Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I don't know that you've picked the right word...

Here’s an argument we should have had a while back. See, I was digging through my notes and found a certain suggestion that I had made.

Remember the run up to the Iraq conflict and we were told by our media that “everyone” agreed with it? Remember those first months after the U.S. took control of Iraq (June 2003), when things started to look different—less hopeful really—and support began to ebb? Remember back in 2004 that security and Iraq were still the most important issues facing the U.S. population and what we talked about most was “winning” and “losing” in Iraq? Remember how Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cheney used one single word to describe their vision for Iraq? Do you remember what that word was?

It was optimism. They talked about their optimism. When asked what would happen when we invaded a sovereign nation, they said that they were optimists and that we would be treated as liberators. When that failed and they were being called to task for it, they said ‘we’re optimists’, as if that would really make a difference when the result was so bad. But there rationale was sneaky. ‘We’re optimists’ doesn’t suggest to the listener that they are bad decision-makers (though that is implied) or that they had unrealistic expectations (also implied) or even that they misread their intelligence and the situation (implied as well); no, it suggests that they are positive and opponents (Democrats—not Iraqis) are negative. Negative—in any way—is therefore bad. How else does being optimistic work as a defense?

“George, did you get that progress report written?”

“Sorry, Boss, I didn’t. I was being an optimist.”


“I was so sure that I’d get it done. Look at what we had to work with.”


“Some people, namely James in Accounting, are pessimists. They don’t think that I can write that progress report. Clearly, though, I am winning the war on reports and some day soon, say, in the next three months, there will be a turning point and I will be well on my way to completing that report.”

“But George, you said that you could have it done for me yesterday. You asked for two weeks and I gave you two weeks.”

“But Boss, I’m winning. I don’t cut-and-run from reports. I’m an optimist. Are you suggesting that cut-and-run from this report? Are you a pessimist?”

“No, George, I was just suggesting that you promised me two weeks.”

“That was me being an optimist. I’ll see what I can do in the next three months.”

But here’s the wacky question. We know that Bush has lied. We know that he is a liar (one with a pentiant for lying). We know that he loves getting other people to kill people (didn’t go to Vietnam, signed a record number of executions in Texas, and seemed far too eager to bomb people after 9/11/01). We know that George shows ‘optimism’ toward pro-corporate economic policies, but pessimism toward teachers, lawyers, the medical system, scientists, small business owners, farmers, environmentalists, sportspersons, children, working families, those below the poverty line, those above the poverty line, non-evangelicals, non-Israeli or Saudi Middle Easterners, coal miners, any person that does physical labor, any person that uses his/her brain intellectually for their work, the intelligence community, military veterans, active soldiers, the National Guard, women, minorities, and civil libertarians. I’m sure I’ve left some out, but that is a sufficient list. If Bush is such an optimist, why doesn’t he trust that teachers can teach our children? Why doesn’t he trust that scientists are looking out for our best interests? Could it be that Bush isn’t an optimist at all?

What happens when a person lies about being an optimist? It is the worst kind of pessimism there is! There is no trust in the people, no trust in the government, no trust in one’s peers, only lip service. Only lip service to the military commanders, to Congress, to the people. George Bush is the worst kind of liar: the kind that not only lies for self-interest, but to steal from, defame, and denigrate others. There’s another word we have for that kind of person: scoundrel. Could it be that our reluctance to name King George that slightly negative label (liar) actually prevents us from using the more apt (and ultimately useful) label?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Is it even possible to have a commissioner worse than Bud Selig?

Don't look now! It's a sports blog!

Growing up, I liked sports. I followed everything (except maybe NASCAR, since it is neither a sport nor something that should have to be in all-caps). I gave baseball a special place in my heart and new all of the important statistics, could tell you which Tigers were in the Hall of Fame and which others should be. I could plead the case till the cows came home about how Cecil Fielder was robbed for MVP two years in a row for directly opposite reasons (Ricky Henderson and Cal Ripken, Jr. were the winners, by the way). I still love baseball. Even after the strike, the playoff system, and the steroid scandal, I prefer baseball to everything else. I just can’t stand Bud Selig.

If you can imagine the worst possible candidate for any job, Bud Selig as MLB commissioner would have to trump it. He is clearly biased toward one side (owners), has no respect for the traditions, shows virtually no advertising savvy, has no vision, and is inarticulate. In other words, for a job that’s all about communicating to the public, negotiation, and future planning, the man lacks even rudimentary skills. He has done more to set the sport back than anyone could have imagined, and yet baseball isn’t ruined (yet). That alone is proof that God exists (and that God’s a Cubs fan…).

But I didn’t only love baseball. I loved football and basketball equally. My NFL team was (and still is) the Broncos and I always root for Michigan in any sport, including volleyball and tennis. I was also the weirdo that rooted for both sides of the Pistons-Bulls rivalry. In fact, I even rooted for the Bulls to Three-peat (the first time). I loved Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan.

And this is where things get weird. We all remember ‘The Jordan Rules’ and the book that argued that Jordan received special treatment. Most of us didn’t care because we loved to watch it. We were captivated by Jordan and his aerial artistry. He was a master and one of the greatest athletes to ever live. He was so natural and graceful and every boy growing up really did want to “be like Mike.” Then they got their wish.

I don’t know what it was. Whether ‘The Jordan Rules’ were extended to everybody or whether the officials decided all at the same time, all over the basketball world, to stop calling basic rules about dribbling, palming, and traveling. The very fundamental aspects of the sport became inconsistently applied. Everyone got to be like Mike. Now, Playground basketball brought the entertaining flash that the NBA needed to compete and elevate itself into the Big Three of sports. Playground basketball was essential to creating a game that had Michael Jordan as its mighty hero. But somewhere between the playgrounds of NYC and Madison Square Garden, the flash became more important than the sport.

Twenty years ago, only the tall players dunked, but now everyone does. Not a big deal, in itself—evolution, greater athletes, etc.—but now everyone can also reverse dunk from underneath the basket; difficult enough while palming the basketball, nearly impossible while dribbling. The next one you see (probably taking place in the time I type this), watch the guy: he drives along the left baseline, grips the ball, steps two or three times, hops, plants beneath the basket, jumps, twists, and dunks it from the opposite side.

So, I stopped watching the NBA, and the NCAA strangling of the Michigan basketball program didn’t help me care about college basketball, either.

But in the same time, the entire game changed. It wasn’t just the rules, though. When I was young, Shawn Kemp was only the second high-schooler to turn pro after Moses Malone. I rooted for the kid and became a Supersonics fan. Then they opened the floodgates. Some criticized the Spurs for taking a college grad (Tim Duncan) just a few years later. Executives were stumbling over each other to draft the next 18 year-old phenom, while everyone secretly wished that there were the same requirement the NFL has that requires each athlete be 3 years removed from high school. The college game suffered and became the path for the purists with no future, not the next NBA greats. Now we have a ridiculous one-year rule that makes college basketball a joke. One of the greatest memories I have was getting the chance to watch the Fab Five play live and my heart was broken when Chris Webber went pro after his sophomore year. Irrelevant for me was the question of whether or not he was ready; the question was how good could that dynasty have been? The last great basketball recruiting class that went down in infamy after two finals losses and the phantom timeout. Four years would have landed them in the pantheon of basketball gods.

The booster scandal aside, the idea that the entire sport of basketball could be put in jeopardy over a couple of high-schoolers going pro and a couple of officials preferring wicked dunks to calling the game accurately should frighten and worry basketball fans. The fact that commissioner David Stern has been in charge of all of this may be just as frightening. Has he done this on purpose? Has he mortgaged the future of the sport on a couple bucks for owners? And what happens when fans of amateur sports become as disgusted with the product (diluted and just as embarrassingly spotty officiating) as many NBA fans? Is it possible that a well-meaning and decent man like David Stern is a worse commissioner than the criminally incompetent Selig?

Well, once the Super Bowl is over, I’ll only have to wait a week or so before pitchers and catchers report. I guess I don’t need basketball, anyway.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Goodbye, sweet Karen!

Karen Hughes announced yesterday that she was resigning from the Bush Administration again, this time from the post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Yes, this was the same Karen Hughes that was hired the first time to help the world see how compassionate George W. Bush’s conservatism truly was. Then, of course, when it was clear that compassionate is the last thing anyone thought of, her job was to spin it. This same woman was then brought back a couple of years later to be one of our top diplomats.

I’ll let that sink in for another second.

Yes, she might be qualified if her job was as diplomat to Appalachia or California, but her main charge was, in fact, to the Muslim World.

I’ll give you one more second.

Yes, Karen Hughes was the disaster we all think she was (and at the time, thought she would be). She was given an impossible task and failed to deliver. No big whoop, right? Right, until you look at what she actually did when she was there. Look at this article by Fred Kaplan at and this one by Steve Benen for The Carpetbagger Report. Benen suggests the problem with Ms. Hughes was not who she was or what she was (theoretically) trying to do, but it was what she actually did:

This isn't necessarily about mocking the goals Hughes sought to achieve, but rather the style in which she tried to achieve them. She talked down to her audience, offered the kind of schlock that no one in the Arab world wants, and lectured them about the inadequacies of their culture.

Lo and behold, this didn't improve matters.

Now, if there are any actual diplomats around who could take over as undersecretary of state, that'd be really helpful.

Has it occurred to anyone else that the biggest issue in the Bush administration is not that they are too stupid or optimistic or selfish, but that they actually don’t want to make the world a better place? They actually seem content to destroy the government, destroy international relations, and use half-hearted failures as justifications for their initial desires to destroy others. That and Bush really likes killing people. I think it’s his favorite pastime. Who needs baseball when you have executions to attend and wars to start/maintain perpetually?

But there’s Karen Hughes. Again, putting the compassionate face on the Commander-in-Thief. She’s got that big ol’ bucket of paint, trying to turn his cowboy hat from black to white and nobody’s buying it here—and no one was ever going to buy it there. And what’s worse, perhaps they both new that all along.

Thomas Friedman is wrong.

He is never monumentally wrong, but he is always wrong. And it’s based on this one thing: he misunderstands the forces around him. He understands what they’re about, what their goals are, and who they effect—so he almost gets there. And then…he screws it up. Staring at the finish line, like the hare, he lets his own ego and self-protective nature take over and destroy his credibility. Thomas Friedman is a man deserving of your pity, not your intellectual support. But I digress, for this is only the preamble.

Two years ago, Friedman shook the world with a book that was part “well, duh!” and part corporate wet dream. The book, The Earth is Flat produced a new set of buzzwords: flat-earth and flatearthers. The principle is simple; due to globalization, the playing fields around the world are driving to a baseline, bringing Western economies down and raising the economies of the so-called Third World. Simultaneously, this effect is being made by what Friedman believes is Western laziness and Global South and Eastern ingenuity. So here is where the zinging conclusion is: the Chinese are right and the American worker is wrong. We should embrace inhumane working conditions and labor laws with a new culture of over-working and over-stressing in an attempt to increase our seemingly disappearing worth ethic or else China will win. Oh, Thomas, I feel for you.

What Friedman and his disciples, the ‘flatearthers’ are encouraging is a truly Western approach to industry and innovation: hard work is always bested by harder work. It is the idea that the solution to every failure is that someone didn’t try hard enough. Sprinkle in a bit of corporate Darwinism (that only the strong survive) and you have cocktail that only Wall Street could love.

But truth is closer than it appears. Friedman never sites Latin America, where the world’s true innovations are taking place. The continent of South America, once proudly holding its own was ravished by American and European financial vultures in the form of the IMF and World Bank since the 70’s and has been a place of U.S.-backed military dictatorships. Then they started rejecting us. They rejected our economic “solutions” (which amounted to blood-letting with leeches—and is archaic as it is barbaric) in favor of sound economic principles and a renewed sense of democracy.

This is the real reason Friedman ignores South America: they recognize that democracy is an effective and healthy system only when freedom and liberty are balanced and when the needs of the republic are the same as the needs of the people. Right now, we should be taking notes from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela, not belittling them while chasing after an unhealthy and unsustainable economic system like China’s. Their growing consumption of resources will shortly outstrip ours, while simultaneously choosing dirty energy over sound alternatives in their growing structure in pursuit of mindless and irresponsible growth.

But where do you think China got this idea? Perhaps the same Wall Street that is encouraging us to out-China China while the Chinese are reading Adam Smith as adapted by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, creating a monster that perpetually eats its own tail. And what would it mean for the psyche of the United States to hand over the reigns of the title “Greatest Superpower” to them? Is this the true reason we have long ago dismissed the idea of developing a successful and affirming society as found in France, Britain, Germany, or the Netherlands, whose productivity AND vacation time both far exceed our own, while offering a generous healthcare system to go with their sensible attitudes toward consumption and procreation? And why we are ignoring the developments to our south that provide a greater accounting of both our founders’ dreams and our founders’ vision through true democratic means and power-sharing? What are we really afraid of? Being wrong for a century or longer? That we aren’t the smartest guys in the room, but the imbeciles that refuse to get our eyes or ears checked?

That’s it! That’s why we like spending nearly 60% of our annual national budget on war and paying off credit cards from China and Saudi Arabia: we have Iatrophobia, a fear of doctors. That’s why we don’t make healthcare a priority and we have tied ourselves to an archaic system that denounces liberty in favor of concentrated corporate greed. We don’t like doctors. We don’t like to here what’s wrong with us. Rush Limbaugh called liberals the “hate-Americans-first crowd” because the idea of self-examination is scary. Bush’s veto of the SCHIP, Newt Gingrich’s victory over “Hillarycare”, pundit cries of encroaching socialism are all responding to our mass Iatrophobia.

So how do we treat this? According to the website,, the traditional treatments are Hypnoanalysis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Energy Psychology. I don’t see any of these happening on such a mass scale. However, they do list some useful tips here:

I’ve chosen some of their choicest tips below:

1. In order to combat fear you should take a positive approach and be mentally ready and in control at all times.

6. Don’t be shy or nervous about asking questions. You have a right to know, so ask questions about your exams, especially since some doctors may not tell you unless you ask for the results. Plus, you are paying them a lot of money, so make sure to get the answers to your questions.

7. Do not switch doctors often, you want to stay with a doctor that you can be comfortable with and knows your history.

8. Be honest with yourself that you may need a shot or follow-up visit in order to feel better. This could avoid creating unwanted anxiety.

10. Don’t forget that your doctor is there to help you, not hurt you. Yes, he/she may have to tell you something may be wrong, but he/she is also knows ways to fix problems, make you feel better or at least make you more comfortable. Remember, they are well trained and took at least 8 years of schooling to learn everything they could to help their patients.

12. Always keep your yearly appointments with your doctor. This will ensure consistency and if something is wrong, you might be able to catch it early enough to treat it.

(bold is mine)

Key insights we can take away from these suggestions is that communication and remaining calm are essential. The system is there to help us. And it is imperative that we be honest with ourselves and keep our appointments. If we all pitch in, maybe we can break ourselves of this cunning and debilitating ailment.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Perhaps Congress needs a pep talk

Presidential power is always an interesting discussion. It isn’t merely the kind of talk we leave to high school civics or college government classes: we break it out every presidential election season. We test our candidates, kicking their proverbial tires to see where they stand on the institution, how they see themselves amongst our nation’s previous leaders, and to see what they have to say to us today. The role of the President of the United States of America is a unique position in the world—not because of its power—but in its requirements.

As I was getting ready for work today, I was watching this week’s Bill Moyers Journal (Thank God for DVR!) which had presidential power as its subject. The two guests, Charles Fried (former Solicitor General under Reagan and current Harvard professor) and Fritz Schwarz (member of the Church Commission that investigated Nixon) discussed the place of the presidency in terms of the Constitution in light of the Bush/Cheney Junta. What was really enlightening was the conversation they didn’t have, though Fried tried several times to start it: the president’s power as relative to the other branches.

If you take a quick glance at the Constitution, you can quickly see two important indicators of the U.S. government as intended by the framers: the three branches (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial) work together to make our government function and that the framers were more interested in describing the relationship of the branches to each other than to prescribe a list of duties and responsibilities for each. In fact, the government seems to resemble a highwire act or a three-way seesaw: when one branch exercises authority, it lowers the others, encouraging a response to bring it back into balance.

Fried was eager to discuss the relationship of presidential power to the Constitution by suggesting that the place of politics is the dance between where one branch over-extends its authority. For him, a president must ignore a Congress that has no Constitutional authority over his/her business in that particular arena. What he suggests is, not surprisingly, a relative libertarian view of politics: one has the power to do anything so long as it isn’t somebody else’s. This view favors the executive branch because one person controls the entire branch of government: the president’s decision stands, as opposed to majority building in the other branches (five, fifty-one, and two hundred eighteen). This grants it more freedom to act and respond. We love that behavior in figure-heads and despise it in despots.

But the Constitution is the basis for a government of controlled action, restrained by a process that encourages not only legalism, but liberty. Functioning slowly means that proper and respectful decisions are made with the greatest interest at heart. How often has following your impulses led you astray? Candy bars at the checkout counter are the least of our worries from an unhinged president!

The center of the discussion, however, revolves around that one word: relationship. As it stands, the federal government has broken itself down into these three steps: President demands action of Congress, Congress refuses, and the President acts anyway. Besides showing a blatant disregard for the entire system (and he dare call us unpatriotic!), he is daring the Congress to move. Congress, acting as a battered housewife who can’t bare to leave her homicidal drunk of a husband, has pared down its response to two things: cut funding or impeachment. Since they long ago took impeachment off of the table, they are operating with what they are now calling “the power of the purse”.

Not only is this a horrible image (purse, really? You couldn’t use ‘wallet’ or ‘pocketbook’?) that falls prey to the Republican frame of a cowboy president and his housewife named ‘The Congress’, but it suggests a relationship that is detached and separate from the government. It suggests that Congress isn’t a legislature, but a set of accountants that need only sign the checks. This isn’t the language of equals, but of servitude, submission, and abusiveness.*

[*I am not suggesting that purse=wife-beating, but that the frame of the Strict Father model, of which Bush is the poster boy, has an unsettling relationship with violence. The very image of the president as cowboy, ‘rustling up’ the terrorists and “smoking them out of their holes” relies on images of not only Wild West gunfights, but of military combat of an aggressor (the U.S.) against an enemy in hiding. This image is not a defensive posture, but a trumped up abuser.]

The power that Congress has collected is to totally strip the President of his/her ability to function. It can remove anything from the budget that they don’t want. They can tell the president where every penny is to go. And if the president ignores them? S/He can be fired. Former presidents are at their best when they compliment and smooth-talk. They tell Congress what it wants to hear. S/He flatters it by suggesting that it has lost weight and never looked so hot. Presidents are at their worst when they demean, reject, and abuse Congress—the closest element in our (small r) republican government to a democratic voice.

The U.S. Congress is the most potent and powerful body in the world. Its position on debt-relief, public health, trade, and environment not only affect the world, but directly change the world. This body is striking, ravishing, and its beauty is without peer. Fixing the U.S. requires fixing a Congress that is acting like minor leaguers. Congress, the President can only do what you let him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Of what are you really afraid?

We have all heard of Political Correctness.

According to Wikipedia, political correctness:

is a term used to describe language, ideas, policies, or behaviour seen as seeking to minimize offence to racial, cultural, or other identity groups. Conversely, the term politically incorrect is used to refer to language or ideas that may cause offense or that are unconstrained by orthodoxy.

The principle of political correctness (PC) is to encourage tolerance, openness, and sensitivity. It is a way of welcoming others. It’s being nice.

Many forces hate it. In principle, the Right-Wing hates it because of one simple reason: they are afraid of openness. They reject the principle out of hand. They argue that inclusive language excludes them. The rational brain begins to hurt over such a suggestion, but fundamentalists live in exclusion: it is their bread and butter. The implication, then, is that all liberalism, with its love of inclusion, is not only wrong, but it is forcefully wrong. Censoring hate, they suggest, is the worst kind of censorship. This distracts us from their position: censorship is good.

This breeding of an unnatural connection between the pursuit of compassion with fascism pushed the discussion into the mainstream, making it very popular to be anti-PC.

A while back, I heard a short essay on NPR in which the writer suggested that we haven’t seen political correctness in any real form in decades. It was a concept from the 60’s, not the 90’s. And besides, what is really wrong with being nice? What is wrong with encouraging politeness and concern for one’s neighbor? What is wrong with trying to figure out what another person wants to be called? Why struggle so vehemently on behalf of ignorance and intolerance? Why be the one fighting for the lazy and hateful that would rather use condescending hate-speech, with which they are already familiar, than use new and tolerant references?

The real answer is this: defamation.

In his article, “The Art of the Hissy Fit,” Digby articulates the primary tactic of the Republican Party and the Right-Wing Fringe alike: the hissy fit. Fake outrage and sanctimony with the particular interest in defamation and character assassination. He begins:

I first noticed the right's successful use of phony sanctimony and faux outrage back in the 90's when well-known conservative players like Gingrich and Livingston pretended to be offended at the president's extramarital affair and were repeatedly and tiresomely "upset" about fund-raising practices they all practiced themselves. The idea of these powerful and corrupt adulterers being personally upset by White House coffees and naughty sexual behavior was laughable.

They are “so good at [it],” he suggests, “they now rely on it as their first choice to control the political dialogue when it becomes uncomfortable and put the Democrats on the defensive whenever they are winning the day.” This tactic is more than mere mudslinging, however, it is a means of taking control. It is a form of Ritual Defamation or Humiliation that has domination and control as its main properties. Digby quotes Laird Wilcox in describing this concept:

Defamation is the destruction or attempted destruction of the reputation, status, character or standing in the community of a person or group of persons by unfair, wrongful, or malicious speech or publication. For the purposes of this essay, the central element is defamation in retaliation for the real or imagined attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the victim, with the intention of silencing or neutralizing his or her influence, and/or making an example of them so as to discourage similar independence and "insensitivity" or non-observance of taboos. It is different in nature and degree from simple criticism or disagreement in that it is aggressive, organized and skillfully applied, often by an organization or representative of a special interest group...

The suggestion that defamation—illegal in any arena but politics—should be an appropriate tactic in a politician’s arsenal is beyond ridiculous and in the most dangerous of territories

So what does this mean? It means our fundamentalist elements are using this tool to control and manipulate society. It the same way they take no issue with decrying political correctness for being exclusive in its inclusiveness while simultaneously censoring and rejecting openness and sensitivity, they are manipulating the political and intellectual realms with terrorist tactics of fear and intimidation. It isn’t the tactic of a civil society, but a schoolyard bully or fascist dictator, controlling the nature of the message.

The most recent use of this: Graeme Frost, the 12 year-old who spoke on behalf of the Democrat’s expansion of the SCHIP—the children’s health program—by $35 billion, which is just a fraction of the Iraq budget. Overlooking the fact that Graeme and his sister were in a car accident, spent months in the hospital, that one of his vocal chords is permanently paralyzed and that he was able to be here today only because of SCHIP, Republicans and their fundamentalist talking heads went on an unsuffarable character assassination campaign, quoting each other—not sources—and pushing lies as truths. The effect was to muddy the waters and give safe harbor for enough Republicans to vote against the overthrow of a presidential veto. What it really means? The most craven, destructive (and dare I say, evil?) tactics witnessed in modern politics are being used to prevent the expansion of health care for children. They don’t want to cover those families that don’t get health care from work and can’t afford to pay $20,000 or more per year for it. And what about those places where health care is offered, but every doctor and hospital is ‘out-of-coverage’? Instead of arguing about the merits of the bill, and instead of doing what the minority party usually does, they went after a kid.

Next time you here a derisive comment about political correctness, ask them “of what are you really afraid?”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Neoconservativism and Deification

We know that the Iraq Conflict was predicated on false intelligence. What we ignore is the neoconservative attitude toward illegal military invasion: international market and civil supremacy. It is the exercising of the tremendous military advantage that the U.S. has over the globe. It is the display of intense and incredible might. They suggested that we would go into Iraq, be worshiped as a deity*, and our other enemies would cower in fear of our awesome power. It is the savior/messiah-complex writ large.

[*The ‘welcome us with open arms’ line of reasoning was intended to evoke memories of post-WWII liberations of concentration camps and Nazi occupied France. We were supposed to imagine the U.S. soldiers being given flowers freshly picked and pies freshly baked. We were to imagine the bowing down and the awestruck faces of the Iraqi people.]

So what happens? We’re clearly nobody’s messiah. Our ‘saving’ of the Iraqi people has been proven to be about greed and strategic international military position. It is also more about jump-starting the domestic economy in the U.S. than it was about jump-starting democracy in Iraq. It is not only an utter failure, but it is evoking the potentially greatest disaster: it is creating instability out of stability.

And what of that vaunted military might? Check this out.

soldiers say one of the enemy's weapons has blown their confidence more than all the others. So called EFPs, or Explosively Formed Penetrators, have become the weapon du jour among the Shi'ite fighters. The devices cap a tube or pipe full of explosives with a solid copper disk that, due to the force and heat of the blast, transforms itself into an armor-piercing slug. EFPs can destroy Humvees and disable even the Abrams tank.

For a fraction of the cost of one of our tanks, Humvees, or missiles, the Iraqi rebels are able to destroy any of our practical assets. If anyone in the world still believes in the awesome might of the U.S. military and its superiority over the world, it is because they are delusional—and therefore not worthy of our trust.

So here it is. The neo-cons’ rationalizations for war have proven to be universally wrong, and worse, intentionally misrepresented. Their behavior in maintaining the failed strategy is motivated by self-interest and personal gain, not out of strategic advantage. The attitude with which they brought this conflict to us and continue to argue for it is not blind optimism but an irrational messiah-complex for themselves and the inexcusably outdated belief in manifest destiny. To spell it out even more plainly, the neo-cons are, at best, lying, greedy, delusional, egotistical cowards who show no diplomatic or strategic planning skill, rational judgment, or foresight. In fact, the most important aspects of leadership are beyond lacking in these individuals—they are the Barney Fifes of politics. We have let them have free reign to bumble our foreign and domestic policies. We have let their pundits and think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Project for the New American Century, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. feed us improbable and ridiculous excuses for bad policies. We have allowed the likes of frequent Daily Show guest, William Kristol, former Bush administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney speak from credible authority and a position of respect. Unfortunately, their policies prove they deserve neither.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The fifth element

In a column in today's New York Times, Frank Rich highlights not the stakes in Iraq, but the missing element.

In his article titled "Americans have become 'Good Germans'," Rich explores the issue from two directions. Like most of us, the blame for Iraq must be hoisted on the Bush administration for their lies and high crimes and misdemeanors. Secondly, Congress and the Media did a craptastic job of holding the president accountable for both proof of war and then defense of war. But then there's us. We didn't do anything either. We didn't listen to those media outlets that discouraged war. We didn't listen to our Congresspersons (such as Russ Feingold) that objected. Worse, however, is that the vast majority of Americans have been on the Stop-Bush train since 2005; and yet...nothing. We've done nothing.

In truth, many of us have written about the war, talked with friends, and even marched in demonstrations throughout the country. We have spoken to our Senators and Representatives. We have even e-mailed the president directly. We are expressing outrage, but we aren't collecting our voices and speaking as one. We aren't making the war end. We aren't stopping the Bush agenda of torture and deception. We are too comfortable.

Rich suggests that "With the war's entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq." But it isn't about who is fighting and who is dying, it is that sense of urgency that is missing. I don't need to go to Iraq to know it's wrong. I don't need my cousin in Iraq to pray daily that the war will end today. But we so often depend on that sense of contact to create that urgency that inspires us to act. In a lecture a couple years ago given in Canada, the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong discussed his first encounter with homosexuality in the church: he was a new bishop, making a visit to one of his congregations. It was in the days in which the bishop stayed in the rectory as the guest of the congregation's rector. As Bp. Spong was looking around, he got the feeling that two people lived in the house. As he was concerned about the rector having a girlfriend that stayed over without the vestry's tacit approval, he made what Bp. Spong considered perhaps the biggest mistake of his entire ministry: he asked the man if anyone else lived here. The rector said "yes"--another man. Bp. Spong was then forced to do something about it. This was in the 1960s and they were only beginning to explore the science of homosexuality. Soon after, he was convinced of the scientific validity of homosexuality and its theological implications. However, this was too late to return the priest to his position. He had ruined the man's life.

What leaped out at me as I heard this story was the impact of the personal experience--and our facing our own issues of morality and conscience--which encourages us to do extraordinary things. By having fewer soldiers in Iraq than is necessary and supplementing them with unrestricted mercenaries (Blackwater USA and others) ostracizes us from that feeling; from those emotions. Sending more soldiers to die brutal deaths or to come back severely and permanently wounded should never be seen as the opportunity for greater understanding, but it is that thing in which we ordinarily depend to build our sense of outrage. We have been waiting for that moment and nothing has happened.

But this is our mistake. Our patient waiting. Our genial behavior that amounts to "Please Sir, may have another?". Our hoping that electing different Congresspersons will suddenly change the behavior of a powermad president. Our resistance in throwing insults back at the Right-Wing fringe whose most tame insult is to call us unpatriotic and responsible for the deaths of our soldiers for 'aiding the enemy'. Our watching. And when we feel that raising fire that starts in the belly ascend toward our heart and lungs, we push it right back down to where it started. We are too nice. We are too polite. We don't resort to those base tactics of the fringe. But in allowing these atrocities to continue, we are those "Good Germans", ignoring the destruction that happens in front of us.

We need to let the fire out. We need to organize. We need to do something right now. We can't wait for the next president, because our future is in danger today. An Iraq war veteran named Paul Rieckhoff, as quoted by Rich, outlines the potential calamity of the Iraqi civil war, not in splitting the country in thirds or in continued presence of U.S. troops, but in the event of the sudden departure of our employed mercenaries. Rich, with quotes by Rieckhoff suggests that:
should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply "drop their guns and go home." Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those "who deliver their bullets and beans."
The stability of our military presence is based on corporations that are overpaid and held entirely unaccountable.

This is the fire. And this is the future. We must end this war now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Democracy: it was fun while it lasted

Several months ago, the U.S. military began arming Sunni insurgents that they had originally attacked because they now claim to be on our side. The Daily Show showed a funny chart showing how our enemy's enemy's enemy's enemy becomes our friend--regardless of whether or not they remain our enemy. In the end it proved that Al-Qaeda, the first enemy on the chart, is also our friend (by being our enemy's enemy's enemy's enemy). Our shifting allegiances and loyalties have led to an interesting development: we are no longer interested in democracy in Iraq.

The basic principle is that the Ba'athists were our original opponents as they were Saddam Hussein's military. They were nearly universally Sunni. This meant that our major opponents were Sunnis. The Shiites liked us for all of three seconds because Saddam prevented this ultra-conservative group (the Shiites) from practicing Islamic Law. Shiites then began attacking U.S. occupiers and Sunni insurgents. At the same time, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had been aligned with Sunni militias, but many of the Sunni groups are now disavowing their relationship with AQI. These groups, many composed of ex-Ba'athists, are now receiving large shipments of guns from the U.S. to go after the Shiites and AQI. Confused yet?

Where this gets interesting is that the Sunnis were Saddam's people. The Shiites most closely align themselves with Iran. A fascist or totalitarian government in Iraq that would be like Saudi Arabia is suddenly preferable to a democratic state that would naturally align with Iran. There's a certain point where we say: "it took you long enough!"

Strangely, the most democratic and free nation in the region, whose political and social interests most mimic our own, is actually Iran. When did geo-politics turn into a Scooby-Doo parallel universe?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

File Under "Does He Really Mean It?"

Erik Prince, CEO, founder, and sole owner of Blackwater, was given an interesting endorsement the other day.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), said recently that Prince "is on his way to being an American hero just like Ollie North was".

Ollie, a hero? Really? Hasn't Ollie North been sent to the dustbin of American public opinion for his place in the coverup of the Iran-Contra scandal? Isn't he the one that should have been in prison?

If I were Erik, I suppose I'd like at least one member of Congress defending me, but I don't think I'd accept that kind of recommendation...

Considering the source, however, Prince might think it's a compliment...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Mega-Lie and Wrong Perspectives

A wise person reminded me about perspective. When you are hurt, wounded, and bitter, the way you look at the world will be from a pained perspective. To have a clear vision of the world, we must lift that veil of pain.

So it was when the U.S. felt pain in 2001. We had been hurt before over the previous decade: domestic terrorism in the Oklahoma City bombing, teenage murder in the Columbine shootings, and a Presidential impeachment trial left us tired and gunshy. We had just dealt with the most controversial election in history, dealt with an unprecedented Supreme Court intervention, deciding the election. We were hoping that the conservative candidate that promised to be ‘compassionate’ would become a president of reconciliation and healing. We all know that we got something else.

On September 11th, the president seized the opening to perpetrate the mega-lie. As Larry Beinhart suggests in the opening chapter of Fog Facts, our response to terrorism that day was criminally out of proportion. We should have considered the perpetrators criminals and brought their networks to justice. Instead, we had militarism and called it an act of war. As Richard Behan suggests:

Other nations have suffered criminal acts of terrorism, but there is no precedent for conflating the terrorists with the states that harbor them, declaring a "war" and seeking with military force to overthrow a sovereign government. Victimized nations have always relied successfully on international law enforcement and police action to bring terrorists to justice.

What both of these writers expose for us is our failure to maintain proper perspective. People were hurting. People were impressionable. We failed to watch out for the wolves.

We trust our criminal justice system. We trust our law enforcement officers to bring criminals to justice. We trust our legal counselors to thoughtfully try cases in court. We believe that wrong-doing will be punished. We have faith that this system works. The alternative is something truly horrifying.

Some other countries wield their military arms with such cavalier and indiscrimination as our president, but we call them militias and juntas. When a leader exercises unchecked and dictatorial powers in the way our president does, we call them regimes. These words have such spite in them that you can feel in your bones the distrust and righteous anger we ordinarily keep in check. The danger is in ignoring a word’s definition while abiding by its emotional evocations.

Terrorism is a perfect example of this. It is clear that the word does not mean Muslim, cabal, or religious extremism. The word refers to a type of violence intended to frighten a group of people. Those guilty of terrorism are common, petty criminals and should be considered such. To blow it all out of proportion and call it an act of war; to declare war against a nation harboring those criminals; to declare international law invalid; to act so recklessly is obscene, not careful; to drive a nation to war is inhumane, not protective; to be so obsessed with killing is pathological, not just.

Perhaps it is time to put things into their more accurate perspective: the president is a monster. He is dangerous, reckless, and soulless. His sense of Christian vocation is a badge, not a ministry. He is a petty bully beating up the smaller kids on the playground. Sometimes the only thing you can do with a bully is to expel him.

NOTE: if you want to read an excellent article about all of this and more, including the mega-lie, check out Richard Behan's article for Alternet here. He places the pretenses for war into the overarching smokescreen of the War on Terror.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bad Words


What an awful acronym and even worse catch phrase: Weapons of Mass Destruction. The fact that these became common parlance is pretty disappointing.

It points to a different issue, however. Weapons, of any caliber are of interest, but only really big weapons are frightening. It is the worst of obsession with size.

If we remember back in the old days of the Cold War, we were obsessed with big weapons. For proof, recall the Cuban Missile Crisis. Two movements, arising simultaneously and collaboratively within the Cold War were: opposition to Communism and opposition to nuclear proliferation. Conservatives and Liberals took on these separate concerns with vigor and allowed each other a great deal of freedom because the people that were most troublesome to us were engaged in pursuing both.

After the Cold War, we became more interested in questions of arms [what a strange euphemism, since arms denote embracing—perhaps referring to weapons as fists might be more appropriate] due to the Iran/Contra scandal and the collapse of the Soviet Union and questions of its Nuclear stockpiles raised what we might call terror alerts around the world.

But we forgot about weapons in the 90’s. We did promise not to escalate with nuclear weapons, but that was (and is) a no-brainer. Where did our diligence go?

Then in 2003, we heard Bush argue that Iraq was stockpiling “WMDs”. Even economists got into the act: Alan Greenspan recently noted

“I personally believed that Saddam was behaving in a way that he probably very well had, almost certainly had, weapons of mass destruction. I was surprised, as most, that he didn't.”
But what is funny is this: why would we think he had weapons, when we are so sure about everything else?

In the late 90’s we bombed Iraq’s main weapon stores. We knew from the weapons inspectors that as of 1998, Iraq had no WMDs. Our intelligence proved that he had not obtained any of the subsequent years. Nobody watching Iraq thought that they had any weapons, nor was Iraq pursuing them. This becomes the source of The Big Lie with regard to Iraq. Knowledgeable people had information that differed from the president’s plan and he ignored them.

Most pernicious about the term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is that it removes us from responsibility and sets us above the fray. We think that Americans would never support “mass destruction”, despite our singular status with the atom bomb and the execution of a military campaign in Iraq that was initially dubbed “Shock and Awe”, which included mass destruction of Iraqi infrastructure including water and electricity. I said at the time that the name “Shock and Awe” sound like the prime tenants of a terrorist act. We think that Americans couldn’t use the types of weapons that could cause that devastation, nor would we. And there is the rub. WMDs were pushed into public consciousness as something separate from the act of destruction. It is the gun owner’s response to regulation: guns don’t kill people, people do. But the concern for the gun leads to a multitude of actions: one of which is the discharge of the gun in order to kill a person.

By separating the weapons themselves from the actors, we are able to justify to ourselves the wanton destruction of entire nations and peoples in pursuit of weapons. The administration was able to make weapons a justification for invasion: a ridiculous idea considering our intimate understanding of their weapons stores. In fact, the very basis for invading Iraq is no different than city police invading your township home to keep your rifle out of your own hands—which should confuse the Republican—do I support a person’s right to weapons or do I blindly support the military? Shoot! What a tough choice?

Alan Greenspan now argues that Iraq, for him, was always about oil: not ownership: but the flow of market forces in the region. Think about this in relation to what we’re doing and what was originally argued (WMDs). Where is the compassion? Where is the concern for others? Where is the love of neighbor and the appreciation of culture? Where is Christ in this (for the self-styled Christian-in-Chief)? Money and guns are not acceptable reasons for military action. Greenspan is trying to apply political cover for the administration’s war crimes in which he participated. As an advocate of war, suggesting the economic need for war, Greenspan is as guilty as Cheney and Bush of international and domestic war crimes. One hopes that their illusionment campaign can be shattered by 2009.

Monday, September 17, 2007


File this under “law of unintended consequences”. Or perhaps they were intended.

A relatively secretive group called Blackwater came to public attention last spring after the publication of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill. The book highlights the ins and outs of this organization (including the former Navy Seal/Born-Again Evangelical billionaire founder) and discusses the implications of the group.

I couldn’t do the story justice by trying to tell you who this group really is, but I will give you this:

  • They have been granted over $800 billion in no-bid contracts from the U.S. government for work in Iraq.
  • They are not operatives of the U.S. military and have no relationship with them.
    • Nor do they fall under a provision that allows them to represent the U.S. in a foreign nation and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of international military law.
  • They are universally better paid than U.S. soldiers and have more access to body armor and armored equipment.
    • If you are following along at home—since we are paying them to be there, then that means that our tax dollars are paying for mercenaries to be better equipped than our military.
  • They were brought into Iraq to protect convoys of contractors (Halliburton, perhaps?) but since 2004 have increasingly been used as a military presence, with over 1,000 armed civilian operatives in Iraq.
  • They are universally despised by Iraqis for their rude behavior, carelessness, and disregard for civilian life.

And the kicker: “The question of whether they could face prosecution is legally murky. Unlike soldiers, the contractors are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under a special provision secured by American-occupying forces, they are exempt from prosecution by Iraqis for crimes committed there.” (emphasis mine)

So here it is. Our fragile international community is governed by a few principles: sovereignty, peace, human rights, and fair trade. We ask our neighbors to behave themselves and we promise, in turn, to behave ourselves. Since the writing of the Magna Carta through the Geneva Convention, humanity has sought ways to work together and developed broad and decent international codes; codes by which we could all agree to live. For the brief 231 years since we declared our independence, the U.S. has stood by these codes, helped write these codes, and develop the relationships that would become the organizations of NATO and the United Nations. We have served as a (relatively) honorable member of the international community.

Then we broke the first one: we declared Iraq’s sovereignty benign. We invaded militarily, breaking the second one. We reconstituted prisons off our soil (Cuba and Iraq) where we would systematically commit acts of torture or else ship them off to other countries under the cover of darkness and let those countries commit torture (destroying that third provision). And not to leave them all untouched, we felt compelled to destroy the cradle of civilization, devastating the thousands of archaeological digs in southern Iraq and manipulating the markets in the Middle East (that fourth provision).

So, we don’t seem to care about international law, and we disregard our own laws. So what happens when we constitute this mercenary group in Iraq? We allow them to exist as a unique entity without any means of holding them accountable. The U.S. military and the Iraqi government have no jurisdiction to hold Blackwater accountable for their actions, even after the public killing of four civilians and reports of indiscriminate shootings at civilian and soldier alike. Where does this put us? And because we’ve done it, what grounds can we stop other countries from selling off their warmaking to civilians, abdicating their own responsibility and culpability? What is there left of both democracy and diplomacy? And what of human decency?

Then again, we can all pretend it never happened and save our moral outrage for ‘foreigners’. Americans have always done a great job of that.

The first and last Britany Spears post

I have to hand it to the media: they convinced me to do the one thing I never thought I'd do: think about Britany Spears.

My first confession is that I never 'got' her. I never understood the creepy fascination that middle-aged men had for her in the 90's, nor did I understand the point of listening to vapid music. She seemed like a well-meaning, if not articulate young woman that didn't need yet another person giving her career the time of day. Then came the blond celebrity one-upsmanship in which she and Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton have recently participated. Dispersions aside, Ms. Spears' only crime is not thinking. Unlike Lohan, Hilton, and Ritchie, Britany did nothing wrong; she committed no crime. Yes, public indecency in the not-wearing-panties scandal and the questionable ability to mother her children area were bad--but that is something we knew before she got pregnant. We can't stand here dumbfounded and pretend that we couldn't predict this: we all saw it in our respective minds' eyes! We knew this day would dawn: so no more self-righteous soapboxing!

Then came the VMAs: the annual MTV tribute to wanton sexuality and inappropriate relationships between 30 year-old musicians and their 13 year-old fans (think about it). Britany, seemingly making a last-minute decision to join the show, was given the 'kickoff' spot--seemingly enticing a scandal.

There are three things to say about this performance: she looked stoned or drunk; her ability was impaired; and she chose a bikini as her ensemble. Of course, none of us watched it live--I haven't watched MTV since Clinton's first term: we had to catch this on news programs or online, but the career damage was done. She displayed none of the self-confidence or ability that one expects from a star performer. That's it. Except for one thing...

The media decided she was fat. They decided that this relatively skinny woman was fat. And worse: they decided that this was offensive. It wasn't the fact that anyone dancing in a bikini in a hall (as opposed to a beach: the only place that we allow that dress on anyone above a size 2) would present a problem, or the crotch-grabbing and rubbing of the "dance" was objectionable, or that her inability to perform these moves felt less about her preparation and more about a lack of sobriety; no, it was that a bunch of men in the media decided she was fat. This was discussed on talk radio, morning shows, and nightly newscasts: even the ordinarily reliable Keith Olbermann felt compelled to call Britany fat. If any of those men were in a bar and saw her or a doppelganger walk up in her current physical state, they would try to take her home.

The dichotomy between what is expected of celebrities as opposed to the rest of us has never been clearer. A woman that appeared to be physically healthy and well-proportioned was intoxicated and the social crime leveled against her was that she was fat. Excuse me, moral police, but get a grip. I have never been more ashamed of my people (men) than I am about this.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Muddying the Water, part 2

A documentary called No End in Sight was a winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival [more info and an interview with the director can be found here]. To be honest, I have not seen it, but I recently read about it in The Nation. This film helps us recognize that we have to start having a real discussion about the Iraq Conflict.

The conservative muddying tactic has done wonders to obfuscate the real impact of the Iraq Conflict. Imagine that each pertinent piece of information that could lead to a discussion is represented by a colored thread. These threads are all tied to an object at one end and the other is free and lying on the floor. There are a rainbow assortment of colors, though many of them repeat or are similar shades. Got it?

Now imagine that the American people and the media look at these threads and begin matching them by color: reds together, blues together, yellows together, etc.: but before they can get very far, the president’s press secretary, Tony Snow, takes those threads out of your hands and says “that’s not how it goes; it goes like this” and proceeds to match up random colors. You say “I don’t see it” and he says “that’s because you’re stupid; leave it to the experts.”

So now you’re confused. You want to trust Uncle Tony, but you still don’t get it. So then you think about arranging them according to a rainbow or the color spectrum. Maybe that’s how its supposed to go. This time, the president himself comes out and pulls the strings away from you and says “silly normal person, you just don’t understand” and proceeds to match up random colors again.

What this documentary does is a few things: it points out that very few people in the administration were really on board with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz: they couldn’t see how the random colors connected either. Unfortunately they went along with it.

Secondly, it points out that the original state department plans were for !) a quick strike, 2) to overwhelm the military, and 3) then leave. The usual MO would fall into place with the U.S. appointing a new dictator. That’s where the administration changed it all with disasterous results.

It was the original leaders on the ground, representing the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) that had the pre-war planning implemented and were well on their way toward completing the U.S. mission in Iraq. It wasn’t a perfect plan: they actually supported the looting of museums, for instance: but it had a timetable. The neocons removed ORHA and replaced it with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which proceeded to demolish Iraqi infrastructure, including removing the 400,000 Baathists from the army, which meant that we actually created the insurgency.

Is it becoming clearer that those random collecting of threads in my image was intentional?

What I like about what is revealed in this new documentary is that it outlines precisely how criminal this administration is. It doesn’t focus on the president’s immorality: devotion to criminalizing, torturing, and killing people; his desperate need for complete control and unquestioned authority; his denial of American ideals such as health, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: it instead focuses on what can only be construed as deliberate negligence. Its genius is in indicting the president on abandoning a winning strategy crafted by military experts for a hatchet-job crafted by politicians. This is not only reprehensible, but it is criminal and impeachable.

With all of those aforementioned threads, there are so many strands for us to bind together. How about these batches:

He’s a liar.

  • His lies encouraged the nation to participate in a criminal act.
  • He conspired to commit mass murder.

He’s incompetent.

  • His placing of the CPA in charge of Iraq devastated the mission in Iraq.
  • His intentions cripple our ability to act internationally.

He is a war criminal.

  • By invading a foreign nation and targeting civilians, the president has made himself and his entire administration culpable for the breaking of those international laws that we had a hand in writing.

He is destroying the U.S. military.

  • Extending overseas stays, the backdoor draft, and quick redeployments are breaking the military.
  • All of the above reasons have devastated recruitment, making fewer new soldiers to replace the retiring ones.
  • This makes the U.S. an easier target and simultaneously incapacitates our ability to help in humanitarian efforts (Darfur) or to catch Osama bin Laden.

Do I need to keep going?

Muddying the Water, part 1

What comes to mind when I say “Iraq”?

If you are like me, then a lot. We now have war images of soldiers with enormous guns, patrolling or firing at someone we hope is an “insurgent”. We have thoughts of lies (yellow-cake uranium from Niger) and thoughts of dissatisfaction (remember the calls from the hawks: “the first Bush should’ve finished the job”) and mercy (the families torn apart, the women that can no longer work, and the fewer than four hours a day of electricity). We think of all of the President’s speeches and public appearances—including the aircraft carrier with the cod piece and the “Mission Accomplished” banner. We remember all of the conservative pundits repeating the refrain “stay the course” and reminders that any dissention from the president’s strategy is unpatriotic (regardless of the fascist hypocrisy of it all).

If I had asked you about Iraq four years ago, you certainly wouldn’t have thought of those things. A few images may have come to mind. Most likely Saddam Hussein, a well-orchestrated army, and Desert Storm. That’s about it. Maybe the conflict with Iran, maybe the U.S. abandoning of the Kurd uprising (that we encouraged), and maybe the encouragement and support we gave Saddam to take over the country. Maybe those things would pop into your head.

The latter makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? The popular conservative tactic over the last two decades is to muddy the water. We treat it like the bad-sport manager that kicks dirt over the plate after a bad call, but it isn’t that at all: it is a political tactic. Make the people confused, keep them that way, and then do whatever you want. If someone drops something in the water at the beach, what do you do? You wait for the sand to fall back to the bottom so that you can see.

So the president keeps using that tactic in Iraq, or demanding that we do. Wait. In December, it was wait a couple of months. In March, it was wait a couple of months. In May, it was wait a couple of months. In July, it was wait until September (a couple of months). Each suggestion of waiting was accompanied with “the next two months will be critical: a potential turning point”. It has become clear that we have to stop waiting.

While you are waiting for the sand to fall back and clear your vision, you also have to stop moving. If you remain still, the sand won’t kick up again. So what happens when regardless of what you do, a kid nearby keeps kicking the sand? And we’re talking, huge upheavals, muddying your vision for yards all around. And what if this kid is the one who claims to have dropped the toy in the first place? What is the purpose of waiting? Don’t you eventually come to a time to decide? You could restrain the kid and keep him from kicking up the sand. You could do his work for him and get on your hands and knees, feeling along the bottom, hoping that you don’t get kicked in the process. Or you could leave.

Our prospects in Iraq are muddied; not by insurgents, but by a president whose only interest in Iraq has been revealed to be merely staying—not building a democracy, not ending terrorism, and not bringing stability to the region—just staying. He wants you confused. He wants you to act in the manner that comes most naturally to us: wait and see. That is all part of the plan.

The only alternatives are stopping him, working even harder despite him, or to withdraw.

Am I the only one that thinks impeachment is the most rational solution of all of these?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Fundamentalism: it's not just for religion anymore.

There’s a funny thing about fundamentalism: it’s intrinsically ironic.

One of the main aspects of fundamentalism is its demand that the world be seen as black and white; either / or; us and them. Most of us recognize the irrationality of choosing between white and black when nobody is white and nobody is black: just gray. But fundamentalism doesn’t allow for self-examination. It requires whole-hearted belief and dedication to one’s own righteousness; damning the consequences.

What is ironic about this position is that it requires simultaneous strict adherence to law/scripture as it is written, but broad (dare I say liberal?) inclusiveness in how that is to be interpreted. On the former hand, we can see the Supreme Court’s decision against free speech in the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case as specific nuancing of the law: it doesn’t say that minors get free speech. At the same time, this Court would no doubt read the 2nd Amendment broadly. Christian Fundamentalists (dare I say extremists?) love to demonstrate their strict adherence to scripture (interpreting the Jesus statement of salvation through Him from Matthew as meaning only Born-Again Christians are ‘saved’), but show a strangely broad assessment of the Bible’s supposed opposition to homosexuality (Sodom and Gomorrah were about male rape of angels thousands of years ago: what does this have to do with homosexuals in loving relationships today?). In other words, the order of the day is broad inclusion of things we hate and narrow exclusion for things we like. Sadly, the humor in this is lost on them.

Perhaps the strangest place to find fundamentalism in our culture is in sports, but it is rampant. You can’t blame Barry Bonds for using steroids (‘allegedly’) because they weren’t illegal at the time. Bull!

But the greatest hypocrisy of fundamentalism is shown by the NCAA. That pernicious need to see things in black and white has devolved the game and given us the usual byproduct of fundamentalism: the maintenance of injustice and inequality over the needs of the many.

In the world of Division 1A football (now FBS), there have always been princes and paupers. Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, and USC have all been perennial powers. Every year, you expect the rich to stay rich and the poor stay poor: that’s what the conservative brand of capitalism has taught us. We get excited when new elites come from out of nowhere: Louisville, West Virginia, Rutgers: and consider this to be proof of true grit and determination on the schools’ parts. But it isn’t quite like that.

It is well established that the schools all see their football programs as a means of income for their schools. Very few of them merely pay for themselves: most of them bring in big money to the school. The biggest programs fund their entire athletic departments and then some. So the addition of a twelfth game was always a money-maker: just as the maintenance of the bowl system is a money-maker.

But the NCAA has encouraged the exploitation of its own rules. By helping the SEC become a ‘super’ conference like the Big-12 (read two divisions with a championship game), they have further favored the haves, by pushing the sport toward extra “championship” games, which the likes of ESPN’s Mark May seem to believe is the only way of naming a champion. The PAC-10 made the alternative choice of actually playing every other team in the conference, round robin style. Until recently, this was a legitimate choice for sports—this method has so fallen out of favor that the SEC has seen fit to declare itself Fascist Overlords of the World (with the help of ESPN).

Despite the SEC’s abandonment of round robin and the use of the extra game by adding another cupcake: LSU, the supposed holder of ‘the world’s toughest schedule’ do not play two of the top SEC teams (Georgia and Tennessee) and play Tulane, Louisiana Tech, and Middle Tennessee. But they have a championship game so it’s all good!

The NCAA has rules about when you can play, how many games you can play, and a minimum number of division teams you are required to play. So why don’t they close the loop-hole of the championship game? Why don’t they cap the season’s end earlier?

Looking back at the end of last season, the number 2 team (Michigan) had only lost to the number 1 team (Ohio State). The dispute over who gets into the title game should have taken these two things into account: Florida’s extra game should not have been seen as Michigan’s fault, but as Florida’s benefit from an unjust system. Similarly, Urban Meyer’s reprehensible parading and pleading for his team’s shot at the title should have been discouraged, not rewarded. Lloyd Carr’s graciousness and character in the situation has been under-reported, because we don’t really want to see our coaches setting a positive example to 55 young men—we want them to be cheaters and exploiters.

Everyone knows that teams bend the rules: it’s an axiom that is embodied in nearly every organized sport. But there is also such a thing as professionalism, balance, and sportsmanship. Yes, conferences should be able to determine their formats, but each team in each conference should each play 12 games: and no more (I’m looking at you, Hawaii!). Similarly, they shouldn’t be able to exploit the system by adding games at the end of the year (which is up to three weeks after the Big Ten is finished!).

I haven’t even touched on the competitive imbalance of the bowl system (giving the most favor to SEC, PAC-10, and Big 12 South teams, since nearly every bowl, and all BCS bowls, are played in their territories) or the support the NCAA gives cheater coaches (Jim Tressel, owner of the dirtiest resume in collegiate sports—“But he wins!” you say; “Oh, but he’s still cheating!” I say).

But like religious and political fundamentalists, the NCAA only looks at the black and the white, ignoring all of that dark charcoal ruining the sport.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We did it!

We finally got rid of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales! He announced his resignation today and that he gave it to the president on Friday. The president, however, doesn't seem that happy about it:
"After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position and I accept his decision."
Mr. Bush took a couple of minutes away from his well-earned vacation (it only makes up about 40% of his year) to comment on the outgoing AG. Yes, Mr. Bush, it may seem unfair that everyone everywhere would gang up on your best friend: if this happened to my best friend, I might react the same way: until I realized that my best friend is really an ass.

There are two parts that are laughable about this quote. He calls the treatment of Gonzales "unfair". Perhaps he's entitled. What would be a fair way to treat a lying, stealing, criminally partisan, horrifically biased, completely underqualified, utterly incompetant, remorseless sleazebag? Have you so quickly forgotten that every job he's ever had in government has been by your appointment? We can't take your word, but there's nobody else to vouch for him! Unfair is, perhaps, hyperbolic in this case.

The second joke is that this could be considered "a harmful distraction". Getting rid of the most corrupt politico to ever hold the office isn't a fraction of the 'distraction' that keeping him in office is: we shouldn't forget that he's the one supporting illegal wiretapping, supporting the overuse of the unconstitutional concept of 'executive privilege', not to mention his propensity for firing the most capable U.S. attorneys who have the audacity of prosecuting criminal behavior (that isn't done by Democrats).

We should resolve to save the "harmful distraction" defense for the clearly inappropriate which hunts: like going after a president who can't keep his fly zipped. High crimes and misdemeanors is reserved for this level of corruption.