Tuesday, February 21, 2006

True Colors

There are some in Congress that are concerned about a deal permitting a Dubai company to manage six major US seaports. The opposition includes several prominent Republicans, including Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert. They claim the review was not thorough enough and have expressed concern about ceding management of these ports to a company owned and run by the Dubai government.

But President Bush has threatened to veto any legislation blocking this business deal.

The president's true colors are once again on full display. He is perfectly willing to shortchange governmental review on a change in policy that will have direct implications on domestic security, turning over management of six major US seaports to an Arab government, all to ensure this lucrative deal goes through, benefitting those tied to him.

There are business associations at work here. Quoting the New York Daily News:

"The Dubai firm that won Bush administration backing to run six U.S. ports has at least two ties to the White House.

"One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose agency heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

"Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

"The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration."

So if the Congress acts in its Constitutionally-required role by performing oversight, if they intervene to stop this business deal, Bush will veto it. "They ought to listen to what I have to say about this," Bush said. "They'll look at the facts and understand the consequences of what they're going to do. But if they pass a law, I'll deal with it with a veto."

In other words, "they should listen to what I have to say, but if they still disagree with me I'll ram this deal though anyway."

The Imperial Presidency rides on.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Reject and Respond: Two Non-Words

The government's use of Orwellian Terminology is reaching a subtle point of saturation Here are some examples.

Reject: Whenever the government doesn't like something, they 'reject' it. When the UN says conditions at Guantanamo Bay are 'tantamount to torture,' White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan 'rejects' the claim. When Al Gore claimed that the government "has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses," McClellan's response was "I reject that wholeheartedly." In responding to Michael Brown's allegations of miscommunication and foulups in DHS in responding to Hurricane Katrina, Department of Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff 'rejected' his allegations.

The definition of reject (thanks Dictionary.com) is:

  • To refuse to accept, submit to, believe, or make use of.
  • To refuse to consider or grant; deny.
  • To refuse to recognize or give affection to (a person).
  • To discard as defective or useless; throw away. See Synonyms at refuse1.

None of this speaks to truth or falsehood, correctness or inaccuracy. Thus a government spokesman can 'reject' a statement without confirming or denying the truth of it.

Respond: McClellan is famous for using this one. "I already responded to that question" is one of his favorite phrases, especially when reporters ask again and again in an effort to get a straight answer. I have to take issue with Dictionary.com here, in that it considers 'answer' to be a synonym to 'response.' Evidently McClellan's responses are not considered answers by frustrated reporters who repeat their queries in search of usable information. Thus, "I already responded to that question" really means "What I already said was not really an answer, but I've said what I'm going to say on this and I won't say any more."

Monday, February 13, 2006

Free Speech vs. Political Correctness

The huge controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed and offending Muslims boils down to a single conflict: what's more important, free speech or religious sensitivity?

I believe free speech is paramount. Yes, there is the old bromide that free speech doesn't protect you if you needlessly yell "fire" in a crowded theater, but publishing a picture is not tantamount to telling a dangerous lie that could endanger people.

Unless you throw religious intolerance into the mix. Once that happens all bets are off. Thus we are treated to the sight of riots, destruction and yes, death, all incited and caused by those who feel their imaginary friend or his Prophet have somehow been insulted.

Bear in mind Mohammed said there were to be no images in order to avoid idolatry. He wanted to avoid the rampant iconography so prevalent in the Catholic Church. He wanted the concept of Allah to be worshipped, not the image of him -- or of anyone else, especially including Mohammed.

The rampant hypocrisy here is that Muslims routinely engage in idolatrous behavior anyway. How many times have we seen mobs chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" while marching under a huge banner of Ayatollah Khomeni or Ayatollah Khamenei? How many huge pictures of Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, or his son Muqtada as-Sadr? If this is not religious idolatry, what is? On a more secular note, how many gigantic portraits of President Bashar al-Assad or his late father Hafez al-Assad festoon the buildings of Damascus in Syria? How many images of Saddam Hussein graced pre-invasion Iraq? Evidently the images of current religious and secular leaders somehow have an exemption from the anti-idolatry clause in the Koran.

Mohammed has nothing to fear. The images we now see of crazy, deranged, angry people, shooting guns into the air, burning cars and destroying storefronts will not cause an explosion of idolatrous worshipping at the feet of building-sized posters of the Prophet.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Gitmo Defends Force-Feeding Tactics. UTTERLY APPALLING.

I heard this story on NPR last night and I was shaking with rage when it was over, sick to my stomach.


It is about the barbaric way that our soldiers have 'ended' the hunger strike by prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Strap 'em down, force feed a 'nutritional supplement,' then force feed them laxatives. Then leave them there, restrained, as they vomit, defecate and urinate all over themselves.

This is utterly appalling. I have never been so ashamed to be an American.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

On Freedom of Speech In Time of Conflict

There are many on the right wing who accuse others of 'emboldening the enemy' or 'giving the enemy aid and comfort.'


The enemy doesn't need emboldening. They've already proven they don't need aid or comfort from us.

What we do need to do is have free and vigorous public discourse about what works and what doesn't. After we determine what does work we DO it. That will bring us victory. Sometimes that means keeping secrets. Most of the time, however, it means engaging in free, honest, vigorous and public debate.

If the government makes mistakes, we should call them on it. We should propose better ways of doing things. We should debate what we're doing, and why. If the government continues to make mistakes, we should throw them the hell out.

However: If the government lies, obfuscates, spins and covers up it's doings and it's track record, manipulates data, changes the subject, bombards us with 'no comment,' impugns the patriotism of critics, moves to classify/hide reams and reams of formerly public data and engages in paid propaganda domestically, then you have what we used to call in the Navy a clue. This is what undermines the very foundations of our government, this is the modus operandi that is the meta-offense here; this is standard operating procedure for this administration.

This is the crime that dwarfs all other crimes.

It is our patriotic duty to speak out, not just against the mistakes and injustices we see, but against the secretiveness that pervades this government. This is the information age. We need that information to flow freely for our society and its citizens to be safe, prosperous, vital and free.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Buchanan: "Bush Is Running Out of Alibis"

If you can stomach all of the conservative advertising ("Be the first to read Ann Coulter and Robert Novak each week!" -- gag), this is a compelling read by none other than Pat Buchanan. "Bush Is Running Out of Alibis"

It's a truly terrifying world when I even partly agree with Pat Buchanan.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Eisenhower: Right All Along

I have always regarded Dwight Eisenhower as a great general who led us to victory in an extraordinary war. I also, with more than a little ignorance, sometimes thought of him as an ordinary, perhaps even boring president who presided during ordinary times.

Nothing of course is farther from the truth. But in viewing the events of today with great concern, I was reminded of Eisenhower's farewell speech where he warned us of a number of threats that, sadly, have become all to real.

The full speech, well worth reading, is here. Here are some excerpts that proves the man knew of what he spoke. (Emphases are mine.)

  • "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
  • "Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
  • "Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield."

Sometimes I wonder if the man had a crystal ball. These quotations, forty-five years old, have an uncanny prescience to them.