Saturday, May 21, 2005


Funny how Newsweek is vilified for their Koran-flushing story, blamed for 16 deaths on the other side of the world, and White House press secretary Scott McClellan attempts to order them about on what they should do next.

Yet today the New York Post and The Sun in London published photos of Saddam Hussein in his underwear. The Pentagon blows a head gasket, fears that these pictures will inflame insurgents, and wants heads to roll. Scottie, meanwhile, takes a pass, leaves it to Trent Duffy, who says the insurgents could take this the way they did the Abu Ghraib photos and get all pissed off.

Finally, the President says, "I don't think a photo inspires murderers," Bush said of the insurgents. "These people are motivated by a vision of the world that is backward and barbaric."

Hello?! Can someone keep the message straight. Military commanders say Newsweek wasn't to blame for the 16 dead in Afghanistan, McClellan practically calls for the death penalty for their editors. Now, two newspapers owned by conservative Rupert Murdoch, who supports Bush and whose newspapers support Bush, print photos of Saddam that the military believes will cause outrage, and Scottie says nothing and the President doesn't think it'll make a bit o'difference.

Once again, whether we agree with the Arab world or not, whether we agree with Muslim extremists or not, unnecessarily pissing them off isn't going to help us win the war on terror or settle Iraq down. It seems we do nothing better than being incompetent and causing shit to go crazy. And of course, Mr. Responsibility at the White House blames the press, because it's somehow their fault that our leadership has no idea how to run a fucking war. If we knew what the hell we were doing, we'd have had Iraq pacified and we'd be a lot farther along in starting a government there on a permanant basis. There would be peace if this administration wasn't acting like the fucking Johnson administration and being arrogant about projecting our thoughts and our ideals and our democracy on their culture and their thoughts and their religion.

It doesn't matter if they are wrong. To successfully win friends and influence people (to borrow Dale Carnegie), you have to appreciate how they think. If you don't do that, you are unlikely to change their minds, gain their help, or influence their workings. By being disrespectful of their culture, we hurt our cause. Yes, many parts of their culture are abhorrent, but how many hearts and minds were won at the barrel of a gun? We lost Vietnam. We can win Iraq, and we would've had it won already if the geniuses at the Pentagon (read: Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz) had asked for civil assistance teams to be on the ground right away to immediately assist in the transition. We would've had experts knowledgeable in Arabic culture there to advise our commanders. We would've had some help from Arab nations to make this more palatable to the Iraqis. Instead we were arrogant, and pride goeth before the fall, and woe unto those who forget history, for they are destined to repeat it. GWB risks turning into LBJ, and that is something we and the Iraqis cannot afford.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A weekend of apprehension

The cloture motion has been filed. The stage has been set for Tuesday. And a group of a few select moderate Republican senators hold the fate of the Senate and minority rights in their hands.

All 44 Democrats will vote no on cloture. So will Jim Jeffords, John McCain, and Lincoln Chafee. That's 47. Four more are needed. So, who will join them?

The likelihood is that John Warner and Olympia Snowe will join for sure. Less likely is Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, Mike DeWine, Lisa Murkowski, Arlen Specter and John Sununu. Only two of those have to join to defeat the cloture motion, therefore preserving the filibuster. The pressure is going to be immense this weekend. The interest groups on all sides are buying up all available airtime to convince these people one way or the other.

So, there's one big question left: Will these senators vote for the maintaining of comity, of tradition, of minority rights, or will they vote to make themselves irrelevant and a rubber stamp for the Bush White House?

Nuclear option debate roundup, day two

I'm watching replays on C-SPAN2 from the action I missed earlier, and it's been interesting. I caught a good portion of it in the afternoon, but I went to see Star Wars: Episode Three this afternoon, and so I'm watching some of the speeches that went on during that period.

In any case, while the first day was clearly in favor of the Democrats, the second day has been more mixed. Granted, I haven't seen Robert Byrd or John Kerry yet (come to think of it, I've barely seen any Democrats today), so we'll see. I must admit, Gordon Smith (R-OR) makes a good case for his side. He sounds very calm, reasonable, and persuasive. There is one flaw with his argument, as there have been with many of the Republican arguments. And that flaw I shall now discuss.

Republicans come from the argument that history shows that judges are not filibustered, and that certain things in the Senate are not filibustered. To some extent they are right, however, Republicans filibustered a total of four judges that I know about in the past 35 years. These filibusters are on Senate record, with Senate votes to prove it. The Abe Fortas filibuster had the effect of filibustering his replacement as associate justice. That filibuster was began by Republican minority whip Robert Griffin of Michigan. That was the only filibuster for quite some time, until 1999, when Robert Smith and Bill Frist began a filibuster against Clinton district court nominee Brian Theadore Stewart. In 2000, those same men led filibusters against Clinton circuit court nominees Richard A. Paez and Marsha L. Berzon.

So, when Smith and others say that tradition guarantees up or down votes, it's not. It's not any more enshrined than the filibuster. Advise and consent simply says that. It doesn't say, hold votes on nominees in every instance. In fact, 62 Clinton nominees, through filibusters, holds, and blue slips, were denied up or down votes, in most cases did not even get a committee hearing. The very seat that Priscilla Owen has been nominated to is open simply because for five years, Republicans blocked Clinton nominees to that seat. Five years. Owen has been held up for two, and now the right wing wants to blow up the Senate.

This isn't more than crying unfair. It's hypocrisy of the rankest sort. It's moving the goalposts to suit your own needs, something that the Senate has traditionally shied away from. The minority has often been strongest in the Senate. It has been the place where we are kept from going over the edge. It was the place where Andrew Johnson was saved from conviction on trumped-up impeachment charges by one vote. It was the place where Richard Nixon's wrongdoings were exposed. It was the place where Bill Clinton was acquitted for impeachment charges that the nation strongly opposed.

For a party to establish a precedent, deny that it ever exists, and refuse to admit to establishing a precedent is dishonest. To then try and eliminate that precedent when it works against them is just as odious. I repeat from earlier comments: this battle would not be necessary if Frist hadn't eliminated the courtesies that truly have been part of the 214-year history of the Senate. Blue slips for home state nominees. Anonymous holds while Senators worked things out. The sorts of courtesies that keep things from being so publicly ugly. Frist eliminated these things in an exercise of raw power. His aide, Manuel Miranda, stole Democratic computer files, so offensively so that Orrin Hatch had him fired. Yet today, Miranda is leading the interest group fight against the filibuster, another poke in the eye to Democrats. The fact that these judges have been renominated is also a poke in the eye to Democrats.

(Speaking of decency and courtesy, the Robert Byrd replay is focusing on that. That man, at his advanced age, still has the ability to make his voice boom when talking about history of the Senate. I'm proud to watch him there. He is quite skilled at oration and when he passes, it will be the end of an era.)

This battle has been built up by a majority of legislators. Let it be known that Democrats represent more people than Republicans do. Republicans have their power from winning less-populated states. Democrat senators hold seats that represent 148 million people, Republicans 144 million. Republicans are disproportionately represented in the Senate, but that's how the place was designed. Fair enough. However, that fact should be recognized, and the minority should be allowed a voice. It's bad enough that the House just tramples on Democrats to where they barely matter, because Tom DeLay has violated every rule in the House book on legislative guidelines. But for the Senate to degenerate like this because a Majority Leader wants absolute power is wrong. It's just plain wrong. It guarantees that the Senate does become a rubber stamp, because any majority will dominate, like it does in the House. At that point, the Congress makes itself irrelevant.

Even Trent Lott, during the Clinton trial, realized that the best thing to do was work with Tom Daschle to make sure things didn't blow up, and all sides could work without being hysterical. Lott, of course, was forced out in 2002, and a man with no appreciation of Senate history took over and tossed in the trash the very things that helped make the Senate work. In fact, most Senators on the Republican side have not served very long, and do not know what it is like to be in the minority. Most of them came right from the House, where trampling the minority is a way of life. This has created a sad situation, and one that the Senate can rectify by voting "no" to the nuclear option. Because if it passes, when Democrats take back the Senate, it will be total war, and that serves no one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Here we go....

Well, Bill Frist has pushed the button. Not the big, blinking red one, but the smaller countdown button. Priscilla Owen was brought to the floor today, and debate is going to go on for a couple of days. I'll be able to watch most of the debate today, but tonight I work, and then I'm going to help my fiancé with her homework since her son is sick. Star Wars premiere for me tonight. I'd like to go, seeing as how I made the other ones, but some things are more important. I'll go tomorrow afternoon with my mom, who wants to see it too. Back to Frist...

So far today, the debate has been high-minded, with a few exceptions. I'd give high marks to George Allen just for making a good rhetorical argument (although I was yelling at him a few times). Same for Dianne Feinstein. Chuck Schumer, though, has stolen the show so far. He had visual aids for his cause, he has the sort of tone that grabs attention, and best of all, he pointed out what a hypocrite Frist was on the filibuster with a nice blue-and-yellow placard with the results of the filibusters Frist voted for in 2000. Even my mom, who usually stays far out of politics, was listening with me and said the Republicans were full of it, trying to change historical precedent. "You don't change the rules just because you're not getting your way. That's what kids do," said she.

This will be interesting, and I'm waiting with baited breath as to what will happen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Shooting the messenger....again.

Yesterday, Newsweek retracted their story about Koran flushing by U.S. interrogators. Yet, for many on the right and for the White House, this wasn't enough. Further Newsweek bashing and demands for more contrition are coming from all quarters.

Yet, what else can Newsweek do? Are they supposed to give a "big, sloppy wet kiss" to the White House? Are they supposed to grovel for forgiveness? They ran a blurb in "Periscope," which according to former Washington Bureau chief and Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee has long been a place for officials to plant stories, dating back to the 1940's. Somebody inside wanted this story out for one reason or another, and Isikoff doesn't put stuff under his name unless he's sure his source is being genuine. I've met the man. He's very apolitical, and he's a tough, fair reporter. He was the guy at Newsweek who kept the editors from calling it for Gore in 2000, recognizing the trends in the Florida panhandle. It was his editors who killed the initial Lewinsky story, the very story that Matt Drudge used to break the scandal worldwide. He was incredibly tough on Bill Clinton. He's not a flaming liberal, which many right-wing bloggers are calling him.

The point I'm coming to is this. The story was put out for a reason. It could be a genuine conscience, who was upset about this. It could be someone who wanted to screw Newsweek. It could have been a mistake. The fact is that the actual claim has not been denied by the adminstration. No categorical statements that the story was false. It was a Watergate-style denial. And the reason that they did that is that this story has been reported before. Lawyers for the prisoners. Released British citizens. Wire stories last year. It's just that this time, it was released in a vacuum, where there wasn't other news to drown it, and that means it gets exposure, and the Muslims get angry.

So, is Newsweek responsible? No. No. No. Here's why. Abu Ghraib pissed off the Iraqis something awful. Should we not have known about that? Should Americans have been unaware that some soldiers had gone off the reservation (although I have doubts they just did that on their own. I mean, how does a CO not know this is going on?)? Reporting means investigation, and talking to sources. Slapping down the media for reporting a valid story is wrong. It's scary that most Americans seem to want to be in the dark instead of knowing what was going on. When we fall asleep and stop caring is when democracy falters.

I know, many of you will disagree that it was a valid story. Whether the source(s) was/were wrong or not, if interrogators were flushing Korans down the toilet, that is a hideous violation of a religion. How would the Bible Belt feel if Iranian interrogators flushed Bibles down the toilet in front of fervent Christian prisoners? They'd be outraged. They'd want to know about it. Why should America get a pass on this? So, when a reporter hears from a trusted source that Americans are doing this sort of thing, that reporter is right to report on it. People deserve to know what's going on, and ultimately, the death of those 16 people rest with their killers, not with Newsweek.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sensenbrenner continues to leave the "sense" at home

James Sensenbrenner has officially taken leave of all senses. His new bill, H.R. 1528, known as the Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005, issues the most ridiculous minimum guidelines in the history of jurisprudence. Among other things, if you witness a drug sale or usage in the vicinity of or on a college campus, and fail to report it, you would face a minimum two-year jail sentence. For not reporting a drug sale!! It could be a frickin' joint, for God's sake, and Western civilization is not going to end over one joint.

Moving on, it gives a ten-year minimum to anyone over 21 who gives someone under 17 marijuana or any other drug. If it happens a second time, they get life in prison. I could keep going on, but it's becoming clear. This is a bill that attacks marijuana more than anything else, and marijuana isn't the fricking problem in America. It's meth, and coke, and heroin that's the real problem, but no, the government, according to recent Justice Dept. figures, is prosecuting marijuana cases more than anything else. This is the John Ashcroft legacy, unable to sort out non-destructive drugs from the ones that screw up neighborhoods for life.

Yes, I know weed does cause problems, but I think we'd keep a lot of people out of jail and free up our police to focus on more serious cases if we just legalized marijuana and taxed it like we do cigarettes. Hell, you'd probably even get people to quit once they had to pay something like $75 for a pack of marijuana cigarettes as opposed to $5 for tobacco cigarettes. I mean, honestly, why not just regulate it? The commericials on TV about marijuana are usually way off-base, everyone knows it, and so it does nothing. And because of that, teens often ignore the real warnings about the harder drugs, and there goes the ballgame.

Marijuana does as much to us as tobacco and alcohol does, and those are legal and regulated. Add marijuana to the list, and honestly, America will probably end up being safer. It's time to stop being so damn Neanderthal. Life in prison for marijuana? What in the hell does that achieve?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

And then there's this too

(story link via Atrios)

So, it's happened. The rift is beginning to widen in the Catholic community. Some 100 parishoners were denied Communion in a St. Paul church today for wearing rainbow-colored sashes in support of homosexuals. One of those denied Communion was a nun, Sister Gabriel Herbers. Archbishop Harry Flynn said the decision was made because those people wearing the sashes were protesting Church teaching. Just a thought, but wasn't it this stifling of discussion that led to the Reformation?

I firmly believe if it had not been Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger chosen as the new Pope, things would not be coming to this. I was hoping there would be a different Cardinal, so the Church could finally have the dialogue it has long been lacking about the status of gay people. Instead, our new pope is a man with limited tolerance, who had Father Thomas Reese, the editor of America, the Catholic magazine, fired for publishing articles that expressed dissent with Ratzinger's positions as guardian of church doctrine.

I'm Catholic. I'm in dissent with the Church's position on several issues right now, but I still practice on my own. I pray, I follow the Holy Days, I observe Lent, etc. I think the only way the Church can have a true future is to have a brutally frank conversation about where our religion is going. Jesus changed a lot of tenets, and made enemies because he challenged the Old Testament. He demonstrated that God has flexibility in his teachings, that there are not as many moral absolutes as we once thought. The evangelical movement claims to be part of Jesus' teachings, but ignores much of what the Son of God actually taught. Their tolerance is very limited, considering Jesus saved an adulteress, a prostitute, and lepers. Pope Benedict XVI is unfortunately part of this movement, in a sense.

If this conversation does not take place, Catholicism will experience another schism. Many dioceses in South America and Africa are breaking the rule about contraception in order to try to prevent the spread of AIDS. Priests in South America often marry or have relationships in the alley, so to say. It is not enough to "just say no." The idea of sex purely for procreation is antiquated. Married couples, let alone the unmarried ones, enjoy having sex. When it comes to AIDS, as Nick Kristof pointed out in a recent column, it's beginning to spread more among married couples in Africa because they don't know they're infected. This is where condoms could save thousands, if not millions of lives.

Also, every other religion in the world allows their preachers to marry. Why not Catholicism? Having children is a gift from God, so why should priests be prevented from having this gift? Furthermore, wouldn't this help raise the number of priests in Catholicism, considering that we have a genuine crisis in our lack of priests. What keeps many men from joining the priesthood is an inability to partake in what is part of natural instincts, the desire to raise a family. More men are committing to marriage and monogamous relationships than ever. I mean, around the time I was 13, I was thinking that I might be a priest, but the idea of not having a family kept me away. It does the same to many others.

It might be a foreign concept in America right now, but Darwin's law applies to the Catholic Church of 2005: Evolve or slowly become extinct.

Satan returns

Well, Fred Phelps anyways. The man who even gives homophobia a bad name with his Nazi-esque views is planning to join his followers to protest a middle school in Lowell, Massachusetts because the winner of an essay contest wrote about openly lesbian Ellen DeGeneres. They're going to follow it up by protesting the high school because they recognized a Gay-Straight Alliance at the school.

Homophobia is bad enough, but this is the man who claimed Pope John Paul II is a spawn of Satan, who thanked God for all the Swedes killed by the tsunami, who picketed Matthew Shepard's FUNERAL. He has no shame, no morals, no sense of decency whatsoever. He is hate personified, and while I don't usually advocate violence, he's one of a select few whom I would love to kick the living hell out of. I can't think of any words that thoroughly describe the hate I feel for this man, even though my Lord says I should not hate. It's sad that people should be so blinded by their hate as to take these measures. They claim to preach God's word, but they are incredibly selective with their usage of God's word. They are a smear on the good name of Christianity, and I hope that their fate in hell is to suffer some sort of indignity, like maybe being molested by the minions of Satan. (I don't know, I just can't think of anything better at 10 pm on a Sunday night).