Monday, January 30, 2006

Robert Reich's "Covenant With America"

Being a fan of Robert Reich, here's a link to a fine article on his web site, "A Covenant With America." These are the things we should be working on.

At the Bottom of the Slippery Slope

Infringements on privacy are a slippery slope. How far could it go? Check out this ad from the ACLU.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Friday, January 27, 2006

Moral Superiority as a Strategic Weapon

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Walt Kelly, in the comic strip 'Pogo'

To truly win any conflict we have to be morally superior to our enemy. If we are not, then in the long run our victory will turn to defeat as everyone around us, friend and foe alike, come to view our actions with distaste.

I'm sure Rome started out quite nicely, quite idealistically, quite moral, until it turned into an empire and ground it's neighbors under it's heel as it's own internal society degenerated into an amoral nightmare. Bread and circuses, Nero, the list is long. I'm also sure this change did not happen overnight; this profound 'decline and fall' happened gradually. However, the end result was the utter disintegration of what was the largest and most powerful political entity in human history up to that time.

During World War II, American armed forces were by and large above reproach. They acquitted themselves so completely, so honorably that they painted an indelible picture in the mind of the world of the American soldier as a mixture of liberating hero, tough-as-nails fighter and boy next door.

This astronomical level credibility was of immeasurable value as we fought Communism for the forty-five years to follow. It was seriously degraded during Vietnam, and now the current administration seems hell-bent on destroying what little credibility and trust we still have.

During this war we are treated to stories like this.

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

(Link to the story from the Associated Press can be found here.)

Just add this to the already depressing list of torture, kidnappings, 'renditions,' civilian casualties, no-bid contracts to inept and corrupt corporations and it adds another layer of sludge to a foul, odious picture.

What the hell is this? Is America destined to be the bad guy of the 21st century? Will the world team up to defeat us in twenty or thirty years? If we continue down this road, the rest of the world may well wish to do so. A sizeable portion of the world already wants to.

In the long run, moral superiority is the one weapon we cannot abandon if we wish to ensure our success as a nation and a society. All the military might in the world will not serve us if we turn into a copy of the enemy. If we continue down this dark road, we shall either destroy ourselves or we shall become so odious to the rest of the world that they will. Most likely it will be some combination of the two.

We must change our behavior. We must reclaim the moral high ground we have lost it so profoundly in so many ways. Otherwise we risk turning into the same type of terrorists we currently oppose.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Next Revolution: What Will It Take?

We've seen tremendous, revolutionary upheaval only a few times in our history. The original Revolution, of course, was the most profound. We kicked off the chains of monarchy and created a democracy "of the people, by the people, for the people." The war of 1812 nearly stifled the infant nation in it's cradle, while the Civil War nearly sundered us as a nation.

The Great Depression was our last truly profound national upheaval. It was not a revolution, per se, but our response to it was, in many ways. The hollowing out of our society caused it to collapse. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, the middle class evaporated, big business ran rampant, exploiting any and all who could not resist, until the entire social and economic structure of the United States collapsed under it's own morally bankrupt weight.

Our response to the Great Depression was the New Deal. The idea was that government was the entity best suited to dealing with the social ills that afflicted the nation as a whole. Government should coordinate and fund social programs that promoted the common good in the areas of charity, economic stimulation, social well being and legal justice.

The poor should be helped out of poverty. The elderly, the retiring, the sick or the injured should be protected from falling into poverty. Health care should be made more available and affordable. The rich, -- either in the form of individuals or corporations -- should be prevented from using their wealth to take unfair advantage of others. Everyone should have an opportunity to improve their social and economic standing.

The New Deal didn't entirely work; it took World War II to lift us out of the depression and set us on the road to economic well-being again. However, the principles it embodied, combined with that new economic might and an infrastructure revitalized during the Thirties propelled the United States into a time of prosperity and growth unmatched in history. The GI Bill sent millions of veterans to college, adding fuel to the fire of our post-war economic expansion, carrying it forward into the 50s, 60s and 70s. Our massive economic power enabled us to dominate the world, especially with the former major powers of Europe either struggling to reconstruct from World War II, ground under the heel of Soviet Communism, or both. Our scientific expertise expanded, our technological supremacy was unquestioned. Our middle class expanded, the ranks of the poor were in decline, American citizens were getting healthier and living longer. The very vigor of our society made us the envy of the planet.

Now the trend is in reverse.

Taxes are being cut for the wealthy. Money to help the poor, the sick, children in schools is getting cut. Big corporations are getting no-bid contracts with the government. A massive war is being funded by deficit, passing on huge debts to our children and grandchildren. Both the government and individuals are going into debt on a massive scale. The middle class is shrinking, the ranks of the poor are growing.

Government checks and balances are being eroded. Bipartisan deal making and compromise have been replaced by rampant bullying on the part of the party in power. Legislators in the minority party are unable to convene hearings, their voices are shut out of committees, rule making and enforcement. Votes on crucial bills are held open far longer than in the past, violating tradition so that arms can be twisted, ensuring corporate and special interest concerns are promoted above all else.

The Executive Branch of the government is plowing back into old, failed ways of doing business. They're waging war without adequate justification, spying on American citizens, ignoring international laws and norms to detain suspects indefinitely, kidnapping, "rendering" and likely torturing suspects to obtain information. They stifle dissent and manipulate the populace through fear-mongering. They make sweetheart deals with their corporate friends, allowing them to pollute more, deceive more and evade or disobey the law without fear of reprisal from the government. Environmental standards are being lowered or not enforced. International treaties are being unilaterally canceled.

The watchdog role of the media is now subservient to their corporate masters' mandate that they be moneymakers first and foremost, abandoning their historic civic responsibilities as the 'Fourth Estate.' There is no Fairness Doctrine, there are no local media of weight or importance any more. The corporate networks shamelessly pander to right-wing ideologues and discard their obligations to truth and accuracy, instead claming that to be "fair and balanced" is of greatest importance. (It isn't, of course, but that's a topic for another post.) They're under funded by their corporate masters, so they're hamstrung, hobbled and sometimes just plain lazy in their efforts to expose the truth.

Our elections are also suspect. Local, regional and state elections are overseen by party operatives, voting machines manufactured by corporations in bed with those in power jigger our election results, while same corporations resist any attempt at accountability, fighting requirements to print receipts or provide a paper trail.

So we continue this downward slide with fewer and fewer means available to stop it.

I really wish to hell I had a turnaround sentence here. You know, something that says "but there's light at the end of the tunnel," but (to continue with the tired cliché) all I see is the light of an oncoming train.

Is it going to take another Great Depression to put us back on track?

My fear is that it will. Only when the current system, built, funded, encouraged and nurtured by the rich, the powerful and the ideologically backward collapses will the vast majority of Americans be reminded, once again, how morally bankrupt "business as usual" has become for this country.

I sure as hell hope this won't happen, but I also don't see much in today's headlines that will stop it. Let us pray we don't have to go over the cliff in order to learn we're on the wrong road.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Thought Experiment: Randomness in Government

Yesterday I posted on the need to separate money from government. I am not at all sure such a thing is even possible, but money is -- once again -- the root of all evil in the government. In my post yesterday I said we must "create a disconnect between those who seek or wield political power and those who wield economic power."

We can't keep people with money from trying to influence our society. I'm not sure we should. But there is a way to break the links that continually form between the rich and the powerful.

So, it's time for a little thought experiment...

Randomness.

We need an element of randomness in government. I recommend lotteries!

I am not being flip. If we use lotteries to help choose our representatives and the issues they address, we disrupt the quid pro quo of government at a fundamental level. Note there's emphasis on the word 'help' -- we're not throwing common sense to the winds, we're just introducing an element of chance that removes any guarantee of results for services rendered.

Here's the plan:

  • Any registered voter interested in serving in the Senate or the House of Representatives will have an opportunity to run for office. Registered voters interested in serving will submit their names to an election commission local to the district or region involved. Small groups of candidates -- say four to eight -- will be chosen at random to run in primaries in each district. Candidates will compete against each other in campaigns that are funded by public money, participating in moderated debates in impartial public forums. These debates will be conducted solely to convey the merit of the ideas the various candidates have. The public will then vote in those primaries to choose two candidates, after which elections should be held in each district, again funded by public money, to determine the winner. Media coverage will be provided free; media outlets will be compensated by the government at reduced rates.
  • Incumbents shall be subject to term limits. At the expiry of which new candidates should be chosen for the same position via the same process. However, the public shall have the opportunity to override those limits; the incumbent may run again, competing against the two new candidates that win the primaries. If the vote is sufficiently overwhelming the incumbent may stay on for one more term, after which they must once again face the same challenge from two new candidates.

This element of randomness is the best way of bringing new, fresh blood into the political process. The primary campaigns will weed out the utterly ineffective, while both campaigns will continue our sacred tradition of selecting leaders and representatives based on the will of the people. Government funding of campaigns will close another avenue of influence.

Aside from the above, this has a distinct 'American Idol' feeling to it; I think the electorate would be utterly captivated by the story of Joe Average trying to get elected to Congress!

What about political parties? Well, didn't George Washington disdain them? Maybe we should too. Either that, or a candidate can, at any point in the process, either declare his/her affiliation or attempt to start a new party. Either way, the importance of party membership should be lessened. The debate should revolve around the ideas a candidate brings to the table, not the planks the party brings to the platform.

Now what would you pay? Wait, there's more.

  • Lobbying on the part of organized, funded groups should be absolutely forbidden. It should be illegal to give a representative anything unless you're a member of his/her immediate family. (Can't ruin Christmas and birthdays.)
  • Citizens should have the opportunity decide what issues the legislature should address. Again, a lottery, but this time in reverse. Citizens put in their ballots; issues to be addressed are chosen randomly from this pool of entries. If a given issue is sufficiently important to enough people, it's chances of selection are thus increased. (We have the technology to make this available to enough of the populace. Yes, there are hurdles, and security issues, but they can be solved if we work hard enough at it.) Of course, the Executive branch should also have the ability to bring issues before Congress for consideration. It's the president's job to lead, after all.
  • Governmental research should be expanded to focus on what programs are actually effective. Clear benchmarks and milestones should be required for any and all government program; personnel in, funding for and continuation of those program should be contingent upon how well the program actually meets those metrics. Sure, this will be hard. Worthwhile things always are.
  • The concept of Separation of Church and State should be even more firmly entrenched into our Constitution. Beliefs can be neither proven nor disproved, so they should not be used as a basis for making governmental decisions that affect the lives of millions.

End of Thought Experiment. What do you think?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Virtuous Government

So how can we really, REALLY clean up government? Sweeping rules? Undoubtedly. Absolute restrictions? Most likely.

The key point is to remove any quid pro quo, or even the appearance of one.; there should be no direct financial benefit to any decision made by any Senator, Congressman, judge or president or their friends. That's an amazingly tall order.

Can it be done? It might require a fundamental change in some of our philosophies of government.

In researching for this post, I came across a quote by Thomas Jefferson:

"In a virtuous government... public offices are what they should be: burdens to those appointed to them, which it would be wrong to decline, though foreseen to bring with them intense labor and great private loss." --Thomas Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee, 1779. Papers 2:298

A burden! Foreseen to bring...intense labor and great private loss! Amazing.

In the early days of this Republic, those sent to Washington D.C. to toil on behalf of their constituents were not happy at the prospect. The nation's capital was a swampy bog, far from the centers of American commerce and culture at the time. The government then being so small and limited, no one went there to further any grand or nefarious political, social or economic agendas. They went to serve, sometimes grudgingly, often apprehensively, because they believed in their hearts that their new nation and its citizens needed them to.

Service in government should return to this ethos; it should be a noble, albeit burdensome calling. That way only those genuinely committed to the betterment of all will serve, striving to craft a government that provides for all citizens of this land in a just, honorable and effective way.

To do this we must create a disconnect between those who seek or wield political power and those who wield economic power.

Service in government must be disconnected it from the importunings of big business, the lobbying of the rich and powerful. Government is best which labors to most effectively spread its benefits to all, rich and poor alike, with no thought to benefiting one group over another. Improving the infrastructure, health care for all, the intelligent and effective application of military power for protective purposes only, scientific research to improve the lives of everyone and to extend and expand the human ideal, all of these should be the sole and dispassionate aims of our nation's highest officials.

We need to ensure that the rich and powerful do not influence the democratic process out of proportion to their population. As Bill Moyers said, "The rich have the right to buy more homes than anyone else. They have the right to buy more cars, more clothes, or more vacations than anyone else. But they don't have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else."

The big question is HOW. Lemme write more on that later. I'll come up with an answer, I promise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bush Standard Practice - Break the Law in Unproductive Ways.

This morning we get an article from the Washington Post about the torrent of information about potential terror suspects gathered by the NSA and sent to the FBI for analysis. Bottom line; "...virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans." Just like torture, it's illegal and it doesn't give you the results you want.

This disconnect between the theory and the practice, the premise and the results, is increasingly the hallmark of the Bush administration and the right wing in this country. We have attempts to push creationism in public schools, establish government-sponsored religious displays, active dismissal of global warming research in favor of big business' polluting ways, torturing of suspects to obtain intelligence information. Funding is cut to social and medical programs, with a blatant disregard for the resulting greater costs that will come later. Benjamin Franklin's "ounce of prevention" is being abandoned with no thought of paying for the inevitable "pound of cure" that will come due in the future. Of course, the biggest example of this erroneous thinking is our invading Iraq on the assumption of the existence of WMDs, despite the lack of any conclusive proof these weapons ever existed. In each case, policy is made based on what someone wants to be true, rather than what is.

Let's say I told you I just built an airplane and I want you to fly in it. I tell you that I have no aeronautical experience, no knowledge of building an engine, or an air frame. My plane has not been examined or certified by the government to be flight worthy. I myself have no certifications or education that would tell you I'm qualified to build an aircraft, nor even to fly one. However, I tell you that I really think the damn thing will fly. Would you get in it? I don't think so.

Yet this happens continually in government. We are told that the NSA spying program has saved thousands of lives, yet no one can prove it. Instead we learn (years later) that the NSA spying that happened just after 9/11 was largely worthless, yielding little or no useful information. Does that keep us from doing more of it? Evidently not, based on the current story about the president ordering the NSA to wiretap people in this country in direct contravention of FISA laws. We continue to waste huge amounts of time and resources in a futile effort to control the uncontrollable, manage the unmanageable, detect the undetectable, mangling the civil rights of thousands of American citizens in the process. This is a lose/lose scenario here, something this kind of thinking all-too-frequently leads to.

Science is simply the process of finding out what's provable, what works. We rely on the results of scientific research literally every moment of every day. We wear clothes, drive cars, type on computers, live and work in buildings. We read and write. We think. We talk. Farmers grow crops, pilots fly airplanes, doctors save lives and cure diseases. Every aspect of our society that matters is based on those who went before us and went through the painstaking steps to figure out what works. The abandonment of this simple principle in service of political expediency, religious proselytizing or a grab for power and control is running rampant in this administration.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Al Gore Speech - The Media Awakens, Slowly, Slowly...

The media seems to be taking note of Gore's Speech. Take a look at this search of Google News.

Unchecked Executive Power

This just plain has to stop.
  • The president is illegally wiretapping persons in this country, deliberately bypassing the FISA court in direct defiance of the law. There's really nothing more to this. The president is breaking the law, repeatedly, deliberately, willfully, unapologetically.
  • The president declares he has the power to imprison American citizens indefinitely, with no access to a lawyer, no due process, no right to challenge his accusers. All of this is also in direct contradiction with our Constitution.
  • The president is claiming 'we do not torture' while simultaneously lobbying for exemptions from anti-torture legislation. When he caves to political pressure and signs the bill anyway he also issues a signing statement saying he will follow the law only when and where he sees fit.
  • The president has also reserved the right to kidnap people and 'render' them to other countries for interrogation, countries with proven records of civil-rights violations. In the face of the almost certain torture of these suspects, our administration "seeks assurances," "where appropriate," that these individuals will not be tortured. Such utterly insufficient protections are laughable.
  • The Legislative branch has totally rolled over. There is no more consultation, or debate of the issues, between the Republicans in power and the Democrats. The legislature has become a rubber stamp, its time more consumed with fundraising than with debating these issues in open session.
  • The president has declared a 'war on terror' which is his justification for these excesses. By his own estimation this war could go on 'for the rest of our lives.' If that's not a recipe for eventual domination and dictatorship I don't know what is.

Gore said it very well. "We the People" must step up. We must demand accountability, we must elect representatives with idealism, backbone and intelligence to reassert the balance of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Get involved!

Al Gore Speech - He Lays it out.

Al Gore has given another major policy speech, and he has once again laid it on the line in fine form. If only, if only he had become president...

Thanks to the Raw Story for posting the text of his speech. More thoughts after I digest it.


Friday, January 13, 2006

A Clear Exit Strategy

I have been casting about in vain for a clear exit strategy for Iraq. On the one hand, now that we're there we should stay to ensure the job gets done. On the other hand, our simply being there makes things worse by making us a target for opposition, a rallying cry for the insurgents. What do to?

Why, John Murtha's plan, of course, further elucidated on by this article by Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Washington Post.

Quoting Brzezinski...

"Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose."

"Persist but not win" has been our strategy up till now. I vote for "desist but not lose."

The inarguable fact is that Iraq is in three pieces -- Shiite, Sunni and Kurd. We are not going to change that. At present, the Shiites and the Kurds control the oil-rich regions of the country and have, for the most part, elected the permanent government. The Sunnis dislike of this situation will no doubt result in more insurgent activity. We may not like the details of how those two situations have come about but they are the facts and no amount of wishful thinking or American military power will change that.

So if we withdraw, strategically, carefully, intelligently, we can allow this new state of affairs to solidify, hopefully without breaking down too much. Yes, the Sunnis will be marginalized, yes this could lead to further internal strife, but at least we'll be starting down the road of letting Iraq sort out Iraq's troubles.

Murtha's plan for withdrawal makes sense and has been echoed in Brzezinski's article. Move troops out gradually, re-stationing them in Kuwait and in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, where their presence might actually be welcome.. Keep them ready to jump back in to put out any fires if need be, but for the most part the Iraqis in the government should know that they're on their own. This will be hard for some, but in a sense it's like being a parent -- you have to let the child try, and fail, and learn. Also, naked necessity is a powerful motivator towards compromise; maybe, just maybe, the Iraqi government will start taking steps towards including the Sunnis.

This of course will require additional promises on the part of the United States, to wit:

  • A promise to stay out of Iraqi internal affairs unless requested. It may take some more time before we get to this point, but this should be the goal.
  • A promise not to keep any permanent military installation on Iraqi soil. I've said this before, I say it again. We need to have no ulterior motive. (At least, not any more.)
  • A definite timetable for the partial withdrawal. Let Iraq and the world know in no uncertain terms when the US will have withdrawn to their 'staging areas' in Kuwait and Kurdish Iraq. After that, wait and see.

Critics may say this will be messy, could cost lives, may backfire, etc. Hey, isn't that the situation we're in now?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Terrorism: Act of War or Crime?

I am sick of the phrase "War On Terror." This is like declaring a "War on Lying" or a "War on Cheating," or a "War on Poverty" or a "War on Drugs." (Oops, they already did that. How is that going, anyway?)

Terrorism is a behavior, not a thing. We can declare war on a country. We can defeat it, or be defeated by it, at which point the war is over. Terrorism is a disease, a scourge. It is not something that can be defeated or banished, the way you clear cockroaches from a house by tenting and fumigating it. It's a methodology, a means to an end.

Most importantly, it's a crime. Thus, it should be treated as such. Clues should be examined, the perpetrator discovered, tracked, tried and convicted, based on evidence. We should respond to these mindless acts of terror with rationality, relentlessness and vigor. Otherwise we just become terrorists ourselves.

Oops, that's already been done too. By declaring a 'War On Terror' the Bush administration has tried to frame everything it wants to do in the context of this war. It can launch wars, bomb civilians, coddle corporate sponsors, spy on American citizens, reshape our civil liberties and funnel tax breaks to the wealthy, all in the name of the War On Terror. This is all done under the guise of 'protecting us.'

But who will protect us from our protectors? Who will ensure our civil liberties are not eroded, one by one, until they are gone? Who will check the natural progression of power to the powerful and money to the wealthy in order to prevent unhealthy imbalance and ultimate collapse of our society? It may be there's a grain of truth in the conservative mantra of not relying on the government. We certainly can't rely on the government to protect us in these matters. Not this government, anyway.

Anyway, back to the 'war.' Much as I wish it were so, the War on Terrorism can't be won. No matter how peaceful our world becomes, no matter how stable, happy, healthy and wonderful everyone on the planet may be, it only takes one suicide bomber in a crowded marketplace to once again say WE LOSE. It's not that I support terrorism, far from it. (Although many right-wingers are quick to claim just that whenever anyone says this is an unwinnable war.) It's just like the War on Drugs, or the War on Poverty. We will always have terrorists; we will always have poverty. It's just part of the human condition. You may as well declare a War on Death; you'll never win it.

This effort has been cast as a 'war' in order to gain power, nothing more. It plays on peoples emotions. Sure, we were all pissed after 9/11, we all wanted to kick some ass. So why did we leave Afghanistan unfinished and charge headlong into Iraq? Why have we spent so much money on Saddam and Iraq and so little on the Osama, Mullah Omar, the Taliban and Afghanistan? I'll leave the reasons why for another time, but the redirection from one to the other is telling. This isn't about morality, or democracy. It's about money and power. Thus the "War on Terror," to keep us focused -- on the wrong things.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bill Maher on Bush (DarkStar)

Great post by Bill Maher on Bush here on DarkStar. "So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: 'Take a hint.' "

The Runaround

The Bush Administration appears intent on running the country all by itself. Consider the following:
  • The president authorized illegal wiretaps on persons in this country, specifically and deliberately bypassing the FISA courts, in direct contravention of specific laws and rules that mandated he first obtain warrants. He also deliberately misinformed or underinformed members of Congress about the nature and extent of the program, including restrictions against any public discussion of the program.

  • After signing the current defense bill into law, a bill that included specific prohibitions against torture of any or all persons under U.S. control, he issued an executive statement saying, in effect, '...but I'll do what I think I have to in order to defend the country.' In other words, 'never mind.'

  • Bush repeatedly bypasses Congress by using recess appointments to give a number of his friends/cronies government positions. The most notable of these is U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, but recently another pack of cronies slipped by under the radar, most notably Julie L. Myers, tapped to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Homeland Security Department. Most of these appointees are long on connections yet short on relevant experience or qualifications and were anticipating difficulty getting their nominations through Congress. These appointments include posts at the Pentagon, district judges and the like. A summary of the latest offenses can be found here at the Washington Post.

  • The administration is re-interpreting a recently-passed law to allow them to dismiss hundreds of legal complaints filed by Guantanamo detainees. This lets him do an end run around both the Congress and the Supreme Court. A two-fer!

Just do a few Google News Searches; it's amazing what turns up.

Bypass, bypass. It's the only way to do things the way you want, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Letterman vs. O'Reilly: A Missed Opportunity

If I lived in a bubble and only watched last night's guest appearance by Bill O'Reilly on Late Night with David Letterman, I'd equate the conversation with two reasonably intelligent people arguing at a party. Unfortunately for both personalities concerned, this is not good enough.

I thoroughly dislike O'Reilly. He lies, he misinforms, he deserves all the mud slung at him for his radio and television programs. He does a tremendous disservice to this country with just about everything he says. Just do a search on Media Matters to get a list of the excrement he spews on an almost daily basis and you'll understand why so many otherwise reasonable people in this country are so misinformed and have such errant attitudes. He has a news/opinion show and posits himself as an informed commentator on news and our culture, but his consistent mischaracterizations of just about everything are sick and damaging. As Jon Stewart said to him when O'Reilly was on the Daily Show, "Perhaps we add insult to injury, but you sir, you add injury."

On the other hand, I like Letterman a lot. Sure, he's been funnier, but he's still great and I thoroughly appreciate his disdain for much of American culture. Mostly he shows it through snarky comedy, but occasionally he just cuts loose and lets you know what he really thinks - kinda like pouring acetone onto the nail polish of life. Last night Letterman tried to do just that. Sadly, he was unprepared for the debate that followed.

Letterman is not a news anchor or pundit. He'll be the first to say it. ("I'm not smart enough to debate you point for point...") But if you're going to get into a public debate with anyone, never mind a media personality like O'Reilly (I can't bring myself to call him a journalist) you should at least have your boxing gloves on and be warmed up. Letterman was not. It would not take a lot of research to determine that in fact more than 90 percent of what O'Reilly says is crap; still, Letterman did not do it. I suspect this was just an instance of Letterman stepping outside of the boundaries he normally carefully sets for himself; he just couldn't help it, I guess, having such sympathy for Cindy Sheehan.

On O'Reilly's side, his complaint about Cindy Sheehan's use of terminology - "Freedom Fighters" -- is typically microfocused and misleading. Perhaps it was a poor choice of words on Sheehan's part. I'm fairly sure, however, that these terrorists think of themselves as freedom fighters in that they're trying to free their country of US troops. But for O'Reilly to focus on this one term makes reasoned debate impossible. Instead we're throwing beakers of pointless vitriol at each other. Is Sheehan horrible for using more ennobling terms for the terrorists who killed her son? Have you stopped beating your wife? Spider-Man, threat or menace? It's all on the same stupid, inflammatory, useless level. This is typical O'Reilly; find one small inflammatory factoid and make it the centerpiece of whatever type of point he's trying to make on any given day.

In watching the video I was reminded of the presidential debates last year, when a questioner asked Bush about his stewardship of the environment. After a typically mealy-mouthed response, it was John Kerry's turn to respond. I was supremely disappointed that the senator from Massachusetts did not royally tear Bush a new one. It would not be hard to assail Bush's record on the environment, but for some reason Kerry just didn't or couldn't step up to the plate.

It's the same thing here. Letterman's smart, O'Reilly lies. It should not be hard to punch a hole in the putrid wet paper bag that is the framework of O'Reilly's worldview. Sadly, Dave didn't manage it, much as I wished he could have.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Murtha would not join today.

From a story in Reuters: "Rep. John Murtha, a key Democratic voice who favors pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, said in remarks airing on Monday that he would not join the U.S. military today."

Damn.

This is a man who served in the Marines (the toughest branch to serve in, if you ask me) for 37 years, retiring as a colonel. After all that service, he served some more in Congress. Lots of service there, no question about it.

The story includes this quote:

Murtha did not respond directly when asked whether a lack of combat experience might have affected the decision-making of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and their former top deputies.

"Let me tell you, war is a nasty business. It sears the soul," he said, choking up. "And it made a difference. The shadow of those killings stay with you the rest of your life."

Damn straight. By the way, it takes guts for a 'tough guy' to talk this way. It only increases my respect for this man.

But then, check out the Pentagon's mealy-mouthed response.

Asked for comment, a Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Col. John Skinner, said: "We have an all-volunteer military. People are free to choose whether they serve or not."

This last bit is the part that pisses me off. I served in the Navy for six years. I may have volunteered to join, but once in you follow orders, bub, whether you want to or not. Someone can believe in their country, want to defend it and wish to serve, with a reasonable desire to learn, see the world and improve themselves, yet find themselves utterly against the egregious misuse of our power and prestige in this war. The Skinner remark indicates somehow that everyone in Iraq is there wholeheartedly and voluntarily, and that people like Murtha should just somehow shut up because they're "outsiders" or "don't get it" or something anile like that.