Saturday, July 14, 2007

Thought for the day(s)

I'm experiencing some major life changing events right now, to the neglect of my blog and three regular readers. It's all good, however, very good, that much I'll share. I don't have an original thought for the day, but I just visited Main and Central, where this line grabbed my mood:
"If Liberals hated America, we'd vote Republican."

Exactly.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Another level of reasonable lol

I'm all for reasonable accommodation in the workplace, and the progressive nature of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but the Swedes take "reasonable" to a whole new level. LOL.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ordinary heroes

If you're somewhat morbid like me, then perhaps you have a habit of perusing the obituaries as part of my daily read of the newspaper, and I'm often struck by accomplishments of ordinary citizens who have made an extraordinary difference. One such man, whose obit appeared today, did just that. Emphasis is mine.

Roy Torcaso, 96; Defeated Md. in 1961 Religious Freedom Case
By Adam Bernstein, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007;

Roy R. Torcaso, 96, whose application to be a Maryland notary public led to a U.S. Supreme Court case that affirmed his refusal to take a state oath requiring him to declare a belief in God, died June 9 at the Himalayan Elderly Care assisted living home in Silver Spring. He had complications of prostate cancer.

Mr. Torcaso, who said he was an atheist, was a bookkeeper by profession. He worked for a Bethesda construction company when his legal challenge started in 1959. He had been urged by his boss to become a notary public.

At the Montgomery County Circuit Court, he refused to swear to a state oath given to notaries public that made them profess the existence of God.

"The point at issue," he said at the time, "is not whether I believe in a Supreme Being, but whether the state has a right to inquire into my beliefs."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

As Yogi Berra once famously said...

"It's Déjà vu all over again". The Washington Post begins a series on how we, in the United States, are failing our new damaged combat veterans in the same way we let those from the Vietnam experience down.
Army Spec. Jeans Cruz helped capture Saddam Hussein. When he came home to the Bronx, important people called him a war hero and promised to help him start a new life. The mayor of New York, officials of his parents' home town in Puerto Rico, the borough president and other local dignitaries honored him with plaques and silk parade sashes. They handed him their business cards and urged him to phone.
But a "black shadow" had followed Cruz home from Iraq, he confided to an Army counselor. He was hounded by recurring images of how war really was for him: not the triumphant scene of Hussein in handcuffs, but visions of dead Iraqi children.
More.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Colombia to recognize gay unions


BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - Colombia is set to become the first Latin American country to give established gay couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social security under a bill passed by its Congress.

The plan approved Thursday is expected to take effect soon. It is backed by the country's conservative President Alvaro Uribe.

The measure would allow gay couples in long-term relationships to have the same health insurance and social security benefits as heterosexual couples. It also guarantees that assets accumulated during the relationship will be divided between the two, and in the case of death, inherited by the survivor.
There goes our erstwhile enthusiastic support for the Andean Regional Initiative (formerly, Plan Colombia.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Prime contender: Idiocy of the year


Andrew Sullivan has been on a roll this week. He's excused himself of all responsiblity for the catastrophies of the last six years because, at the very last minute, he "endorsed" Kerry over Bush in 2004 (gee, I supported Kerry, but I don't know who I endorsed). But, according to him, he gets a pass for the first four years where he ardently supported the war in Iraq and questioned anyone's patriotism who didn't. Because hey, we were all fooled, right?

Wrong, nobody was fooled, and he has the blood on his hands of many young Americans, whose lives he was eagerly willing to offer up, in support of Mr. Bush's policies -- a luxury if ever there was one for a British citizen. And he did oppose Medicare reform and compassionate conservatism during the first term, so that counts for something, surely.

He points to a chart of where and when conservatives bailed on Bush, and proudly counts himself in the class of 2004, way before so many others. How about those who foresaw much of this in, oh, say, 1999? It means he was stupider for many more years than he should have been, not that he was prescient in November, 2004. Cripes.

His mantra is if you don't like what he says, read some other blog. He's right there; because occasionally he has a kernal of wisdom and writes good books, I continue to read his often deranged, warped, misunderstanding of his adopted homeland and its people, to my own frustrated detriment.

He took on Mike Kinsley's assessment of marriage rights for gays in Massachusetts this week, because Kinsley implied that the "left" had won. Andrew asserts it's really a conservative (right) victory - notwithstanding Romney, McCain, Gingrich, Robertson, Falwell, Reagan, and yes, even Guiliani's cowardly stance on the issue (small exception made here for Guiliani and Romney, who after all, did support equality to their credit before it became expedient not to). But tonight's comment takes the cake. In his own words, I give you the idiocy idiot of the year:


The lesson of Reagan and to a lesser extent Thatcher - the pre-eminent conviction politicians of my lifetime - is that even those who deeply disagreed with them eventually respected their ability to stand for something unpopular and to lead. When I look at the Democrats today, I see no such conviction. That's a problem. No one is worse than Clinton, of course.
I'm not going to link to him but he's easy enough to find if you want to read the rest of the nonsense. This week is exceptionally bad. He has a Ph.D from Harvard in government -- that alone should alarm us all.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A leadership vacuum

With 12 million undocumented workers living in the dark shadows in this country, who can argue that something has to be done. We've debated what is right and what is wrong for years, and it appeared that Congress was on the verge of starting the process of addressing the problem but the final result appears to be a colossal failure.

As today's New York Times editorial suggests, there were some draconian measures in the bill that were unpalatable to all, but that these could be addressed in future sessions of Congress where the law could have been amended and tweaked. Instead we end up with nothing, and for disgraceful reasons.

There were many provisions in this bill that I objected to. However, in leadership 101, the first rule is that a bad decision is preferable to no decision. Perhaps our representatives and our president missed that day of school in 9th grade.

A Failure of Leadership
The immigration compromise collapsed on the floor of the Senate Thursday night. Many of its hard-line foes are celebrating, but their glee is vindictive and hollow. They have blocked one avenue to an immigration overhaul while offering nothing better, thwarting bipartisanship to satisfy their reflexive loathing for amnesty, which they define as anything that helps illegal immigrants get right with the law.

The tragedy is that the compromise bill was written to bring these restrictionists along, with punitive, detestable provisions that many supporters of comprehensive reform agreed to endorse for the sake of a “grand bargain.” The bill was badly flawed but fixable, as long as there was the possibility of leadership and courage in Congress.
But obstruction happened. Republican amendments, designed to shred the compromise, happened.

Jeff Sessions wanted to deprive legalized immigrants — yes, legal residents — of the earned income tax credit, a path out of poverty for millions.

John Cornyn wanted to strip confidentiality protections for immigrants who apply for legal status, making them too frightened to leave the shadows.

Jim DeMint just wanted to kill the bill, so he voted for a volatile amendment whose substance he disagreed with. “If it hurts the bill, I’m for it,” he said.

Leadership was desperately needed to stop Republicans from dragging the bill off one of its pillars — the one that would put 12 million people on a path to legal status. It didn’t show up. Republicans who should have been holding their party and the deal together — President Bush, minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John Kyl — failed utterly.

The anti-immigrant hard-core — no amnesty today, no amnesty tomorrow, no amnesty ever — must not be allowed to hold the nation hostage. Like nativists of generations past, they think the country is being Latinized, and they fear it. The country is changing, but the way it always has, absorbing newcomers, shaping and being shaped by them, inexorably turning them, their children and grandchildren into Americans. Globalization has accelerated and complicated that upheaval, and decades of federal dithering have made things messy and chaotic.

Restoring order will be wrenchingly difficult, but it must be done. The country cannot leave an unlawful, chaotic system to fester, with legal immigration channels clogged, families split apart, crops rotting and state and local governments dreaming up ways to punish 12 million people whose identities are unknown to the authorities, and who aren’t leaving, no matter what Congress does. We cannot simply fortify a wall while continuing to extract cheap labor from cowering workers who risk death to get here. Inaction on immigration carries a brutally high price, but those on the phobic right are willing to mortgage their country’s future to pay it.....

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Katrina War


The casualties from the Katrina War continue to mount in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Beyond the wounds and deaths that were reported in the immediate weeks and months following the most noticeably conflictive period in the late summer of 2005, the number of victims suffering from often mortal respiratory infections, poisonings, and insidious cancers continues to swell. As with the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, those who suffer from the maladies of post traumatic stress syndrome are largely ignored, and many do not and will not receive needed help for this terrible affliction, so they will continue to suffer, or worse.

This article indicates that attention to this issue has begun, but that the numbers of casualties from Katrina provided to us by officialdom are woefully underestimated and sadly inaccurate. Unlike Vietnam and Iraq where the government, though belatedly and inadequately, has paid lip service to PTSD for combat veterans and in a few cases, their families, and has offered half-heartedly, limited relief to some of those victims, there is very little mention of this regarding the denizens of the Gulf coast. The topic is just now entering the conversation as regards the hundreds of thousands whose lives were forever shattered as a result of Katrina and to some degree, Rita.

The common thread with these national nightmares is that disastrous decisions by our government are largely responsible for the volume of pain that has been inflicted on the victims of these conflictive episodes, in terms of those directly damaged by the events as well as the indirect but also very serious pain inflicted on families, friends, and communities affected.

The United States will continue to suffer from our government’s neglect of those impacted by Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina and other recent large-scale national traumas for at least a generation, probably longer. We can do better.

Lest we forget…

(Note: The amazing photo above was taken in the historic Garden District in New Orleans in the days immediately following the rupturing of the levees in that city. Via YourDailyAwesome.)

Update: By all means, check out the link from Mark in the comments at the Wet Bank Guide.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Strong backs and epiphanies

It's interesting to read the steadily growing numbers of conservative cognoscenti coming forward to tell the tales of when they officially could no longer support the Bush administration. The excerpt below is taken from a letter that Andrew Sullivan posts from one of his readers.
Peggy Noonan is the latest luminary to come clean on her transfiguration. What is still interesting to me is where are all the other voices from the original conservative ascendancy of the 1980s and what have they got to say now?

I was thinking about former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. I remember many years ago reading her article in Commentary called, "Dictatorships and Double Standards" wherein she rips apart Jimmy Carter's decision to back off support for the Shah of Iran and Anastazio Somoza in Nicaragua in protest of widespread state-sponsored human rights abuses in those countries. She argued that authoritarian regimes can evolve into democracies, but that totalitarian regimes cannot, and that Mr. Carter was incredibly naïve to isolate Somoza and the Shah, because those oppressive dictatorships were replaced by totalitarians, such as the Ayatollah in Iran and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

This seminal piece was supposedly what introduced Ronald Reagan to Dr. Kirkpatrick, and brought her into the conservative fold. In fairness, she postulated this theory before the collapse of the Soviet Union or the election in "totalitarian" Nicaragua which peacefully ousted the Sandinistas via democratic elections.

Still, could she have totally abandoned the her core premise that the U.S. should not actively engage repressive dictators in places that were not in the "vital" interests of the United States? If so, where was she during the debate on invading Iraq? I'm still waiting to hear where the American Margaret Thatcher and others stand on the current direction of U.S. foreign policy.
_______________

Sullivan's reader argues that for many conservatives, it became a question of when the straw was lain that broke the proverbial camel's back. It's an interesting assessment, and I can only wonder how it is that so many of these people have such strong backs. Even if I had been a true believer, which thankfully I never was, my back would have been broken in, oh, I'd say early 2002:


The reader you posted stated that Noonan and others who are late to the party have no credibility to criticize Bush. Hogwash. Have you and this reader never heard of the expression "the straw that breaks the camel's back?" You maintain loyalty in politics even when you are in disagreement with a party or a President. If you are part of a political movement you realize that no politician is ideologically pure or completely without fault. However, you do expect that your loyalty will be rewarded with more than mere lip service to one's ideological beliefs and you expect more than comically bad incompetence.

A lot of intellectual conservatives are now asking themselves at which moment did they lose faith in Bush. For some, such as yourself, it was Abu Ghraib. For others, it was the chaos that unfolded in late 2003-04 and the intransigent refusal of Rumsfeld and Bush to respond to it.

For another group, it was the President's use of warrantless wiretaps and vast expansions of federal power. For many it was the realization that two of the three biggest domestic accomplishments for Bush (outside of the tax cuts) were Ted Kennedy sponsored pieces of legislation. For a huge number it was the culture of profligate spending.

For myself, the seminal moment at which I lost real faith in this President was in the aftermath of Katrina. He could no longer profess to hold the mantle of competence and indeed, he was the poster child of cronyism and ineffectiveness. He proved himself to be dilatory and disinterested, all in the face of the worst natural disaster in this country's history. Granted the local politicians screwed up royally (and are still doing so in NOLA), but he is the POTUS and is expected, at the least to focus our efforts to recover, and to lead. He held that mantle after 9/11, he pissed it down the drain after Katrina.

The last straws for conservatives are the White House's arrogant refusal to contenance any criticism of what it is doing in Iraq coupled with its arrogant and condescending ramroding of a disastrous immigration boondoggle, all the while telling the people "who have carried his water for years" that they are a bunch of bigots and ignoramuses.

Don't forget Andrew that the scales had to fall from your eyes as well. It has come at different times and in different ways for all of us, but it does not make Noonan's critique of Bush any less credible that it has come later than your own. It just means that you were more foresighted than she was.

I'll have some of whatever they're smoking.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Notes on Chuck Hagel


There's a very interesting profile in the latest edition of The New Republic on oddball Chuck Hagel. He's an interesting guy, and I'm intrigued by his approach to foreign policy, particularly his long opposition to the Iraq war.
It's no secret that Senator Hagel has strong presidential aspirations, so I've found his courage to confront Mr. Bush and the Republican establishment, long before the recent tide of credentialed Republicans had begun to jump on the anti-Bush, anti-war bandwagon, puzzling.
He's always had a streak of maverick in him; he supported John McCain for president in 2000 even when almost everyone else in the party, except John McCain, had already foretold the inevitable coronation of GWB as the Republican party's nominee.
The thoughtful essay in The New Republic, called "Look Back in Anger," makes the persuasive case that Hagel's experience as a grunt in Vietnam is what informs his world view, and his position on the use of the U.S. military to further U.S. interests abroad.
The excerpt below, where he takes a swipe at his former mentor, John McCain, is fascinating. It is completely consistent as far as I'm concerned for someone who bucked the mainstream of his party to back McCain for president six years ago to now question the very honesty of Mr. McCain. While I never supported McCain for president, like many others, I genuinely admired him once but no longer do. It will be interesting to see if Chuck Hagel is eventually driven out of the party, or if the small segment of the Republican party that he represents will gain ascendancy, before it completely implodes.
But again, what's so striking about all of this is that one was made to look like an idiot not all that long ago if Vietnam and Iraq were used in the same sentence. It now seems impossible to analyze the latter without the former.

Hagel's fury over Iraq has unsettled his political life. He has been at odds with the White House for at least five years, but he has now alienated some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Even his friendship with McCain, who was once his mentor, appears to be on the rocks. In early February, Hagel called a McCain resolution on the Iraq war "intellectually dishonest." When a reporter from GQ asked Hagel this winter how serving in Vietnam had affected his decisions on Iraq, he drew a cruel contrast between his service and McCain's: "When I got to Vietnam, I was a rifleman. I was a private, about as low as you can get. So my frame of reference is very much geared toward the guy at the bottom who's doing the fighting and dying. ... John McCain served his country differently--he spent five years as a prisoner of war. ... I don't think my experience makes me any better, but it does make me very sober about committing our nation to war." In March, after Hagel had voted for the Democratic resolution on withdrawal from Iraq, McCain fired back. "My views are not framed by events that happened thirty years ago," he said. "I don't think it would be fair to my constituents, intellectually, to have my views formed only by that one experience of my life. That's maybe where Chuck and I have some differences." McCain's comments were as cruel as Hagel's. And they were also hypocritical, given that McCain invariably uses his own experience as a prisoner of war to attract support for his current stance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fais do-do (or pass the dough )


Part of the reason New Orleans, and indeed Louisiana, where natural resources and riches are so plentiful, resides in the developing world is the same reason so many countries south of our borders and elsewhere do. It's because of the graft and immoral greed of the people placed in charge. Rep. William Jefferson follows a long history of just such leaders in Louisiana.

I won't recount yet again my many anecdotes from the time I lived in New Orleans, where residents talked about their corrupt leaders with a wink and a smile, as I've done that here before. But it's hard to passionately make arguments that we need to rescue that precious place, when voters there continue to elect people like this guy. It's not like this information wasn't available and well-known before November of last year, and yet they sent him right back to Washington.

Sometimes I feel about Louisiana the way I felt about the crumbling city of Washington, DC, that continued cycle after cycle to re-elect Marion Barry, the poster child for all that is wrong with politics in the country today. I hope Mr. Jefferson will get to enjoy Angola, the notorious Louisiana state prison, and not be shoved off to some cushier, federal institution, if and when he's finally held accountable for his deeds.


WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., was indicted Monday on federal charges of racketeering, soliciting bribes and money-laundering in a long-running bribery investigation into business deals he tried to broker in Africa.

The indictment handed up in federal court in Alexandria., Va., Monday is 94 pages long and lists 16 alleged violations of federal law that could keep Jefferson in prison for up to 235 years. He is charged with racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Jefferson is accused of soliciting bribes for himself and his family, and also for bribing a Nigerian official.

Almost two years ago, in August 2005, investigators raided Jefferson's home in Louisiana and found $90,000 in cash stuffed into a box in his freezer.

Jefferson, 63, whose Louisiana district includes New Orleans, has said little about the case publicly but has maintained his innocence. He was re-elected last year despite the looming investigation.

More.