30 December 2005
But That's Impossible!
How could this be so? How could Vladimir Putin be politically autocratic and fiscally corrupt?
The most outspoken of President Vladimir V. Putin's senior advisers abruptly resigned today, warning that Russia's nascent political freedoms have been lost and the Kremlin's economic choices have been poor. He also said that he had no more ability to influence the government's course.
The official, Andrei N. Illarionov, 44, had been an economic adviser to the Kremlin since shortly after Mr. Putin took office nearly six years ago. His tenure in recent years had turned publicly rocky, and he had become an occasional but memorable critic of Kremlin policy.
We know that this cannot be true, because our own Dear Leader told us so in November 2001
And the more I get to know President Putin, the more I get to see his heart and soul, and the more I know we can work together in a positive way
and even more clearly in June 2001
I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.
If he were not President of the United States, then it might be amusing to see who is more often right: the Weekly World News or George W. Bush.
Thanks for the Gumdrop, Bill
This is just peachy keen: the renditions policy that is hallmark of the Bush Doctrine was the bastard child of the Clinton administration.
Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA who resigned from the agency in 2004, has told Die Zeit that the US administration had been looking in the mid-1990s for a way to combat the terrorist threat and circumvent the cumbersome US legal system.
"President Clinton, his national security adviser Sandy Berger and his terrorism adviser Richard Clark ordered the CIA in the autumn of 1995 to destroy Al Qaeda," Mr Scheuer said.
"We asked the president what we should do with the people we capture. Clinton said 'That's up to you'."
Mr Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit that tracked Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from 1996 to 1999, says he developed and led the "renditions" program.
One of the things that Americans are justifiably proud of their country is its respect for the law. And one of the things that Americans should be least proud about is the frequency that its leaders decide to foul that respect with completely reprehensible actions. Leaders who "do what it takes" regardless of what the law says, or leave up to other countries what to do with prisoners, have lost whatever moral authority they pretend to have.
And, of course, allowing the CIA to start a renditions program makes it ever so difficult to stop that program later. Serious students of history are supposed to learn how not to encourage the CIA, wherever its knackered ideas take its misguided minions.
27 December 2005
War on Holidays
A good part of me wants Fix to take its self-important War on Christmas fixation to its logical extreme. While it is certainly true that when retailers wish shoppers "Happy Holidays," it is done in the spirit of both inclusiveness and maximization of revenue, it would be certainly instructive to see the Christmas police take an in-depth look into Christmas, particular as celebrated in the United States.
Why did the New England Puritans ban Christmas celebrations? Why is it celebrated so close to the traditional Roman holiday of Saturnalia? Who came up with the Christmas tree and which god (or gods) did they actually worship?
But perhaps it is too much to ask Fox News, or even any other mainstream news channel to do all that. But perhaps we could ask Fox News to take the War On Christmas same approach to other holidays.
If it is so important to wish everyone a Merry Christmas because of the tale of the birth of Jesus and all that means to Christians, why not take the same approach to other holidays? I fully expect that in last August 2006, Bill O'Reilly will be asking Americans to consider the role of organized labor in curbing the voracious appetites of industrialists in the late 1800s by demanding shorter hours, weekends off, and paid holidays. Yes, everything that the Labor Day weekend means to even the most conservative of Americans depends on the advances of industrial unionism.
On 19 January, several Southern states will celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday. On the last Monday in April, four Southern states will celebrate Confederate Memorial Day. And six other states celebrate either Jefferson Davis's birthday or Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May or the first Monday in June. Some of these states are trying to hide the heritage on these holidays by combining them with other celebrations—Martin Luther King Day for Lee's birthday; or Memorial Day for Davis's birthday. O'Reilly should be outraged: how can these states honestly say that they are celebrating the true meaning of these holidays by hiding them under the federal umbrella. If states are too afraid to celebrate the great traitors of the past and the grand tradition of chattel slavery with their own state holidays, then something is horribly wrong with this country.
18 December 2005
Paging Daniel Ellsberg
George Bush finally admitted that outing Valerie Plame was a real crime. Except he did not do so in so many words.
This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security. Its purpose is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies. [snip] As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.
So, is he finally decrying blowing the cover of a CIA nuclear proliferation operative? Sadly, no. Here is the snipped sentence.
Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations.
Railing at the press for breaking word of your illegal program after sitting on the story for 12 months is so 1971.
Great Moments in Presidential Logic
President Bush claims, the actual law notwithstanding, that he could authorize warrantless wiretaps on American citizens.
The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September the 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities. The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time. And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.
One wonders what previous presidents might have done, had they thought of this logic.
- President Adams, while noting the impending expiry of the Sedition Act, might have explained his summary expatriation of pesky Republican newspapermen as "preventing the international communications of people with known links to terrorist organizations."
- President Polk might have explained that his seizure of the Oregon Territory from England was done "using authority vested in me by Congress, including the Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force" for fighting the Mexican War.
- President Lincoln might have defended his summary execution of Confederate leaders, who were denied jury trials, as being necessary to remain "on the offensive against the terrorists plotting within our borders."
- President Nixon might have defended his use of nuclear weapons on North Vietnam as "protect[ing] American liberty and sav[ing] American lives."
17 December 2005
Political Canadian Football
It is now official: none of the three main political parties in Canada are keen on being associated with either George Bush or the right-wing media that prop up the sorry stage set of his government.
David Akin, who reports from CTV's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa, noted that Conservative leader Stephen Harper is trying to dissociate himself from many of the bedrock stances of Bush the Younger. He reprints Harper's response to an op-ed piece, a response that the Washington Times printed, so even the Bush White House probably knows about it.
On Iraq, while I support the removal of Saddam Hussein and applaud the efforts to establish democracy and freedom in Iraq, I would not commit Canadian troops to that country. I must admit great disappointment at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
While I think that the Kyoto Treaty is deeply flawed, I support developing a plan, in coordination with the United States and other countries, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing new technologies and energy conservation.And while I have promised a free vote in Canada's parliament to reconsider the recent change of law to allow same-sex marriages in Canada, and will vote myself for a return to the traditional definition of marriage, I have said any changes must protect the existing status of same-sex couples who have been legally married. As well, a new Conservative government will not initiate or support any effort to pass legislation restricting abortion in Canada.
So, in Canada, the leader of the most right-wing party is openly skeptical about the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq, is eager to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, does not want to take away the rights of legally married gay and lesbian couples, and is steadfast against restricting abortion rights. And this is the Conservative Party threw off the "Progressive" mantle that many of its political forbears wore for years. In the United States, this sort of thinking makes one a moderate Democrat: this is how out of the mainstream that "mainstream" American thought has regressed.
Political Energy Crisis
Congress, led by Alaska's magnanimous representative, is clearly looking out for the environmental quality of Nantucket Island.
A plan to build what could become the first large offshore wind farm in the United States would be effectively killed by a proposed amendment to a Coast Guard budget bill now making its way through Congress, people on both sides of the issue say....
The installation would consist of 130 turbines in a grid that would occupy 24 square miles in the sound. Each tower, with its turbine and blades, would rise 420 feet above the water. The developer, a private company called Cape Wind Associates, says the turbines could produce three-quarters of the electricity now used on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket....
But fishery groups, many local communities and Massachusetts political figures like Gov. Mitt Romney and Senator Edward M. Kennedy say that Nantucket Sound, a major attraction for the region's tourism economy, is an inappropriate place for so large an industrial installation and that nothing should be built in federal coastal waters until the government has devised a way to regulate development there.
I always thought that Nantucket Island was the attraction and that Nantucket Sound was what made the ferry and the airport so necessary. Anyway, in Copenhagen, where 17 windmills are arced across the harbor, the cooperative that owns the wind farm runs tours for interested visitors.
Meanwhile, the same group is unconcerned about despoiling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the name of cheap petroleum.
With a budget-cutting measure stymied by stiff resistance to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, Congressional Republicans began exploring Wednesday a new tactic to win approval of both $45 billion in cuts and the drilling plan.
Lawmakers and senior aides said they were seriously considering tacking the drilling proposal onto a Pentagon spending bill that is among those that must pass before Congress heads home in the next few days. The switch, they said, could clear the way for approval of the spending cuts sought by conservatives and the Arctic drilling plan that is a priority of Republicans and the Bush administration, provided they could defeat any filibuster.
"It's going to be on one bill or the other before I go home," said Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, a leading proponent of opening the Arctic plain to oil production.
I guess that the effect of the energy industry on the environment is important to our Congressional leaders only when the environment in question is the views of millionaires looking out from their second or third homes.
And it is clearly better to drill for oil in one of the most pristine places imaginable, rather than put windmills in one of the windiest places on the continent. What a wonderful and strange thing it must be to be a true Republican believer nowadays.
16 December 2005
National Right-Leaning Radio
The ombudsman at National Public Radio is trying to defend the network's choice of think tanks. And he is not doing a great job of it.
NPR often calls on think tanks for comments. But NPR does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think.
Here's the tally sheet for the number of times think tank experts were interviewed to date on NPR in 2005:
- American Enterprise - 59
- Brookings Institute - 102
- Cato Institute - 29
- Center for Strategic and Intl. Studies - 39
- Heritage Foundation - 20
- Hoover Institute - 69
- Lexington Institute - 9
- Manhattan Institute - 53
There are of course, other think tanks, but these seem to be the ones whose experts are heard most often on NPR. Brookings and CSIS are seen by many in Washington, D.C., as being center to center-left. The others in the above list tend to lean to the right. So NPR has interviewed more think tankers on the right than on the left.
The score to date: Right 239, Left 141.
There may be other experts who are interviewed on NPR who present a liberal perspective. But they tend to be based in universities and colleges and are not part of the think tank culture. That seems to be where most conservative thinking on the issues of the day can be most easily found. Journalism in general—including NPR—has become overly reliant on the easily obtained offerings of the think tanks.
Actually, the last bit is a rather honest, and fair, assessment of American journalism today. But what strikes me about the list is how it lumps the Brookings Institution, which mainly represents a mainstream liberal point of view, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is a mainstream pro-defense group. I admit that CSIS is not part of the Heritage Foundation clique that would love to bankrupt the federal government so that liberals would be hamstrung for generations; does not share the Cato Institute's unfettered worship of the free market as God and Mammon joined together; and has no truck with whatever febrile notions are coming out of the Manhattan Institute these days.
But take a look at members of the Board of Trustees: they include Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Cohen, Joseph Nye, James Schelsinger, Brent Scowcroft, and Henry Kissinger. CSIS is certainly both respected and respectable. But one of the more useful notions in Washington is that Henry Kissinger is not on the Left. The fact that Henry Kissinger is no longer anywhere close to the moonbat right-wing incompetents who run this country is indeed notable, but that does not change the fundamental essence of Henry Kissinger.
NPR might want to take note of Max Sawicky's useful list of actual liberal and progressive think tanks for economic and socioeconomic issues. That NPR could not put anyone from the Center for Economic and Policy Research on as many as 9 times is rather amazing for even the so-called liberal media.
15 December 2005
Who could believe that Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, actually would announce that he would step down as governor after one accomplishment-free term in office?
Well, practically anyone who paid attention to his incessant trips out of state to states with early presidential primaries.
But, it was clear even to those who read only the sports pages in the Boston papers that Romney had no intention of running for governor in 2006. In the Life of Romney, running for political office means finding ways to put your kids on the payroll.
But news came late last week that Tagg Romney had a job some 2500 miles away from the Romney manse, as chief marketing officer for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The team said Romney will lead the strategic planning and implementation of all advertising, marketing and branding initiatives including in-game entertainment for the Dodgers and report to team president Jamie McCourt....
The 35-year-old Romney was responsible for all marketing partnerships with the NFL and NBA while at Reebok. In 2002, he helped manage the successful campaign of his father, Mitt Romney, for governor of Massachusetts.
In this segment in Great moments of nepotism, Tagg, whose resume is chockablock full of chits called in by his father, will work for Jamie McCourt, who owes her position to the fact that her husband owns the team.
14 December 2005
An Open Letter to the Catholic League
If you want to concentrate on spreading the notion that the only good Catholic is the one who gets his knickers in a twist about a foul-mouthed comic, or the wishy-washy holiday greetings of our nominally Methodist, but Episcopalian by attendance, President, then please feel free to rename yourselves the Catholic League for Puritanism.
Yesterday, one of the Holy Father's top aides, Cardinal Renato Martino, declared that the death penalty was, in a word, anathema.
We know the death penalty doesn't resolve anything. Even a criminal is worthy of respect because he is a human being. The death penalty is a negation of human dignity.
Where is your outrage at this "negation of human dignity"? The governor of California is as Catholic as Denis Leary, that who so offends your delicate sensibilities. And he is as Catholic as Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, who deigned not to use the power of his office to halt the execution Monday morning. Where is your outrage now? Where, indeed?
I have noticed that you have paid far more attention to the rare cases in which Catholic Charities in the Boston area has placed children with gay and lesbian couples (13 of them in the last 20 years) than with the death penalty, which truly is a life and death issue. If indeed you feel that is it unholy for Catholic Charities to feel that it may be in the best interests of children to place them with same-sex parents, where is your clarion call for upstanding traditional families to come to the aid of traditional values and adopt these innocent children? Where, indeed?
Early this morning, the state of California executed Stanley "Tookie" Williams for four murders in 1979. European governments expressed outrage and sadness. (I still await the cries of anguish from the reactionary Catholics who are so aghast that gays and lesbians might be treated as people.)
My compatriot Max Sawicky wishes that do-gooders would pick a better case against the death penalty.
Capital punishment should be shut down until a) the machinery can be refined so that mistakes are not made and penalties are apportioned fairly; and b) if the public still favors it. If it can't be refined, then it should be abolished.
Max is a very smart fellow, but he is missing the forest for all of the bark in front of his face. Three problems with the death penalty are inherently tied to its finality. First, it is irreversible. That means that innocent prisoners can be put to death. Second, it is part of a judicial system run by persons who are fallible at best, and corrupt at worst. That means that poor defendants, who get chronically worse representation, will disproportionately face the death penalty. Third, it is final. That means that it contradicts one of the stated ends of the penal system in so-called civilized countries, that of rehabilitation of the convicted.
I have no reason to believe that Tookie Williams was a great poster boy for the anti-death penalty movement. But his actions on death row—particularly his actions to take the glamour out of being a gangster—were a good example of how a rational government would have wanted him to live. Killing Tookie Williams did not make life safer for law-abiding Californians—he was in a maximum-security prison. It did not resurrect his victims. But it did satisfy the bloodlust of some. And it did, sad to say, make him a martyr to the next generation of gangsters.
12 December 2005
The Word of God
The wonder of the Christian Bible is its amazing juxtaposition of the best and worst of religion. True believers somehow find ways to reconcile the asceticism of the Sermon of the Mount with the immense wealth of the established Christian churches. And somehow Song of Solomon and Revelations are considered by most branches of Christianity to be part of the same Bible.
But just reading small sections of the New Testament should lead a true believer into a profound doubt about the wisdom of this supposedly omnipotent Designer.
According to Luke, when the angel Gabriel announces to Zacharias that he and his barren wife will bear a son, the man has the temerity to ask a reasonable follow-up question. And he is treated harshly for his impudence:
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. ( Luke 1:5-20, emphasis added.)
Six months later, the progressives and pinkos in the archangelic legislature have apparently reduced the minimum sentence for impudence before a shewer of glad tidings.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
For with God nothing shall be impossible.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38, emphasis added.)
What is a true believer supposed to make of that exchange? What kind of godly authority metes out punishment (or lack thereof) with such lack of reflection, such randomness, such impunity? Are not the vicissitudes of human existence random enough?
11 December 2005
Chapter and Verse
Here comes Jerry Falwell, trying to protect George Bush's right flank from charges that the White House Christmas card should actually mention Christmas:
The current Bush has straddled the divide, offering generic greetings along with an Old Testament verse. To some religious conservatives, that makes all the difference.
"There's a verse from Scripture in it. I don't mind that at all, as long as we don't try to pretend we're not a nation under God," said the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
I think that the good Reverend Falwell makes an excellent point. I would be pleased as punch to see a White house Christmas card with this Old Testament verse.
One reason to stick with the Old Testament is to avoid nasty verses in the New Testament that would tend to take the religious impetus out of the Republican agenda.