Monday, January 31, 2005

Mr. Allawi's Call for Unity

"As we did yesterday to end dictatorship, let us go together toward a bright future -- Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens," - Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Iraq's interim prime minister called for Iraqi unity now that the elections are over and promised, so long as he is running the administration, to reach out to all sides in this effort. Mr. Allawi, or his successor, will have a lot of work to do. The Kurds in the north do not view themselves as Iraqis and will at minimum demand a nearly independent autnomous region in the north and control over the Kirkuk oil fields. The Kurds have their own army and some residents interviewed by the Washington Post expressed hope in a fully sovereign Kurdistan. He will have an easier job getting the Sunnis behind the concept of a united Iraq though they will revenge now that the very people they oppressed are in power.

The elections are over and yes, we can celebrate now that Iraqi citizens went to the polls in free elections, but before we get caught up in the euphoria rmeember that there is a long road ahead of us. Those chosen to write Iraq's destiny will argue, debate and negotiate over federalism, revenue-sharing between the federal and regional governments, and the role of religion in government among other things.

A Good Observation on the President and Iraq

"In his interview Bush states that he would withdraw all American troops from Iraq if the newly elected government wishes it done. But, he said that he has talked to the people who will “presumably” be in charge after the elections and he doesn’t think that the new democratically elected government would want US troops out of Iraq. Wait a just one minute. He has already talked to the “presumed” leader of the new Iraq? Could this mean that the new leader will be hand selected by Bush? How is that democracy? How is that a free election? It’s sad, but whoever wins the Iraqi election will be hand selected by Bush." - MJ over at The National Exam

MJ latched onto a quote that was not picked up by the journalists, the pundits, and yours truly have not picked up on - that the president talked to those who "presumably" would run Iraq's government and was told they would ask troops to remain in Iraq.

That's quite an interesting comment given that Iraqis are voting for parties or slates of candidates who may or may not be chosen by the leaders of that slate to take office. But it does allow the terrorists to accuse President Bush and the United States, of rigging Iraq's elections or, in the alternative, discredit the election as the done-deal.

MJ himself seems to suggest that we chose Iraq's presumed leader as a comment on this blog and in his own post on the president's interview last week. I for my part do not share that assessment because the president's team, if not himself, understands that the Shi'ites have no choice but to keep us if they are to build up their military force and consequently increase their negotiating strength when the constitution is drafted. We had an on-going dialog on this matter here.

The president's advisors also know that we are but one of several power brokers at the negotiating table. The Kurds have an army of their own and the Sunnis could always use the terrorists to prove their point of needing Sunni approval of whatever is drafted. We can increase or decrease our military presence but ultimately we know that Iraq's territorial integrity is in doubt (the Kurds to the north are demanding a substantial degree of autnomy if not outright independence and control over the Kirkuk oil fields), and the Sunnis are fighting against what they believe to be a Shi'ite governed Iraqi government. The administration would have no reason to back an administration that does not command the respect and allegiance of the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites at the same time.

It should also be noted that our president, unlike most diplomats and heads of state, does not appreciate how other heads of state, leaders of major corporations, and journalists read between his lines to interpret what his next move would be. The president is known for his language bloopers. Jay Leno's joke about the president's stronger grasp of the Spanish language, while an exaggeration, does have some truth in it. The president is not eloquent. He speaks with broken sentences, and mispoke on numerous occasions. One cannot know if the president really was confident about Iraq's new leader or if the president mispoke.

Still, no one else latched on to that phrase made by the president. No headlines or news stories caught on and called the president on this prediction and no Democratic partisans criticized him for making that statement publiclky yet (that I know of). Kudos to MJ for pointing this out. It's always good to critically evaluate our politicians' rhetoric. You knever know that you might find. May he continue to be this observant in the future.

Until the evening folks.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Soft Power

And Bush should come to appreciate the fact that exercises in soft power like the tsunami relief operation underway in Indonesia, performed mainly by American troops, reminds the people of our cabilities at "hard power" as well.

Military force is but one means to achieve our ends. We must always be prepared to use it when diplomacy fails, but there are other forms of "hard power," sanctions, boycotts, and aid to rebels, for instance, that could be used short of war. ?And there are examples of goodwill as in this tsunami case, where there is no clear American agenda to speak of. We can't occupy every country, but we could surely win the hearts and minds of the people who reside in them.

The Would Be Execution

On Monday, Connecticut is set to execute Michael Ross, a serial killer (8 murders) who was schedued for execution late Friday night. The Supreme Court cleared the way for execution but the convicted criminal's attorney asked for the delay so he could address a possible conflict of interest.

Mr. Ross will be the first man executed by Connecticut in the last 45 years. On Friday a judge hearing Mr. Ross' case accused the attorney for his refusal to fight for his client's life given newly released information. That information provided by a fellow inmate suggests that Mr. Ross really does not want to die (as previously claimed), but is desperate enough to escape what he views as poor living conditions on death role, things that could possibly be redressed in some way short of his execution.

This delay was legally warranted in so far as it allows the judge to question the inmates further and, if need be, schedule a hearing that would allow Mr. Ross to challenge his death sentence. If the prison conditions are truly poor and Mr. Ross did not know there was a legal process to appeal for some minor accommodations he might have asked his attorney to fight for his life. The defendant has his life at stake and he was entitled to know all of the facts possible before reaching his decision on whether or not he should make one last, perhaps desperate appeal.

If the attorney did not, in fact, inform his client then he should have his license taken away as suggested by the judge. He callously disregarded the importance such information would play in Mr. Ross's decision-making process.

Scientific Ectasy

With ectasy a major circuit party drug used by people who dance all night long into the wee hours with no concept of time or space it's almost unbelievable that the drug was started by a man fascinated in science and learning how the mind and body work.

This is a truly interesting profile of its creator and how the ectasy drug got started. Fascinating. That's all I have to say.

"When Shulgin had his first psychedelic experience in 1960, he was a young U.C. Berkeley biochemistry Ph.D. working at Dow Chemical. He had already been interested for several years in the chemistry of mescaline, the active ingredient in peyote, when one spring day a few friends offered to keep an eye on him while he tried it himself. He spent the afternoon enraptured by his surroundings. Most important, he later wrote, he realized that everything he saw and thought ''had been brought about by a fraction of a gram of a white solid, but that in no way whatsoever could it be argued that these memories had been contained within the white solid. . . . I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyze its availability.''

A few paragraphs later, using himself and family as test subjects liek the scientist he is:

"Shulgin tested for activity by taking the chemicals himself. He would start many times below the active dose of a compound's closest analog and work his way up on alternate days. When he found something of interest, Ann, whom he married in 1981, would try it. If he thought further study was warranted, he would invite over his ''research group'' of six to eight close friends -- among them two psychologists and a fellow chemist -- and try the drugs out on them. In case of a truly dangerous reaction, Shulgin kept an anti-convulsant on hand. He used it twice, both times on himself."

Wow. And this was once used by therapists to get their clients to open up? Wow. Once the hope of the future, now frowned upon by the scientific community. We are told the drugs are bad for us and I'm quite sure many are really bad for us but it is fascinating to know that at one time they were once highly regarded and used in scientific experiments.

Israeli Withdrawal

I'm quite surprised by the turn in events. It seemed like only yesterday when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his intentions to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and had to make a deal with the Labor Pary in order to do it. Is Mr. Sharon setting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas up for failure? Did the Palestinian president secretly disclose the whereabouts of known terrorists?

If this is a setup, let's hope Mr. Abbas doesn't fall for it and uses this opportunity to punish the terrorists who would attempt to cross into Israel proper and cause mayhem.

So far, so good in Iraq

Well, before we get back to the problematic reality of constitution-drafting in Iraq we should all bask in the good news coming out of Iraq. Both, the Washington Post and New York Times featured two main stories showing that turnout was relatively high (or at least as expected) particularly in the Shi'ite community and the terrorist incidents less than what was expected though still occuring. Still no word on how the turnout was in the Sunni communities and the Kurdish provinces though I'd be surprised if the turnout was low in the latter group of provinces.

The New York Times reporter sums it up quite nice here in this nice excerpt:

"The streets of Baghdad were closed to traffic, but full of children playing soccer, and men and women walking, some carrying babies. Everyone, it seemed, was going to vote. They dropped their ballots into boxes even as continuous mortar shells started exploding at about noon.

Thirty civilians and six police officers died in mortar attacks and suicide bombings around the country, the Interior Minister reported, according to A.F.P. Twenty-two of the deaths occurred in Baghdad, Reuters reported, where mortar attacks took three lives and 19 people were killed by suicide bombers. At least 29 were wounded in the attacks in the capital, Reuters said.

But if the insurgents wanted to stop people in Baghdad from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned a corner.

No one was claiming that the insurgency was over or that the deadly attacks would end. But the atmosphere in this usually grim capital, a city at war and an ethnic microcosm of the country, had changed, with people dressed in their finest clothes to go to the polls in what was generally a convivial mood."

Yes. Imagine that. Children are playing, and the adults caring to present themselves in dressed up and dignified for something they consider of high value and importance.

And get this, from the Washington Post, a few days ago the new posters featured a woman showing her hair and not in the traditional religious garb! Said a British spokesperson: the religious tactic may not have been working.

That comment put a smile to my face. :)

The Goo God Evolved

Chronicle Cartoon by Don Asmussen

The Talk Shows for Sunday: Focus On Iraqi Elections

I'm thinking of previewing the Sunday talk shows every Saturday evening for my viewers whenever possible. I know it's a bit late to start that today but here's a list of what I know. Not surprisingly, everyone is focusing on today's Iraqi elections and the president's new Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, is making the rounds on all of the major talk shows (save Meet The Press, for now). To my conservative readers, don't worry. The Fox news shows may be previewed last this week but I will be fair and rotate.

Meet The Press on NBC
Tim Russert will interview Senator John Kerry (D-MA) in his first interview after losing the general election to George Bush and then get the latest news about the Iraqi elections that are now taking place.

The Chris Matthews Show on NBC
Chris Matthews, Andrew Sullivan, Gloria Borger, David Gregory and Joe Klein comment on Bush's world democratic vision, Hollywood's attitude toward Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", and Abraham Lincoln's sexual nature.

Hardball on MSNBC
Chris Matthews hosts a special edition of his political talk show and gets live news coverage from Iraq. Airs at 6 pm eastern time.

60 Minutes Sunday on CBS
Michael Wallace interviews Hilary Swank on her role in "Million Dollar Baby" and learns she got a bacterial infection during production.

Face The Nation on CBS
Bob Schieffer interviews Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and Dan Rather (the CBS editor and anchorman who stood by the now discredited claim on Bush's poor National Guard service) on Iraq.

This Week on ABC
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Senator Evan Bayh, and Peter Jennings on the elections in Iraq.

Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer on CNN
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is the only one mentioned but I'm sure others will be on the show as well. Anyway, Mr. Blitzer has an itneresting panel on this week and it behooves anyone who cannot watch his show to read the transcripts this week. Watch for noted Iraqi power players he will be interviewing including the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Jalal Talabani, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, former president Iraqi Governing Council Adnan Pachachi, and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Of National Security Affairs Barham Salih.

Fox News Sunday on Fox

Condoleeza Rice on Iraqi elections. The preview from Friday suggests there may be some talk about the parliamentary elections for the Kurdish region as well. As usual, Brit Hume, Maria Liasson, Juan Williams, and Bill Kristol comment on the political news of the day.

The news of course came from the homepages on each of their web sites. A reminder. To be fair to all of my readers I intend to rotate the order so no program of any ideological twist is given the prime spotlight or put on the bottom of the pile. I know Fox leans conservative and CNN leans Democratic. I'm not too sure about MSNBC.

In any event I will provide this data on Saturday afternoon or early evening so everyone has a chance to read it before going to bed.

More Unwarranted Gun Control

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city's supervisors are considering a ban on handguns that would deprive its residents not only of carrying them on the public street (an ordinance that makes sense) but criminalize the mere possession of hand guns within its city.

Its chief supporters say it would help lower crime in the city and keep guns away from children who might unintentionally hurt themselves or others if they got a hold on it. Opponents say it gives the would-be criminal an advantage since they would buy these weapons on the black market anyway and then use it on known defenseless home residents.

I don't know about you but a child could hurt himself with a knife just as much as with a gun, and these weapons could be stored in an unreachable, locked place by the gun owner. Prospective robbers might be deterred from entering a home if they knew their victim may have a weapon on them. They certainly won't if this law goes into effect.

Contrast that with a bill in Florida that would eliminate some restrictions (check the NRA web site for the news) on the use of deadly force on an intruder. Something tells me I like the Florida measure more.

I must say, our attitudes towards guns have come a long way since citizen militias and George Washington's army fought against our British rulers. Is not the right to bear arms a basic right? How could a free people defend themselves from a tyrannical government if its people could not arm themselves? Most city and suburban-minded folks have forgotten about that and that is a shame.

No More Science Books!

Well there you have it. One legislator believes schools should only teach "facts" so she is proposing this stupid law eliminating the teaching of evolution in science class because it is only a "theory." Well, by those standards we might as well eliminate history classes since the theories explaining the underlying social, economic, and political causes of certain events are interpretive "theories" and not "facts." We could eliminate most literature classes since they include fictional writing.

Now for the little good news in the ocean bad news. Should this stupid law catering to the religious right actually pass, it would be probably be illegal to teach creationism and "intelligent design," or religion classes.

Wow. That someone would even think it good politics to trade off students' educational development to protect the religious beliefs of their parents.
That's scary. Sure glad I don't live down there.

Social Security

reform doesn't seem likely if the Democrats view this as the only issue in which they could rally the base and win a few seats back during the mid-term elections. The Democrats are united in opposing the president's plan for private accounts but do they have their own reform plan?

The Republicans may have caveman moral values but may become the economic party fo the future if the Democrats do not come up with their own workable plan. Some Democratic leaders say there is no social security crisis. This, even though people are living longer, health care costs are rising, and the baby boomers are about to cash in on social security.

Mind you, the young of today will grow old one day and would like a safety net so they could retire at an old age. Must they suffer so the Democrats could scare the old into voting for them and regain a few Congressional seats? And must the Republicans refuse to compromise?

And Won't Back Down

"But the primary reason we stay is that we feel we must. We will not let small-minded politicians -- or the religious-right organizations headquartered in Virginia -- force us across the river or into the closet. We will stay, and we will vote. We will tell our straight neighbors about these mean-spirited laws and we will ask them to help us change them." - Kim L. Mills

The religious fundamentalists are fooling themselves if they think they could re-impose their way of life on those who don't agree with them. Gays will be gays and do what gay people do, no matter what law is passed that makes their lives more difficult, and as the straights who come to know them become more mindful and respectul towards their gay neighbors' needs and lives, the fundamentalists'vision of a biblically-centered marriage culture that shuns nonconformists like gays will go away.

A Washington Post editorial Writer on Sponge Bob

"For if you peel away his repulsive prejudice against gays and his overheated paranoia, Dobson's stated problems with the video echo the worries of many ordinary parents, even liberal ones, that they are the losers in the culture wars and that they have been supplanted in their role by outside forces." - Ruth Marcus

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Still More Political Correctness - Sweden

This time, in Sweden. The Washington Post features this news article about a Pentecostal priest charged for a hate speech violation. The priest published a written version of his homily condemning homosexuality in a Swedish newspaper. Apparently, a complaint was filed because the priest called homosexuality a "deep cancerous tumor in the entire society" that, if accepted by the society at large, would "open the door to forbidden areas" such as pedophilia by "sexually twisted people."

A leading spokesperson for a Swedish gay/trangerder rights organization and supporter of the law, said the speech would not be tolerated if the object of scorn were a Jewish straight person and not gay. They believe the priest attacked them as a group. The prosecutor agrees and, of course, is charging the priest for the "crime."

Christian Democrats, long the more supportive of quaint moral doctrines, believe the laws infringes on religious expression and free speech. Conservative Christians obviously agree and they have won surprising support from a sizable crowd of gays who protested on the priest's behalf.

I for one, readers already know, oppose the religious right on almost everything related to religion in government and gay rights. The priests' claim that homosexuality represents a "cancerous tumor" is quite absurd, given that gays represent anywhere from 1-10% of the population, depending upon who you believe and since most are set to fall in love with either a member of the opposite or same-sex, this number is unlikely to change.

The slippery slope argument raised by the religious right is less absurd in some situations but more so in others. One can easily distinguish between consensual sexual conduct from that which is forced (rape, bestiality, statutory rape, sex between a person of authority and one who recognizes that person as an authority figure). The slippery slope argument is stronger with respect to adultery, polygamy and incest but not insurmountable. One spouse is usually left in the dark and, should he or she find out about the affair, feel insignificant and unloved. Should the illegitimate affair lead to a child, this cheated upon spouse and child within the family will bear the burden of paying for child born from the affair.
Polygamy breeds jealousy, rivalry, and instability as those of the same sex vie for attention from the the straight person. The incest analogy not mentioned would depend upon those involved. Government swould have a stronger interest in protecting minors from their aunts, uncles and parents as well parents from their adult childrenbut less interest in protecting two cousins of the same age but even this may be covered by the state's interest in prohibiting adultery.

But all of this is besides the point. As ludicrous as the reverand's thought process may be, he merely wrote an op-ed in the newspaper. Many will find it offensive but it is something that could be countered by more thoughtful commentary or ignored. One need not act upon advice or agree with what is printed in a newspaper. Free speech is free speech. A government that could bar someone else's speech because it is offensive to you, could bar your speech that is offensive to others.

One should note the difference between the hate crime legislation adopted in this country from the hate speech legilation discussed in this article. The former involves physical harm done against a person because of an identifiable characteristic about that victim while the latter involves speech said about that identifiable act. The hate crime legislation in our country, at least yet, does not criminalize the speech now in jeapardy in Sweden.

Nevertheless, I believe that is a distinction of degree and not of kind. The hate crime statutes in this country generally punish the thought and speech associated with that otherwise ideologically neutral crime by adding on to the convicted criminal's sentence. A physical assault in Wisconsin may trigger a five-year prison enhancement for a felony because he or she called his victim a "nigger," "kike," or "faggot." In so far as members of one group are "protected" but others are not, the government practices viewpoint discrimination. It legitimizes and protects the hate and vile thoughts of some but not others. It also strongly disfavors the hate of others and sends a chilling message to those with those views. The rationale used to support these laws in this country could very well legitimize the passage of hate speech laws.

Hate crime supporters should reconsider their support for such laws and remove them wherever they exist. Kudos to the protesting gays. They set aside their feelings for their enemy and protested on his behalf. These protestors cherish freedom and know that it can only survive if its application is not dependent upon the way we feel about a particular person's views or way of life.

Friday, January 28, 2005

We Will Stay in Iraq - At Least I Believe So

President Bush said we probably will not be asked to leave Iraq when the new Iraqi government is takes power and I believe he is correct for reasons stated in a prior entry.

The new Iraqi government lacks the disciplined military force necessary to wage a war and thereby increase their hand when their representatives sit with the Kurds and Shi'ites at the negotiating table. As it stands now, the Sunnis could let the uncontrolled terrorists wage their war against the government until the Shi'ites cave in to severalkey Sunni demands and the Kurds could rely on their own well-disciplined army in the north. The Iraqi forces do not match force as shown by their ineffective defense from terrorist strikes.

I would not be surprised if the Kurds and Sunnis push for constitutional reforms immediately while the Shi'ites lack the capacity to fight either one of them and the Shi'ites to push for a delay in the drafting of Iraq's new constitution. If we, however, speed up our training and the two sides have not reached an agreemeent, the Kurds and Sunnis will switch their position and seek a delay while the Shi'ites push forward.

We might be able to use this to get a quick deal among the interested parties. The Kurds and Sunnis have the upper hand for now, while the Iraqi government is rendered ineefective but the Shi'ites could use our training to force the Kurds and Sunnis to make some concessions. At the same time, since their military force is weaker for now, the Shi'ites may agree to some things they would not normally give to the Kurds and Sunnis.

This is just pure speculation on my part. Time will tell if I'm proven right, wrong, either, or both.

More Political Correctness

"Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," Spellings wrote in a letter sent to Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of PBS.

"Congress' and the Department's purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television." - Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling on a gay cartoon episode pulled by PBS

Well, there you have it. Our new "education" secretary holding to the standard that if the parents do not want it, it's not of educational value. Secretary Spelling apparently believes that PBS should pull episodes that many parents may deem offensive. Say I'm a Jew (I'm not but for argument's sake let's just say I am). Would she stick up for me and protect my children from a documentary on the Christian Passion story? or say I'm a Christian (which I'm not, but again, for argument's sake) would she stick up for me when there is documentary on the "prophet" Muhammed? What if I were a gay parent and there was a story on "reparative therapy?" Would Mrs. Spelling protect me and my children's values from the religious right's value structure?

Well, the PBS chickens decided not to air the program in January apparently, but that makes what Mrs. Spelling's claims even more ominous. The new secretary is clearly warning publicly owned companies that programs sympathetic to gay people's concerns or those programs that try to inform readers about their lives are clearly inappropriate and not a permissible use of taxpayer money.

I sincerely doubt it in each case which is one reason why I oppose what she said. Mrs. Spelling probably has every intention of selectively defining what and what is not offensive even though we live in a country that supposedly acknowledges the fact that offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder. Jews try to kill Mr. Gibson's verion of "The Passion." Conservative Christians object anytime the gay "Laramie Project" is performed. Conservatives go after Michael Moore for his "Farenheit 911" movie. Gays silence Laura Schlessinger. Come on. Enough already.

You know. There is this dial in your car that, if you turn it in one direction or another, allows you to hear somehing else. And there is this box, usually in the shape of the rectangle with numbers and arrows on it. I mean, it comes with your TV.

Look. Here's a solution that applies to all of us evenhandedly. If you don't like a show or the values and message presented in the show, don't watch it. And if I'm in a similar situation, I'll extend the same courtesy to you and not gripe about your favorite program that I will probably avoid.

oh, but wait. That reeks of freedom. Yuck. Let the Iraqis do what they will. We need not follow.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Overtly Anti-Bush Article

Okay. You just had to know where this news article was headed when the first sentence pointedly refers to what the "president left out." Now it should be obvious that the thirty-one deaths were unfortunate and that any president would try to emphasize the positives in a war but it should be equally obvious that Bush is not responsible for the crash of a helicopter in Iraq. The president can be faulted for the military strategy and failed diplomacy but not for the casualties one would expect in a war.

Equally obvious is the fact that presidents try to put a positive spin on everything they do in the government and downplay any failures on their part. In so far as the news article highlights the numerous occasions in which the president spins the news in his favor, it points out the obvious. However, in neglecting to point to past presidents' own strategies in this regard the news article unfairly makes President Bush appear exceptionally bad in this regard. Mr. Bush should be treated no better or worse and with no more trust or skepticism than other presidents unless it could be proven that Mr. Bush did go beyond what presidents do..

I don't quite understand what the news reporter is saying in the quote below. Do you?

"Mr. Bush's decision not to mention the helicopter crash in his opening statement, the Bush adviser said, was part of a longstanding White House practice to avoid having the president mention some American deaths in Iraq but not others."

Why would the president mention some deaths and not others? What would be the point? The reporter does not elaborate.

Now here's a quote that must have been taken out of context.

"The key message you'll be hearing is that even if we have an imperfect form of democracy in Iraq, even if we can't get the turnout in the Sunni areas that we want, it's substantially better than when one party controlled everything and the leader got 99.9 percent of the vote."

I sincerely doubt that Bush supporters would portray this as merely an act of rhetoric or spin. Is the reporter suggesting that Mr. Bush and his aides really believe the opposite? that Saddam Hussein's regime was preferable to the democratic regime that follows? that the spin they are putting out is the opposite of how the president truly feels?

I don't know if the president thinks along those lines strategically or morally but I sincerely doubt anyone in the White House gave the news reporter any such indication of that belief. And this makes me wonder. Is this a news article or the reporter's own spin?

Bush on his Speech

Well, Chris Matthews and the Washington Post say President Bush called a press conference today so he could reassure us that there will be no invasion of Syria, Iran, or any other Middle East tyranny (friend or foe) for now. I certainly hope it is true. Everytime we remove a pro-USA dictator we risk giving our terrorist enemies a chance to move in and create an Al Quaida safe haven to use now that they lost Afghanistan. We'd have to occupy these countries until their people found the resolve within themselves to fight for their freedoms by themselves and that would take a long time.

I suggested an alternative route. Accept the nation-state system for what it is and make the deals with whoever is in power who is willing to deal with us. If the leaders of that country won the love and respect of their people, great. If not, oh well. Deal with who you have.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Middle East Peace Process - A Gradual Approach

A few weeks ago (at least I think it was that long ago) I suggested that we push the Israelis towards the peace negotiating table but stop short of the final peace settlement for now. The previous administration had pushed towards that kind of agreement with the Oslo Accords and as much as it deserved credit for moving the peace process forward it ultimately failed. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were at that time ready to make the sacrifices necessary for that outcome.

Many blamed the late and former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat for the failure in peace talks and while that may be true, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his predecessors deserved some of the blame as well. The prime minister gave up on the peace process too quickly and gave the terrorists the very weapon they needed to cut off peace talks - the ability to determine whether or not his team speaks to the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon imprisoned the Palestinian leader within his own compound, never letting him leave it until he needed to go to the hospital to die. Previous leaders refused to push the settlers out of territory which should have been ceded to the Palestinians.

If Israel's prime ministers didn't trust Mr. Arafat to ward off terrorist attacks, they could have replaced the settlements with military barracks and informed the Palestinians that Israeli troops would stay on the land until Mr. Arafat and his successors did something about the terrorists. By removing the settlers, Israel's prime minister would have sent a message that Israel had every intention of ceding the land to the Palestinians once Israelis feel Yasser Arafat was ready to fight terrorism.

Some peace supporters have expressed new optimism now that Mr. Arafat had died and was replaced by President Mahmoud Abbas.

That new optimism is warranted but it should not blind us to the fact that Mr. Abbas was left with the very same difficult decision Mr. Arafat refused to make and was left in the same precarious position because his predecessor refused to pick sides in the ongoing political dispute over Palestine's future. The Israelis are about to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian security forces are now getting ready to move in.

Mr. Abbas has an opportunity to show his military strength and his commitment to the peace process when the Israelis withdraw but once they do so Abbas will have to make that decision. Will he rise up to the challenge and arrest suspected terrorists before they strike again? Will he go out on a search and destroy mission should the terrorists end any implemented cease-fire? Or will he, like Arafat, shake his head and say he could do nothing so long as Palestine remains occupied?

I don't know, but we cannot expect the Israelis to cede anything else (not yet agreed to) until we know what Mr. Abbas is going to do.

Dr. Rice

Well, it was not surprising but the Senate voted to confirm Dr. Condoleeza Rice as the president's new Secretary of State. Dr. Rice, formerly the president's National Security Advisor, won bipartisan support with 85 votes in her favor while 13 senators voted against her. Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd, the leading senators opposing our intervention in Iraq obviously voted against her but I was surprised by Evan Bayh, a potential Democratic presidential candidate for 2008. He voted for the war but against Dr. Rice.

Kudos to the Washington Post. They got the vote breakdown before the New York Times. Just two comments. One, Senator Harkins is one of the more liberal Democratic senators. Senators Biden, Lieberman, and Bayh are centrists. Byrd is conservative on the cultural war and will prove a reliable Bush ally on judicial nominees but a big pork spender and more liberal on the economic issues.

Second, the Washington Post did not say who declined to vote (or was not present to vote) on Dr. Rice's appointment to the Department of State.

Dr. Rice will have her work cut out for her. Toppling Saddam was relatively easy for few people would stick their necks out to preserve his brutal regime. Dr. Rice will have to enlist the support of our allies and push the three major Iraqi groups to the table in order to win the peace. Dr. Rice and the other members of the president's national security team will have to devise a new plan to win the war on terror and address questions as to when to use force, when we can rely on others to do the job and when and how we could afford to contain our enemies (if that is possible).

Mr. Colin Powell deserves our thanks for his distinguished public career on behalf of his nation - as a military officer in Vietnan, a national security advisor to Ronald Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George Herbert Walker Bush and William Jefferson Clinton, and as Secretary of State under our current president. Like everyone, Mr. Powell has made his own share of mistakes but he led us to military victory in the first Persian Gulf War and fought to win international support in whatever military endeavor we took. He will be deeply missed but I wish him good luck in whatever he does next.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Excerpts from Kissinger/Shultz Op-Ed On Iraq and A Blessing In Disguise

Their writing does not flow that easily but Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Shultz I think offer a concrete plan for what we should do next in Iraq. Like Mr. Morrow, Dr. Kissinger and Schultz believe the three major parties will have to compromise but unlike Mr. Morrow, Dr. Kissinger and Shultz believe that political process requires sustained involvement from our part.

This may sound perverse or illogical but the very weakness of Iraq's military forces might prove a blessing in disguise by forcing all of us to come up with the right political solution for everyone involved. We can't leave until the Iraqis can maintain their own disciplined and effective army and police force but the Shi'ites but the Shi'ites can't kick us out until they are ready to either (1) compromise with the other parties or (2) we build them the killing force they need to suppress Iraq's minority voters.

Should the Shi'ites refuse to deal with the Kurds we can threaten to leave and let the Kurds go where they may. Should the Kurds or Sunnis oppose a deal with the Shi'ites we can speed up the training process and arm the Shi'ites and should the Shi'ites refuse to deal with them we can always slow the process down. The Shi'ites may kick us out but their ability to do so depends in part on the speed in which we train their forces. Now for the 80 billion dollar question: who could afford to bluff and who could afford to call it?

Anyway: Here are some quotes from the op-ed:
No Deadline
"The mechanical part of success is relatively easy to define: establishment of a government considered sufficiently legitimate by the Iraqi people to permit recruitment of an army able and willing to defend its institutions. That goal cannot be expedited by an arbitrary deadline that would be, above all, likely to confuse both ally and adversary. The political and military efforts cannot be separated. Training an army in a political vacuum has proved insufficient. If we cannot carry out both the political and military tasks, we will not be able to accomplish either."

Why Minority Rights and Federalist Structure Needed in Iraq
"Western democracy developed in homogeneous societies; minorities found majority rule acceptable because they had a prospect of becoming majorities, and majorities were restrained in the exercise of their power by their temporary status and by judicially enforced minority guarantees. Such an equation does not operate where minority status is permanently established by religious affiliation and compounded by ethnic differences and decades of brutal dictatorship." - Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz

What Our Goals Should Be
"But the United States' continuing leverage should be focused on four key objectives: (1) to prevent any group from using the political process to establish the kind of dominance previously enjoyed by the Sunnis; (2) to prevent any areas from slipping into Taliban conditions as havens and recruitment centers for terrorists; (3) to keep Shiite government from turning into a theocracy, Iranian or indigenous; (4) to leave scope for regional autonomy within the Iraqi democratic process."


Well, the Oscars will avoid these two controversial movies that in some way symbolize the cultural divide in this country - "Farenheit 911" and "The Passion." Thank God. I could just imagine the political commentary had either of these two win Oscar nominations.

Social Security

USA Today has a good article on social security's age problem - people are living longer, which of course means the expenses for providing for the needs of those of retirement age or older has increased.

A Mixed but Expected Sign in Iraq

Not surprisingly, the moderate Sunni leaders said they will insist upon their participation in deliberations concerning Iraq's future constitution.

The Sunni moderates still believe they could get the best deal through the negotiating process and subsequently will not join with the terrorists, and the extremist elements have not scared them out of negotiating yet. That's the good news. Since they called for what to most political outsiders anyway is expected to be a successful boycott (in so far as turnout will be lower among the Sunnis), The moderates may use that leverage to urge future protests should they be unsatisfied with the final result. If the moderates believe they need the terrorists to unwittingly help them lower voter turnout they may decide against cooperation in the war on terror. That will lead to bad news.

By the way, Jonathan Morrow of the United States Institute of Peace wrote a fairly optimistic piece concerning those future deliberations in the USA Today.
He believes each party recognizes that it must compromise to secure anything for themselves. I believe that in the long term his analysis will prove correct but in the short term the moderate Sunnis may decide to use the terrorist activities conducted by others to their own advantage as noted above.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Car Cell Phone Use and Virginia Bill

Virginia lawmakers will probably vote on a bill that bars teenagers from driving while on the cell phone. While this would be a good law in so far as it forbids a group of drivers from a major distraction while going 80 plus miles on a highway it by no means forbids all drivers from doing so. Phone conversations could be just as distracting and the consequences just as fatal should an adult in his or her 30s or 40s or any age be distracted by a telephone call.

It would be a shame for this bill to be overturned by a Court order, but it appears as if there is no rational basis for distinguishing between teenage and adult drivers in this matter. To avoid this possible discrmination challenge, legislators should amend the bill to include a ban on all cell phone use in the car.

Mr. Abbas' Gamble

It appears that Mr. Mahmoud Abbas is moving in the direction he will ultimately have to take should he want an econmically and politically viable independent Palestinian state. By putting his forces near the settlements he is strongly suggesting that attacks on Israelis would not be tolerated. Mr. Abbas says he does not want and would not take force on the militants and he is still, at this moment trying to negoatiate a cease-fire with the militants.

With the troops out there, however, Mr. Abbas' own credibilty and the credibility of his military forces is on the line. He will find it necessary to respond to any terrorist attack against the Israelis'when a promised cease-fire ends or he and his military force will look weak. Whether he wants to or not, he will either fight and win a war on the terrorists or be consumed by them.

Israelis would be well advised to remain outside and give Mr. Abbas and his troops a chance to weed out the terrorists. Should they come into the Gaza Strip prematurely and deny the Palestinian troops the right to protect their own borders, Mr. Abbas and the moderates will be thorougly discredited by the Israeli occupiers.

Scott says He's Ready for the Change, but will the Child be Ready for Him

The Quotes that Scare

"Recently, he said, he hired a housekeeper and plans to employ a nanny while he's at work; at night he wants to take care of the baby by himself. Like many first-time parents, Scott worries about how fatherhood will upend his life, but says he is ready for a change."

"I've always loved children and I thought, 'What am I waiting for?' I want somebody to love me and I want somebody to love," said Scott, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that his last name not be published because he was concerned about the reaction of some business associates.

You may recall that I commented on a similar Washington Post story about a month ago that involved a heterosexual couple who wanted to selectively have a boy and that I considered the Mister's concern about giving the family business over to a son and not one of his daughters) quite vain.

I had voiced my objection to the use of such techniques because it fosters an attitude that a child's nature can be manipulated to suit the parents' needs and wonder how such a parent who acts like a god would ever relinquish that role once the child is born.

The above quotes come from a second article - this one concerning a rich single gay man in his later forties. Now, approximately midway through his expected life (he could be lucky and reach 100 I guess), he decides to have a child and of course, since he buys into the shallow premise that he needs someone of his DNA to have a legacy, he enlisted the support of a surrogate mother. But enough was said about these genetic techniques at the time and of my very strong objection to these techniques and my insistence that gay and infertile straight couples go to an adoption agency should they want a child.

Scott on the other hand is single and he is rapidly "hurtling" toward fifty. Eighteen years from now, if everything turned out okay, this "manufactured" child would have graduated from high school and enrolled as a freshman at a good college. But at that time the child's sole parent will be in his seventies. No one could say with certainty whether Scott will die before that, get alzheimers before that time, or live a very productive life into his eighties but unless Scott lives to 110 his child would be deprived of his parent for the greater part of his life.

Will the child be ready for that? Who knows? and what a shame.

Property Seizure

Moving out can be traumatic but it must feel even worse for those who are forced to sell their home they dearly love and hoped to live in to make way for a developer's pet project. How can you say anything is yours if the government could cite "eminent domain" and consequentially force you to sell your property at will for "just compensation" and not your asking price.

Note the threat from Mr. Anderson, the retailer who is fighting to condemn some properties in the way of any expansion of his Norwood, Ohio mall:

"While Anderson was going door to door in the early summer of 2002, so was Joe Horney, a 35-year-old construction manager. Sitting on the Gambles' couch, bouncing his two-year-old daughter on his lap, Horney proudly recounts how he used an inheritance to buy a two-family house across from the Gambles when he was 21. When he heard the news, he says, "I decided to go out and meet the neighbors. I found out from a lot of people that they were perfectly happy here, they'd like to stay. So we started a petition." At first, about half of the homeowners vowed not to sell. But in September, Anderson and his partners announced their terms: They'd buy everyone's house at a 35 percent premium over its fair market value, but only if they had all the neighbors under contract. If any residents held out, the developers would ask the city to condemn those properties, and a jury would decide the price. Throughout the fall, many of Horney's erstwhile allies signed contracts.

Translation folks?
I'm offering you a deal you can't refuse. I'll give to you what a landowner who upon this or her own initiative would dream of getting for that land but if you do not, we'll come after you and force you out on much less desirable terms. You have no choice. Take what you can now and get out. Resistance is futile.

Don't tell that to construction worker manager Joe Horney, one of the residents fighting to preserve his home.

"Where I made my decision is when eminent domain was threatened from day one," says Horney. "Once they threatened my rights, my decision was made."

As well he should. He either bought it or inherited it from someone else with his own money. He lived there, invested money in its upkeep, and paid taxes on it. He may have a family and made friends within the neighborhood. He has a daughter who may be forced out of the school district she has grown accustomed to if Mr. Horney doesn't find another home in the district.

Mr. Horney should be allowed to keep it until such time as he grows tired of it and moves on. I hope he wins and if not, President Bush could focus on this as a part of his dream for an "ownership society." Afterall, if you don't have the right to decide when to buy and sell your property, could you really say it's yours?

Iraq and Bush's gamble.

Iraqi Pre-election Analysis:
"Ayatollah Sistani favors elections in Iraq because he expects the majority Shia to win and take power. The Sunni, like the South Africans, resist elections because they mean their dispossession. Would the Kurds consign their fate to elections if they knew the Arabs would force them back under Baghdad?" - Patrick J. Buchanan in The American Cause.

For once I must agree with him.

"Yet, Bush has gambled his presidency, the lives of our soldiers, the prestige of the U.S. military and our superpower standing in the world on the questionable proposition that democracy will, under our tutelage, take root rapidly in desert soil where it has never sprouted before."

Another Good, but Old Buchanan Op-ed On the Same Subject:
Here it is.

Maybe it's me but I think the president would be well served if his advisors told him to lay off whole new world order campaign, urge him to pick his battles, and enlist the support of whoever wil help us eradicate teh terrorist threat, be that supporter a tyrant or not. Does it not seem better to get Mr. Mubarak to kill or imprison terrorists then to remove him and risk installing someone who will support the terrorists?

Viewpoint Discrimination

For many people this may seem insignficant because it is a fight over what messages a driver may wish to put on his or her own car. Shawn Byrne, a religious woman went to the DMV and asked that his license plate read "JOHN316" in reference to this Bible passage:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

He says DMV pesonnel asked her what it meant and rejected this and other variations of her message because it was religious and could be offensive to other drivers. The First Amendment Center says Vermont law allows the DMV t can reject plates it considers offensive or confusing and its current regulations forbid any combination that would refer to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation or disability.

The Center notes this is not the first case to reach Vermont's Supreme Court. That court heard and ruled in favor of a woman who wanted the word "Irish," probably to express her support or pride in her ethnic heritage.

I have written about viewpoint discrimination before and while this license dispute may not seem important to most people it clearly is important to the individual at stake. The state marginalizes him by making all sorts of accommodations for some people who would like to express their opinion on the road while driving while denying this person that same privilege and it sends the message that the government's opinions but not his, counts.

On what basis can the DMV deny black people "Black" or "Blackpower," the gay person "Gay" or "Gay pride," or this person in this lawsuit his pride in a religious expression?

I hope the DMV will reconsider and if not, the Vermont Supreme Court should strike the law down. It's one thing to put an end to all of customized license plates. It is quite another for the government to allow for such items but selectively decide whose opinion is worhty of a plate.

ACLU Take Notice

I'm sorry to say this, but it appears as if the American Civil Liberties Union under Mr. Anthony D. Romero has done some things that are tarnishing its image. The ACLU signed onto an agreement that requires them to run a terrorist checklist on the very people it employs even as they condemn such lists; encourage the Ford Foundation to write into its agreements the very Patriot Act language it opposes, performs the very privacy-infringing research it would condemn if the government asked the questions, and is now about to punish the actions of two dissenters.

I love and respect the ACLU and I have provided a link to their website on my blog. Their respect for gay rights, the religious establishment and exercise clauses, and most free speech rights are deeply shared by this blogger and I will defend them against the Bill O'Reilly smear campaign anytime. But I cannot remain silent when they fail to live up to the very principles they swore to protect.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inauguration Day

Well, today is the day President Bush takes the oath of office to once again, claim the office to which won, this time with the popular (though barely so) will of the people and not the courts.

For many this will be a great day of celebration, for many a great day of sorrow, and still for others a non-event. Some will go up to witness the inaguration live in person and others will attend the anti-Bush counter-inauguration. Most will be out working and miss the event but some at home may watch it on television if they are not caught up in the middle of a soap opera or a Jerry Springer show. The president may speak for the country, but whoever takes the oath of office must realize he really only speaks up for half of the nation. Those of us on the losing side will to varying degrees feel marginalized.

Tomorrow will be a day of sorrow for me. I did not vote for the president because he does not share my values or my vision for what makes America the great land of the free that it could be.

For the past few months I have blogged about the war on terror, the cultural war, and civil liberties in general but have been able to push aside this day of reckoning. When I read about the joy coming from the religious right, reality again set in that these zealots will be running the show and it made we want to cry. I hate and fear their designs on this country and know that as much as I will protect their freedoms they will not lift a single digit to protect mine or any other religious minority.

I could only hope that four years from now the public will change its course and vote for someone who shares in a more progressive cultural vision for our country. I guess we should all remember that and remind our more wacked out hate-America lefties that in most countries could not share in that hope for change.

So, with that in mind, let us hope that Bush will govern wisely over the next four years, lead our troops to safety and continue the good fight against the war on terror. But forgive me if I'm not cheering in honor of Bush's electoral success; I'm too busy thinking about the next inaugural four years from now.

Latest JibJab Cartoon

I loved Jib Jab's cartoon on the presidential election between George Bush and John Kerry but now that President Bush was re-elected the writers came up with the Bush agenda. It leans fairly left but it is cute. Give the credit to Andrew Sullivan whose blog has become a blog shrine to me.

Warning: takes long to download. Don't try downloading this 5 minutes before you have to leave for work or class.

War with Syria Next?

If we are relying on national guard troops to help us in occupying Iraq, what will we need for a war with Syria? I do not adamanly oppose war with Syria, for over time we may find out that Mrs. Lerner is right but I am worried about the number of wars we can get into before overextending our armed forces and money supplies. The president wants to push through a new social security plan, make the tax cuts he got Congress to approve permanent, reconstruction projects following the tsunami and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What will the president sacrifice or what will he ask us to sacrifice?
I thinkw we need to know more abou Syria's involvement and if we can stop them from supporting the terrorists through a bockade first.

What Senator Murkowski Should Have Asked Dr. Rice

During the committee hearings, Senator Murksowski (R-Alaska) asked Dr. Rice about our plans to bring the North Koreans back to the six-party negotiating table. Dr. Rice expressed hope in their willingness to return to the table and made absolutely clear that we have no intention or design to invade North Korea and would be willing to assure them of this if they in turn dismantled their nuclear weapons program. Dr. Rice thinks the Chinese and Japanese are supporting us in this endeavor.

Senator Murkowski should have, however pressed Dr. Rice on what the next step would be should the talks break down without there being a settlement. Does the eventual State Secretary believe economic sanctions would work, tough border controls, war, or limited military strikes should the negotiations fail?

I'm sorry Senator Murkowski didn't ask her that question. How far can we (and are we) expected to go in order to prevent nuclear weapon proliferation from the Norh Koreans?

The Dirty Dish in the Hearings

Okay. Here's a part of the exchange between Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dr. Rice:

"BOXER: Which he says, Although Saddam clearly assigned a high value to the nuclear progress and talent that had been developed up to '91, the program ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years. Here's the point: You and I could sit here and go back and forth and present our arguments, and maybe somebody watching the debate would pick one or the other depending on their own views. But I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the facts. So when I ask you these questions, I'm going to show you your words not my words. And, if I might say, again you said you're aware of the stakes in Iraq. We sent our beautiful people -- and thank you, thank you so much for your comments about them -- to defend freedom. You sent them in there because of weapons of mass destruction. Later, the mission changed when there were none. I have your quotes on it. I have the president's quotes on it. And everybody admits it but you that that was the reason for the war. And then once we're in there, now it moved to a different mission. Which is great, we all want to give democracy and freedom everywhere we can possibly do it, but let's not rewrite history. It's too soon to do that.

RICE: Senator Boxer, I would refer you to the president's speech before the American Enterprise Institute in February prior to the war, in which he talked about the fact that, yes, there was the threat of weapons of mass destruction but he also talked to the strategic threat that Saddam Hussein was to the region. Saddam Hussein was a threat, yes, because he was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And, yes, we thought that he was -- that he had stockpiles, which he did not have. We had problems with the intelligence. We are all, as a collective polity of the United States, trying to deal with ways to get better intelligence. But it wasn't just weapons of mass destruction. He was also a place -- his territory was a place where terrorists were welcomed, where he paid suicide bombers to bomb Israel, where he had used Scuds against Israel in the past, and so we knew what his intentions were in the region, where he had attacked his neighbors before and, in fact, tried to annex Kuwait, where we'd gone to war against him twice in the past. It was the total picture, Senator, not just weapons of mass destruction, that caused us to decide that post-September 11th, it was finally time to deal with Saddam Hussein.

BOXER: Well, you should you read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD, period. That was the reason and the causation for that particular vote. But again, I just feel, you quote President Bush when it suits you, but you contradicted him when he said, Yes, Saddam could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. You go on television, nine months later, and said, Nobody ever said it was going to be.

RICE: Senator, that was just a question of pointing out to people that there was an uncertainty, that no one was saying that he would have to have a weapon within a year for it to be worth it to go to war.

BOXER: Well, if you can't admit to this mistake, I hope that you will rethink it.

RICE: Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will reframe from impugning my integrity. Thank you very much.

BOXER: I'm not. I'm just quoting what you said. You contradicted the president and you contradicted yourself.

RICE: Senator, I'm happy to continue the discussion. But I really hope that you will not imply that I take the truth lightly."

Wow. I'm just thinking of an argument generally made between two kids.
Baby 1: "you're a liar.
Baby 2: "I am not."
Baby 1: "you are so."
Baby 2: "not"

How wonderful. It really adds a lot to the discussion.

Condoleeza Rice's Good Response to Senator Boxer's Shrill Accusations

"Now, the war was sold to the American people, as chief of staff to President Bush Andy Card said, like a new product. Those are his words. Remember, he said, You don't roll out a new product in the summer. Now, you rolled out the idea and then you had to convince the people as you made your case with the president. And I personally believe -- this is my personal view -- that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth. And I don't say it lightly. And I'm going to go into the documents that show your statements and the facts at the time. Now, I don't want the families of those 1,366 troops that were killed or the 10,372 that were wounded to believe for a minute that their lives and their bodies were given in vain. Because when your commander in chief asks you to sacrifice yourself for your country, it is the most noble thing you can do to answer that call. I am giving their families, as we all are here, all the support they want and need. But I also will not shrink from questioning a war that was not built on the truth. Now, perhaps the most well-known statement you've made was the one about Saddam Hussein launching a nuclear weapon on America with the image of quote, quoting you, a mushroom cloud. That image had to frighten every American into believing that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of annihilating them if he was not stopped. And I will be placing into the record a number of such statements you made which have not been consistent with the facts. As the nominee for secretary of state, you must answer to the American people and you are doing that now through this confirmation process. And I continue to stand in awe of our founders, who understood that ultimately those of us in the highest positions of our government must be held accountable to the people we serve. So I want to show you some statements that you made regarding the nuclear threat and the ability of Saddam to attack us. Now, on July 30th, 2003, you were asked by PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill, if you continue to stand by the claims you made about Saddam's nuclear program in the days and months leading up to the war. In what appears to be an effort to downplay the nuclear weapons scare tactics you used before the war, your answer was, and I quote: It was a case that said he was trying to reconstitute. He's trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year. So that's what you said to the American people on television: Nobody ever said it was going to be the next year. Well, that wasn't true. Because nine months before you said this to the American people, what had George Bush said? President Bush at his speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center: If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little longer than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. So the president tells the people there could be a weapon. Nine months later, you said no one ever said he could have a weapon in a year, when, in fact, the president said it. And here's the real kicker: On October 10th, '04, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, three months ago, you were asked about CIA Director Tenet's remark that prior to the war he had, quote, made it clear to the White House that he thought the nuclear weapons program was much weaker than the program to develop other WMDs. Your response was this: The intelligence assessment was that he was reconstituting his nuclear programs; that left unchecked he would have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year. So here you are, first contradicting the president and then contradicting yourself. So it's hard to even ask you a question about this, because you are on the record basically taking two sides of an issue. And this does not serve the American people. If it served your purpose to downplay the threat of nuclear weapons, you said, No one said he's going to have it in a year. But then later, when you thought perhaps you were on more solid ground with the American people, because at the time the war was probably popular, or more popular, you say, We thought he was going to have a weapon within a year. And this is -- the question is, this is a pattern here of what I see from you on this issue, on the issue of the aluminum tubes, on the issue of whether Al Qaida was actually involved in Iraq, which you've said many times. And in my rounds -- I don't have any questions on this round because I'm just laying this out -- I do have questions on further rounds about similar contradictions. It's very troubling. You know, if you were rolling out a new product like a can opener, who would care about what we said? But this product is a war. And people are dead and dying. And people are now saying they're not going to go back because of what they experienced there. "

Thought before I continue with Condoleeza's response:
1. Condoleeza Rice may not have recalled President Bush's previous statement about nukes within a year.
2. The president, as he normally does, mispoke.
3. One would suspect that such an accusation was retracted immediately once the media critiqued it. In fact I recall Mr. Cheney's similar misstatements, the media's response, and the White House's backtracking on the response so Dr. Rice's statement to Ifil could be factually truthful in so far as any such predictions on Iraq having these nukes were withdrawn.
4. To even imply that soldiers are dying in vain (as Senator Boxer suggests) is grossly insensitive to the American troops involved, particularly since the White House relied upon one other thing: the spread of chemical and biological weapons.
While no such weapons were found, there were reasons to be very suspicious. Dr. Rice's points are quite reasonable:

now, her reply:

"RICE: Yes. Senator, I am more than aware of the stakes that we face in Iraq, and I was more than aware of the stakes of going to war in Iraq. I mourn the dead and honor their service. Because we have asked American men and women in uniform to do the hardest thing, which is to go and defend freedom and to give others an opportunity to build a free society which will make us safer. Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before and what went on before and what I said, without impugning my credibility or my integrity. The fact is that we did face a very difficult intelligence challenge in trying to understand what Saddam Hussein had in terms of weapons of mass destruction. We knew something about him. We knew that we had gone to war with him twice in the past, in 1991 and in 1998. We knew that he continued to shoot at American aircraft in the no-fly zone as we tried to enforce the resolutions that the U.N. Security Council had passed. We knew that he continued to threaten his neighbors. We knew that he was an implacable enemy of the United States, who did cavort with terrorists. We knew that he was the world's most dangerous man in the world's most dangerous region. And we knew that in terms of weapons of mass destruction, he had sought them before, tried to build them before, that he had an undetected biological weapons program that we didn't learn of until 1995, that he was closer to a nuclear weapon in 1991 than anybody thought. And we knew, most importantly, that he had used weapons of mass destruction. That was a context that, frankly, made us awfully suspicious when he refused to account for his weapons of mass destruction programs, despite repeated Security Council resolutions and despite the fact that he was given one last chance to comply with Resolution 1441. Now, there were lots of data points about his weapons of mass destruction programs. Some were right and some were not. But what was right was that there was an unbreakable link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. That is something that Charlie Duelfer, in his report of the Iraq Survey Group, has made very clear: that Saddam Hussein intended to continue his weapons of mass destruction activities, that he had laboratories that were run by his security services. I could go on and on. But, Senator Boxer, we went to war, not because of aluminum tubes. We went to war because this was the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a man against whom we had gone to war before, who threatened his neighbors, who threatened our interests, who was one of the world's most brutal dictators and it was high time to get rid of him. And I'm glad that we're rid of him. Now, as to the statement about territory and the terrorist groups, I was referring to the fact that the Al Qaida organization of Osama bin Laden, which once trained openly in Afghanistan, which once ran with impunity in places like Pakistan, can no longer count on hospitable territory from which to carry out their activities. In the places where they are, they are being sought and run down and arrested and pursued in ways that they never were before."

Inaugural Speech

Well I read the transcript of the president's speech on The Washington Post and it appears, at least rhetorically, that the president is siding with the neoconservatives and liberal human rights internationalists. Most presidents do because most Americans believe in them, whether we are secular or religious, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. We may not consistently abide by them and there are times I am sure many of us would deny those we don't like the same rights we are all entitled to, but almost everyone believes in those principles.

I could not help but nod my head when I read the following:

"Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time."

"By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal."

"From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave." (okay, take out the "Maker of Heaven and earth and it would be perfect, but I'll accept it for the ceremonial deism that it is and try to forget it was said).

Now for the reality check.

Reality Check 1: The president suggests that freedom abroad alone will bring us the safety we seek. I am not sure how the president could implement this since the very people we must rely on to remove the threat of the terrorists are tyrants themselves. Osama bin Laden's disciples would like to remove those leaders too and replace them with a more religious tyrant. We would not be able to remove the leaders in every country and guarantee their adherence to the anti-jihadist agenda. Yesterday Condoleeza Rice said we are winning because we denied the terrorists the territory they seek. That is disputable because they may seek a new home in any number of countries. If we are going to fight the war on terror we cannot remove leaders who have every reason to fear these Islamofascists' ambitious agenda and consequently give these terrorists a chance to gain a new home.

Moreover, as the president himself said in his speech - freedom cannot be given, it must be fought for. The slave must first recognize that his status is wrong enough to rebel and then kill those who oppress him or her. Democratic government depends upon self-empowerment. If the slave does not assert his or her rights, would-be masters will have no problem oppressing him or her.

Reality Check 2: For those of us on the progressive side we cannot help but note how ironic it is to have this president fight against religious fundamentalism abroad while catering to the Christian (and I'll concede, less brutal) fundies here. Our freedom from slavery requires a war against both, the Islamofascists who attacked us on 9/11 and the Christofascists who seek to take away a number of our freedoms here.
So to that extent the president's inspiring comments ring hollow to those of us who know he will not stand up and protect us from the religious right's agenda. We may have to pray.

Important Exchange between Senator Feingold and Rice: War everywhere

This exchange between the Senator from Wisconsin and State Secretary nominee Condoleeza Rice should remind us about the limits of American military power in war where every country is a potential battlefield.

The jihadists who fight against our way of life owe their allegiance to no country. They will build their training camps anywhere where it would be safe from American or native attacks. They will build them in friendly countries, in neutral countries and in very weak, perhaps, countries where the government can do nothing about them.

Note Senator Feingold's question about Somalia. Here we have a country, if it could be called that, where our government withdrew American troops after some died in Mogadishou. Rival warlords rule this country at this moment at this moment so terrorists who establish a training camp may offer warlords some training in turn for the right to weapons and their camp for ongoing anti-American operations.

Dr. Rice said that, for now, we are relying on Somalia's neighbors to deal with terrorists in that region but our efforts to stop the jihadists is limited to our efforts to support a strong centralized Somali government. Since we withdrew, however, those efforts have been limited and half-hearted.

A few weeks ago I read a news article from the New York Times concerning the divsion between northern (and Islamic Mali) and the southern Christian part. For now the government is run by tolerant moderates, who at the very least are not concerned about one's religion or the spread of a jihad. That may change over time, however.

Dr. Rice says we are winning because American forces are denying the terrorists the territory they need for rest and training. For sure we routed them from Afghanistan but they may go back if the central government in Kabul is not able to strengthen itself at the expense of its own warlords and even if President Karzai were to succeed, the enemy could retreat into Iran and of course, Iraq should we fail there.

We cannot occupy every country and rebuild the infrastructure of even 1/8 of these at-risk states. Senator Feingold knows that and that's why I believe he has every right to be skeptical about Dr. Rice's claim.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ummm. Just Stupid.

Okay. Let me get this straight. One legislator wants to pass a law that lets the schools notify parents when their childrend do not stand up to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Why can't children have their own voice on this matter I don't know but I guess authoritarians love the idea of making children think and respect that which their parents believe in and respect.

Now for the equal protection question: the viewpoint discrimination problem. Will the legislator be good enough to include the mandatory notification of parents when their children say the pledge even when their parents explicity demanded that they do not?

Why this legislator would focus on this asinine law and not, say, transportation funding or taxes is beyond me.

One Thing I Love About Blogging

I could write what I want about what I care about without owing anything to any party, any ideological group, or any news organization. Andrew Sulliv;an hit it on the nail.

I don't have to be like the talking heads on those political shows - you know, the ones who are boxed into one of two partisan groups and predictably spouts the party line without a breath of fresh ideas. I remember sending my mother a link to one op-ed column from the Washington Post which detailed the history of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Attitudes towards the French, the domestic economy (agrarian vs. commerce), culture (progressive vs traditional) were neatly lined up. It was humorous but only because I frown this one-party, partisan way of thinking. I for one cannot see what anti-French attitudes have to do with abortion, the environment, or social security (or for that matter, what those policies have to do with each other), but somehow everything neatly falls into place and your typical party man supports that "link" unquestionably.

Me. I'm less doctrinaire then that and I greedily savor the right to borrow ideas from those across the political spectrum. Yes, there are some absolutes but for the most part I don't buy into the "its either all or nothing" and "yes or no" approach to thinking. Sometimes things are a little bit more complicated. "Black and white and grey" as opposed to just "black or white." "Yes and no," "neither" and "I don't know' instead of "yes or no."

Dr. Rice Vague on Israel/Palestine

Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) tried to get Dr. Rice to describe the conditions necessary for a politically and economically viable independent Palestinian state but Dr. Rice said that is something that should be left to the two parties nad not "pre-judged."

Dr. Rice said the state cannot be broken up into too many pieces and said, without elaborating, that a future Palestine would have to be able to compete economically with Jordan and Israel but she stressed democratic reforms within the Palestinian government.

This conveniently allowed her to avoid the question of what the Palestinians and Israelis are entitled to and what they must negotiate on in a re-newed peace process.

When the senator from Rhode Island asked Dr. Rice on how President Abbas should handle the terrorists, she rightly insisted that the moderates will have to disarm them and unite all of the Palestinian security forces under the administration's central command. Senator Chafee appeared skeptical and followed up by asking about the potential outbreak in civil war should this happn and Dr. Rice said the United States will offer to help them restructure their security forces. She said she sees this as an effor to isolate those who do not believe in obtaining what Palestinians need in the most effective way and not as the start of a civil war.



I'm going to quit writing on Dr. Rice's testimony for now but I will get back to it later on. Everything I said so far came from the first 32 pages of The New York Times' transcripts. That will help those of you searching for any quotes regarding my text and me to the extent that I know where I left off.

I'll continue (and hopefully get another 33 pages done) tomorrow. Whether or not I find something important or interesting to comment on I won't know until I read it.


Dr. Rice Says We Are Still Committed to Iraq

I was getting a bit worried that our president would take the advice of some of the conservative commentators who were deeply skeptical about our mission in Iraq and suggested that he would understand this, allow the elections to proceed, declare victory and then withdraw our troops from Iraq.

As previously noted in some of my prior entries, I adamantly oppose this and believe that such a withdrawal would leave Iraq and (more importantly our geopolitical situation) worse off then it apparently was under Saddam Hussein's reign of terror.

In her testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations, Dr. Rice dispelled such notions and said we would remain in Iraq to help build up its security forces and continue the war against the terrorists now creating all sorts of mayhem in Iraq.

Dr. Rice also said that our country would offer to help the Iraqis should they ask for help in their efforts for political reconciliation, a task she properly left for the Iraqis to decide.

Her response to Senator Hagel's question on more or less troops provides me with some more hope. The future Secretary of State (her approval is not in any doubt) refused to elaborate, except to say it would be proportional to the task at hand.

"I am really reluctant to try to put a timetable on that, because I think the goal is to get the mission accomplished and that means that the Iraqis have to be capable of some things before we lessen our own responsibility."

Bingo. Don't cave in to the defeatists and those who didn't want our troops there in the first place. We went in there, created what amounts to as a political vacuum, and now we must help fix it.

Did Dr. Rice Mispeak on Sudan?

Senator Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) asked Dr. Rice about her plans for the relatively new Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization and the State Secretary nominee said she plans to help it better coordinate the civilian expertiese needed for postwar reconstruction with the military campaigns that precede it and then Dr. Rice said something that caught my eyes. I know that the Washington Post, New Republic, and The Weekly Standardhave all been touting this but...

"We have learned a lot of lessons over the last several years, and one of them, I think, is that we need to be better able to marry civilian expertise in reconstruction and stabilization with whatever we need to do militarily to stabilize the situation. These post-conflict situations require a wide range of skills and talents that we've had to assemble in a rather ad hoc fashion from within the United States government when we faced Afghanistan or faced Iraq.

RICE: And frankly, we will face these again. We face it in Liberia. We face it in Sudan -- we will face it in Sudan if those situations can be stabilized."

Oh? Are we going to deploy troops in the Sudan to protect the people of Darfur and other regions traumatized by civil war from further bloodshed? or will our involvedment be limited to the post-war reconstrcution plans offered by the newly-established Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization?

I hope some senators asked a good follow-up in response to this statement and I hope she answered it.

Senator Biden's Humor: Dr. Rice Testimony

Lugar: "Now, at this point, I would call normally upon Senator Biden, but I would say in his behalf, his train canceled out, and so he took the next one possible and he will be here momentarily. And we appreciate that very special effort. But I'm going to now call upon Senator Feinstein, our distinguished colleague from California, for her introduction of -- oh, in the nick of time. (LAUGHTER) The distinguished ranking member has arrived.

And I'll talk for a few minutes to give you a chance to catch your breath. And then if you will proceed with your opening statement.

BIDEN: I'm prepared anytime you say, Mr. Chairman.

LUGAR: Well, proceed.

BIDEN: My purpose in being here today is to get more money for Amtrak. (LAUGHTER)

I want to know your position on that, Madam Secretary.


Dr. Rice, welcome.

This, from the transcripts to the testimony proffered by Dr. Rice on her nomination to succeed Colin Powell as Secretary of State.

The testimony can be read from the beginning at this address.

It's quite long so you might just want to read the news highlights, unlike me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Bishop (and Everyone's) Lesson

Well, the Syrian bishop was released from custody but it just goes to show that no one is safe in that part of the world so long as the terrorists roam around free and can attack with impunity. Maybe next time the bishop would remember to keep a few bodyguards around him.

Virginia is Not the Only State for Lovers

In my blog reading this weekend I have noticed that several writers titled their notice "Virginia is for Lovers" because the state's Supreme Court has recently struck down as unconstitutional its stupid but rarely enforced anti-fornication laws. The Virginia Supreme Court apparently cited the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas,in which it struck down as unconstitutional a law barring gay sex. The Court in that case said states had no rational basis to deny two consensual adults the right to private intimate conduct and in a long passage, distinguished it (and other consensual sexual activities) from forced or dangerous sexual activities.

Here's the important quote, taken from the text provided in the link above, for all to see:

"The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. "It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter." Casey, supra, at 847. The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual."

The Supreme Court's ruling invalidated all such statutes, wherever they are found. Whether the residents in Virginia and other states like it or not, the promise of freedom thankfully extends to lovers all over the United States and the laws which bar them can not be enforced.

Senator Biden's opening statement on Dr. Rice Hearings

"That's because virtually all the threats we face, from terrorism to the spread of weapons of mass destruction, to rogue states flouting the rules, to the pandemic diseases that we face now and will face, none of them can be solved solely by American soldiers by themselves." - Senator Biden mentioning why he believes we need some help from our alllies.

Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) offered a very substantive opening statement during today's hearing on Dr. Condoleeza Rice's nomination as Secretary of State. The senator said he is interested in Dr. Rice's thoughts on nuclear proliferation in North Korea, Iran and around the former Russian states, what, if anything we are going to do about Russia now that it is backsliding trend to authoritarian rule (and even more important, selling arms to terrorist-supporing Syria) and our future strategy with respect to the war on terrorists in Iraq. Senator Biden's statement is found on pages 5-7 of the transcripts should you get them from The New York Times, as I did.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Good Op-ed from Wieseltier

Leon Wieseltier had a good op-ed in the New York Times magazine section last week and points to the limits of democratic governance in removing terrorist threats. Democracy, he rightly argues, merely expresses the will of the majority of the people, and those could be good or bad.

When will the neoconservatives admit to this very serious weak point to their analysis?


"So can you imagine how I feel about this now - that I was not a fighter for democracy, but was a petty collaborator with the secret police," Ms. Niezabitowska said. "I'm heartbroken, not just for me, but for Poland. I fear that the history of the Polish opposition and our struggle for freedom will now be the story as told by the secret police, by people who were our worst enemies and did everything to destroy us. It would be a real victory of the totalitarian system from its grave." - Malgorzata Niezabitowska, a member of the Solidarity Movement that pushed for democratic reforms in-then Communist Poland.

Ironic that the leftists who have now adapted to Poland's democratic reforms are now releasing the records that supposedly discredit those fought for Poland's independence and liberty.

Perhaps the leaders for the movement felt they could not survive and ultimately fight for their country's freedom if they refused to cooperate with the Secret Police early on, or perhaps they started out as ordinary citizens who feared for their lives and their experiences emboldened them to fight against this totally corrupt and inhumane communist system.

Abbas and the Way Forward

Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as the Palestinians' first elected leader and promised to reach out to the Israelis. The new president said all the right words for the interested parties. He equally condemned the Israeli attacks on the Palestinian territories and the militants' attacks in Israel proper. President Abbas promised to immediately reach out to the militants and obtain a cease-fire but refused to crack down on the militants. This last piece of news is disappointing but should have been expected from a realist like myself.

The Palestinian president may feel he nees to refrain from such actions and at the moment he is in a precarious situation. Israelis will not re-start the peace negotiations unless its leaders believe they are dealing with someone who could deliver what they need - peace and security from terrorist attacks. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad threaten Mr. Abbas' credibility so long as they can attack the Israelis with impunity.

On the other hand, President Abbas cannot wage a civil war against the very terrorists whose organizations provide the very social services governments provide for their own people. The president has to win the public's support for his approach in part, by establishing rival social service programs for these people and encourage economic development in the Palestinian territories. He cannot win unless he can guarantee them law and order, peace, freedom, and a chance at a successful economic future. Israelis will feel more comfortable if their negotiating partner has the will and power to meet their own people's needs and restore order.

Israelis should accept the president's plan to negotiate for a cease-fire, but only for a short term and insist that, within the very near future, Mr. Abbas implement a politically ambitious program to assert the PLO's legitimacy in the governing territories before peace negotiations start anew. The president can and should only be treated as a credible peace negotiating partner if he could deliver on the only thing the Palestinians can offer the Israelis - peace. Mr. Abbas will have to confront Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and similar organizations in the future.

This does not mean, however, that Israelis could do whatever they want to the Palestinians while peace negotiations remain in limbo.

So long as the cease-fire remains in effect, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should respect the Palestinians' territorial integrity in those lands that were ceded to the PLO and use this time to halt all new Israeli settlement construction, dismantle settlements within already-agreed upon Palestinian territory, and refrain from further construction on the infamous wall.

It may be unrealistic to expect either side to make the commitments necessary for an everlasting peace but for now both sides must at the very least work on these confidence-building measures. The leaders from both sides will have to communicate with each other and let them know of their intentions and promises, both during and before they feel they could re-start the peace negotations and deliver on the obligations made in a treaty.