February 2004 Archives

Although I was never enthusiastic about John Kerry, seeing the GOP slander machine in action bothered me:

Because the current administration's two top members didn't serve overseas during Vietnam, they are desperate to attack Democratic front-runner John Kerry, who did serve and who did so honorably. Cheney's "other priorities" and the Bush family's machinations that snagged a coveted stateside National Guard position are facts, not mere implications. Bush's fair-weather patriotism, with its suspicious months-long gaps, pales in comparison to Kerry's Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. There is a substantial difference between Kerry - as demonstrated by servicemembers who thank him for saving their lives - and Bush, who can't find anyone from Alabama who even remembers him showing up for duty.

The mud-slingers who now accuse Kerry of "slandering Vietnam veterans" need to take off their Fox News Channel "fair and balanced" blinders and learn a few facts. First, Kerry's remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about atrocities in Vietnam began with the words "They told the stories," clearly indicating that he was not making accusations but rather revealing what other GIs had told him. Other contemporaneous statements clearly show that Kerry's anger was directed toward "the men who ordered us," and not toward his fellow veterans. Second, the "demonstrating with Jane Fonda" story is also a mirage that vanishes upon closer inspection. In the photograph from Valley Forge, Kerry is sitting three rows behind Fonda; he is so far away from her that he's not even in focus. (There is a faked image circulating on the Internet that combines two separate photos, doctored to make it appear as if Fonda and Kerry are on the same podium. Maybe the previous letter-writer has been taken in by the hoax, and is trying to use hysterical hatred of "Hanoi Jane" to slander Kerry.)

Dissent against injustice - not compliance with it - is true patriotism. Kerry's protests against our invasion and occupation of Vietnam show far more love of country than Bush's skipping out of National Guard duty to work on a political campaign and then "working out" an early departure to attend business school.

UPDATE: This letter was published on 03 March as "Kerry's Vietnam era dissent gets falsified."

Today’s tidbit is Washington Monthly’s "Presidential Mendacity Index," which ranks some of the more notorious recent Oval Office lies. Considering the liberal slant of the nominating committee and the judges, you could – correctly – expect the results to be skewed against Republicans; Clinton is indeed rated as slightly more honest than Reagan and the Bushes. I have two observations regarding the PMI’s content:

First, Clinton’s alleged lie about “Black Church Burnings” was actually true. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published a correction when they discovered that there had been a black church burned in Clinton’s hometown when he was seventeen.

Second, Bush’s “Trifecta” lie is actually worse than how it was reviewed. Not only did Bush never say it, Gore did! (Oops…)

Does anyone have a favorite presidential lie that didn’t make the list? (Nixon’s “I am not a crook” is far too obvious for consideration.)

Presidential prevarication didn’t begin with Clinton, and it certainly didn’t end with him. Writing books about the factually-challenged Bush administration has become one of today’s few growth industries; check out the books listed below for as many details as you can stomach. (I wish I could read them all, but – to paraphrase the old joke about prolific authors – Bush lies faster than I can read.)

Alterman, Eric. The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America

Bonifaz, John. Warrior King: The Case for Impeaching George Bush

Corn, David. The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception

Dean, John. Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (April)

Frank, Justin. Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (May)

Franken, Al. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

Humberman, Jack. The Bush-Hater's Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency of the Past 100 Years

Ivins, Molly. Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America

Phillips, Kevin. American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

Rampton, Sheldon. Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq

Scheer, Christopher. The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq

Suskind, Ron. The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill

Unger, Craig. House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (March)

Waldman, Paul. Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn't Tell You

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"War is a class phenomenon. This has been an unbroken truth from the ancient times to our own, when the victims of the Vietnam War turned out to be working-class Americans and Asian peasants. Preparations for war maintains swollen military bureaucracies, gives profits to corporations (and enough jobs to ordinary citizens to bring them along). And they give politicians special power, because fear of “the enemy” becomes the basis for entrusting policy to a handful of leaders, who feel bound (as we have seen so often) by no constitutional limits, no constraints of decency or commitment to truth."

Howard Zinn (Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology, pp. 288-9)

‘Tis the season, not for jollity, but for election primaries and politicians’ writings. All six of the remaining Democratic contenders have penned books, listed below with links to amazon.com’s website. (To give equal time, I will mention that Bush has a book under his byline, “A Charge to Keep,” and a few compilations of his speeches. A list of potential Libertarian party candidates can be found at politics1; gp.org lists those from the Green Party.)

Wesley Clark “Winning Modern Wars”

Howard Dean “Winning Back America”

John Edwards “Four Trials”

John Kerry “A Call to Service”

Dennis Kucinich “A Prayer for America”

Al Sharpton “Al on America”

As voraciously as I read, however, none of these books has made it to the top of my reading list. I’d like to take a moment to look at Howard Dean’s “Common Sense for a New Century” pamphlet, which stakes out the middle ground by being both more substantial than the ubiquitous position statements and more concise than the books. Although he’s no longer the front-runner, “Common Sense” is the kind of political writing which could inspire voters of every political stripe. Not surprisingly, I have a few observations:

Dean’s estimate of the national debt at $26K per American family is, believe it or not, low. According to the U.S. National Debt Clock, the deficit is now $7,015,039,176,441.88 and each citizen’s share is $23,922.32 (based on an estimated population of 293,242,417).

His observation that voting is our “most fundamental duty” is indisputably correct, and makes me wonder why Election Day isn’t a national holiday.

As in many other recent instances, Congress did indeed abdicate their responsibility to declare war (Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) against Iraq, instead cravenly deferring to the administration’s imperial wishes.

After the typo on page three, Dean quotes JFK’s statement that, “The United States…will never start a war,” but that was untrue long before Bush II, and even before the Gulf of Tonkin fabrications that dragged us into Vietnam.

Teddy Roosevelt’s quote that special interests are “not…entitled to a vote” may strike some as hyperbole, but the court decision creating corporate personhood (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company) was still recent history at the time. Despite the possibility of campaign finance reform limiting free speech, the devolution of the political process from “one person, one vote” into “one dollar, one vote” seems nearly inevitable.

Dean mentions our “founding ideals” of justice and equality, but somehow manages to omit freedom. (See the "Quote of the Day" below for a fuller explanation.)

I’m not ready to take a public stand for any presidential candidate, but I urge everyone toward an exercise of civil rights (or civic responsibilities, if you prefer) by registering to vote and – after some research – stepping behind the curtain to cast a secret ballot. Not everyone is willing to escalate their political opinions to the button/bumper sticker/yard sign/meetup level, but a trip to the polling place isn’t too much to ask of any adult citizen.

Thanks for reading…are you registered?

Quote of the day:

"The conflict, not between liberty and equality, but between extremist exponents of these values, cannot be resolved without correcting the errors that lead to the extremisms respectively espoused by the libertarian and by the egalitarian. These errors can be corrected only by understanding that neither liberty nor equality is the prime value, that neither is an unlimited good, and that both can be maximized harmoniously only when the maximization is regulated by justice."

Mortimer Adler (Six Great Ideas, p. 138)

I received a response to my analysis of the PIPA study:

I've never heard of this "Program for Policy Attitudes". It does have a catchy and neutral-sounding name. Kind of like the Peoples Democratic Republican Party of Bulgaria. Did they do any studies on Bill Klinton's relationship with Monica? Or doesn't character matter?

My response follows:

This study was the first I’d seen from PIPA; I’d never heard of them before, either. I sent it out to everyone because the media aren’t exactly about to admit that their job of informing the public has taken a back seat to protecting their owners’ and advertisers’ interests. PIPA’s website has this description:

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) carries out research on public attitudes on international issues by conducting nationwide polls, focus groups and comprehensive reviews of polling conducted by other organizations.

PIPA is a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes (COPA) and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland.

They explain their focus as “public attitudes on various international topics,” which seems to correlate with this list of their studies:

The Role of the United States in the World The United Nations UN Peacekeeping Foreign Aid The International Monetary Fund US Defense Spending US Involvement in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia Global Warming NATO Expansion Transatlantic Issues European Unification

COPA has been around since 1992 and CISSM since 1987, so they could have participated in the 24/7 Monicathon…but I doubt that an extramarital affair really qualifies as an international topic. (Besides, that horse was flogged long past death years ago.) If there’s a study comparing media outlets’ coverage of Monicagate with anyone who doesn’t know every sordid detail of Clinton’s affairs, I’d love to see it. I don’t recall any network lying so repeatedly that their audience believed – for example – that the blue dress contained no DNA, that there was no cigar, or that Clinton was telling the truth when he denied the affair. (I’m still waiting for the once-omnipresent “–gate” suffix to make its return, so we can have around-the-clock coverage of – just off the top of my head - SECgate, AWOLgate, DUIgate, Trifectagate, WMDgate, Iraqgate, Leakgate…)

As far as PIPA’s name goes, an innocuous name veiling a political agenda is a nearly ubiquitous trend among think tanks and foundations. Speaking of “catchy and neutral-sounding,” how about: American Center for Law and Justice, American Family Association, Cato Institute, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, or Traditional Values Coalition? (Not to mention the Department of Defense, the USA-PATRIOT Act, and other Orwellian misnomers too numerous to list.)

Of course character matters, but the world no longer revolves around Bill Clinton! Far from “restoring honor and integrity” to the White House, Bush has done exactly the opposite. I despise being lied to by anyone, especially by someone who I’m paying to tell me the truth (by way of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution). Deflecting Bush’s lies by reiterating Clinton’s fabrications doesn’t make Bush honest, just as equivocations that Clinton’s lies were less serious than Reagan’s didn’t improve Clinton’s veracity.

(Maybe I should just add a disclaimer to eliminate confusion, something along the lines of: “Criticism of the current administration is not, and should not be construed as, an endorsement of any previous administration.”)

P.S. I don’t know about your keyboard, but “K” is an awfully long way from “C” on mine…

For once, I don’t have much to say…try to act surprised!

I do, however, have two brilliant pieces to share with you that are worth contemplation no matter what your religious beliefs: Glen Martin’s broadside against today’s evils (“The Cloaking of Evil: Jesus vs. the Beast of the Apocalypse” and Al Franken and Don Simpson’s satire (“Supply Side Jesus”) on the political misuse and abuse of religion.

(Thanks to Henry for passing along the Martin piece!)

Thanks for reading.

Quotes of the Day:

“I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.”

Thomas Jefferson (letter to Charles Thomson, 9 Jan 1816)

“Now, which of these is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus? Or the impious dogmatists as Athanasius and Calvin? Verily I say these are the false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. They are mere usurpers of the Christian name, teaching a counter-religion made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations…”

Thomas Jefferson (letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, 26 June 1822)

A pair of judicial decisions (Sullivan striking down Texas’ discriminatory “sodomy” laws and Goodridge mandating marriage equality in Massachusetts) has garnered significant media attention over the past several months, but much of it has been of little or no value. For all the well-publicized blustering of the anti-marriage crowd, the mainstream media – allegedly “liberal” – rarely mention any of the solid arguments in favor of same-sex marriage.

(By the way, I have no compunctions about calling the anti-same-sex marriage contingent just that: anti-marriage. If marriage is truly a positive social institution – and I happen to believe that, on balance, it is – those people preventing legal recognition of same-sex marriages deserve to be called anti-marriage. Similarly, I use the word recognized instead of allowed or permitted because same-sex marriages already exist in this country; they are recognized as such by the married couples, by their friends and families, by their churches and synagogues – but not by government agencies.)

The current prohibitions against civil recognition of same-sex marriage are reminiscent of the Vietnam-era “we had to destroy the village to save it” mentality. In a time when many couples choose to live together and raise children outside of marriage, is it really sensible to deny marriage to families that want (and deserve) it? Many conservative commentators are being blatantly hypocritical when complaining about extramarital promiscuity and child-rearing while simultaneously opposing marriage rights for a substantial portion of the population.

Some groups are proposing an anti-marriage amendment to our Constitution, but this is both unjust and unnecessary. Clinton – in another one of his shameful political triangulations, along with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – signed the egregiously misnamed “Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996, which permitted states to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. (If our Congressional lawmakers had any integrity or honesty, it would have been called the “Denial of Marriage Act,” but that’s another topic.)

Bush’s proclamation of “Marriage Protection Week” (12-18 October 2003) was another example of prejudice disguised as moral principle, starting with an exhortation for us all to “continue our work to create a compassionate, welcoming society, where all people are treated with dignity and respect.” If he really believed that “children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures,” he would support same-sex marriages and families instead of illogically bragging that his administration is working to “support the institution of marriage” by restricting marriage to heterosexuals. Along similar lines, Bush used part of his State of the Union speech to opine that “Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”

How, exactly, do heterosexual relationships need to be “defended” or “protected” from same-sex ones? Are they somehow more deserving of “sanctity?” My spouse and I wouldn’t have shunned marriage or avoided becoming parents if our gay and lesbian friends were granted equal rights under the law, and I doubt that anyone else would have. I’d love for every like-minded couple – of whatever sexual orientation – to share in the joys of family life; legal recognition of same-sex marriages would neither demean nor diminish our marriage or anyone else’s.

I highly recommend two online articles (Katha Pollitt’s "Adam and Steve – Together at Last" and Andrew Sullivan’s "The Sacred and the Pop Star") as background for the editorial and online debate I’ve attached (from The New Republic). The debate is especially interesting, but the pro-marriage commentator blunders in suggesting that “judicial imposition” by the courts would “short-circuit the political process.” One of the most important justifications for an appointed judiciary is, as Justice Robert Jackson noted in reference to the Bill of Rights,

“…to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

(West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette)

The Brown decision preceded public opinion on desegregation; Lawrence and Goodridge are doing the same for same-sex marriage. A regressive decision – today’s Plessy v. Ferguson, perhaps, or an anti-marriage Constitutional amendment – cannot be justified by popular prejudice. I have yet to see any argument against civil equality for same-sex couples that isn’t founded on the specious and egotistical notion that heterosexuals somehow have a monopoly on meaningful relationships.

Marriage doesn’t need to be “protected” from same-sex couples, but rather from feckless politicians seeking political advantage by pandering to ignorance, fear, and hatred. Civil unions and domestic partnerships (which create a separate-but-not-equal second-class citizenship for same-sex marriages) are a step in the right direction, but are ultimately only a partial solution to fulfilling our national promise of liberty and justice for all.

If you want to learn more, some organizations working for civil rights are: Marriage Equality, Human Rights Campaign, Alliance for Same-Sex Marriage, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Thanks for reading.

Quotes of the Day:

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

George Washington (letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport RI, 18 August 1790)

“They [the Founders] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that all men are created equal was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but for future use.”

Abraham Lincoln (speaking about the Dred Scott decision, 26 June 1857)

Saddam Hussein, former employee of the American federal government, was captured near a farmhouse in Tikrit in a raid performed by other employees of the American federal government. That sounds pretty deranged, right? Perhaps, but it is also accurate. The unifying thread binding together everyone assembled at that Tikrit farmhouse is the simple fact that all of them - the soldiers as well as Hussein - have received pay from the United States for services rendered.

It is no small irony that Hussein, the Butcher of Baghdad, the monster under your bed lo these last twelve years, was paid probably ten thousand times more during his time as an American employee than the soldiers who caught him on Saturday night. The boys in the Reagan White House were generous with your tax dollars, and Hussein was a recipient of their largesse for the better part of a decade.

(William Rivers Pitt, "We Caught the Wrong Guy")

If you think that Pitt's reference to Saddam as a "former [government] employee" is just an over-the-top rant, look at the photo below. Can you tell who's shaking hands with the "Butcher of Baghdad?"

That's right: it's Donald Rumsfeld! The picture is a little grainy because it's from a video of Rumsfeld's first visit (20 December 1983) to Iraq, as Reagan's special envoy. I only wish the media were as liberal and contrarian as they're purported to be, so everyone could have seen this image before the war began. Unfortunately, the corporate media function as lapdogs more often than watchdogs these days. (Serendipitously, Garry Trudeau addressed the same issue this morning.)

Saddam has a long history with the US, starting in 1959 when the CIA paid him to assassinate Iraq's prime minister. (The attempt failed, but it wasn't the last time he was on our payroll.) Check here for some details about our support for Saddam during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, and here for a broader historical commentary.

As Pitt summarizes in his book War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know:

Fearing the rise of Soviet influence in Iran, and fearing an Iranian takeover of the region, the Reagan administration began actively arming and supporting Saddam Hussein. By 1982, Iraq was removed from the list of terrorist sponsoring nations. By 1984, America had restored full diplomatic relations with Iraq, and was actively sharing military intelligence with Hussein's army. This aid included arming Iraq with potent weapons, providing satellite imagery of Iranian troop deployments and tactical planning for battles, assisting with air strikes, and assessing damage after bombing campaigns. (p. 20)

Paramilitary thugs like Saddam were called "freedom fighters" far too often in that era, including when the CIA supplied the Taliban (and Osama bin Laden) while they fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Perhaps the simplistic "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" attitude should be abandoned based on its demonstrated potential for unforeseen consequences?

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

The term "blowback," which officials of the Central Intelligence Agency first invented for their own internal use, is starting to circulate among students of international relations. It refers to the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people. What the daily press reports as the malign acts of "terrorists" or "drug lords" or "rogue states" or "illegal arms merchants" often turns out to be blowback from earlier American operations.

Chalmers Johnson, (Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, p. 8)

A few pages later, Johnson discusses "...the spiral of blowback and retaliation that is undoubtedly not yet at an end in the case of bin Laden." If only his - and others' - warnings had been heeded when they were published in 2000, instead of being passed along to the incoming administration and then ignored...

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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