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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A new way in Iraq

James Skillen from the Center for Public Justice recently wrote that we are being dishonest in our evaluation of Iraq.

He begins by explaining how the administration sees our time in Iraq. He then shows us how the media and opponents portray Iraq. Thirdly, he says what the ‘war’ with Iraq really is: The U.S. invaded the country and smashed their government and didn’t fill the vacuum of power.

We did not return sovereignty to the Iraqi people. We engineered a quick drafting of an unworkable constitution. We helped organize an election that fronted a government unable to govern on the basis of that incomplete constitution. And we continue to control the most important military operations in a country that is not at war with an external enemy but, instead, needs police forces that will take orders from a sound government, neither of which exist.

Clearly, the proper course, which has been discussed as a ridiculous debate between installing the next strong-man versus “true democracy” built by the people, is this: the U.S. military alone was to be that strong-man. Like wands in the Harry Potter universe, people respond to the conqueror. The role the U.S. was supposed to play was as conqueror and then stabilizer—bringing peace and prosperity to the nation and democracy would come later. Instead, we encouraged untrained, inexperienced, and incapable leaders to form a new government out of nothing while simultaneously eroding the basic infrastructure upon which they had come to depend.

But Skillen argues our mistake has not only been a blind mischaracterization of the war, but the egocentric response to the war. It isn’t simply rhetoric about whether or not it’s winnable but what we do about this mistake.

Setting dates for an American military withdrawal while blaming the nearly powerless Iraqi government for not climbing out fast enough from the hole we dug for it is as immoral as continuing on the present course.

The problem is that we need to punish Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz for poor planning, implementation, and irresponsible conduct in their invasion and without Congressional involvement or oversight, there is no other way that people feel comfortable in rebuking the president. But Skillen shows little concern for the executive.

If the president, his superficial critics, and the American people had anything like an adequate awareness of the tragic destruction to which we have contributed—and failed to stop—in Iraq, he would be proposing and we would be demanding an all-out effort to remedy our failures by doing everything necessary to bring real government to Iraq. We would pay any price, on a national emergency basis, and negotiate on an international emergency basis, to establish security and advance state building in Iraq.

The problem, as Skillen rightly points out is us; we allowed our country to invade, devastate, and demoralize another country. Precipitating rationale is irrelevant when what has come of it is seemingly irreconcilable chaos for which we are responsible. We’ve made a mess and it is our job to clean it up. And this isn’t a Washington politics issues, but a true, natural politics, because we didn’t simply break a theoretical nation, but created conditions in Iraq that have killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people (Skillen underestimates). We have torn apart a social fabric of families and friends and neighbors. We have reduced to rubble the markets and shops that made the livelihood for many people and destroyed the museums and libraries that housed national and religious treasures—treasures that not only connected the people of Iraq, but connected them with the rest of the world—and given them over to looting and petty theft. We have severed them from the normal ‘first-world’ conditions that cultivate stability and health: water and electricity. We have utterly devastated the people. But regardless of the senseless nature of this violence and the irresponsibility shown by the administration, we have a responsibility to human rights. We have been pouring unimaginable sums of money into a sinkhole, instead of plugging it up. If rebuilding Iraq were Bush’s real priority, we would have rebuilt it before now. Democracy is the true red herring here.

The true beauty of the fix Iraq position (to which I have only now tentatively converted) is what it means for us. It means that we can be the people we say we are: compassionate and supportive. We can bring stability to the country by maintaining their responsibility but removing the governmental noose with which we will otherwise hang them. Congress takes control of the procedures because it is no longer a military issue and Bush loses ‘command’ of a so-called war. Bush, in turn, becomes alienated from the process, not just because he loses authority, but he loses the very grounds of his argument: how can he maintain war-footing when his justification is stolen from him? Lastly, it isn’t done as a U.S. fledgling state, but as a U.N. protectorate. This maintains our responsibility, but ensures that others take responsibility for bringing Iraq back from the brink and fostering a spirit of collaboration. The international humiliation is probably enough punishment for the would-be King George.

This is all dependent on having enough troops. Then again, there’s always impeachment.

Monday, August 20, 2007

There is no political center.

"Centrism" is the creation of an inaccurate self-serving metaphor, and it is time to bury it.
George Lakoff has done it again. This time, he is making my arguments for me.
There is no left to right linear spectrum in the American political life. There are two systems of values and modes of thought -- call them progressive and conservative (or nurturant and strict, as I have). There are total progressives, who use a progressive mode of thought on all issues. And total conservatives. And there are lots of folks who are what I've called "biconceptuals": progressive on certain issue areas and conservative on others. But they don't form a linear scale. They are all over the place: progressive on domestic policy, conservative on foreign policy; conservative on economic policy, progressive on foreign policy and social issues; conservative on religion, but progressive on social issues and foreign policy; and on and on. No linear scale. No single set of values defining a "center." Indeed many of such folks are not moderate in their views; they can be quite passionate about both their progressive and conservative views.
It stands to reason that the issue is much greater than a semantic one, but is an improper tool for observation: the spectrum.

My systematics professor at Huron University College used the classical definition of liberalism, as does Noam Chomsky in most of his writings, but that definition is unfamiliar to most of us, really. In fact, the main aspects of liberalism, such as individual rights and collective responsibilities are so fundamental to our own Western understanding of being, that it makes the discussion that much more difficult. However, I reject the use of alternative self-descriptors such as 'progressive', as it does not clarify the problem, but further muddies the water (a current conservative hallmark--so I should think that we would reject it out of hand as a tactic). Instead, a more responsible decision would be to work at clarifying the water of the discussion.

For one, this requires the abandonment of the spectrum ideology and the belief in the mythic moderate or centrist as the ideal. As evidenced by the 'moderates' (the 'Gang of 14') in the face off over Bush's Supreme Court nominations, their position could, in no true way be described as moderate. These members of the Senate were seeking a compromise that would prevent a Democratic filibuster and a Republican declaration of the filibuster as 'unconstitutional: also known as 'the nuclear option'. This scenario, however, doesn't encourage any sense of a moderate ideology: in fact, the truth is much more disturbing.

Their fervent objection to the standoff between the majority membership of the two parties was constituted by their swift and decisive desire to broker a peace agreement: which is more of a compromise at any cost.

Secondly, it was not a 'balanced' understanding of compromise, let alone an attempt to find a win-win scenario. Instead of finding a way to make both sides happy, they rushed to a compromise [that in all real accounts was a win for Republicans]. Not filibustering extreme justices is a win for the Republicans. Taking the nuclear option off of the table is a win for Congress, not Democrats. In fact, the concern of the Gang of 14 wasn't brokering a "moderate" deal on the justice issue, it was mere maintenance of a traditional tool of Congress. This move is not accurately described as moderate, but is in fact, ideologically conservative.

Lastly, the Gang of 14 reinforced the Congress' departure from the object of discussion: the justices. It served the Republican purpose of semantic and procedural arguing that meant that meaningful debate and deliberation on any candidate would not occur, nor would it allow for a legitimate vote of conscience by the Congress. The two parties were, thanks to the brokered compromise, essentially locked into affirming the president's nominees, which turned out to be among the most extreme in history.

The 'Gang of 14' is what passes for an understanding of moderate today. This isn't to say that it is a Republican position, but in its demand for compromise before the discussion has really gotten going, it has as it's primary motivation a conservative nature. At the same time, the average citizen is much more liberal: supportive of civil, human, and individual rights; economic justice; progressive taxation that protects the least fortunate; universal health care. The average citizen deeply believes in the liberal elements that went into the Revolution and break from the British monarchy and those elements that maintain our freedom despite efforts to minimize or reduce our independence. It is this independence that causes so many to avoid party affiliations and claim to be politically 'independent', but true independence is unattainable in a two-party system. There is no legitimate rationale for a large number of truly independent voters to shift between parties, as they are not governed by a third way. They are governed by the more pressing force at any moment. What is the difference between a Republican and a self-described "independent" that hasn't voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter? One has a membership card and the other has delusions.

The AAC and perceptions of slandor

Each month, the American Anglican Council (AAC*) puts out a publication called Encompass. It is a newsletter that essentially keeps the self-proclaimed ‘orthodox’ Anglicans in the loop over the current developments in their struggle for control of the ideology of the worldwide Anglican Communion. There are routine updates, a story or two, and an address from the president, David C. Anderson. August was no exception.

In it, there were two things that were particularly noteworthy. The first was a story of an AAC initiative in mission work in Peru, where they have worked with the South American Missionary Society to develop seminaries in the region. This initiative, seemingly innocuous is actually a blatant attempt to manipulate the country’s denominational theological training and reinforcing their fringe ideology. What worries me the most is the institutional nature of this work, which has already begun bearing fruit, but has a long-range plan of undermining the current forefront of religious scholarship in favor or a dark ages approach involving theological criticism**. Without a full-bodied and well-rounded seminary experience, these seminaries will only likely produce religious zealots; this has to be part of the appeal to the AAC.

The second noteworthy point is more of a strange turn-of-phrase. In the “Message from the President”, Anderson responds to both the statement of rejection from TEC of the suggestion that we allow “alternative pastoral oversight” (read: sheep stealing) for those disgruntled Anglicans shackled and restrained by the evil, despicable Episcopal Church; this, of course, is poppycock, but the dissidents are addicted to playing the reluctant hero/victim. There have also been a smattering of conservative provinces that have decided that they won’t be attending Lambeth (the big conference of bishops that only happens every ten years). Non-attendance means nothing to the secular world (I don’t want to go to Billy’s house, Mommy!), but it is the nuclear bomb in churchland. It is the introduction of fascism to democracy: it is entirely incompatible and very, very dangerous.

So these bishops have decided to drop the bomb. OK, so what does this mean? To answer this, let me give you a taste of how they see the mainstream response:

Already push back is coming in from various revisionist quarters. Trinity Church Wall Street announced they will convene a meeting of American and African bishops to discuss ways of doing mission and ministry together, which is a tactic to try and divide the African voice. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has just warned the Global South leaders that not attending Lambeth is to effectively vote themselves out of the Anglican Communion.

Irony of our being called ‘revisionist’ aside, there is actually nothing here that is actually objectionable. If you look at what is being discussed behind the rhetoric, you should see the clear issue. In the first part, Trinity Wall Street’s interest in convening a meeting between Americans and Africans is always a noble prospect, especially in the church, where community is our goal. Further, to suggest that they are utilizing “a tactic to try and divide the African voice” presupposes a ridiculous assumption (that they have been pushing for a couple of years) that there is a unified African voice. Is there a unified American voice? Has there ever been? This is faith grown from the Church of England. A cursory glance at church history will show that there never was a unified voice in England. Why would one assume that there is a unified voice in Africa? Because that is part of the dissident illusion: the monolithic Global South and the threat of schism. Bull.

The second supposition most certainly relates to the nature of our communion, which is a collective of national bodies that only exists when we get together. Similar in nature to our Congress: Congress only exists when it is in Session and when they recess, nothing happens. Our church is the same way and has always been that way. We are church when we gather together. St. David’s Episcopal Church is only St. David’s when it gathers on Sunday morning or Wednesday night for worship or at a meeting of the vestry. The rest of the time, there is a building that stands to represent the faithful to the wider community. Dioceses can only act at their annual conventions and our national church only acts at its triennial national convention. It stands to reason, therefore, that non-attendance at the gathering of bishops clearly implies that you are not in community with the wider community. Even though it is cheeky, the conservatives know this, which is why they have continuously pushed for TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) to be excluded from meetings and gatherings. Their attempts to excommunicate TEC aren’t merely because they don’t like our ideology or worry about our infecting the rest of the communion, but because that would simply remove us from the communion. The AAC likes this prospect because they want to be seen as the authoritative representation of Anglicanism for North America. Good thing that it doesn’t actually work that way.

Clearly the Global South bishops have struck a nerve with their refusal to elevate property and polity over Biblical truth.

Anderson ends the offending paragraph with this suggestion, which is actually quite telling of their clear intentions. This is an attempt to slam TEC for its response to dissidents, claiming the rights and authority to take their congregations, their property, their church buildings, and even their ordination with them, despite vowing “to solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church” (BCP, p. 526). In the aftermath of the 2003 ordination of the bishop V. Gene Robinson, Conservatives have used several tactics to try and cripple the church nationally and internationally under the guise of the national church’s supposed heresy. At the same time, they have attempted to maintain themselves outside the purview of the national church, which is not possible. As the property, monies, and authority (through ordination of the priest and sanction of the bishop to gather as an Episcopal church) are the property of the diocese, and in turn, the property of the national church. As many dissident churches have not yet vacated their old premises, it has forced a legal battle over the property.

In this light, the snarky retort that “their refusal to elevate property and polity over Biblical truth” is particularly disgusting. Their actions, which are devious and despicable (though defended under the auspices of Total War) are not Spirit-filled and do not represent a traditional or orthodox view of Christian behavior. At the same time, it belies their true intentions: their doublespeak exposes their own ‘elevation’ of property and polity. Their struggle to maintain the property and polity (through overseas bishops flying in for ordinations) are AAC’s main priorities. If they weren’t, and their true belief was in the gospel, they would relinquish the money and the church and take it on the road: this is clearly the most Biblically justifiable position. Even worse, they are using ‘Biblical truth’ as a weapon and means of separation within the church. To me, that is clearly a denegration of the Bible and a lowering of its status, not elevation.

All of this is clearly visible to those involved. For the AAC, what they try to pass for subtlety is actually blatant obfuscation. The AAC is a proponent of both schism and obstruction of the working order of traditional church functioning. They have clearly learned from the presidency of George W. Bush that you can wade into the ordinarily illegal territory, but if there aren’t any laws that specifically prevent you, then the actions must be solid and legal. In truth, their tendancy to describe themselves heroically is not only meant to recruit you to their way of thinking, but to blur the lines so that you can’t see what their actions really are.

* The AAC is a conservative group of self-proclaimed ‘orthodox’ Anglicans in the U.S. who describe themselves as “a network of individuals (laity, deacons, priests and bishops), parishes and specialized ministries who affirm biblical authority and Christian orthodoxy within the Anglican Communion.” They further suggest that they “are uniting in order to fulfill our apostolic mission and ministry, working to build a faithful Anglican witness in the Americas.” In reality, they are supportive of and complicite in attempts to bring schism or wanton destruction to The Episcopal Church (TEC). Arguments about biblical inerency and interpretation are a smokescreen for their true intention: driving TEC to the right-wing fringe.

**The conservative movement in the church, which predates the current schismatic rumblings have been lodging an attack on traditional biblical study. Biblical scholars use many factors, including history, form, and textual elements that focus on what the writers of the Bible were trying to communicate to their people, which would, in turn, give us not only perspective, but an opportunity to see what effect that has on us. Conservatives embrace only a theological criticism which focuses on what the words say to us today—erasing the historical component and even the linguistic component. This development has manifested hostility in many seminary communities between the biblical studies departments and systematic theologians; this is due less to a difference of opinion, but more over a perceived affront.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Goodbye, Karl!

Nobody is shedding tears over the departure of the presidential confidant and aide, Karl Rove.

Pundits and Washington Insiders are falling all over themselves trying to evaluate Rove's legacy and they have come up with a two-part conclusions: he was an 1) effective 2) divider. What crap is this? Conservatives like David Brooks are desperate for Rove's tenure to be considered revolutionary and for his vision to be something envied. That is the only way that they can salvage his reputation, which is eternally tide with George Bush.

What is so visionary and effective about Karl Rove? In 1999, he made death threats against a journalist and his family, calling his house in the middle of the night after the writer uncovered Bush's cocaine conviction and printed his findings.

In 2004, Rove was directly responsible for financing and directing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that inaccurately slimed John Kerry during the election.

His tactics are trivialized by calling them 'hardball', making it seem as if this stuff is allowable and defensible; that this is merely a tactic to be used. Death threats and baldly lying and disrupting the truth cannot be seen as tactics: they must be held as contemptible.

Similarly, his approach to governing was just as toxic, making manipulation of the courts (attorney firings and stacking the judgeships with inexperienced politicos) seem like a normal thing to do. Blatantly breaking federal law to silence the critics by leaking the identity of a CIA operative is criminal.

But the truth of this story is that this way of operating is inseparable from Bush; not just because Bush ended up doing the things that Rove suggested, but because he would do it anyway. In 1987, George H. W. Bush hired his son, W, to be a major campaign aide and what does he do? He pushes for the infamous Willie Horton ad that swung a big Dukakis lead into a significant Bush win.

The question of this shouldn't be on whether or not this is 'effective'. We cannot allow it to be seen as effective when people lie, cheat, manipulate the rules, manipulate the media, manipulate the people, lower the level of debate, and sacrifice the nature of law. Rove and Bush lied, and because they love to lie (as a political tactic), they must be considered liars. Because they are liars, they cannot be trusted.

Perhaps Rove and Bush's greatest achievement is making the public prefer to believe a liar than deal with the truth. What a convenient way for them to regulate their legacies!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Presidential Candidates: Part 1

What a difference four years makes! Unlike 2003, when the story was “Is this it? Isn’t there anybody else?”, we are looking at a stable of Democratic candidates with a whole lot to love.

Governor Bill Richardson, at a distant fourth may be, of any candidate, the most experienced and most qualified of the nearly 20 candidates for the job. Between his time as governor of New Mexico, his foreign policy experience, and his measured position on tough issues, he is the perfect andidate to be the nation’s leader. He is the only governor running, which would normally give him a distinct edge over the ‘establishment’ candidates from Congress. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the ‘pop’ of the other candidates, which seems to matter more to the media than anything else.

Senator Hillary Clinton has the most Washington experience, both in the senate and in the White House of any of the candidates. Her intangibles, including charisma, a good sense of humor, and a strong background in law make her an ideal candidate. It is no small thing, however, that she makes the Republicans a lot of money--nothing scares them more than a strong, qualified woman.

Senator Barack Obama is the most inspiring of the candidates. He had the prime speech position on the first day of the 2004 Democratic Convention and brought the house down—before he was elected to the U.S. Senate. His position on the role of government and the way it is intended to work together speak to all of the people that hear it. He also reaches to Generation X better than any other candidate, making him an ideal candidate to get a high Democratic turnout.

Senator John Edwards is today the candidate I wish we had had in 2004. He is the only one that is making solid commitments to what a Democratic candidate is supposed to be committing to (but aren’t). He is the most committed (aside from Kucinich) to an anti-war stance, and he is the only one who has apologized for the position. He is showing strong leadership and is also making a strong stand against corporate influence.

Senators Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, already considered also-rans by most have had excellent careers, though I’d like to see Kucinich taken a little more seriously, or at least his positions on the big issues…

In all, I couldn’t imagine a better batch of candidates with a solid balance of experience, positioning on issues, charisma, and panache.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Journalistic Truths: Part 1

The purpose of the press is to check government. The freedom of the press framed in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is as a means of holding power accountable. This has been the MO for newspapers for years until the 1980s, really. Then something happened: a president was shot and journalists were, for the first time, seen, not just as people, but as Americans. The ongoing claims of liberal bias have persisted to more or lesser degrees for years, and predates Rush Limbaugh, but nobody would really have known it. The journalist’s position to be oppositional to power fell pray to two of the most human of impulses: 1) style and 2) perceiving statements of fact as personal attacks.

Here’s a traditional journalist’s approach to Bush’s background:

Bush received average grades, likable, more ‘physical’ than ‘mental’ but more ‘social’ than ‘physical’, goes to his father’s ivy league school, joins the national guard, gets out early (without any discharge?) to work on a friend’s campaign, moves to Texas, makes failed run for political office, phones up father’s Washington friends and gets financial backing for an oil exploration company. The company finds nothing, but instead of going bankrupt, it is sold for more than 10 times what it is worth to a Bush I friend and Bush is made CEO. The new company fails and is bought out again. He pulls off an Enron-style accounting maneuver in which he sells a part of the company worth $1,000,000 to itself for $10,000,000, claiming the 9 million difference as profit. The SEC decides not to investigate the company. Bush then leaves the company, receiving more money for his stocks than they are worth. He uses the money to get a minority (less than 10%) stake in the Texas Rangers, but is given decision-making power. He trades Sammy Sosa to the Cubs, and the team tanks. In 1994, he is elected Governor of Texas in a campaign recognized nationally as among the dirtiest in memory.

Here’s a traditional pundit’s or historian’s approach to Bush’s background:

Bush was disinterested in learning, and maintained that throughout his career, including public office when he refused to read reports, but had his people pitch the gist of them in 15 minutes or less, demonstrating a dangerous disregard for the rule of law. He was always seen as a social guy and was fond of giving out nicknames, regardless of whether the recipient wanted one or not. His career has been marked by failures, never succeeding as a business man, consistently bailed out by his father’s wealthy associates, and there is a distinct feel that he was being groomed for elected office despite a shocking lack of ability or background.

And here is what we get:

Bush is a canny politician that has shown shrewd political instincts. Though he may not be the most intelligent candidate for office, he is clearly smart enough to pick intelligent advisors: a hallmark of his hero, Pres. Reagan. He also brings a ‘business mind’ to the White House, and won on a strategy of “Who would you rather bring to a barbecue?”

Of course, none of these backgrounds even goes near his illicit drug use, alcohol abuse, his criminal record, the discrepancies in his military record, or any of the other things that make him unfit to serve as a local Rotary president, let alone POTUS. However, this is an example of what passes for journalism in our current age. As I suggested at the top, there are two things that are most of interest, and number 2 is the distinct weapon of choice. What has been exploited since 1981, for sure, has been the tactic of suggesting that a journalist’s concerns for a political decision or on a president’s judgment is, in fact, a political attack against someone unable to defend himself (in that case, Ronald Reagan—he’s such a kind old man!) or undeserving of such a smear (Bush is a man of faith!). The inability to recognize the difference between political hatchet job—look up any number of Hillary Clinton “biographies”, or better yet, read David Brock’s Blinded by the Right—and good journalism has meant that the reader is unsure of who to believe.

This same problem has infected journalism. We have all heard the cries of budget cuts and inadequate funding for international bureaus, not to mention the scandals of journalists fabricating stories for personal glory at the New York Times, but the truth is that the methodology of journalism has changed. Instead of investigating a story and figuring out what is really going on, we are merely allowing he-said-she-said pseudo-‘balanced’ pieces pass for stories in most media outlets. We have also given up on the importance of discerning the very truth in a story, regardless of the conditions. Remember the CBS Nightly News scandal in 2005 when Dan Rather ran with a story in which they obtained a document (that was verified) that proved that Bush was given special treatment in being let out of the military? The very next day, conservatives (conveniently) had proof that the document was a forgery. The way CBS handled the story became the story, even though the woman who allegedly typed the document stated that she had typed a document at one time that said pretty much what this one said. Huh? What kind of Scooby-Doo world did we fall into? Dan Rather is run out of town when the truth was actually revealed to be true?

There are so many reasons to be pissed at the media today. Bill Moyers, in a recent documentary displayed the tactic the Bush White House used to influence the media in the run-up to war with Iraq. The White House leaks a story to the press. The journalist takes the leak and verifies the leak with a White House official who says “that’s what we’ve heard.” The journalist runs with the story and it appears in the newspaper the same day that the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Defense Secretary, and National Security Advisor all appear on separate morning shows. Inevitably, the journalists bring up the story that was published that morning and each one, to the tee, says “That’s what it says. I can’t believe it, either.” If you are having trouble following along, here’s the straight dope, yo: The White House makes it up and then allow themselves to be the second source. Then they quote the news report as proof that their version of the story is correct!

The media has clearly been manipulated for too long. From Murdoch, to Scaife, to Coors, to Moon, there are too many wealthy muckrakers employing racist, bigoted zealots of hate to mess with our very basic understanding of the democratic process. From now on, read Salon, the Huffington Post, or Alternet.

File under "ooohh, we should have seen that coming"

So, remember how Congress used as political cover for not making a decision about Iraq in July that we were going to wait for General Petraeus' recommendations that are due in September? That this would come to let us know how the government has progressed since the last report (also in July) and then the Iraqi government took the month of August off? That nobody with 2 or more brain cells is expecting any improvement over the previous dismal reports? Well things just got a whole lot saucier!

The President, not the General, is now writing the report! This is just great! This comes from the man that says that he lets the generals decide for themselves. Anybody planning to see anything truthy in there now?

Spy Satellites used on Americans

Now Homeland Security will be able to train our spy satellites on the United States. What a great idea. Yes, we've seen Enemy of the State and thought that this was already going on, but to make this out in the open?

Clearly the fourth amendment means nothing to these people.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rupert Murdoch is the bogeyman.

You should be scared of this guy. This may come off as hyperbole, but this guy has no scruples. His affection for conservatism knows no bounds. He is a free-marketeer that doesn’t recognize the crippling effect that his media empire has already had on the very health and function of the U.S. and now he’s bought Dow Jones, Inc.. Can you get any crazier? This approximates George Bush buying the U.S. Army and National Guard or Karl Rove copyrighting the concept of ‘credit’.

Murdoch is an ideologically-driven and smug political hack who has enough money to actually break our financial system. His influence is so inflated (in no small part by weakening of the federal government since 1994), that his taint can infest and spread disease throughout our global media system. Consider that the Dow owns the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is already rabidly pro-Republican, but it restrains itself to what it knows best: economics and market politics. Their interest is in the over-valued business that is the Stock Market. The problem with having an economy that is so tied to and dependent on the NYSE is that real measures of economic health (employment, salaries, job satisfaction, and exposure to health care) are meaningless before the buying and selling of corporate stocks. The value is in the number of transactions of what amounts to credit. It isn’t even the real money of the nation.

At first glance, you might see this as a perfect match, but it exposes the devious and destructive nature of Murdoch—he is unabashedly and inappropriately partisan and destructive. Where as the people who work for the WSJ may tend to vote Republican and have a conservative framework, they are just as likely to fall for Clinton’s pro-corporate policies and pro-NYSE agenda. Their allegiance is to the markets. Murdoch, on the other hand, is toxically political and hastily lashes out at his enemies. No sooner has Murdoch signed his name and closed the deal, but he is making attempts to take on the New York Times, the most respected and politically astute newspaper in North America. It truly is the most trusted name in news. Murdoch hopes to take the WSJ partisan and take out the Times the way Fox beat out CNN.

The MO is the same: despite the Times (until recently) voracious support for the war and its increasing disinterest in investigating stories beyond White House quotes (due in no small part to cuts in staffing, travel, and other expenditures), Murdoch thinks that it is a loony bin of liberalism and that his seemingly centrist political opinion must win the day. Perhaps Murdoch is deluding himself. More likely, he just always spins it that way, like William Kristol at The Weekly Standard. The ideology’s success means more than the truth.

In actuality, this is all devastating news for us. Our chances of getting objective news has all but disappeared and the media’s tendency to avoid making waves and unintentionally supporting Republican lies through weak fact checking has meant that we are all confused to what is right. As Karl Rove said in 2006 “You have your numbers and I have the numbers.” Republican exploitation of relativism leaves an awful taste in the mouth, doesn’t it?

Monday, August 13, 2007

From Jane Austen we can see a people we don't want to be again

I had the good fortune of watching Becoming Jane last night: the biopic of Jane Austen. It was a wonderful movie with great pacing and an appropriately 19th Century British feel to it. Most especially enticing was the sincerity with which they approached the subject. There was no hint of Hollywood influence or a heightening of affect—it was natural and more subtle than similar stories.

Perhaps what moved me the most was the intimacy and care with which they told Jane Austen’s story as if it were one of her novels. Most enlightening was, as expected, the two major themes of love and class/power/money; the themes universally present in her writing and that dominated her thinking. The film serves as a cautionary tale for our rapturous dreaming and idealizing of the past while reducing the present to a time that never existed. But, perhaps I get ahead of myself.

This film illustrates a society in which the law is not serving justice (as the lawyer apprentice clearly states), but serving the purpose of maintaining property (according the wealthy lawyer uncle of the apprentice). The very nature of law, according to the film, is not to maintain societal order, but to maintain the economic stratum in place to prop up the wealthy and discourage the poor.

Secondly is the relationship between wealth and positive qualities of character: good breading, good prospects, and good skill. As the lawyer uncle states baldly, he may have been born wealthy, but it was his wit and ingenuity to maintain that wealth. A modern analogy would be that he was born on third base, the next batter drives him home, and he gets to take credit for the run scored.

Lastly, the debate of choosing between personal happiness, arranging for the betterment of others, and the prospect of financial security, because they aren’t all attainable is a frightening prospect in modern society. In the stark world of wealth and poverty that exist without a middle class, everyone is forced to choose between love and survival. This isn’t the rose-colored poverty, but the kind that beats you down and breaks you. As Jane’s parents are tormented by their choice of marrying for love, the prospect of marrying for wealth is presented as equally frightening.

What this means for us is that Republicans love the 19th Century. In fact, they are enamored of British law that places property right above civil or even human rights. The primary rule of law to them is the maintenance of property, and they justify it by suggesting that superior skill and quality of character is required to become wealthy and maintain wealth as opposed to the luck or ruthlessness required to devastate and demoralize others for the sake of personal gain.

What the film does show us is the horror of an uncaring society. A society that doesn’t strive to help those that do not have fortune smile upon them: the sick, the widowed, or even the brilliant who aren’t allowed professional fulfillment and personal happiness. A society that cannot recognize the hypocrisy in this arrangement is destined for failure and dysfunction. Unfortunately, there are many that want us to forget it all and return to a sick and bedeviling age of ridiculous and immoral devastation: all for a couple of extra bucks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bush just loves a good genocide!

Depending on with whom you talk, there is either hope or no hope at all in Iraq. And when I say whom, I either mean the executive branch, a few hopeful senators, all of Fox News and a couple of ‘liberal’ journalists, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack from the Brookings Institute versus everybody else. Like every other fabrication that this cobbled-together coalition of the stupid, there is universal opinion, and there is the radically ‘optimistic’ opinion of the brain-dead.

The world knows that we have lost in Iraq. It’s done. There’s nothing left to ‘win’ in this debacle. The problem is how bad it can get. The more optimistic among us suggest that the three main factions in Iraq can’t split because there are Sunnis in the south, where most of the Shi’a are. Yeah, and if you think that would stop it, I will have to go find some Florida swamp-front property to sell you…

As Chris Hedges points out in his article for Truthdig, Iraq is only going to get worse. How I see it, is that we need only look at the separatism that is inherent in different identities forming in competition within the context of a nation. Or look at other attempts to throw together competing groups and call them a nation. Our best example of recent implosion is the former Yugoslavia, which formed a genocidal feud between cultures no longer held together by the strength of law and superstructure. The Serbs and Croats went on a murderous spree, not merely against each other, but to ‘liberate’ those that they believed were rightly their’s: including those that were happy being by themselves in Bosnia. Iraq will continue to be a disturbing bloodbath, which will only have heightened security concerns that will grow exponentially as the country devolves into utter disorientation, poverty, and misery.

At the same time, there are players just waiting for this to happen. Hello there, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia! I know you are itching to “help” out.

Oh, and don’t forget, we’re already arming the Sunnis that pinky-swore that they’d use these weapons to attack al Qaeda. We will eventually be forced to fully fund the Sunnis against the Shiites in hopes to prevent their utter annihilation (and Shiite alliances).

And don’t forget that we are 100% responsible for this. Most of us, deep down, knew that Bush was lying and that they were falsifying documents, because they were never trustworthy. We knew deep down that this was all a sham, planned from the word go, and was a very bad move. But we didn’t stop him. Millions of us tried. But we didn’t stop it. We allowed our president to commit war crimes under our watch and we didn’t hold him accountable. Now millions more will die in the bloodiest and most disastrous military mistake in recent memory (this is a blunder of a magnitude that dwarfs Vietnam, for all of its political, social, and economic fallout). And what can we do? Perhaps we will have the sense to stick to things treatable like Darfur; oh, but we don’t want to save the Africans from genocide: Haliburton hasn’t asked us to.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Federalist/Anti-federalist Debate 2.0

And while I’m at it on the Constitutional kick, has everyone forgotten the two realities of the world in which the Constitution was debated, written, debated some more, and ratified?

  1. The framers were escaping tyranny in favor of self-determination and self-representation.
  2. The framers distrusted individual leaders (federalists, kings, dictators, and even the newly created president) and even elected ones. Articles of impeachment, checks and balances, and even a militia of citizens were made the legal steps for ousting a power-mad fascist.

Anyone with half of a brain can see that Bush represents everything that Jeffersonians despised, and I dare say that even John Adams, Mr. Federalist himself, would find Bush beyond even his estimation of what a leader should be—considering his tendency for law-breaking, misinterpretation of law, strong-arming of opponents, and his (successful) attempts to devastate, decimate, and destroy the entire criminal justice system of the United States. Bush is the kind of criminal that they would have encouraged us to take up arms against. Then again, he’s also the very one that would throw me in jail for even suggesting it.

How easily Bush is able to prove his opponents right.

Here is something pretty disturbing…

that will get buried by most media outlets! Yes, these are our heroes! From The Progress Report, the daily e-mail from the Center for American Progress:

Fox pundit Bill Kristol claimed the Minneapolis bridge collapse didn't "symbolize any great failure of our infrastructure."

That bastion of positivity and wonderful thinking is at it again. Don’t forget, he’s the guy that likes his governments “small enough that you can drown it in the bathtub”.

But it gets better!

Bush said he would veto a bill that would increase the national bridge and highway maintenance budget from $4 billion to $5 billion.

Yeah! I know Bush is a dick, but come on! You just went there for a photo-op and pretended like you cared! Why not pony up a couple of bucks to prevent it from happening elsewhere—let alone the very bridges your family drives on! Ah, that would be too compassionate for this conservative…

Sen. Chuck Schumer warned, "Our maintenance of our bridges and highways [has] been cut back for too long."

Of course they have! That study that showed that nearly 1/3 of all bridges are under code should have lit a fire under these jerks, but…

Could Dick Cheney be any worse? Really?

He tries so hard; I have to give him credit.

Before he was even in office, he was negotiating with Big Oil and Big Energy (Enron, anybody) for sweetheart deals in the form of the big Energy Bill. And the people that called President Clinton ‘Slick Willie’ love this guy. The president, trying to save his own skin, that parsed the phrase “sexual relations” was demonized and despised. But Dick, oh Sweet Dick…

We all know that Cheney doesn’t think he’s part of the Executive Branch. That’s no big surprise because no one in the White House seems to have even read the Constitution. They don’t seem to recognize the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution. Reading the roles of Congress and of the president here you can see that there is a major discrepancy with the way it is being operated today and what the Constitution actually says:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Clearly, the Legislative Branch has more than the so-called “power of the purse”. It makes war. It makes peace. It is responsible for the military.

And all that it says in Article II about the military and the President’s role:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;

That’s it. That’s all. Commander in Chief is a title only used in reference to the military. It is a title that only refers to his/her place in the military chain of command. This still doesn’t even say that s/he runs military action, or if s/he does, that s/he made the plans that are being carried out. It doesn’t say anything above the Congress, nor does it say anything about supreme, unchecked power. Reading the remaining statutes in Article II reveal a great deal about the relationship between the President and Congress:

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…

…but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient…

Clearly, the president not only has to work with Congress, but s/he must be responsible to Congress. Look at the first one. The Congress is still responsible for the government of the United States and how it relates to the world, but they may authorize the president to make treaties WITH consent afterward. The second is the same. The Congress may give the authority away. The President also must go to the Congress to inform them about the country and recommend to their Consideration—this is not a Commander’s role or one that is free of checks and balances!

But it is Cheney that, in this light, refutes his place in the government. His job description is described in Article II. His election and position in the government is described there. Everything is there except one line: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.” That is his basis for calling himself "a unique creature" on national television. One line in Article I (Legislative Branch). What a stooge. He is clearly part of the Executive Branch; read Section 4 of Article II:

Section. 4. The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The means of removal of the VP wouldn’t be placed in Article II (Executive Branch), if he were not part of that branch. If he were truly “a unique creature”, then the Vice President’s office would have been Article III, shifting the Judicial Branch down to a new Article IV. But it isn’t that way. Three branches. And no matter how much Cheney tries to obfuscate the roles of his office, it doesn’t change the fact that he is operating in a way that is not befitting of his place in government, as representative of the people, or as a decent American. It’s about time that we hold our government accountable.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Undermining Order is a dangerous gambit...

A Washington Post article recently pointed out the worst example of an unchecked president:

A surgeon general's report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration's policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.

At issue is the very notion of credibility, responsibility, and civility in our entire public sphere. Defenders of the president may suggest that these are all political appointees and always do the biddings of their maste—er, I mean the president. They may also suggest that the surgeon general himself is a political appointee, and need not actually be credible. OK, they may not make that last suggestion, but they may as well, since that is their position. Bush II, unlike his more prinicipaled, if not more competent, father, has consistently placed unqualified people in positions of authority or undercut, underfunded, and undervalued those appointees who were actually qualified for their posts. The current Surgeon General, Richard Carmona is only trying to do his job: pushing national and global health priorities. He wrote a report:

The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate. A copy of the report was obtained by The Washington Post.

William R. Steiger, described by the Post as “a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Cheney,” with virtually no experience in public health, medicine, or science, was appointed to run the Office of Global Health Affairs and was responsible for the blocking of this report. Carmona recently testified that the document needed to be changed to fit into the political criteria of the administration.

This story highlights the main concerns that arise out of politicizing and manipulating the facts and those we hold responsible for finding the facts. A president that manipulates, suppresses, and in any way diminishes the work of those trained and best-equipped to tell us the truth is the most dangerous tyrant. Blatant acts of cowardice expressed by the world’s most devious dictators such as Pinochet’s disappearing of political dissidents in Chile or Hitler’s imprisonment of Jews and sympathizers are evil and deranged—but are also public and monstrous. By using back channels and underhandedly manipulating the very fiber of our social covenants, Bush is proving to be a much more dangerous monster: a man who ignorantly destroys Western civilization.

For without the public sphere that allows us to critically assess policies and the make-up of our sense of order, how might we have any basis for our actions? Even theology and philosophy require a testing of concepts; in fact, the very notion of philosophy was grown out of Western reason, not blind faith or firm ideological claims!

I am not suggesting that reason is better than faith, but I am saying that these are two important and related concepts that are not diametrically opposed, but work in tandem. Reason without faith and faith without reason are hollow and serve no greater purpose than themselves. A full-bodied faith that commits reason as an avenue of greater success will always prevail. For a president committed to overt religiosity to attack reason, science, and the foundations of our civilization, Bush must misunderstand the very truth embodied in the gospel. The gospel isn’t about a Republican pro-corporate agenda and “small government”, but a revolution of social order that places God above everything else. Bob Marley would serve as a better example of the Christian politician than Bush.

Still not convinced? Here’s the straight dope. Our society is based on a gentle trust that we believe the best in our neighbors. The police don’t primarily catch wrongdoers, but serve to remind us to maintain order. We are willing to line up in a first-come-first-serve way in most restaurants and gas stations. We generally are polite to our neighbors and to strangers alike. On a grand scale, millions are successfully embracing our proper order, while only a few thousand screw it up for the rest of us. Bush’s attack on that very order not only disrupts our ideological agendas, our tax structure, and who gets arrested for what, but it serves to dangerously snip those threads of connection: those delicate means of sharing experience, relating, and believing in each other. Bush wants you to distrust your neighbor, and in so doing, undermine your very ability to relate to others. This is the true Bush doctrine. And you thought he just wanted people to follow him.