Thursday, September 28, 2006

9/11: Who's Really Responsible

"The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don't think he deserves it...I don't think President Bush deserves it. The people who deserve blame for Sept. 11, I think we should remind ourselves, are the terrorists -the Islamic fanatics-who came here and killed us and want to come here again and do it."

The person who said this is talking about September 11, 2001 and is the one American politician that knows that dark day intimately...former New York Mayor Rudy Guliani.

There has been a lot of hullaballu over who is to blame for not stopping 9/11 with conservatives trying to tar President Clinton which gets liberals up in arms, and liberals (such as President Clinton) blaming President Bush (remember all the "My Pet Goat" stories?).

It's pretty pathetic that five years after this horrid event where 3000 people were killed in the space of 90 minutes conservatives and liberals are still trying to score political points about who is to blame. There is really only one person or group to blame: Osama bin Laden and his ilk. What's past is past. We can't change what happened. All we can do is try better in the future to prevent the fanatics from doing this again.

Guliani continues:

"Every American president I've known would have given his life to prevent an attack like that. That includes President Clinton, President Bush...they did the best they could with the information they had at the time."

I frankly don't give a rat's behind which president slipped. I think both Clinton and Bush could have done better and I also think they tried. But pinning blame on either does nothing to stop the terrorists from planning another 9/11.

I wish that more politicians would follow Guliani's example and stop using such a horrific event for political gain. The times are too important to be wasted on a pissing match.

Joe Gandleman has a worthwhile if somewhat biased piece on Guliani's run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hyperbole or Right on Target?

Andrew Sullivan is an interesting guy. Early in the Bush Administration, he was a defender of the president, but these days, he is solidly against the Administration. Sometimes he is incredibly insightful, and at other times, he is given over to hyperbole-his postings being nothing more than rants.

Today, he continues to express his objections to the torture "compromise." I agree with him on this, but then he veers into this:

Whatever else this is, it is not a constitutional democracy. It is a thinly-veiled military dictatorship, subject to only one control: the will of the Great Decider. (emphasis mine.) And the war that justifies this astonishing attack on American liberty is permanent, without end. And check the vagueness of the language: "purposefully supported" hostilities. Could that mean mere expression of support for terror? Remember that many completely innocent people have already been incarcerated for years without trial or any chance for a fair hearing on the basis of false rumors or smears or even bounty hunters. Or could it be construed, in the rhetoric of Hannity and O'Reilly, as merely criticizing the Great Decider and thereby being on the side of the terrorists?

So, the question is, has democracy ended here? Is it 1973, when Augusto Pinochet overthrew the elected Chilean government and took over?

If this was a few years ago, I would have easily dismissed this. But hearing more and more about how the Bushies have sought diliberately to enlarge excutive power makes me at least wonder. However, I don't think we are a dictatorship; unless Bush and Cheney are planning to halt the 2008 elections or something. I do believe that the Bushies are eroding democracy in our country, but I don't think it has left us.

I'd like to know what others think. While I don't trust the Bush Administration anymore, I have a hard time seeing this as the end of American democracy. Please don't send rants. I want to hear reasoned speeches. Thanks.

Monday, September 25, 2006

On the Torture "Compromise" or Battle Without Honor or Humanity

The views on the agreement between a maverick group of Republicans led by Senator John McCain and the White House are all over the map. Some are just yelling, screaming positions we've already heard before. I've found two commentaries that are thoughtful and worthwhile. First up is Jeremy Dibble of Charing RINO. He states in his Saturday post, about how the Bush Administration basically pretended to compromise and then decided to go their own way. Jeremy writes:

...I think the senators (McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner)did get a great deal more than they had originally, and they forced the White House to give up some major points. However, I'm afraid that they took the negotiations at face value, and while it pains me to have to say it, I can draw no other conclusion but that this Administration headed by this president is incapable of good-faith negotiation and honest dealing(emphasis mine)... McCain, Warner and Graham deserve some credit for wringing water out of a stone. Unfortunately, it's clear now that that water is undrinkable.

Andrew Sullivan draws the same conclusion about the Bushies, and gives some speculation about why McCain "gave in:"

I've long tried to give McCain the benefit of the doubt on all of this. He has been the sole figure able to resist this president's permanent seizure of emergency powers - to detain any person at will without charges or recourse to courts and to torture them at will. McCain is, I believe, a good man. But he has obviously decided that he cannot win this one. He has decided that the best he can do is prevent a formal breach of the Geneva Conventions, keep the military itself away from torture, while allowing domestic law to be reinterpreted to allow all the torture techniques previously used by the CIA. It is easy to condemn him. Too easy, perhaps. He may have done as much as he possibly can to prevent torture without playing directly into Karl Rove's hands. It is clear that if McCain continued his opposition, the Bush machine would have done all it could to kill his nomination prospects. And if he fails to win the nomination, and a Christianist Rove-backed candidate seizes it, then the future for American liberty and a decent conservatism would be even darker than it already is. I'm guessing that's how he has rationalized it. He's not dumb enough to trust the good word of George W. Bush. And he's not dumb enough to fight a battle he cannot win - now.

Then there are more cynical interpretations. It is in McCain's interests for the Republicans to do very badly this fall, so he can position himself as their savior in 2008. By taking the torture issue off the table, he removes one of Rove's key weapons in the campaign: to portray the Democrats as too cowardly to torture the perpetrators of 9/11 and therefore too weak to defend the nation. It's b.s., of course, but that's beside the point. It works. So this deal may temporarily help the Democrats in November (which may explain their own supine cowardice on the subject).

I know there are some that think McCain, et. al are wimps. I tend to like McCain and I think he really does want to make sure our government doesn't torture. But I also think he is probably a realist. This administration, led by Karl Rove, would go after McCain as hard or even harder than they did during the presidential campaign of 2000. The problem here is not that McCain gave in or the Democrats didn't stand up, but that this Administration cares nothing about the rule of law. It thinks that because it won an election, it can do what it likes and damn the Congress, Geneva Conventions and the like. It is shocking to see conservatives, who philosophically believed in law and tradition, doesn't seem to care about those long-held Burkean traditions.

So, kudos for the McCain gang for standing up to the president. It's too bad that the President and his gang have no honor.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who Would Jesus Torture? OR What Part of "Violence to Life and Person" Don't You Understand?

Article 3

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

The Geneva Convention. Article 3.

The Bush Adminstration thinks that Article 3 of the Geneva Convention is vague. Does anything in the above paragraph even looks vague? It seems pretty clear: treat prisoners humanely. What Bush wants to do is make Geneva vague to give the military cover as the use "agressive interrogation."

What's interesting is how the president's far right base is reacting to this. This group that loves to talk about how pro-life they are seems to support the use of torture. The Traditional Values Coalition, led by the Rev. Lou Sheldon, is urging Congress to back the Bush plan. Here is what Mr. Sheldon says:

TVC Chairman Rev. Louis P. Sheldon said American military and intelligence experts are hampered by a vague "outrages upon personal dignity" statement in Article Three of the Geneva Convention of 1950.

"We need to clarify this policy for treating detainees," said Rev. Sheldon. "As it stands right now, the military and intelligence experts interrogating these terrorists are in much greater danger than the terrorists. Civil suits against our military personnel are tying their hands as they try to get vital information which will save the lives of our young military people and the innocent."

"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the free world. The post -World War II standards do not apply to this new war.

"We must redefine how our lawful society treats those who have nothing but contempt for the law and rely on terrorizing the innocent to accomplish their objectives. The lines must be redrawn and then we must pursue these criminals as quickly and as aggressively as the law permits.

We have to redefine how we treat our enemies? This from the group that worries about my partner and I getting hitched would "redefine marriage?"

The enemy is evil, so we need to be as ruthless as we can be. Please. Our nation has faced Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, two of the biggest threats of the past century and we never compromised our values.

The threat from terrorism is real. And I agree that we have to be agressive in trying to stop these people from harming us or other lawful societies. And yes, people like Kahlid Sheik Muhammad, are heartless monsters. But we as a nation have a history of treating even monsters with respect, not because they've earned it, but because we are America, and we adhere to certain values that other nations ignore. Treating our enemies with respect proves we are more moral than we are.

I am not a pacifist, but it seems to me that Christians need to follow the example of Jesus who loved everyone. Jesus calls us to treat even our enemies with respect. Seems like Rev. Sheldon forgot to read Matthew 5:43-48.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Liberals, Neoconservatives and Terrorism

Alan over at Maverick Views has a great commentary about Ambivablog's take on left of center blogger Jack Whelan's view on the current age we live in.

(I know, there is a lot of the he-said-that-she-said-that-he-said going on here, but trust me, there is a method in this madness.)

To sum up Whelan's view, the reason we have Islamic fundamentalism is because of the US presence in the Middle East. If we just leave them alone, then the terror will stop.

Alan, sums it better than I can:

This is, as Amba says, a seductive worldview. For one, it puts all the power in our hands and very little in our enemy's hands. It's a worldview where our own actions determine our fate completely. If we want to protect ourselves from terrorism, we need only change our actions towards the societies from which terrorists spring. Our enemy’s actions are merely subsets of our actions. If we change, they'll change.

He also adds that the neoconservative viewpoint of things is basically the mirror opposite:

This is, not surprisingly, just about the opposite of the neo-con worldview which believes that changing ourselves is unnecessary and even pointless. Neo-cons contend that we need to force or at least strongly encourage changes in the societies that breed terrorism.

The problem is, the alternative view, the neo-con view, has been misplayed and mishandled and now seems even more naïve than the standard liberal view. Key neo-cons like Rumsfeld and Cheney have too often minimized the consequences of our own actions while maximizing the villainy of our enemies. To make it worse, this administration chose a very military-centric path towards changing the Middle East. A path that has created a great deal of bloodshed and is still very far from success.

What we have here are two competing ideologies centered around how they view the US: one side, the neocons, view America as the paragon of virtue, the nation that can do no wrong. It can send suspects to nations that torture without worrying about how it will look in the wider world because America is pure and in a just fight against agents of evil. It can use tactics such as waterboarding which, if they aren't torture, dance pretty damn close to the line, because it is America. In this view, America answers to no one and whatever it does, it does for the right reasons.

On the other side is the more liberal view of America that sees the nation as an oppresive bully that seeks to establish a hegemonic empire. This America oppresses people around the world, especially in the Middle East. In their view, the reason 9/11 happened was because of stand towards Israel, or the war in Iraq, or the fact that we have bases in the region. If we just let people in the Middle East or Latin America, just live their lives, then everything will be okay.

My own take is that both views are way off the mark. America has been considered a paragon of virtue because we have held ourselves to high standards not because we are Americans or blessed by God or what have you. What the neocons fail to understand, is that we are in an ideological struggle and we must work to show Muslims worldwide and in the Middle East in particular that America is not the satanic power bin Laden and his ilk say we are. This is not simply a struggle where we can bomb people into submission, but we must work to pursuade. An example is how the US helped Indonesia after the Christmastime tsunami in 2004. The view of America in the world's largest Muslim nation rose several points because of our acts of kindness. If we had more images of Navy helicopters giving good to greif stricken Indonesians instead of those horrid images from Abu Gharib, we would do more to combat Islamic fundamentalism than any "alternative" interrogation techniques.

Liberals, on the other hand, have to start taking the Islamic fundamentalist threat as seriously as they do Christian fundamentalism. Both fundamentalisms seek to roll back the values that we in Western liberals societies hold so dear. Liberals rightly worry about people like James Dobson, who want to put gays back in the closet, but downplay Islamic fundamentalists who frankly want gays executed and aren't too friendly towards women's rights.

Liberals also have to stop thinking that we aren't the cause of everything bad in the world. Yes, America has many sins, I'm not denying that. But it is not as simple that the 9/11 hijackers or Osama or any other extremist is doing bad because we treated them terribly. It was because they bought into a dangerous theology that told them that to be holy and righteous, one must kill innocents whose only crime is their nationality. Liberals have to stop this sort of dualistic think that views America as wholly evil, while viewing others around the world as pure innocents. There is evil in the world and sometimes America is guily of it. But sometimes so are others.

America is neither a saint or a devil. We are a nation that tries to do right but at times makes mistakes and sometimes even big wrongs. We need to develop a worldview that seems America and the world as it is-not as we would like it to be. In this struggle against terror, we need to be clearheaded and not looking with glasses that fit our ideologies.

Monday, September 18, 2006

"They've Already Won."

Andrew Sullivan shared this You Tube link today. It's comes from the movie, "The Siege" that talks about terrorists attacking New York and the American response. The movie came out in 1998, long before 9/11, but the images of the naked Arab man ready to be tortured ala Abu Gharib and Denzel's prophetic speech make this scene ever the more timely.

Iraq: Land of Hacks

A few months ago, I came to the conclusion that history will judge the Administration of George W. Bush poorly, not because of his policies, as much as because of the poor execution of those policies.

One example is Iraq. I opposed the invasion, as did others, but even if it wasn't wise, the president and his administration had the chance to prove people wrong and make Iraq a functioning democracy with a stable society. The Bushies blew that opportunity and as this Washington Post story shows, when it came to rebuilding Iraq, political patronage trumped experience more often than not.

I agree with Justin Gardner: you need to read the whole story to get a glimpse at how the Bushies doling out jobs to people basically knew nothing about the task they were given.

But at least voted they for the President.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, this administration only cares about politics and getting their friends in power. Yes, this happens in all administrations in some degree, but with Bush, it has become an artform. From Katrina to Iraq, we see incompetence on a grand scale.

I'm looking forward to 2008, when we can elect an adult for President.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It's Time for Them (Republicans) To Go

Washington Monthly, (which is a liberal magazine) has an interesting series of articles by conservatives that are looking forward to seeing the GOP lost control of Congress because the movement has lost its way. I haven't read all of the articles, but here a sampling of what I read so far.

The first is by Jeffrey Hart, a former speech writer for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan:

The United States has seen political swings and produced its share of extremists, but its political character, whether liberals or conservatives have been in charge, has always remained fundamentally Burkean. The Constitution itself is a Burkean document, one that slows down decisions to allow for “deliberate sense” and checks and balances. President Bush has nearly upended that tradition, abandoning traditional realism in favor of a warped and incoherent brand of idealism. (No wonder Bush supporter Fred Barnes has praised him as a radical.) At this dangerous point in history, we must depend on the decisions of an astonishingly feckless chief executive: an empty vessel filled with equal parts Rove and Rousseau.

Successful government by either Democrats or Republicans has always been, above all, realistic. FDR, Eisenhower, and Reagan were all reelected by landslides and rank as great presidents who responded to the world as it is, not the world as they would have it. But ideological government deserves rejection, whatever its party affiliation. This November, the Republicans stand to face a tsunami of rejection. They’ve earned it.

While Hart takes a more philisophical viewpoint, former congressman Joe Scarborough shoots from the hip:

During the 1990s, conservative Republicans and the Clinton White House somehow managed to balance the budget while winning two wars, reforming welfare, and conducting an awesome impeachment trial focused on oral sex and a stained Gap dress.

The fact that both parties hated each another was healthy for our republic’s bottom line. A Democratic president who hates a Republican appropriations chairman is less likely to sign off on funding for the Midland Maggot Festival being held in the chairman’s home district. Soon, budget negotiations become nasty, brutish, and short and devolve into the legislative equivalent of Detroit, where only the strong survive.

But in Bush’s Washington, the capital is a much clubbier place where everyone in the White House knows someone on the Hill who worked with the Old Man, summered in Maine, or pledged DKE at Yale. The result? Chummy relationships, no vetoes, and record-breaking debts.

Finally, Bruce Bartlett thinks a GOP loss this year will good for the Republican party in the long run and also force the Democrats to show its cards:

Divided government has... advantages... For one, it restrains government spending. The budget surpluses of the late 1990s resulted mainly from Bill Clinton’s unwillingness to support the Republican Congress’s priorities and its unwillingness to support his. For another, it improves our foreign policy. We had divided government during 36 of 55 years between 1947 and 2001, which meant that both parties had to take responsibility for the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq (the first one). America is much more effective in the international arena when it has a high degree of bipartisanship in its foreign policy. In the not-too-distant past, Republicans including Arthur Vandenberg and Democrats including Daniel Patrick Moynihan understood this. With the current war in Iraq, however, Democrats who support the war are forced to oppose it, and Republicans who oppose the war are forced to support it. This makes other countries unsure of our resolve and commitments.

Those who worry that divided government would compromise our efforts in Iraq shouldn’t be overly concerned. As the minority party, Democrats today are free to criticize our efforts in Iraq without having to offer constructive alternatives. But put them in the majority, and they’ll suddenly have to put up or shut up. Let them defund the war and implement an immediate pullout if that’s what they really think we should do. At least it would force the administration to explain itself better and face some oversight, for which the Republican Congress has essentially abrogated all responsibility. Polls will quickly indicate which side has made the better case.

Finally, on a purely partisan level, I believe that loss of one or both houses will strengthen the Republican Party going into 2008. It will force a debate on issues that have been swept under the rug, such out-of-control government spending and the coziness between Republicans and K Street, home of Washington’s lobbying community. Afterwards, the party will emerge stronger, with better arguments for keeping control of the White House. Also, Democrats may well be placed under so much pressure from their left-wing fringe that they’ll be forced into politically self-destructive acts such as trying to impeach President Bush. Every Republican I know thinks Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the best things they have going for them. Giving these inept leaders higher profiles would be a gift to conservatives everywhere.

Losing might be the best way to get the GOP back to its conservative roots. We will see come November.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In Memoriam

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAlabanza: In Praise of Local 100
by Martín Espada

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100,
working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in
the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the booming ice storm of glass from the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan to Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.