my pissant two cents

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

between the lines

i learned from listening to n.w.a. that a "strawberry" was the neighborhood crack whore, the woman who would do anything for a rock. no act was too shameful, too degrading, for that moment of excruciating high. there was no respect to be had for a person in that position. just use, abuse, and disposal.

i don't know the etymology of the term, but it may very well have come from a man who should have been a baseball legend, but gave it all up for cocaine.

daryl strawberry, a former member of such storied teams as the n.y. mets, los angeles dodgers, and n.y. yankees, is on the list of nominees for baseball's hall of fame in cooperstown, n.y. the only way he'll get in is with a very closely supervised tour. he can blame it all on the seductive white powder.

strawberry was a menace at the plate, launching home runs that interfered with flight paths of planes approaching la guardia over shea stadium. he was a rocket on the basepaths and a terror in the outfield. he was also a coke addict.

it's widely known that the 1986 world champion mets had more than their share of drug abusers, including a powerful 1-2 punch on the pitching mound, david cone and dwight gooden. did the coke make them a better team? maybe... who knows? but it made them trouble in the "just say no" '80s.

strawberry, more than any other ballplayer of his stature, will never get past the drug problem that marred his career, because he had so much to offer. and because he fell so far. he was suspended for drug use several times, arrested for domestic violence, cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute, and had numerous arrests for violating terms of his probation. he did time on a couple of occasions.

not that he was the only one, or even the most troubled. steve howe, a fireball-throwing closer who won rookie of the year honors with the dodgers in 1980, was suspended five times by 1991. in june of the next year, the left-hander was permanently banned from baseball for drug use. the ban was later overturned in arbitration, on the grounds that it was too severe. in a sports law class at usc, taught by superagents arn tellem and dick moss, i asked whether a right-handed middle reliever with a fastball in the mid-80s would get as many chances. i never got a satisfactory answer.

drug use isn't necessarily a bar to the hallowed halls, as evidenced by edmonton oilers great grant fuhr. he was inducted to the hockey hall of fame in 2003, despite a six-month suspension for cocaine abuse in 1990. fuhr, however, never let drugs get in the way of his on-ice performance, which yielding five stanley cups, a vezina trophy as the nhl's best goaltender, and 400+ nhl victories.

And lawrence taylor's cocaine problem was as epic as the sacks that earned him entree into the football hall of fame in 1999.

some of the greats and not-so-greats have had feet of clay. mickey mantle was an admitted drunk for most of his career. denny mclain won two cy young awards and was sentenced to 25 years for racketeering and extortion. st. louis blues forward mike danton plead guilty to conspiring to murder his agent and got 7-1/2 years in prison. look no further than jim bouton's great 1971 classic ball four to see the seedy underbelly of professional sports, with its drug and alcohol abuse, groupies and wholesale degradation. look no further than "america's team," the dallas cowboys, for a laundry list of random felonies, misdemeanors and behavior that would shame karl rove. and don't even bring up kobe bryant (who, let's acknowledge it well, never faced trial for lack of evidence).

the drug problem still exists in sports, but it is a very different type from the tootsky in the mets clubhouse. i hate to agree with president bush about anything at all, but there is a huge, and growing problem (no pun intended) with performance enhancing drugs.

as a seven-time mvp, barry bonds will get into the hall of fame without a doubt. but i, for one, have many doubts about whether he deserves to be hailed as the home run king. will he pass babe ruth and hank aaron on the all-time home run list? probably. but the bambino was never under the influence of anything stronger than ballpark hot dogs and bathtub gin. hammerin' hank walked on water.

bonds denies it again and again, but there is plenty of reason to suspect him of steroid use. i know as well as anyone that a man puts on weight as he ages. but unlike most men, bonds went from a lithe 185 pounds to a rock-hard 235 pounds in his major league career. he has been called to testify in a federal investigation of balco labs, a bay area maker of performance enhancing concoctions. before joining the giants in 1993, he never hit more than 34 home runs. since then, he's averaged just under 44, including a 73-dinger outburst in 2001.

football legend lyle alzado died of a brain tumor that he swore was related to his steroid use. yankee slugger jason giambi was diagnosed with a tumor on his pituitary gland this season, after shedding 30 pounds in the off-season while the balco investigation was underway. a doctor friend of mine says you don't need to be an endocrinologist to make a prima facie diagnosis.

the dangers of steroids are obvious. the dangers of cocaine no less so. but the penalties for the two are so widely disparate as to be laughable. reams have been written about major league baseball's pathetic steroid testing policy.

daryl strawberry was a cokehead, and he will never get into the hall of fame. true, his career numbers would have made it iffy, at best. but those who obviously have abused 'roids do not bear the same stigma. in fact, i suspect the way is being paved for at least one already.

Monday, November 29, 2004

media blips

the washington post is aghast at the investigation into who has been leaking delicate information to reporters. in a front-page analysis piece in today's issue, by charles lane, the post frets over the possibility of jail terms for reporters who refuse to divulge their sources.

i am all about a free press. before i became a lawyer, i was a journalist for many years, an emmy award-winner trained at columbia university's graduate school of journalism, the best in the world. i have studied and taught censorship law, always with the guide provided by the words of james madison: "knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." i, however, do not believe in a press unfettered by responsibility and accountability.

the current free press flame-up is based first and foremost on the outing of valerie plame, a covert c.i.a. operative. in case you haven't been paying attention, her identity was leaked to reptilian rightwing pundit robert novak, who promptly made said information public. the purpose was to punish her husband, former ambassador joseph wilson, for calling attention to the bush administration's lies about iraq's alleged purchase of nigerian uranium. wilson was in perfect position to debunk bush's claims, because he had been sent to niger to investigate the allegations by the bush administration. so he had to be discredited, and the only way to do so was by outing his wife as a spook.

this is a violation of a federal national security law that prohibits this very sort of thing, and makes it punishable by up to 10 years in prison. novak is a republican hack with the scruples of a rutting boar, but none of the personality. he happily took part in a felony, and so far hasn't had to answer for it.

strangely enough-- and here i agree with the post-- patrick fitzgerald, the u.s. attorney in chicago who was called in to investigate, has not publicly addressed whether novak is being investigated. those whom he has gone after, matthew cooper of time magazine and judith miller of the new york times, are far less culpable than novak, especially since novak clearly knows who the original leaker was. cooper and miller face 18 months each for contempt for refusing to identify their sources before a grand jury. neither fitzgerald nor novak will discuss whether novak was subpoenaed to appear. could it be that he worked a deal with his source, guaranteeing his freedom from prosecution? and who would have the power to make such a deal?

the ultimate irony of this is that novak publicly chastised dan rather for refusing to identify his source on the bush national guard story. this bit of slime earned novak a "douchebag of the week" award from "the daily show." couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

the reporters' attorneys, and attorneys for other media outlets, are calling for creation of a reporters' shield law. such a law would protect reporters who refuse to finger their sources. this is typically a good thing, where insiders inform on illegal and/or immoral goings on in government and business, and only through their disclosures can the truth come out. if a reporter can be compelled to identify such a source, the loser in the grand scheme is the public that doesn't get that information.

this, however, is not one of those cases. this is the deliberate, malicious exposure of a covert operative, with full knowledge of its potentially deadly consequences to mrs. plame's contacts, for strictly political purpose. there is no honor in hiding behind the first amendment to be a political hatchet man.

the agument is somewhat moot, because there is no federal shield law. the supreme court in 1972 decided in branzburg v. hayes that the press is not insulated from answering grand jury questions, reasoning that the press is not granted greater latitude than the general public in cooperating with investigation into criminal acts.

first amendment stalwart floyd abrams is among those pursuing a court decision that creates such a privilege. (disclosure: abrams was a professor at columbia j-school, and co-taught the first amendment law class. i had no personal interactions with him.) he argues that the patient-doctor privilege has been expanded to include social workers, so there is a parallel to be drawn to shield laws, which have expanded from 17 states in 1972, to today's 49 states and the district of columbia.

i, for one, am against it. rights come with responsibilities. when you publish, you do so under the same laws that cover the rest of us. you have no greater rights, no lesser rights. granted, there may be times when the public's need to know justifies the breaking of a law. i'm all for that, and i'll fight like a tiger for the reporter who's called out for it. but this ain't that, and i'm sure floyd abrams and the 23 media outlets that signed onto an amicus curiae brief know the difference.

what i fear is a bush v. gore-esque supreme court decision that draws some kind of irrational, byzantine factual distinction so that it only applies to this case. that way, the bush insider who outed valerie plame gets away with it, and cases where there are legitimate reasons to protect sources have no protection at all. the power of precedent means nothing to federalist society types like rehnquist, scalia, and thomas, so it's entirely possible.

if it happens, remember you got the scoop here.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

they stand on guard for thee

hockey, phil hartman, labatt's, rush, alanis morrissette.... canada has already done so much for the world that anything more is just an embarrassment of generosity. gino vanelli notwithstanding....

what the great white north is doing now is a wondrous gift in a time of giving. there is a movement afoot to exclude president bush from that fine land, barred in perpetuity as a war criminal.

according to the tyee (www.thetyee.ca), a british columbia-based online news magazine named after a tough and savvy salmon, a group of canadian lawyers is seeking to enforce a provision of canadian law that could stop bush in his tracks at the border. the immigration and refugee protection act can prohibit entry into canada of a person alleged to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, gross violations of human rights, aggression against another state. "it reads like (bush's) resume," laughs gail davidson, a vancouver attorney and co-chair of lawyers against the war.

while sitting heads of state and high-level diplomats are generally immune from prosecution, canada as a sovereign nation has every right to determine who gets to come inside for a visit. the refusal to admit war criminals is not frivolous. but when the accused is the 800 lb. gorilla just across your border, there's good reason to think twice before acting rashly.

which is why the canadian government is in a tight spot. prime minister paul martin and minister of justice irwin cotler have expressed their commitment to taking war criminals and human rights abusers to task. graduate students at the unversity of british columbia have already determined that there is enough evidence to indict secretary of defense donald rumsfeld under canada's crimes against humanity and war crimes act.

based only on published reports, including the report on abuse of detainees at abu graibh prison in iraq written by general antonio taguba, the students found adequate grounds to arrest and prosecute rumsfeld for his actions and inactions concerning the abuses. this view is shared by many canadian lawyers, including former u.n. high commission for human rights and war crimes prosecutor louise arbour, who has called for official investigation into violations of the geneva conventions in fallujah.

but prosecution cannot come until bush, rumsfeld or any other miscreants in the administration leave office. so they have four years to stock up on cheap curling gear and poutine.

canadians have, however, opened their hearts and homes to those of us who aren't quite so... homicidal. if you want to flee the 43rd reich and make your way across the border to the north, you may find yourself a comforting place once you get there. check out www.marryanamerican.ca.

the site was created by the good folks at this magazine (thismagazine.ca). it was intended to be a clever satire leading up to the election, an exercise in puckish canadian wit about the cranky goings on in the lower 48. apparently, they thought kerry was going to win. when he did not, they were deluged with visitors from both sides of the border. of the 750,000 visitors to the site, the vast majority logged on after november 2.

there are pictures and profiles of canadians who are interested in meeting, and maybe saving, progessive americans. the pithy politeness canadians are known for is present, as is the quirky humor. (think "kids in the hall," turned down a few clicks and with fewer gay jokes.) it's a good read, and easy to get lost in for a while.

sadly, it's not actually a dating service. they may expand to such a thing if they ever get any money, but the fact is, they're just a bunch of volunteers. it appears that when you don't have to worry about healthcare, or violent crime, or federal spooks chasing you, or religious zealots asking god to smite you, you have time to offer to such pursuits.

it seems if americans are going to be saved from their government, they'll just have to do it the old-fashioned way-- fake their own deaths and live comfortably in central america on the insurance proceeds.

como se dice, "back bacon"?

Friday, November 26, 2004

crime and punishment

is it just a coincidence, or are the republicans in congress doing everything they can to insulate bad actors from their crimes? the first step was slackening the ethics rules that would prevent sen. tom delay from keeping his leadership position in the event that he faces prosecution for a laundry list of campaign finance laws in texas. as house minority leader nancy pelosi (d-ca) points out, the first post-election act of the republican majority in the house was to lower ethical accountability.

but what is in the works now is a far greater lapse in republican standards, the widely proclaimed values of a party that professes love of the rule of law and personal accountability. continuing a long-running move to undermine the international criminal court, the gop took money away from where its mouth is. tucked into the $338 billion government spending bill is a provision that restricts international aid to countries that do not give u.s. war criminals a "get out of jail free" card.

the international criminal court was created in 1998 as a permanent body to investigate and prosecute war crimes and their perpetrators. the body would effectively remove the taint of winner's justice from war crimes tribunals. from the nuremburg trials following ww2 to the milosevic trial following the slaughter in bosnia-herzegovina, those put in the dock have claimed that they are victims of vindictive prevailing armies. with a permanent mandate from the international community, the i.c.c. would hold those accountable for crimes against the peace and humanity without regard to their status in the win/loss column.

but the bush administration has never been held in high regard for its respect for an unrigged game. though president clinton approved the treaty in 2000, president bush reneged, "unsigning" it in 2001. the sticking point was whether u.s. nationals should be subjected to the court's jurisdiction. the bush administration further upped the ante, signing into law the american servicemembers' protection act, which authorizes the president to use all force necessary to free american personnel held to answer to the court; in essence, it's a license to invade the hague. the a.s.p.a. also prohibits cooperation with the court and participation in peacekeeping missions unless u.s. forces get a pass on the i.c.c.'s authority.

the new measure goes further, banning aid to countries that fail to sign outside agreements not to submit americans to the i.c.c. only those countries that succumb to u.s. pressure and/or are national security allies can receive a piece of the $2.5 billion international assistance fund. according to human rights watch (hrw.org), of the 139 countries that signed the treaty, 96 have agreed to the u.s. waiver.

the state department has naturally voiced its opposition. the economic strong-arm interferes with diplomacy, causing countries to hold back in helping fight international terrorism and drug trafficking. according to the washington post, state department lawyers are going over the bill to find out just what it means to diplomatic spending.

with credible reports of the massacre of unarmed civilians in fallujah, the torture and abuse of detainess in abu graibh, guantanamo and less well known prisons in u.s. occupied iraq and afghanistan, it's little wonder that bush and his henchmen in congress want insulation from the ugly, and sometimes criminal, business of war. even a war for freedom and democracy, if you buy that rationale.

credibility is a fragile thing. it's very difficult to instill respect for your position when you rage about the human rights abuses and war crimes of saddam hussein even as you are abusing humans and committing war crimes. it is far more difficult when you are twisting arms to prevent your ever having to answer for your actions. it is hardly relevant whether the method is holding frightened people at the end of a gun or holding the pursestrings before poor people; coercion is coercion.

president bush has already declared himself above the law against torture and excused from the geneva conventions. he refuses to submit to the international community in criminal investigation of the acts of u.s. servicemen and -women. now he seeks to bribe developing countries to ratify this arrogance.

fortunately for the president, there is no international law addressing his presumed right to be a bully. not that he would let that stop him.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

on thanks and giving

"i'm thankful that i live in a place where i can say the things i do without being taken out and shot." --jello biafra, dead kennedys "stars and stripes of corruption"

i just spent thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle, my cousins and my grandfather. it was a small gathering, nothing like the huge family dinners of my youth, where there would be two enormous turkeys and maybe a ham, gargantuan piles of all manner of side dishes, and dozens of family members orbiting around the table. my grandmother would be rubbing her hands, muttering in spanish about how much they hurt, because she had spent several hours the night before, chopping celery, apples, onions and lord knows what else to make the best stuffing i've ever tasted. my mom would be fretting about the pumpkin pies, more than a dozen of them so that everybody would have one to take home at the end of the night.

this was not like that. my grandmother is in a convalescent home, my parents working in las vegas, my other aunts and uncles too far away, too busy to come, my brothers and other cousins cast across the country. but there i was with a precious little bit of my family, a tiny knot of tension in my gut.

you see, there was a missing member of my aunt and uncle's brood. a figurative empty chair at the table. my cousin erich is in iraq, deployed with the 1st battalion, 503rd infantry, ghost recon platoon. i'm told they've commandeered a palace near ramadi. he rooms with a squad of 16 guys, including nco's and commanding officers. they have a website about their experience, much of it discussing how much they hate the sand.

the tension is mostly political, and i'm the oddball of the group. my aunt and uncle are quite conservative. we don't discuss politics. i love and respect them too much to pummel them with my ideas. they're too set in their ways to hear it, and the fact is, one of theirs-- one of ours-- is on the front line. this is not the time or place for prosaic discussion of u.s. foreign policy.

there is no room in my mind right now for platitudes thanking the men and women in uniform who serve to protect our country and its ideals. i'm thankful that erich is still alive, unhurt in a very dangerous place. but his presence in the desert, and the sacrifice of the 1200+ who've died there, is doing nothing for freedom or democracy. like most wars, this one's about profit and empire.

were they patriot volunteers, moved by love of country and western ideals? probably a lot of them are, and maybe some of them were but no longer are. many of them were also working class kids from economically depressed homes, looking for a leg up, a job, a way to afford colleges that would otherwise be beyond their financial reach. i myself tried to join the coast guard reserve-- following my cousin mike into the fifth branch of the service-- as a way to pay for college, but was denied because of blindness in one eye and a pair of damaged knees.

there is no shortage of words on how the economic prosperity in post-ww2 america was fueled by the g.i. bill, creating a middle class unequaled in world history. the labor activist within me compels me to point out that the influence of unions was also at its zenith at the time, and union workers in the war effort had won siginificant victories like health coverage and pension benefits.

these days, however, we have a very different story. the bush white house has cut veterans' benefits, v.a. hospital budgets, and benefits for military families. those soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who return whole from iraq will not return to a country that's on the verge of an economic boom. they will come to a country that's exporting jobs, closing mills and factories, and building walmarts. the federal treasury is gutted, with tax cuts for the super wealthy and deficit spending unheard of just five years ago. homelessness and hunger are increasing, and many working families are one paycheck away from one or both.

the holidays are a season of melancholy for a lot of people, and i guess i'm one of them. there is something inherently sad about becoming an adult, thinking adult thoughts, which rarely give rise to happiness. i have no kids of my own, but the joy my friends who have children express at the adventure they experience daily is tempered by the fear, rarely expressed in words, of the known and unknown dangers their offspring face.

i hope to never know the sadness and fear my aunt and uncle surely feel tonight. they know the fear, can watch it on the tv daily. their youngest son is in harm's way on the other side of the globe. they anticipate his occasional phonecall or e-mail, and dread the knock on the door. my aunt told me about an internet hoax where somebody sends an e-mail claiming to be from the defense department, advising the recipient of the death of their husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother. she asks whether i believe anybody could be so cruel. i do.

if i can give them, and all families with an empty seat at their table, something this holiday season, it's my promise to help bring this war to an end, to bring their loved ones home. as long as i have the right to challenge my government's actions, i must. and i will.

freedom and democracy, profit and empire, whatever the goal, war kills people and scars families. the difference between my politics and theirs is of no moment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

welcome to the new normal

"nobody seems to know exactly what happened next, except that rather was beaten like an egg-sucking dog for not knowing the frequency."

hunter s. thompson wrote that nearly 20 years ago. it was a grim little dispatch on the strange goings on in october of 1986. not least among them was dan rather's vicious beating at the hands of a couple of goons in new york city who demanded of him to know what, precisely, the frequency was. it's well known that they were calling him "kenneth" for reasons that need not be made clear; the type of guy that doles out savage beatings on the street is not your typical nightly news viewer. i know these things. i used to work in tv.

the beating rather has taken over the past few months will probably leave deeper scars on the newsman's soul. by now you've been bombarded with speculation that rather's announced departure from the cbs evening news is the final turn of the screw from his "60 minutes" story on president bush's highly questionable, obviously favorable treatment in the texas air national guard. the story was based on documents that could not be verified (which is very different from saying they were falsified), and the right wing howled for rather's head the moment the story hit the airwaves.

i am among those who are very suspicious about karl rove's role in this debacle. it seems to have the earmarks of a black-bag job. think about it. a professed enemy of george bush's ends up with documents that show the president avoided a trip to vietnam by jumping well ahead in line to get a cushy gig in the air national guard, which was doing yeoman work defending the skies over the lone star state from the vietcong luftwaffe. those documents make their way to dan rather, who has a noted history of dust-ups with the bush family. the story goes on the air. the documents are tooth-combed in a fashion that one would hope could be attached to the search for osama, and suspicion is cast on them. the story then becomes not whether the substance contained in them was true-- that w got preferential treatment because his dad was a congressman, a position that has not been discredited-- but instead, whether the media in general, and dan rather in particular, are biased against the president.

from what we've learned about karl rove, his history of dirty tricks that leave no fingerprints but somehow do megaton damage, doesn't it seem to fit surprisingly well? the damage here pulled the teeth out of the well-founded argument that the president is a prep school cheerleader who never earned a damn thing in his life, while simultaneously the swift boat liars were offending the honor of john kerry and anyone else who risked his life in the rivers of vietnam.

(disclosure: i once had my own dust-up with dan rather. while a student at columbia journalism school, i drove rather into a snit by agreeing with author mark hertsgaard's characterization of media coverage in the reagan years: on bended knee. "i NEVER served any president on bended knee," rather spat through clenched teeth.)

looking back at hunter thompson's column from october 13, 1986, there are some curious coincidences to recent headlines. he speaks of yassir arafat long before president clinton helped broker a peace deal between the p.l.o. and israel, and in ways that ought not be addressed to the dead. there's a bit about the capture of eugene hasenfus, the pilot whose plane was shot down while running guns and money to prop up the contras' puppet army in their illegal, terrorist war against the sandinista government in nicaragua. compare and contrast to the current situation, where we're running an illegal, terrorist war in iraq, while the insurgents attack the puppet government we've propped up.

the good doctor wrote some fantastic stuff in the mid '80s. he had long passed his journalistic prime, but hunter thompson wielded, and still occasionally wields, a mighty skewer for the pompous, evil and hypocritical in the halls of power. his book generation of swine collects his columns from the san francisco examiner, where he looked through whiskey-colored glasses at the iran-contra scandal, the 1988 presidential race, the televangelist sex scandals and a rainbow variety of the bizarre and treacherous in the reagan/bush era.

that mean-spirited saga seems like "the wonder years" looking back from these troubled times. we've got far bigger problems than jimmy swaggart's wayward willy. the bush/dukakis battle? a girl scout camp hair puller compared to not one but two suspect presidential elections.

(by the way, did anyone notice that the u.s. rejected the ukrainian election results as unreliable? colin powell said the results could not be accepted because "there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse." apparently, the secretary of state is leaving the administration because he is suffering from irony deficiency. he needs to take an irony supplement.)

the real nutcracker is the iran-contra affair vis-a-vis the iraq war. as bad as iran-contra was, what with the violation of the constitution by the reagan white house, the arms deals with a sworn enemy of the united states, and the illegal, violent interference of the internal politics of a sovereign nation, what's happening in iraq is orders of magnitude worse. take everything in the preceding list, crank it up to 11, and break off the knob.

the new normal is the absense of any real outrage in the mainstream press. you could sift through the s.f. examiner or any other major metropolitan daily newspaper the livelong day, and never find anything near as incisive and visceral as what thompson wrote about the reagan/bush people two decades ago. and, let's face it, reagan's lackeys were like the j.v. corruption team, deep in the shadow of w's varsity squad. and at least they had the good sense and decency to resign when their high and low crimes were exposed. but then, they were being eyeballed by a democratic congress that seemed to care about such esoterica as accountability and integrity in office. the arrogance that trickles down today from the oval office prevents the current roster of malfeasors from admitting their wrongs, while a compliant republican congress insulates them from responsibility.

and don't expect the mainstream media to step into the breach to take up the watchdog role. you will see dan rather selling herbal viagra on late night infomercials before you find someone willing to take a hard, hard look at the white house. karl rove still runs free in those halls, and he's already tasted anchorman blood.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

guantanamo on the hudson

the city of new york ought to get its checkbook handy. the fallout of the republican national convention is coming down, and it's going to get expensive.

about 1800 demonstrators were arrested during the rnc this past summer, many of whom were random passersby, uninvolved observers, and the proverbial innocent bystanders. the nypd engaged in some pretty dicey conduct, like corralling and arresting whole sidewalks full of people, locking them up in a detention facility that used to be a garage for bus repair, and keeping them in custody long after their 24-hour arraignment period had passed.

the national lawyers guild and the center for constitutional rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of 24 detainees, many of whom claim they continue to suffer ill health effects from their detention. the most common complaints are of skin disorders and respiratory problems, which the suit claims were caused by exposure to petrochemicals and asbestos in the holding pen on pier 57. worth noting is that most detainees, some of whom were held in excess of 48 hours, were arrested on very minor charges, most of which were dropped.

jonathan moore, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the new york times it was like "little guantánamo on the hudson. all that was missing were the orange jumpsuits."

this is the latest in a series of police overreactions to mass demonstrations. the national lawyers guild, of which i am a proud member, has been at all of the major demonstrations of the past several years, including the w.t.o. in seattle '99, the philadelphia r.n.c. and los angeles d.n.c. in '00, the i.m.f. meeting in washington d.c. in '00, the f.t.a.a. meeting in miami '03, and the d.n.c. in boston and the new york r.n.c. in '04. in these and many smaller but equally significant demonstrations, in locations ranging from portland, oregon, to oakland, california, to sea island, georgia, the police reaction is almost perfectly uniform.

pre-event fearmongering (the anarchists are coming!). overwhelming, heavily armed response. pre-emptive and unlawful arrest of event organizers. mass, indiscriminate arrests of demonstrators. unprovoked threat or use of less-lethal weapons.

a word on these less-lethal weapons. i was shot by an lapd officer with a rubber slug at the democratic convention in 2000. it hurt like hell. i had a bruise that lasted for several weeks, and pain that lasted longer. i was shot while complying with a police order to vacate an area where they had improperly declared an unlawful assembly. i was non-violent, non-confrontational, and was in fact, walking away with my hands held high over my head. the indiscriminate use of these weapons, which can in fact kill (witness the college student in boston who died as a result of being hit in the eye with one while celebrating a red sox victory), clearly violates the civil rights of those who are hit or threatened with them.

and the end result of these police assaults is almost always the same: wildly expensive lawsuits. the cities that host these events end up paying through the nose for the misconduct of their police. the individual police officers and their superiors are almost never held responsible. but the taxpayer has to pony up the dough for the criminal acts of people in uniform. at a time when states, counties and municipalities are struggling to deal with budget shortfalls, this is irresponsible in the extreme.

i don't know whether this could rightly be called a conspiracy, but it should be noted that the police agencies involved in these events have been coordinating efforts, sending research teams to sites of other demonstrations and sharing intelligence. (much of this "intelligence" amounts to such grand pronouncements as "anyone wearing black is an anarchist." damn you, donna karan!)

what is not learned from these exercises in oppression is that the cost is never justified by the result. the millions of dollars these police agencies cost the taxpayer likely produce nothing more than the occasional failure to disperse, criminal mischief, or vandalism conviction. sometimes they result in no convictions at all. but with the millions of dollars available for homeland security, police are only too happy to gear up for the onslaught, even when it is competely unnecessary.

especially disheartening is the fact that there is another way to do it. many of the police in new york i spoke to were more than a little irritated that they were required to put in so many hours, with such a massive show of firepower, when there was little need for it. san francisco police, for whom demonstrations are a regular event, responded to an anti-war march of about 200,000 people in early 2003 with just a few hundred officers, none of whom was in riot gear and whose only apparent duty was to make sure nobody got run over at an intersection. from experience i can tell you that the same sort of demonstration in l.a. would have been met with phalanxes of cops, armed to the teeth in full darth vader regalia.

but will the cities and counties that have to pay for the excesses of their police force them to exercise more restraint? there's room for hope. in settling a claim by demonstrators who were shot, unprovoked, by oakland p.d. officers with wooden projectiles and other less-lethal weapons, the oakland city council adopted a comprehensive policy on crowd control and use of force that seeks to ensure demonstrators' safety and respect of their rights by police. so it can be done.

in the meantime, should you decide to express your outrage in the streets, be careful. and remember to duck.


(for more info on this topic, check out www.nlg.org, or read the assault on free speech, public assembly and dissent, by n.l.g. executive director heidi boghosian, available at www.northriverpress.com.)

Monday, November 22, 2004

god help us...

it seems like the wall that separates church and state is crumbling. religion is infecting the law, and the courts don't seem to mind very much.

supreme court justice antonin scalia, a right wing zealot, told a jewish congregation in new york that the separation of church and state has no business in our government. according to new york newsday, scalia said that a religion-neutral stance betrays the religious foundation of our nation. he says that the invocation of the judeo-christian god-- who goes by the name "allah" in a third of the world-- in our currency, the pledge of allegiance, chaplains in the military and legislature, in addition to tax exemption for religious organizations demonstrate the religious nature of our society.

this should come as no surprise to supreme court watchers. scalia has never, to my knowledge, expressed an opinion that didn't march lockstep with christian soldiers. scalia, who fancies himself a strict constructionist (i.e., the constitution says what it means and means what it says, and anything else is judicial activism), apparently doesn't notice that the first amendment states "congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." as applied to the states, via the 14th amendment, that means that government has no authority to tell people whether, when, or to what or whom they must worship.

for scalia to suggest and espouse that the judeo-christian ethic is an endemic and immutable characteristic of american culture is not only arrogant in the extreme, it's also wrong. recall that the pilgrims who came to this land did so to escape religious persecution. granted, they were a rather strict christian sect on the outs because of their extremist beliefs, but their experience colored the religious ethos that followed, and was codified in the bill of rights. namely, one should not be forced to comport his or her religious pursuits to some state-imposed orthodoxy.

what we've seen lately, with the crisis over the pledge of allegiance and the ten commandments cases, the mandated funding of religous schools via publicly funded vouchers and the office of faith-based initiatives (which almost exclusively funds christian programs), is the creeping imposition of fundamentalist christianity on the rest of us. when the proponents of godliness speak about the judeo-christian heritage, you can be pretty sure they're placing the emphasis on the latter part of the adjective. scalia's couching of his desire to promote his form of religiosity in "judeo-christian" terms, as opposed to simply christian, is of no practical difference to muslims, hindus, buddhists, atheists and others who don't subscribe to scalia's favored branch of god, inc.

scalia likes to point out that the phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the constitution. that's true. but the obvious division built into the first amendment couldn't be clearer. this exercise in sophistry is nothing new to scalia, who makes parsing words an artform. in this he's like the student who dissects a frog; after pulling it to pieces, you see what a frog is made of, but the frog is dead.

while scalia seeks to thrust god into government from the top down, rev. jerry falwell seeks to do the same from the ground up. falwell's liberty university in virginia has opened a law school with the explicit purpose of indoctrinating "ministers of justice." adam liptak writes in the new york times that the liberty u. law program was intended to stem the tide of left-leaning legal theory.

liptak quotes bruce w. green, liberty's dean: "The prevailing orthodoxy at the elite law schools is an extreme rationalism that draws a strong distinction between faith and reason,"

well, yeah. that's what the law is supposed to do. reason is the measured application of facts to doctrine. faith is the trumping of facts by doctrine. when i go to the law, i want there to be something more than an unquestioning conviction, based on nothing more than the say-so of self-anointed theocrats, to be applied to my case. and what, precisely, is wrong with rationalism?

falwell brags that his goal is to place liberty law grads into judgeships, where "they'll be presiding under the Bible." i know enough about the courts to know that we have enough judges who let their personal beliefs interfere with the neutral application of the law (are your ears burning, justice scalia?). do we really want scalia wannabes injecting their own particular spin on god into the works, from the lowliest traffic court to the highest courts in the land?

and let's not forget that rev. falwell joined rev. pat robertson in blaming the horrible events of 9/11 on abortionists, homosexuals, and the a.c.l.u. this should help disabuse red-staters of the misguided notion that islam has cornered the market on fundamentalist crackpots.

this is not to say that positive things can't be gleaned from the liberty law curriculum. several passages in the liptak article point to positive applications of the law. the students are impressed to act honestly in legal transactions, and to seek to resolve disputes without litigation. these are good things, but they are also taught in the elite law schools that liberty is supposed to remedy.

i'm all for faith. if you want to put your eggs into the cosmic basket of a benevolent, heavenly grandfather who will condemn you to hell for all eternity if you don't say the right magic words, knock yourself out. i, frankly, find that to be a bit silly. but i could be wrong. so why don't we just agree that you don't force your theism on me, and i won't force my atheism on you.

in a nutshell, isn't that what the first amendment means?


Saturday, November 20, 2004

a tale of two parties

the democrats are finally coming to grips with the defeat they (we) suffered a few weeks ago. the way they're handling it, at least publicly, is a powerful symptom of the disease that has led to steady losses for the dems in the past decade.

the problem is, there are two polar opposite and mutually exclusive approaches to the second bush term. one is the quest for bipartisanship and common ground, the other is a heels-dug-in fight for the soul of america. each has its appeal, and its drawbacks. each is valid, in its way. each has pitfalls for the party and the country. each is a recipe for success or disaster.

each was brought to light yesterday, in the public announcements of sen. tom daschle, outgoing senate minority leader, and sen. john kerry, defeated democratic presidential nominee. the fact that each of these men-- beaten in similarly fractious, mean spirited, low-road campaigns-- reacted so differently shows that there are many ways to accept defeat.

daschle lost his seat in iowa to republican challenger john thune under a hailstorm of republican attack. but in his farewell address to the senate-- which was attended by almost all of his democratic colleagues, but just a handful of republicans-- he called for cooperation and unity, much like that the upper house of congress exercised in the days after 9/11. (it is worth noting that this cooperation produced such ignoble results as the Patriot Act and the $15 billion giveaway to the airline industry, which continued to lay off workers.) observers noted that daschle spoke without bitterness or chagrin, refraining from acrimony that might have been well justified in light of the beating his reputation took in the election.

republican majority leader bill frist of tennessee praised daschle as a man of "true grace" and "integrity." quite a compliment coming from a man who, in campaigning for thune, suggested that the u.s. was in grave peril because of daschle's leadership of the democratic senators. i guess it's just politics....

daschle is not alone in his call for cooperation. former v.p. candidate joe lieberman (d-ct), new senate minority leader harry reid (d-nv) and senate judiciary committee member patrick leahy (d-vt) have all expressed optimism in working with the bush administration for the next four years. they say the future of the country rests in the ability of the branches of government to move beyond party politics and leave the differences of the past behind.

but don't count kerry in that camp. in a video email to his supporters yesterday, kerry called for a fight againt the high-speed rightward drift the bush people are working for. after thanking his supporters for their work in getting out the vote and challenging the media attacks of fox, sinclair and right-wing talk radio, kerry went after the bush administration's moves to weed out voices of reserve and reflection in favor of yes-men and -women who seek with singular focus to push forward the president's ultra-conservative agenda.

"we will continue to challenge this administration," he said. "this is not a time for democrats to retreat and accommodate extremists on critical principles. it is a time to stand firm." he then went on to announce his proposal to insure all of the nation's 8+ million uninsured children in the next congressional session, making good on his campaign promise to help untangle the gordian knot of the ongoing healthcare crisis. (you can sign the petition he wishes to present with his proposal by logging onto www.johnkerry.com/everychild).

these are strong words. too little, too late, many will say, and they wouldn't be far from the truth. but they needed to be said, now as much as then. maybe moreso.

of course, kerry has already come under attack for this call to political arms. it's a buzzkill following the mutual admiration society tea that was the clinton library dedication. it harshed the mellow of the warm fuzzies that accompanied the daschle speech. it undercuts the graceful exit kerry orchestrated in his concession speech.

and so what? since kerry's concession, bush has kicked anyone who wasn't prepared to carry his hardline conservative agenda off the team. the bleatings of appeasers in the democratic party do no one any favors while the bush people scheme to continue their errant ways and, in fact, make them even more extreme. cooperation in the pursuit of injustice is no virtue, to paraphrase barry goldwater.

this is the john kerry i had admired long before he threw his hat into the presidential ring. in the '80s, when he sat on the committee investigating the iran-contra scandal, he stood firm in his demands for information from the reagan/bush team that ran roughshod over the constitution in their zealous and illegal support for the contras' terrorist war in nicaragua. when committee chair daniel inouye (d-hi) sought to move on or take matters into chambers rather than discuss them under the bright lights of public scrutiny, john kerry demonstrated for all to see that he was not going to go along with a whitewash of serious crimes against the constitution.

if ever i saw a politician act on principle rather than expedience, that was it. i said, way back then, that this was a man with presidential mettle. of course, his presidential campaign displayed little of that commitment and vigor. the fullness of history may very well hold that john kerry lost in 2004 because he failed to give the public something to vote for, but chose instead to persuade them to vote against george w. bush. but that is not to say the he lacks the qualities that i saw in the iran-contra hearings; only that he didn't present them when the chips were down.

this is not to indict kerry so much as the democratic mindset that has prevailed since the midterm election in 1994 and earlier. the democrats have tried to be republican-lite. "we can do everything they want to do, just not as much." as my old pal ringo hallinan says, if you want a republican, do you choose the one that's made of plastic, or the one that's made of wood? in going after centrist voters, democrats have neglected to stand on the principles that made them the dominant party for half a century and have lost ground in the process. the race for the middle apparently benefits the republicans far more than democrats.

in daschle's parting shot, i see more of the same. the loyal opposition in this instance is really no opposition at all. we're not talking about a well meaning, beneficent administration that differs only in degree from the opposition. we're talking about extremists who are raiding the treasury, expanding the deficit beyond all reason, starting illegitimate and foolhardy wars, and making the poor pay for it all. if the democrats cannot or will not stand up against such things, why do they even exist?

it's entirely possible that kerry's message yesterday was the first step in a run for 2008, and that's not altogether bad. now that he has a truly national appeal (51% ain't a mandate, folks, and a lot of those red states went for bush only on very tight margins), he may be able to hit his stride earlier. if he can keep up the base that brought him just shy of the presidency, engage more potential voters, and provide a real alternative to bush and his ilk, maybe those middle grounders will come to him, rather than the other way around.

cooperation is one thing. capitulation is another. john kerry seems to know the difference. here's to hoping that his democratic collegaues in congress do, too.

Friday, November 19, 2004

the lame duck who cried wolf

lame-duck secretary of state colin powell scared the bejesus out of everyone wednesday, when he said iran is working hard on its nuclear weapons program.

this seems like an odd pronouncement from someone who not only is a short-timer of the highest order, but also was lauded for his reserve and sensibility as the nation's top diplomat. what is more unusual is the speed and vigor with which the bush administration responded to distance itself from powell's comments. could it be that powell has gone maverick in his final days at the helm?

it certainly appears so, at least to some extent. while national security and intelligence insiders quickly stated that the information had not been vetted and thus should not be considered reliable, one calling the evidence "weak," state department officials backed powell's claims. powell himself said this is old information that "shouldn't surprise anybody."

the timing of powell's disclosure is somewhat surprising. particularly to the german, french, and british diplomats who recently reached an agreement with iran to curtail its uranium enrichment program in exchange for trade incentives. the multilateral approach that the bush administration rejected in dealing with iraq seems to have panned out pretty well in tehran, though powell's outburst seems to be something of a monkeywrench in the works. to calm the nerves of its european allies, the bush administration announced yesterday that powell had "misspoke." meanwhile, the new york times reports that many in the administration are at least implicitly pursuing a policy of regime change in iran.

the controversy is based on unauthenticated documents supplied to the u.s. by a "walk-in" source, believed to be affiliated with an exile group, the national council for resistance in iran, that is known to have provided inaccurate information in the past (shades of chalabi's iraqi national congress?). the group is also designated as a terrorist organization by the state department.

according to anonymous sources in the intelligence community, the documents describe an effort by iran to modify its conventional weapons missiles, which are said to have the capacity to hit israel, to carry a nuclear payload. at least one missile expert, john pike of globalsecurity.org, says that intelligence indicates the iranian military has developed a new nosecone for its shahab-3 medium range ballistic missile. (a distinction to be drawn here is that the european agreement deals with the fissionable material necessary to make bombs, while the developments powell claims to be exposing involve the vehicles to deliver them.)

the great unanswered question is, why would powell go out on a limb with this information now? david kay, the weapons inspector who headed the u.s. investigation in iraq, told the los angeles times that "if there was anyone in the administration who had been sufficiently burned by such sources, it would be powell." remember that powell refused to include the supposed nigerian uranium transaction in his presentation to the u.n. prior to the iraq invasion, calling it "bullshit."

could it be that powell is seeking to pre-emptively derail the new revamped, far more hawkish administration's efforts to march on tehran? if the american people, at least 48% of whom have presumably had enough of pre-emptive war, catch wind of another haphazard excursion, they may call bullshit of their own volition.

other critics of powell's disclosure have been much more pragmatic in their observations. namely, since the global public humiliation of false wmd claims in iraq, this information should not be cast about willy-nilly. citing the obvious embarrassment of the iraq situation, rep. gary ackerman of new york asks, "how do we expect anyone to believe us, even if we know it's true? this is the disaster we've created for ourselves in lying about iraq."

indeed, the problem is one of both perception and experience. the much-hyped "axis of evil" including iraq, iran and north korea has a mottled history on nukes. iraq didn't have any and got invaded. north korea did have them, and got offers of economic assistance to curtail further development. i don't know about you, but that seems like pretty good incentive to build the bomb. it sure seems to have worked out that way for iran so far. pavlov wouldn't have any problem sorting this out. but, as the n.y. times suggests, european negotiations are undermined by american threats, and that destabilizes the situation even further.

the perception problem is especially troublesome in the mideast, where anti-u.s. sentiment is already redlining, and the apparent ratification of bush's policies by the u.s. electorate, as evidenced in the election, has only upped the ante. what are our nominal allies in the region, like syria, jordan, and egypt, supposed to make of a claim that sounds surprisingly similar to the unfounded accusations that rationalized "shock and awe?" let's not forget that the bush administration has already rattled its sabres in the direction of syria for allegedly allowing guerrilla fighters to enter iraq across its borders. even if powell is spot-on correct, it will take quite something to convince them.

many in the international community, and domestically, are calling on the u.s. to hand over whatever information it has about iran's weapons program to the international atomic energy agency, the group that shot down the bush administration's claims of iraq's nuclear pretensions. such transparency would certainly remove the stink of american adventurism from any dispute over the investigation. and it would help legitimize any action taken as a result.

so this is what the bush administration has come to. the restraint quarter has taken to issuing reckless accusations while the guns-a-blazin' contingent pulls back on the reins. how this all plays out in the global arena is a mystery, but congressman ackerman is absolutely right: we are now dealing with the foreseeable aftermath of our lies, misrepresentations and obfuscations in the war with iraq.

and american credibility is nowhere to be found.



Thursday, November 18, 2004

could've been worse....

they dedicated the clinton library in little rock today, an arsenal of correspondence and documents from the 42nd presidential administration. that's pretty cool, i think. it's nice to reminisce about a president who was curious, intellectually engaged and smart. who would've thought that such a thing would elicit almost sepia-toned nostalgia?

this is not to say that bill clinton was all that and a bag of chips, as the popular vernacular of his era went. we're still dealing with the aftermath of nafta, which he pushed through in a way that bush 41 could not. that sucking sound (insert lewinsky joke here) that ross perot famously predicted hasn't even reached full effect, and already the u.s. economy is on the greased rail to a state that economists like to call "really f'ing bad."

clinton also made good on his promise to change welfare as we know it. he did, and there are millions paying for it in ways that the sole superpower should not countenance. the social safety net constructed in fdr's new deal and strengthened in lbj's great society was cut down. we now have a national welfare policy called "sink or swim." if you need help, you can have it, but only for a limited time. if it doesn't work out for you... well, as my high school football coach used to say, too damn bad.

clinton's most spectacular failures were noble, yet ultimately doomed. national healthcare? not a chance in hell that was going to fly. first, he put the missus in charge of it. this may surprise those people quietly muttering "hillary '08" to one another as a palliative following the election, but all of the right and many moderates HATE hillary clinton. she couldn't have carried a bill in favor of motherhood in the hellbroth of ill will the republicans stirred for her. add to that the smear campaign that the insurance industry-- funny how they never go out of business, huh?-- leveled against her and the administration, and here we are with 45+ million americans still without healthcare.

then clinton tried to normalize relations between the military and homosexuals. that's pretty daring. forgetting, for the moment, that gays and lesbians have served in all branches of the military from time immemorial, it was nice of clinton to let them go from the closet to the footlocker. however, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that eventually went into effect has been inadequate, to say the least, to remove second-class (generously) status to gays and lesbians in uniform. it essentially states you can be gay, as long as you never say or do anything about it. that's not entirely true; there's a one free shot rule, wherein you can act out on your prurient feelings, but only once. they call it-- no joke-- the "queen for a day" rule.

so clinton was no lincoln, hamilton, jefferson or kennedy. But he made some good decisions along the way, which is saying something, considering he was hamstrung from the git-go by ethics investigations. it started with travelgate and whitewater-- a failed real estate venture that cost him and hillary $300,000-- and ended with ken starr's nose in his pants and impeachment in the house.

that's what's really horrifying about what's going on today. you can blame the media for virtually ignoring the slew of random felonies flying in all directions from the white house, while the meaning of what "is" is and the hygeinic nature of dna-soiled dresses were debated ad nauseam for months on end. but they're not really the problem.

the sad truth is, as the election showed us, the majority of americans don't care. enron robbing california and pillaging its workers' pensions? torture at abu graibh? wholesale disregard for international law at camp x-ray? homelessness, hunger and poverty on the rise here in the u.s.a.? couldn't care less. "shock and awe," freedom on the march, stuff blowing up at night? can't get enough, so long as we don't have to see civilians being massacred or reflect on whether the whole thing was really necessary. a convenient lie is enough to salve our consciences, and we don't even have to change the channel.

today provides something of a respite from the malaise and ennui that has gripped many of us since kerry's concession speech. a time to remember when we had our guy in office. flawed, yes. not as liberal as we'd like. but ours nonetheless. let's celebrate a moment where we can remember what it was like to have a president whose election we felt reasonably sure was fair.

i should not be surprised, but the republicans are already trying to steal clinton's thunder on this day. they're bragging about the millions of dollars they've already raised for the george w. bush presidential library. they say if they can raise enough money, visitors won't even have to bring their own crayons....

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

we're going to need a bigger boat....

the machinations of the bush administration, version 2.0, are getting pretty scary. voices of reason, responsibility and rationality are getting cast overboard like chum, while the sharks are being brought on board to run the ship of state.

sharper minds than mine have been onto this for a while now. see, for example, robertscheer.com, "the peter principle and the neocon coup." but the sheer arrogance of the actions has me in a near-frenzy. the president and his henchpeople are getting rid of anyone who hasn't been completely on point-- i.e., acting in complete disregard for the facts-- and replacing them with zealots. it's a special kind of fundamentalism, where reasonable minds are not allowed to disagree. in the bush administration, disagreement is disloyalty. but the most fearful aspect is the setting in place of a team that espouses unfettered presidential power, secrecy, and unaccountability.

let's deal first with john ashcroft, who was in fact on board, but stepped down from his post as attorney general. ashcroft appears to be angling for a supreme court slot, if his speech last week is any indication. in case you missed it, ashcroft, a confederacy apologist and christian extremist, told a conference of conservative lawyers that the courts are getting in the way of the administration's goals. his argument is, the courts, which are charged by article 3 of the constitution to determine what exactly the law is and whether it comports with the constitution, thus providing a check on executive and legislative power, ought not be determining whether the president can do as he pleases in the war on terror.

the executive branch has constitutional authority to wage war, with the consent of congress, and to establish and execute foreign policy. but to say that its methods of doing so are beyond the reach of the courts, and presumably the congress, is a dangerous notion. this is the same logic behind the korematsu case, which ratified the internment of american citizens of japanese descent in concentration camps during ww2. korematsu, by the way, has never been overturned. it is a loaded gun aimed at dissidents.

ashcroft's presumed heir is alberto gonzales, who not only wrote the memo providing legal cover for torture and war crimes in afghanistan, iraq and camp x-ray (see related essay, below), but also developed the policy of withholding presidential records in violation of federal law. under our federal sunshine laws, presidential records are to be made public after 12 years following the end of the administration. gonzales's plan requires the approval of both the former president in question and the sitting president before records can be released.

coincidentally enough, this move came eight years after george h. w. bush's adminstration got its eviction notice, and 12 years after reagan. thus, we may never know exactly what the gipper and bush 1 and their people did in the iran-contra scandal. not coincidentally, many of those players are players in the bush 2 administration. among these are: u.n. ambassador john negroponte, who was ambassador to honduras when the contras were using that country as the launching pad for their terrorist war against the sandinista government and trafficking weapons and drugs across its borders; special assistant to the president eliot abrams, who served as assistant secretary of state and plead guilty to withholding information from congress in connection to his role as a major contra fundraiser, but was pardoned by bush 1 in 1992; and john poindexter, who was convicted of lying to congress, though the conviction was overturned on an immunity technicality, and developed bush 2's "total awareness" plan that enlisted civil servants and private employees to inform on the public, creating a vast web of snitches. poindexter also proposed a "terrorism futures market," a kind of gambling pool on when and where acts of terror were likely to happen next. public outrage over this fantastically distasteful idea led to poindexter's ouster.

i've already expressed my displeasure at the gonzales nomination (see below), but i am further troubled by the apparent acquiescence of the democrats to it. sen. patrick leahy (d-vt) has voiced his tacit approval of gonzales, suggesting that the nominee will be easier for democrats to work with as compared to his predecessor. well, good. so instead of speaking in tongues, he'll use the queen's english while burning the bill of rights. this is especially disappointing considering that leahy has been one of the most vocal and well-informed critics of bush's right-wing appointments to the federal bench.

colin powell was invited to leave the state department, to be replaced by the incompetent liar condi rice. the loss of a real player who took statesmanship seriously in exchange for a soviet specialist (the diplomatic equivalent of a buggywhip maker) whose primary qualification is undying devotion to the president's goals-- not to disrespect the ability to land a salchow-- is a monster just aching to bite us on the ass. she has demonstrated time and again her willingness to flout the facts in favor of dogma. i suspect her credibility at the geopolitical table is close to nil. stay tuned to this one; it's got all the earmarks of a comedo-tragic trainwreck.

new c.i.a. director porter goss, who famously said prior to his nomination that he was unqualified to work at the agency, issued a memo to his staff that reportedly said there was no room for disagreement with the president in the intelligence community. in particular, according to the new york times, it said that there was to be no support for opposition to administration policies. this is not exactly a rousing endorsement for devil's advocacy in an agency that's supposed to vet information with an eye toward worst case scenarios. the memo was reportedly circulated after a number of career c.i.a. officials resigned over policy differences with goss and his lackeys. the c.i.a. spokesman naturally called the report false and described the times as "dopey." clever retort.

other minor players are moving around. margaret spellings has been tapped to head up the department of education. her claim to fame is developing the woefully ineffective and punitive "no child left behind act." i suspect tori spelling could have done a better job.

one guy who just won't go away, much to the chagrin of howard stern, is michael powell. the f.c.c. chair who famously cited stern's show, thus incurring the wrath of the wildly popular shock jock and self-proclaimed king of all media, is now going after football. (do nascar dads watch football?) apparently, a pre-game spot on monday night football involved semi-clad, saucy actress nicolette sheridan shedding a towel and leaping into the arms of dreamy philadelphia eagles superstar terrell owens. sheridan, presumably nude sans towel, was shown only from behind and above the waist. powell wonders aloud what walt disney would think (disney owns abc).

well, good question. i think walt would not be pleased. given his support of the hitler regime, i suspect the implied miscegenation (sheridan is white, owens is black) would bother him more than a little. hell, there wasn't even a black mouseketeer until 11 years after his death. i suggest we thaw his head and ask his opinion personally.

i thought powell's apparent dysfunction regarding the female form reached its apex when he went apoplectic over janet jackson's dirty pillow poking out during the superbowl halftime show. that infamous wardrobe malfunction cost cbs $550,000, a fine that the tiffany network is disputing. i wonder what a naked back costs.

maybe, now that ashcroft is pimping himself for the big bench, powell can borrow the $8,000 velvet drape ashcroft used to shroud the bare-chested statue of justice (file under "symbolism, hack") to cover his tv.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

an open letter to sen. harry reid (d-nev)

dear senator reid,
congratulations on your new position as minority leader. it's a good gig, and i'm sure you'll do bang-up work. i do, however, have a couple of concerns i'd like to share with you.
first off, i kind of like the fact that you're a stand-up mormon guy from the tiny hamlet of searchlight, nevada. i've been through searchlight. probably the most thrilling seven minutes of my life. (aside-- can you do something about those speed limits? they seem a little pedestrian, no pun intended.)

however, i'm a little troubled that your faith seems to color so much of your political life. i'm all for faith. my great-grandfather was a baptist minister, so i'm hip to morals and what-have-you. and i'm not one of those folks who thinks of mormons as a wacky polygamous cult. some of my closest friends are mormons, and i'm just fine with that. in fact, all of the really hot girls at my high school were mormons. i don't know why. maybe just a coincidence. but i digress.... what troubles me is that you don't seem to have a problem legislating according to your morals. this is not healthy in a republic, i think.

to wit, your opposition to abortion in most cases. for the record, nobody is actually in favor of abortion, so far as my experience has taught me. what they are in favor of is the right of personal choice, and what they are opposed to is the government telling women that they have to incubators and subservient to their plumbing. whether a woman chooses to bear a child is a matter of the utmost privacy, to be dealt with in consultation with her doctor and her god, if any. and i, and millions of other americans, don't think the state has any business getting involved in that. there are a number of supreme court cases dealing with the fundamental rights of procreation and family choices-- that is to say, the constitution doesn't have to address them, because they are naturally, or divinely if you prefer, inherent in each of us.

our nation was founded by people of faith who chose to create a secular society. i don't know about you, but i think that's a pretty good idea to this day. there aren't a lot of yuks, and little progress of the social and scientific varieties, in theocracies.

furthermore, you've made your reputation as something of a social conservative who's sided frequently with republicans on these matters. i'm more than a bit bothered by your support of the flag burning amendment. i have, in fact, burned a flag. but it was a necessity: i had to replace a worn flag and looked into how one disposes of a used flag. i called the protocol officer at fort ord (now cal state university-monterey bay, much of which is off limits due to contamination by bombs and such) who informed me that the blue field is to be cut from the banner, then ignited with the remainder. but that's not what we're talking about...

what we're talking about is the right to protest against the government (redress of grievances-- see amendment 1 to the u.s. constitution) by doing harm to symbols of government (freedom of speech-- ibid). even justice anthony kennedy, who cast the deciding vote appointing the president, voted in favor of allowing such speech. in deciding texas v. johnson, he said that our constitution protects political speech, even speech we find distasteful, so that it also protects speech that we want to hear. i met justice kennedy once while i was in law school (pre bush v. gore), and was sincerely moved that a conservative would take a stand for speech as abhorrent to the majority of society as burning a flag.

let's not forget that the men and women who "fought and died for that flag," as amendment supporters like to say, did not do so for the piece of cloth, but for the republic for which it stands. and that republican was founded on the notion that the right of the people to hold their government's feet to the fire by any peaceful means is the most important right. i happen to be one of those who believes that the first amendment is first for a reason. so i am of the opinion that banning flag burning does a great disservice to our nation's martyrs and veterans.

something else i'd like to bring to your attention. you are known as a consensus builder. that's fine and good. however, consensus building in the minority frequently means going along to get along. this, we don't need. the president has expressed his desire to build bridges by working with people who agree with his policies. this demonstrates nothing quite so much as the president's lack of understanding of the nuances of bridge building. but then, he doesn't do nuance.

i don't think the near-half of the country who braved voter intimidation, harassment and a panoply of dirty tricks to vote against the current administration are interested in going along with its atavistic designs for the country. we are not interested in further degrading civil rights and civil liberties. we are not interested in unilateralist, short-sighted and dangerous foreign policy. we are not interested in domestic policy that favors the rich over the needy, that rewards corporations that loophole, pillage and pollute their way to prosperity at the expense of the working families who make this country run. we are, in sum, not interested in the bush administration's policies.

resisting this will require some fearless leadership, which the washington post says you have in spades. this heartens me some. you're not expected to filibuster everything into the ground, but i trust you have sense enough to know when giving in further is giving in too much. they own all three branches of government, but you know the saying about loss of a shoe costing a horse, which cost a soldier, which cost a battle, which cost the war. a few defeats here and there may curtail their juggernaut some, and that's your duty now.

what really needs to be done is a full-on assault on the administration's policies. you can't stop them, but you can shine a light on them. sunlight is the best disinfectant, i've heard. when they try to pass a bill called "sunshine and puppy dogs" that in fact puts asbestos back into elementary schools, maybe you should point out the real effect. this is not entirely hyperbolic. "clear skies" decreased regulation on polluters. the "healthy forests" initiative promotes clear-cutting. "leave no child behind" is an unfunded mandate that many schools have withdrawn from because they would spend more on compliance than the government provides to them. orwell couldn't make this up.

so let's sum up: don't let your faith control your agenda, don't let your social mores trump the constitution, and don't let the bastards get away with it.

good luck, senator. you're going to need it.

Monday, November 15, 2004

condi rice, our international face

i'm just starting to wrap my mind around colin powell's resignation-- or as i like to describe my departure from a few jobs, his acceptance of an "invitation to leave"-- and it's not altogether a good image.

powell has long had the reputation as a company man. the guy who was always ready to do what's best for the team. the guy who followed orders and got things done. this is not exactly what you want in a secretary of state. sure, you want someone who can go with the program and get the rest of the world on board, or at least not make himself and the country laughingstocks in the effort to do so. but you also want someone who can think on his feet, express an opinion cogently and concisely, and call b.s. when needs be.

powell, for all his shortcomings, was not so bad as secretary of state. i'm not excusing his lying to the u.n. security council in pounding the drums for war against iraq. that is inexcuseable, and helped get a bunch of people killed. however, his widely reported outrage at the inclusion of well-debunked pseudo-evidence of iraq's attempted procuring of uranium in his u.n. statement demonstrates something of a soul and/or backbone. he brought gravitas and solemnity to the role, distracting attention from the other yahoos whispering bloodthirsty sweet-nothings in the cowboy's ears. that said, when one is described as the voice of reason in the bush white house, it's essentially condemnation by faint praise....

i'm a little curious what powell's next step will be. there will be a great call-- and, i suspect, a rather vigorous auction-- for his memoirs. he's a homer, so the likelihood of his penning a kiss-and-tell is not so great. on the scale from big wet kiss for the bush people to a warts-and-all expose of their knavery and hubris, i suspect we get something closer to the former than the latter.

so the odds-on favorite to succeed powell is condoleezza rice. i'll give you a moment to shudder. the woman described an august 6, 2001, presidential briefing called "holy shit! they're going to blow us up! an assload of people are going to die! duck and cover! DUCK AND COVER!" as a "historical document."

she sat in front of the 9/11 commission and lied. shamelessly, remorselessly. the commission knew she was lying. she knew she was lying. i knew she was lying. everybody knew it. it would have been funny if it weren't so gut-wrenchingly disturbing.

she also pooh-poohed the notion that the aforementioned yellowcake uranium issue was exposed as pure shite long before the president used it in his "munich '33"-esque state of the union address. the controversy, she said, involved taking "16 words" and making a big deal out of them. not the fact that the president was using patently false information to build support for an unnecessary war. let's not forget that said war has cost an awful lot of lives and untold billions of dollars.

i'm no expert on such things, but shouldn't the national security adviser advise on matters of national security? when the people you pay to tell you when things are about to go haywire tap you on the shoulder, you should probably pay attention. this seems like the sort thing the president would want to keep tabs on. hindsight being what it is, you have to say the red flags should have been pointed out.

only, rice didn't do that. instead, and only after her failures were exposed, she obfuscated, meandered, dodged and lied. anything to keep the president and herself out of the blame game. instead, she, and presumably the president, asked george tenet to fall on his sword. he did. she should have done it.

so just to make this clear: the intelligence community debunked the uranium sale, but rice thought nothing of its inclusion in the president's speeches. the intelligence community warned of impending terrorist doom a month before 9/11, and rice calls that ancient history.

now that i reflect on it, when 51% is a mandate and occupation=liberation, i can't think of a better person to represent the bush administration and the american people on the world stage.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

why alberto gonzales has no business being attorney general

alberto gonzales wants to be the most important lawyer in the world.

well, hell... i want a new mustang convertible, but that doesn't
mean i should have one....
think what you will of the author of a memo that describes the geneva
conventions as "quaint" and inapplicable to the war on terror. and
which, by the way, also advises that abuse and mistreatment only
rise to the level of torture if they cause death, organ failure or
serious impairment of a life function.
the global community, which passed the geneva accords and the u.n.
covenant on civil and political rights as well as the convention
against torture, did so at the behest of the united states after the
horrors of ww2. and, as you know, once a treaty is ratified by the
senate, both of these having been so endorsed, it becomes the law of
the land. anyone who advises disregard for so fundamental a law as
the right to be free from torture has no place in law enforcement.
just by way of clarification, article 7 of the c.c.p.r. states, "no
one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment." article 1 of the c.a.t. defines torture
as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or
mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as
obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession ...
by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a
public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
this is very different from gonzales's description. certainly a lot
more limiting. by way of comparison, under gonzales's definition,
tying a prisoner down and placing a red-hot poker an inch away from
his eye for hours on end is not torture. but i don't imagine anyone
volunteering to try it out. any reasonable attorney can see the
difference between torture and something less, and one who says
he does not is lying, deluded or incompetent. in any event, he
should not be practicing law.
the ability to advise your client and zealously advocate does not
include the authority to contort the law to justify criminal conduct.
to say that gonzales was justified in his misconduct is no different
from saying that a lawyer who advises his/her client that striking a
person is only battery if it renders the victim unconscious is just
doing his/her job. this is patently absurd, and any half-bright chimp
knows it. one half-bright chimp in a seat of power is plenty for me.
whether gonzles made these clearly misinformed assertions just to
provide bush and his administration cover or he sincerely believed
that he was giving the president good advice, he is not fit for the
job. i submit that gonzales is not only unqualified for the a.g. spot,
but is subject to disbarment.
how do you suppose the rest of the world-- our allies, which we will
need to help in the "neverending global war on terrorism," as well as
our enemies-- perceives the elevation of the man behind the pro-torture
position to the top law enforcement office? if you were in uniform,
would it give you a little pause before entering a combat zone?
the whole point of senate advice and consent in these appointments is
to prevent yahoos and cranks like ashcroft and gonzales from taking
the reins of authority. if they let this guy skate on his pro-torture
stance and put him into power, it's giving him-- and the entire bush
administration-- a free pass on abu graibh, guantanamo, and any other
episodes of unlawful abuse of prisoners and captives we eventually
unearth.
shouldn't the "rule of law," which the bushites claim to hold so dear,
mean something more than that?