Saturday, April 30, 2005

I wonder why...

I wonder why so much of the US right wing screams bloody murder about the United Nations' supposed invasion of American sovereignty, The UN is little more than a toothless tiger (except when Washington is able to bully it to the US administration's own ends). At the end of the day, the US follows the UN when it wants to and ignores it when it wants to. The UN can't do anything about it.

The World Trade Organization, on the other the hand, truly is an infringement of national sovereignty. If the US ignores WTO rulings, it is punished with trade sanctions. Yet the WTO barely gets mentioned by the right.

The WTO is even more secretive and unaccountable than the UN but has actual power.

I wonder why the right choose easy, powerless targets rather than real ones.

Or is it more about cheap, diversionary symbolism than substance?

Friday, April 29, 2005

...but I know it when I see it

So you thought the FCC's crackdown on the deliciously vague violation of 'indecency' on broadcast airwaves was over the top?

It could get worse.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, wants to criminalize so-called indecency.

Instead of being in violation of federal regulations and subject to a fine, Sensenbrenner would turn indecency (however that's defined... if it's defined) into a criminal offense and subject possibly to jail time.

The other change is that the target of big government's wrath would not be radio and TV stations but the actual people who perpetrated the 'indecency.' Thus, stations would no longer be liable for what their invited guests do or say.

Sensenbrenner encouraged cable operators to do more to promote ways that parents can block unsavory programming they do not want and said that "The first thing we need is education has got to get better."

He added, "You can't expect the government to replace parental responsibility," which is exactly what his proposal purports to do.

It is not yet clear if Sensenbrenner wants criminal penalties to include jail time; it's still vague at this point.

In fact, the 'decency' itself, as a legal concept, is very vague. Too vague. I'd love to see how the criminalization of 'broadcast indecency' would stand up in court.

Or perhaps it's being left vague for quite intentional reasons. It's worth noting that Sensenbrenner made these intimidating comments before the National Cable & Telecommunications Association annual convention.

The main problem with this atrocity is that it gives far too much authority to limit freedom of speech to those in power.

When I was in Guinea, a man was thrown in jail for naming his dog after the head of state. In Zimbabwe (and other countries), it's a crime to insult the president. Imagine how many anti-Clinton folks could've been imprisoned in the 90s for that. An opposition activist was thrown in jail in Zimbabwe late last year for calling the country's strongman Robert Mugabe 'thick headed' and another met the same fate for correctly referring to Mugabe as a 'dictator.'

How do you define obscenity? Or do you define it?

If you define it, then freedom of speech is dependent on whoever's in power (and is in a position to define the crime). Who's to say it won't be defined with a Mugabe-esque interpretation?

If you don't define it, then it's horrifically vague and subject to the whim of whoever's in power (and in a position to prosecute whoever they feel like)

Today, 'obscenity' could be "Bush is Hitler."

Tommorrow, 'obscenity' could just as easily become "illegal immigration is a bad idea."

It's truly a Pandora's Box.

Some will dismiss this is the typical whinings of liberals and ACLU-types. The fact of the matter is that the 'politically incorrect' have as much to worry about this bill as anyone else. What happens if liberals get in power and decide to say that 'political incorrectness' constitutes obscenity?

It is interesting that conservatives usually reject the concept that the airwaves are public property but accept this concept for the purpose of regulating something they don't like. They'd never try to get away with this for newspapers.

I think Howard Stern is a horse's rear end. My brother loves him. My solution and the solution of most 'freedom loving people' [(c) 2002 G.W.Bush] is to ignore something that we know we dislike. Sensenbrenner's solution is to impose his dislike on every American.

Do you want politicians to tell you what you can and can't watch?

Update: Even in the Guinea, the only West African state to not allow private TV or radio stations, they are going in the opposite direction as Sensenbrenner's criminalization efforts. The country's information minister is reportedly calling for the decriminalization of press 'offenses' for the print media.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

'Civility in political life' and its manifestations

At the now infamous 'Justice Sunday' [sic] sponsored by right wing religious groups, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, "Emotions are running high on both sides, and it reveals once again our country's desperate need for more civility in political life."

Ironic since Frist's comments were at an event whose subtitle was the loaded 'Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith.'

As noble as Sen. Frist's words may have been, few others at the event seemed to be paying attention.

Charles W. Colson, head of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said that Democrats' actions in blocking a handful of the most extreme judicial nominations (versus the nearly 200 Bush judicial nominees approved) "are destroying the balance of power, which was a vital Christian contribution to the founding of our nation."

James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, said that the Supreme Court's majority "was unelected and unaccountable and arrogant and imperious and determined to redesign the culture according to their own biases and values, and they're out of control" and that most of the justice do not care "about the sanctity of life." He referred to Democrats' blocking of a less than a dozen judges as "judicial tyranny to people of faith."

Is this the moderation Frist was talking about?

Chinese government denounces revisionism

There's something more than a little ironic about the latest row between China and Japan. China is making a big deal about the fact that some Japanese school textbooks seem to downplay Japan's atrocities during World War II.

This is hardly surprising. I think most countries' textbooks tend to downplay the more unsavory parts of national history. I know American school textbooks make a big deal about 'Manifest destiny' but not quite as much about its consequence: the genocide of the Native Americans. When I was in Guinea, their civics texts hardly mentioned the horrific repression of the First Republic (1958-84) except in the most vague terms. I wonder how much detail British and French textbooks go into the atrocities committed during colonialism in Africa or the ruthless Dutch campaign in Indonesia.

Even though the Japanese prime minister took the unprecedented step of apologizing for Japan's wartime crimes, China wasn't satisified. China wasn't mentioned specifically in the apology.

Of course, the textbook issue is merely a ruse for the Chinese to pick a fight. It makes people forget that Japan is a fairly prosperous democracy and China is an authoritarian state.

While there's more than a grain of truth in the complaint that Japan has barely done anything to face up to its atrocious crimes during World War II and before, I wonder how people in Tibet feel about China's denunciations of Japanese imperialism.

And it's quite amusing to hear the Chinese autocracy, of all countries, complaining about censorship and glossing over history. I wonder how many Chinese textbooks mention the Tianamen Square uprising and massacre. I wonder how many mention tens of millions who starved during Mao's Great Leap Forward [sic].

Then again, the row with the Japanese is surely one of the few news stories NOT censored by the regime.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bettman and Goodenow should resign

Bobo's blog made a long overdue suggestion to address the league-imposed lockout that cost the National Hockey League its season.

It is time for [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman and [NHL Players' Association chief Bob] Goodenow to meet continously until they have reached a decision or resign and make room for new negotiators.

I say skip the interim. They've already met many times. While substantive differences aren't nil, it seems clear to most observers that the personal animosity between Bettman and Goodenow is a major obstacle standing in the way of a settlement.

The NHL became the first league in North American sports' history to cancel its entire season due to a labor dispute. Bettman and Goodenow are co-captains of this Titanic. They should both resign now before the league disappears. Ice hockey is too great a sport. Its fans deserve better.

The league is already talking about using scabs (replacement players) for next season. I trust this is just a bargaining ploy by owners. Even the NHL product has declined in quality over the last ten years because of the teams' emphasis on slow, hyperdefensive play and the league's refusal to crack down on hooking, holding and interference. But a second-rate product would be even more resoundingly rejected by fans. This wouldn't halt the league's fading into oblivion. It would accelerate it.

Update: The Players' Association is seeking trade union status in Quebec and British Columbia, reports the Canada's CBC. In those provinces, if unionized workers go on strike, replacement workers can not be engaged. This would prevent the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens from using scab players, as the league has hinted it might do next season if the league-imposed lockout is not resolved.

(Yet another) red card for ESPN

Last Saturday marked the first ever derby (intra-city match) in Major League Soccer history. The contest pitted Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA, which is also based in the southern California city. Los Angeles outclassed its rival in a match that was more one-sided than the 3-1 scoreline indicated. But the atmosphere in the Home Depot Center was electric.

So thunderous was the crowd's roar that it was impossible to talk to the person standing next to you on the sidelines without yelling, reported LA's

An atmosphere common in other parts of the world and some US national team matches, but a welcome addition to the domestic American soccer scene.

A red card goes to the ESPN2 network which televised the game... sort of.

The game was preceded by the NFL (gridiron football) draft. This is where franchises select the rights to various amateur players. The draft went significantly longer than expected. Eventually, ESPN2 did broadcast the MLS game on a tape delay. But they made a cardinal error.

During the draft, the ticker at the bottom of the screen kept fans updated with the score of the LA-Chivas match. So by the time the game started, fans already knew that LA scored the first three goals, Chivas scored one in the second half and had a man sent off. So much for the drama and suspense.

But most astonishing was ESPN's explanation.

"That's definitely an honest mistake," said Mac Nwulu, the associate manager for communications at the network. "It seems to have happened several times, even during the [2002] World Cup."

So they keep making the same mistakes over and over and that's supposed to make fans feel better?! Talk about inspiring confidence.

The "all sports network," whose programming is increasingly dominated by non-sport programming (drafts, poker, cheerleading, 'reality shows'), has been contemptuous of soccer at every turn. This is hardly the first time they've messed around with the sport.

And the worst part is that MLS buys time on ESPN to air the game of the week. So MLS pays money to be treated like garbage.

Most soccer fans, and surely the league itself, would wish MLS (and the European Champions League) away from the ESPN in a heartbeat if there were another competing channel as widely accessible.

I'm waiting for the day an MLS game gets pre-empted by their pompous 'who wants to be a SportsCenter anchor' nonsense.

Much like MTV, ESPN used to be good. But it's become so self-important and self-referential, it's lost the very irreverence that once made it good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hysteria about teen drinking doing more harm than good

The new Adirondack Almanack blog comments the Glens Falls' Post-Star's Crusade against teen drinking (led by its managing editor Ken Tingley). Several local kids in the last few years have died in drinking and driving accidents. It seems every week it runs a story of someone getting busted for serving alcohol to minors. A few months ago, pictures of an underage alcohol party were posted on the Internet and someone reported it to authorities. The parents of one of the partyers were in the picture and this provoked the paper's Crusade.

Kids are getting drunk and dying in resulting car accidents. So how can this Crusade possibly be a problem?

The denial of reality does nothing to address any problem. Tingley derides this as 'the culture of acceptance,' when in fact it's more an acknowledgement. You have to properly analyze a problem in order to have any hope of solving it.

Some will retort something along the lines of: 'the law hasn't stopped all murders/thefts/rape but should we legalize those too?'

Yet murder is not nearly as common as youth drinking. Furthermore, murder and theft and rape are illegal for everyone, not just kids.

Tingley wags his finger at parents to know what their kids are doing and that will solve all the problems. This is a good idea, one that few would argue with. Parents should know what their kids are doing generally but 100% awareness is impossible.

This might be easier for Tingley, whose children are younger. But the reality is that parents micromanage their kids' lives less when they're 17 than when they're 8. Even responsible parents. Especially responsible parents.

It's the natural order of things. Giving kids freedom means giving them a certain amount of freedom to screw up. The alternative is house arrest until they go off to college or move out.

The whole campaign against drinking and driving has been successful precisely because it avoids the head-in-the-sand approach. It's been successful precisely because it recognizes the reality that undesirable as it may be, people will get drunk and need to have a responsible plan B when they do. Tingley's ostrich approach will not save any lives. The opposite is more likely.

Tingley and his paper have made one legitimate point. As long as youth drinking is illegal, parents have the right to reasonably expect that other parents won't give their kids alcohol.

However, what's most demagogic about The Post-Star's 'Stone the heretics' campaign is its almost pathological inability/refusal to distinguish between three very different phenomenons: drinking to excess, teen drinking and drinking & driving.

It's also the most counterproductive aspect of their Crusade.

There is a wider drinking culture in this country. People, kids or adults, can't watch a sporting event without seeing beer advertisements with scantily clad women. Alcohol is marketed as cool. Every weekend, adults stumble around South Street (Glens Falls' bar district) in a state of total inebriation, arguing with lampposts, pedestrians dodging them. Being drunk is worse for kids, physiologically; but certainly it's bad for adults too. Such adult activity has not, to my knowledge, provoked a single self-righteous editorial.

Furthermore, binge drinking (by adults) is tacitly encouraged. Happy hour and drink specials at bars. $1 beer nights at the ballpark. Our local hockey team offers discounted beer for 5 minutes after every power play goal scored by the good guys. Root for the home team AND get drunk at the same time!

Do you think kids don't notice these things?

The focus of most anti-drinking-and-driving education is on kids. When an adult dies in a drunk driving accident, the newspaper never calls for alcohol to be banned for adults. It never calls for a 'burn the witches' campaign against bar owners. It's written off as the bad judgement of one person, something for which everyone else shouldn't have to pay for.

Tingley views the issue in stark terms. His most recent column framed the issue like this: Some believe teen drinking is a rite of passage that can never be stopped. Others say there must be a better way.

There is a better way. But it won't be found with his simplistic dichotomy of 'if not Puritanism, then hedonism'

We don't just give teens car keys the day they turn 16, along with unlimited freedom to drive. There's a supervised transition period. There's a recognition that driving responsibly isn't something your instantly endowed with the minute the clock strikes midnight on a certain day. It's something you have to learn, over time.

In fact, that's the whole basis of parenting. You help them tie their shoelaces until they can do it themselves. You help them ride their bike, catch a fly ball, even bathe them, until they're old enough to do it without you.

Yet we do the exact opposite with alcohol.

Young people are not allowed to legally drinking alcohol for 20 years and 365 days. But the day of that 21st birthday, we suddenly expect them to go from nothing to immediately be able drink responsibly. It's a ludicrous expectation and one that's often betrayed as such by tragic circumstances. We're shocked (SHOCKED!) when college students die of alcohol poisoning.

It's like giving a 14 year old a credit card with a $10,000 limit, sending him on his own and expecting him to use the card responsibly. Except the potential consequence of such folly isn't indebtedness but death.

The drinking culture in southern Europe is much different than here. Kids drink alcohol (primarily wine) at family dinners. As a result, kids there learn how to drink responsibly because it's done in a controlled environment. Kids associate alcohol with social situations like dinner and family gatherings. They are taught to enjoy the taste. Because it's legal, it lacks the forbidden fruit syndrome. Because it's legal, there's less pressure to drink in large quantities (because you never know when you'll be able to drink again). Because there's less binge drinking, there's less death.

For Tingley, it's either reckless permissiveness or total abstinence (until that 366th day after their 20th birthday when anything goes).

Ken Tingley would publicly savage me, and demand I be blacklisted, if he found this essay. He would accuse me of hating kids, of tolerating the intolerable, of killing our children. That's how he treated young Patrick Russell who dared suggest that Tingley's and The Post-Star's hysteria might be making the problem worse, not better.

In another column, Tingley patted himself on the back for the "discussion" (ie: witch hunt) he started: The discussion has moved to a new level and many of the adults are at odds about how to address the problem in their own homes... The discussion is continuing — sometimes heated — but that may be the best sign of all.

This was after his smear of Russell.

I am loathe to use a highly charged term like 'McCarthyistic' but The Post-Star is treading recklessly close.

The laws should to be changed to allow for youth drinking. This should be controlled. A kid should be to drink alcohol legally provided it's with parental supervision (his own). But contrary to Ken Tingley's self-congratulatory assertions. the hysteria whipped up by The Post-Star is not favorable to civilized, reasonable debate. And the ostrich approach advocated by him and his paper is not favorable to kids' well-being either.

Update: The Post-Star ran another editorial on teen drinking/excessive drinking/drinking and driving (which they continue to obstintately refuse to differentiate between).

And no one takes pleasure in seeing anyone arrested and having their names splashed across the pages of their local newspaper, it pontificated. Start publishing in the paper the names of kids and parents who've been charged, and you've got an unprecedented level of social pressure that can't be ignored. And once the public tide turns against the acceptability of the behavior -- as it did with smoking and DWI -- more people will feel empowered to speak out and take action.

They have a funny way of showing lack of pleasure. They're almost breaking their arms patting themselves on the back over the 'discussion' (hysteria) they started.

I'm not sure which is more disgusting: their self-righteousness or the counterproductivity of their self-righteousness.

The editorial even throws in some other boogeymen:

Alcohol is dangerous to our children. It's harmful to them physically. It exposes them to unanticipated situations in which they could be sexually abused or commit crimes or be injured or killed in car accidents. It has the potential to create long-term drug and alcohol problems.

True. But isn't it equally true of adults, for whom getting drunk is legal? Especially due to the refusal of society (led by Tingley's and
The Post-Star's ostrich approach) to help kids learn how to drink responsibly.

It's a matter of time before some kid dies because he drank to death the woods or get drunk in the woods and got behind the wheel, instead of drinking at home where parents could make sure they didn't drink too much or take away the keys. The next time that happens, I hope Tingley and his cohorts will be proud of themselves. At least the parents won't have sanctioned it!

Monday, April 25, 2005

How to live down to the worst cariciature of yourself, pt. 2

The United Nations system has been under serious pressure in the last few years, ever since its refusal to authorize the American-led aggression against Iraq. One of the main criticisms of American neo-conservatives has been of the UN's Human Rights Commission.

Granted, this is merely a fig leaf in a greater effort* to discredit the UN into submissiveness. And though advocacy groups had complained about the HRC for years, neo-cons never showed any particular interest in the commission or in human rights in general (except as a rhetorical device) before the UN-disapproved Iraq invasion.

Yet, however disingenuous some criticisms may have been, its clear that the UN Human Rights Commission as presently constituted is worthless.

Most recently, the commission passed a resolution criticizing human rights violations in Sudan's Darfur region but refused to name the Sudanese government specifically. Yet even that watered down resolution was seen as a bitter pill for the Khartoum regime to swallow.

The HRC comprises 54 UN member states, divided by geography and headed by a chief appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In other words, approximately one out of every four UN member states is on the commission. One can expect bad human rights' abusers to serve on the commission merely by the law of averages. This year's guardians of human rights include Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and, arguably the most repressive state in the world, Saudi Arabia.

Secretary-General Annan recognized that the HRC was harming the reputation of the UN as a whole and called for it to be scrapped and replaced by a much smaller council. Though the right wing should be beware: he also wants a new council to have more power, which might be problematic to the neo-con strategy of 'accountability without authority.'

The HRC is so useless that even its own head trashed it. The highly respected Louise Arbour, who is a former justice on the Canadian Supreme Court and was once head of the War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, called the commission selective and unfair.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world is answered by reference to just four states," she said.

The current HRC's sole purpose is to protect its members from being named and shamed. Annan, Arbour and others are right to call for a new body with both accountability AND authority.

*-For more on the UN's rough year and the dubiousness of its harshest critics, read here

Followup on tsunami relief

In mid-January, I wrote an essay in which I expressed doubt about whether the PROMISES of money toward relief for the Asian tsunami would actually translate into actual money. A friend of mine though the tsunami touched world opinion in a way that other disasters hadn't. She thus expressed confidence that the promises would in fact be realized and encouraged me to re-explore the issue in a few months.

Unfortunately, the signs are not good.

Last month, the BBC reported: [T]he Asian Development Bank said there was a shortfall of more than $4bn promised for rebuilding India, Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

That's a $4 billion that was promised and not received... and that's only for four countries.

More recently, the Inter Press Service reported that of the $6.7 billion pledged overall, only $2.5 billion has actually been paid or committed. Not spent, but committed.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Reconciliation methods in traditional societies

This essay is part of a regular feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

The New York Times had a good article on the reconciliation process in Uganda. Northern Uganda has been the home of arguable the world's most savage rebel group, the grossly misnamed Lord's Resistance Army.

The fighting features rebels who call themselves the Lord's Resistance Army and who speak earnestly of the import of the Ten Commandments, but who routinely hack up civilians who get in their way. To add to their numbers, the rebels abduct children in the night, brainwash them in the bush, indoctrinate them by forcing them to kill, and then turn them - 20,000 over the last two decades - into the next wave of ferocious fighters seeking to topple the government. Girls as young as 12 are assigned as rebel commanders' wives. Anyone who does not toe the line is brutally killed, explains The NYT.

The International Criminal Court at The Hague represents one way of holding those who commit atrocities responsible for their crimes. The raw eggs, twigs and livestock that the Acholi people of northern Uganda use in their traditional reconciliation ceremonies represent another.

The two very different systems - one based on Western notions of justice, the other on a deep African tradition of forgiveness - are clashing in their response to one of this continent's most bizarre and brutal guerrilla wars, a conflict that has raged for 18 years in the rugged terrain along Uganda's border with Sudan.

War crimes tribunals should focus on the organizers and instigators of mass atrocities and the worst perpetators, such as LRA leader Joseph Kony, who tells his followers that he is in direct contact with God, and that God says it is right to kill in the cause of toppling [Ugandan President Yoweri] Museveni's evil government.

Kony explained, "If you pick up an arrow against us and we ended up cutting off the hand you used, who is to blame? You report us with your mouth, and we cut off your lips. Who is to blame? It is you! The Bible says that if your hand, eye or mouth is at fault, it should be cut off."

The rebels began cutting off the lips, hands, noses and breasts of civilians, intending that their victims survive as constant warnings to others.

Much like with the gacaca* system in Rwanda, sticking with traditional notions of reconciliation is generally a good idea, particularly in traditional societies. This is not based on softness, but on pragmatism. These societies had to deal with conflict and its aftermath long before western-style courts with robed judges were introduced.

Furthermore, western systems are more focused on punitive justice whereas post-conflict societies need a greater emphasis on restorative justice if they are ever going to move forward.

War crimes tribunals should focus on scum like Kony. Kids were abducted into the LRA and forced at gunpoint to commit atrocities or drugged up so they'd be more willing to do so, they should follow established paths to reintegrating into society as much as possible.

*-For more on the Rwandan gacacas, see here

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Being a jerk is NOT the state's pasttime

Even Colin Powell, John Bolton's former boss, has expressed doubts about his fitness to serve as UN ambassador. Apparently Bolton is quite rude and has nasty temper.

Now, this isn't a big deal to people like the petulant Angry New Yorker blogger, who complained about the Democratic 'babies' saying mean things about poor Mr. Bolton.

Angry New Yorker sniffed: We're really at a loss at to what the issue is here regarding the accusation that John Bolton, nominee for U.S.'s U.N. Ambassador, was "verbally abusive" and chased a woman staffer around a hotel throwing things at her. First of all, at the risk of being undiplomatic, we don't care. In New York verbal abuse is almost the state pastime.

Perhaps lack of class is something to be proud of in New York City, but up here in the boonies, it's not. Like some NYC residents, he thinks that NYC is the be all and end all of New York state.

And where I work, chasing a woman staffer around a hotel throwing things at her is probably grounds for dismissal. In the Bush administration, it's apparently grounds for a promotion.

In his graceful way, Angry New Yorker continues: So if some wallflower ten years ago was traumatized and couldn't take a dressing down -- deserved or not -- without quivering in her Legg's we're most definitely not getting teary-eyed about it. Granted, no one enjoys working for a jerk -- and there's no shortage of those in either New York City or in the broader work world. But we've also worked with plenty of idiots, incompetents and deadwood, and there are times when lighting a bonfire under someone's lazy ass is just what the doctor ordered.

Being a jerk, as he put it, may not be a fatal flaw in other offices but perhaps is not the best quality to have in the nation's #2 diplomat. Especially considering the beating America's reputation has taken precisely as the result of the administration's contempt for diplomacy.

Laughably, President Bush yesterday accused Democrats of blocking Bolton's nomination for political reasons.

As we know, Bush's nomination of a vehemently anti-UN man to represent America at the UN was not the least bit political.

'Partisan politics' or doing something 'for political reasons' is one of the most common, and lamest, complaints heard in Washington. A politician is one who practices politics. Politics is, by definition: The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs.

So yes, the Democrats are playing politics by blocking Bolton. Just as the administration is playing politics by defending him. So what? Besides, the minority Dems can't block Bolton without the help of Republican senators... some of whom are uneasy about him as well.

I admit that this doesn't really matter that much. I'm sure if Bolton gets voted down, the administration will nominate someone even more hardline, even more obnoxious, even more undiplomatic. Maybe Jesse Helms is available.

But if the best defense of Bolton supporters is whining about 'obstructionism,' then it's obvious he should be voted down.

Grasping at the tiniest of straws

Earlier this week, embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay launched a salvo against Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and other so-called 'activist judges.' As I've mentioned before, 'activist judges' is a perjorative used by conservatives against judges who insist that legislators respect the constitutions.

Most of it was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff that I normally wouldn't dignify with its own entry. But one comment caught my eye. Of Justice Kennedy, Rep. DeLay said, "And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."

He does research? On the Internet?


I don't think The Simpsons could spoof DeLay any better since he's already become such a cariciature of himself.

Then again, if I were under siege and facing serious allegations of sleaze and influence peddling, I suppose I'd be grasping at any straws I could too.

Perhaps DeLay objects so much because the Internet was invented by Democrat Al Gore.

Friday, April 22, 2005

'Self-loathing' or non-stereotypical?

Stephen Minarik, the new chairman of the New York State Republican Party, inherits an organization in poor shape. Republicans hold none of the major statewide offices, except for Gov. George Pataki. And the governor is not particuarly popular, if not loathed, and is generally expected not to seek a fourth term in 2006. The GOP has a tiny minority in the state Assembly. Its narrow majority in the state Senate shrunk even more with several rare losses (3 of 62, which is high by NY legislative standards) by incumbents in last year's elections.

So to get attention (and much needed money) for his party, Minarik launched a high profile Stop Hillary campaign against Mrs. Clinton, the state's junior senator. Invoking Hillary is one of the best ways to raise huge sums of cash... for Democrats and Republicans alike. Piles of non-New York state cash will likely flow in to NY GOP coffers as a result of this campaign. Sen. Clinton has already blasted "the right-wing attack machine" to raise her own non-NYS money in response.

I've never been a big fan of Mrs. Clinton and I didn't vote for her. Essentially, she became a well-known figure and popular among her supporters primarily because of who her husband happens to be. She's certainly smart and talented, but if her husband hadn't become president, do you really think her first elected office would be US Senator from a state she'd never lived in? It all seems sort of the antithesis of feminism.

Yet, the vitriol of criticism against her is breathtaking. I understand that some people don't like the fact that she's a bit a liberal, but other more liberal politicians don't get savaged nearly as much as she does. (Though as a senator, he hasn't been as ultraliberal as her reputation would suggest as demonstrated by her surprising popularity in the very conservative upstate New York)

Some claim that her critics hate the fact that she's a strong woman. Yet, there are other strong women politicians that don't get savaged nearly as much as she does. She's not only ambitious, but poor at disguising her ambition. But there are other unashamedly ambitious politicians who don't get savaged as much as she does. As First Lady, she was an unelected official who tried to devise a major policy in secret, but none of the other unelected officials on the same commission got savaged as much as she did. Appointed presidential commissions were hardly invented by Bill Clinton.

Sen. Clinton is not even the only major politician who owes her job to the fame of relatives. Such as Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (daughter of Alaska Gov. Frank), GOP Rep. Mary Bono (wife of Sonny) and the many Democratic Kennedys who've been elected to Congress.

It's not that she's the target of criticism that baffles me. It's the amount and the vitriol that baffles me. No single reason explains it.

In a sense, I think Sen. Clinton is a bit like the state of Israel. Both certainly deserve some of the criticism they receive but the sheer quantity of the vitriol is wholly disproportionate to any sense of fairness. They both have large numbers of people who will defend them blindly and rabidly even against the most legitimate criticisms.

One of those defenders is Sen. Clinton's husband, the former president. I suppose it's not surprising since on a personal level, he owes her big time for not ditching him in the late 90s. But that's personal and this essay is not about the personal.

Except that it is.

In defending his wife, former Pres. Clinton criticized a Republican political consultant at heart of the Stop Hillary campaign. The consultant, Arthur Finkelstein, happens to be gay and actually married his partner in Massachussetts last year.

Mr. Clinton said, "I thought, one of two things. Either this guy believes his party is not serious and is totally Machiavellian in its position, or you know, as David Brock said in his great book 'Blinded by the Right,' there's some sort of self-loathing or something. I was more sad for him."

Arthur Finkelstein is a shameless promoter of smear politics. But it's outrageous that Mr. Clinton lowered himself to Finkelstein's level with a wholly inappropriate attack. Perhaps this particular case can be chalked up to the excessive zeal of a husband defending his wife (though I'm a bit skeptical). Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton's attack perpetuates a myth I detest.

'Self-loathing' is despicable smear. I see it no different than when extreme elements of the pro-Iraq war crowd defame anti-war people as 'anti-American' or 'terrorist lovers.' It's an offensive leap of anti-logic.

Just as many people assume that religious people must necessarily be conservative, others assume that gays must necessarily be liberal. I've found it extremely arrogant and presumptuous that some people act like gays and blacks OUGHT to be liberal by the mere fact of their gayness and blackness. Conservative gays are called 'self-loathing.' Conservative blacks are called 'Uncle Toms.' This is a widespread assumption as reprehensible as anything Bill Frist said.

The fundamental flaw is that this presumes that homosexuality is the only characteristic of gays, that dark skin is the only characteristic of blacks. Gays and blacks can't care about crime. They can't care about jobs. They can't want lower taxes. Gays have to be pigeonholed as gays only. Blacks have to be pigeonholed as blacks only. They are not allowed to be simple citizens who care about other issues that affect them and their country, state and town. They need to stay inside their little box and conform to their stereotype.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask Finkelstein how he can feel at home in a party where exploiting anti-gay sentiment is at the heart of their current national agenda; rather than derision and assumption and presumption, you can give him a chance to explain himself. It's reasonable to challenge him to lead an uprising in his party against this bigotry,to show a little courage, to fight the correct and Right enemy. But deriding him as self-loathing merely because no gay could possibly have anything in common with a single Republican value, that's not only tremendously arrogant, but over the line of decency.

The Democratic Party does not have the right to the vote of every gay person or every black person, just as the Republican Party does not have the right to the vote of every Christian or every soldier. They need to earn votes on merit, not identity.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

'Support our troops'... sometimes

Sadly, 'Support our troops' has become an empty catchphrase used to silence criticism of the Iraq aggression. I've seen more than a few bumper stickers and lawn signs that read 'I support our troops and President George W. Bush' next to an American flag.

I was a bit skeptical of 'support our troops' from the beginning. Not because it was an inherently bad phrase. The sentiments of the literal words are perfectly reasonable. No one I know, and I know some pretty hard core anti-war folks, has suggested we spit on or curse at returning Iraq vets like they did during Vietnam. A colleague's son returned from Iraq recently and was welcomed back by a big gathering; a big gathering organized by some friends of mine who I know opposed the Iraq war.

The problem is that while the words and the phrase may be reasonable in a vacuum, they are used in a particular context in the real world.

I objected to how the otherwise reasonable sentiment has been exploited: in favor of an unjust war. But seeing this signs were the last straw. The signs represent a insidious propaganda of the highest order: equating the troops, the president and the nation. Not only because they are on the same sign, but because they are part of the same, indivisible sentence. The implication of these signs is clear: if you oppose one, you oppose the other two.

I believe we can best support our troops by not sending them on unprovoked invasion of non-threatening countries based on bogus reasons. But that doesn't fit neatly onto a bumper sticker. And it also doesn't really appeal to our society's instincts for macho chest-beating first, thinking later.

It's sad when a phrase that seems honorable enough on the surface gets hijacked for political reasons.

The 'support our troops' folks mostly insist that the phrase is separate from support or opposition to the war. Yet in my town, and in most towns, 'support our troops' rallies only started AFTER anti-Iraq war rallies started happening. And in my town, like most towns, the big 'support our troops' rallies generally stopped once the anti-war rallies petered out. If it was really only about 'supporting our troops,' then shouldn't the rallies continue regularly since American troops are still fighting, being injured and dying abroad? Do we only 'support our troops' when liberal hippies criticize belligerence and militarism? Aren't troops the #2 victims of that belligerence and militarism?

The 'canonize the veterans' movement is an offshoot of 'support our troops.' And it has the same characteristics. All veterans should be canonized, except for those who disagree with patriotically correct orthodoxy of support the wartime Leader no matter what.

John Kerry is a veteran. He even voted for the Iraq invasion. But once he started criticizing President Bush, he became a traitor and a turncoat. Ralph Nader is an Army veteran but 'canonize the veterans' movement would spit on him in a second if they had the chance. I'm sure they loathe the Veterans for Peace organization.

The worst part is that many people mouth 'support our troops' but don't mean it as substance.

When there were long delays in getting body armor and armor plated vehicles to American troops in Iraq, the 'support our troops' crowd should've taken to the streets to demand that 'support our troops' be translated into action. Especially when it was reported (by Fox News nonetheless) that the Pentagon was giving protective vests to foreign troops before providing them to American troops. I guess preserving the facade of the 'coalition of the willing' was more important to the administration than protecting American lives. The 'support our troops' crowd should've gone ballistic about this. But they didn't. They were too busy demanding everyone support the wartime Leader no matter what.

[Incidentally, that US troops were in many cases poorly equiped was a problem brought to widespread public attention by the supposedly liberal, troop-hating news media]

The hawkish Washington Post ran an editorial illustrating the lunacy of the Don't Ask Don't Tell farce that is the military's policy against gays. It points out how this sham policy is used against soldiers who the military had previously lauded.

ARMY SGT. ROBERT Stout received a Purple Heart after an exploding grenade in Iraq last May left shrapnel in his face, arm and legs. He would like to remain in the military, and he said in an interview that he would reenlist were it not for the "don't ask, don't tell" policy... Now he'll be lucky if he's allowed to serve out his tour, which ends in May, without being kicked out of the service. For under U.S. policy, even the most decorated and patriotic gay soldier is just a homosexual to be rooted out at the military's earliest convenience.

When he was injured, he instantly became one of 'our heroes', a great man, a profile in courage. But when he admitted he was gay, he just as instantly became a pariah, a scumbag, worthy only of being expelled from the Army. No one's demanding we support him. The instant he admitted he was gay, he was no longer one of OUR troops.

The editorial also points out the practical effects of this stupid policy. They are pretty much the same as any irrationally exclusionary policy.

According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the services have spent $190 million recruiting and training replacements for gay service members kicked out during the past 10 years. More than 750 of the 9,488 men and women discharged from the military during that time, moreover, "held critical occupations"; many had training in languages important to the war on terrorism. The gay ban, in other words, is as self-defeating as it is demeaning to people who want to serve their country at a time of great need.

A military acquaintance of mine once said that it was sad that so many otherwise talented people won't even consider a career in the military. I suspect many of them HAVE considered such a career but felt they weren't wanted. Maybe they've seen all these cases of honorable soldiers who gave years of loyal service (and possibly their well-being), received many honors and then were stabbed in the back by the institution that once claimed them as heros.

Maybe they're realizing that 'support our troops' might not apply to them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bill Frist's "blasphemy"

Part of the Theocracy Brigade's agenda is to make the phrase 'religious right' redundant in the minds of most Americans. If you are religious, then you must be conservative, at least moderately so. That's what they want to drum into the minds of Americans until it becomes an unquestioned assumption. Never mind that many of the great liberal social reformers in American history have been motivated precisely because of their faith, from the abolitionists to Cesar Chavez to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The Theocracy Brigade usually advances their agenda in a very stealthful way. That's how they've become so powerful. They worked from the grass roots up and flew under the political radar for a long time until they were already entrenched. They usually seize upon issues which are relatively unimportant in practical terms but hugely symbolic. Like whether society will collapse if the Ten Commandments aren't posted in every school bathroom or court hallway. Or whether we [however that's defined] should acknoweldge [however that's defined] America as a Christian nation [however that's defined].

With control of the presidency and the Congress and control of the judiciary their next, not-too-distant goal, they are so drunk with power that perhaps are losing a bit of the subtle touch that got them so much.

Democrats in the Senate have used the filibuster to block several of President Bush's more extreme judicial nominees. Once approved, judges serve for life unless they retire or are impeached and removed for misconduct. So prudence doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world.

Republicans are screaming bloody murder so you'd think this tactic were widespread and that the president couldn't get any of his men approved. It turns out Democrats have only blocked 10 of Bush's judicial nominees, while nearly 200 have been approved by the Senate.

You'd think this obstructionism is new but it's not. During Bill Clinton's second term, Republicans vigorously blocked many of his judicial nominees and Democrats complained about obstructionism.

[T]he Senate confirmed only thirty-nine of the eighty-one judicial nominees that Clinton sent to the Senate in 2000. In all, forty-two judicial nominees remained unconfirmed when Clinton left office in January 2001. Thirty-eight of them never received a hearing.

And that was in a single year. Democrats have only blocked ten in over four years.

Having pioneered this tactic in the late 90s, Republicans are shocked (SHOCKED) that Democrats are now doing this, if much more sparingly.

Republican obstruction of Clinton's judicial appointments was so bad that it caused a serious shortage of judges. It was so severe that it prompted an extraordinary intervention by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who usually avoids the spotlight.

In late 1997, he said that the nation's ``quality of justice'' may be threatened by the [GOP controlled] Senate's delay in acting on scores of President Clinton's judicial nominees. In his year-end report, the nation's top-ranking judge pointed a finger of blame at the Senate for ``serious delays in the appointment process.''

I even had one conservative critic brazenly tell me that although Republicans have controlled the presidency for 16 of the last 24 years, they never really cared much about judges until the last couple of years. I wonder what he'd make of Reagan's attorney general Ed Meese who once said that the appointment of judges would "institutionalize the Reagan revolution so it can't be set aside no matter what happens in future presidential elections."

So the Republican solution to this problem: end the 200+ year old filibuster which was designed precisely to be a check on mob rule and one party domination of the entire government structure. Of course, filibusters have been used in the past for less noble purposes like blocking civil rights legislation in the 60s. It's a brake on mob rule. It's also a break on democracy. You take the good with the bad.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is threatening to scrap the filibuster to ram through the handful of judicial nominees that Democrats have blocked. But he did so by using pathetic exploitation of religion to advance his party's agenda. Frist's broadside was shocking only in its overtness.

In a recorded speech that will air this weekend, he is expected to say that the Democrats' blocking of a handful of extreme judges constitutes an attack on 'people of faith.'

The title of the event during which Frist's speech will air, "Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith."

The head of the organization sponsoring Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith said that "activist courts" are conspiring "to rob us of our Christian heritage" and urges "values voters" to support Frist while a brochure originating from his church says the filibuster "was once abused to protect racial bias, and now it is being used against people of faith."

In fairness, if Frist does not saying anything of this nature, I will publish a retraction. But what I mentioned above leaves very little room for surprise.

Conservative Sen. Trent Lott (Frist's predecessor), surprisingly enough, offered a more reasonable explanation of Democratic actions. "People of faith were abused, but they weren't abused perhaps because of their faith." But because of their politics.

While one may disagree with the characterization of asking tough questions as 'abuse,' it's certainly a more fair analysis that Frist's and his allies.

The Theocracy Brigade thinks religious people can only be conservative. And that Christians (and perhaps conservative Jews, an unlikely ally) are the only true people of faith. It's a shameful way to conduct politics, but these people have repeatedly proven that they have no shame.

But other people of faith aren't taking this disgrace lying down. Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, released a letter. It said that Frist and those like him. "appear unable to discern the difference between authentic faith and partisan politics..... thus fostering a redefinition of religion that is blasphemy and a redefinition of democracy that is scary" [emphasis mine]

He wrote to Frist: "Even the suggestion that a person's support or opposition to religious faith can be determined by that person's support or opposition to a political initiative called "the nuclear option" is derogatory of religion and an insult to democracy....Though I personally disagree with you, ... I never would pass judgment on the integrity of your religious faith because of your commitment to that political strategy."


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The blue flag blues

It's been a tough time for the United Nations. The UN has never been very popular among American conservatives but sustained attacks on the organization has usually been limited to loose cannons like the infamous former Sen. Jesse Helms. But ever since the Iraq invasion, the right has turned up the heat massively on the UN.

Fundamentally, the right is furious that the UN didn't bend to the Bush administration's will on Iraq. The Security Council refused to explicitly approve the excursion. Secretary-general Kofi Annan condemned the aggression as illegal. Even then, UN inspectors found no evidence of a serious weapons of mass destruction program in Saddam's Iraq. The Bush administration needed the WMD argument as its fundamental justification to the American people, so it portrayed UN inspectors as either liars or incompetent. After two years of American control, surprise surprise, no serious WMDs have been found. They shamelessly smeared people like Hans Blix and Marine veteran Scott Ritter because they said what the Bush administration didn't want to hear. Of course, those people who turned out to be absolutely right. No apology has been offered to Blix and Ritter.

But this is how the administration and its supporters deal with opposition: smears, innuendo. Whatever they think they can get away with. They did it to Blix. They did it to Ritter. They did it to John Kerry (who they might've canonized as a 'war hero' if he'd not dared speak out). So it's no surprise that the UN, never a darling of conservatives anyway, would find itself in the line of fire.

The main scandal that's dogged the UN is apparently widespread corruption in the oil-for-food program that the UN was mandated to operate for Saddam's Iraq. (Corruption and oil together? Shocking!)

The oil-for-food [OFF] program was the first and only time the UN was given the responsibility of essentially managing an economy.

In early 2004, an Iraqi newspaper published a list of about 270 people including UN officials, politicians and companies it alleged may have profited from the illicit sale of Iraqi oil during the OFF programme.

Neo-conservatives seized on this to attack the UN yet again, though none have noted that billions of dollars are unaccounted for in the Iraq reconstruction fund set up to replace the OFF programme - which was under the stewardship of the US-led coalition in Iraq.

An independent investigation concluded that the UN had inadequate internal controls on the OFF program and conducted an 'inadequate' inquiry into the problems but cleared Annan of unethical conduct. It's worth wondering why no conservatives have called for even an inquiry into how Iraq reconstruction has been spent, misspent or not spent.

Annan hit back, alleging that the US and Britain turned a blind eye to oil smuggling (the heart of the oil-for-for scandal).

"The bulk of the money that Saddam [Hussein] made came out of smuggling outside the oil-for-food programme, and it was on the American and British watch," Annan said. "Possibly they were the ones who knew exactly what was going on, and that the countries themselves decided to close their eyes to smuggling to Turkey and Jordan because they were allies."

The US and British governments denied Annan's charge.

Though former UN weapons inspector claims that the oil-for-food scandal is a 'cynical smokescreen.' (Read his essay as it deserves better than a curt summary)

There was also an atrocious sex scandal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Troops from South Africa, Uruguay, Pakistan, Morocco and Nepal serving under the UN flag in the DRC were implicated in systematic sexual abuse of minors. There have been allegations against troops in peacekeeping missions in other countries. Annan has denounced the abusers and the UN is going to re-structure its rules for peacekeeping operations to make soldiers and their governments more accountable.

This is absolutely essential. Just as Abu Ghraib seriously damaged international perception of 'American values,' the peacekeeper sex scandal has just as much potential to destroy international confidence in the UN's ideals. Outside the United States, the UN generally has a good and well-deserved reputation for its work in activities like feeding the hungry, housing refugees and mediating in conflicts. If not properly dealt with, the peacekeeper sex scandal may overshadow the many good things the UN does. Feeding the hungry isn't quite so honorable if you're demanding sex in exchange.

There are, of course, legitimate criticisms of the UN and its structure. These have been made by human rights groups for a long time. These criticisms were long ignored by conservatives, who've never held much fondness for the human rights crowd. But now that such criticisms happen to coincide with the right wing agenda of UN demonization, conservatives suddenly pretend to care about human rights... except they oppose the very solutions that might address human rights abuses.

The UN Human Rights Commission has long been a joke. It has 53 members. They are chosen by geography not merit. This year's commission includes such sterling judges of human rights as Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and, arguably the most repressive state in the world, Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the commission has included countries such as China, Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Syria. With so many human rights abusers on the commission, it's no surprise that the align to protect each other. Sudan was on the commission last year as it was committing genocide in its eastern province of Darfur. The commission investigated and concluded... you guessed it... that Sudan was not committing genocide in Darfur. The considered opinion of nearly every human rights group begged to differ. Maybe that's because Human Rights Watch doesn't have envoys of genocidal regimes on its board.

Recognizing this absurdity, Secretary-General Annan wisely proposed scrapping the existing commission and replacing it with a smaller body that was more accountable and more representative. Some suggested that anyone on the new council must be willing to allow UN human rights officials into their own countries instantly at any time.

"The main intergovernmental body concerned with human rights should have a status, authority and capability," Annan said.

This quote gets to the crux of the hypocrisy. Right wing critics yammer on about the UN's ineffectiveness but refuse to give it or any other international body the authority to act... under the fear of [insert menacing music] ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT.

You can not simultaneously criticize the UN for being ineffective and refuse it the very authority it needs to be effective.

Conservatives point to the 'UN's incompetence' during the Rwandan genocide. In fact, the UN peacekeeping mission on the ground wanted to act. In fact, it was the US and other major powers that actively obstructed effective UN action... even though it would've involved non-American troops.

To its credit, the Bush administration has been the only major government to speak out voiciferously against the genocide in Darfur. Yet for months, they obstructed efforts to bring those committing that genocide before the International Criminal Court. Even though the trials wouldn't involve US citizens (the main right wing objection to the court), the administration was so afraid of legitimizing the ICC that it was prepared to oppose efforts to bring genociders to justice. After much delay, the US finally allowed the prosecutions to go ahead after assurances that no US members of any peacekeeping operation in Sudan would be prosecuted. (Why? Does the administration fear that US peacekeepers will commit war crimes in Sudan?)

No one, not even conservative critics of so-called 'UN inefficency,' have called for aggressive military intervention in Darfur.

But this underlines the difficulty faced by international institutions, when they're given a hard time even in implementing the most obvious solutions to the most urgent problems.

Some have called for an end to veto power by the five permanent members of the Security Council. This would certainly make the Council more efficient, but obviously the Big Five don't want that. Even conservative critics of 'UN inefficiency' don't want that... because it would dillute American dominance in the organization.

The reality is that these critics don't want the UN to be more efficient in how it serves humanity. They want it to be more efficient in how it serves the administration in Washington.

Some Americans want the US to withdraw from the United Nations. I do not agree with point of view, but at least these people have the intellectual integrity to make an honest argument.

Those of us who want UN reform because they want the organization's goals to be better implemented need to speak up. The voices of the disingenuous need to be countered.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"The presumption ought to be that citizens ought to know as much as possible about decision making"

In my last entry, I praised Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for taking the revolutionary step of meeting with his critics. I also noted, as I have quite often, that secrecy is the enemy of democracy. Supporters of the president will be relieved to know that Gonzales' subversive gesture is apparently an anomaly.

In The Washington Post, there was a news article on how United Nations ambassador-designate John Bolton allegedly withheld crucial information on Iran's nuclear program. He withheld this critical information not from ordinary citizens but from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her predecessor Colin Powell. Bolton was undersecretary of state for arms control. The secretary of state was his boss.

Then in the same Washington Post, I read this editorial which quoted President Bush as saying, "The presumption ought to be that citizens ought to know as much as possible about decision making." Apparently, he said this with a straight face.

If the president really believes that ordinary citizens ought to be properly informed, then surely his own cabinet secretaries ought to be as well. Why is he nominating someone like Bolton as the country's number two diplomat? Even aside from his well-documented gratuitous UN-bashing, if he won't even properly inform his bosses, how will anyone at the UN believe anything he says?

Tiny seed of openness?

I was interested to read this piece from the Associated Press on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Many supporters of the administration hold the childish attitude that if the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] advocates something, it must be wrong. Gonzales did something that must've shocked them. He met with the ACLU, one of the foremost critics of the Patriot Act and other aspects of the Bush administration's war on civil liberties.

Engaging critics, or even listening to them, is revolutionary for any member of the closed-minded Bush administration. And Gonzales' willingness to at least go through the formality of listening to critics is a welcome change from his predecessor, John Ashcroft, who stridently refused to do so.

Critics of the Bush Justice Department haven't disappeared. Even Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Judiciary Committee, complained that Gonzales' department had not provided, even in a classified setting, detailed information about the use of surveillance provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act... secrecy being the enemy of democracy.

But, in a departure from Ashcroft, he [Gonzales] repeated his call for debate on the law and defended his decision to meet with critics.

It's quite telling that there are elements of the country that object to debate and dialogue so much that Gonzales felt the need to defend his decision to do both.

While the Bush administration in general and the present Justice Department in particular have many, MANY excesses that need to be curbed, Gonzales' apparent willingness at least to listen to critics is a baby step in the right direction. One can only hope this tiny seed of openness spreads to other parts of the administration... though I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The fruits of the White Man's Burden

A British former yap show host, Robert Kilroy-Silk, started his own far right party not long ago. In launching his Veritas Party's manifesto (campaign program), Kilroy-Silk railed against a popular demon: multiculturalism. According to him, multiculutralism was imposed on Britain by "liberal fascists in London."

"We do not and we will not, and we will say that openly so that people will have the confidence to know that all cultures are not equal - they are not," fumed Kilroy-Silk. "There are some that are reprehensible are not entitled to respect and we should say so."

Our culture is the be all and end all. Everything about every other culture is totally worthless, if not downright abominable.

Ironically, if imperial Britain had never conquered huge swathes of land in the four corners of the Earth, then little England might not have become a destination for so many people of oddly colored skin, strange accents and heathenous religions. Kilroy-Silk's White Man's Burden is precisely the cause of the multiculturalism he so denounces.

Normally, I wouldn't bother writing about this as it's pretty standard fare for the self-styled anti-'political correctness' crowd. Except for this passage: However, Mr Kilroy-Silk stressed that he believed firmly in the equality of all people of whatever race, creed or sex and that he had campaigned on this as an MP.

So all cultures aren't equal but all people are? Even people who are part of 'reprehensible' cultures? What exactly is culture, if not a manifestation of the beliefs and tastes of... people?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Foxes guarding the henhouse

On my most recent entry on soccer violence in Europe (Italy in particular), I noted with amazement: When I go to games at Gillette Stadium near Boston, I can't bring in a bottle of soda with me from the outside. Even seat cushions can only be brought in after they're checked by security. But Italians, with a history of crowd trouble, can bring flares into stadia without any problem.

The BBC's Phil Gordos sheds some light on this puzzle.

The authorities have an increasingly hard time keeping them [extremist 'Ultras' groups] in check, so much so that the police refuse to enter the "curvas", the areas in a ground where the ultras congregate. There is even evidence the ultras control entry to their part of the stadium, hence the reason so many flares and fireworks end up in the ground. [emphasis mine].

Gordos is not the only one to note the excessive influence of the ultras, some of whom are unabashed fascists (such as the guy who left disparaging notes to me in this entry)

Matt Williams of the BBC gives a chilling account of a game spent among the Juventus ultras.

James Richardson of The Guardian said he once asked an Italian policeman regularly assigned to stadium duty what the story was. He admitted that the police avoid entering Ultra territory for fear of provoking a riot. If they ever do go in (say, if English fans are present) then it's with full body armour and truncheons to crack some heads, but this is rare. Many in Italy feel the "English model" - numbered seats and club stewards backed by officers quietly identifying and removing troublemakers - is the solution; but to introduce it would mean ending the power of the Ultra groups, and that won't be easy.

Soccer violence used to be fairly common in England. But the twin tragedies of English soccer at Heysel and Hillsborough provoked a revolution in the way British authorities dealt with crowd control (even though Hillsborough was caused by overcrowding not violence).

Now, attending a match in England is much safer than in much of continental Europe. But that was because both the government and the governing body of soccer had the will to deal with the problem.

Only a day after the shameful debacle in Milan, there were also problems in Turin at the Juventus-Liverpool match. Two European home matches of Roma (the club I support) were marred by problems: one by a brawl involving players, officials and even fans. Another was abandonned when a fan threw a coin that badly cut the referee.

All English clubs were banned from European competition for five years after Heysel. MLSNet's Tino Palace wonders when anyone will deal with this disaster waiting to happen. At what point is it time for a hard-line punishment for Italian clubs? Do we have to wait for a higher body count? I say no, it's time to ban the Italians for one year. Give the country's governing body (and government) a year to get its house in order. This is getting ridiculous.

I concur. But this won't happen. The European governing body UEFA treats some countries differently than others. The Italian League is reputed as one of the top two in Europe. England, on the other hand, is treated patronizingly as the red neck cousin that no one wants to acknowledge. They don't play 'real' soccer and their fans are 'savages.' That's the stereotype, anyway, even though most neutrals would rather watch an English Premiership game over a Serie A game in a heartbeat.

But soccer is like that. Countries like Guinea and Kenya have been suspended by the world governing body FIFA for political interference in the affairs of soccer. Yet such meddling goes on in Brazil as well but FIFA would never dare do anything to Brazil than offer empty threats.

Sadly, UEFA won't do anything until the next Heysel.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Crusade against judges

Right wing conservatives control the presidency and the Congress. But they don't control the judiciary, at least not as much as they want. They don't feel like waiting for four more years of Bush to complete the job. So, judges have become their next target. Given that several judges have been physically targeted, you'd think responsible conservatives might want to tone down the rhetoric just a tad. You'd think they would fear that being associated even indirectly with violence would hurt what they see as an intellectually sound cause.

Conservatives are targetting so called activist judges. The label 'activist judge' is applied to any judge who insists that legislators respect the federal and state constitutions. For example, some 'activist judges' insist that constitutional provisions concerning equal protection of the law for all citizens actually apply to all citizens. No exceptions.

To some conservatives, this is tantamount to the sky falling.

Fundamentally, the right wing claims that legislators can do whatever they want regardless of what any constitution says. In other words, constitutions are meaningless.

This situation is ironic since this is precisely what conservatives had been complaining about for decades when they were largely out of power, at least federally. When programs like the New Deal and Great Society were implemented, conservatives complained bitterly that they were unconstitutional.

According to their present logic, such programs were fine and dandy because they were passed by elected legislators and shouldn't have been overturned by unelected 'activist judges.'

In reality, 'activist' is a transparent code word for liberal.

Why? Opponents of 'judicial activism' usually define this as a willingness by unelected judges to strike down laws passed by elected legislators, By this definition, two of the three most 'activist' judges on the Supreme Court are the far right justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas... the two justices most admired by the states' rights and always-defer-to-legislators crowds. [For more on activist conservative judges, click here]

At the end of the day, it's no surprise that the far right is targetting judges that do outrageous things like saying constitutional protections also apply to fags and non-Christians... just like others revolted when such protections were to be applied to niggers. As a populist movement based on alleged victimhood and martyrdom, the far right need oppressors to demonize in order to keep the faithful in a siege mentality. They control the presidency. They control the Congress. They've cowed the news media into eunichs. Going after judges is the next logical step.

Update: This piece in the Christian Science Monitor suggests that the judiciary is far less liberal than the chicken littles of the far right would have you believe.

Republican appointees now constitute a majority of judges on 10 of the nation's 13 federal appeals courts. As few as three more lifetime appointments on key courts would tip the balance in favor of GOP appointees on all but one appeals court - the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

While not all Republicans are far right conservatives, I can't imagine recent Republican presidents would've chosen many Ted Kennedy-style liberals for the bench.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Lack of skepticism and its consequences

No one likes an I told you so... but sometimes, it needs to be said anyway.

Two weeks ago, the "Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction" issued what may be the last in a series of in-depth reports by U.S. government on the "intelligence failures" surrounding the invasion of Iraq. Wade through the close to 3,000 pages of these reports and one conclusion is inescapable: those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq were right on every count, notes this piece on AlterNet.

In the lead up to the war, Bush administration officials constantly insinuated a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and even the 9/11 attacks. Vice President Cheney, over and again, referred to a cock-and-bull story about a Prague meeting between Mohammed Atta and the Iraqi intelligence. The Atta story was debunked in The New York Times as early as October 2002 – more than four months before the invasion.

Why does it matter? The warnings of the 'long-haired freaky people' were correct but ignored. We're there now and we have to make the best of it, right? Why look backward instead of forward?

Here's why.

If the administration is rife with incompetence (however well-meaning you may think them), then it matters. If the intelligence system is broken, it matters. If the administration has zero credibility, it matters.

If there ever actually IS a serious, imminent threat to the United States during the next four years, who's going to believe the Bush administration? How can anyone trust their next doomsday warnings?

That's why it matters, regardless of your opinion on deposing Saddam.

This analysis in The International Herald Tribune notes that the commission's report found no evidence that intelligence had been politically twisted to suit preconceptions about Iraq's unconventional weapons programs, and made no formal judgments about how top policy makers had used that intelligence to justify war.

This is perhaps true. Though as War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld so famously stated: the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Even so, one of the commission's other conclusions caught my eye:

It is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.

So the administration was merely incompetent, not lying outright? I'm sorry if that doesn't reassure me greatly.

But this conclusion gets to the heart of what I've long said is the Bush administration's single greatest weakness: self-righteousness.

There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Good leaders need a great deal of self-confidence. However, great leaders are confident enough to encourage skepticism. They create an environment where debate can thrive. They realize that the presence of vigorous 'devil's advocates' strengthens their arguments by exposing the arguments' flaws and thus helping the flaws get dealt with before it's too late. And sometimes, just sometimes, they realize that they are wrong.

Skeptical analysis makes both for good politics and for good policy.

It's clear that the Bush administration does not encourage such internal skepticism... because they don't believe they can possibly be wrong. They clearly view such dissent as personally disloyal to the president. (Never mind that public officials swear oaths to be loyal to the country and the Constitution, not to the person of the president)

Given that the administration views internal dissent as treachery, it's little surprise that dissenters from the outside (ie: ordinary citizens) are treated with similiar contempt.

The administration is so certain of its rightness that it doesn't broker the possibility that it might only be 99% right. To contemplate a plan B is a sign of a weakness, of disloyalty, of disbelief in The Cause. That's why the occupation has been so badly managed. No one considered the possibility that ordinary Iraqis (not just Saddam loyalists) might not be ecstatic about living under foreign domination. This makes for weak leadership and flawed policy making.

It's also worth noting a parallel. The fundamentalist religious beliefs of the president and many in his administration make them distrust science, which is based on skepticism. So it's little surprise that they reject skepticism and adopt an uncritical, Crusading approach to other areas.

Pride goeth before the fall. And the administration's rejection of debate has led to the debacle in Iraq... and ultimately to a more vulnerable America.

Huzzah for openness!

I've often criticized President Bush for the suffocating secrecy that's been the foundation of his administration's conduct. Secrecy is the enemy of democracy and this administration has been more secretive than even that of the disgraced Richard Nixon.

So when the administration does show signs of openness, it's only fair that I tip my cap to them.

The usually tight-lipped White House has revealed the musical playlist on President Bush's iPod.

Sure, law prevents us from knowing how and when the Patriot Act is used but at least we can sleep at night knowing the president listens to John Fogarty!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Et tu, Montana?

Earlier this month, Montana became the 5th state in the nation to pass a resolution against the USA Patriot Act. This is notable because although Montana is one of the most conservative states in the country, it passed the most strongly-worded statewide anti-Patriot Act resolution of any state so far by an overwhelming margin of 40-10 in the Montana Senate and 87-12 in the state House.

Or perhaps this is BECAUSE Montana is one of the most conservative states in the country. Traditional conservativism has focused on fighting excessive power in the hands of the government, particularly the federal one. The Patriot Act certainly qualifies as such.

The Montana resolution states that the Patriot Act allows the federal government “to more liberally detain and investigate citizens and to engage in surveillance activities that may violate or offend the rights and liberties guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions.”

Reading some of the rhetoric out there, you'd think only the partisan demagogues and hippy librarians along with the evil ACLU and other terrorists could conceivably object to any parts of the Patriot Act, which would only be used judiciously and virtuously by unelected officials. Of course, such claims are impossible to verify precisely because of the secrecy provisions of the Patriot Act.

However, it's clear that bleeding heart liberals aren't the only ones concerned about the Patriot Act's attack on our freedom.

Security asleep at the switch

After a weekend of Italian domestic soccer filled with crowd violence, yesterday's European Champions League quarterfinal between AC Milan and city rivals Inter was stopped in the 2nd half due to... crowd violence. The Milan keeper was hit in the shoulder by a bottle and flares littered the field.

I've already ranted on the idiocy of crowd violence (here). But here's one thing I don't get.

When I go to games at Gillette Stadium near Boston, I can't bring in a bottle of soda with me from the outside. Even seat cushions can only be brought in after they're checked by security. But Italians, with a history of crowd trouble, can bring flares into stadia without any problem.


Update: The Guardian's James Richardson has an excellent piece on the excessive influence of hard core Ultras thugs in Italian soccer. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (who happens to be the owner of AC Milan) has promised action by his government on violence in soccer. It will certainly be nice to see him taking action to protect ordinary Italians rather than his own political future for once.

Further update: MLSNet's Tino Palace suggests that if all English clubs could be banned from European continental for five years after the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, then one year European ban against Italian clubs is not inappropriate. In the same Champions League season, a match in Rome had to be abandoned because of the stupid actions of some Roma fans (full disclosure: I'm a supporter of the club). Even the day after the Milan mess, there were problems in Turin surrounding the Juventus-Liverpool match. And that's not even taking into account all the crap going on at domestic matches. But this won't happen. It's ok to pick on English clubs based on a reputation that has been outdated for a decade. English clubs are seen as the redneck cousins of the more sophisticated continental sides and thus deserving of scorn solely for that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Roosting chickens

As you may know, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is facing a bit of controversy over what passes for his ethics.

DeLay has come under close scrutiny in recent weeks following news stories questioning the financing behind a few of his overseas trips, notes the Associated Press. It's been charged that DeLay´s wife and daughter had been paid $500,000 in recent years by political organizations under his control.

In 1995, Republicans took control of Congress after repeated controversies against Democrats, particularly in the House which Dems had controlled for the previous four decades. In addition to promising to serve only three terms (which many of them broke), insurgent Republicans quickly passed ethics rules allegedly designed to stamp out the sleaze that had characterized Democratic control of the House.

Absolutely power corrupts absolutely. And after more than ten years of GOP control of the House, Republicans have proven no more immune to this axiom than Democrats were.

Accordingly, last winter, Republicans changed the rules they'd instituted in 1995. Under the new rules, enacted on a near party-line vote, no ethics committee investigation can begin without a bipartisan vote.

In other words, a party leader can't be investigated unless those who elected him party leader in the first place agree.

In other words, the new ethics rules are worthless.

While the far right DeLay has long been a target of the liberals and progressives, now, even some in his own party are becoming exasperated with DeLay. "The Hammer," as he is known, is so extreme in his views that many moderate Republicans (what's left of them anyway) fear that he will destroy their electoral chances. I'm sure Democrats are absolutely counting on this in their attempts to win back the House in 2006.

Rep. Chris Shays, a moderate from Connecticut, recently became the the first Republican Congressman to call for DeLay's resignation.

"My party is going to have to decide whether we are going to continue to make excuses for Tom to the detriment of Republicans seeking election," Shays said.

That Shays called for DeLay's resignation could perhaps be written off to the internal ideological battle between moderate Republicans and the far right. But even Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a darling of conservatives, called on DeLay to explain himself.

"I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves," Santorum said.

When Rick Santorum is raising questions about your integrity, you KNOW things are really bad.

The theocracy brigade's ancestors?

I was reading about the "Mississippi Burning" case and came across this interesting document.

From: Univ. of Missouri-KC Law School

Leaflet Circulated by the KKK in Mississippi in 1964

Here are Twenty Reasons WHY you should, if qualified, join, aid and support the White Knights of the KU KLUX KLAN of Mississippi:

1. Because it is a Christian, fraternal and benevolent organization.

2. Because it is a democratic organization, governed by its members.

3. Because it is a democratic and just organization.

4. Because it is a working organization which not only talks but ACTS.

5. Because it is a very secret organization and no one will know that you are a member.

6. Because it is a legal organization and no one can be prosecuted for being a member.

7. Because it is a politically independent organization, and is not pledged to any political party.

8. Because it is a Pro-American organization that opposes any thing, person or organization that is Un-American.

9. Because it is an organization that is sworn to uphold the lawful Constitution of the United States of America.

10 Because it is composed of native-born, white, gentile and protestant American citizens who are sound of mind and of good moral character.

11. Because the goals of the KKK are the total segregation of the races and the total destruction of communism in all its forms.

12. Because the KKK has twice saved this nation from destruction as history clearly records.

13. Because there comes a time in the life of every man when he has to choose between the right ot wrong side of life.

14. Because there are today many alien forces entering the United States of America bent upon its destruction.

15. Because it informs its members, and an informed citizen is a good citizen.

16. Because a Christian-like brotherhood among men must be revived in America.

17. Because on of the goals of the KKK is States' Rights and complete State Sovereignty.

18. Because neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals will save out nation, for patriots always save a nation.

19. Because it is clear now that if communism is to be defeated in America, it will be done in the South and primarily in Mississippi.

20. Because the KKK needs you today to help fight America's battles.

The White Knights of the KU KLUX KLAN of Mississippi is, of necessity, a SECRET organization. The administration of our National Government is now under the actual control of atheists who are Bolsheviks by nature. As dedicated agents of Satan, they are absolutely determined to destroy Christian Civilization and all Christians. We have nothing dishonorable to hide, but we must remain SECRET, for the protection of our lives and families.

All of our members must meet a strict set of requirements:

We are looking for, and enlisting ONLY: Sober, Intelligent, Courageous, Christian, American, White men who are consciously and fully aware of the basic FACT that the physical life and earthly destiny are absolutely bound up with the Survival of this Nation, under God. Our governmental principles are precisely those of the ORIGINAL U.S. Constitution. Our members are Christians who are anxious to preserve not only their souls for all Eternity, but who are MILITANTLY DETERMINED, God willing, to save their lives, and the Life of this Nation, in order that their descendants shall enjoy the same, full, God-given blessings of True Liberty that we have been permitted to enjoy up to now.

We do not accept Jews, because they reject Christ, and, through the machinations of their International Banking Cartel, are at the root center of what we call "communism" today.

We do not accept Papists, because they bow to a Roman dictator, in direct violation of the First Commandment, and the True American Spirit of Responsible, Individual Liberty.

We do not accept Turks, Mongols, Tarters, Orientals, Negroes, nor any other person whose native background of culture is foreign to the Anglo-Saxon system of Government by responsible, FREE individual citizens.

Our governmental system is a Constitutional Republic, primarily designed to protect the Responsible, Individual Citizens from all tyranny: which selects its representatives by both the direct and the indirect Democratic process; and recognizes the necessity for the existence of an effective Loyal Opposition to any current Administration. This type of Governmental System is unique, and found only where Anglo-Saxons control the Governmental Machinery of a Nation. With rare exceptions, people of other backgrounds simply cannot comprehend the Anglo-Saxon principle of "Equal Justice under Law" and the fact that EVERY "Right" must be balanced by an accompanying Responsibility. The inherent balance and reason of this system has little or no attraction for these persons of alien culture. The generally prefer to shirk Individual Responsibility, grab up as much material wealth as they can, and accept Centralized Authority and Dictatorship, in the hope that they can buy special favors and privileges for themselves.

The conflict between these two attitudes has now become a Life and Death matter in America. The people of the non-American cultures CAN and COULD live under the Anglo-Saxon System, but they prefer to see it destroyed. The true American Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, CAN NOT live under a Dictatorship!

This issue is clearly one of personal physical SELF-DEFENSE or DEATH for the American Anglo Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons have no choice but to defend our Constitutional Republic by every means at their command, because it is, LITERALLY, their LIFE. They will die without it.

If you are a Christian, American Anglo-Saxon who can understand the simple Truth of this Philosophy, you belong in the White Knights of the KU KLUX KLAN of Mississippi. We need your help right away. Get your Bible out and PRAY! You will hear from us.