Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gotta love those Christians!

What is it with these guys?

Matt Yglesias thinks it's something about horse racing, but I think the problem runs much deeper than that.

I'm talking about the news yesterday that Kenneth Tomlinson, the Republican party hack who was put in charge of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe after he got canned from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for ethics violations, has now been caught conducting his private business affairs on company--that is yours and mine--time.

As I say, Matt somewhat facetiously suggests it's the horses--remember, that's where Brownie came from--but I think there's more to it than that. It's not even ordinary corruption. I think the key problem is that the Republicans, these Republicans anyway, the kind we have now, really don't believe in government. It probably goes back to Reagan, who never tired of talking about how government is the enemy. Now, these guys think that government has no legitimate function, it's only there to advance business interest and punish your political enemies.

So if it's good for Halliburton, or any of a myriad of corporations, why isn't it just as good for Tomlinson?

Olberman on Rumsfeld

For some reason I'm not a regular viewer of Keith Olberman, although I frequently find myself watching clips at Media Matters for America.

Here's what he said last night about Rumsfeld's latest speech attacking the critics of the war, all 150 million of us or so:

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and
shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald S. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Follow the link to watch the video.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz, 1911-2006

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

One Nation Under . . .?

Boy, am I so glad that we had Congress cram God into the Pledge of Allegiance half a century ago! It really helps us appreciate the people who were supposedly our Christian, or Judeo-Christian, if you will, forbears, to see how our society has evolved. Is it true, as the religious right claims, that this country has become so hostile to religion that we need some kind of grand realignment?

Well, think about the question in the context of a few recent news stories.

First we have Katherine Harris. You remember her: the woman in the fright mask who helped rig the Florida election for Bush in 2000? Allegedly! Allegedly!

Anyway, here's what she's saying now: "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

Nice, huh? This is a woman who already sits in the House of Representatives and now she's running for Senate.

Then, also in the South, we have a charming Baptist church in Mississippi. A church that opens its arms to all God's children, because, after all, we're all sinners and equally beloved in God's eye. Except, of course, if your skin is a little too dark for God's taste.
According to Stevens, the church made race an issue after a biracial 12-year-old boy, Joe, began attending Fellowship Baptist with his temporary guardians.
The church was "afraid Joe might come with his people and have blacks in the church," Stevens said.

Yeah! That's what we're all about in America!

Finally, so that I'm not just picking on Christians, Here's a story from New York. It seems that there are now some schools, and I use the term advisedly, whose entire curriculum is having their students memorize the Koran by chanting it. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, even in the summer. I'm not kidding. These are real madrassas, religious schools that get state recognition, and whose parents are allowed to claim that they're sending their kids to schools that provide an education that is substantially equivalent to that provided by the public schools. I'm not saying this isn't a hard task. In fact, it's harder for American students to do this than students in traditionally Muslim countries, because Islam disapproves of translating the Koran. Because it is seen as the literal word of God, the use of translations is frowned upon. Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean. So the project, for these kids, is to spend all their school time for two or three years memorizing a series of language sounds they do not understand. So what if one of these kids is the son of a lawyer for the city of Mount Vernon, and, though he's old enough to be going into sixth grade, doesn't know his multiplication tables?

So if you're a big fan of God in the Pledge, God in the schools, God as the guide of American law, think about all of this. And think about how much you might like it if the people running the madrassas in New York all of a sudden got enough political power to change the Pledge to say, "one nation under Allah." Because when civil libertarians express some discomfort at the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, and the religious loyalty oath we make our kids recite in school every day, that's the kind of thing we're worried about.

Friday, August 25, 2006

With friends like these . . .

I haven't written about the war in Lebanon. Clearly, there is plenty of blame to go around. There are a couple of points to make, though:

First, if you don't want to look as though we've picked sides simply because we like Israelis and we don't like Muslims, one of the things that we seem to rely on is the claim that Hezbollah is specifically targeting civilians and Israel is not. The civilized Israelis are way better than the brutal Hezbollahs, and until Hezbollah learns how to act like civilized people they have no claim to be treated like them.

So when the Isareli ambassador to the United States was questioned recently, one of the things he was asked about was cluster bombs. Here's the exchange:

SAM HUSSEINI: Are you using cluster bombs in Lebanon?

DANIEL AYALON: No, we are not. We're not using anything which is not approved by the UN conventions and charters.

Good, right? We don't want people to use cluster bombs, because they target civilians, they lie around on the ground and blow up when little kids pick them up, and stuff like that.

The only problem is that the Israeli ambassador was lying.

Here's the truth: U.S. State Department investigates whether Israel broke agreements

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- Homes, gardens and highways across south Lebanon are littered with unexploded cluster bombs dropped by Israel, the U.N. said Friday, and the U.S. State Department has reportedly launched an investigation.

"There are about 285 cluster bomb locations across south Lebanon, and our teams are still doing surveys and adding new locations every day," said Dalya Farran, spokeswoman for the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center, which has an office in the southern port city of Tyre.

"We find about 30 new locations per day," she said.

So remind me why we think Israel is so much better than Hezbollah?

Second, and this isn't Israel vs. Hezbollah, but Israel vs. Iran or North Korea.

We don't like Iran or North Korea, and one of the worst things about them is that they have, or want, nuclear weapons. I thnk most readers agree that nuclear weapons are bad, and the fewer countries that have them, the better.

So do we care that Israel has them?

SAM HUSSEINI: Why does Israel refuse to acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons? And Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli whistleblower, has suggested a tradeoff, where you have a nuclear-free Middle East -- [inaudible]

DANIEL AYALON: Sir, you are talking and --

SAM HUSSEINI: -- Israelis nuclear weapons. Isn't Israel’s nuclear possession provocative in the region?

DANIEL AYALON: Who says we have nuclear possession? Have we ever said that?

Isn't it obvious that Iran wants them for the same reason that Israel has them: because it's in their interests to have them?

The consolations of religion

The people in the Middle East sure have things tough. Sectarian strife, people shotting at each other and bombing each other.

Luckily, The Onion explains how they make it through the day.

They just do it to be annoying

I guess that might make it the best thing Republicans do. It's not evil, it doesn't actually hurt people here in this country or around the world. It doesn't add to political corruption at home, weaken the national defense, or even stuff more money into the overstuffed pockets of their rich supporters.

Did you know Republicans were capable of doing something like that?

Read what Rik Hertzberg has to say about it.

Also look here for another view.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Coverup, what coverup?

This is serious. Of course, weeks ago, when we first heard of the story in which Marines are alleged to have murdered two dozen Iraqis in Haditha, we were told "at least there was no coverup."

Now, it appears that that was not true. According to the lead story in today's Times, there was, in fact, a coverup. The investigation found that an official company logbook of the unit involved had been tampered with and that an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone the day of the killings was not given to investigators until Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, intervened, the officials said.

This obviously doesn't say that every American over there is a lying murderer or murdering liar. Still, on the heels of the conviction yesterday of a CIA contractor for beating an Afghan detainee to death, you have to ask serious questions, mainly, has the government fostered a muscular, no-holds-barred approach to the people we're supposedly trying to help that causes us not only to go way beyond the bounds of civilized behavior but hurts what we're trying to do.

With Guantanmo, abu Graib, and other abuses in the background, and terrorist plots on almost every continent, maybe we should consider how we can be a model for the rest of the world.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Stay on the Democratic ticket, Bernie.

Here’s what I’m sick of hearing: “I don’t vote for the party, I vote for the person.”

We hear it a lot in Vermont, and I think that people usually mean it when they say it. The problem is, it’s a stupid thing to say. If you don’t know what political party a candidate is a member of you don’t know enough to vote for him or her. You don’t know how they will vote on some of the most crucial votes: majority leader, Speaker of the House, control of the body. You don’t know where they will look for guidance, where they will get their aides or draw from for their political appointments. You don’t know the overall agenda they will be pursuing and who will help them get there. No office holder can know everything, so they will inevitably defer to the party on a myriad of decisions.

You may think you’re voting for the person, but you’re voting for the party.

It’s important, and we’re seeing it a lot this year.

First we have Connecticut. Joe Lieberman was a lifelong Democrat, and he’s trying to pretend that he still is. It was the Democratic Party that helped him get elected to Connecticut Attorney General, and U.S. Senate, and that put him on the ticket as our candidate for Vice President. It was Democrats across his state and across the country that gave money for his campaigns, raised money for his campaigns, knocked on doors, made phone calls, and put him where he is today. Yet somehow he thinks he’s bigger than the party. He thinks the party owes him, but he has it backwards. He owes the party for all the years the party supported him. He ran for reelection in the primary, nothing wrong with that, but running in the primary means you’re offering yourself as the party’s choice. They vote for you, you’re the candidate of the party, the party will work for you and hopefully try to get you elected; they vote against you and someone else is the candidate. The voters made their choice, but that’s what they’re supposed to do. He owes it to the party to accept the decision of the voters and get out of the race. He hasn’t done it yet, but I still think there’s a chance he may.

As I said, he owes the party, but he hasn’t repaid the party’s support. He supports Bush’s war, like some other Democrats. Unlike most other Democrats, though, he refuses to even look at the possibility he might have been wrong. He’s also taken Bush’s position in trying to dismantle Social Security, which is pretty much a bedrock principle for Democrats. He has also taken every chance to attack the party, and to repeat the Cheney line that anyone who questions the President is a traitor.

We have a little different situation here in Vermont. The Progressive Party grew out of the Progressive Coalition, the original Sanderistas who elected Bernie mayor back in the 1980's (even before I moved to Vermont!), but Bernie has been very consistent in running as an Independent, not a Progressive. He hasn’t claimed to be bigger than the party, but he definitely stakes out a position outside of any party. In years past he attacked the Democratic Party, but I haven’t heard as much of that since he got to Congress. Maybe the fact that he caucuses with the Democrats is part of it. Or maybe he sees that he really does fit in the Democratic Party of John Conyers, Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel, Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold, and Paul Wellstone.

I remember when Bernie ran for Congress. I’m not talking about the first time, when he and Paul Poirier split the center-left vote, but the second time, when he won. I remember clearly having lunch with a group of colleagues and commenting that he was creating a problem for the Democratic Party, because if he got elected to Congress as an independent it would be impossible for the Democrats to ever run a candidate for that seat, and that’s exactly what happened. In a state that has become increasingly Democratic, he was an obstacle to one of the top slots in the lineup. Still, it was in the interest of the party to support him, or to not oppose him, because the positions Bernie takes are Democratic Party positions. When his ideas advance, Democratic ideas advance. It’s a benefit, but it’s come at a cost.

I’ve been a justice of the peace for years. One of the things we do is count ballots every election day. It’s mostly done by machine, but we have to hand count the write-ins. Every year we’ve had to count a lot of write-ins for Bernie in Montpelier, because people always write his name in on the Democratic ballot. I’m sure it’s enough to get him on the ballot on the Democratic line, but every year he declines to run as a Democrat.

This year it’s different. This year he filed a written consent with the Secretary of State, agreeing to have his name on the Democratic primary ballot. He’s going to win, no doubt about it. He’s also been campaigning with the D’s, supporting our candidates, and the party has been supporting him. We decided early on not to run a candidate against him because we know that a three-way race is the only way the Republicans can take the seat.

But he’s on the Democratic ballot, not because of write-ins but by his own choice, he’s going to win the primary, and he should do the same thing Lieberman should do: he owes it to the people who have supported him for decades to accept the decision of the voters and accept the nomination of the party.

Stay on the Democratic ticket, Bernie.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What was in the news today?

Mainly stories about Fidel Castro, his medical problems, and the temporary turnover of power.

What did they say about it? This is the interesting thing. Every news story I saw today (and I saw a lot because I'm on vacation, so I didn't spend the day at the office)led with the statement that Fidel Castro had turned over power to his brother Raoul. This is true as far as it goes, but it hides the real truth and serves the political goals of the ruling elite by suggesting that Castro is a strongman rather than the head of government.

To see what I mean, try this on for size: "President Bush went into the hospital for surgery today and turned over the reins of government to long-time Bush family crony Dick Cheney."

This statement would be true. Just as true as the stories about Castro, but it would obscure the fact that it happened because of Cheney's role in the constitutional government of the United States. Only in this case the stories deliberately obscured Raoul's role in the constitutional government of Cuba.

You don't have to like Castro or his government, but pay attention when the MSM are carrying water for the Right.