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01 April 2007
Bush blocked on weaker forest rules

Good news for our national forests: this past Friday a federal judge threw out new rules enacted by the Bush administration that would have allowed commercial use of forests without lengthy environmental reviews.

According to this story, "when government officials announced in December 2004 the first new rules since the 1970s, they said changes would allow forest managers to respond more quickly to wildfires and other threats such as invasive species."

But this looks like little more than a smoke screen for what amounts to a federal subsidy for logging and mining industries--in other words, corporate welfare for industries which are rapidly burning through their supply of private lands to use as fuel. This is only one example of such corporate welfare, used to prop up inherently unsustainable industries for the sake of an artificial standard of economic growth.

With real agriculture and manufacturing capacity on a long and steady decline in this country, we're trading an economic focus on industries that could keep us competitive in the international arena for short-sighted, destructive, polluting industries like coal, timber, and oil, which will only drain our resources, pollute our ecology, and turn us further into consumers--rather than producers--than we already are. Add this to our already astounding trade deficits, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture for the economic future.

As I see it, this attempt at a rule change by the Bush administration is also part of a larger effort to turn over our public resources to private interests. Bush has drastically cut funding for our national land management, requiring huge cuts in national park budgets and staffing, and forcing our national lands to rely more on private oversight, with the expected disastrous results.

This ideological distortion of the purpose and protection of our public lands shames me as a citizen and someone who cares about the natural world, and it makes me further ashamed of the President. But if you're in favor of government-approved books that claim the Grand Canyon is 6,000 years old and was created by Noah's flood, then maybe this all makes sense somehow.

For more on the state of our public forest lands, efforts by the Bush administration to undermine their protection, and citizen efforts to defend them, see the American Lands Alliance. (Note: the image above is from an ALA mailer I received a while back.)

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28 March 2007
U.S. sponsoring attacks inside Iran

Depending on your view of things, this is either shocking or sadly familiar, or both. According to a report on Democracy Now, the U.S. and Israel are sponsoring terrorist attacks inside Iran by a Kurdish guerrilla group.

Apparently, both of these governments are working in a clandestine way with at least two different groups, classified as terrorist organizations by the State Department, to carry out terrorist activity throughout Iran. The primary group, called the PKK, is an ethnic Kurdish group that is responding to discrimination against ethnic Kurds in Iran with violence.

We have a history of getting involved with groups like this in the Middle East when it's served our political purposes--an involvement that's had dire consequences for us:

...On the one hand, the United States is very much opposes to the P.K.K.'s actions in Turkey. On the other hand they're supporting P.K.K.'s attack on Iran. This is kind of typical of the clandestine efforts by the United States when we saw the U.S. support for the Mujahadeen against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They sided with some pretty nefarious characters who ended up forming al Qaeda and bombing New York.

So once again, the U.S. is allying with one faction of this party, but not with the other, playing a very dangerous game and they're playing a very similar game with the Mujahadeen al-Halb, another Iranian group and with groups in Baluchestan which is near the Pakistan Iranian boarder where some revolutionary guard buses were blown up. It's a very very dangerous, duplicitous game that the United States is playing.

And news of this comes just shortly after the U.S. has very publicly chastised Iran on the world stage for supposedly sponsoring terrorist activity in Iraq (something for which good evidence has still not been found). Another lesson that when the Bush administration accuses another country of doing something wrong, we should start looking for evidence that we're in fact doing it ourselves.

Is this the way we uphold the noble ideals of freedom and democracy around the world? Is this the example we wish to set for other countries? Can you fight a "war on terror" with terror as your weapon? How tragic, and how sad.


25 February 2007
The 2008 presidential debacle

In an effort to console myself about the ongoing idiocy, shallowness, and short-sightedness of our current president's policies, I sometimes think, "no matter who it is, Republican or Democrat, our next president will be better." Admittedly it sounds like a jinx, but after six years of Bush failure, it seems inevitable.

And yet, it's only February of 2007 and I'm already ashamed and appalled with the gaggle of two-faced, pandering fools who are clustering hungrily around the beginnings of the 2008 presidential race.

First of all, the mass media deserves a rebuke for so intensely focusing on this race which isn't even a race yet. Day in and day out, there's coverage that amounts to gossip-column, he-said-she-said reporting of every comment and incident involving every candidate or potential candidate. Barack Obama or Mitt Romney announcing they're running for president is news. Every single thing they say or do on every day since then is not news. Not yet.

But the ridiculous amount of coverage has had one benefit: it's revealed almost all the current crop of contenders to be shallow, insincere panderers who are leaving all dignity and genuineness behind in a grab for power.

It's a syndrome that crosses party lines and falls into all-too-familiar cliches. On the Republican side, we have a group of men so lustful for power that they're reinventing themselves, hurriedly papering over their previous lives and beliefs in a frenzied effort to seem the most God-fearing, socially conservative candidate. Of course, it's painfully transparent that this is insincere and only designed to woo the religious-right base, but the last couple elections shows that this works--millions of conservative Christians fell into a rapturously hypnotic state over Bush's Bible-talk, and are still buying it years later.

Thus, previously moderate John McCain, current moderate Rudy Giuliani, and former liberal Mitt Romney are stumbling over each other in an effort to seem like a cross between Jesus and Ronald Reagan, for the support of a powerful crowd who don't seem to be able to distinguish the two. This week John McCain went so far as to say, literally, "what's wrong with sucking up to everybody?" While one could give him the credit to think he was making an oblique point about a politician deferring to the needs of his constituents, in light of his recent actions, it's a painfully telling, ironic statement.

On the Democratic side, there's a similar pursuit of practicality over ideals. The party is still being chastised for a "slick Willie" pursuit of image over character, but again, Democrats see that it worked--Clinton, like Bush, was a two-term president. (Though I have to assert that, while a philanderer in his personal life, Clinton was a vastly superior politician and thinker.) So we have a race to the middle, a bland, position-free collection of sound-bites that resists real bravery or strength. The black candidate, the woman candidate, the Southern candidate--their names aren't important, as they're little more than a collection of carefully-sculpted poll-friendly message points and soft-focus images--don't get too close, or examine who we really are! You'll find there's sadly little there. The three groups listed above, and all of us, deserve better.

And these are the current front-runners to lead the most powerful nation in the world. (Hold your horses, China, you'll be there soon.)

Just as with most elections, the smaller-time, lesser-known candidates will likely be more sincere and stronger advocates of actual positions. I already have more respect for Huckabee and Richardson and Vilsack than the panderers in the media spotlight. That very spotlight will once again be resistant to anyone who doesn't look the part, anyone without that star quality.

We've seen what years of politics-as-usual has done to our country. The last congressional election has given us a chance to start turning it around. But so far, the presidential race is looking depressingly cynical and familiar. Is there any hope left that there's something more important in this country than gargantuan amounts of money, shallow feel-good platitudes, and a TV-ready smile?

We'll find out in 21 months.


07 January 2007
Death of Saddam

In another chapter in our deepening, chaotic mess of a campaign in Iraq, we hurriedly pushed the execution of former dictator Saddam Hussein. What the hurry was, I'm still not sure, but it certainly managed to get the job done before Democrats took over control of Congress.

I'm sure there was much celebrating among those formerly oppressed by the man, as well as those neoconservative elements in our country who have long seen him as an obstacle to their idealized plans for the Middle East (all of which involve someone else's children fighting and dying).

But, no matter how many horrible things he's done or ordered others to do, when I saw him weep at the verdict of death in court, when I saw a photo of the execution scene itself--with him being roughly handled by masked thugs, taunted, and hanged in a dingy, dark room--I felt sick.

And I felt sadness for the suffering of this man--no matter how much of it he's caused, is it not the causing of suffering which is his crime, and yet we're doing it in turn to punish him? His crimes include killing thousands of innocent citizens, imprisoning opponents without just cause or trials, and torturing his enemies. Our country has done all of those things, on a grand scale, in the holy quest to unseat him. We've killed over 100,000 innocent civilians in Iraq during these almost four years of war. We've imprisoned thousands of men without any proof of cause, without any trials or due process. We've tortured many of these same men, for information or just for fun, humiliating them, defiling their religion, threatening or even harming their loved ones, sometimes in front of them.

In short, in an attempt to show the world how bad this man and his reign have been, we've done all the same things that made him a criminal in the first place.

But, unlike him, we're not forced to take any responsibility for it.

And let's not forget an equally important factor: that we created Saddam Hussein. I've detailed the sordid history already, but in a nutshell, we pulled Saddam out of relative obscurity as a young man, supported his ambitions to achieve our own ends, and then kept doing so all the way up to his fateful invasion of Kuwait. And that includes his infamous use of poison gas--we funded him and provided him with military intelligence, knowing full well that he would use the illegal chemical weapons against our enemies at the time, the Iranians. It's all true.

(And, in another nice touch, the Shiites we were so worried about back in the Iran-Iraq war days are in charge not only in Iran, but now also in Iraq, where they were elected democratically--replacing a secular dictator with a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy.)

So, in the end, the execution of Hussein is little more than a mafia hit--a boss taking out a loyal lackey who was getting out of hand, getting too violent. We pulled his strings right from the start, we helped build him up and shielded him from accountability. That infamous photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam? It's from one of two diplomatic visits in late 1983/early 1984, and the second one came after Saddam used his poison gas. That's right, after he committed that heinous crime, we declared the way open for diplomatic ties with Iraq.

It was his reward for doing our dirty work. And now, after his usefulness is ended, he's being cast off, as so many others were during his reign.

He's another casualty, like all our dead soldiers, like all the many times more dead civilians, in a game of power controlled by rich white men in expensive suits who never have to take responsibility, who never have to get their hands dirty, who never have to care.

So that's why, when I saw the pathetic figure of Saddam just before death, I cared.

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09 November 2006
Victory & change!

What an amazing turnaround for America's fortunes this week has been. After three increasingly depressing elections over the last six years, where time and again the status quo was chosen and then worsened, the people have spoken: what we've had with the Republicans in power is simply not good enough, and it's time for a change. And change is coming--Democrats will now have control of both houses of Congress, and a majority of state legislatures and governorships. According to the DailyKos political blog, Democrats "didn't lose a single senate seat, didn't lose any House seats, didn't lose any governorships, didn't lose any state legislatures." In other words, Dems didn't lose any power they already had--they only gained.

Of course, unlike the misguided Republicans in '94, sensible liberals won't call this a 'revolution'. I see it as more of a returning to a sensible center. It was the worst, most extreme, least tolerant Republicans who were thrown out, for the most part, and those most consistently supportive of the President's harmful agenda here and abroad. The Democrats who were elected to take their places were of all stripes--young, old, liberal, conservative, urban, rural. This election wasn't the result of one distinct American voice choosing one unified path--it was the combined harmony of many different voices, asking for many different things, all adding up to a chorus of "we are better than what we've been." In the process, the religious right's fantasy of one homogeneous nation under a narrowly-defined Republican war-god is done. Over.

But rather than wax on and on about the possible themes behind this election, I'll just be happy for the feeling that change is still possible--that this nation hasn't been taken over by intolerant zealots--that it's possible to feel good about an election sometimes.

And for the notable changes which have suddenly swept in, including:

  • The first woman Speaker of the House in history, and thus the highest-ranking woman ever in our government--third in the line of power behind the President and Vice-President.
  • The first Socialist ever elected to the Senate--Bernie Sanders of Vermont (who, for the benefit of any unsympathetic readers, is no 'commie pinko' but a believer in democracy and the rights of the people over the rights of corporate money powers) (More on Sanders: site, writings)
  • The first Muslim ever elected to higher office in the U.S., who's also the first person of color elected to national office from Minnesota. (Imagine, for a moment, that every single member of Congress is of a different color, culture, and religion than you. Now imagine that, for the very first time, someone of your religion, culture, and color is elected. That's how important that is.)
  • Some of the worst offenders in the Republican party have been swept out of office--people like Richard Pombo in California, the son of a bitch who was making it his life's work to destroy the environment. Even better, he's been beaten by a wind-power consultant. And awful, two-faced creeps like Rick Santorum, a pandering fascist if ever there was one, and George Allen, a racist bully of the worst kind. Not to mention all the awful toadies like Dennis Hastert who will no longer be in positions of power.
  • Representatives like Henry Waxman and John Conyers, long-time champions of ethics and proper conduct, will now be in positions of power to run ethics investigations which have long been blocked and swept aside by Republicans with things to hide.
  • And last, but not least, the final, deciding race in the Senate, the Virginia result that finally put the Democrats over the top, was won by a redhead. (Our plans for world domination are coming along nicely.)
These are just a few of the great things which have happened this week. Now, with this change looming, we have a great chance for people of all political and cultural leanings, Democrats and Republicans alike, to recognize that no one voice can dominate everything--that the whole of the American people will never be pulled over to one narrow extreme. The only way anything of lasting value is going to be built here is for everyone to realize that it's only in the harmony of diversity that we find our unified voice. Anything else is doomed, like the antagonistic and heartless 'Republican Revolution', to failure.


10 October 2006
North Korea: Bush fails us again

If you still have any remaining shred of support for or trust in the Bush administration, and the news of North Korea having and testing nuclear weapons hasn't destroyed it, please allow me to recap events in the hope of demonstrating what a dangerously incompetent administration we have running this country.

First off, a quick aside. John McCain continued to embarrass himself and erode his support among independents today by criticizing President Clinton for failing to stop for all time North Korea's nuclear program. Two quick points to address that. First off, Johnny boy, old GW has been president for the better part of six years now. He and your Republican majority have been running the show and taking full credit every step of the way. It's a bit far-fetched to be pointing the finger at this point. Secondly, despite North Korea persisting with its program after agreements signed in Clinton's time, Clinton's plan did halt their program while he was in office. No new plutonium production, and no weapons were made while Clinton was in office. The failure is Bush's--it's not a transitional issue, but an issue well contained in his own time in office.

Now, onto that recap of events.

In September 2001, terrorists from Saudi Arabia attack the U.S.. Bush responds by sending our troops to invade Afghanistan and failing to capture either Osama bin Laden or the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush first uses the phrase "Axis of Evil" to describe Iraq, Iran, and North Korea--three countries which have never attacked or presented an imminent military threat to the U.S..

In March of 2003, Bush sends troops to invade Iraq, a country with no connection whatsoever to Al Qaeda and no weapons program. In fact, its weapons program had been silent since the first Iraq war in '91.

By this time, it's a known fact that both North Korea and Iran are working on nuclear technology. Nuclear weapons programs are established in both India and Pakistan--two nations involved in an active military conflict--without U.S. blessing or oversight. No actions are taken against the latter two countries; indeed, Pakistan quickly becomes one of our primary allies in the "War On Terror", even though it's been selling its nuclear technology on the black market.

As for the former two countries, the Bush administration withdraws from any diplomatic efforts with North Korea and Iran, instead choosing a stonewalling approach that shrouds their programs in further mystery.

Fast forward to today, and let's look at how the "Axis of Evil" has been faring under Bush's steadfast watch. Iraq, a harsh dictatorship before we invaded, but also a stable, secular presence in the Islamic Middle East, has become a chaotic battlefield and breeding ground for terrorists. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, completely absent from the country before our invasion, have established a strong foothold and have killed hundred of civilians and destabilized the country. Shiites and Sunnis are engaged in open warfare around the country. Shiite militias, trained by the U.S. and supposedly our allies, have suddenly started to openly oppose us, most notably in current bloody battles in Baghdad--the very first city we invaded three and a half years ago. Both civilian and military deaths are spiking and higher than they've been in some time.

And let's not forget that their formerly secular government is now a fundamentalist Islamic government, mostly Shiite. You know, the ones we supported Saddam Hussein in fighting all those years ago in Iran.

Speaking of Iran, under Bush's careful watch they've become the most powerful Arabic nation in the Middle East, forging strong ties with the new Iraqi government, with whom they were formerly tense enemies. They've also developed a program for nuclear power. With our military failing next door in Iraq (a much smaller and more easily invaded country than Iran, with a radically weaker military and further weakened by a decade of sanctions, and we're still struggling mightily with it), Iran can only be emboldened.

And now North Korea has a nuclear bomb. Something Bush said he wouldn't tolerate. Arguably the only really dangerously unstable dictatorship in Bush's book of bad guys, they've been rattling the nuclear saber the entire time Bush has been in office. Bush has refused to engage them every step of the way. Now, they have The Bomb. Guess that let-them-bow-before-us-before-we'll-acknowledge-them thing hasn't worked out so well for Bush. Or the rest of the world.

But it gets even worse. Donald Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defense, was on the board of a company that sold reactors to North Korea six years ago. That's right. Our Secretary of Defense was involved in selling nuclear technology to North Korea. Set this one next to that classic photo of him shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, in the days when we supported his bloody rule, and then repeat it to yourself again:

This man is our Secretary of Defense.

This is really scary stuff. This is really dangerous stuff. These guys are incompetent or worse at everything they're trying to do, and they're failing us, and they're putting us all at risk. They've had six years to get things on the right track, and what do we have to show for it?

Iraq is in chaos, and run by Islamic fundamentalists. The Taliban have retaken half of Afghanistan, and their illegal opium production is at an all-time high. And while we've taken our collective eye off the ball, we now have active nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and India.

How, in any way shape or form, have we become safer under the Bush administration?

I don't want to hear that this is a pessimistic, only-seeing-the-bad-news analysis. What is there to balance this out? Not only is the glass half empty, but it's poison in the glass. We've already drank half of it; when are we going to stop and say enough is enough?

Republicans have to be voted out of office this fall. Say what you like about Democrats; they've certainly played it safe and contributed to this mess. But they won't cause these kinds of messes. They won't get us into unnecessary wars. They won't stonewall the rest of the world, which will then go on and do the things we don't want them to do without our voice in the process. Compare Monica Lewinsky to two failed wars, close to 3,000 dead soldiers, page-sex cover-ups, nuclear weapons in North Korea, and all the other Bush incompetence, and just try saying we're better off now than we were then, without your stomach aching.

Somehow, some way, this has to stop.


16 September 2006
How Republicans ru(i)n Iraq

This is astonishing enough that I just had to share it--a story about just how miserably, catastrophically political Republicans made the process of "rebuilding" Iraq. (I use quotes there because much of the work of "rebuilding" was actually just forcing privatization on most of the country's industries and resources, and quashing organized labor.)

Courtesy of the Washington Post, some insight into the selection process for American officials sent to govern in Iraq:
To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What they needed to be was a member of the Republican Party.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

[...] To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

[...] He and his staff used an obscure provision in federal law to hire many CPA staffers as temporary political appointees, which exempted the interviewers from employment regulations that prohibit questions about personal political beliefs.

[...] "I'm not here for the Iraqis," one staffer noted to a reporter over lunch. "I'm here for George Bush."

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. These are the people running our country, folks. This is what happens when Republicans are in power. Bank on it. There's much more to the story above--it's an excerpt from a new book--and it's well worth reading.


The cost of becoming President

The latest estimate of how much it will cost to run for president in 2008: $500 million.

Half a billion dollars.

My first thought, perhaps predictably, is about how this is another nail in the coffin of what's probably always been a pipe dream, that anyone can grow up to become president. How our increasingly un-democratic country falls far short of its potential is an ongoing concern for me. I guess this isn't too surprising in light of how monstrously campaign spending has grown in the Bush II era, but if there was any last vestige of egalitarianism in U.S. politics, this is crushing it.

Upon further reflection, a more serious thought follows: that the most important issue here isn't how this unbelievable cost shuts most people out of the running for higher office, but how dangerously high the resulting level of indebtedness will be. Very few people on earth could come up with anywhere near this amount of money on their own, and so an incredible amount of indebtedness to others will result from anyone trying to obtain it. The more money that's required, the bigger the players it will have to come from. That means more corporate interests having more direct control over the democratic process, which means more time and effort spent repaying their calculated generosity and less spent on the wellness of the people.

This isn't a new thing in politics, but it seems to me like an alarming new level is being reached. With the stakes this high, how can the voice of anything that's not massively profitable have a chance to reach the ears of those in power?

My thought on how to solve this is pretty simple: remove all private money from the election process, and from the governing process. The first part means that elections would only be publicly funded. Far more is spent on elections than is necessary. Private money creates inequality before the process even starts, which is inherently unfair. Public funding would create the possibility of ideas winning out over cash.

That also means shutting down private donations to campaigns. This doesn't bother me because I don't believe that money equals speech, as many already-rich people would argue. Free speech is just that--speech, expression of beliefs through speaking or writing or otherwise communicating as a person. Everyone has an equal amount of that, fundamentally. Saying that money is speech suddenly makes super-citizens out of everyone who has more of it. So you're a multi-millionaire who wants someone specific elected to office? Then go hand out flyers and participate in rallies like everyone else, Richie Rich.

It also means banning all private money from the governing process. Gut the current lobbying system, no gifts of any kind to politicians, and at least a 5-year moratorium after politicians leave office before they can work for private interests they benefited while in office. Corruption seems to be an inherent part of the human experience, and rules won't eliminate it; but why not have rules that will get us closer than we are now? For Pete's sake, I have stricter rules for conduct in my job than do the leaders of our country. What congresspeople do every day, compromising themselves for financial gain and political favor, would get me fired immediately.

I used to be sympathetic to term limits, but have lately been feeling that isn't the best idea. There is something to be said for experience in politics. I've come to feel that the influence of money is the central problem in our government.

Now if only I had half a billion dollars to prove it.


10 September 2006
Republican strategy: Play dirty

The Republican party has announced its official strategy for the fall elections:
Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.

...Because challengers tend to be little-known compared with incumbents, they are more vulnerable to having their public image framed by the opposition through attacks and unflattering personal revelations.

Here we see this party again revealing its true colors. If they believed in themselves, their message, or their track record, wouldn't that be enough to run on? It would, but they don't, and neither do a majority of the American people: polls left and right find majorities unhappy with the way Republicans have been running the country and opposed to Republican positions on major issues.

If you disagree with that, ask yourself: why else would they choose to play dirty?

It's because they only care about one thing: winning. Power. Anyone who considers themselves Republican or who's thinking of voting Republican should ask this serious question: would you resort to behavior like this in your own life? Would you want your children to behave like this, to believe that this is the right way to conduct themselves in life?

If the answer to those questions is no, then how can you support a group who makes it their official policy? How relative are your morals?


07 September 2006
Update: Forest sale plan is dead

An update to an earlier post I wrote back in the spring, about a damn-fool plan by the Bush administration to sell off national forest land to help fund rural schools:

I'm happy to say that it looks like the plan is officially dead, and there's little likelihood of it coming back. With opposition from everyone from the usual environmental groups to the NRA, this and other similar plans have run into broad opposition which reveals just how many people can agree on one thing, at least: we love our public lands.

Aside from the issues of a gross abuse of power and failure to responsibly steward our public land, this topic made me think more about how obsessed this country seems to be with private ownership and hoarding of property and wealth.

If you're interested in the topic of land ownership, the rights of landowners vs. the public good and ecological health, I highly recommend an article in the March/April 2005 issue of Orion magazine, "The Culture of Owning", by Eric Freyfogle. A quote:

Encouraged by federal payment programs, farmers increasingly expect money whenever conservation measures reduce their crop yields. When development would harm a particular landscape, the growing practice is to avert it by buying up "development rights" or purchasing a conservation easement. And rather than banning landowners from destroying critical wildlife habitat (a ban that's quite legal under the federal Endangered Species Act), the Fish and Wildlife Service is now prone to pay them to leave the habitat alone...

A message is embedded in these payment schemes, and it's coming through loud and clear: To own land is to have the right to degrade it ecologically.

Realizing how sensitive and interconnected our natural lands are, and how long it can take for them to heal once damaged, should give anyone pause when considering how private lands are used, and any time public lands are opened to private interests.

After all, can land which has been here for billions of years and will presumably be here for millions more ever really be "owned" by some mammal with a sub-100-year lifespan? And if not, what justifies our abuse and destruction of it?

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19 August 2006
Toby Keith is a Democrat

So, Toby Keith, country star and singer of such Republican-favored anthems as “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)”, is in fact a Dem:
Mr. Keith’s publicity agent, Elaine Schock, said his conservative reputation was a result of the times. He is a lifelong Democrat, Ms. Schock said, and the perception of him as conservative is a “myth.” “I think when you have a war,” she said, “people want you to be on one side or the other.”

Just thought that was interesting--I didn't suspect. I just like how the joke is now on all those Republicans who think otherwise.


16 August 2006
Drowning in a red tide

A headline on the MSNBC web site today was, "FBI struggles to keep up in post-9/11 world". It nicely summed up what to me seems like an impossible game that our government is playing.

Look around us: war rages in Iraq, with a record number of Iraqis (more than 3,400) killed last month and total U.S. fatalities just topping 2,600. U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan have increased each year since our invasion in 2001. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians have been slaughtered by Israel in an invasion we've supported and perpetuated. Our "diplomatic" rhetoric isolates and stonewalls every country we're having difficulty with, such as Iran and North Korea, the result being no diplomatic progress at all with these countries during Bush's terms in office.

And what do we have to show for 5 years of anti-terrorism military actions abroad? For all of our black-and-white, good-versus-evil posturing?

Fear, paranoia, and ridiculously convoluted security measures. One delirious lunatic brings explosives on a plane in his shoe, and the result is millions of Americans taking off their shoes every time they get on a plane. Now liquids and gels are banned on planes. At this rate, we'll all be nude and cavity-searched every time we fly--it's the logical conclusion to this progression.

Do we feel safer? No, we're inundated with violence and mistrust of those who are different. Republicans construct tidy fantasies for themselves of a rising tide of anti-American violence of which we're innocent victims, with our stern-father president protecting us.

Any intelligent person, however, sees the absurdity in this. We're stoking the fires of violence around the world, and we're failing to keep up with it. The FBI won't be able to keep up with it, our soldiers won't be able to invade and conquer it. We're simply tapping into more violence around the world than we can keep up with.

It's not the same as, say, WWII, when we had a massive but very focused military undertaking. The violence we're facing is diffuse, granular, spread in tiny packets all over the world, and it's reactive. Reactive to our economic policies, our corporations' abuses of foreign sovereignty and civil rights, our devaluing of the lives of dark-skinned people abroad, our imposing of our evangelical Christian mores on countries whose poor and ill need help without conditions, our hypocritically selective military actions, the cultural, economic, and military presence we push on the rest of the world.

We simply can't bomb that out of existence. It's like trying to take out a huge killer bees' nest with a pistol--one shot, and suddenly you've got a cloud of angry enemies spread out with no clear target or way to overcome them. Each enemy is small, but can hurt you badly, and you can't keep up with all of them.

Iraq and Afghanistan are quagmires. Lebanon became a quagmire for the Israelis after only a couple weeks, and they look to be pulling out in shock. The last few years of failed American policies have revealed that we're simply not that effective at dealing with this type of adversity.

This game we're playing, of detaching cause from effect, where terrorism is turned into some spontaneous evil devoid of other motivation, where enemies are simply evil and have to be destroyed, is childish and deadly. Like Hercules and the hydra, we can't keep up with the violence our violence is spawning--we're only one country and we're simply getting overrun. Until we take the time to be adults and confront the roots of hatred and violence toward America--and take steps to remedy those causes, and to dismantle our sense of privilege and superiority in the world--the swarm will keep growing, and the result will be more misery for everyone involved.

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06 August 2006
Israel & Lebanon, by the numbers

I've been generally keeping up with the appalling situation in Lebanon, with Israel using the flimsy excuse of two captured soldiers to invade another country and kill hundreds of civilians. How Israel thinks this will in any way make them safer is beyond me. What's happening instead is a unification of the Arab world behind a group that was on its way to being marginalized both by other countries and its own countrymen. Why, even in our own Iraq v2.0, there have been widespread demonstrations denouncing both Israel and America. I'm waiting for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld to tell us that this is all part of the plan.

But apart from any other analysis at the moment, I'm struck by the casualty numbers on both sides, and how they show the incredibly wanton and irresponsible nature of Israel's actions.

As of today, 93 Israelis and 591 Lebanese have been killed in this violence (source: AP). But just take a look at how the numbers break down:

  • Total Israeli deaths: 93
  • Israeli military deaths: 57 (61% of total)
  • Israeli civilian deaths: 36 (39% of total)
  • Total Lebanese deaths: 591
  • Lebanese Hezbollah deaths: 53 (9% of total)
  • Lebanese military deaths: 29 (5% of total)
  • Lebanese civilian deaths: 509 (86% of total)
So Israel is claiming this invasion is all about Hezbollah, and yet an incredible 91% of those being killed by Israel aren't even Hezbollah militants.

Hezbollah, this supposedly evil group, is in fact doing a much more efficient job of killing only combatants: 61% of their killings have been Israeli troops, compared to Israel's paltry 9% number of Hezbollah members killed.

Another way to put it: Israel has killed 14 times as many civilians in this conflict as has Hezbollah.

And perhaps most damning of all, from an Israeli perspective, is that as of today (and this may well change), more Israeli soldiers have been killed than have Hezbollah militants. If that isn't an omen for this ill-considered invasion, I don't know what is. They've been at this for three weeks now, and it's already a quagmire.

A likely rebuttal for what I've been laying out is that Hezbollah has a history of violence, so to isolate these casualty numbers is misleading. It's true that Hezbollah's military wing has an alleged (though mostly unproven) history of violence, but all the killings that Hezbollah has been accused of over the years is actually a lower number than the number of Lebanese civilians already killed by Israel in this current conflict. Which makes me think of the tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians our military has killed in supposed revenge for just under 3,000 American deaths at the hands of a group of Saudis.

With numbers like this, it's little wonder that Hezbollah and its counterparts throughout the Middle East exist.

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14 May 2006
Reaping & sowing in Uzbekistan

I just read a current story on the fragmenting ties between the U.S. and Uzbekistan. It's not a country that many people here know about (I'd probably never heard of it before 2001), but I've been pointing to it for years as a prime example of how our present administration is corrupting itself and our country with its hypocritical dealings with brutal dictators.

The story above traces the current diplomatic decline back to an Uzbeki massacre of protesters instigated by the government. What's tragic is that the massacre took place a year ago, and it's taken this long to get even this little amount of traction. What's even more tragic is that it looks like our own government indirectly shares the blame for the terrible loss of life.

We first started making deals with the violently repressive Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, back in 2001, due to his country's convenient location as a staging ground for the invasion of Afghanistan. Despite a well-documented history of brutal dictatorship, Karimov was welcomed to the White House by President Bush in 2002 to sign a series of deals.

But even by the corrupt standards of our administration, all was soon not well with our Uzbeki alliance. Karimov began to worry over seemingly U.S.-backed rebellions in other former Soviet republics, and in a state of heightened tension and paranoia over potential U.S. double-dealing, responded to an attempt to free political prisoners by slaying, it is suggested, hundreds in the uprising.

Our government just doesn't seem to learn. We helped Saddam Hussein into a position of power in Iraq, and look what happened. We armed and trained Osama bin Laden and his compatriots in their struggle with the Soviets in Afghanistan (and in Bosnia in the 1990s), and look what happened. And now it seems like we're doing the very same thing with radical Islamic militants in Iraq.

What's happened in Uzbekistan and all these other places is the inevitable result of our government's dangerously hypocritical pursuit of power. How else to explain the continuing allegiance with and support of tyrants and murderers in the name of freedom and democracy? What poisonous fruit will these seeds from today bring forth in the years ahead?

Maybe if we vote out enough of the enablers in the next couple elections, we can avoid finding out.


30 April 2006
Politics, a slippery slope

Anyone who's a regular reader of this journal must have long since noted how much of a political firebrand I can be. I've written a great deal, often in very strident terms, about political issues that have set alight my ideals about what's right and wrong for the country and the world. You may have also noticed a drop-off in those types of posts recently.

One reason for that is that recently I've been spouting off about politics in the News Forum of our local paper, the Columbia Daily Tribune. If you want a recent sample of me mixing it up with the other side of the ideological spectrum, check it out (watch out for flying spit).

The other, and main, reason is that I've lately been feeling the corrosive effects of politics on my psyche. There's a folder in my inbox full of political blog-topics, all lined up neatly and waiting to be torn into with all the evangelical articulation I can muster, but I've found myself not touching them, nor wanting to. I've found that after a prolonged bout of attacking these issues, and debating them with people so far (in my mind) from the truth, a certain despair starts to set in. And then I begin to think that approach isn't the right battlefield for my ideals.

Does that mean I'm giving up on my ideals, abandoning the championing of progressive values? No way. It's probably just a matter of time before something riles me up to the degree that I have to detonate another word-bomb over it.

But I'm feeling like a different approach to things is in order, and we'll see how that develops in time. I'm just starting to get the feeling that I don't want the ultimate identity of this journal or site to be one of ranting, no matter how truly I believe in the principles I'm espousing. Spreading awareness of the things I learn of will continue to be an important part of this site, but I hope to allow more room for the sharing of discoveries and enthusiasms along the way. Or, in a nutshell, to spend more time promoting what's good, and what could be, than railing against what's bad. And when presenting bad news, to try different approaches to it.

That doesn't mean turning this into the sunshine & happiness channel--but if my ideal is for a better world, perhaps there's a benefit in focusing more on what that would be like.


01 April 2006
Act Now! Save Missouri forests

The President's FY07 budget includes a proposal to sell hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest land to help make up for a shortfall in rural school funding due to declining timber sales. The money to be raised is a tiny fraction of the money we're pouring into the debacle in Iraq (it's equal to roughly 3 days' worth of warmaking), and could easily be found in other ways. This would affect dozens of states, and Missouri would be one of those most affected, with more than 21,000 acres on the chopping black.

For those already familiar with the proposed sale, you can easily send an editable form letter to the Forest Service, courtesy of the Wilderness Society, or if you want to do it on your own, you can e-mail comments directly to SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us. The deadline for public comment is May 1, 2006, so act now!

Now, for those who may not know the details of the issue, here are a few resources with which to get up to speed:

The national forests of this country belong to all of us--it's not right for the administration to sell them off without our permission, when simple fiscal responsibility would take care of the budget problem. Please make your voice heard--the form letter link above only takes a few seconds to complete--and let them know that our lands aren't for sale.

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20 March 2006
One for my FBI file

Well, in what seems like an odd choice to me, our flagship local newspaper has chosen my mug (among a couple others) to feature on the front page in their big above-the-fold photo covering yesterday's peace rally. Though I hardly consider myself among the most worthy to be the face of this effort, I have to say it's pretty fun nonetheless and I'm proud of participating in this and other peace-related events. Of course the real local heroes in this effort are the dedicated regulars of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, most notably organizer Mark Haim.

See below for my tabloid spectacular, and also see a sharper PDF version which can be zoomed to reveal the following caption (which is the only real written coverage given to the event, sadly):

From left, Desiree Long, Hugh Curran and Kevin Gamble join scores of others yesterday in circling the Boone County Courthouse Square during a peace rally. Hundreds of people from around the region traveled to the rally to mark the three-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. Similar rallies took place in other parts of the United States and around the world. The local event, sponsored by the Columbia Peace Coalition, featured speeches, live music and the reading aloud of Iraqi and U.S. casualties of the war.

Front page of the Columbia Daily Tribune

Columbia Daily Tribune home page

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19 March 2006
Giving peace a chance: March 2006

Today a large peace rally was held in downtown Columbia to mark the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. So far from the halls of power where decisions about war are made, sometimes even the most strident pro-peace statements can produce feelings of helplessness and despair. But today's rally was informative, positive, and encouraging.

One of the best aspects of the day, both in its spoken themes and in who participated, was a palpable sense of togetherness--of this being a shared issue with shared solutions. Military veterans, church members, teachers, teenagers, activists, musicians, and families all exchanged smiles, hugs, questions, and concerns about the moral quagmire in which our country currently finds itself.

Perhaps the emotional highlight of the day was a stirring speech by the Rev. Maureen Dickmann of Rock Bridge Christian Church. Rev. Dickmann challenged the status quo from a moral perspective, scorning the pseudo-holy words used by our current leaders as hollow and meaningless perversions of the peaceful nature of Christ and his teachings, and encouraging people of faith to pursue peace and abandon leaders whose mission is more violence.

Also delivering a bitingly observant speech was John Betz of Veterans for Peace. Betz, a blue-collar Vietnam veteran, spoke of the ease with which those with wealth and power sacrifice others for their causes while suffering no pain or loss themselves. He also drew on his personal, first-hand experience to highlight parallels between the misguided motivations for going to war in Vietnam with the words and motivations used by our leaders today.

Professor Michael Ugarte admonished the current administration and advised us all to heed the words of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower:
We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

The rally ended with a statement of hope from organizer Mark Haim that next year, we come together to celebrate a war which has ended rather than another year of ongoing death and misery.

I've opposed this war, this unjust invasion, from day one, and I do so now, unflaggingly. Justified with falsified evidence, lies, and deceit; sold using fear and allusions to the unrelated terrorist attacks of 9/11/01; executed with poor strategy and under-equipped soldiers; and consuming more innocent lives every day (latest counts are more than 2,300 American GIs killed, more than 4,200 post-invasion Iraqi police & military deaths, and more than 33,000--at the very least--Iraqi civilians killed).

And for what result, what benefit? Are we really safer than before this debacle began? We've turned a stable country into a seething hotbed of terrorist activity. We've turned the only secular government in the Middle East into a fundamentalist theocracy, democratic in name only. Of course Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, and his people weren't free, but is this the solution?

In the name of pursuing democracy (that is, after the president's first couple of justifications were proven to be dishonest fabrications), we've poisoned our relations with the rest of the world, unleashing fear, violence, antagonism, and mistrust around the globe. In the name of freedom, we've tortured and imprisoned thousands of people charged with no crime. We've condoned spying on our own citizens without any judicial oversight. We've allied ourselves with violent dictatorships for the conveniences of air space and having somewhere to export our difficult prisoners for torture. We've become what we hate.

This isn't the America I've grown up in, the one I love. This is wrong. And we can do better.


27 February 2006
Noam Chomsky

In a rare treat for Columbia, Noam Chomsky was here tonight, giving a talk to a full house at the Missouri Theatre. Following on the heels of the ever-more-successful True/False Film Festival, it almost feels like just in the space of a few days, ol' Columbia has taken a kind of intangible step up toward a more intelligent, cultured identity. Well, it's a nice balance to all the bleak landscape of cheap, flimsy, rapacious commercial development that's currently scouring the city.

As anyone who's familiar with Chomsky knows, his thoughts are difficult to summarize briefly or neatly. But generally speaking, his focus tonight was on skewering the popular notion that the U.S. is engaged in promoting democracy around the world. Relating telling examples from around the world, from Lebanon and Turkey to Iraq and Palestine, Chomsky neatly debunked the rhetoric we've heard from our present administration and used their own words and actions to paint a picture of a pseudo-interest in spreading democracy that is really nothing more than the crass furthering of strategic military interests masquerading as something based on noble ideals.

Rather than attempt to break down the hour-plus talk (and additional 20 minutes of Q&A), I think the best excerpt I can relate is Chomsky's closing recommendations for how to steer our country and the world out of its present dangerous situation:

  1. Accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court.
  2. Sign the Kyoto protocols and carry them forward.
  3. Let the United Nations take the lead in international crises.
  4. Rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting the grave threats of terror.
  5. Keep to the conventional, conservative interpretation of the United Nations charter: the use of force is legitimate only when ordered by the Security Council or when the country is under imminent threat of attack--until the Security Council can act (article 51 of the UN charter).
  6. Give up the veto at the Security Council and have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.
  7. Cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending--health, education, renewable energy, and so on.
In Chomsky's words:
For people who believe in democracy, these are very conservative suggestions. And if there were any conservatives in the country, they'd all be in favor of them. There's a very simple reason for it: these are the opinions of the majority of the U.S. population. And they're in radical opposition to public policy--in most cases, a bipartisan consensus.

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14 February 2006
Bush & Republicans: Untrustworthy

Keeping up with all the lies, deceit, cronyism, incompetence, and conflicts of interest in our present administration would be a full-time job. But this has been a good week or so to take snapshot of why I don't trust, and actively oppose, the president and our current Republican leadership.

It shouldn't even need saying, but I'll say it anyway: I'm not saying there's no such thing as a good Republican, or that I hate Bush. I respect Republican principles, which are being violated wholesale in a systematic way by the current Republican leadership. And Bush is simply incompetent and not fit to hold any government office. Admit it, just admit it already.

So on to the review of recent news:

Hastert, Frist rig bill for drug firms: Republican House & Senate leaders secretly slip drug-company protections into a defense appropriations bill at the last minute, without anyone's awareness or review. This is not democracy.

Bush administration moves to sell national forest land: Demonstrating Bush's ongoing disregard for public resources, this land grab would generate far less revenue than simply rolling back his tax breaks for the wealthy. For a guy who boasts about making "tough choices", he doesn't seem to make many.

U.S. Royalty Plan to Give Windfall to Oil Companies: The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, when energy companies are already reporting record-breaking profits.

Bush PR Costs Taxpayers $1.6 Billion: The Bush administration has spent at least $1.6 billion on PR and advertising efforts over the last 30 months. Do I have to speculate how much body armor that would buy, how many hungry people that could feed?

Billions wasted in Iraq through mismanagement, fraud, and profiteering: Further evidence that this administration cannot manage what they've started.

Horse Slaughter Continues in US, Despite Recent Law: Bush's USDA circumvents U.S law to allow three foreign-owned horse meat plants to remain open. Dodging our own laws and public sentiment to help foreign corporations. If that doesn't reveal priorities, I don't know what does.

"No Child Left Behind" leaves behind poor minorities: Study indicates that flaws in this signature Bush plan have resulted in preferential treatment for white, middle-class schools.

EPA Cuts Deal with Factory Farms: The EPA, one of the most corrupted agencies in government since Bush took office, is selling out its own mission by letting large factory farms off the hook for polluting air and water. In exchange for what? The privilege of studying how they pollute, and a promise that they'll stop polluting after the study. That makes no sense.

Bush’s Budget Proposal: Is This Who We Really Are? The president's latest budget demonstrates his ongoing contempt for the greater good in favor of feeding more wealth to the wealthy and pouring more money into Iraq. Why is welfare okay to Republicans when it goes to the rich?

And this is just what I've heard about recently. This has been going on for five years, folks--it's time for everyone to start waking the hell up. And acting--if these things bother you, please contact your senators and representatives and let your voice be heard.


15 January 2006
Will Bush be let off the hook for Pakistan?

This week, the U.S. launched a surprise airstrike inside the border of Pakistan, attempting to kill either the erstwhile Al-Qaeda #2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, or the head of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar. At this point, all accounts indicate that the U.S. acted on bad intelligence, the result being that 18 innocent people--including women and children--were killed.

During the Clinton presidency, something simliar was tried--an airstrike in Afghanistan which was an attempt to kill Osama bin Laden. That also failed, and Clinton was ridiculed and scorned (and still is, to this day) by both the Republicans in Congress and by the media.

Watch carefully, and compare the way Republicans and the media react to this new situation.

For a little perspective, here are President Clinton's own words about his failed strike:
Now, I had one other option. I could have bombed or sent more missiles in. As far as we knew he never went back to his training camp. So the only place bin Laden ever went that we knew was occasionally he went to Khandahar, where he always spent the night in a compound that had 200 women and children.

So I could have, on any given night, ordered an attack that I knew would kill 200 women and children that had less than a 50 percent chance of getting him.

Now, after he murdered 3,100 of our people and others who came to our country seeking their livelihood, you may say, 'Well, Mr. President, you should have killed those 200 women and children.'

But at the time, we didn't think he had the capacity to do that. And no one thought that I should do that. Although I take full responsibility for it.

Do you feel safer and more content knowing that we currently have a president without such hesitations (see the at least 30,000 civilians killed in Iraq)?


08 January 2006
Iraq body armor and Bush

A breaking new story says it pretty plainly: "A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor."

The story of exactly what the Marines needed, and all the factors tied in to why they haven't been getting it for almost the last three years, is a disturbing and vital one--the story linked above is a must-read. When you see this debacle and then compare it to, for example, how quickly and easily the administration has whipped up billions of dollars for no-bid Halliburton contracts, it's enough to give any sensible person pause.

This situation is a very good example of why I and so many other people have grown to detest the Bush administration. It's not about Bush being a bad man (that's not for me to judge), it's not that I personally hate the guy, but things like this story, recent revelations about how his high-level appointees have stymied mine-safety investigative bodies, and of course the whole FEMA disaster with Hurricane Katrina--and to be honest, you can take this back to 9/11 itself--show a pattern of mismanagement and carelessness that stands in sharp contrast to their rhetoric. They're friends of the military, yet they don't provide them with the tools they need and then cut their benefits after they return home. With friends like those...

Time and time again, we see the Bush administration appointing inexperienced, unconcerned cronies to key positions, and the neglect and oversights that result. Those who dismiss criticism of Bush by saying he didn't personally cause any of the disasters we've been through during his time in office are missing the point--that his own lack of concern for and awareness of the outcomes of decisions has a ripple effect that is costing American lives, American respect in the international sphere, and American unity at home. His administration is bad for the country, and these Marines aren't the first or last to pay the price. We deserve better.


05 January 2006
Another tragic mistake in Iraq

A report out of Iraq this week paints what is, to me, a disturbing picture of our routine military practices there. This particular story has to do with our military killing a family of 12 in their home while ostensibly targeting "insurgents". It went like this:

In a statement, the U.S. military said an unmanned drone in the area had tracked three men digging in a road about 9 p.m. Monday. Insurgents commonly plant bombs in such craters to catch passing convoys of U.S. and Iraqi officials.
The military called in air support, tracked the three men as they entered a building nearby and attacked the building with precision-guided munitions, the military said.

Call me incredibly naïve, but this sounds pretty shocking to me. Is this how we win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? Is this the kind of care we take with innocent life? If this is any indication, it's little wonder that we've killed 20,000 to 100,000 Iraqi civilians to date.

So a remote-controlled camera sees some men digging a hole, we track them from a distance, and then send in jets to bomb the building they go to. I have to think that this is an approach designed to minimize U.S. casualties--a good goal in principle--but it makes clear that we're willing to take much greater chances with Iraqi lives than our own, which means we value them less than we do ourselves, which means their welfare is not our top concern, which means that our president's most recent reason for invading Iraq, this vaunted notion of delivering freedom and democracy--coming after the initial several reasons have fallen apart as lies, exaggerations, and deceit--is also a lie.

We're not delivering freedom to Iraq, but our own form of crudely administered dictatorial power. We trumpet elections being held even as we occupy and control most every facet of the country, preventing the Iraqis from controlling their own natural resources, preventing their workers from organizing, preventing them from nationalizing their utilities, as we sell off their country's business opportunities to the highest foreign bidder.

That's not freedom.


24 November 2005
Talking turkey--and government reform

From a conversation with my parents over Thanksgiving dinner today came the following list of recommendations for government reforms. If they make sense to us (my largely conservative mom, my self-professed non-political dad, and yours truly, the self-professed progressive avenger), then I'm guessing they'd make sense to a lot of regular people all over the country.

  • Ban all monetary gifts to legislators from lobbyists and PACs (because money isn't speech, and those with money shouldn't have greater access than those without)
  • Ban all private money in elections (for the same reasons, and to level the playing field to allow true diversity of positions and background in candidates)
  • Restrict campaigning to the two months leading up to elections (to eliminate the absurdly high costs of running for office and help keep elected officials focused on real business for a larger percentage of time)
  • Implement instant-runoff voting in all state & federal elections
These of course are only a few of the vast number of reforms our elected government is desperately in need of, but these things alone would make a spectacular difference. If we're truly interested in perpetuating our ideals of a representative democracy, these proposals aren't so radical at all.


18 November 2005
The cost of high office: High

The current going rate for various government positions, according to New York Representative Major R. Owens:

Congressional seats: $2 million
Senate seats: $10 million
New York mayor: $100 million

And we've of course seen the cost of successfully running for president climb over $200 million in the last election.

Dismaying indicators for a supposedly democratic society.


04 September 2005
'Your bumper sticker sucks'

As I was driving away from work today, after putting in some extra time doing hurricane-related work, I was passed on the expressway by some older, obviously well-off guy driving one of those awful newer Cadillacs that look like a cross between the bottom part of a vacuum cleaner and a brick. I had my windows down and was concentrating on the challenging and brilliant King Crimson live album I was playing on the stereo, so I just happened to glance over and see the guy, as he was passing me, roll down his window and say to me, "your bumper sticker sucks!"

The first thing that hit me was just how strange this was. This was some late-50s/early 60s guy who had a complete look of tanned affluence about him--as though he'd come from the golf course or more likely, his enormous house overlooking a golf course. A guy with enough privilege to not deserve to get angry about many things. And he takes the time to roll down his window and yell over at some random person in a Subaru. I currently have four stickers on the back of my Subaru (I know, I know; it didn't start that way, but somehow I found myself falling into that cliché):

"Question Consumption"
"Bush inherited his safety net--now he wants to bankrupt yours"
"War is NOT pro-life"

Now, since he didn't specify which sticker he meant, I was left to wonder which one would make this rich person angry. "Question Consumption"--I bet that some people snickered at that when I first got it early this year. Now, with gas over $3/gallon, it's just good sense. That might come off as twisting the knife to this guy driving a gas-guzzler, but that would just produce resentment, not a critique. "Treehugger", again, might produce an ideological defensiveness, but it doesn't really say anything--it's more just a reclaiming of the word.

So I'm thinking it's one of the last two, which in my mind means the guy was either motivated by greed or guilt, or both. To get offended at #3 means that he must either have some personal psychological attachment to George W. Bush (which I would consider a neurosis) or else he's simply greedy and wants even more money. And to get offended at #4, I can only think that his reaction means that he's having some kind of guilt complex over holding contradictory views. So many American Christians (not all, mind you) consider themselves "pro-life", yet, again neurotically in my opinion, have an almost reflexive support for any position that supports the president--a man who has made the cheapening of lives here and abroad a centerpiece of his terms in office.

After he spoke, this fellow rolled the window back up and sped off ahead of me--just the mix of cowardice and denial I'd expect from someone who'd do that in the first place. As I drove along, I considered what, if anything, I'd do if I came to catch up with him as I drove along (which I did not attempt). I felt strangely unmotivated to do anything. I found his behavior to be embarrassing and childish, and understood that any type of response to it would validate it. By doing nothing, I leave him as the only one with an action to regret.

Some days I almost feel guilty about the crudeness and slight unfairness of having bumper stickers--they're necessarily overly simplistic and sort of lecture the people behind you without giving them a chance to respond. Today, I was glad I had them.

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10 August 2005
Iraq Reality Check

Percentage of US troops killed in Iraq to date:

Since Bush declared "Mission Accomplished": 93%
Since the capture of Saddam Hussein: 75%
Since handover of power to Iraq: 53%
Since initial Iraqi elections: 22%

In case that last number sounds hopeful, that's 22% of our fatalities taking place in 19% of the total length of the war so far—more than two years after the start of the war.

Think about this the next time you hear rhetoric from the president and his administration. The point of this isn't a personal attack on Bush, but instead a profound expression of disappointment and dismay at what our misguided policies have wrought. We can do better as a country, and better as a world, and that's why I oppose this president. He has failed us.

UPDATE (Sept 4, 2005): The last two percentages above have risen to 54% and 24%, respectively, with the current death total at 1,886. That adds up to 24% of our casualties taking place in the most recent 19% of the war--which means it's gotten slightly worse.

UPDATE (Nov. 12, 2005): A full 30% of U.S. military deaths have occurred since the Iraqi elections, and 58% since the handover of power. To what end?


24 May 2005
Deals with devils

This is one of those days where I realize I'm tired of the leaders of my country making deals with devils. I'm tired of reading every day of blatant hypocrisy from the Bush administration, tired of being ashamed of him and his government, and of all the people who support him for narrow ideological reasons while willfully ignoring the damage he's doing to those who can least afford it.

One of the things that saddens me the most is the President's dealing with, supporting, financing, and protecting dictatorships around the world while paying lip service to "fighting for democracy" overseas. This is something that everyone--liberal and conservative, Christian and atheist, right and left--should be up in arms over. Yet days, months, years go by without any accountability.

You only have to pay attention to what's out there right now to see multiple examples of this. One is Sudan. The White House has been timid and ineffectual in dealing with the ongoing crisis there, much like the hesitation shown by our government toward Bosnia during the Clinton years. Despite some fits of tough talk, the White House has been backing down from taking strong action and has quietly been trying to get Sudan off the public agenda. Meanwhile, in the words of Human Rights Watch:
The Janjaweed and Sudanese armed forces continued a campaign begun in earnest in 2003 of ethnic cleansing and forced displacement by bombing and burning villages, killing civilians, and raping women. The first half of 2004 saw a dramatic increase in these atrocities. By year’s end hundreds of villages were destroyed, an estimated 2 million civilians were forcibly displaced by the government of Sudan and its militias, and 70,000 died as a direct or indirect cause of this campaign.

Bush has talked a lot about the plight of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, for good reason; but here is a situation that in its pervasiveness and alarming immediacy is much worse. Yet Bush does nothing. I could make claims on this regarding the color of its residents' skin, or the influence of Sudan's large oil reserve, but for now I'll leave such areas of inquiry to the gentle reader. Thankfully, some are not waiting for the deadbeat president but are taking matters into their own hands. Bravo, Illinois.

Another pertinent example is Uzbekistan. Over two years ago, in my essay on the cycle of corruption in our dealings with Iraq, I singled out Uzbekistan as an example of our government's tragic habit of supporting dictators in areas of strategic or oil-related significance. Recent news reports have highlighted ongoing violence against the populace their by its brutal government, but this is nothing new--Uzbekistan has a long history of human-rights abuse. Yet Bush has placated this dictatorship due to the Uzbek cooperation in our "war on terror" (the definition of which seems to only narrow with time). I even came across a document today which shows, with heartbreaking understatement, the long-term connections between Bush, ravenous corporate interests, and corrupt dictatorships.

I could go on, but all the evidence is there for any observant reader. We invade Iraq unprovoked over phony weapons programs while leaving North Korea, a legitimate threat possessing nuclear capability, in a bizarre limbo. We blast out inflamed rhetoric over Iran's supposed development of nuclear technology while giving a free pass to another technically rogue nuclear state, Israel. We speak, teary-eyed, of bringing hope and freedom to the rest of the world. Yet we sell out our own people by exporting jobs as fast as we can and throwing our markets wide open to systematic human-rights abusers like China.

It's very simple, really. The White House bases its actions on furthering bottom-line issues of corporate wealth and military dominance, but bases its rhetoric on ideological absolutes. The disconnect between the two is obvious to any mildly critical observer, and creates a bizarre scenario where questioning the actions of the administration is turned into questioning freedom, religion, and democracy itself, as though, pharoah-like, Bush is not merely leading the country but is the very living personification of its virtues.

Just today Bush said, when speaking about stem-cell research, "We should not use public money to support the further destruction of human life." This is a perfect case of his muddying the water with absolute language, rather than approaching an issue with any sort of intellectual rigor. When I read that quote, the first thought in my mind was "Iraq." If the President really means what he said, then he's a hypocrite. And, sadly, the same goes for everyone who supports him--a man responsible for many executions, thousands of Iraqi deaths, and turning a blind eye to killing around the world--in the name of a "culture of life".


08 May 2005
Items of concern

A brief roundup of a few items I've come across in recent days that concern me. I may do this periodically to keep up with items which merit more description than a simple link, but for which I don't have time to write a longer piece.

A proposed Missouri law would ban doctors from even mentioning the word abortion, or telling patients how to obtain one. For all the rhetoric we hear about "activist judges", here's another clear case of "activist legislators" who, through internal processes insulated from voters, can essentially eliminate something legal through their control of budgets. Through an ongoing series of measures that defund and undermine anyone with connections to abortion, they're writing de facto anti-abortion laws without popular votes--legislation without representation, in my opinion. Which, I believe, is more of a concern when denying rights than when providing them. This is the very kind of conspiracy that gun owners fear is being waged against their rights, but unlike that case, this is real.

New tactics in "debating" evolution. Honest debate is fine--that is, after all, what science is all about. But this debate is dishonest and unscientific. In fact, it's unscientific by design, because it begins with an idea that is "inherently right" (creation) and then attempts to discredit anything that might conflict with that assumption. In scientific terms, that's backwards--the scientific method moves from unbiased observations toward an uncertain result. A scientist may have a hypothesis, or even a hope of discovering something specific, but not a pre-planned outcome. In scientific circles, deciding the outcome first and then selectively choosing evidence is called fraud. It's fine if you believe in creation--beliefs don't have to be scientific, and I'm not trying to say that creationism is wrong--but it's wrong to go about attacking evolution in a fraudulently pseudo-scientific way.

US eases Saudi visa restrictions. This, then, is the payoff for their promise to pump more oil. Trading security for oil, travelers from perhaps the world's main wellspring of terrorism get their restrictions eased. Not that I'm a supporter of racial profiling--delays for any nationality may well be wrong--but with the evidence we've seen of Saudi money involved in terror, and the continuing inability of our various branches of government intelligence to share even basic information, somehow I don't think we're going about this the right way. Especially when I still have to take off my shoes every time I want to get on a plane...

I could rant about the grotesquely uncompassionate nature of Republican meddling in such issues as Medicare and Social Security, but this gentleman does a very nice job of singling out one current absurdity.

And finally, an inspiring story of women's lib in Afghanistan: stoned to death for adultery. Was that before or after the men's hard day of work increasing opium exports? That's freedom, ladies and gentlemen, Bush-style.


13 June 2004
The 80s live on, and die

Music of the weekend: Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse. Bought this album on Friday after downloading it a month ago (downloading is truly my radio now). I think it's a terrific continuation of what they established on their last album, Murray Street, where the noise aspects of what they do are woven into a more melodic context, with nice patient explorations that are given time to develop and build. To me they've reached a state you could almost call elegance, having achieved some kind of focus after all the edgy experimenting, and now sounding as though they're reaching for something higher and simultaneously are humbled. Not many bands from the 80s and 90s have grown beyond their roots; there are many defining statements from that era but I can't think of many who've continued to refine and expand their voices over time. Along with Sonic Youth, Robyn Hitchcock and The Church come to mind, and however inconsistent they've all been in their post-80s years, they've all made breathtaking work that has more than justified their continued artistic existence.

As for the Church, I now feel like their most powerful and expressive work missed their latest album altogether; tracks like "Cantilever" and "Moodertronic" from the Forget Yourself bonus disc, and "Crashride" and "Nervous" from their iTunes-only EP
are to me the real defining statements of their current phase. But I digress...

Fox News pushes the envelope...of absurdity. Good lord, just when I thought Fox News was already as idiotic as it could be, yesterday it was my misfortune to catch one of the most surrealistically wrong pieces of propaganda I've seen there yet. It was some sort of bizarre marketing piece on behalf of our illegal prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (the base commonly called "Gitmo"). This took the corrupt concept of "embedded" journalists to a whole new level of, well, corruption. Ostensibly a "Fox exclusive", it basically spent all its time describing how mild and friendly the place is, and how cushy the prisoners (Fox was careful to always say "detainees", lest a slip of the word "prisoners" imply that they are in fact prisoners of war, and as such actually have human rights) have it there. Why, they have full 8'x6'x8' cells! (Small cages with only about 3' wide floor space.) And the walls are open, metal grilles, allowing them to communicate with one another! (Oh, and giving them no privacy whatsoever.) Why, those who cooperate with interrogation are even allowed outside to play volleyball or soccer in a small enclosed dirt field! We even paint arrows on the floors of their containment areas to show them which direction Mecca is in--this is positive luxury!

And watching this, I felt it was positively un-American and disgusting. I could see this exact thing being done for the Asian-Americans "detained" during WWII, and whatever outlandish justification might have been made for that in its time has no bearing here. These people in Cuba (and does anyone else see the irony in our country maintaining an illegal prison camp, in which our own law and international law is thrown out the window, in the country our government rails against so much for being an unlawful dictatorship?) may be terrorists, and may not be. The point is that what we're doing there is illegal, it's immoral, and it goes against everything that supposedly makes us different from the rest of the world (emphasis on supposedly). We've deprived these men of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for over two years now, with no access to counsel, no oversight from the outside world, no chance to state their case to anyone but their interrogators, and no status other than the 'we can do anything we want to them' "enemy combatants". This is a concentration camp, folks--a torture camp, a place to make people disappear. Our administration has taken advantage of the world's sympathy after 9/11/01 to create an ambiguous state of quasi-war, where the actual term "war" is used constantly in a theatrical sense but only in a legal sense when it broadens the power of the President and Pentagon to do what they want without any checks.

So, to the bastards at Fox I say this: Gitmo is not an example of our country's noble, humane nature. No matter how you spin bread & water into luxury amenities, it's still holding someone prisoner with no trial and no rights. Would you find a prayer mat, shower cap, blanket and salt packet (all things listed as "comfort items" by the military) a sufficient comfort for being taken away from your family for two years without being charged with any crime or given any indication when, if, or how you'd ever be free again? Of course not. This is simply Kafkaesque. I had to give a rueful laugh at the soundbite excuse a soldier gave for the prisoners' presence: "they did fight us". Of course they fought you, moron--you invaded their country. The final straw that made me turn off the TV was the bubbly blonde reporter's breathless tease that we should "tune in tomorrow to see an interrogation we were allowed to witness". War and war crimes as entertainment--thank you, Fox News, aka Ministry of Homeland Information.

Hurry up and wait. It now seems that my last month of running was a bit too good--I'm now suddenly sidelined with what I'm hoping is shin splints, and hoping is not a stress fracture. I've done a lot of research in the last couple days and have learned a lot I wish I'd known before upping my distance from 4.5 miles to 6; in retrospect a 33% increase all at once may not have been so good. I was too busy testing my will and my lungs to do my homework on my legs, and it seems to have caught up to me. So I'll be backing off for a little while to recover, and taking a slower approach when I start again. I'm paying the price for being an overenthusiastic novice, but I'm still proud and happy of the point I reached--I pushed right through the limits I thought I had. I know that I'll get back there again later in the summer, with a more sensible approach this time, and will appreciate it that much more.

Reagan. On a human level, I'm relieved that his long suffering is over; nobody deserves to go through the nightmarish illness he's struggled with these last 10 years or so. And I'm saddened for his wife and family. But I won't mourn him as a president. His terms were rife with imperialism, corruption, economic discrimination, and deficit-ballooning militarism. And contrary to the popular myth, he didn't win the Cold War--he merely allowed it to end, acting opportunistically, and grudgingly, in response to the actions of Gorbachev. We should give him due credit for doing this; he might well have seen Soviet weakness as an opportunity to crush them once and for all, rather than opening the West to them. But we should give it, along with what other praise he might deserve, without the delusional, defensive idealization that's plagued the media this week. He was a man--nothing more--riddled with faults and bad choices. He as a person gave the U.S. hope in a difficult time, but at a terrible price we're still paying today. Let's remember his successes in the proper context.

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17 May 2004
Civil rights, 21st-century syle

Song of the Day: Jay-Z, '99 Problems' (Brown, Purple, Silver, White, Double Black, Black Encored, and Black on Black album versions. I'd have to say of all those, the Brown version is my favorite.)

How far we’ve come, how far to go. Somehow it seems fitting that the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education (has it only been 50 years!) shares the headlines with talk of gay marriage and the crusade against it. The parallels couldn’t be clearer. Brown was a case of the law leading the people of this country in the right direction, somewhat against its own will, and today we’re faced with a similar choice.

At the time of Brown, many southern whites were opposed to integration due to an array of imagined woes. Blacks, in their minds, were an inferior race of low moral fiber, unclean and disease-ridden. They didn’t want the institution of education corrupted by this filthy influence. Of course, they were fools; bigoted, hateful fools who couldn’t see how wrong they were. But if you had put the issue to a vote, the South would have preserved forced segregation. So fifty years ago, the Supreme Court decided for the South that segregation would not stand. From that decision cascaded a variety of other court decisions, opening up other restricted areas of society to blacks and planting the seed for the modern-day civil rights movement.

Today we’re right back in the middle of this philosophical issue, but instead it’s homosexuality on trial instead of skin color. Once again, an array of bigots is lined up against the prospect of extending a basic civil right to a large group of our population, once again babbling a list of imagined ills that will befall the world if this group is allowed the same freedoms they have. What harm comes to anyone, to anything, if a gay couple marries? None whatsoever. The only difference is that the amount of love and self-respect in the world increases a little. Can anyone look at our world today and not count that a good thing?

Some can. Some who believe in fairy tales, who base their lives on myths and interpretations of myths. Some who believe that when prophets like Jesus, Moses and Muhammad spoke of love, they meant it selectively, as though it was one elite group’s right to decide who it belonged to. Some who would rather keep an entire class of people in a state of inequality, of fear and self-loathing, rather than permit them a basic happiness. And for what reason? Simply because they can’t allow their own beliefs to be challenged. There’s simply no other reason to be opposed to gay marriage, because, like blacks in public schools or owning land, like women voting, like the abolition of slavery and indentured servitude, it only makes the world better. It adds to the count of happy, productive citizens contributing to the common good. The only negative is the hatefulness we see in those opposing it—-those who seek to impose their own world view on the hopes, dreams, and destinies of others.

A story about Brown published today quotes Dennis Archer, a junior high school student when Brown was announced, and now the first black president of the American Bar Association. He says, "I stand on the shoulders of people I’ve never met, but have read about; those who were lynched, beaten, spat upon."

The question for you is simple: will you be one of those helping to lift up this persecuted part of our population? Or will history remember you as one of those who spat, who beat, who lynched? Now is the time for you to decide.

Our President, in true form, took the Brown anniversary as another chance to show his hypocrisy and shallow intellect. Some quotes from him today:

"Fifty years ago today, nine judges announced that they had looked at the Constitution and saw no justification for the segregation and humiliation of an entire race."

This, on the same day he derided "activist judges" deciding on civil rights for gay Americans.

"The habits of racism in America have not all been broken," he said. "The habits of respect must be taught to every generation. While our schools are no longer segregated by law, they are still not equal in opportunity and excellence."

This, on the same day he asked Congress to deny opportunity to all of gay America based on bigotry and intolerance.

In the name of false democracy, Bush has requested that Congress propose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, to allow the "people to decide." A popular vote didn’t overturn slavery, or segregation. Some issues go beyond majority rule, to the realm of what is right and good. This is one of them.

Now is the time for you to decide. Love--or hate.

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16 May 2004
Discoveries old and new

Songs of the Day: Steve Kilbey, 'Atlantis' and 'The Dawn Poems', Annbjorg Lien - 'Den Bortkomne Sauen'.

Another 6 mile run on the trail yesterday. I may actually be getting used to this. Scary.

Discoveries old and new. I suppose I was having too pleasant a weekend to blog--I must be more regular about it. Some small pleasures mixed in--today I was reminded how much I admire Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes; his work throughout the run (1984-1994) of the British series is one of my favorite dramatic performances, of any kind, of all time. Nuanced, devilish, always a step ahead of the viewer, and haunted in ways that extended off-camera. Simply masterful. (More)

I've also come to think that Wax Poetics is the best magazine published today. Its aesthetics would be enough--heavy, high-quality paper, top-notch photography and design, even the ads are terrifically designed. But the content is, based on what I've read so far, exceptional. Ostensibly targeted at the DJ culture (which I find insufferably insipid), the result is a hefty tome dedicated to the love of music, of sounds, images, and textures, of the whole music buying and listening experience. Look for it in better bookstores; here in Columbia you can find it downtown at 9th St. Bookstore and the new APOP indie record shop.

Required reading. A couple of essential online items passed through the radar in the last few days. One is a new site dedicated to un-spinning the right-wing media spin of Fox News and its assorted allies in disinformation, called Media Matters for America. Hidden beneath that unfortunately generic name is an attempt to keep up with all the propaganda and lazy inaccuracies that are at the core of what Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the rest shovel out to the masses. Keeping up with all of that is more than a full-time job, so best of luck to these folks.

The other item of import is a story that everyone should read, which has mysteriously been virtually ignored by the media (aside from one NBC story, months ago). Fortunately resurrected by Slate, the story very clearly indicates that the Bush administration purposely avoided attacking the one known terrorist operating in Iraq before the war, Abu Musab Zarqawi from Jordan, seemingly to preserve a key justification for the war. Zarqawi has since been linked to about 700 deaths--the latest of which was Nicholas Berg. I feel like a voice in the wilderness here, but this is grounds for impeachment. The Republican-controlled Congress brings Clinton up for impeachment for having extramarital sex, but George W. Bush blatantly fails in his duty to protect us from terrorism, and he gets a free pass.

Now tell me about that "liberal media" the right-wing loves to rant about. Where are these stories? There are many more like them. Believe it, folks--there are only two kinds of media that most people see today: neutral corporate media, and right-wing corporate media. By "neutral", I mean those corporate media conglomerates motivated solely by greed, as opposed to, say, Fox News, which is motivated by both avarice and a political agenda. When you turn on the TV, who do you see? Fox. When you turn on the radio, who do you hear? Rush. When you go to the newsstand, what do you see? The National Review, The Wall Street Journal. Where are the progressive, liberal voices? Hardly in control, hardly running the show. If you've never read The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, Working for Change, Alternet, Buzzflash, or all the other progressive media sources marginalized by the mainstream, you're missing the real story. The big 3 networks and major magazines leave out vital information, and the righties like Fox lie constantly. Do yourself a favor and dig some more. You may not agree with all the philosophies you find, but you'll find many cold hard facts ignored--willfully or otherwise--by the media you've come to trust.

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12 May 2004
Ideals versus actions

Songs of the Day: Steve Kilbey - 'Judgment Day' and 'Guilty', Michael Hoenig - 'Departure From the Northern Wasteland'.

Ideals versus actions. Over the last few days, as we've seen increasing evidence of widespread abuse and Geneva Convention violations in our military's treatment of Iraqi prisoners of war, we've also heard the following refrain from President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld: that these incidents are "not representative" of the US military, or of the American people. I'm starting to get a bit tired of the denial implicit in such sentiments. News flash, folks: these actions are the very definition of "representative". Because, despite all of our high-falutin' ideals and insecure notions that America is better than everyone else, these terrible acts are in fact what we're actually doing in Iraq. We're actually abusing and terrorizing prisoners. We're actually killing 10,000+ Iraqi civilians. We're actually arresting the wrong people 90% of the time (according to the Red Cross). We're actually failing to properly guard nuclear installations, which have been systematically looted on our "watch". The list goes on and on. This doesn't mean that our military is all bad and incompetent. Of course not. But what we'd like to think of ourselves, of our country, as we stick our heads in the sand, doesn't add up to a hill of beans. All that matters is what we're actually doing. If we as a people don't own up to our flaws, our denials, our willful ignorance of our own capacity for ignorance and cruelty, the kinds of things we're seeing in Iraq will continue and grow. And we'll continue to see ourselves as perfect and wonder why the rest of the world thinks we're insane.

On a related note, I have to gripe about the ongoing right-wing hypocrisy on display full-time these days. One of the right-wingers' favorite refrains when decrying the evils of liberals is to level the accusation of "moral relativism". Tune into any conservative media these days, and you'll see that very trait on display. From Rush to Sean "Apologist" Hannity, the right-wing media is falling all over itself to downplay the atrocities committed by our military in Iraq. Rush thinks they were just "blowing off steam" and playing sophomoric pranks. Hannity furrows his neanderthal brow and splits hairs over "the difference between abuse and atrocities", while leaping to the defense of the poor, helpless military establishment by claiming they started investigations right away, as soon as allegations were brought up (wrong, fool--they ignored reports and warnings for months before finally being dragged into the spotlight by the media). Ever since this disastrously unfocused 'war on terror' began, Republicans have been taking such hypocritical positions, which all come down to this: it's okay when we do it, but evil when they do it. That's moral relativism that no liberal would touch with a ten-foot pole--and that, you Republican bastards, is hypocrisy.

Not all the news was bad today--buried under headlines that focused on Kerry missing a Senate vote was what seems to be a reasonably positive bill passed in a bipartisan manner by the Senate. While not perfect, the bill aims to close corporate tax loopholes, stimulate the manufacturing sector, and iron out a trade battle with Europe. What I like most about it, though, is that it includes a block against Bush-proposed rules taking effect that would strip millions of American workers of overtime rights. This may all sound pretty weak, but it makes me think what things could be like if politicians actually worked together to make compromises and look after the average US worker. It's timid, but it's a start, especially in an election year.


11 May 2004
Fair use, Ralph Nader

Songs of the Day: Velvet Underground - "Jesus", Wax Poetic - "Tell Me" (feat. Norah Jones), Arild Andersen Trio - "Cinderella Song".

So much flying around the synapses at the moment. I'll have to fire off a few quickies to try and catch them.

Sampling, fair use, and artists' rights. I've been thinking about these topics a bit lately, after reading an article in the last issue of Wax Poetics and downloading the Grey Album put together by DJ Dangermouse. It seems to be a pitched battle between the 'anything goes' fair-use advocates (more info) and rights owners, mostly corporate. On one side you have those who essentially see creative content as part of a vast, connected palette to be used by anyone who chooses. The assembled sounds of thousands of albums over the decades, all raw material for ongoing creativity and experimentation. The other extreme allows no use of a creative work without explicit consent and legal clearance.

What's the answer here? I haven't fully sorted that out for myself. I can understand the motives of both sides but ultimately feel that the truth is somewhere in the middle. So long as artists and those who own the copyrights are properly compensated for use of their work, I don't see much harm in the fair-use doctrine. But as an artist myself, I instinctively support the right of an artist to ultimately control their work. One may not have to get permission to sample, but if the source artist specifically doesn't want their work used in a certain way, their wishes should be respected. Those in favor of extending the concept of compulsory licensing beyond such areas as simple broadcasting and into the unrestricted manipulation of artistic works run the risk of destroying the artist's ownership over their own work. It's true that the current situation is largely a mess, with massive corporate entities dominating the copyright & publishing-rights arena--but I can't help but be nervous about the activists who are trying to dismantle the current music-business model. What makes me nervous is that while they're correctly pointing out the unfair nature of the system--artists give up a lot and get very little in return--they're taking it upon themselves to undermine a system that in fact really does sustain the lives and careers of many musicians. In both the issues of use and distribution, it may be the artists themselves who end up caught in the middle and left in the dust. This is far from resolved.

Ralph Nader. I've been trying to decide what I really think about this guy. On one level, you have to inherently admire someone who so doggedly marches into battle as he does. But overall I find myself sad and disappointed with him. His supporters readily attack people who express those kinds of sentiments, taking a philosophical high ground and condemning those who would sacrifice their ideals to support one of the major political parties. But the truth is that by continuing to mess with presidential politics, Nader himself is undermining and putting at great risk the ideals he's fought for his whole life. He seems obsessed with the notion that two-party politics is the greatest evil facing our world today. He may be right; I don't think he is. One has only to look at how his long-championed causes have suffered under the withering abuse of the Bush administration these last few years to see that he's on a fool's errand.

Since he cannot possibly hope to win the presidency, I choose to believe that he's misguided, and not the only other logical conclusion--that he is intentionally playing spoiler to help show just how bad things will get under the current system. Furthermore, by again coming out of nowhere (what's he been doing these last few years, anyway?) in an attempt to hit some kind of grand slam, he's undermining the very spirit of his personal philosophy--that power should ultimately reside in and come from the people. How so? By ignoring the grass roots. By avoiding the Green Party, he's shown that he didn't believe in them from the start, and as an independent, he's building no kind of practical grass-roots movement. The Ralph Nader we all thought we knew before 2000 would instead be working tirelessly to develop organization and focus at the local level--building a movement from the bottom up that derives its power from shared local energy, not an iconic run for the highest office. His foolish run tricks progressives into hanging their hopes on one man, a cult of personality, rather than making the changes in their own communities that will have meaningful, lasting change. For all of that, Nader has betrayed his ideals, and he's lost my respect. The saddest part is that I agree with him on most all of his issues--but I can't in good conscience support his run. I'm an independent and progressive, but it's Kerry all the way for me. The goodness in this country is being driven out by Bush and it must stop. But, in the interest of democracy, please learn more and decide for yourself.

Sometimes, the internet makes things too easy. Tonight I saw the video that's been in the headlines today--the beheading of that poor American worker in Iraq. I wasn't looking for it--I accidentally stumbled across a link in a discussion forum of an altogether unrelated site, and, doubting its veracity, followed it. And it was the real thing. I'll spare the gentle reader any discussion of it, but its impact on me was unexpected. I didn't realize until it was too late that I had just given away a part of my innocence that I can't get back. I wish I hadn't seen it.

But that's a lousy note to end a day's post on. So instead I'll end on a happy thought. I had lunch yesterday with someone unique in the world, who never fails to give me hope in the goodness and beauty in life. Someone whose mere presence reminds me both of my weaknesses and failures, and of my potential for redemption and transcendence. I'm not worthy but I'm grateful to her.

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28 March 2004
Pre-emptive oversimplification

The repercussions of our country's basically insane 'preemptive strike' doctrine continue to be felt around the world. Last week, the Israeli government assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Palestinian Hamas. Neither Israel or the US are calling it assassination, of course, but that's what it was--an Israeli helicopter cut him (and nine others nearby) down as he was leaving a mosque. Hamas is a violent group and Yassin's hands must be considered dirty, but I for one am deeply troubled by this escalation--this is simply going above the law, above international standards of justice. This is rule by terror, hardly a productive response to terrorism. Even the worst criminals of the Holocaust were tried in international courts, but now Israel is taking shortcuts with bullets and rockets, foolishly thinking it's made safer in the process.

It's bad enough on its face, but the details make it worse. First of all, if Israel wanted to prosecute and try Yassin, it would not have been a difficult task--he was, to quote The Nation, "a half-blind quadriplegic in his late 60s...in his wheelchair when he died." Where is the nobility of such a thing? This was a cowardly act of brute force, taken out on a weak person to terrorize others, and as such is no better than the tactics of Hamas itself. Secondly, Yassin was among the more moderate forces in Hamas; in his absence, among the first voices heard was new Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who said that "[President] Bush is the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam, an enemy of Muslims." Yet another example of how the Bush government, through its unconditional support of the bizarrely erratic Ariel Sharon, is making the world safer for us. Hey, he's a uniter, not a divider.

What irks me about things like this, and the rose-colored defense they get in our conservative media, is that the right-wing hypocrites are always bashing advocates of peace for thinking the world is simpler than it is, snootily reminding us that the world is in fact a complex place. Yet what could be more wrongly simple-minded than this ridiculous concept of good vs. evil, us vs. them that our president is foisting on the world, and the idea that, as in some action movie, you just go blow up the bad guys and everything is better? Who's living in that oversimplified dreamland now?

And in another shining example of our "liberation" of Iraq, we've shut down the Baghdad newspaper Al Hawsa, resulting in thousands of angry protesters chanting anti-US slogans and burning the US flag. Yes, I'd say our mission of bringing freedom to Iraq is going swimmingly.


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