31 August 2006

Gonzales criticizes Iraq on torture. In other words, the pot calls the kettle black.

According to an article in yesterday's Washington Post, U.S. Attorney General Alberto ("Torture Boy") Gonzales met this week with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saligh to discuss the use of "extraordinary measures" to deal with terrorists, criminals, and prisoners.

The article talks about how Iraqi officials have allegedly been torturing suspected terrorists and other detainees, and that Gonzales made a big deal about empasizing "the importance of the rule of law", and talking about how Iraq must comply with international laws and treaties that prohibit torture.

This is really cute, considering that Gonzales himself jumped through semantic hoops to justify the torture of detainees in the "war on terror".

I guess this is another case of "do as I say, not as I do."

Seems typical of the Bush administration, sad to say.

30 August 2006

Amnesty International discusses the Israeli-Lebanese fiasco on Democracy Now

Earlier this month, my friend Marty Rosenbluth, Amnesty International's Country Specialist for Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinian Authority, traveled to northern Israel to study the human rights issues related to the recent Israeli-Lebanese hostilities.

Last Thursday, he gave an interview on Democracy Now radio regarding Amnesty's recent Israel-Lebanon report, with a particular focus on civilian casualties.

[Read the transcripts or listen to the segment.]

29 August 2006

Was the White House complicit in Katrina disaster response failure -- and cover-up?

It's been a year since Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, and a new hurricane season is upon us.

And what do we have to show for it? A still-devastated lower ninth ward and now some whistleblowers pointing to White House attempts to ignore the problem at the time, cover up its incompetency afterwards, and threaten anyone who tried to do the right thing. This is BIG.

We shouldn't be surprised, but we should be mad as hell.

Here are some of the stories:

Hurricane Expert Threatened For Pre-Katrina Warnings

Brown Says White House Wanted Him to Lie

I want to see some outrage, folks!

28 August 2006

That militia is supposed to be regulated, guys

I don't like to comment much on the gun issue. I'm not against guns, per se. While I'm personally not comfortable around them, some of my closest friends own guns for legitimate purposes like self-defense or non-homicidal sport. That is their legal prerogative, and I can live with it.

That said, I think there should be some accountability for the guns sold and collected.

A lot of hard-core NRA types don't seem to believe that they should be held accountable for their gun ownership. They don't believe that there should even be any records of their ownership. To them, what guns they buy, and when and where, is their own personal business -- not that of you, me, or the government.

But imagine that your child was killed by a gun. Wouldn't you want it to be fairly easy to trace the source?

That aside, let's take a look at what the Second Amendment actually says:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. "

That's it.

See the word "regulated" in there?

And it does not say "the right of people to secretly and unaccountably keep and bear arms..."

27 August 2006

Mark Fiore: Shootiful

I'm going to take a break from my own commentary today and turn the soapbox over to Mark Fiore, one of my favorite political cartoonists.

His latest animation explores the problem of gun violence in America. And, in doing so, he draws some interesting parallels.

[Check it out.]

26 August 2006

Jim Crow in 21st century Louisiana

You don't want to be a person of color in Louisiana.

We started to learn that lesson last year, when Hurricane Katrina showed us that blacks were not worth rescuing.

Now, a Louisiana school bus driver has taken it a step further by segregating her bus: The front of the bus is reserved for the white kids, while the black kids are packed like sardines in the last two rows. [Read story.] Yes, it's the 21st century, and they're still sending black people to the back of the bus.

I shudder to think about what that driver might do if any Middle Eastern or Muslim kids dared to board her bus.

25 August 2006

Is this the end of the radical religious right?

Certainly not entirely.

But there have been at least two developments this week that seem to indicate that the Christian fundamentalists might be losing some of their grip on this country:

First, the Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter access to Plan B emergency contraception (i.e., the "morning-after pill"). [Read story.] There is a caveat: You have to be 18 or older to purchase it. But, nonetheless, this is a step forward for women's rights.

Second, the Christian Coalition is losing support at the state level all across the country. [Read story.]

It's been said that when things become too extreme, they always bounce back towards the other end of the spectrum. Could the tide finally be turning back towards a more rational American mindset?

24 August 2006

Bush flip-flops on Iraq and recycles the troops

In a speech back in March, George W. Bush said that he would start turning control of Iraq over to the Iraqis by the end of 2006. He repeated his tired old promise that "[a]s Iraqis stand up, America and our coalition will stand down."

At the time, I remember thinking about how politically convenient it would be for Bush to pull a few troops out just before the November elections.

But now it appears that something must have changed. (A worsening insurgency and civil war, for starters.) Yesterday's big headline was about how thousands of Marines are going to be ordered back to active duty and sent back to Iraq or Afghanistan because (not surprisingly) the military can't recruit enough fresh meat. [Read story.]

Each tour of duty takes its toll on the mental and physical health of our troops. Nonetheless, the Bush administration will just keep pushing them further and further. It's not their kids after all.

There are two alternatives. Neither one is feasible.

1. Get the troops out of Iraq now. This is not a possibility because Bush has already told us that we will remain in Iraq for as long as he is President.

2. Institute a draft. Congress would never do this because: a) It's an election year, and that would be election suicide; and b) It would put their own kids at risk.

So they'll keep sending the "less fortunate" kids back to the front lines to protect their own interests.

This is another glowing example of our tax dollars at work.

God bless America, as they say.

23 August 2006

Which is the "better" disaster in Iraq?

In a press conference on Monday, George W. Bush said that pulling out of Iraq would be "a disaster".

Wait a minute. Hasn't our staying there been a disaster?

We've been there for almost three and a half years, and all we've got to show for it are 2,600 dead U.S. troops, some overrated purple fingers and a raging civil war.

Many Iraqis believe that life for the Iraqi people is worse today than it was under Saddam Hussein. In many cases (if not most), the Iraqi people have fewer jobs, less clean water, less electricity, and a lot less security than they did before we went there.

That sure sounds like a disaster to me.

So we're stuck with a choice between two disasters -- Bush's ongoing bloody destruction or the "disaster" of leaving.

The latter would put an end to the killing and maiming of so many American troops.

I vote for the latter.

22 August 2006

Is Halliburton in the debt collection business too?

In another brilliant demonstration of this Congress's fiscal management skills, the IRS will now be turning over thousands of delinquent tax cases to private debt collecdtors.

According to an article in Sunday's New York Times, this new policy will be much less cost effective. For example, the article says that "by hiring more revenue officers, the I.R.S. could collect more than $9 billion each year and spend only $296 million — or about three cents on the dollar." However, "the private debt collection program is expected to bring in $1.4 billion over 10 years, with the collection agencies keeping about $330 million of that, or 22 to 24 cents on the dollar."

So what is the advantage of this new program?

21 August 2006

New ACLU report on prisoners left to die in New Orleans

When we think about Hurricane Katrina, we think about the poor minority folks who lacked the means to get out of New Orleans, the pets left behind, and the sick left to die in their hospital beds.

Now, with Katrina's one-year anniversary just around the corner, the American Civil Liberties Union has released a report, titled Abandoned & Abused, about the other forgotten victims -- prisoners trapped in jail cells as the flood waters rose.

These victims included thousands of men, women, and children, and their stories are heartwrenching. Imagine being locked in a cell, in the sweltering darkness, hungry and thirsty, as sewage-tainted water slowly rises up to your neck.

To read the ACLU's press release about the report, which includes some alarming case information (including the plight of a 13-year-old girl trapped in a prison's holding cell with a bunch of men), click here.

To download the complete report and related materials, click here.

20 August 2006

Truce or consequences

All sides agreed to a truce in the Israeli-Lebanese fiasco last week. But now the hostilities still seem to be simmering on both sides. [Read story.]

And, as usual, each side is pointing fingers at the other.

This seems to underscore the fact that the problems in the Middle East will never end until all sides undergo a major attitude adjustment, and start seeing each other not as faceless enemies in a ages-old cultural and religious war, but as people, as human beings, as fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and children.

19 August 2006

Obama's excellent commencement address in New Orleans

Sometimes I'm disappointed by Senator Barack Obama's positions on some issues. But I'm almost always impressed with his eloquence and his messages in general.

Obama achieved political rock star status with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

He was up to par last week with an inspirational commencement address at Xavier University in -- of all places -- New Orleans. [Read it.]

18 August 2006

Bush vs. the Constitution: The Constitution wins! (for now)

A beautiful ruling came down yesterday in Detroit, when a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it. [Read story.]

Will Bush ignore the ruling? Or will he try to have his Republican Congress pass new legislation making warrantless wiretapping legal (heaven forbid)? Or will he finally decide to respect the rule of law?

[Read the judge's complete ruling. (PDF)]

17 August 2006

Suing for democracy in Pennsylvania

A lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court on Tuesday which, according to an AP article, is "seeking to stop most Pennsylvania counties from using paperless electronic voting machines, saying that such systems leave no paper record that could be used in the event of a recount, audit or other problem." [Read story.]

As a Pennsylvania resident, this is very important to me. Reports that the 2000 and 2004 elections may have produced misleading results due to either rigging or malfunctioning of the machines is scary. Voting is at the core of our democratic system. If our votes are not accurately counted, and if they cannot be accurately recounted in the event of a dispute, then we're no longer a true democracy.

I doubt that many people would deposit money through an ATM if those machines didn't provide a receipt. Certainly our votes are as important as any bank deposit.

If an ATM can be programmed to spit out a receipt, so can a voting machine. We as citizens of this nation must insist on it.

Fingers crossed that this litigation succeeds in Pennsylvania and that we can get the same ball rolling in other states where it's not already happening -- and in time for this November's important elections.

To view a detailed press release by a law firm representing plaintiffs in the Pennsylvania case, along with lots of supporting documentation (all in PDF format), click here.

16 August 2006

Wrong role for Bush in the WTC movie

I recently got to see Oliver Stone's new film World Trade Center.

Overall, I thought it was a very good movie. It was powerful and moving, and the acting was superb. I recommend it highly.

I found myself cringing, however, at one of the movie's few references to George W. Bush. It was an audio clip of Bush talking tough after the 9/11 attacks, promising the American people that he was in control and that justice would be served.

But the Bush we hear in that audio clip is not the real George W. Bush. Instead, it's the coached and choreographed Bush that eventually made his way onto the airwaves. The real Bush hid, frozen and clueless, in an elementary school classroom. The leader of the free world sat idle, looking like a deer in the headlights, knowing that America was under attack.

Of course it would have been inappropriate for Stone to use this movie to highlight Bush's incompetence. But did he really have to waste 15 seconds of footage with what essentially seems like a Republican campaign ad?


Two other minor problems with the movie, while I'm at it:

• The hero figure in the movie was a former Marine, Staff Sergeant Dave Karnes, who found and rescued the two main characters who were trapped under the debris at Ground Zero. A blurb on the screen at the end of the movie indicated that Karnes had re-enlisted after 9/11 and went on to serve two tours of duty in Iraq -- as if Iraq had anything to do with 9/11.

• The movie was preceded by a commercial for the National Guard, which painted a glamorous picture of how a Guardsman's role is to defend our homeland and rescue Americans when disaster (like 9/11) strikes. Sure, that's what the National Guard used to be (and still should be). Times, unfortunately, have changed. But the ad makes no mention whatsoever of how Rumsfeld has redefined the purpose of the National Guard by sending them halfway around the globe to fight in Iraq.

Nonetheless, I think the movie is well worth seeing, if only to once again feel (however briefly) that sense of national and international unity that we all felt in the wake of 9/11.

15 August 2006

Greg Palast nails it on terrorism, homeland security, and the power of fear

Today I'm going to take a break from the personal commentary and turn things over to investigative journalist extraordinaire Greg Palast.

In his latest column, titled So, Osama walks into this bar, see?, Palast explains how Bush is Osama's puppet, our tax dollars are being wasted on decades-old submarine technology, and Lynn Cheney is getting even richer through Defense Department deals with Lockheed.

In addition, Palast makes us all thankful that Richard Reid stored his explosives in his shoes, not his underpants.

[Read it.] And laugh. And cry. And get mad as hell. And convince everyone you know that we need to vote for change in November.

14 August 2006

Jill Carroll tells her story

I have been waiting for this.

On the heels of the arrest of four men allegedly responsible for the kidnapping of American journalist Jill Carroll in Iraq, Ms. Carroll in now sharing her story with the world.

The powerful, frightening, and eye-opening account of her ordeal can be found on the Christian Science Monitor site here: http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/carroll/index.html

The Monitor is releasing one chapter each day for the next two weeks.

13 August 2006

TSA overreacts and terrorizes the traveling public

First of all, I want to say that I applaud the British authorities who uncovered the latest terror plot.

That said, we've known for more than a decade that terrorists could use liquid bombs.

But they haven't done anything about that.

Instead, as usual, they take away some our of freedom and tell us that they are protecting our freedom.

To keep the American public confused and scared (and to focus our attention away from their own incompetence), they impose more ridiculous restrictions on airline passengers.

If you have dry eye syndrome, tough! You can't take your over-the-counter drops on that 8-hour flight. You'll just have to keep your eyes closed.

If you have a skin condition that requires frequent application of over-the-counter ointments or creams, you'll have to suffer.

And don't even think about bringing your Chapstick aboard to soothe your sore, cracked lips.

And pay no attention to the statistics proving that, even with terrorism, you're safer flying in an airplane (with your liquids and gels) than you are in a car.

Be afraid. Big Brother likes it that way.

12 August 2006

UN passes ceasefire resolution; Israel steps up attacks; the cycle continues

Yesterday, finally, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for a halt to the fighting in southern Lebanon.

So Israel responded by stepping up its attacks. [Read story.] It would almost appear as though they want to hurry up and slaughter as many Lebanese men, women, and children as they can before the ceasefire takes effect.

This is a perfect illustration of why that part of the world is so unstable.

Hate and resentment beget violence on both sides. And violence begets hate and resentment on both sides. As long as this cycle continues, I fear that we will not see long-term stability in the region.

The ages-old Arab-Israeli feud will never really end until deep underlying attitudes are changed on all sides of the conflict.

11 August 2006

It's about what Bush believes in

Yesterday, in a speech regarding the terror plot that has been dominating the news, George W. Bush told us that "we're still not completely safe, because there are people that still plot and people who want to harm us for what we believe in."


They don't want to harm us for what we believe in. They want to harm us for what Bush believes in. Big difference (hopefully).

Bush believes in sending our brave troops (but not his own children or his friends' children) into a unilateral, preemptive war of aggression, based on lies, against a country that posed no threat to us at that time.

Bush believes in re-labeling detainees as "unlawful combatants" so he can hold them indefinitely without charge and with no legal recourse.

Bush believes that he has the right to violate the Geneva Conventions, the Constitution of the United States, or any other law that gets in the way of his agenda. He justifies it by telling us that it's for our own safety.

Bush believes in imposing his so-called "democracy" (in other words, his power and influence) on other nations whether they like it or not -- especially if there's oil involved.

Bush believes in a foreign policy based on arrogance, imperialism, aggression, and disrespect for the international community and the rule of law.

Those are the things that he believes in. Not us. Not the average citizen. At least I hope not. I guess we'll find out for sure in November.

10 August 2006

The death penalty in Bush's "pro-life" America

The United States is one of only a very few industrialized nations that still have the death penalty. Illogical as it is, we still kill people in order to show that killing people is wrong. By retaining the practice of executing people, the United States finds itself aligned on this issue only with such nations as Afghanistan, Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Cuba, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Mongolia.

And the world has noticed.

According to an article published yesterday by the Inter Press Service News Agency, "the Human Rights Committee called on the United States last month to place a moratorium on the death penalty because it is imposed disproportionately on minorities and the poor, [but] the Bush administration curtly ignored the recommendation." [Read story.]

This is not surprising. After all, when Bush was Governor of Texas, it seemed like he couldn't execute prisoners fast enough, often ignoring any mitigating evidence, with help from none other than Alberto "Torture Boy" Gonzales.

Bush keeps telling us about his "culture of life". He keeps talking about human rights. But talk is cheap.

This is just one more example of the U.S. being out of step with the rest of the developed world.

And this is just one more black mark on the reputation of this once-great nation.

09 August 2006

Note to Israel and Lebanon: Please take a break from killing each other and clean up the oil spill

I hope Israel and Lebanon are not too busy bombing each other's babies to deal with the recent oil spill that resulted from Israeli raids on a Lebanese power plant.

The United Nations says that this oil spill could rival the Exxon Valdez disaster if not immediately and urgently addressed. [Read story.]

This fiasco in the Middle East just grows more and more destructive. Now they're not only killing each other's babies (and other innocent civilians), but they're trashing the Mediterranean Sea.

I hope they'll take time out from their fighting to properly deal with this spill.

International grudges must not take priority over the possibility of a huge environmental disaster.

08 August 2006

Interrogators condemn torture

A group of former interrogators told Congress last week that torture and abuse of detainees are unnecessary to win the "war on terror". [Read their statement (PDF).]

That torture is useless comes as no surprise, as I've presented the case against torture time and time again. But this time it's coming from a group of insiders -- people who can speak from first-hand experience.

Kudos to them for speaking out.

07 August 2006

Religious oppression in Bush's "liberated" Afghanistan

In his 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush bragged that "[i]n Afghanistan, we helped to liberate an oppressed people."

Bush keeps bragging about how he is spreading freedom around the world.

But obviously his idea of "freedom" is a little bit different than mine.

Since Bush diverted his attention from Afghanistan (which did have al-Qaeda ties) in 2003 to focus instead on Iraq (which did not have al-Qaeda ties), the Taliban have regrouped and undone any progress we had made in Afghanistan.

And freedom is out the window, as non-Muslims are being kicked out of Afghanistan. Even ones who are there on relief missions. Even tourists. [Read story.]

Yeah, George, freedom is on the march, as you say. And it is marching right out of every country you try to "liberate".

06 August 2006

Happy Hiroshima Day

Today is Hiroshima Day. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

For photos of the gruesome aftermath, click here.

Today, even as George W. Bush tells other countries that they must not develop nuclear weapons, the United States is maintaining a stockpile of 10,000 nuclear bombs.

Why do we need so many?

Think of all the bodies they could burn.

05 August 2006

The world is in crisis, so Bush goes on vacation. Again.

The Taliban are running amuck in US-"liberated" Afghanistan, a civil war is breaking out in US-occupied Iraq, and Israel and Lebanon are bombing each other to smithereens.

So what does George W. Bush do? He goes on vacation, of course. The so-called leader of the free world feels that relaxing on his ranch is the best use of his time right now.


04 August 2006

Hillary vs. Rummy

I am not a particularly big fan of Senator Hillary Clinton. However, I was impressed by how she spent a lot of time this week holding Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to account regarding the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.

At first, Rummy tried to avoid testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Hillary pressed the issue, and he gave in. He testified yesterday. And, not suprisingly, Rummy stuck with his predictable (and lame) talking points.

But it was still an interesting exchange.

Make some popcorn, pull up a comfy chair, and read the transcripts.

03 August 2006

If Bush gets his way, you could be held as an enemy combatant

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article alleging that the Bush administration is looking to not only legitimize its military tribunal system for "enemy combatants", but to also expand their jurisdiction to add "crimes at will".

If they succeed, "defendants would lack rights to confront accusers, exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through rough or coercive interrogations. They would not be guaranteed a public or speedy trial and would lack the right to choose their military counsel, who in turn would not be guaranteed equal access to evidence held by prosecutors."

[Read story.]

In other words, you or I could get trapped at Guantanamo for years on end with no legal recourse just for writing or reading this blog. Or for doing anything that the Bush administration might find questionable, objectionable, or annoying.

Under this system, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. And you might never get the opportunity to be proven innocent.

Have a nice day.

02 August 2006

Torture is rewarded

A U.S. Army general who had been in charge of Guantanamo has just retired with honors. Capitol Hill Blue reports that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller was lauded at his retirement ceremony on Monday as "an innovator and an exceptional leader." [Read story.]

In all fairness, the article also points out that "[an] Army Inspector general's investigation cleared Miller of wrongdoing in connection with his role at Abu Ghraib."

However, Human Rights Watch has "singled out Miller as one of the senior Army commanders who should be held accountable for the abuses."

And Human Rights Watch doesn't make such accusations lightly.

But even in giving him the benefit of the doubt, one must ask: Was he so inept an officer that he had no idea what his people were doing? If so, then that's a whole other reason why he shouldn't be lavished with honors.

Military apologists insist that justice was served with the prosecution of low-ranking personnel who carried out the abuse, as if it were all their idea.

Sure, Lynndie England and Charles Graner were having way too much fun as they tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and they deserve the punishment they've received. But evidence from Guantanamo suggests that the prisoners there face the same kinds of torture that we saw at Abu Ghraib. There is a clear, consistent pattern of torture in multiple prisons. You can't blame the torture at Gitmo on little Lynndie. She was at Abu Ghraib. And, because of the similarities, you can't blame the torture at Gitmo solely on Lynndie's Cuba-based counterparts.

While they continue to blame the problem in "a few bad apples", the problem clearly reaches much farther up the tree.

01 August 2006

Tiny terrorists?

In a report from Lebanese Ground Zero, Alaskan journalist Dahr Jamail responds to the announcement last Thursday by Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon that "all those in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."

Kinda like "all those remaining in New Orleans during Katrina are too lazy or unwilling to evacuate."

Dahr met a number of those "supporters of Hezbollah" - including horribly injured little children - when he visited hospitals in southern Lebanon.

[Read story.] It's gut-wrenching.

And be sure to click the links to the photos. If you have a conscience, they will make you ill. But people need to see. People need to know.