May 30, 2006

A Time to Mourn

This Memorial Day, I made a point to do something I do every Memorial Day: call my father and thank him not only for giving up over a year of his life to fight in a war that he and his comrades would be hated for, for coming back to a nation that despised them and called them “babykillers,” and for helping create an American disappetite for war that persists today, and for guiding me on a path where I could see through the bluster and fanfare and remember that being a solider isn’t just another job, and war isn’t just another day. Memorial Day is a day to remember that every war is dreamed up by men on one side of the battle lines or the other with dreams of power and stature, wealth and influence, and whether those men needs to be stopped by an opposing force or whether those men need to be stopped by those at home, war is dreamt by men far from the battlefield, not by soldiers who give their lives and battle fiercely while hoping for nothing but peace and an eventual return to their families and loved ones.

Over at the Nation, John Nichols writes the following about Memorial Day:

The wisdom of wars can be debated on any day, and this column has not hesitated to question the thinking — or, to be more precise, the lack of thinking — that has led the United States to the current quagmire in Iraq.

But on Memorial Day, it is well to pause from the debate to remember those whose lives have been lost, not merely to the fool’s mission of the contemporary moment but to all those battles – noble and ignoble – that have claimed the sons and daughters of this and every land.

After the bloodiest and most divisive of America’s wars, the poet Walt Whitman offered a dirge for two soldiers of the opposing armies — Civil War veterans, buried side by side. His poem is an apt reminder that, when the fighting is done, those who warred against one another often find themselves in the same place. It is appropriate that we should garland each grave, understanding on this day above all others that wars are conceived by presidents and prime ministers, not soldiers.

He then follows with Whitman’s words regarding the civil war, and make sure to read the comments for letters from president and solider alike that will remind you that Memorial Day isn’t about barbeques and discount sales; it’s about remembrance and honor, grief and the promise of peace, and how hard it is and how necessary it is to fight for that peace against all enemies, both foriegn and domestic, both mad with delusions of grandeur abroad, and here at home.

[ A Time to Mourn ]
Source: The Nation

May 23, 2006

Molly Ivins: ‘Yes, I Am Actually Calling Them Racist’

The unsinkable Molly Ivins tells it like it is once again. I’ve referred to her commentary several times regarding the immigration debate. To be honest, I don’t think anyone debates the fact that immigration reform is necessary, and that a solid stance needs to be taken between guest worker programs and citizenship opportunities as well as border security that will help stem the tide of illegal immigrants into the United States, but as usual the Adminstration and Congressional Republicans have missed the point entirely, mainly because they’re subject to the whims of their far-right conservative base, consisting mostly of the “boot em out and lock em up” breed of nativists who fear anything and anyone that doesn’t look like them.

Immigration reform is important, but a far better and long term solution than putting Guard troops on the border would involve helping Mexico’s strugging economy and engaging our Latin American neighbors in fair trade, and encouraging American companies to invest in those nations with tax incentive programs, which would subseqently improve our standing in Latin America, strengthen our already strained ties with Mexico, and improve the quality of life of the people to our South to the point where hopefully they won’t have to flock here under cover or night and threat of death trudging through the desert. Regardless of what the nativists and racists have to say about the immigrant impact on crime and social services (all of which have been pretty clearly refuted by several studies) and regardless of the fact that this is a diversionary issue (there is no immigration “crisis” any more than there was one last year, or the year before-this issue was clearly manufactured to allow House Republicans the ability to appeal to their ultra-conservative base during an election year, Senate Republicans to appear more moderate and willing to compromise during an election year, and give the president an opportunity to raise his approval ratings by being tough on illegal immigration while simultaneously supporting a guest worker program, that gets him points from the centrist crowd. It’s entertaining to remember that this came up right around and after the Republican corruption charges started spreading through congress like wildfire, Tom Delay’s indictment, sagging poll numbers over the war and the President’s popularity, Rove’s indictment, and so on.) there are far better things we can do to work toward a comprehensive immigration policy that leaves our borders open, but keeps them secure-not by building walls, but by building partnerships. But sadly, some people only choose to apply the law of the gun, and to the conservatives on capitol hill, as long as they’re on the butt end, they’re happy.

Ivins tells her tale and puts it better than I possibly could. For example:

Are they insane? As Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano observes, “Show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate have constructively declared English the national language. That’ll fix everything. Every foreigner at our borders will stop and say: “Gosh, ma foi! English is the national language here. Good thing to know. I’ll begin speaking it immediately.”

Which is almost as good as the way she closes her article:

By all means, reform immigration with this deep obeisance to the Republican right-wing nut faction and their open contempt for “foreigners.” But do not pretend for one minute that it is not a craven political bow to racism (yes, racism—I am actually calling them racists, although they pretend it hurts their feelings. Try reading their websites and see for yourself), and to nativism, to xenophobia and to Know-Nothingism. Just don’t forget what you are throwing away in the process.

Don’t let me fool you though, every word is solid gold.

[ Molly Ivins: ‘Yes, I Am Actually Calling Them Racist’ ]
Source: TruthDig

May 22, 2006

Don’t Be Fooled By HandsOff.org: When The Telcos Say “Hands Off,” They Mean Yours Too!

The telecomms are in trouble and they know it. The Save The Internet campaign has gained a great deal of steam, and people are legitimately frightened by the notion that where they go and what they do online might be steered and directed by the whim of their ISP and who pays them the most money. Think of it; American ISPs controlling the internet-telling you that since Microsoft paid them big bucks and Yahoo! didn’t, they’ll just make Yahoo! unbearably slow and MSN amazingly fast; imagine your ISP controlling what services you can access easily and what services you can’t, all dependant on who has the big bucks. Imagine foriegn governments deciding to start their own “internets,” (as China recently threatened to) because they’re fed up with American corporate control over the net. Imagine a world where the digital divide has grown significantly larger, because ISPs have control over the net and choose not to offer low-cost internet access to rural schools or urban schools that can’t afford high-cost broadband plans; or where schools can only show students the information that the ISP they contract with has deemed acceptable. All of these are examples of why Net Neutrality is so incredibly important.

Well, the Telecomms decided to fight back, and launched their own site to counter the Net Neutrality campaign; but see, here’s the problem. What do you get when you rip off the art and animation styles of Odd Todd and the End of The World flash videos, toss in some propaganda, a few unverified facts, and dash liberally with scare phrases like “regulation” and “government control?” Well, you get HandsOff.org, which proclaims that you and I should “make up our own minds about the future of the internet,” and say no to “government regulation,” all the while portraying Net Neutrality activists as frazzled, know-nothing people shouting from behind a podium and in the pockets of corporate and lobbying interests. They claim to be consumers interested in choice and the growth of the internet, but with the exception of a few right-wing fringe groups, they’re almost all telecommunications service and equipment companies. It’s really really sad, and it’s so incredibly typical that the telecomm industry, rather than pointing out that a free and independant internet is in everyone’s best interest, has chosen instead to scare the public by trying to associate Net Neutrality with “government regulation of the internet.”

Regulation, as we all know, is the perfect scare word to use if you want to get the free market/libertarian crowd up in arms or the small-government conservatives, who hate to see the government regulate anything; but that’s not the point. Net Neutrality isn’t about “regulating the internet,” it’s about maintaining the free and independant internet that we have today. The HandsOff.org industry pawns (HandsOff.org, by the way, sponsored by such companies at AT&T and Cingular-the same company, thanks to big mergers-and other firms that have a stake in where internet access is deployed around the country, who gets it, and how they use it; essentially the companies that would profit most from limiting internet access in rural areas, controlling the flow of information on the internet, and who would gain the most from ISPs being in charge of what traffic goes where.) claim that more and more options, from dial-up to broadband to wifi are coming to homes, and claim that “pretty soon,” we’ll all have fiber to our houses-except they fail to mention that the telecomm industry routinely fights efforts to build municipal wifi networks, demands incredibly high tax breaks and revenue in order to expand current networks, and fights government efforts to bring net access to rural areas and schools.

The HandsOff.org pawns (also seen at dontregulate.org, hilariously enough) claim that the big companies like Google and Yahoo want to use those hypothetical, never-to-be-seen fat bandwidth lines to deliver their services but not pay for them, and instead pass the costs on to you and me-another scare tactic. The telecomm industry conveniently fails to mention that those big companies like Google and Yahoo already pay for bandwidth for their network centers, and if their bandwidth costs go up, they pay more. And you and I pay for our residential network services, and our businesses pay for their business access services. The “cost” being passed on has been completely invented by the telecomm industry, in order to fatten their profit margins and to favor their preferred content providers and squeeze out and off the net the kind of content that we enjoy, like streaming music and video and downloadable content.

So don’t be fooled. The Internet does indeed need saving, from the folks that would sacrifice the voices of the people and the independant flow of information on the net for more attractive balance sheets to show their investors. When the telecomms say “Hands off the Internet!” they mean yours too-not just the “government’s,” they want to be the only ones with their hands on the controls of the net, and they have absolutely no intention to let you, the government, or anyone but their shareholders and board members have a say in the future direction, shape, and content of the internet. The telecomms like AT&T really want us to trust them with the future of the internet, with what we can and can’t see? I think not-we’ve already seen how much we can trust AT&T with our telephone records, haven’t we? Yes, we have, several times over.

Act now. Tell Congress to support Net Neutrality. Click the link below to find out how.


Save the Net Now
May 20, 2006

Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility

An excellent piece in today’s Washington Post describes the up-till-now quiet rise of the spiritual and religious left; those folks who believe that charity and humilty outweigh the torch-and-pitchfork method of social justice, and those folks who believe that compassion and love were among the most important of Jesus’s teachings, as opposed to hatred and intolerance. Unfortunately in America, the bulk of religious people have gotten something of a horrid rap because of hatemongers and warmongers like Pat Robertson and his ilk, who use the pulpit to shout their degenerative hatred and instruct their followers to do all manner of thing that is absolutely and obviously contrary to the teachings of the bible; and yet they still get the majority of the attention because they’re powered by the angry conservative right and the money that comes with them.

So America gets the wrong picture of spirituality and religion altogether, as this divisive force that seeks to horn its way into American politics and even into every nook and cranny of American life, when the majority of Americans completely believe that religion is a personal choice that individuals make for themselves and should remain that way, without influence of favor of the state. In the meantime, the spiritual and religious left, for example, people who are very much religious and very much spiritual in many different ways. It’s worth noting that it’s impossible on the right to see this kind of organization-the religuious right is primarily the baptist/catholic right, and even there schisms develop. The religious left is comprised of followers from all faiths and folds, proving that differences in religion can very much mean agreement on important social issues like poverty, education, social security, health care, the environment, and more. The truth of the matter here is that the bait and switch that the hateful conservative far-right has pulled, using religion and religious people as pawns to muster support for hatred in America, (with regard to women’s rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, and even civil rights for minorities) is only a ruse that’s using the banner of God to trick people into marching blindly behind it, many without any iknowledge of their own faith aside from what their hatemonger tells them.

Even so, the religious left is growing, and growing in popularity as people are fed up with seeing their religion and their churches caught up in political battles they don’t believe in, and fed up with seeing their faith dragged through the mud by folks like Robertson and Falwell. As with every good movement, articles like these will eventually be viewed as harbingers of a movement away from the radical, hateful religious right and towards a more sensible, fair, and united spiritual community in America.

[ Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility ]
Source: The Washington Post

May 19, 2006

Hilarious Pro-CO2 Ads: “We Call It Life”

I love a good joke when I see it, but apparently Exxon decided that they needed to do something about their corporate image and forked a bunch of money over to the “Competitive Enterprise Institute,” which apparently is nothing more than an energy industry front, and told them, “this whole pollution thing makes us look bad! Make us some commercials that make carbon dioxide a good thing!”

And they did, and it was absolutely hilarious.

I’m not kidding; you can discuss theories surrounding global warming as much as you like, and you can debate the merits of reducing the energy consumption of Americans as much as you like, but I find it incredibly hilarious that Exxon is funneling money into talking out of both sides of its mouth; they’ll tell you that they’re working for a sensible approach to the environment, but then fund a commericla like this; in fact, it’s almost as funny as the actual commercial is.

My favorite line is “Some politicians want to call Carbon Dioxide a pollutant. We call it life.” That made me seriously break out laughing. Showing me vistas of pristine environmental landscape while telling me how incredibly natural carbon dioxide is made the commerical all the funnier, (also while showing a black woman beating down grain while talking about “backbreaking work” was pretty funny too!) and I couldn’t help but share them with you.

It’s incredibly sad; the energy industry is so up in arms at the notion that they might actually have to do their part to clean the air and water, or make it safe for us to breathe the air outside, or perhaps help clean the smog from our cities, or even possibly help preserve any aspect of the global environment and climate that they wind up making fools of themselves in trying to defend their activities.

It doesn’t hurt that Al Gore’s recent film, An Inconvenient Truth [ http://www.climatecrisis.net/ ] has them all completely spooked that the public will find out what they’ve known for years: that their activities, if continued, could mean significant changes for our environment and how it effects the lives of all of us. I’ve found this kind of ignorance, often referred to as “pissing on my face and telling me it’s raining,” contemptable, and I’m sure you will too. The scoop is over at TreeHugger, but the links sadly take you to the CEI’s website. Additionally, check out the press release from the Environmental News Network about the ads as well. Hopefully you’ll find them as amusing as I did, and the colleagues who passed them on to me.

[ “CO2: We Call it Life” ads: We Call it Hysterical ]
Source: Treehugger

[ ‘Carbon Dioxide… We Call It Life,’ U.S. TV Ads Say ]
Source: Environmental News Network

Tax Cuts Lose More Money Than They Generate, Studies Conclude

Well, there goes the notion that Bush’s tax cuts generate money, power the economy, and create jobs. And there goes the line we were fed on the South Lawn of the White House during the signing ceremony; that American workers were taking home more money and their quality of life was increasing. (both of which are out and out lies; it’s very sad that the President can so knowingly lie to the American people and not be called out on it)

In fact, we’ve always known that Bush’s tax cuts were handouts to his wealthy conservative base, pale with the notion that they may have to pay their fair share in a civil society; green with the notion that the tax on their capital gains and investment dividends may go to educate children or feed the impoverished instead of being reinvested in their funds of choice. We’ve always known that “trickle down” economics don’t work, and that the money never trickles down when you hand it to the wealthiest Americans among us; the money goes into their pockets and investments, and that’s where it stops; the money isn’t re-used to create jobs, or expand businesses, and most Americans never see a dime of it. Additionally, these tax breaks for the wealthy disproportionately shift the burden to the middle and lower classes (even the middle class got the shaft on the Alternative Minimum Tax rollback that congressional republicans decided to waffle over) in order to subsidize the success and wealth of the exceptionally wealthy.

Next on the chopping block? The Estate tax, which conservatives have campaigned against as a “death tax,” that every American may have to pay, but in reality only approximately 8 American families, in the top 1% of the wealth bracket in the country, would have to actually pay, that in turn will cost the country billions of dollars in revenue over the next several years. With the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as any other “democracy spreading” campaigns the conservative right might have up their sleeves, who does this leave to pay the bills? I’ll give you three guesses, and they’re certainly not the President’s or congressional republicans’ most active base.

[ Tax Cuts Lose More Money Than They Generate, Studies Conclude ]
Source: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau

What Is The Real Purpose Of Bush’s NSA Surveillance?

The Patriot Daily asks a question that I’d love to hear an answer to:

The Baltimore Sun reported today that Bush rejected President Clinton’s effective, legal surveillance program that did not invade privacy to adopt the current NSA spying program, which is ineffective, illegal and invasive of citizens’ privacy rights. So, the question jumping off the page may be: Why would Bush use a program that does not actually assist the finding of terrorists, yet also has the disadvantage of invading Americans’ privacy rights?

And no dibs on the copout answer, blatantly saying that the Clinton program couldn’t possibly have been that effective, since the attacks on September 11, 2001 happened. But the problem here wasn’t the intelligence program, the problem was the intelligence community, which didn’t speak to one another, had their budgets stripped after Clinton left office, and didn’t “connect the dots” to the Al Queda hijackers. In fact, one member of the 9/11 Comission stated that it would take “seven clicks” of a mouse to bring up the names of all of the hijackers and the fact that they were all flying at the same time-seven clicks to bring up enough red flags to have stopped the attacks, but the intelligence community wasn’t communicating at the time, and the executive branch wasn’t giving them the space and resources to allow them to communicate in the first place.

But back to the very valid question-what purpose does Bush really serve in violating the privacy of millions of Americans, of eating away at American rights and freedoms, and running afoul of the law of the land? If this kind of “netting” is obviously ineffective at catching terrorists, and as much as the Administration says it is, tracking the calls of tens of millions of Americans can’t possibly count as “effective.”

Regardless, the article goes into detail about the Clinton program, called ThinTread, which didn’t violate the privacy of Americans but was still superior to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, and potential reasons why, when presented with the program, Bush specifically rejected it in favor of an illegal one. The Patriot Daily doesn’t make any conclusions as to why Bush wanted an illegal program over a legal one, but it does dissect the issue presented in a recent Baltimore Sun article that explains that Bush wanted his program over the extant one, and highlights the differences between the two. This piece is essential if you want additional understanding on why this issue of warrantless wiretapping isn’t keeping us safe, it’s not making our country more secure, and all it’s doing is challenging the existing tradition of privacy and personal freedom in America while simultaneously intruding into the lives of millions of people who have no intention to or connection to those who would do America harm, in the vague hope that it might catch someone who does.

[ What Is The Real Purpose Of Bush’s NSA Surveillance? ]
Source: The Patriot Daily

May 17, 2006

NSA has Massive Database of Americans’ Phone Calls

At this rate, they’re probably tapping my phone too. They’ve already admitted to tapping the phones at the offices of the major networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC, claiming to be looking for staffers who are leaking data to the media. But the “drift-net” doesn’t end there; it includes data on tens of millions of regular Americans, and to claim that this is an operation targeted to Al Queda and its affiliates and known collaborators is ridiculous-is the Administration really trying to tell me that millions of Americans are suspected collaborators and co-conspirators with Al Queda?

Regardless, you don’t need additional commentary on this story, as it’s been front page news since USA Today broke it last week. Even so, very few people have had the opportunity to read the entire article before being slammed with commentary either denouncing its claims, (mostly from the White House and hardline conservatives who essentially believe a police state is the best protection against terrorism-after all, it’s the government’s job to terrorize its citizens, right?) or supporting them and calling the telecomms (who at the same time are fighting to give themselves MORE power over what you can say or do on the net with regard to the Net Neutrality scandal; see Save The Internet) into court to answer for their just handing over private information to the government without a court order and therefore not just violating the law but the millions of privacy agreements they formed with their customers. Either way, ask yourself the essential question-no, not if you support the wiretapping of private citizens’ telephones if it were to investigate terrorism (because that’s what the President and Congressional republicans want you to think the question is), ask yourself “What do they do with all that data, all those tens of millions of phone records and telephone calls, even if they don’t need them and there’s no link to terrorism?” ask yourself “Would I like the government knowing who I called and when, and do I trust the people in office, the same folks who have bungled everything from the War in Iraq to the response to Hurricane Katrina, with my personal, private data?” Ask yourself if “total information awareness” through data mining and shooting blindly in the dark, is valid domestic policy.

Ask yourself those questions while you get the facts. USA Today has the full article that started a firestorm over the White House.

[ NSA has Massive Database of Americans’ Phone Calls ]
Source: USA Today

May 15, 2006

U.S., Citing State Secrets, Challenges Detainee Suit

Imagine you head off to go on vacation in a foriegn country. You see the sights, relax, do whatever you do on vacation, and then out of the blue, you’ve picked up by the CIA because someone who has the same name as you but a completely different life is a suspected member of Al Queda. The CIA jets you off halfway across the world to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where you’re beaten, starved, injected with drugs, shackled, and held against your will and told you’ll never see the sun again. About 5 months later, as quickly as they picked you up, the CIA bind you, toss you on a plane, and leave you on a hillside with no apology, no explanation, and no way to find your way home.

That’s what happened to Khaled el-Masri, a Kuwaiti-born German, who was picked up on vacation in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan in December 2003 and finally tossed out of a van in the middle of nowhere in May 2004. So he did like anyone would do, and filed a civil suit against the CIA demanding damages for his horrific experience, his time away from home, his time imprisoned, and the effects of his imprisonment that’ll live with him his entire life. So what has the Justice Department done, with respect to the case? Not only have they not apologized, not provided damages, and not bothered to offer an explanation, but they’ve now pressed a judge to dismiss the case, stating that to proceed with the trial would endanger state secrets, which superscedes el-Masri’s complaint.

Whether the jugde opts to do so or not is another matter, but this is the latest in a number of cases where the government has opted to invoke the “state secrets” privilege, which the government used to very rarely use to justify why a case should be dismissed or settled but has used with alarming and increasing frequency since September 11, 2001. El-Masri’s horrific experience has come to symbolize everything that we’re afraid that America is becoming; a state claiming to act under the rule of law but whose law enforcement and intelligence agencies behave outside the law and with no regard for human rights, and when challenged on their actions give themselves the privilege to rest above the law.

An excerpt from the article:

But R. Joseph Sher, an assistant United States attorney, told Judge T. S. Ellis III on Friday that the C.I.A. was intervening in the case to invoke the so-called state secrets privilege. As a result, Mr. Sher said, “the case must be dismissed at the outset.”

He said that Mr. Masri’s claims “cannot be confirmed or denied” officially without disclosing information that could harm national security and relations with other countries.

He noted that Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director until last week, had submitted both a public affidavit and a secret one detailing why the case would inevitably disclose classified information if it went forward.

Ben Wizner, a staff lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing Mr. Masri, told Judge Ellis that he should not dismiss the lawsuit on the basis of a “legal fiction.” Mr. Masri’s ordeal was widely known and was acknowledged by federal officials, albeit not in an on-the-record manner, Mr. Wizner argued.

“The central fact that Khaled el-Masri was a victim of the rendition program, and that the C.I.A. was responsible for it, is not a state secret, and, in fact, is known to everyone in this courtroom and around the world,” he said.

The entire piece is somewhat Orwellian and frightening. Now the future of this case rests in the hands of the judge presiding over the case. The issue brings up important questions of rendition, the way that CIA officials operate with and coordinate with intelligence agencies of other countries, and how the those same agencies have exerted their authority to hold people without charge and without explanation even though they are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. What’s almost as frightening as the prospect of that happening to someone is the prospect that they couldn’t even force the government or the organization responsible to be held accountable for their actions.

[ U.S., Citing State Secrets, Challenges Detainee Suit ]
Source: The New York Times

May 11, 2006

Attack of the Angry Liberals

For a very long time, the conservative right has loved to sit smugly when liberals and progressives show any kind of passion for their social causes and commitments and slap the “illegitimate” and “unintelligent” label on them as soon as they show any fervor; as soon as they get angry. For some reason, it’s perfectly okay for Bill O’Reilly to shout and spit in the face of his guests and physically threaten his callers with physical harm, it’s okay for Ann Coulter to insult and demean people who disagree with her on-air and in column, and it’s okay for people like the the insidious Glenn Beck to call illegal immigrants, regardless of the issue of immigration, “terrorists,” and “scumbags who can’t get a job in their own scumbag country.” That kind of hateful anger is acceptable, but my anger at the erosion of our basic rights and freedoms and the defiling of our beautiful American waterways and skies is unwarranted and gives someone cause to dismiss me outright.

Well, I’m offering up a little angry liberal today to take the edge off for those of us who need a laugh; first a message that was passed along to me by my good friend Sean that’s an excellent set of instructions on how to be a good republican; I read the entire list with a grin on my face and suppressing laughter. Second, an angry letter from another angry liberal, C.B. Shapiro that was originally posted at BoingBoing that I’ll post again here. (assuming BB doesn’t mind)

Ready?

(more…)