutely. I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."(15)

Together, we can make sure every American knows what President Bush's true record on terrorism really is.

Sincerely,
--Adam, Carrie, Eli, James, Joan, Laura, and Wes
The MoveOn PAC Team
March 24th, 2004

P.S. Salon has recently published a new interview with Clarke. You can read it at:
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/03/24/clarke_moveon/

P.P.S. As the Administration strikes back, our friends at the Center for American Progress have put together an excellent rebuttal to their claims. Here's an example:

CLAIM #1: "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to." -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: Clarke sent a memo to Rice principals on 1/24/01 marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending Al Qaeda attack. The White House acknowledges this, but says "principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat." No meeting occurred until one week before 9/11. -- White House Press Release, 3/21/04

For the whole document, go to:
http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=39828

Footnotes:

1. "Dissent from within on Iraq war," Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/24/04
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/front/8260216.htm?1c

2. "Bush Aides Blast Ex-Terror Chief," CBS News, 3/22/04
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/23/terror/main608107.shtml

3. "The book on Richard Clarke," Washington Post, 3/23/04
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16192-2004Mar22.html

4. "Clarke's Take On Terror," CBS, 3/21/04
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/19/60minutes/main607356.shtml

5. See 3, above.

6. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

7. "Ex-Bush Aide Sets Off Debate as 9/11 Hearing Opens," New York Times, 3/23/04
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/23/politics/23CLAR.html?hp

8. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

9. See 7, above.

10. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

11. "Sept. 11: Before And After," CBS News, 3/20/04
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/20/60minutes/main607622.shtml

12. "Excerpts from 'Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror' by Richard A. Clarke," posted on NYTimes.com, 3/23/04
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/23/politics/23CWOR.html

13. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

14. "Memoir Criticizes Bush 9/11 Response," Washington Post, 3/22/04
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13607-2004Mar21.html

15. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

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March 23, 2004

Silencing the press (and the whoopee cushion)

Several of you have asked me why I haven't commented on L'affaire Stern. I'll be honest... as much as I buy the line of argument that "Though I disagree with what you say I'll fight to my death for your right to say it," I have so long disliked Howard Stern that I can't bring myself to weep for him too much. His pandering to the lowest common denominator has set the tone for every other un-funny idiot on every second-rate morning show in the world, while liberating America's inner fifth-grader. Who knew we had such an insatiable national taste for fart jokes and jiggling lesbians? For years, millions of Americans have listened to Stern when they might have been paying attention to the kind of content that allows adults to think and vote like grownups. (Think of the poor bastards weaned on a decade of Stern and Limbaugh, and the damage they've done to the rest of us!)

That said, it is now clear that it was the juvenility of Stern's obsessions that had protected him. As soon as he veered into touchy political subjects (touchy, that is, to Repubs--Stern had plenty explicit to say about Clinton!), the GOP apparently called in their chits with Clear Channel and handed Assman his ass.

So, now I've written about Stern, whose downfall--though lacking true tragic stature--is instructive. To quote the bumper-sticker: "The media are only as liberal as the conservative corporations that own them." If Stern's fans had been paying attention for the past decade, this would not be so shocking.

I'm saving my tears for the more serious journalists who are being routinely silenced for hard-hitting investigative journalism. Take the case of Kevin Vandenbroek, a Michigan radio personality who was sacked
after substantiating claims of bribery at the top of the Republican House Leadership. Apparently, threatening civil servants with dismissal for correctly pricing the Medicare drug bill wasn't enough; someone offered Michigan Republican Nick Smith $100,000 for his son's political campaign if he'd switch his no vote to yes. After initially sounding off about this, Smith himself was silenced. After switching his story, Smith was nailed by Vandenbroek's recording of his initial account. That, plus a couple more offenses against the Powers That Be (a terse email to a conservative bigot and a question about W's veracity in his Tim Russert interview) got Vandenbroek fired. In a country where the media were truly liberal, a scoop like that would get you a raise (and maybe a Peabody nomination).

The truth is, Vandenbroek will probably be OK-- and Lord knows Stern has ridden the gravy train (diarrhea train?) long enough the he won't be eating cat food in his early retirement. In any case, I'm beginning to think that Janet Jackson's nipple did us all a favor--by encouraging the Right's censoriousness to overstep its bounds, they have showed even the fart joke set just how bad things have gotten here in the United States of T&A.

March 22, 2004

Richard Clarke and the smoking gun

While it comes as little surprise, former anti-terror czar Richard Clarke's 60 Minutes interview confirms our worst suspicions about the Bush administration's grievous errors both before and after 9/11 (detailed in his new book, Against All Enemies), excerpted here. You truly MUST read the out-takes from the interview online--it is as damning as anything that has appeared so far about the administration, highlighting its disregard for facts, its ideological fixation, and its shameful abuse of anyone who tried to get in the way of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war machine. It is literally one sickening jaw-dropper after another.

Mind you, Clarke was appointed by W's dad, held over by Clinton because of his excellent qualifications and strong relations with both the CIA and the FBI. During the Clinton administration, his post was accorded Cabinet-level status; soon after he took office, W had Clarke demoted, leaving no terrorism expert within the administration's inner circle.

Clarke clearly points out the extent to which senior officials were obsessed with Iraq, to the exclusion of all else:

Clarke was the president's chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn't until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn't take the threat seriously.

"We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on.

"I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back. They wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years."

Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request. But it wasn't with the president or cabinet. It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department.

For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."

So what does Clarke think will be the result of W's monomaniacal focus on Iraq?

Does Clarke think that Iraq, the Middle East and the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power?

"I think the world would be better off if a number of leaders around the world were out of power. The question is what price should the United States pay," says Clarke. "The price we paid was very, very high, and we're still paying that price for doing it."

"Osama bin Laden had been saying for years, 'America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it, an oil-rich Arab country. He had been saying this. This is part of his propaganda. So what did we do after 9/11? ... We stepped right into bin Laden's propaganda," adds Clarke. "And the result of that is that al Qaeda and organizations like it, offshoots of it, second-generation al Qaeda have been greatly strengthened."

So why come out with all this now? Because there is no way the country can afford another 4 years of ignorant, morally bankrupt, and ideologically corrupt leadership:

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Clarke went on to say, "I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."


March 18, 2004

Touche, Maureen!

At the end of a rather tedious Pride and Prejudice column-as-analogy, Maureen Dowd hit a nice zinger:


When he challenged Mr. Kerry to put up or shut up on his claim of support from foreign leaders, Mr. Bush said, "If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you've got to back it up with facts."

If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidency, you've got to back it up with facts, too.

"Fire a fag, demote a dyke, that's OK"

MemoryBlog: Fed Agency Deletes References to Gays, Then Deletes Gays Themselves

The Memory Hole is becoming one of my favorite sites... a repository of omissions and deletions that are unsurprising yet sickening all the same.

Signorile on Bush Family Values

Michael Signorile is a bitter queen and a veteran of culture wars past, but he is still a great writer. He shows off his stuff in this NYPress article about Republican hypocrisy in general and the Bush family's twisted family values. The highlights: brother Neil Bush getting the clap from his Asian slut-fest and fathering an illegitimate child with one of his mom's volunteers, and the Bush girls cavorting in Hollywood in Manhattan. But remember, it's David's and my wedding that's going to cause the Republic to crumble.

March 12, 2004

"Walid Horton"

W's daddy famously ran campaign ads attacking Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for a Massachusetts program that released convicted rapist Willie Horton, who later committed murder. As he was dying of a brain tumor and making amends, Bush adman Lee Atwater admitted that the ads were (as critics knew all along) a shameful, race-baiting attempt to stir up fear among white voters. (Horton's mug shot was conveniently that of the big, bad black motherfucker of suburban nightmares.)

W is now apparently following the goosesteps of his father with his new ad, which portrays an olive-skinned man as a terrorist (you know, the kind Kerry is soft on). Muslims are not amused. One reader referred to the swarthy figure as "Walid Horton."

But remember--W's a uniter, not a divider!

Another Bush lie-and-coverup

The Knight Ridder newspapers have a juicy scoop that starts with this lede:

The government's top expert on Medicare costs was warned that he would be fired if he told key lawmakers about a series of Bush administration cost estimates that could have torpedoed congressional passage of the White House-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan.

So, much like Iraq, we've been saddled with a hugely expensive program with dubious benefit that only got through Congress because the Bush adminsitration lied and bullied the people whose job it was to come up with the right answers.

It wil lbe interesting to see who picks this up. Kerry will likely be afraid of being attacked as "anti-elderly" if he does.


March 11, 2004

Madrid horror

When David and I woke this morning to an NPR report on the Madrid subway bombings, I have to admit that part of me tuned it out; more woes from an old source, the ETA. But reading the NYT article on the bombings this afternoon, the scope and horror of the tragedy was impossible to push aside. What's worse, it appears likely that Al Qaeda (or affiliated Islamist groups) may have perpetrated the bombing. A note claiming responsibility for the attack said "This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam."

I would say that 400 years ago was a pretty old account, but as we've noted much here of late Mel Gibson is still trying to settle scores a couple millennia back (the irony being that the death he thinks he's avenging was, according to his stated beliefs, sufficient to end the cycle of revenge by absolving all).

It is frightening to think of a tragedy like this in a democratic country just three days before an election, and very interesting to see how the Spaniards will respond. The majority of Spaniards rejected the Anglo-American march to war, but perhaps this attack will galvanize public support of Spain's participation on the war on terror. I, for one, would certainly ask how, exactly, Spain's membership in the "coalition of the willing" helped make Spain more safe. I'm still waiting for someone to convince me that the war on Iraq has had any positive effect on the fight against al Qaeda. And I have to say, if I were Muslim, the word "crusade" might very well be on my lips. But mass murder does little to advance a critique of the West's relations with Islam.

Mud in March

Slate has a great expose on one of the opening anti-Kerry salvos of Bush's reelection campaign. They have taken a completely sensible proposal (to reduce intelligence funding to offset $1.5 billion the spooks were hoarding in a slush fund back in the '90s) and made it look like Kerry was "gutting" intelligence. In fact, the cut was about 1% of total intelligence funding. By the logic of the real story, Bush must like government spending so much that he's fine when, under the cover of secrecy, Federal agencies fail to use taxpayer dollars for the purpose that Congress designated. It's this laser focus on accountability and sound fiscal management that has created the Great W Defecit (the one we'll all be paying off for years, not the one between his ears).

I would say it's shameful to have started to negative so early, but honestly it's cheering to know they are already this desperate. I'm beginning to agree with Bill Maher: Rove is no genius.

March 10, 2004

Teachers = Terrorists?

I just got the following email from MoveOn.org:

Last month, President Bush's Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, called America's largest teachers' union a "terrorist organization." Why? Because the union had the gall to insist that President Bush live up to his own promises to adequately fund education. Please sign our petition demanding that President Bush fire Secretary Paige.

www.FirePaige.org/index.asp?ms=1

This is typical behavior for the Bush administration. It says one thing - "no child left behind" and does another - under-funding its promises to our schools by $9.4 billion in its latest budget proposal. And when people dare to disagree with its policies, it questions their patriotism or labels them terrorists.

Secretary Paige uses insult to defend the indefensible. Not only did the president break his promise to fund the reforms, his current budget calls for cuts in support for schools over the next five years. And he still wants to take billions from public schools to pay for private school vouchers. So Paige resorts to slurs: even in his supposed apology, he dismissed teachers' growing concerns as "obstructionist scare tactics."

We teach our kids that name calling is not the right way to win an argument - in fact, it’s usually a sign that you don't have the facts on your side. Making our schools better is a tough job. We need a Secretary of Education who sees teachers and their representatives as partners in this effort rather than as enemies. Join us in calling on President Bush to find a better person for the job.

First I've heard of the incident, and a Google News search for "teachers terrorists" doesn't turn up much. Does anyone know in what context this statement was made? Seems odd that it wasn't reported more widely.

March 08, 2004

The Comeback, All Over Again

Joerg Haider, the politician the west loves to hate, has risen to power again with his party’s success in the Carinthia elections. His right wing populism led to EU sanctions against Austria back in 2000 and his inflammatory rhetoric remains a legacy.

Out here in our little alpine village, folks are puzzled. Locals here said that Haider should get out of politics and stay out. He’s been seen as something of an embarrassment in our socially conservative but environmentally green region. My neighbors insist that he’s the voice of the fringe, doesn’t wield that much power and shouldn’t be perceived as the voice of greater Austria.

But when Haider speaks, the world press sits up and pays attention as his handsome features are splashed on the international front pages. His party's success will likely be seen as the rise of the far right - again.

Unfortunately, my grasp of German is such that reading local political analysis eludes me. I have to settle for drawing my own ill-informed conclusions from conversation and the foreign press.

Haider is tan, charismatic, and he’s got movie star looks. He’s a populist who thinks that the rights of Austrians have primacy over that of the EU. Like many Austrians, he was anti-EU, thinking that joining the union would dilute the power of Austrian citizens to control their own economy and resources. He’s a nationalist who doesn’t really care that much what the world thinks of his behavior - witness his trip to Iraq just before the war.

The Austrians I know tend to dismiss Haider’s popularity with a shrug. They say that he’d only be the governor and doesn’t affect national policy. To me, that’s a little like dismissing the Governor of California. Here’s a guy with strong party ties, influence, and control over a large portion of the country; all that and the command of the international media. I’m not so willing to just look away. I see Haider’s popularity as a resurging interest in nationalist and xenophobic policies. The one bit I was able to glean from the German language press is significant: Haider’s success is a party success, meaning his party may have a shot at unseating the moderates currently in power nationally.

The thing that frightens me is not so much Haider himself, but that a population would see fit to elect him. I used to think of him as a sort of Ross Perot character, waiting to see what kind of crazy thing he would say next. But Haider seems to have learned to tone it down a little. After a few years of gathering dust and derision, he appears tanned, rested, and ready for the spotlight again.

Moderate thinking Austrians will protest the attention. “He’s not us! He doesn’t represent us!” they’ll insist. I object. As an American, I constantly make the same statement about the President of the United States, but it doesn’t change the fact that George W. Bush and his party are running my country right now.

There’s an interesting (though somewhat dated - some dead links) Q and A about Austria and Haider here.

March 04, 2004

More Creeping Lysenkoism

Just days after the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a damning report of the Bush Administration's disdain for scientific advice in policymaking (see Feb 19 entry), Bush ejects two scientists from the Bioethics Council and replaces them with three anti-biotechnology advocates.

There's an insightful discussion of the motivations for this at TechCentralStation. As pointed out there, the BioTechnology Council was created by Bush specifically to provide a range of opinions related to the ethics of biotechnological development:

The Council shall strive to develop a deep and comprehensive understanding of the issues that it considers. In pursuit of this goal, the Council shall be guided by the need to articulate fully the complex and often competing moral positions on any given issue, rather than by an overriding concern to find consensus. The Council may therefore choose to proceed by offering a variety of views on a particular issue, rather than attempt to reach a single consensus position.

What's the point of creating a council to deliver a range of opinions when you deliberately stack it with people all of whom share the same opinion? But as Phil Bowermaster points out:

When making policy on matters as important as stem cell research it's crucial for the President to hear all viewpoints -- unless he's already made up his mind. That's the problem here. Bush has made up his mind and isn't interested in hearing opposing views anymore.

Click those Ruby slippers again, George.

You can read further reactions here and here.

The Economist opines for gay marriage

I have always loved The Economist. So thoughtful, so sober, yet displaying cheeky British wit in its wry captions. I stop short of subscribing to it--I did once, and found there was so much to worry about beyond the things I already knew enough to worry about; and it takes ages to get through a single issue.

But this week's ringing endorsement of full marriage rights for gays and lesbians is a great read, in the classic Economist editorial voice. The best part:

The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else? Not just because they have always lacked that right in the past, for sure: until the late 1960s, in some American states it was illegal for black adults to marry white ones, but precious few would defend that ban now on grounds that it was "traditional". Another argument is rooted in semantics: marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and so cannot be extended to same-sex couples. They may live together and love one another, but cannot, on this argument, be "married". But that is to dodge the real question--”why not?"--and to obscure the real nature of marriage, which is a binding commitment, at once legal, social and personal, between two people to take on special obligations to one another. If homosexuals want to make such marital commitments to one another, and to society, then why should they be prevented from doing so while other adults, equivalent in all other ways, are allowed to do so?

The reason, according to Mr Bush, is that this would damage an important social institution. Yet the reverse is surely true. Gays want to marry precisely because they see marriage as important: they want the symbolism that marriage brings, the extra sense of obligation and commitment, as well as the social recognition. Allowing gays to marry would, if anything, add to social stability, for it would increase the number of couples that take on real, rather than simply passing, commitments. The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals' doing, not gays', for it is their infidelity, divorce rates and single-parent families that have wrought social damage.

The article ends with the best argument against second-class "civil unions" I've yet read:

The importance of marriage for society's general health and stability also explains why the commonly mooted alternative to gay marriage—a so-called civil union—is not enough. Vermont has created this notion, of a legally registered contract between a couple that cannot, however, be called a “marriage”. Some European countries, by legislating for equal legal rights for gay partnerships, have moved in the same direction (Britain is contemplating just such a move, and even the opposition Conservative leader, Michael Howard, says he would support it). Some gays think it would be better to limit their ambitions to that, rather than seeking full social equality, for fear of provoking a backlash—of the sort perhaps epitomised by Mr Bush this week.

Yet that would be both wrong in principle and damaging for society. Marriage, as it is commonly viewed in society, is more than just a legal contract. Moreover, to establish something short of real marriage for some adults would tend to undermine the notion for all. Why shouldn't everyone, in time, downgrade to civil unions? Now that really would threaten a fundamental institution of civilisation.

You know, this makes me think about why Canada--which has a society so solid as to be boring--was willing to go full-throttle for "marriage." I think our friends to the north realized exactly this point--that any increase in full-fledged matrimony is a public good.

There is just something about the prose style that makes any alternative seem foolish. I probably have my mind changed on complex issues by The Economist more often than any publication, even though I read it just five or six times a year. If you know anyone who strongly opposes gay marriage, this is probably the best-reasoned (and best-written) article to share with them.

David, maybe we should subscribe. If we do, remind me why the value of reading it outweighs my inevitable loss of sleep over the looming debt crisis in Kazakhstan, which of course I would never have known about otherwise.

March 03, 2004

"The Passion" and gay marriage

Amidst the general gloom I am gladdened to see prominent conservatives whom I respect weigh in against Mel Gibson's bloodbath. William Safire does so brilliantly in last Sunday's NYT (full text copied below for posterity). He leads with quite a statement:

The word "passion" is rooted in the Latin for "suffer." Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen.
Because the director's wallowing in gore finds an excuse in a religious purpose -- to show how horribly Jesus suffered for humanity's sins -- the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.

Also notable is old-lefty turned Bush-defender Christopher Hitchens, who manages to savage the movie and tie in the gay-marriage controversy at the same time in an excellent piece in Slate. He does so to buttress a much more important arguement: that Gibson's anti-semitism also smacks of a homophobia that served as another pillar for fascism (as some might recall, a combination that has caused some trouble). To wit:

The gay movement in the United States—and the demand for civil unions and even for actual marriage—has had at least one good effect with which nobody can quarrel. The closeted homosexual is a sad figure from the past, and so is the homosexual who tries desperately to "marry" a heterosexual, thus increasing misery and psychic repression all round.

This may seem like an oblique way in which to approach Mel Gibson's ghastly movie The Passion. But it came back to me this week that an associate of his had once told me, in lacerating detail, that an evening with Mel was one long fiesta of boring but graphic jokes about anal sex. I've since had that confirmed by other sources. And, long before he emerged as the spear-carrier for the sort of Catholicism once preached by Gen. Franco and the persecutors of Dreyfus, Mel Gibson attained a brief notoriety for his loud and crude attacks on gays. Now he's become the proud producer of a movie that relies for its effect almost entirely on sadomasochistic male narcissism. The culture of blackshirt and brownshirt pseudomasculinity, as has often been pointed out, depended on some keen shared interests. Among them were massively repressed homoerotic fantasies, a camp interest in military uniforms, an obsession with flogging and a hatred of silky and effeminate Jews. Well, I mean to say, have you seen Mel's movie?

(It is interesting that this film premiered the same week that the Oscars mourned the passing of Nazi propgandist filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl; Hitchens makes a good case that Gibson is her true--if less talented--heir.)

Hitchens' article resonated even more after our viewing of "Capturing the Friedmans"--a treatise on the horrors of the closeted family man, among other things. What Hitchens makes so amazingly clear is that all of these wrongs--anti-semitism, fascism, homophobia--are just different sides of the same beast. Christianity, in many if not most of its forms today, is all too complicit in feeding the beast. While Christ offered the bread of life, Gibson offers a feast of hatred.

All of this frames the question I'll be asking all my conservative Christian friends and family is, "Whom do you want to break bread with?" Because we've come to the point where I cannot, and will not, share the table with people who worship Gibson's "Christianator" and think my marriage is the work of Satan. While I can make room for differences of opinion, it's just foolish to try to meet a Manichean halfway.

Safire is right, I think, to remind us that Christ said "I came not to send peace, but a sword," a verse he points out doesn't end up on a lot of Christmas cards. To me, that means that even the message of grace and redemption is something every Christian has to struggle for, lest it be drowned by the blood-dimmed tide. (Hearing so much Yeats in my head these days can't be a good sign.)

It is time to speak up against those who believe that professing faith in Christ earns them an infallible place on the side of Good, time to point out that they are as dangerous as any Islamist (and, in fact, share with radical Islam a twisted worldview that stands in opposition to the Western liberal tradition in its post-Enlightenment entirety). We would be wrong to see a Gibson's movie as anything other than a ferocious salvo in what has thus far been a cold war (give or take a few abortion-clinic bombings) between Christian fundamentalists and those arrayed against them. (And that coalition includes rational people of all faiths, and of course those with no faith.) Aligning oneself with people one doesn't fully agree with is a great exercise in spiritual humility; it's one of the clearest ways to say "I can know what's wrong without claiming to know all the answers." (While the evolving coalition of Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists is a bit disconcerting, I don't expect it will be too long before they get tripped up on dogma, the Pope's robes, and ever-contentious Mary.)

But about that cold war. Concerns about anti-semitism are not misguided, but misplaced. The battlefront is much wider, as Gibson makes clear when he tars every critic of the movie as a "secular humanist." It's us against them, and the Christo-Fascists have a lot more guns than we do. With fuel like "The Passion of the Christ" tossed onto an already raging fire, expect things to heat up.

Not Peace, but a Sword
By WILLIAM SAFIRE

The word "passion" is rooted in the Latin for "suffer." Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen.

Because the director's wallowing in gore finds an excuse in a religious purpose — to show how horribly Jesus suffered for humanity's sins — the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.

What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? First, shock; the audience I sat in gasped at the first tearing of flesh. Next, pity at the sight of prolonged suffering. And finally, outrage: who was responsible for this cruel humiliation? What villain deserves to be punished?

Not Pontius Pilate, the Roman in charge; he and his kindly wife are sympathetic characters. Nor is King Herod shown to be at fault.

The villains at whom the audience's outrage is directed are the actors playing bloodthirsty rabbis and their rabid Jewish followers. This is the essence of the medieval "passion play," preserved in pre-Hitler Germany at Oberammergau, a source of the hatred of all Jews as "Christ killers."

Much of the hatred is based on a line in the Gospel of St. Matthew, after the Roman governor washes his hands of responsibility for ordering the death of Jesus, when the crowd cries, "His blood be on us, and on our children."

Though unreported in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or John, that line in Matthew — embraced with furious glee by anti-Semites through the ages — is right there in the New Testament. Gibson and his screenwriter didn't make it up, nor did they misrepresent the apostle's account of the Roman governor's queasiness at the injustice.

But biblical times are not these times. This inflammatory line in Matthew — and the millenniums of persecution, scapegoating and ultimately mass murder that flowed partly from its malign repetition — was finally addressed by the Catholic Church in the decades after the defeat of Naziism.

In 1965's historic Second Vatican Council, during the papacy of Paul VI, the church decided that while some Jewish leaders and their followers had pressed for the death of Jesus, "still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

That was a sea change in the doctrinal interpretation of the Gospels, and the beginning of major interfaith progress.

However, a group of Catholics rejects that and other holdings of Vatican II. Mr. Gibson is reportedly aligned with that reactionary clique. (So is his father, an outspoken Holocaust-denier, but the son warns interviewers not to go there. I agree; the latest generation should not be held responsible for the sins of the fathers.)

In the skillful publicity run-up to the release of the movie, Gibson's agents said he agreed to remove that ancient self-curse from the screenplay. It's not in the subtitles I saw the other night, though it may still be in the Aramaic audio, in which case it will surely be translated in the versions overseas.

And there's the rub. At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD? Is art served by presenting the ancient divisiveness in blood-streaming media to the widest audiences in the history of drama?

Matthew in 10:34 quotes Jesus uncharacteristically telling his apostles: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." You don't see that on Christmas cards and it's not in this film, but those words can be reinterpreted — read today to mean that inner peace comes only after moral struggle.

The richness of Scripture is in its openness to interpretation answering humanity's current spiritual needs. That's where Gibson's medieval version of the suffering of Jesus, reveling in savagery to provoke outrage and cast blame, fails Christian and Jew today.

March 01, 2004

Politics by playground ethics

Apparently, the Bush administration has taken on a new philosophy in dealing with political opponents--tit for tat influence. It works, not unlike old elementary school playground rules, where, say, you swipe my jump rope so I put a hole in your kickball ball. And they've even demonstrated their keenness to use this most assuredly effective tool twice this week.

First, they decided to ban French foie gras and sausages a day after France puts on a ban on Texas poultry products coming into their country because of the bird flu outbreak there. They cited concerns about handling and safety. Which would be a whole hell of a lot more convincing if they actually bothered inspecting the food safety practices in the meatpacking plants that provide most of the burgers and chicken parts the country consumes.

Then later in the week, apparently shocked that the call for a constitutional amendment discriminating against people based on sexual orientation didn't get the resounding support he'd hoped, the administration announced that, in retaliation for San Francisco's issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Social Security Administration wouldn't recognize ANY marriage licenses issued in San Francisco, for gay or hetero couples. I'm sure he's thinking that by not recognizing the straight marriages he'll create a backlash against the San Francisco action. I'm more hoping that the good people of San Francisco will be that much more mobilized to fight Bush's proposed amendment and to do everything possible to get such an immature, petty, and vindictive little twerp out of the white house.

Sorry to all those used to reading much more eloquant pieces on this site. I'm riled and angry, and not much in the mood for waxing poetic today.

Thomas Jefferson on Gay Marriage

Sir Ian McKellan recited this apposite quote from Thomas Jefferson during a discussion of gay marriage on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. -- Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

Would that we saw such wisdom today.

February 27, 2004

The hot new spot to get married in

Is apparently New Paltz, NY, where the 26 year old mayor is now performing marriages for same-sex couples. Maybe we should start a pool on which city will come next.

February 25, 2004

With Intent to Preach

In a time of faith based initiatives and encroaching theocracy, it's refreshing to see this ruling that reminds us about the separation of church and state. This NYT editorial sums it all up rather nicely, but isn't there a loophole in this ruling you can drive a popemobile through? If it's all about intent, couldn't theology students become the newest edition to the "don't ask don't tell" crowd? The student denied funding was a "major in business administration and pastoral ministries" - what if he'd just declined to state the "pastoral ministries" part? And is the choice of theology as a major always an indicator of aims towards the ministry? Or couldn't a student with an interest in history of religion choose an academic theology course of study?

Andrew Sullivan: frustrating, brilliant

So he can be such a silly conservative twat at times, but I can't help loving Andrew Sullivan. Especially with tears in my eyes after having read this article from Time. He're the best bit:

When people talk about "gay marriage," they miss the point. This isn't about gay marriage. It's about marriage. It's about family. It's about love. It isn't about religion. It's about civil marriage licenses - available to atheists as well as believers. These family values are not options for a happy and stable life. They are necessities. Putting gay relationships in some other category - civil unions, domestic partnerships, civl partnerships, whatever - may alleviate real human needs, but, by their very euphemism, by their very separateness, they actually build a wall between gay people and their own families. They put back the barrier many of us have spent a lifetime trying to erase.

picture>1000 words

Again, elevating great wit from the comments. Thanks David--and thanks Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

image_483674.gif

My sense of humor

...on the marriage issue has been successfully relocated, thanks to this link from Gary, which I'm elevating from his comment:Attack of the Agenda! Thanks Gary, I really needed that.

All of your comments were excellent. I'll admit that NPR surprised me this morning with measured comments even from the likes of Frist and DeLay--who actually wants to delay a vote on the matter. Will wonders never cease!

So yes, Pam, I'll wait to pack. Just knowing that other people are up in arms on our behalf is incredible reassuring. Just promise to return my call when I invite you to man the barricades!

February 24, 2004

Two Possible Reasons To Be Glad Nader's On the Scene Again

I kinda wanted to vote for Nader in 2000, but did not, and I certainly won't do it this time. However, there are two ways that his campaign—if he can keep enough news coverage on what he's saying—might be good for those voting to the left.

  1. Draws out more daring stands from candidates. Like Dean, who seemed to transform the other contenders, Nader might have a similar effect. I think it was someone on Kerry's campaign who said they want to appeal to those who would vote or voted for Nader.

  2. Makes the Democratic nominee sound more mainstream. By sounding far-out, Ralph makes the Democratic nominee sound less revolutionary by comparison. Maybe a voter wasn't sure about the Democrat, but now, he sounds so normal! Or maybe the voter likes some of what Nader is saying and votes for the less frightening alternative.

On the other hand, it could all end in tears, and I'll need to open my chain of weight training salons in Canada and Europe ASAP. (Note to Ralph: Please be sure to drop out before the end and deflect any alleged votes apparently headed your way to the Democratic contender.)

The Inevitable

Bush Urges Congress to Begin Process to Amend Constitution

This was inevitable because it had become clear to the Bush/Cheney/Rove junta that evangelical Christians would remove their active support of Bush's reelection efforts if he didn't come out strongly for an amendment. The realpolitik of it all doesn't soften the blow, though, and the President's hypocrisy only adds insult to the injury. To wit:

"America's a free society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens," Mr. Bush said. "This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions. Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of marriage.

"There is no contradiction between these responsibilities."

Perhaps tacitly acknowledging the emotion that has accompanied the debate over gay marriage, Mr. Bush closed by saying: "We should also conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger. In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and goodwill and decency."

So, I'm free to want whatever freedoms I want, as long as they aren't important ones. The concrete, daily, and implacable denial of basic rights to property and association that we seek is nothing when weighed against some entirely theoretical harm to the institution of marriage. And we are told there is no contradiction there.

In his sop to tolerance, he is subtly asking that the bigots that clearly call the shots with his administration to keep their hate on a low simmer, so as not to appear unseemly. Fat chance of that--their zeal as they fight to make us second-class citizens once and for all will be bright and withering.

One might hope that Americans would see them for what they are and stop this, but in doing so one would be naive. I fully expect the amendment to pass the Congress rapidly--given the overwhelming approval of the Defense of Marriage Act at the Federal level and the similar laws in 38 states, the math looks pretty clear. We could see the first states ratify the Amendment before our wedding in May. The sooner this happens, the more Bush can use it against the eventual Democratic nominee--who (let's not kid ourselves) will not attempt to sail to victory on the warm breeze of respect for gays and lesbians. No, we'll be asked to dutifully pull the lever for a candidate forced to kowtow to the religious right just as surely as Bush has.

So along with wedding plans and honeymoon plans and the hum of a shared daily life, David and I have had to think about what we will do if this happens. I am adamant--I will not stay in this country if the amendment is ratified. Thanks to David's Australian citizenship and "indefinite leave to remain" in the UK, we have options. Canada will take us--and even my mother admits that Vancouver looks like a good option by the dimming light of American freedom.

While I don't relish the prospect of selling our home, leaving family and friends behind, and beginning a career over elsewhere, I would rather do that than stay here and wonder what's next. I distrust my country too much at this point to dismiss the example of German Jews in 1935 and 1938... many bright and successful people were convinced that nothing would even happen to them, that things would not get worse, that Hitler and his followers were only using rhetoric as a means and not an end. When one understands that the Bush administration is deeply influenced by groups bent on establishing Christian theocracy in the US, who have advocated stoning homosexuals to death in the public square, what once seemed like paranoia can begin to feel like prescience.

When coupled with the coming economic calamity that Bush's policies portend, the outlook seems very dark indeed. If there is a crash, what better target for outrage than an upper-middle-class gay couple? One of us is even a foreigner! Things could get much, much worse. And I won't be the last rat off a sinking ship, thank you very much.

This amendment is, however saddening, only a symptom of the larger and much more tragic erosion of freedom and personal rights since WWII--something that should concern every American, straight or gay. The Cold War national security state, the war on drugs, and now the permanent crisis of the war on terror look a lot like the widening gyre. Perhaps the falcon cannot hear the falconer, but I can. The voice of reason is calling, but who among our leaders will answer?

February 23, 2004

One of those you have to see for yourself

Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership

I could spend hours on this site having my mind completely, totally boggled.

February 20, 2004

DearMary.com

We're pretty sure there is a gay gene, but I think we now have proof there is an "undisclosed location" gene. Dick Cheney's out lesbian daughter Mary is MIA in the gay-marriage debate despite two very salient facts:
1) She has lived with her female partner for years and wears a gold wedding band on her left hand, and
2) She is chairing her father's reelection bid and getting paid $100K a year to do it.

In my book, this makes her a public figure and a worthy target for some shrewd political activism. The same gay-rights operatives who successfully rousted Dr. Laura from her TV talk show perch are out to find Mary and take her to task for this apparent schizophrenia. Their site, DearMary.com, offers folks a chance to send Mary a postcard asking for an explanation.

Cheney has famously reversed himself of the issue, selling out his own daughter--but given her sell-out status, I suppose we shouldn't be too hard on him. (Hell, he used to think Saddam was a good ally.) In the 2000 campaign, he said the issue should be left to the states, but now he faithfully sings from W's hymnal--meaning, I'm sure, that he is "troubled" by the gay couples receiving official recognition in SF and Massachusetts.

On the other hand, maybe we shouldn't be too hard on poor Mary--it's bad enough growing up a gay Repub, but she has the added burden of looking just like her father. Oh, and just to revisit the "gay gene" intro, I find it really interesting to look back on her mom Lynne Cheney's secret early writings. Perhaps the fruit has not fallen too far from the tree.

February 19, 2004

Bush's Broken Ruby Slippers

I don't know what distresses me more about this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists: that the Bush administration is ignoring, bending, or outright refuting scientific fact to meet their political whims, or that the Administration can dismiss the legitimate concerns of 60 prominent scientists (including 20 Nobel laureates) with claims of "bias" or "political motivation". Frankly, if you can't trust the opinions of leading-light scientists on the issue of science, then who can you trust?

But this issue is illustrative of a wider problem with the Bush administration I find even more troubling (to use a word Bush himself is rather fond of lately): Bush's penchant for wish-politics. Like no President before him, Bush really, truly, seems to believe that he can make something true simply by wishing for it. Facts, political realities, practicalities, the will of the people be damned: it simply shall be. In fact, Bush appears to go out of his way to actively avoid any facts that might conflict with his will: he famously does not read newspapers, and his ignorance of scientific advisors in decisionmaking is symptomatic of this, too.

Bush wished that there should be a war in Iraq. He dearly wished that weapons of mass destruction would be the justification of that war, and no amount of evidence to the contrary from the weapons inspectorate, nor opposition from the UN or allies would convince him otherwise.

Bush wished that tax cuts would lead to job growth. With each tax cut, jobs were lost, in their millions, rather than gained as wished-for. Bush appears truly oblivious to this fact.

Bush wished that 2.6 million new jobs would magically appear this year, and the White House Council of Economic Advisers was apparently happy to publish this wish, in the face of doubt from every economist alive. Even Bush won't repeat his wish now, but he won't deny its self-willed truth, either.

Bush wished that Iraq would be a democracy by the end of June. The fact that the UN insists it's simply not possible, not only politically but practically has no bearing on this: it will happen, according to Bush.

I have this image of Bush when he's alone in the White House. He's wearing his ruby slippers. His eyes are closed, and as he taps the heels together he softly chants: "There's no such thing as truth. There's no such thing as truth. There's no such thing as truth."

I'm afraid there is, George.

Read on for examples from the full UCS report of the head-in-the-sand mentality of the Bush administration with regard to politically unpalatable scientific fact:

  • A USDA research biologist discovered frightening evidence of airborne antibiotic-resistant bacteria being produced by pig farms and found in the local environment in Iowa and Missouri, but was barred by superiors from publishing or presenting the research at scientific conferences: "politically sensitive and controversial issues require discretion".
  • A report on the effects of airborne mercury (a dangerous pollutant produced by coal-fired power plants) was suppressed by the White House until it was leaked to the press by a frustrated EPA official. The report included findings in direct contradiction of the administration's stated policy of reducing regulation of power plants.
  • The White House insisted on modifying an EPA report into the human effect on climate change, forcing the authors to imply "uncertainty when there is essentially none". This led to the entire section on climate change being dropped from the public report, despite that topic being discussed in the report in each of the preceding five years.
  • An EPA report evaluating the potential consequences of a Senate proposal to strengthen the Clean Air act (regulations initiated by the first Bush administration) was similarly suppressed until leaked. A White House official was heard to say of the report, "How can we justify Clear Skies [Bush II's environment act] if this gets out?"
  • Information about the benefits of sex education (other than exclusively abstinence-based programs, which are known to be ineffective) and the benefits of condoms in preventing HIV/AIDS was directed to be removed from the CDC website by administration officials. On the other hand, a stated link between breast cancer and abortion (disproven by scientific studies) was included.
  • The Bush administration created a five-person “review team” made up of predominantly nonscientists who proceeded to overrule a $12 million science-based plan for managing old-growth forest habitat and reducing the risk of fire. Contrary to Forest Service claims that their recommendations are based on “new information and findings,” the proposed revisions lack any scientific basis.

This systematic pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking Bush administration political appointees is truly frightening. As the report states, these actions have direct consequences for human health, public safety, and community well-being. But apparently, short-term benefit for special interests, and appeasing the Religious Right and other supporters, is more important than the well-being of the rest of us.

February 18, 2004

Shocking snowmobile stand

NYT readers will recognize Nick Kristof as one of the most vigorously anti-Bush columnist on the Op-Ed page. So imagine my surprise to read that he agrees with the administration on snowmobile access to Yellowstone.

He makes a persuasive case that new four-stroke snowmobiles are much less polluting--and less noisy--than older models. But his main point is that the park is almost inaccessible during the winter unless you're one of those "snow camping" weirdos who like to snowshoe for 20 miles before lying down in fluffy, flaky beds (as Paulette, Julie, and I are most definitely not).

The lynchpin of his argument is that environmentalism in the U.S. is best served by getting more people out into nature, to see what is at stake if the Administration is able to gut more important environmental regs. It makes good sense to me--and actually makes me want to go see Yellowstone in all its winter glory.

February 04, 2004

May brides...and grooms

So the Massachusetts Supreme Court determined that same sex couples should have the same rights to join in matrimony that heterosexual couples enjoy. Not civil unions. Marriage. Anything else, they say, is relegating those unions to an unacceptable and unconstitutional second-class status. And according to the New York Times, by mid-May gay couples in the state should be able to get hitched, something we will no doubt be toasting emphatically at that time up in Vancouver. (And I have to admit to being especially delighted by the timing since Jay and David are, to my mind, an amazing example of why people should get married, gay or straight--how's that for some shameless sucking up?)

Per the court's ruling:

"That there may remain personal residual prejudice against same-sex couples is a proposition all too familiar to other disadvantaged groups," the Massachusetts court said. "That such prejudice exists is not a reason to insist on less than the constitution requires."

January 27, 2004

Blair under pressure

Today is likely to be a pivotal day in Tony Blair's tenure as PM. He's under pressure on two fronts: not only is he facing rebellion from his own backbenchers around a bill to introduce additional fees to university education to aid that cripplingly underfunded sector, but also the Hutton report into the suicide of David Kelly is likely to reveal the extent to which Blair understood the reliability of the evidence surrounding WMDs at the outset of the Iraq War (2003).

This one news article illustrates the two most striking differences between UK and US politics. Firstly, Blair has an absolutely commanding majority -- 161 seats -- in the House of Commons, but still is having difficulty getting an unpopular measure passed. The Republican advantage over the Democrats is slim by comparison, yet we never hear of a pet Bush initiative faltering. Secondly, Bush appears to be paying no political price over the failed promise of WMDs as justification for the war, yet it may well cost Blair his job.

January 24, 2004

Define Diplomacy, Please?

Dick Cheney, who's out in the world for his second time ever as VP, is justifying the use of force where diplomacy fails. Thing is, if you've been abroad only twice as VP, I'm not sure you're a credible source for this argument.

Cheney's first trip abroad was to the Middle East to drum up support for the Iraq war , and we know how that went. Okay, a diplomatic mission to Afghanistan would have been in vain, but we're ignoring Korea, we're bullying Iran, we alienated the UN, we're annoying the Brazilians, anti-American sentiment runs high in the EU...

"Force where diplomacy fails." Or is it just force where there's a disagreement with our plans for your oil - I mean government - I mean participation in the world community. Yeah, that's what I mean.

Update: They're on the move! John Ashcroft has left the bunker TOO and is right here in my back yard! (Sorry, it's in German, I can't find it in the English press, yet.)

January 23, 2004

CBS Rejects MoveOn's Super Bowl Ad

You couldn't throw the commodity of your choice into a distant trashbin without hitting someone who'd like air time during the Super Bowl. This crop of buyers includes MoveOn, which wants to run an ad that points out who's going to pay for the deficit in the federal budget. (CBS has also refused to air an ad from PETA.)

Why would CBS refuse to air a paid ad that doesn't contain nudity, prohibited words, or positive messages about genocide? It might be because they seek favor from the party in power.

I think I'll stop there. The more I poke around the net for links and information, the more I see that the fact of CBS refusing MoveOn's ad is getting plrenty of coverage—on the web, at least. I've finally found one piece that has a quote from someone at CBS who claims they're not taking sides.

I could say more, but I need to get some paying work done.

January 21, 2004

John Edwards' ethical past?

Interesting article at Overlawyered.com about John Edward's past as a trial lawyer. Seems he made much of his fortune bilking insurance companies our of millions in lawsuits following children born with cerebral palsy. Many of the argumements used in the trial were apparently of dubious scientific medicine.

Most people know I'm against medical litigation generally. Certainly, true cases of malpractice need to be punished but I think they form a minority of the malpractice claims tried or settled. Walter Olsen captures my feelings perfectly: "I don't assert that every lawsuit blaming obstetricians for infant brain damage is unfounded. The problem is that our system gives wide leeway for cases of debatable scientific merit to be filed and then, after a battle of the hired experts, decided by appeals to jury emotion."

January 20, 2004

"He can't even write properly."

George W. Bush? Nope.

"...perceptions that he was a consummate liar, that he presided over the use of poison gas by his troops and that his chaotic leadership contributed to a fiasco when hundreds of thousands of his soldiers were taken prisoner in the war's last days."

Saddam Hussein? Nope. Guess again.

Pope to beatify 'buffoon' who was Austria's last emperor

December 23, 2003

Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure

NewsMaxStore.com: Browsing Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure

Doubles as voodoo-economics doll, no doubt.

December 20, 2003

I'll say it again: I'll leave if it passes

Well, nothing like bad news in the New York Times to depress me. Strong Support Is Found for Ban on Gay Marriage

The backlash I feared has materialized, in full force. I reiterate, if this country hates gays and lesbians so much that they pass an amendment to the Constitution banning marriage, I will leave. Australia, Canada, Europe, I don't care.

November 20, 2003

"Queer Eye on a Straight Institution"

Of all the ink that has been spilled about gay marriage, Richard Cohen's WaPo column headlined This May Be Good for Marriage belongs at the top of the heap. And lest anyone worry, I am a bit more bouyed by the Massachusetts decision than I was at first blush. In my fit of cynicism and self-interest, I was unable to cheer for the Massachusetts couples for whom the decision ratifies decades-long commitments.

Having almost had an aneurism yesterday listening to some paleo-con from the Hoover Institute on NPR yesterday flogging the tired "gays will hurt marriage and that will hurt children" line (which is at root just a slightly extended riff on the abominable "gays hurt children" boogeyman), I was thrilled for this gust of sanity. Huge thanks to my dear friend Rachel "Anne" Webber for sending the link! I've taken the unusual step of copying the whole thing in the "extended entry" but want to excerpt a few of the best bits.

Gays, bless 'em, may wind up saving marriage.

In ways that DeLay and his conservative cohorts seem not to recognize, marriage itself is on the rocks. Twenty percent of all first marriages don't make it past five years, and after a mere decade, one-third of all marriages are kaput. Married couples, once dominant in both life and sitcom TV, have gone from 80 percent of all households in the 1950s to 50 percent today. If you peek into the average home, the chances of finding a married couple with kids are just one in four. DeLay, don't delay, marriage needs help.

Now along come gay couples to rescue marriage from social and economic irrelevance, casting a queer eye on a straight institution. They seek it for pecuniary reasons -- issues such as estate taxes, etc. -- but also because they seem to be among the last romantics. (No shotgun marriages here.) The odd thing about the opposition to gay marriage is that if the opponents were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that gay men and lesbians provide the last, best argument for marriage: love and commitment.

...

There is an analogy here -- I think. Just as gays are renowned for moving into urban areas that others have fled, for refurbishing whole neighborhoods and making them attractive, so they might rehabilitate and renew marriage. Of all people, they need it the least. They have already shattered convention with their lifestyles, and demolished our comfy and parochial notions of sexual categories -- heterosexual male, heterosexual female and nothing else. But when it comes to marriage of all things, some of them want to veer toward the traditional. They want commitment and love -- a universal truth in a manner that Jane Austen never envisaged.

Of course by this point in the column I'm already cheering. To want something that so many have abandoned is to love it in a wholly new way, to love it against the grain--and that love inevitably shapes not only the lover but also the beloved. But the article just gets better.

The dour Republican Party, with DeLay and others promising a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (can Elizabeth Taylor be included, too?), is once again willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. In the short term, it will work, since little in politics has the power bigotry does -- certainly not reason. The many GOP politicians who have gay children will have to stifle all that their kids have taught them and fall behind DeLay in his backward march toward a vanished world. Some, though, may succumb to knowledge and empathy and suggest -- softly, of course -- that love and commitment are universals and not confined to a single category of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will not and cannot weaken the institution of marriage. A heterosexual is not somehow less married because a homosexual has tied the knot.

...

Love is as much a recipe for failure as it is for success, and yet we cling to it because it ennobles us. Love is our emotional opposable thumb, what differentiates us from lower animals, and why we vow -- sometimes over and over again -- a lifetime's commitment, marriage. If gays can do it and maybe do it better, then Tom DeLay could do us all a real public service by just stepping aside.

A whole lot of wonderful people want to come down the aisle.


And we're coming down that aisle whether you want us to or not. David and I can't get married here, or in Oklahoma, but we can in Canada and could (sort of) in Australia. Speaking of my home state, Oklahoma's motto is (after a fashion) "Amor Omnia Vincit." Love does conquer all, and it will.

We and our love will eventually prove the haters wrong--for ourselves, at least. Whether we gays can pull a Fab Five, give wedded bliss a haircut and a paint job and undo all the damage heterosexuals have done to marriage is another question altogether. They keep getting it wrong--and most of their weddings are really just ghastly from a stylistic perspective-- but we have to love them for trying. The least they could do is return the favor.

This May Be Good for Marriage

By Richard Cohen
Thursday, November 20, 2003; Page A41


If Tom DeLay had half a brain (if pigs had wings), he would have cheered the news that Massachusetts may legalize gay marriages. The institution for which the House majority leader has such concern, traditional marriage, is both wobbly and wheezing -- the butt of cynical jokes, a gold mine for divorce lawyers and, even for the non-initiated, the triumph of hope over experience. Gays, bless 'em, may wind up saving marriage.

In ways that DeLay and his conservative cohorts seem not to recognize, marriage itself is on the rocks. Twenty percent of all first marriages don't make it past five years, and after a mere decade, one-third of all marriages are kaput. Married couples, once dominant in both life and sitcom TV, have gone from 80 percent of all households in the 1950s to 50 percent today. If you peek into the average home, the chances of finding a married couple with kids are just one in four. DeLay, don't delay, marriage needs help.

Now along come gay couples to rescue marriage from social and economic irrelevance, casting a queer eye on a straight institution. They seek it for pecuniary reasons -- issues such as estate taxes, etc. -- but also because they seem to be among the last romantics. (No shotgun marriages here.) The odd thing about the opposition to gay marriage is that if the opponents were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that gay men and lesbians provide the last, best argument for marriage: love and commitment.

There is scant reason for marriage anymore, which is why it has become a dicey proposition -- and why 86 million adults are unmarried. Women don't need men to support them or defend them from saber-toothed tigers -- and they can, I have read, even have babies on their own.

Men, of course, still need women, if only to bear children and to remind them that they are uncommunicative. (Is a marriage between two men a zone of total silence?) But single guys can adopt kids, and sex is readily available almost anywhere, or so I am told by various city magazines.

There is an analogy here -- I think. Just as gays are renowned for moving into urban areas that others have fled, for refurbishing whole neighborhoods and making them attractive, so they might rehabilitate and renew marriage. Of all people, they need it the least. They have already shattered convention with their lifestyles, and demolished our comfy and parochial notions of sexual categories -- heterosexual male, heterosexual female and nothing else. But when it comes to marriage of all things, some of them want to veer toward the traditional. They want commitment and love -- a universal truth in a manner that Jane Austen never envisaged.

The dour Republican Party, with DeLay and others promising a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (can Elizabeth Taylor be included, too?), is once again willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. In the short term, it will work, since little in politics has the power bigotry does -- certainly not reason. The many GOP politicians who have gay children will have to stifle all that their kids have taught them and fall behind DeLay in his backward march toward a vanished world. Some, though, may succumb to knowledge and empathy and suggest -- softly, of course -- that love and commitment are universals and not confined to a single category of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will not and cannot weaken the institution of marriage. A heterosexual is not somehow less married because a homosexual has tied the knot. On the contrary, the institution will be strengthened, bolstered by the very people who for conservatives represent everything loathsome about modernity. Gays are not attacking marriage. They want to practice it.

"Love. Of course, love. Flames for a year, ashes for 30." So says the prince in Giuseppe di Lampedusa's classic novel, "The Leopard." This cynical observation, attributed to a 19th-century man by a 20th-century writer, is hardly out of date. Love is as much a recipe for failure as it is for success, and yet we cling to it because it ennobles us. Love is our emotional opposable thumb, what differentiates us from lower animals, and why we vow -- sometimes over and over again -- a lifetime's commitment, marriage. If gays can do it and maybe do it better, then Tom DeLay could do us all a real public service by just stepping aside.

A whole lot of wonderful people want to come down the aisle.

November 18, 2003

Sound and Fury in Massachusetts

I hate to be a pessimist first thing in the morning, but I can't bring myself to hope that this means much in practical terms. Some nice words from Chief Justice Marshall, though:


Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. It brings stability to our society.

For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial and social benefits. In return, it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations.

The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.

We conclude that it may not.

Clearly, the equal-rights approach has its limits--in no small part because many elected officials don't really think of us as humans. It's not pretty to say, but let's be honest. So I think we need to approach this as a property-rights issue (property being one of the few transcendant ideal recognized by Repubs these days). Even having spent about $1,500 with a very nice lawyer this year, David and I still have not been able to construct as seamless a plan for the disposition of our assets as a straight couple gets for a $50 marriage license. And of course, we'll never be able to get Social Security benefits if one of us dies. Likewise automatic estate-tax avoidance the married couples enjoy. If I go on David's insurance, or he on mine, we have to pay Federal taxes on the full premium (both our part and the company's contribution). The list goes on and on.

We pay our taxes, and unless we adopt will draw far less services than the average parenting couple, but we get none of the financial benefits other, straighter, law-abiding citizens do. I get pissed off by this enough to consider leaving the country altogether, and taking my education, skills, and talent to a country that doesn't hate me quite so much. (I'd probably get a decent health care system in the bargain.) If I like Australia, you never know--I might start pestering David to move back and beg my bosses to let me open SS+K Sydney.

It's a sick joke, really. Republicans can't stand the thought of us screwing each other, but they sure seem to be lining up thinking of new ways to screw us. The GOP platform is a turning into a vertitable Kama Sutra!

We need a movement to channel the energy of angry married fags in a way that actually does something. Beware the rage of bourgeois homo homeowner couples!

November 11, 2003

You lose some documents, you find some documents

And sometimes the ones you find are so perfect you want to cry. Slate points us to Bush's request to get out of the Air National Guard unit--the one he never served in, the one that kept him out of Viet Nam--so he could go to Harvard Business School (where, judging by Harken Energy's track record he learned a whole lot of nothing and skipped his ethics class to boot). Of course the request is dated four months after his ANG superiors reported never having laid eyes on the young Shrub. Would that we, as a nation, were so lucky.

This brings me to another point, though. I'm not sure, as Jason's comment on David's point suggests, that the electronic age presents more threats to information. Or rather, though it presents threats, it also arms the average citizen with the tools to ferret out and rescue a great deal of that information. But, like anything having to do with freedom, it requires eternal vigilence (and access to Google).

Revisionism, revised

Before I can (and I will) wholeheartedly endorse the meat of David's post below, I have to take a bit of issue with the misuse of the term "revisionism" in David's post (and elsewhere). Revisionist historical studies are not about erasing history, but rather about "subverting the dominant paradigm" and (in the true sense of this word) deconstructing the ways that the authors/authorities of history-as-written have used various totalizing narrative strucutres to bend the facts to the convenience of the writers of that history. This is hard work. A great example is the painstaking debunking of the oh-so-comforting "historical fact" that America's double-bombing of Japan actually saved Japanese (as well as American) lives. It is also thankless work--thus, the endless carping of cultural conservatives about "revisionist history." Historiography is always revisionist in its thrust-- how else do we increase our understanding of the past but to question old assumptions?-- but capital-R Revisionism uses post-structuralist ideas about discourse, authority, and epistemology to cut through the legitimizing narratives that too often crowd out factuality in the numbing service of political expediency and orthodoxy.

Whew. All that said, there is a better term than "revisionism" for this, predictably coined by Orwell--"the memory hole." In 1984, protagonist Winston Smith is employed in the wholesale rewriting of history. Inconvenient items in the archives are dropped down "the memory hole" into a giant furnace, lost forever. The Time article and (to a lesser extent, and with less import) the McJobs entry, are victims of this same kind of reckless burning. With these stories, there is an invariable narrative that absolves any one person of the responsibility of the decision to obliterate history. People who revise leave marks, a paper trail. The memory hole, by contrast, is always seen to open of its own mysterious accord and then disappear--hopefully unnoticed.

Luckily for us, the memory hole is also the name of a great website that, though tending understandably to the paranoid, does a tremendous job of hiding in that furnace-bound pipe to snatch those inconvenient facts back into view. It's motto is apt: "rescuing knowledge, freeing information."

Today's best example: the Pentagon's expurgation of web content suggesting (duh) that someone might be looking at the raggedy-ass state of our over-deployed military and thinking about reinstating the draft. You can really get lost on the site, perusing the mountains of data that almost did get lost. It's a disorienting feeling, but somehow a comforting one.

November 06, 2003

"Bush's Zbig Problem"

Slate's Fred Kaplan has a great article on a recent speech by Zbigniew Brzezinski that slams the Bush junta's foreign policy. "Z-who?" you might ask? Basically, ZB is Kissinger lite, without the war crimes and quotes like "power is the great aphrodesiac." He was Carter's national security advisor, and way to the right of anyone else in the administration. He is a connsumate diplomat and statesman and nobody's idea of a lefty.

As Kaplan writes, at an October 28 conference with foreign policy wonks in DC, ZB "bemoaned what he called Bush's 'paranoiac view of the world,' which has resulted in 'two very disturbing phenomena—the loss of U.S. international credibility [and] the growing U.S. international isolation.'"

To sum up, oh, 500 years or so of geopolitical wisdom, he said "If we want to lead, we have to have other countries trust us. When we speak, they have to think it is the truth. … We are going to live in an insecure world. It cannot be avoided. We have to learn to live in it with dignity, with idealism, with steadfastness."

Kaplan interprets this a bit more for us:

"The larger point here is that you don't have to be a liberal-- and, as the term is commonly understood, Brzezinski is not one--to criticize Bush's aggressive unilateralism. Diplomacy and alliances (even alliances with France) are not exclusively liberal notions. They serve deeply self-interested ends, too. The excitement that Brzezinski's speech inspired in a roomful of liberal Democrats--the American Prospect's Web site headlines it 'A Must-Read Speech”--suggests that the liberal critique of Bush's foreign policy is at one with the conservative critique. It suggests that, on a basic level, Bush's foreign policy is neither liberal nor conservative but, rather, callow, smug, and reckless."

Callow, smug, and reckless. How can thinking people see it otherwise? Dean needs to get this guy on board, to temper his righteous anger with the lucid comments of a thoughtful statesman.

November 05, 2003

Attack of the Killer Porn!

First there was Marriage Protection Week. Then there was Protection From Pornography Week. What's next? Protection From Prostitutes Week?

Porn -- the raw yummy sexual kind -- is just another evildoer, according to the government.

The Prez sez: (from an honest-to-god proclamation)

I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 26 through November 1, 2003, as Protection From Pornography Week. I call upon public officials, law enforcement officers, parents, and all the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate programs and activities.

...any ideas for appropriate activities? I know I have one cued up in the VCR...

Check out the hilarious skewering of Bush's proclamation by SFGate.com's Mark Morford. And be sure to check out the link at the end of the article. Happy clowns who love Jesus. I will buy dinner and drinks for anyone who purchases one of their t-shirts. Really.

November 01, 2003

Bush's next gig

You can only be President twice. But apparently after you steal an election, you can get your press office to pimp you out to the AP as the Second Coming. Offensive, and tacky to boot.

October 30, 2003

Phelps Clan: "Thank God for 9/11"

Our good friends at the NY Daily News have a sickening article titled Hate from the heartland about the self-parodying but still repugnant Fred Phelps. His merry band are (I think I have this right) protesting a Long Island high school where the football team was caught hazing freshmen players by jamming things up their bums. The culprit? Not the age-old, school-sponosored, parent-approved culture of jock sado-masochism. Noooo. Us-- The Gays. Controlling those hot, young Long Island gridiron studs by mind control rays, one imagines.

But the kicker is the photo. Three of Phelps' eight (!) kids holding signs reading: "God hates America," "God hates fag enablers," and astoundingly, "God blew up the shuttle."

Either these people are not Christians, or I'm not. Somebody get back to me on that before Sunday, OK?

It gets better. Apparently Mrs. Phelps is just a s nutters as her husband. Quoth she: "When you teach children that it's okay to indulge in any kind of sex act that they like ... that it's okay to be gay, it is inevitable that they will end up being violent and doing things that they shouldn't."

So I suppose she believes that suppressing homosexuality, stigmatizing it, forcing it into hiding-- is better, and would create less violence and trauma. Of course. That never hurt anyone, or caused gay kids to off themselves at three times the normal rate. But then, I'm sure she's all for gay kids offing themselves. The really good thing, though, would be just to kill us all so our evil Football Player Sodomy Mind Control Rays can't corrput the youth of America. Like, for instance, her poor children. Those poor little kids are clearly far beyond the help of any amount of therapy or deprogramming. Wouldn't you rather be one the bum-addled frosh on that team than one of those poor souls?

Too bad there is no picture of the sign reading "Thank God for Sept. 11th." I would hang that up somewhere so I could look at it any time I needed to get really, really angry.

And just for the record-- since we know some members of the Phelps clan sully our site with their crazy eyeballs-- I'll let you in on how I know The Gays aren't behind this. If we were, someone would have thought to show up with a digicam to bring us Hot-Long-Island-Football-Boys-Hazing-Because-The-Gays-Lent-Us-Their-Dildoes-And-Made-Us-Do-It.com, for $19.95 a month. And the better our fine nation would be for that than a family that hands its kids signs like "God Blew Up the Shuttle." There's porn, and then there's real obscenity.

October 29, 2003

Just for self-defence

A gun is a great defensive weapon ... until it's wrested from your hands by an attacker and turned back on you. The NRA would do well to heed this lesson. A 19-page blacklist found on the NRA's website listing organizations, politicians and celebrities opposed to guns has been turned against the NRA by anti-gun activists. It's a perfect description of the broad spectrum of poeple opposed to the out-of-control gun laws in the USA. Some celebrities were so miffed that they weren't included that they even petitioned the NRA to be added!

Heh, heh.

October 23, 2003

Rare sign of Congressional sanity

I was fairly apoplectic a couple weeks back when I heard on NPR that Bush wanted to tighten already-draconian restrictions on travel to Cuba (a place I'd love to see before it becomes a post-Castro theme park).

Don't we, as a nation, have bigger fish to fry? Can it really by Osama, Saddam, and our favorite fossilized Marxist, in that order? Don't we at least need to add Kim Jong Il and make it a Trapezoid of Evil? Cuba is no threat to anyone, and our continuing embargo is only hurting the Cuban people. Why is "engagement" OK for China (still Commie if I'm not mistaken) but not for Cuba? (Maybe Bush just wants to keep people away from his Guantanamo concentration camp.) (Click that link, really. It makes me nostalgic for the day's when Prava's anti-U.S. editorializing was ideological bullshit. Now the White House press office has the monopoly on that.)

So I was thrilled to read that the Senate is joining the House in passing a provision to lift the travel ban. It's a sign of something sane and healthy afoot that this weird Bushian effort was so soundly blocked by bipartisan effort. Of course he may veto the bill, but that would mean rejecting the entire $90 billion Transportation and Treasury appropriations bill. It will be fun to watch this one unfold.

October 21, 2003

"Find the Boeing"

I'd had a very low tolerance for any sort of Sept. 11 conspiracy theory... but this site has somewhat piqued my curiosity. Check it out, and please provide the reasonable explanation I seem to be missing when I look at these photos. Is it insane to think that something other than a plane might have caused the destruction at the Pentagon? Some French folks go even further than that. I will only say that there is very little about Rummy that would surprise me. (Funny, really, how little we've seen that last picture on the news.)

October 18, 2003

Oh, that's why!

By way of my cousin (who is a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy at the Pentagon) came a copy of the Stratfor newsletter with a discussion of the recent strategy changes for the ongoing war in Iraq. What I found most surprising is not that we needed a change but their understood justification for the war in Iraq:
“To consider this, we need to recall the two strategic reasons the United States had for invading Iraq -- as opposed to the public justifications :(italics mine)
1. Seizing the most strategic country in the region as a base of operations from which to mount follow-on operations against countries that collaborate or permit collaboration with al Qaeda.
2. Transforming the psychological perception of the United States in the Islamic world from a hated and impotent power to a hated but feared power”
OK, the first one, while I am not completely comfortable with the means, I agree with this end. Terrorism needs to be fought both at home and abroad but one would have hoped that with all of the resources at our disposal that there could have been a better and less public way to accomplish this objective. I realize that Reagan’s executive order 12333 prohibited us from just arranging the assassination of Saddam Hussein (not that it kept W from trying, I’ll bet) while he was the “elected” leader of Iraq and it’s probably not the best foreign policy choice to go around whacking people, but I prefer it to invading a sovereign nation and miring ourselves in the thankless job of nation-building. And now, of course, it is too late. We are obligated to finish what this government has started. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee, even if they manage to establish Iraq as a stable base of operations, that the goal of launching successful operations into other countries in the region will bring an end to al Qaeda or its proxies around the world.
The second one I believe is flat short-sighted and assumes that there is no diplomatic path to building relations with Islamic countries. Granted we have not had too much success in this arena since the British first started carving the place up with the other European powers, but am I the only one that thinks fear is what inspired the hatred in the first place? Fear of losing their territory, their history and religion. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Middle East affairs (or anything for that fact) but I still believe that building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships is the best course to providing stability and prosperity. That doesn’t mean we’re wimps, it just means that we are looking to secure a better future for our world. Reviving the “US as world bully role” is not the way to secure that better tomorrow. It is the way to ensure that for every terrorist that dies or is captured there will be 10 to take his/her place.

October 16, 2003

Numbers to back up "Fox News makes dumb crackers dumber" theory

An exhaustive study reported in the WaPo confirms the obvious. "The fair and balanced folks at Fox, the survey concludes, were 'the news source whose viewers had the most misperceptions.'"

It would be great if this was just sloppy journalism. But writer Harold Meyerson hits the nail on the head:

One question inevitably raised by these findings is whether Fox News is failing or succeeding. Over at CBS, the news that 71 percent of viewers hold one of these mistaken notions should be cause for concern, but whether such should be the case at Fox because 80 percent of their viewers are similarly mistaken is not at all clear. Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and the other guys at Fox have long demonstrated a clearer commitment to changing public policy than to reporting it, and an even clearer commitment to reporting it in such a way as to change it.

Take a wild flight of fancy with me and assume for just a moment that one major goal over at Fox is to ensure Bush's reelection. Surely, anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were in cahoots, that we've found the WMD and that Bush is revered among the peoples of the world -- all of these known facts to nearly half the Fox viewers -- is a good bet to be a Bush voter in next year's contest. By this standard -- moving votes into Bush's column and keeping them there -- Fox has to be judged a stunning success. It's not so hot on conveying information as such, but mere empiricism must seem so terribly vulgar to such creatures of refinement as Murdoch and Ailes.

October 14, 2003

What makes Fred hate?

So apparently the haters use Google, too. In response to my recent post about Fred Phelps, someone named Timothy Phelps posted the following response:

Two comments, filth-boy. First, it's only because you don't really know Christianity or the Bible that you pretend not to know what happens to God-hating fools when they die. Read in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus. Unless you're just dead set on being ignorant, you will have your answer. Second, there is absolutely nothing grammatically incorrect about saying "in defiance of God's warning". God's commandment quoted here is also a warning of the consequences. Much like a statute making an act a crime is a clear and undeniable warning that to engage in the act will result in punishment under law. Try not to impose your lack of grammatical prowess ... in addition to your lack of scriptural understanding ... on everybody!

To which I responded:

Hey everybody-- start calling me "filth-boy." I really like that one. And Timothy, I'm shocked to hear you quoting the New Testament, since your god clearly predates and misinterprets the gospel of grace and love in Christ. My understanding of that gospel is not impressed by your wrongheaded proof-texting. The devil can quote scripture for his purposes, so I'm hardly impressed that you can, too.

Finally, I didn't say it was grammatically wrong, but syntactically (and therefore logically) flawed--I think Fred was trying to say "because he defied God's law," but failed to be that clear. The proposed statement makes it sound like going to Hell is against God's law--tellingly, the opposite of his intended hateful meaning.

Hi Timothy, if you're still enjoying our site, you should know I was raised Nazarene, am a practicing Anglican, and have read more theology than a lot of low-church preachers. I've read the Bible plenty--certainly enough to know that worshipping it (instead of the true God) is idolatry just as sure as bowing down before that golden calf was.

I did a little websearching and apparently this Timothy guy really is Phelps' son. If he's the one I've seen on TV a couple of times--like the time they came to Seattle and picketed my church, St. Mark's, to proclaim that the gay couple who died in the Alaska Airlines crash in California a couple years back were in Hell--he can probably tell us quite a bit about the real, close-to-home motivations for his father's gay-baiting zeal. Because the son I saw on TV acts way gayer than any of us. Hell, he would make Perry look butch. None of the Fab Five are as flaming as this guy. As with the rumored-to-be-a-jew Hitler, we know that nothing fuels the fires of hatred quite as much as self-hatred. So of course it doesn't surprise me at all that Phelps' son spends so much time on the Internet, though I'd expect him to be somewhere with more pictures and less text.

October 13, 2003

E-voting and Diebold's deceptions

So not only were republicans able to steal the 2000 elections in Florida, but that disaster has accelerated the shift to e-voting, without broad discussions of its methodologies and risks. As much as I love digital technology, I am upset with any voting system that fails to provide a paper trail of any kind.

Worse still, the CEO of Diebold (the dominant player in traditional and electronic voting machines) is an activist, far-right Republican fundraiser, who wrote in a fundraising letter last year that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." This immediately makes me thinks about foxes in the henhouse. And with e-voting, there is absolutely no way to be sure votes haven't been tampered with. And a recent Johns Hopkins study of Maryland's e-voting procedures shows how easy Diebold (and flawed state safeguards) make this. (How easy, you ask? Hardwired passwords, source code exposed on public FTP sites, and the storage of election results on easily-forged smart cards. Add to this the serious flaws in the training of election workers and the physical security of the machines after their shipment to polling places, and you end up with the potential of wholesale election tampering and theft.)

Even more troubling are the comments of a whistleblower who worked with Diebold as a subcontractor in the lead-up to Georgia's 2002 gubernatorial election, which ended up with the surprise unseating of a popular Democrat by a Republican challenger who had trailed him in the polls throughout the election. Diebold subcontractor Rob Behler claims that Diebold engineers applied patches to voting machines after they were certified, and that they actively avoided recertification, due to time constraints and because it could have prevented Diebold from being paid for the machine. Why the need for patches? Because up to 30% of the machines were crashing and freezing. (The OS in question? Windows CE.)

I am always mindful of the adage that one should never suspect malice until ignorance is ruled out. Diebold sounds mighty ignorant, and it has cleared leapt into the breach with e-voting in an attempt to preserve the market share it built up on mechanical voting systems. But you know, they make most ATMs, which are about as safe and reliable as technology gets. Wouldn't you expect they could engineer a voting machine that is at least as good as an ATM? Unless, that is, there were compelling reasons to hold our votes less secure than our money. If you're the CEO of Diebold, perhaps there is a good reason.

Digital voting systems are fine-- the technology has the potential to make voting faster, more convenient, and more accessible for those with disabilities. But it is clear that e-voting needs to maintain some kind of paper trail to allow auditing.

October 08, 2003

Fred Phelps is going to hell, but not immediately

Everyone's favorite anti-gay preacher/hatemonger wants to put up a monument in Matthew Shepard's hometown of Caspar, Wyoming that reads "MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God's Warning: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.' Leviticus 18:22."

In an attempt to avoid my knee-jerk reaction, which includes screaming obscenities and grinding my teeth until bits of dentition come loose, let me make the measured observation that the preacher's grasp of basic Christian theology is severely lacking. Much as we might like them to, bad people (Republicans included) don't go "straight to hell" any more than good people (or all dogs) go "straight to heaven." There is the small matter of the Final Judgment, which any good fundamentalist will know can't have happened yet, because Jesus has not yet rocketed back down to Earth orbit in a blaze of glory. The Bible is not entirely clear as to where the dead are-- sleeping? in a bus station in Alpha Centauri?-- but they have not yet met their maker, or their final judgment.

Sure, pop culture shows the recently dead sprouting haloes or horns and spiriting off. But pop culture also shows gay men and lesbians forming stable relationships and raising happy families (and even helping schlumps look better), and that apparently upsets Phelps. If he wants to be a fire-and-brimstone freak, he should be held to a higher standard than feel-good religionists. Personally, I think he's going to burn in Hell not only for his hatefulness, but for his lack of faithfulness as a preacher to Christian doctrine. If you are going to split hairs, get a sharp razor.

Also, there is the matter of Phelps' syntax. People go to Hell "in defiance" of God's demands? Clearly, this man is not a genius, but can not one of his posse structure a simple declarative sentence?

As for Matthew Shepard, may he rest in peace.

September 25, 2003

What Libertarianism is Not

OK, I'll admit it. I've heard a few people, especially on blogs and message boards and stuff, describe themselves as Libertarians, but beyond the freedom-is-good-government-is-bad-just-let-me-be mantra, I never really understood what it was, really. I did take the World's Smallest Political Quiz though, once, but it didn't make me a convert despite its bias.

Sometimes, you can learn most clearly what something is by being told what it is not. This Non-Libertarian FAQ demonstrates that point. I now know enough about it that it just ain't viable. This quote from the author of the FAQ is pretty telling, for me:


Why do you spend so much time trying to debunk?
As I told creationists who wondered why I bothered, it's interesting to me to study unusual beliefs for the same reason it's interesting for doctors to study pathologies. You don't have to catch a disease to be able to understand it, fight it, or vaccinate against it.

Comparing Libertarians with Creationists is the ultimate damnation.

September 08, 2003

Whatever happened to investigative journalism?

Greg Palast, journalist for Salon and the UK Guardian, has a website for the new edition of his book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The story of the many irregularities of the Florida election, which most likely handed the election to Bush, is kinda old hat now. There's really not much we can do about it until 2004. But of more interest to me was Greg's story, which you can read online in Chapter 1, of how the mainstream US media refused to pick up the story (despite it being widely reported in print and TV in the UK). CBS news, for example, didn't run it because the only check they did was to call Jeb Bush's office and, surprise, surprise, he denied the facts of the story.

Is investigative journalism simply non-existent in this country? Greg attributes the lack of follow-up on this story to the fact that the media would actually have to investigate to validate the story, and this would cost time and money. In fact, the only reporting that was done was after the US Civil Rights Commission had delivered their report six months after the fact. Seems like it's easier just to wait for someone else to investigate and report the results.

The chapter mentions two of my favourite news sources: the Guardian and BBC2's Newsnight. I've spoken of my love for the Guardian before, but I never knew it was owned by a non-profit corporation. Newsnight is a British intitution, an occasional (2-4 times weekly) evening news program, which spends 45 minutes discussing 2-3 (and sometimes just one) current news story in detail. Often it involves a live interview by the inimitable Jeremy Paxman with an MP or CEO, and it's generally a no-holds-barred affair (but not in a 60-minutes way). Jeremy asks the tough questions, and it's a joy to see the politicians squirm. (There was a famous incident when he asked the then Home Secretary the same question: "Did you overrule the director of the prison services" fourteen times before finally getting an answer, by which time it was kinda redundant, since not answering 14 times makes it pretty clear what the answer was.) But Newsnight, and in particular Paxman, is held in such high regard, that for it to be stated that you "declined to be interviewed for this program" so obviously means that you have something to hide that it's a bigger expenditure of political capital not to appear. Why aren't there any programs like that on US TV?

September 04, 2003

They Rule

Here's a cool little Flash app. Check how board members of the Fortune 100 interrelate. Be sure to click "Load Map" in the lower left to see some pre-canned examples.

Here's the link: They Rule

August 26, 2003

Fashion Fascista

Are the kids trying to look like their favorite rap star? Maybe the little miss is turning herself out like Christina Aguilera? Well, Mumsy and Dads, now you can go to www.georgewbush.com and pick out the latest in Kid Gear from the President's online store. You can make sure that you won't be embarrassed at the next fund raiser and that the profit will go to enriching the campaign for the re-election of W and Cheney. This Internet thing is just great.

It isn't bad enough that POTUS and his campaign staff have jumped on the blogging bandwagon (although the site is really more of a personal spin site for the W campaign) now they want to condemn millions of upper-middle-class teens to perpetual loserdom. I understand the campaign bumpersticker, hat and button. But a knit hat that should have the name or logo of a band or skateboard company is not the place for a W.

August 25, 2003

Pollitt defends The Doctor

The Nation's Katha Pollitt is not always my favorite colmnist (nor is The Nation always my favorite poltical rag), but she's for Dean-- and how. In her article Selling Dean Short she has one of the best and most rousing grafs in recent memory:


Every time the press pooh-poohs his chances, every time they gloat over some trivial misstatement, every time they make fun of Vermont and describe his supporters as "Birkenstocked" "Deanyboppers," I think about the free ride the media give Bush, who says more false and foolish things in an afternoon than Dean has said in a lifetime, who is unmaking everything good about this country from Head Start to habeas corpus, who is stacking the government with faith healers and fanatics, my fingers itch to write Dean another check.

She fairly well debones the current media idée fixe that liberals will defect from the Dean camp when the realize that he's actually a centrist. (Which creates, in the big picture, this weird contradictory argument when you think about it--the mainstream media deem Dean "too liberal" to win, but it is his "centrist thinking" that will eventually scare away his hard-core supporters. Hmmm.)

Anyway, Pollitt closes with this point, which can't be made too forcefully to anyone who doesn't get Dean's appeal:

Right now, Dean is the only viable candidate who speaks to the anger, fear and loathing a large number of ordinary citizens feel about the direction Bush has taken the country, while the mainstream media blandly kowtow and the Democratic Party twiddles its thumbs. He has gone out and actually asked for the help of these citizens, rather than taking them for granted. That is why 70,000 people have sent him money, and why 84,000 have shown up to work for him, and why tens of thousands of volunteers wrote personal letters to Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats and independents urging them to support Dean. His willingness to challenge Bush without looking over his shoulder at the last undecided voter in Ohio is the big story--not whether he signed Vermont's civil union legislation in a private ceremony to avoid publicity, or even whether he insisted on balancing Vermont's budget at the expense of worthy social programs.

In other words, Dean is so engaging--and so threatening to the status quo that has the media so blinkered--because he has based his campaign around truly democratic (that's small-"d" democratic) principles instead of poll-tested tinctures of party platform. Perhaps the best model for this is not an American politician at all, but Lula, the former labor-union leader now running Brazil. Both are reformers who are rescuing human-scale politics from the jaws of media spectacle, and both have policies that put the needs of real people ahead of the niceties of ideological categorization.

August 12, 2003

Mr. Blah

I know it's completely inappropriate to think that anything about the Liberian situation is funny, but has anyone else noticed that the Liberian former vice-president, now president, is called Mr. Blah? It makes it difficult for me to read the news articles without picturing him as a cartoon character who suffers from ennui and is drawn with indistinct borders, kind of like Pig Pen, only more existential.

Consider this statement: "If Blah takes over, we will fight back." This was spoken by a senior member of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a group otherwise known as LURD. Really, LURD. I think Liberians need better branding. Jay, do you want to get on this? At least they are already snappy dressers.

August 06, 2003

Bearing False Witness

So I don't expect a lot from the "faith-based" social-programs crowd that orbits W-- call me cynical, but if you're doing the Lord's work why come to the Feds for a handout? What I find intolerable from these holier-than-thou folks is out and out misrepresentation of data. In my verson of Christianity, we call that lying. Something about "Thou shalt bear no false witness to thy neighbor."

In case you don't know Charles Colson (which would exclude anyone in my family, most of whom idolize the man) he is one of the lucky few Watergate alums who actually went to jail. Where he was born-again, into a lucrative career as speaker, writer, think-tank proselytizer, and general darling of the far right. (While I respect the effort needed for Nixon's "evil genius" to get some religion, his convert's zeal could use a little more love.)

So in an effort to get federal funding for his InnerChange "prison fellowship" program, his group is flogging a press release that almost entirely misrepresents the first scientific study of the results. While the inmates in InnerChange actaully did WORSE than non-Bible-reading inmates--more recidivism and more reincarceration at a statistically significant level--InnerChange has the audacity to paint itself as a success. The headline of the press release: "Graduates of Faith-Based Prison Program Less Likely to Return to Prison: Univ. of Pennsylvania Study Shows Inmates Who Graduate From Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative are Less Likely to Return to Incarceration." The study tells the real truth. You don't have to get past page four to read "Considering all participants, including those inmates who did and did not complete all phases of the program, 36.2% of IFI participants were arrested compared to 35% of the matched group during the two-year tracking period. Among the total number of IFI participants, 24.3% were incarcerated compared to 20.3% of the comparison group during the two-year post-release period." The trick is "graduates," which excludes everyone who doesn't get a job, or doesn't stick with "the program" even after release. Talk about "creaming the data." It's as if they decided only to count the inmates Jesus really loves.

This excellent article in Slate sets the story straight. But with the WSJ editorial page and the White House Press Office picking up the spin and not the data, there's a real risk this will become another one of those pseudo-facts that the Christian Right endlessly flogs in its battle to take over the public sphere along with the private.

August 04, 2003

Reposted "Terror Futures" article from last week

So only the intro was showing up... I've reposted it, and it's all there now.

July 29, 2003

Terror futures and "open source intelligence"

Ooooh, cool... I get to write a long post about a topic I really love that I don't think I've ever discussed with any of you! (I talk so much that it's rare to come across a secret passion of mine.)

While the DoD's insta-shitcanned "terror futures" market was pretty stupid and incredibly poorly handled, it stems from a generally reputable idea. Here's hoping the Feds won't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So here's the baby, as it were: Markets do more than just assign value to goods. Markets represent a form of knowledge, and futures-style trading does consolidate and maximize that knowledge. The Hollywood Stock Exchange is a great example of this. HSX is often far more accurate in predicting opening-weekend grosses than Variety is. Basically, research into this field has proven that people in groups are smarter than any single person in that group; an efficient market (based on accurate and transparent underlying data) magnifies this effect. So as offensive and unsettling as its ramifications may be, a worldwide network of well-read amatuer and professional predictors might be more accurate at assessing and predicting threats than even the sharpest spook in Langley. (This Slate article is a decent half-defense of the Policy Analysis Market, or PAM, that just went down in flames, though it misses the most obvious way to ensure that terrorist don't profit by manipulating the results: make it a "closed-end fund" open only to thoroughly vetted individuals-- a few thousand to start with, sprinkled around the globe.)

The realization that bountiful intelligence information is available in the public sphere but is nonetheless undervalued and underanalyzed has given birth to the idea of "open source intelligence."

And yes, Virginia, people were using this term before Mr. Torvalds unleashed the Penguin Horde upon us. Though its funding by the U.S. government has been fairly miniscule, "OSINT" is recognized as an equal partner to "HUMINT" (human intelligence, from real live spies in other countries) and "SIGINT" (signals intelligence, based on intercepted transmissions). The CIA is focused on HUMINT, the NSA on SIGINT, and to date OSINT has been the bastard child-- in no small part because it intrinsically argues against the need for a massive intelligence bureaucracy. But wow, could we really use its insights now.

The Internet has accelerated interest in this trend, and as an underlying meme it has gained currency in situations like the "yellowcake scandal" with the NYT reporting that the Niger documents could have been revealed as a fraud by "anyone with Google." But it has been in the culture for a while. One of my favorite '70s-paranoia-thrillers is Three Days of the Condor, in which Robert Redford plays a secret government operative tasked with, get this, reading everything printed around the world. (This speaks volumes about the explosion of information, even in our lifetimes--this premise was a stretch even then, but believable.) Anyway, our man "Condor" has his boring-museum-functionary cover blown and someone is out to kill him. The underlying idea is that someone who reads all the world's papers is at least as dangerous as any spy.

Australia's National Open Source Intelligence Centre is a quasi-governmental group (with a fittingly scary logo) that advances OSI. NOSIC defines Open Source Information as "publicly available information (ie any person could lawfully obtain the information by request or observation), as well as other unclassified information that has limited public distribution or access. This latter is referred to as "grey" literature and includes non-proprietary information from companies and other organisations." Open Source Intelligence goes further and "results from the integration of legally and ethically available sources, which require: analysis, collection management, source validation, multi-source fusion and compelling presentation."

If you're really interested, someone has posted the "Open Source Intelligence Professional Handbook 1.0" as presented at the Fifth International Symposium on Global Security and Global Competitiveness (1996).

I ran across this document online a few years ago, and it was kind of a revelation to me. I supposed I had always wanted to be a spy; I will write a long post someday on how this has to do with repressed attraction, and why it is so unsurprising that closeted gays from Yale in the '30s and '40s created the CIA. "But not this year," as Monica's Peter would say.

No, it was a revelation because I realized that a huge part of my job is OSI for my clients: sorting out relevant and actionable competitive information from the Web (and many sales brochures on enterprise solutions ordered surreptitiously), tracking emerging trends, and projecting these trends forward to imagine the market conditions my clients will be competing in five years down the road. So while I may not have the perfectly groomed five-o'clock-shadow of Colin Farrell in that abysmal Al Pacino trainwreck The Recruit, I can claim a legitimate relation to all that sexy "tradecraft."

Anyway, we can all laugh at the Pentagon's terrible PR, but some of the underlying ideas are sound. I, for one, would much prefer a mindset that looks to existing data for intelligence to one that thinks only of more spies, more wiretaps, and more email-reading minions to defend the realm.

Well, I should hope so

Uhm, so the Pentagon suddenly came to the conclusion that their most bizarre scheme in the war on terror, basically betting on future terrorist activities, was a bad idea. Uhm, duh. I'm still puzzling over who the hell thought this could possibly have been a good idea in the first place. Imagine, for example, if the White House chief of staff, suggested that Wednesday afternoons should be reserved for dwarf tossing in the west wing. You'd think he would just be met with blank stares and muttering about what the guy'd been smoking, right? Well, maybe not in this particular administration.

If I seem a little, uh, speechless, THAT'S BECAUSE I AM. What else am I supposed to be upon reading "The Pentagon, in initially defending the program, said such futures trading had proven effective in predicting other events like oil prices, elections and movie ticket sales."

Yeah. Hey, it works for predicting movie ticket sales. That means it should scale well to terrorist activities, right?

Wait. Backup a second. People lay wagers on movie ticket sales?

June 30, 2003

I have ALWAYS loved Safire

Yes, he worked for Nixon. Yes, he's a big conservative. But he has written some of my favorite books about English usage and truly, deeply cares about words and their use in politics (rather a latter-day Orwell, or at least a latter-day Orwell Lite). William Safire is also a good libertarian, as today's column points out. "Libertarian conservatives like me who place a high value on personal freedom," he writes, "consider Lawrence v. Texas a victory in the war to defend everyone's privacy." I can't believe how little I've heard on that point in the past few days!

The ending really had me cheering, for this is what I've been saying for ages:

Rather than wring our hands and cry "abomination!", believers in family values should take up the challenge and repair our own house.

Why do too many Americans derogate as losers those parents who put family ahead of career, or smack their lips reading about celebrities who switch spouses for fun? Why do we turn to the government for succor, to movie porn and violence for sex and thrills, to the Internet for companionship, to the restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner--when those functions are the ties that bind families?

I used to fret about same-sex marriage. Maybe competition from responsible gays would revive opposite-sex marriage.

June 26, 2003

First the good news

This is clearly the big story of the day, not to mention one of the largest milestones in the long journey of gays and lesbians on the road to full rights and protection as American citizens. Combined with the recent Canadian legalization of same-sex marriage, 2003 is turning out to be a banner year for progress among Western democracies to get over themselves and get out of the bedrooms of their citizens. Which is good, given the fact that our entire civilization is under attack from fundamentalists here and abroad; basically, the democracies seem to realize they have bigger fish to fry.

But it is not democracies that must get over themselves if we are to enjoy rights and protections in practice that comport with judicial theories of the way the world should work. The past fifty years have shown that social justice and equal rights granted through legislative or judicial process can be held hostage by relatively small minorities who focus obsessively on the issues at hand, minorities who in their fervor blunt the actual practice of freedom and chain true liberty with fear and shame. The state of the debate over Roe v. Wade is the best example of this, but surely the affirmative action debate offers another. So my question is: is today's victory one we can trust and build on, or will it become the battle whose symbolic ramifications do more to enliven the opponents of equality than the decision does to guarantee our freedom?

I do not mean to downplay or question the courage and rightness of the majority decision (or Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion that recognizes the real flaw in Lawrence v. Texas is the Texas law's violates the fundamental equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment). How could I not rejoice at Justice Kennedy's statement that gay people "are entitled to respect for their private lives"? How could it not be a major victory to have the majority of the Court agree that "the state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime"?

To answer my own question, I can because of the time I spent at Planned Parenthood. Like Roe, this decision only recognizes a set of realities about human beahvior and seeks to square Constitutional interpretation with these realities. People will have abortions and anal sex whatever the law says; the Roe and Lawrence decisions stated that government needed to vacate the territory it had claimed over these acts. It is less about protecting a right than deflecting the government's irresistable force from the plain face of that great immovable object, human nature.

But as Frost says, something there is that loves a wall. Something there is, particularly in the dark Calvinist heart of America, that loves the sound of human flesh slapped full across its face by the not-so-invisible hand of government. Freedom for me and thee, but none for those beyond the pale. (This is not, loud assertions aside, a sentimental, aesthetic, ethical, or moral consideration; the increase of freedom is quite simply a threat to the continuing power of those who have traditionally enjoyed the freedom to wield power on their terms.)

The love of this brutal sound echoes in the sound of protesters at the doors of the abortion clinic, the sound of Fred Phelps cheering the funerals of gays at the church door. Unfortunately for us, these voices are only made louder when judicial action waters these brittle causes with fresh outrage. The thought that this decision could embolden the anti-gay right in the same way that Roe whipped up the anti-woman and anti-choice movement is literally terrifying to me--thirty years from now, we could still be fighting for the rights we "won" today, and more opponents willing to resort to murder when the legislative and judiciary fail to bend to their will. My only real hope in our ability to avoid this is that the culture has far enough outpaced the law in the case of gays that the collective "so what" will provide little tender to the spark of protest.

So I'll try not to do what the German proverb calls "painting the devil on the wall." I will try to look on the bright side and celebrate this decision for what I hope it can be: an unalloyed good and the foundation for the right to marry, to serve in the military, or to adopt children freely should one choose.

So to close, a personal story. Tonight, I am having dinner with my friend Jonathan. He was in his early twenties, working for GMHC as AIDS was ravaging New York, and deeply in love. Then one morning, his partner Xavier's employer gave him two weeks notice to return to France. With no recourse to marriage, and no sure way to negotiate the legal complexities of a life together in any country, they parted. Jonathan navigated the shoals of loss, heartbreak, uncertainty, and risk admirably. But to look at his face is to see the mark of that blow, to register a great "what if" on his behalf. Loving myself a man who has been just months away from a green card for months, I can't help but shudder thinking about this story. So I will raise my glass to his and say a toast and speak a prayer that this decision will be a true and lasting victory.

I think we all have some work to do to make this true, though I'm not certain what effort will have the most impact. What I do know is that the friends and families who love us have to speak up when they hear us hated, and not be afraid to shout down the people who believe we are less than citizens, less than humans. Because that is what the Rhenquist rant boils down to: a cry to keep our backs for drums and lungs for bellows in that awful music of a dark American nightmare.

June 20, 2003

Warm this, Mr. President!

Of course this first caused an increase in my blood pressure yesterday morning when I heard it on NPR but the Times' editorial on Bush's Censorship on Global Warming really got me riled up.

Even W's father seemed to realize something was up a decade ago. The Bush dynasty's slide into ignorance is an amazing thing to watch. I can imagine it now-- 20 years hence, our 46th President, Jenna Bush, will declare (margarita in hand, on board the presidential gondola moored on the Pennsylvania Ave. Canal) that we still need more research on global warming. Of course by then, "Lower Manhattan" will have a whole new meaning, Los Angeles will be a desert again, and Seattle will have replicated its long palm-lined boulevards. But some idiot congressman from East Jesus with a cheap suit and a bad toupee will still be prattling on about a "lack of scientific consensus."

June 12, 2003

Gay prom dates raise no fuss

Well, we can't get married, but if gay couples can go to the prom togethed and hardly raise an eyebrow, that's real progress. I definitely believe that social change must come first or legislative action will produce a backlash (e.g., Roe v. Wade).

The best quotes from the MSNBC story:


Allen and Misko are joining peers from Wisconsin to West Virginia in revolutionizing the traditional high school prom. More gay teens than ever are turning out for this year's big night in gowns and tuxes-- or gowns and gowns, or tuxes and tuxes. But instead of sparking controversy, schools across the country are welcoming them. "It's exploding," says Alice Leeds, a spokesperson for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a nationwide advocacy group known as PFLAG. Brenda Melton, president of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), says that it has become almost commonplace in urban and suburban areas for a student to bring a date of the same sex to the prom--and that in most schools, it's really no big deal.

Today's school administrators say they want an event that's welcoming for everyone. In fact, officials are vastly more concerned about "bellybuttons and low-cut outfits" than whether a student is holding hands with a member of the same sex.

Clearly, as we have all known, the Britney Spears look is more of a threat to family values than us gays.

June 11, 2003

More on Canadian marriage

So, more on the Canada marriage front.

Oddly enough, this is an article written by a guy I dated who after a couple of weeks decided I was "too gay" (upon further discussion, he was really looking for a straight guy)-- quoting a guy I dated who, though cute and smart, seemed to be looking more for a Boy Scout sleepover buddy than a boyfriend. (I became convinced me might get to second base by 2005, but only if I became an Eagle Scout.) Come to think of it. they would be a great couple. Maybe they can go to Canada together. Both of those guys made me scratch my head a bit-- but of course I didn't know what I had to look forward to.

In all serious, Jamie's quote below is intriguing--international law might provide some benefits to same-sex couples who marry in Canada.

The Seattle Times: Rulings bring marriage closer to reality for gay Canadians

Couple Holds Same - Sex Wedding in Canada

Wow. Couple Holds Same - Sex Wedding in Canada

Not that this means we'll ever have the right to marry here.

June 06, 2003

"The Return of Class War - Bush and the new tyranny of the rich."

Only if you want to be depresses, pissed off, or both: The Return of Class War - Bush and the new tyranny of the rich. By Michael Kinsley

April 24, 2003

Taking Back The Streets

I think it is important that in these heightened times of security and defense we, as a people realize that each and every one of us has a duty and a responsibility to this great nation in which we live. It is with this in mind that I feel I must compel my fellow compatriots to take bold action and help the join cause of rising up against tyranny. Am I asking for blatant vigilantism? No, nothing so drastic but, I would like to remind those that think such defeating thoughts as "what difference can I make?" that everyone CAN make a difference. To champion the cause of justice we must remember that if one of us stands up, we must all stand up. I have come across a great site showing just how easy it is to make a difference and to prove that even the meekest of us can indeed protect ourselves, our loved ones, and this great land as it so deserves. If you get a moment, I urge you my friends to stop by and check it out. Thank you. God Bless.

April 16, 2003

North Korea's "Dear Leader" peeing his pants

I hate to sound like the characteristic triumphal American, but this article in The Economist nicely sums up the way that victory in Iraq has changed Kim Jong Il's tune. This guy is pretty much Dr. Evil on crack, and a far worse dictator than Saddam Hussein ever thought of being, but he's not stupid. He had been saying that Iraq's example proved the North Korea needed military might to resist the US; now he seems to realize that his many statues might not be safe if the US decided to turn up the heat under his starving population.

Having previously insisted on one-on-one talks with the U.S., he's now happy to talk with anyone and everyone-- including his neighbors, whom Washington wisely insists must be part of any deal. Bush came really close to setting off a serious conflict with his bellicose talk that left Kim with little room to save face. But now that it's apparent to him and everyone else that it's saving his ass that he should worry about, the outlook for a halt on NK's dangerous nuclear program looks much better.

A small victory for the environment

Anyone who can advance the cause of cleaner air from within the Bush administration deserves a little respect. As the NYT lauds today, Christie Todd Whitman achieved One Huge Step for Cleaner Air by toughening the rules on diesel emissions. This includes "non-road" equipment used in construction and farming. The regulations, when fully in place, will reduce these emissions by 90%. So we can all breathe easier-- somewhat comforted by the knowledge that not everyone in the Administration is willing to gut the planet for the sake of Q3 earnings.

April 02, 2003

My desert-island all time top five presidential candidates

One of the best lines in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity is about how Rob, Hornby's avatar in the story, had determined some years ago that it wasn't so much what you were like that mattered, but what you like. To wit, you could judge a person by their musical taste well before you had to waste a lot of time getting to know them, only to find out they were the sort of dullard whose musical knowledge extended only as far back as Britney Spears' second top-ten single. He eventually recants this particular belief, realizing that there are people out there worth knowing who still have Spandau Ballet tapes in their actively played collection.

Now, I will freely admit I do it, too ("Hi, I'm Paulette...Oh, you want to see Swimfan again? Right. I'll be going over there now.") but that's because I'm a snob. I have also grudgingly admitted in the past that I don't have to give up all hope when someone tells me they don't get the Flaming Lips or that they really loved the last John Grisham novel. I just need to spend a little time educating them or steering them to other, less personally painful topics.

But the fact is that we are a nation that judges people on what they like, rather than what they are like, especially when it comes to competitions such as elections where it would be infinitely too difficult to spend time understanding the candidates' history and attitudes vis-a-vis the important issues of the day. But we can fool ourselves into believing that we have developed a keener understanding of them by judging their qualifications to lead us based on our interpretations of their preferences for certain important things such as boxers or briefs. Or, as Brent Kandall points out in Washington Monthly, on their stated choices of reading material.

Of course the candidates all know that we judge them based on what they say they like to read, so they try to come up with answers that convey the image they want us to have of them, thus rendering the entire cleverness of judging them on their tastes pointless because, well, stated preferences and actual preferences frequently bear little resemblance to one another. ("Uhm, yeah, my favorite movie was The Seven Samurai. No, I don't have a copy of it on DVD. Oh, yeah, I don't know how all those Adam Sandler movies got on that shelf there.")

So, perhaps we need to make this whole judging by preference thing a more sophisticated science. Rather than ask a question or two about prefereces, we need to confront them with a battery of carefully chosen preference questions and then look at their answers on the whole and have some statistically-minded (David?) folks cross-reference the answers and tell us how to interpret what the candidates actually like versus what they would like us to think they like.

I guess I'm envisioning something not unlike a dating questionnaire (uhm, not that I would actually know first hand what a dating questionnaire would look like, but you know, think of it as an educated guess) with questions about their favorite books, movies, songs, wines, whether they eat raw oysters and veal, five things they'd have to have with them if stranded on a desert island, and maybe something about what we'd find in their desk drawer. I don't feel much of a need to know the answer to the boxer or brief question, and frankly, for the most part, I'd really prefer not to know. Those are mental images I could do without. But maybe we could ask them their idea of the perfect Friday night and like, a sentence to complete, maybe along the lines of "[blank] is good for the economy; [blank] is even better for the economy."

Surely we can outinterpret them that way and best make our determination of the perfect candidate, no?

March 27, 2003

More from Lisa in Moscow

My aunt Lisa in Moscow has just posted another item appropriately titled It's So Sad. I think she may need to get away to Seattle for a while!

March 24, 2003

Where is Raed?

A citizen of Baghdad who calls himself Salam Pax is somehow still updating his blog Where is Raed ?. As the Guardian reports, speculation among the worldwide blog community (and now even mainstream journos) is rife. Where does he live? Is Raed his gay lover? Who knows, and who cares? It's a fascinating read.

March 19, 2003

Oh yeah, another thing

I adore Tony Blair. The man rocks!

January 29, 2003

Hitch on the cowboy cliche

I'm going to avoid commenting on the State of the Union Address, other than to say it could have been worse. I hope it goes without saying that I think it would have been better if Gore or McCain were delivering it.

I do awfully enjoy seeing Christopher Hitchens-- British wag, former Marxist, Kissinger-indictment-ringleader-- defending Bush against the charge that he is a reckless cowboy in this excellent Slate article. I have to agree with Hitchens that this characterization is fair neither to cowboys nor to Bush. To wit:

To have had three planeloads of kidnapped civilians crashed into urban centers might have brought out a touch of the cowboy even in Adlai Stevenson. But Bush waited almost five weeks before launching any sort of retaliatory strike. And we have impressive agreement among all sources to the effect that he spent much of that time in consultation. A cowboy surely would have wanted to do something dramatic and impulsive (such as to blow up at least an aspirin-factory in Sudan) in order to beat the chest and show he wasn't to be messed with. But it turns out that refined Parisians are keener on such "unilateral" gestures—putting a bomb onboard the Rainbow Warrior, invading Rwanda on the side of the killers, dispatching French troops to the Ivory Coast without a by-your-leave, building a reactor for Saddam Hussein, and all the rest of it.

While I do think we can afford some more time to carry out inspections and show some evidence to convince our more peaceable (or naive) allies why Saddam is dangerous, I am damn tired of the French riding around on their multilateralism high horse. As Hitchens points out, they are the last to talk.

Oh, wait. Actually, wouldn't the Germans be the last to talk-- or does the Hitler-Mussolini pact count as multilateralism? (Sorry, low blow.) Hitchens' comments on Schröder are flawless as well:

It's true that Bush was somewhat brusque with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, but then Schröder is a man so sensitive that he recently sought an injunction against a London newspaper for printing speculation about his hair color and his notoriously volatile domestic life. What we are really seeing, in this and other tantrums, is not a Texan cowboy on the loose but the even less elevating spectacle of European elites having a cow.

January 24, 2003

Shades of Borges' Map

Am I the only one who has found the ever-present backdrops that Bush administration officials speak in front of a tad Orwellian? With rubrics like "Defending Our Homeland" printed a thousand times, they seem to be designed to ensure that even citizens who watch the evening news with their TVs on mute get the not-so-subtle message that Bush is in charge and on target. But this week the backdrops became both more sinister and more hilarious. It was revealed by numerous outlets including the AP and the Seattle PI (with a much cheekier article) that the "Strengthening America's Economy" backdrop was a creepily perfect simulacrum of the actual warehouse scene it covered, down to shelves and stacks of boxes in jaunty array. Except, of course, that the backdrop boxes read "Made in America," while the actual, hidden boxes all read "Made in China."

Anytime I read about an actual-size replica of a thing covering the thing itself, I can't escape comparisons to Borges' Map, "so detailed that it ends up covering exactly covering the territory." Inevitably, it is the map, and not the true territory, the people come to love and trust-- the simulacrum instead of the true thing. When the map decays, they miss it and feel "lost," even in the presence of the land itself. You can be certain that if the Washington spin machine stopped for even a day creating its confectionary cover of actual events, we would all be alarmed by the strange country lurking underneath.

But my ur-text for political image manipulation has to be the passage from an essay in The White Album where Joan Didion visits Nancy Reagan in the California Governor's Mansion on a day when she is accompanied through her daily activities by a TV crew. As an eloquent Geocitiesjournaller recounts:

As Didion records it in her essay, the newsmen tell Mrs. Reagan to go about her normal activities. But might not one of these normal activities be picking flowers, one of them suggests? Yes, Mrs. Reagan affirms. Perhaps a rose, another newsman suggests? At this point, Mrs. Reagan seems to be aware that reality (her public persona) is being constructed because she says she could pick the rose, but she would be more likely to use a rhododendron. Just as the reader sighs in relief that at least there are limits to how much historical fiction a person will participate in, the following happens:
'Fine,' the newsman said. 'Just fine. Now I'll ask a question, and if you could just be nipping a bud as you answer it...' 'Nipping a bud,' Nancy Reagan repeated, taking her place in front of the rhododendron bush. 'Let's have a dry run,' the cameraman said. The newsman looked at him. 'In other words, by a dry run, you mean you want her to fake nipping the bud.' 'Fake the nip, yeah,' the cameraman said. 'Fake the nip.' ( White Album 91)

Of course, we now know it is endlessly naive to imagine any limits to how much historical fiction political figures will generate around themselves. If we are good capitalists, we must believe that there must be voracious demand balancing this endless supply of carefully crafted unreality. And that is a depressing thought indeed.

December 21, 2002

Switch to Canada

For those of you for whom Apple's Switch campaign was not enough, now there's John's Switch to Canada. It's pretty flawless.

I'll admit it. Every time I visit Vancouver, I wonder about it. Every time I hear George Bush (or Trent Lott) speak I think about it. Every time I think about John Ashcroft shredding the Bill of Rights, it dawns on me that someday I might not have much of a choice. I love the ideal of America, but the country I love is being eroded-- nay, stolen out from under us-- and there are times when my frustration reaches the point of despair.

All this reminds me of a favorite Pedro the Lion lyric, from the song "Of Up and Coming Monarchs" from the amazing EP Progress:

There once was a time
One could flee to the north
But canada's not what she used to be
Boycott the war
Well she could not afford to
Thanks to the new American queen

Obscure, to be sure, and basically innacurate. According to Immigration Canada's online test, I qualify to immigrate based on my status as a skilled (and moderately Francophone) worker. I would need to pay CDN$525 to apply and have $9,186 to support myself for 6 months upon arrival (that sounds a bit low), but these do not seem to be huge barriers.

So I'm not packing my bags, but as Pedro the Lion sings, "It's good to have options."

December 18, 2002

Out-Bushing the Bushes

Just when you thought no politician could make wring less sense out of the English language than George H.W. and son Shrub have managed to do, Trent Lott comes along and stammers his way through an interview on BET. Slate has this deservedly merciless critique of the whole painful episode.

All of this makes me long for an Orwell among the punditry, someone who could write an essay like "Politics and the English Language" for today. To quote that masterwork:

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.

December 17, 2002

Damn Lies

Warning: rant about graphing data to follow!
Check out today's entry in rightwingnuts.org about Bush's plan to reduce that oh-so-odious tax burden on the rich, as reported in the Washington Post. The Seattle Times also picked up this one, and attempted to liven the debate with an illustrative graphic. Of course, they screwed it up totally. The 1% bar is already represented by the 5% bar, and they missed out the entire middle class (60-95% quantile of income)! (Hint to graphic artists: if you're going to draw a bar chart of percentages, make them add to 100%.) I re-did the chart in Excel, and you can see that a real chart tells a very different picture: actually, it's the middle classes that carry the greatest share of the tax burden, however you look at it. Poor Tufte must be rolling in his grave (I heard he was killed when one of his sculptures toppled on him.)

December 12, 2002

What about the Malibu Bushie doll?

"Welcome to TalkingPresidents.com. We are the creators of the first and ONLY talking presidential action figures. Our first release, President George W. Bush, says 17 different phrases in his own voice. Some phrases are political, some patriotic, while others show his comedic use (or misuse) of the English language.

These dolls can be enjoyed by any political aficionado and are the
perfect educational addition to any child's collection of dolls."

Clearly, I want one of these for Christmas. Then I could put it in complicated and compromising positions with my WaMu Actional Teller figure.