Sunday, December 31, 2006

disgust discussed

So now, I suppose, we are to rejoice. We who believe in freedom and democracy are supposed to be proud of the “justice” that’s been carried out in our name...

On the Gallows, Curses for US and "Traitors"

This just makes me feel utterly sick and angry on so many levels. But I think the main reason for my anger is that...we’re getting away with it yet again.

Conflicts Shaped Two Presidencies

“The sacrifice has been worth it,” President Bush said a little over a week ago. Really? Really? Exactly what “sacrifice” is he referring to? The three thousand American families who’ve lost a beloved and irreplaceable soul in an illegal war driven by nothing more than corporate and political greed? The half a million-plus (think about that number in the context of this situation...if that’s not a genocide, I don’t know what is) Iraqis who’ve been killed for...pick any of the umpteen reasons Dubya has cited since the invasion began, none of which are honest or legitimate...

What “sacrifice” has this man ever made to or for anything? The fucking nerve of that statement just makes me so angry and ashamed of everything this administration stands for. If there is any one American citizen who has no right to use the word “sacrifice” because he has absolutely no understanding of it, it’s George W. Bush.

And no one article or editorial I’ve seen better sums up the responsibilities and motives of the West better than this one...

A Dictator Created Then Destroyed by America

How do you define what a “war crime” is? An “atrocity?” A “crime against humanity?” Obviously, it depends mainly on who is providing the definitions.

I’m not trying to suggest Saddam Hussein was a good guy or that I’m sad that he’s dead. The fact that I am opposed to all capital punishment doesn’t have anything to do with my disgust over this execution, either. What bothers me most about it is the “official” story that is being assigned to it, which Robert Fisk bluntly and correctly points out...

"Handed over to the Iraqi authorities," he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down - correctly - as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this - that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a "martyr" to the will of the new "Crusaders".

And there’s the simple fact that you cannot defeat barbarism with more barbarism. Maybe that’s the one lesson humans will never learn.

That is what makes me feel sick and sad today. That once again, as Fisk notes, “...we will have got away with it.”

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Forget about democracy...(part 2 or something)

Here’s a footnote or addendum or something to the previous post...

I just got off the phone with my mom. She was calling because she’d just finished reading some articles I’d left for both my parents to read the other day. (My way of spreading Christmas cheer, I comes Danny Claus with his bag of depressing news articles for all the boys and girls...) Among the articles I left with them (click on the titles to read the full articles)...

War Profits Trump the Rule of Law

Bush “Developing Illegal Bioterror Weapons” for Offensive Use

Former U.S. Detainee in Iraq Recalls Torment

Testimony Helps Detail CIA’s Post-9/11 Reach

She called because she was so disgusted with what she’d read and just...speechless that our government (and, if you read the first article, most other governments who’ve had colonialist and/or imperialist agendas since the last century) was capable of such things. She wondered why nobody in the mainstream media reports any of this, and also asked why I don’t just email a link to the TruthOut website to all the newspapers and television stations I could find.

My responses to her, kind of in a reverse order (and without the BlogDiarrhea at which I am so adept, of course), were...

a.) As wonderful as TruthOut is at providing truly independent and un- or under-reported news (and god bless Wendy for first bringing those folks to my attention), they also serve the interests – philosophically speaking – of the Left as a whole...thus, they do their fair share of regurgitating Democratic Party propaganda. You have to pick and choose which articles you consider truly journalistic versus public relations. And I’m not about to give anyone the idea that I have the slightest intention of promoting anyone’s propaganda, regardless of the politics behind it.

b.) As for why none of the mainstream media reports any actual news these far as I can tell, there just about aren’t any independent mainstream media outlets anymore. Every “major” news organization seems to be owned by – or is at least an unpublicized subsidiary of /partner with – some sort of monolithic, Frankenstein corporation. Examples...Disney and ABC; General Electric and NBC; Viacom and CBS; Time Warner and CNN; the New York Times Company, which owns quite a few other newspapers in addition to its namesake; the Washington Post Company, which also owns Newsweek and Slate magazines; and the list goes on. And all of those corporations have additional commercial “interests” hovering over the decisions of what does or doesn’t get reported. Or, obviously, how something gets reported. So, aside from the scattered independent internet-based journalists – who can be hard to locate – who can you trust to report news in an as-unbiased-as-possible fashion? So much for The Fourth Estate.

c.) As far as what our government is capable of...I told her I’d loan her my copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival. It’s an eye-opener in places, and I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re interested in learning about 20th century American history that wasn’t necessarily widely reported. (And if you’re one of those people who think the face of Ronald Reagan needs to be added to Mount Rushmore or the ten dollar bill.) Granted, Chomsky is as liberal as the pope is Catholic. However, he’s thorough as all get-out with regard to factualism, footnoting sources, etc., and he doesn’t hesitate to sling as much mud onto Democrats as he does Republicans. Because, again...corruption and greed aren’t exclusive to either party.

Anyway, at one point I said to her, “It all goes back to deregulation,” and the incestuous orgy of corporate takeovers, mergers, etc., that began with the Reagan administration. (Actually, Molly Ivins wrote an article about that very thing a few months ago.) But after I hung up, I realized I was incorrect. What it really “all goes back to” is the fact that the vast majority of Americans – ordinary yokels like you and me who have no vested interests in any of the titanically huge corporations that program our lives without us even noticing – have no real power anymore. Because both parties are so thoroughly - and deliberately - in the pockets of the people and companies who finance them (entities who often finance both parties simultaneously in order to maintain their power status regardless of which party is “in control”), our government – from the federal level all the way down to the municipal level...basically, anywhere politics operates on a partisan basis – is beholden to and powered by one thing and one thing only: money. Period.

And the only way to dismantle the system of financial influence and corporate control that has taken over virtually every aspect of our daily lives...really (and ironically), since the day President Eisenhower first uttered the phrase “military/industrial complex” for us ordinary folks to start demanding and working for political reform. Reforms like the “instant runoff” electoral process I mentioned in my previous post; reforms like creating truly independent, citizen-run policing of our elections and our government agencies; reforms like enacting and enforcing stronger ethics regulations; reforms like removing money completely from our political “system” so that even the slightest hint of corporate influence on any officeholder becomes a crime.

That’s really what “it all goes back to”...becoming a citizenry in charge of the government rather than the other way around. It will have to happen one reform at a time, but it has to start somewhere, somehow. And it has to happen soon…before things become even uglier than they already are.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Forget about democracy right here first...?

With regard to my hatred for our current political system here in the U.S., the fact that it's held in a vice by two corporations (the Republican and Democratic parties) working in tandem to create a virtual monopoly, and that each corporation exists solely for the purpose of expanding and perpetuating its financial and procedural control which is blatantly evident by the fact that each party most vigorously supports the "most electable" candidates as opposed to the candidates who most sincerely promote the values of the parties in question...

I've said it before plenty of times to friends and family and I've said it online...If you're continually offered only the opportunity to choose between the lesser of two evils, you will eventually be left with, quite simply, evil. Lots of folks thought we'd arrived at that point during the Clinton years and heaven knows plenty of us think we're there now with the Bush II administration.

I had a few friends and politically-minded groups beg me just prior to our last governor's race here in Texas to please consider voting for Chris Bell (D) rather than Kinky Friedman (I). I had the same experiences the last two times I voted for Ralph Nader for president. My answer has been the same every time: no way in hell. We may have to elect Satan himself before people realize that we really don't have a true democracy here in the U.S., and that reforms must be made that will allow us to actually function as a democracy with any real integrity. And I'll be damned if I'm going to continue to perpetuate the cycle we're in, even if it's with my one measly little vote.

And it infuriates me to no end when someone tells me that, because I voted for Nader and Friedman, I in effect voted for Dubya and Rick Perry. No, I didn't. I voted for Nader and Friedman. The "spoiler effect" may be a current reality, but it shouldn't be. And there's an easy fix for this called "instant runoff voting." It's a reform that's working here and there in the U.S. now, though it hasn't made its way to state or federal levels. And it will be a bitch to install that particular reform - easy as it is - at those levels because both major parties will fight it tooth and nail. And since they - not us - have all the power over the electoral process, "instant runoff" will have to be forced onto them ordinary folks like you and me.

Here's a link that will explain instant runoff voting in more detail...

Instant Runoff Voting is Catching On

...but I'll quote from the article to give you a nutshell description of the process.

Instant runoff voting ensures that officeholders are elected with a majority of the vote in a single...election. No separate runoffs or primaries are necessary. Voters rank their candidates, and if their first choice can't win, their vote goes to their second-ranked candidate as their runoff choice. [And it can go farther down the list to third, fourth and fifth choices.] Voters are liberated to vote for the candidates they really like without worrying about "spoilers." You can rank your favorite candidate first, knowing if he or she can't win, you haven't wasted your vote because it will go to your second [or third, fourth, etc.] choice.

Simplicity is beautiful, yes? Choice is beautiful, yes? And freedom...well, that's supposed to be this country's hallmark.

So please tell me...anyone, whether you're conservative or liberal or somewhere in between...who among us who is not tangibly affiliated with either major party would oppose this idea? I'm guessing no one would because it makes so much sense. But, by all means, please tell me if you disagree. If you don't disagree, I strongly encourage you all to make your preferences known by seeking out and supporting groups who encourage instant runoff electoral options and other political reform.

And now I shall step back off the soapbox and go to work. Bleh. But thanks for reading this.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

yonder ponderous things to ponder

There's a section in every month's issue of The Sun called "Sunbeams," and it's a collection of quotes from various famous and/or notable people. Honestly, it's usually the portion of the magazine I could do without...but this month's has a few comments that appealed to me. So I will share a few...

"When one has a famishing thirst for happiness, one is apt to gulp down diversions wherever they are offered." - Alice Caldwell Rice

"All sins are attempts to fill voids." - Simone Weil

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something." - Henry David Thoreau

I won't go into why these particular quotes have special significance for me; if you know me well enough, you should understand. However, they also have some importance to a few of my friends who are experiencing some personal turmoil at the moment. I'm hoping maybe they'll read this post and take a little something from them...

And speaking of quotes - albeit completely unrelated to the previous themes - I was reading a fairly hokey (for the most part) biography of Harry Truman this morning. The interviews with the former president were conducted in 1971, right around the time ugliness of the Watergate scandal was coming to light. Anyway, he said a couple things that I thought were worth repeating, considering our present political situation here in the U.S.

Truman was relating a story about an unpleasant exchange he'd had with a Democratic committeewoman from Alabama (a traditionally Democratic stronghold at the time), who had just pulled her support of his presidency and upcoming candidacy because she was so disgusted by his recent orders to integrate the military, his appointment of a new Committee on Civil Rights, his request to Congress to create a federal law against lynching, a strengthening of existing civil rights laws, his creation of the Federal Fair Employment Practices Committee, and additional protections of the right of all Americans to vote. This was particularly galling to the Alabama woman because she was, obviously, from the south, which was still seething over the Confederacy's loss in the Civil War less than a century earlier. She considered Truman an ally with regard to the proper southern policies and politics at that time, what with Truman being from the "southern" state of Missouri.

When he confronted the woman, Truman said, "Well, I read her the Bill of Rights; I doubt that she'd ever read it, probably hadn't even heard of it. Anyway, I read it to her, and I says to her, 'I said what I said [in his message to Congress requesting the above-listed measures] because I meant it, and I have no intention in any way whatsoever in taking back one word, and you can go back down there and tell them what I said. Those...the Bill of Rights applies to everybody in this country, and don't you ever forget it.'"

At the end of this particular interview, Truman added, "I was just thinking of that old woman's face when I started reading her the Bill of Rights. It was quite a sight...But you know something? It's not a bad idea to read those ten amendments every once in a while. Not enough people do, and that's one of the reasons we're in the trouble we're in."

I couldn't agree more, and it never ceases to amaze me how we continue to elect political party hacks for whom the Bill of Rights and the Constitution itself are little more than quaint historical documents which have little relevance to the politics of the present. And so, I will repeat the Bill of Rights a service to anyone who might want a refresher, and as a reminder to everyone who blindly follows party rather than principle, paying little mind to the fact that both major parties often consider the Constitution something to work around rather than uphold. (And, yes, I know the founding fathers were from a different era with a profoundly different collective value system than what we have today. To my mind, the importance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is in the spirit in which they were written...though, I know that's a nebulous statement that those on the left and the right can use as a means of reinterpreting the ideals behind our Constitution.) In any case, they are as follows...

The Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America)

First Amendment – Freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Second Amendment – Right for the people to keep and bear arms, as well as to maintain a militia.
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State; The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

Third Amendment – Protection from quartering of troops.
"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

Fourth Amendment – Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Fifth Amendment – Due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, private property.
"No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Sixth Amendment – Trial by jury and other rights of the accused.
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

Seventh Amendment – Civil trial by jury.
"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."

Eighth Amendment – Prohibition of excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment.
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Tenth Amendment – Powers of states and people.
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Now if only "the people" would hold our government responsible for upholding these statements and documents. It saddens me that so many of us take these enumerated freedoms and rights for granted, and that we continually go out of our way to prevent our fellow citizens from enjoying these same rights because of our disagreements with them. We simply cannot allow our constitution to become obsolete through indifference or ingratitude. We owe this to ourselves and to the events in history that gave use these rights.

That's all I've got to say today.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Because drunks aren’t dangerous enough…

(...or the blind leading the blind into a blind)

Why is it all the idiots seem to congregate in Texas or Florida? Or is it just that Texas and Florida elect more idiots than everyone else? (You don’t have to have someone from the Bush family as governor, but it helps.)

We are so fortunate here in Texas to have such forward-thinking, innovative legislators. Legislators who understand that there are some issues that just rank low on the list of priorities. Like the fact that half of them (including our own governor, a new Dubya starter-kit if ever there was one) are in the pockets of the energy industry (TXU in particular), ensuring that Big Energy’s agenda is our agenda no matter the health or environmental costs (you can never have too many coal- and nuclear-power plants, after all). Or the fact that our governor has his own private/personal investment project called the Trans-Texas Corridor...a “transportation” system that should make Boston’s Big Dig look like a completely legitimate and trouble-free public works project (after the governor and his partners pocket their advances, of course). Or the fact that Texas has one of the worst illegal-immigration situations in the country, with no policies planned or in place to improve things. (Not to worry there, though...Dubya’s gonna build us a wall from Brownsville to El Paso. That’ll fix it.) Or the fact that we have one of the worst education systems in the country. (That’s why we created the state lottery, which has been nothing if not effective and efficient. Besides, our collective stupidity helps perpetuate the notion that anyone can grow up to be the president because the man currently holding the job can barely speak English, himself.) No, those problems will take care of themselves.

But how do we deal with the fact that blind people can’t hunt in Texas? Did you know about that? I’re as shocked and appalled to learn of this unfair and unjust situation as I am. How can any society consider itself truly free when blind people can’t legally hunt? I mean, if there’s anything we can learn from nature, it’s that all creatures (when in season, of course) deserve the opportunity to be blasted into smithereens by everyone...not just people who are privileged with sight. Oh, how I curse the evils of bigotry and inequality when I picture a blind person sitting at home thinking, “Lord, why can I not be free to go out and shoot at things I can’t see? Why can I not experience the exhilaration of the hunt – stalking my prey...well, having someone there to tell me where to aim...waiting for that perfect moment of confrontation between man and beast when instinct takes over and I discharge my weapon straight in between the eyes of...whatever it is I’m shooting at? And then become one with nature’s glorious circle of life as I stumble through wherever it is I’m at toward the general vicinity of wherever it was I just shot so that I may stand victoriously over whatever it is that somebody tells me I just killed? Why, lord, can I not experience the beauty and majesty of hunting just because I can’t see my hand in front of my face...?”

Well, thanks to the Einstein intellect of Representative Edmund Kuempel, a Republican from Seguin, this intolerable lack of freedom may soon be a thing of the past. Yes, here in Texas – where last year we tried to make online hunting a legal addition to the brave world of sport hunting (if you can’t shoot and kill critters by remote control from the comfort of your own home or office then, really folks, what’s the internet for...?) – we now have a bill proposed that will allow blind people to hunt.

Sez the esteemed legislator, "This opens up the fun of hunting to additional people, and I think that's great." Visually impaired people are allowed to shoot now with the aid of a sighted person, he said, a requirement that would continue if the sights were legalized.

"I've seen this on TV before, when they're taking target practice," Kuempel said. "When they aim the gun, the guide tells them, aim two inches higher or two inches lower and you're on the target, and you're off and running."

You can read the full story here. Unless you’re blind, of course, in which case you’re probably out registering for a hunting license. (Which begs the additional question...Are hunting licenses printed in Braille...?)

Well, sheeyit, Mr. Kuempel. If the idea is to “open up the fun of hunting,” why stop there? Or is it because you have to? That perhaps there are no other people left on the face of the earth who cannot legally hunt? How about Def Leppard’s drummer? Surely there’s a way we can strap some sort of contraption onto his back that will allow him to pull the trigger of a rifle with his tongue or something. Or how about Stephen Hawking? It’s criminal to think that a man of his intellect can’t somehow have his wheelchair thingy fitted with a new button that will make a bazooka rise up over his shoulder and allow him to blast an object to kingdom come just by blinking twice. Call Halliburton...those motherfuckers can come up with anything.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think I have anything against blind people. I don’t think I do. Hell, some of my best friends are blind. Okay, that’s not true. For one thing, it’s impossible to not make jokes considering the subject. Common sense tells most of us: gun + blind person = bad idea. Hell, Dick Cheney shot his best friend in the fucking face and, as far as we know, he has two working eyes. Though it’s possible he has to carry an emergency heart with him in a wagon or something. (That could be classified.)

The point is...Jesus, who am I kidding – there are countless reasons why this is so embarrassing. But among my main objections is...I mean, let’s stop to think about all the ways we could be working to improve the lives of people who are blind. Maybe helping them to see, for example. But even if we’re not quite there yet, couldn’t we be working on ways that might allow the visually-impaired to use the senses that have been enhanced through the lack of sight to benefit themselves and us as a whole somehow? Or find more or new endeavors that will enable them to, I don’t know...overcome problems they actually have? Or are you seriously implying that the inability to hunt is one of the larger tragedies to befall blind people? I don’t grieve over the fact that I will never be tall enough to dunk a basketball or talented enough to play catcher for the Minnesota Twins. I’m having a hard time imagining that blind people are sitting around bitching because they can’t hunt.

The reality, to my mind, is as harsh as the condition. You’re blind? I’m don’t get to hunt. Just like you don’t get to drive a car or fly a plane. That’s your lot in life at the moment and it sucks. It’s not your fault, it’s certainly not bad, but it is what it is. You’re deaf? I’m don’t get the job answering phones at the 911 call center. Nor do you get to be the Village Voice music critic. It’s not fair, I know. But it is what it is.

Why are we spending any effort trying to get another fucking gun in another fucking person’s hands? When we could be using that effort in a manner that benefits humankind somehow? Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but that’s what I want to know.

(Parenthetic full disclosure and peripheral rant: I am, indeed, a crybaby, tree-hugging, bleeding heart [unlike Cheney], vegetarian, animal-rights, walking-stereotype of a liberal who has never nor will ever understand the “sport” in hunting. Ted Nugent can suck my fucking dick. You want to prove how beautiful the “contest” between man versus animal is? Go out there barehanded and see who wins the fight. Yes, humans evolved partly by way of hunting animals for sustenance. Yes, it’s entirely likely that I am the one who’s violating human nature by not consuming animals. I understand the Circle of Life and the Darwinian concept that life on our planet is dictated by the “survival of the fittest.” [Ironic that so many of the pro-gun, pro-hunting folks are often also the folks who consider the theory of evolution evil and believe the earth is six thousand years old.] But at what point do we back off the “traditional” operating procedures for humanity when we’ve turned everything else about our existence inside-out a hundred times? How “traditional” are factory farms and industrial agriculture? Are we honoring and respecting “nature” every time we make a call to Pizza Hut? My point being we choose the traditions we wish to honor and we do so usually for our own selfish reasons. And I’m no better than anyone in that regard.)

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Monday, December 11, 2006

should be required reading for every member of the executive branch...

This is an incredible speech on a number of levels, though it raises some questions that I’ve not been able to find answers to online. For starters...

Who in the world asked Bill Moyers to give a speech at West Point? What was the occasion? Was the speech well-received or did it go over like a lead balloon?

I searched as much as I could (limited) at work for stories that might have answered these questions, but couldn’t find anything. But, like I said, this is a really awesome speech (it’s also really long, so I’m only posting excerpts can read the whole thing by clicking on the link).

I wish every member of the Bush administration could be required to read Moyers’ speech and respond. Not only is it an excellent lesson in history, but it asks many of the questions that should be asked of our “leaders” in Washington...


Message To West Point
([Excerpts from...] “ excerpt from the Sol Feinstone Lecture on The Meaning of Freedom delivered by Bill Moyers at the United States Military Academy on November 15, 2006.”)

Many of you will be heading for Iraq. I have never been a soldier myself, never been tested under fire, never faced hard choices between duty and feeling, or duty and conscience, under deadly circumstances. I will never know if I have the courage to be shot at, or to shoot back, or the discipline to do my duty knowing the people who dispatched me to kill - or be killed - had no idea of the moral abyss into which they were plunging me.

I have tried to learn about war from those who know it best: veterans, the real experts. But they have been such reluctant reporters of the experience. My father-in-law, Joe Davidson, was 37 years old with two young daughters when war came in 1941; he enlisted and served in the Pacific but I never succeeded in getting him to describe what it was like to be in harm's way. My uncle came home from the Pacific after his ship had been sunk, taking many friends down with it, and he would look away and change the subject when I asked him about it. One of my dearest friends, who died this year at 90, returned from combat in Europe as if he had taken a vow of silence about the dark and terrifying things that came home with him, uninvited.

Curious about this, some years ago I produced for PBS a documentary called "D-Day to the Rhine." With a camera crew I accompanied several veterans of World War II who for the first time were returning together to the path of combat that carried them from the landing at Normandy in 1944 into the heart of Germany. Members of their families were along this time - wives, grown sons and daughters - and they told me that until now, on this trip - 45 years after D-Day - their husbands and fathers rarely talked about their combat experiences. They had come home, locked their memories in their mind's attic, and hung a "no trespassing" sign on it. Even as they retraced their steps almost half a century later, I would find these aging GIs, standing alone and silent on the very spot where a buddy had been killed, or they themselves had killed, or where they had been taken prisoner, a German soldier standing over them with a Mauser pointed right between their eyes, saying: "For you, the war is over." As they tried to tell the story, the words choked in their throats. The stench, the vomit, the blood, the fear: What outsider - journalist or kin - could imagine the demons still at war in their heads?

What I remember most vividly from that trip is the opening scene of the film: Jose Lopez - the father of two, who had lied about his age to get into the Army (he was too old), went ashore at Normandy, fought his way across France and Belgium with a water-cooled machine gun, rose to the rank of sergeant, and received the Congressional Medal of Honor after single-handedly killing 100 German troops in the Battle of the Bulge - Jose Lopez, back on Omaha Beach at age 79, quietly saying to me: "I was really very, very afraid. That I want to scream. I want to cry and we see other people was laying wounded and screaming and everything and it's nothing you could do. We could see them groaning in the water and we keep walking" - and then, moving away from the camera, dropping to his knees, his hands clasped, his eyes wet, as it all came back, memories so excruciating there were no words for them.

People in power should be required to take classes in the poetry of war. As a presidential assistant during the early escalation of the war in Vietnam, I remember how the President blanched when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it would take one million fighting men and 10 years really to win in Vietnam, but even then the talk of war was about policy, strategy, numbers and budgets, not severed limbs and eviscerated bodies.

That experience, and the experience 40 years later of watching another White House go to war, also relying on inadequate intelligence, exaggerated claims and premature judgments, keeping Congress in the dark while wooing a gullible press, cheered on by partisans, pundits, and editorial writers safely divorced from realities on the ground, ended any tolerance I might have had for those who advocate war from the loftiness of the pulpit, the safety of a laptop, the comfort of a think tank, or the glamour of a television studio. Watching one day on C-Span as one member of Congress after another took to the floor to praise our troops in Iraq, I was reminded that I could only name three members of Congress who have a son or daughter in the military. How often we hear the most vigorous argument for war from those who count on others of valor to fight it. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said after the Civil War: "It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation."

Rupert Murdoch comes to mind - only because he was in the news last week talking about Iraq. In the months leading up to the invasion Murdoch turned the dogs of war loose in the corridors of his media empire, and they howled for blood, although not their own. Murdoch himself said, just weeks before the invasion, that: "The greatest thing to come of this to the world economy, if you could put it that way [as you can, if you are a media mogul], would be $20 a barrel for oil." Once the war is behind us, Rupert Murdoch said: "The whole world will benefit from cheaper oil which will be a bigger stimulus than anything else."

Today Murdoch says he has no regrets, that he still believes it was right "to go in there," and that "from a historical perspective" the U.S. death toll in Iraq was "minute."

"Minute?" I don't think so. Historical perspective or no. Standing there [at West Point’s cemetary], on sacred American soil...I thought that to describe their loss as "minute" - even from a historical perspective - is to underscore the great divide that has opened in America between those who advocate war while avoiding it and those who have the courage to fight it without ever knowing what it's all about.

We were warned of this by our founders. They had put themselves in jeopardy by signing the Declaration of Independence; if they had lost, that parchment could have been their death warrant, for they were traitors to the Crown and likely to be hanged. In the fight for freedom they had put themselves on the line - not just their fortunes and sacred honor but their very persons, their lives. After the war, forming a government and understanding both the nature of war and human nature, they determined to make it hard to go to war except to defend freedom; war for reasons save preserving the lives and liberty of your citizens should be made difficult to achieve, they argued. Here is John Jay's passage in Federalist No. 4:

"It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people."

I want to be clear on this: Vietnam did not make me a dove. Nor has Iraq; I am no pacifist. But they have made me study the Constitution more rigorously, both as journalist and citizen...James Madison said, “In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man.”

Twice in 40 years we have now gone to war paying only lip service to those warnings; the first war we lost, the second is a bloody debacle, and both rank among the great blunders in our history. It is impossible for soldiers to sustain in the field what cannot be justified in the Constitution; asking them to do so puts America at war with itself. So when the Vice President of the United States says it doesn't matter what the people think, he and the President intend to prosecute the war anyway, he is committing heresy against the fundamental tenets of the American political order.

This is a tough subject to address when so many of you may be heading for Iraq. I would prefer to speak of sweeter things. But I also know that 20 or 30 years from now any one of you may be the Chief of Staff or the National Security Adviser or even the President - after all, two of your boys, Grant and Eisenhower, did make it from West Point to the White House. And that being the case, it's more important than ever that citizens and soldiers - and citizen-soldiers - honestly discuss and frankly consider the kind of country you are serving and the kind of organization to which you are dedicating your lives. You are, after all, the heirs of an army born in the American Revolution, whose radicalism we consistently underestimate.

Every turn in American history confronts us with paradox, and this one is no exception. [There is] a paradox that suits you cadets to a T, because you yourselves represent a paradox of liberty. You are free men and women who of your own free choice have joined an institution dedicated to protecting a free nation, but in the process you have voluntarily agreed to give up, for a specific time, a part of your own liberty. An army is not a debating society and neither in the field or in headquarters does it ask for a show of hands on whether orders should be obeyed. That is undoubtedly a necessary idea, but for you it complicates the already tricky question of "the meaning of freedom."

I said earlier that our founders did not want the power of war to reside in a single man. Many were also dubious about having any kind of regular, or as they called it, "standing" army at all. Standing armies were hired supporters of absolute monarchs and imperial tyrants. The men drafting the Constitution were steeped in classical and historical learning. They recalled how Caesar in ancient times and Oliver Cromwell in more recent times had used the conquering armies they had led to make themselves dictators. They knew how the Roman legions had made and unmade emperors, and how Ottoman rulers of the Turkish Empire had supported their tyrannies on the shoulders of formidable elite warriors. Wherever they looked in history, they saw an alliance between enemies of freedom in palaces and in officer corps drawn from the ranks of nobility, bound by a warrior code that stressed honor and bravery - but also dedication to the sovereign and the sovereign's god, and distrust amounting to contempt for the ordinary run of the sovereign's subjects.

And who would be in the top command of both that regular force and of volunteer forces when actually called into federal service? None other than the top elected civil official of the government, the President. Think about that for a moment. The professional army fought hard and long to create a system of selecting and keeping officers on the basis of proven competence, not popularity. But the highest commander of all served strictly at the pleasure of the people and had to submit his contract for renewal every four years.

...[A] peacetime army working directly with and for the civil society in improving the nation so as to guarantee the greater opportunities for individual success inherent in the promise of democracy...and a wartime army in which temporary citizen-solders were and still are led by long-term professional citizen-soldiers who were molded out of the same clay as those they command. And all of them led from the top by the one political figure chosen by the entire national electorate. This arrangement - this bargain between the men with the guns and the citizens who provide the guns - is the heritage passed on to you by the revolutionaries who fought and won America's independence and then swore fidelity to a civil compact that survives today, despite tumultuous moments and perilous passages.

Once again we encounter a paradox: Not all our wars were on the side of freedom. The first that seriously engaged the alumni of West Point was the Mexican War, which was not a war to protect our freedoms but to grab land - facts are facts - and was not only bitterly criticized by part of the civilian population, but even looked on with skepticism...

When the Civil War itself came, it offered an illustration of how the meaning of freedom isn't always easy to pin down. From the point of view of the North, the hundreds of Southern West Pointers who resigned to fight for the Confederacy - Robert E. Lee included - were turning against the people's government that had educated and supported them. They were traitors. But from the Southern point of view, they were fighting for the freedom of their local governments to leave the Union when, as they saw it, it threatened their way of life. Their way of life tragically included the right to hold other men in slavery.

After 1865 the army shrank as its chief engagement was now in wiping out the last vestiges of Indian resistance to their dispossession and subjugation: One people's advance became another's annihilation and one of the most shameful episodes of our history. In 1898 the army was briefly used for the first effort in exporting democracy - an idea that does not travel well in military transports - when it warred with Spain to help the Cubans complete a war for independence that had been in progress for three years. The Cubans found their liberation somewhat illusory, however, when the United States made the island a virtual protectorate and allowed it to be ruled by a corrupt dictator.

Americans also lifted the yoke of Spain from the Filipinos, only to learn that they did not want to exchange it for one stamped 'Made in the USA.' It took a three-year war, during which the army killed several thousand so-called "insurgents" before their leader was captured and the Filipinos were cured of the illusion that independence meant...well, independence. I bring up these reminders not to defame the troops. Their actions were supported by a majority of the American people even in a progressive phase of our political history (though there was some principled and stiff opposition.) Nonetheless, we have to remind ourselves that the armed forces can't be expected to be morally much better than the people who send them into action, and that when honorable behavior comes into conflict with racism, honor is usually the loser unless people such as yourself fight to maintain it.

Not until World War II did the Army again take part in such a long, bloody, and fateful conflict as the Civil War had been, and like the Civil War it opened an entirely new period in American history. The incredibly gigantic mobilization of the entire nation, the victory it produced, and the ensuing 60 years of wars, quasi-wars, mini-wars, secret wars, and a virtually permanent crisis created a superpower and forever changed the nation's relationship to its armed forces, confronting us with problems we have to address, no matter how unsettling it may be to do so in the midst of yet another war.

The Armed Services are no longer stepchildren in budgetary terms. Appropriations for defense and defense-related activities (like veterans' care, pensions, and debt service) remind us that the costs of war continue long after the fighting ends. Objections to ever-swelling defensive expenditures are, except in rare cases, a greased slide to political suicide. It should be troublesome to you as professional soldiers that elevation to the pantheon of untouchable icons - right there alongside motherhood, apple pie and the flag - permits a great deal of political lip service to replace genuine efforts to improve the lives and working conditions - in combat and out - of those who serve.

Let me cut closer to the bone. The chickenhawks in Washington, who at this very moment are busily defending you against supposed "insults" or betrayals by the opponents of the war in Iraq, are likewise those who have cut budgets for medical and psychiatric care; who have been so skimpy and late with pay and with provision of necessities that military families in the United States have had to apply for food stamps; who sent the men and women whom you may soon be commanding into Iraq understrength, underequipped, and unprepared for dealing with a kind of war fought in streets and homes full of civilians against enemies undistinguishable from non-combatants; who have time and again broken promises to the civilian National Guardsmen bearing much of the burden by canceling their redeployment orders and extending their tours.

You may or may not agree on the justice and necessity of the war itself, but I hope that you will agree that flattery and adulation are no substitute for genuine support. Much of the money that could be directed to that support has gone into high-tech weapons systems that were supposed to produce a new, mobile, compact "professional
" army that could easily defeat the armies of any other two nations combined, but is useless in a war against nationalist or religious guerrilla uprisings that, like it or not, have some support, coerced or otherwise, among the local population. We learned this lesson in Vietnam, only to see it forgotten or ignored by the time this administration invaded Iraq, creating the conditions for a savage sectarian and civil war with our soldiers trapped in the middle, unable to discern civilian from combatant, where it is impossible to kill your enemy faster than rage makes new ones.

And who has been the real beneficiary of creating this high-tech army called to fight a war conceived and commissioned and cheered on by politicians and pundits not one of whom ever entered a combat zone? One of your boys answered that: Dwight Eisenhower, class of 1915, who told us that the real winners of the anything at any price philosophy would be "the military-industrial complex."

I want to contend that the American military systems that evolved in the early days of this republic rested on a bargain between the civilian authorities and the armed services, and that the army has, for the most part, kept its part of the bargain and that, at this moment, the civilian authorities whom you loyally obey, are shirking theirs.

On the other side of the ledger, however, I believe that the bargain has not been kept. The last time Congress declared war was in 1941. Since then presidents of the United States, including the one I served, have gotten Congress, occasionally under demonstrably false pretenses, to suspend Constitutional provisions that required them to get the consent of the people's representatives in order to conduct a war. They have been handed a blank check to send the armed forces into action at their personal discretion and on dubious Constitutional grounds.

Furthermore, the current President has made extra-Constitutional claims of authority by repeatedly acting as if he were Commander-in-Chief of the entire nation and not merely of the armed forces. Most dangerously to our moral honor and to your own welfare in the event of capture, he has likewise ordered the armed forces to violate clear mandates of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions by claiming a right to interpret them at his pleasure, so as to allow indefinite and secret detentions and torture. These claims contravene a basic principle usually made clear to recruits from their first day in service - that they may not obey an unlawful order. The President is attempting to have them violate that longstanding rule by personal definitions of what the law says and means.

There is yet another way the chickenhawks are failing you. In the October issue of the magazine of the California Nurses Association, you can read a long report on "The Battle at Home." In veterans' hospitals across the country - and in a growing number of ill-prepared, under-funded psych and primary care clinics as well - the report says that nurses "have witnessed the guilt, rage, emotional numbness, and tormented flashbacks of GIs just back from Iraq." Yet "a returning vet must wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits," and an appeal can take up to three years. Just in the first quarter of this year, the VA treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, and faces a backlog of 400,000 cases. This is reprehensible.

I repeat: These are not palatable topics for soldiers about to go to war; I would like to speak of sweeter things. But freedom means we must face reality: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Free enough, surely, to think for yourselves about these breaches of contract that crudely undercut the traditions of an army of free men and women who have bound themselves voluntarily to serve the nation even unto death.

...Remember that there are limitations to what military power can do. Despite the valor and skills of our fighting forces, some objectives are not obtainable at a human, diplomatic, and financial cost that is acceptable. Our casualties in Iraq are not "minute" and the cost of the war has been projected by some sources to reach $2 trillion dollars. Sometimes, in the real world, a truce is the most honorable solution to conflict. Dwight Eisenhower - who is a candidate for my favorite West Point graduate of the 20th century - knew that when, in 1953, he went to Korea and accepted a stalemate rather than carrying out his bluff of using nuclear weapons. That was the best that could be done and it saved more years of stalemate and casualties. Douglas MacArthur announced in 1951 that "there was no substitute for victory." But in the wars of the 21st century there are alternative meanings to victory and alternative ways to achieve them. Especially in tracking down and eliminating terrorists, we need to change our metaphor from a "war on terror" - what, pray tell, exactly is that? - to the mindset of Interpol tracking down master criminals through intense global cooperation among nations, or the FBI stalking the Mafia, or local police determined to quell street gangs without leveling the entire neighborhood in the process. Help us to think beyond a "war on terror" - which politicians could wage without end, with no measurable way to judge its effectiveness, against stateless enemies who hope we will destroy the neighborhood, creating recruits for their side - to counter-terrorism modeled on extraordinary police work.

...Don't let your natural and commendable loyalty to comrades-in-arms lead you into thinking that criticism of the mission you are on spells lack of patriotism. Not every politician who flatters you is your ally. Not every one who believes that war is the wrong choice to some problems is your enemy. Blind faith in bad leadership is not patriotism. In the words of G.K. Chesterton: "To say my country right or wrong is something no patriot would utter except in dire circumstance; it is like saying my mother drunk or sober." Patriotism means insisting on our political leaders being sober, strong, and certain about what they are doing when they put you in harm's way.

...Be more prepared to accept the credibility and integrity of those who disagree about the war even if you do not agree with their positions. I say this as a journalist, knowing it is tempting in the field to denounce or despise reporters who ask nosy questions or file critical reports. But their first duty as reporters is to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth and report it to the American people - for your sake. If there is mismanagement and incompetence, exposing it is more helpful to you than paeans to candy given to the locals. I trust you are familiar with the study done for the Army in 1989 by the historian, William Hammond. He examined press coverage in Korea and Vietnam and found that it was not the cause of disaffection at home; what disturbed people at home was the death toll; when casualties jumped, public support dropped. Over time, he said, the reporting was vindicated. In fact, "the press reports were often more accurate than the public statements of the administration in portraying the situation in Vietnam." Take note: The American people want the truth about how their sons and daughters are doing in Iraq and what they're up against, and that is a good thing.

Finally, and this above all - a lesson I wish I had learned earlier. If you rise in the ranks to important positions - or even if you don't - speak the truth as you see it, even if the questioner is a higher authority with a clear preference for one and only one answer. It may not be the way to promote your career; it can in fact harm it. Among my military heroes of this war are the generals who frankly told the President and his advisers that their information and their plans were both incomplete and misleading - and who paid the price of being ignored and bypassed and possibly frozen forever in their existing ranks: men like General Eric K. Shinseki, another son of West Point. It is not easy to be honest - and fair - in a bureaucratic system. But it is what free men and women have to do. Be true to your principles...If doing so exposes the ignorance and arrogance of power, you may be doing more to save the nation than exploits in combat can achieve.

I know the final rule of the military Code of Conduct is already written in your hearts: "I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free..." The meaning of freedom begins with the still, small voice of conscience, when each of us decides what we will live, or die, for.

I salute your dedication to America and I wish all of you good luck.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

it never ends...

Okay, something obviously very criminal and very seedy is going on here...

EPA Scrubbing Library Web Site to Make Reports Unavailable

I know every oversight organization created by our government (EPA, NLRB, FDA, etc.) is "independent" by definition, at least technically. But I can't recall another administration that has so thoroughly and insidiously transformed what seems like every single one of them into departments with almost cabinet-level powers...each with the sole aim of rubber-stamping said administration's agenda: the agenda of greed that we've seen at the root of every federal endeavor since 2001. (It fascinates me how conservatives constantly rail about "activist judges" without even the slightest self-awareness.)

My guess...the EPA is quickly trying to destroy all evidence that will link them to the corporate powers who really direct their activities. And just in time for the new Republican-minority congress to convene.

I remember what's-his-name Berger getting busted for doing the same thing after Clinton left office. It just galls me that we're so powerless to stop this sort of thing from happening...

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Ode to the birthday girl

(Note: This was written on December 7th...just couldn’t post it until today.)

First off, happy (?) Pearl Harbor Day, everyone. What do you wish someone on a day as tragic (“infamous,” by a famous standard) as Pearl Harbor Day? Not sure how that works. Especially for someone like my dearest friend, Wendy, whose late father was a survivor of the attack in this day has very special (for lack of a better word) significance for her. Hope she can feel my love from afar today, as that’s all I can offer her...

And happy birthday to my first “real” girlfriend, Laura Dudley. I’m sure she has a new last name now or something. God, what a little piece she was...hottie-hot-hot-hot. But hot in the hottest of all ways, which is that of someone who doesn’t know she is hot. Once she realized she was a few years later, she became – and remained, for at least as long as I knew her – thoroughly impressed with herself. Which, of course, made her not very hot at all. At least in my eyes. To me, there are few things less attractive than lack of humility. I’m sure that says something about me, but whatever. I don’t think there’s anything more unattractive than somebody who obviously knows they’re attractive. And I’ve met a few people like that lately.

But I digress, for that is not the birthday girl in question. This birthday ode – which I will communicate via the time-honored and hella-fun haiku format – is for Amanda, who, in addition to countless other things, puts the “t” and “a” in Boca Tinta. Amanda’s birthday is tomorrow, the eighth. She will be turning thirty-something (I don’t know what) and tonight’s combination “Listening to...” / Boca birffday bash should be quite fun. I know Val’s doing her part...

The last time I saw Amanda – at the Thursday Dada show a couple weeks ago – was right on the heels of a pretty crummy period for her. Without getting into details, I know I’m still very startled and hurt-on-her-behalf (yes, that needs to be hyphenated because I can’t think of a better single word) about everything that was said and not said, done and not her and about her. As far as I know - because I still haven’t had enough opportunity to get to know her as well as I’d like - Amanda puts her heart and soul into promoting the local music community. Why she does it...I have no idea, though I have some theories. Although, it ultimately doesn’t matter what her motives are. The fact is she gets up every day and does something she feels is important, and that’s more than most of us can say for ourselves most of the time.

I’ve had very limited experience with anyone who has put forth as much energy and commitment (emotionally and physically) into something that is by definition a “volunteer” endeavor as Amanda seems to. And I have had a decent amount of experience with people who devote some part of their lives toward a cause for/about which they feel strongly, considering I “volunteer,” myself (god, that’s badly worded). Yes, I’m sure she gets repaid for her efforts by way of the internal/spiritual/intellectual creamy goodness we all yearn for. And there may be other, more tangible forms of payment she receives for her efforts; idea, nor is it any of my business, though I’d enjoy learning of her doing so. But what I’m trying to say is that as an occasional witness to what she does, why and how she does it, and the amount of her very being that she sacrifices for the cause, it really did hurt me badly to watch her get hurt. And it still stings me. Although, I should say it’s unfair of me to even assume she was hurt because I honestly don’t know whether she was...we’ve never really discussed it. But even if it did roll off her without leaving a mark, it felt like an injury to me. And to add some amount of salt to my wound in a weirdly unexplainable way, I never saw her react to any of what was happening with anything less than total dignity and class. Myself, I wanted to whip at least one person’s ass. And give at least one other person a big piece of my mind. But Amanda more or less – and, again, this is only from my limited vantage point – just picked up what needed to be picked up and got back on with things without missing a beat. And that’s more than I can say for those other people, or myself, for that matter.

What hurt me about the whole thing was that it wasn’t fair and she deserved better. You don’t volunteer to do anything sincerely because you expect to make a literal or figurative profit somehow. You do it because there’s a part of you that needs to do it, and you do it simply because no one else will. For every one person who actually gets off his or her ass and does something meaningful (relative term, I know), knowing that there’s no guaranteed reciprocation, there are a hundred other people who don’t...for various reasons, virtually none of which are legitimate. And those of us who do certainly don’t expect to get kicked in the teeth for doing so. (So much for the humility I was just praising...I don’t mean to sound self-righteous.) But when it does happen – and it inevitably does – it speaks volumes about people when they continue to “put themselves out there” (as Wendy, another selfless soul, loves to say) after experiencing even a small amount of misfortune. So watching Amanda get back to business was actually very inspiring. And that really is what Amanda has been to me for the short time I’ve known inspiring person.

(Having said that, though, I must concede that she’s probably a royal pain in the ass to live and/or work with – as am I. And she’s probably annoying as fuck with regard to, annoying things. Like for example, I know she sucks ass when it comes to returning emails. So there’s that. Plus, I get the impression – and I ain’t sayin’ how – she has her share of demons, blind spots, lack of consideration toward some things she should pay more attention to, etc. As do I. Or something. I just don’t want anyone to get the impression that I think the woman can walk on water or anything. Anyway, back to my “the last time I saw Amanda” story, which got buried in the gooshy sentiment.)

The last time I saw Amanda, we were saying goodbye to one another during...fuck, I’ve already forgotten their name...somebody’s eleven o’clock set at Dada. As is her tendency, she gave me her BocaHug and even tried to give me a little peck on the mouth. (She only partially succeeded because I was indecisively dodging on account of the cold I was carrying around with me at the time. I didn’t want to be, you know...communicable or anything). Anyway, as she was embracing me, she spoke into my ear, thanking me for “believing in” her, sticking with her, etc. I’m sure she said other stuff, but I’ve honestly forgotten what it was since it caught me off guard (both the attempted smooch and the message). Because – and this is really where I’ve been trying to get in the midst of all this blabbering – I should really be thanking her. I don’t know whether she “believes in” me or is “sticking with” me (and I’m paraphrasing, anyway), but I do know that she saw or read or heard or felt something that led her to the decision that I had something to offer her and/or her cause on some level. I don’t know what that is or when it may have happened, but I’m hugely appreciative of the fact that something made her consider me worthwhile or even a little inspiring to her. That’s a very, very cool thing. And through that – whatever “that” is – I’ve been inspired to open myself up more to a lot of things…another piece or two of the outside world...some untouched or neglected places inside my own shell...avenues and activities I would have most likely never explored had I not learned of her enthusiasm and support for...whatever the hell it is that I do. She’s already rewarded me with so much in return for...very little on my part, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, I’m rambling. The point is that I owe her immeasurably. For “believing” or something, I think. I’m not sure.

So thank you, Amanda.

And without more of the endless babbling I seem to do whenever something gets me motivated, here is the Boca Tinta Haiku...


Love to love Boca.
She works hard for no money...
better treat her right.


Happy birthday, Amanda.

Love, Danny


Monday, December 04, 2006

Oh, how I love bats...

"You got a perfect score! To learn even more about bats, visit some bat-related links on the Internet."

What can I say...I know my bat facts.

Take the bat quiz. Many nifty questions accompanied by fun illustrations (such as this one) will ensue.

PS - There are far too many people who get ooked out by these very lovable critters with no good reason. Aside from the fact that they're just cuter than hell - although I know that sort of thing is subjective - they also perform all kinds of magnificent and necessary functions in our planet's grand ecology. If I've forgiven Ozzy for chomping the head off one once, you all can learn to appreciate yet another unsung hero in our midst...the bat. (All varieties.) So do it already, dammit...!

PPS - There's a great link under my, uh, links section that will take you to the wonderful Bat Conservation Society based in Austin. The central hill country area of Texas is one of the greatest bat habitats on Earth and I - shamefully - have yet to go spend any quality time with them. It's in the plans for this coming year, though, I promise...


Sunday, December 03, 2006

the plot thickens...

Growing up in Dallas, you have no choice but to be hyper-aware of the most obvious infamy ever connected with the city: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s not anywhere near as sore a spot with locals as it once was, but it’s still there. There’s always been something a little odd about the fact that the site of the assassination is so central and so visible to everyone in Dallas, though we all do our best to mostly ignore it. But you can’t miss seeing the actual spot where the killing occurred as you drive north on I-35E past the downtown area. Just to your right you’ll see the Texas Schoolbook Depository building (now the Sixth Floor Museum), Dealey Plaza, the now mythical “grassy knoll” area, and the equally famous triple underpass, along which the motorcade sped on its way to Parkland Hospital after the shooting occurred. There’s even an “X” painted on Elm Street to mark the exact spot where Kennedy was shot. And when I say it’s “odd” that the area is so visible, I don’t mean that in any conspiratorial way. It’s that it’s just kind of sitting there, hiding in plain sight, right smack dab in the middle of everything. Objectively, it’s a really beautiful area, I think...visually and architecturally one of the nicest places in Dallas.

As for me, I’ll never have to make special effort to remember the date of the assassination, as it occurred on my mother’s birthday, the year my sister was born. My parents were actually living briefly in northern California where my dad was stationed with the army when it happened, and they’ve both told me about some really ugly comments they were on the receiving end of after JFK’s murder when people learned they were from Dallas. And I’ve read and heard plenty about the climate of hatred toward the Kennedy family in Dallas (and the south in general) at the time of the event. It was certainly nothing to be proud of. So people here are still understandably a little squeamish about the topic because so much of the world blamed everyone in the city for it. And some folks still consider Dallas, first and foremost, “the city that killed Kennedy.”

(To provide a somewhat unseemly, albeit dated example of that mindset, here’s some of Glenn Danzig’s fine work with the Misfits circa 1980-ish. From the song “Bullet”...

“President's bullet-ridden body in the street...ride, Johnny ride

Kennedy's shattered head hits concrete...ride, Johnny ride
Johnny's wife is floundering, Johnny's wife is, Jackie run

“Texas is an outrage when your husband is dead,
Texas is an outrage when they pick up his head,
Texas is the reason that the president's dead”

[As ridiculous as they were, the Misfits were actually a pretty damn good punk band. Though Danzig himself has since become a completely embarrassing human being with a serious Napoleon complex. To me, the perfect assessment of him can be found in this negative review of one of his solo records, where the reviewer notes with much genius, “Someday the sages will point at Danzig and murmur a...warning about the hazards of mixing steroids with Brylcreem.” Love it. But, once again, I digress.] )

Anyway, as we all know, the JFK assassination was and remains the mother lode for conspiracy theorists. Due in no small part to the number of different people and/or groups that would have loved to see JFK dead...the Soviets, the Cubans, the mob, the CIA, the FBI...there was such a clusterfuck of sordid, secret activity being conducted on all sides back then that it might be impossible for anyone to ever figure it out. The Kennedy family was – and probably still is – the ultimate political dynasty and they set the bar impossibly high with regard to ill-gotten influence and deceit (thought, the Bushes seem to be gaining ground). The whole ugly scene was an orgy (sometimes quite literally) of corruption and seediness that didn’t begin to reveal itself until many years after the bodies started piling up.

I don’t think I know anyone who believes the “lone gunman” conclusion the Warren Commission came to. Myself, I always figured it was the mob that did it. The Kennedy family was up to its eyeballs in illegal, mafia-connected activity dating back to Joseph Kennedy. There’s more than a little proof that the Kennedys would never have attained and maintained their status – both with regard to wealth and political success – without their mob connections. However, once Jack became president and appointed Bobby his attorney general and they decided to “crack down” on organized crime to score political points...well, if you believe all those mob movies, you don’t do that shit. Otherwise, you wake up with your favorite horse’s head next to you...or your movie star mistress “accidentally” dies...or you end up dead, yourself. Oddly coincidental that both Kennedy brothers were killed under such mysterious circumstances within a few years of each other, don’t you think? And that both killings just reeked of “professional hit.” To me, anyway. And, while I’ve never been all that educated about Bobby’s murder, I also find it a little unbelievable that some doofy Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan was able to take RFK out so easily, with “murder fantasy” or some shit as his only real motive. I just can’t believe it’s that easily and neatly explained.

So I find it a little surprising and totally intriguing that the BBC has apparently uncovered evidence that places three CIA operatives at the scene of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in Los Angeles. Turns out the three agents in question – who have been positively identified – were in southeast Asia as far as the rest of the world knew...until now. You can read the story here.

Now, it’s not surprising that a foreign news agency would be able to uncover this before anyone else, considering how ineffective the media here has become. But I wonder if this story will generate many headlines in the U.S...?

Very, very interesting...

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

“Families is where our nation finds hope, where our wings take dream.” - President Dubya

I got the sweetest email on behalf of our beloved leader. I found it quite touching and in keeping with the honored tradition of politicians speaking plainly and honestly with their constituents. I’m assuming you will receive it the same way...


Subject: Thank You For Your Correspondence About The NLRB
Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2006 16:47:22 -0500
From: "White House Strategic Initiatives"
To: (ancient chinese secret)

On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your concern about the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) recent ruling on supervisory classification.

The NLRB is a federal agency created by Act of Congress to administer the National Labor Relations Act, and as such, its decisions are made independently. President Bush has made appointments to the NLRB consistent with his commitment to pro-growth policies that reward hard work and enterprise.

The success of the American economy further reflects the President’s commitment to the growth and prosperity of our Nation. Since August 2003, the US economy has created more than 6.8 million new jobs -- a tribute to the skill and dedication of the American worker and President Bush’s pro-growth agenda.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.


Nice, huh? I especially dig the somewhat Victorian capitalization of the word “nation” in the final paragraph. Makes it seem more Proper and Roosevelt-ish, which is especially Necessary and Respectable in these times of Great Turmoil.

Apparently, the office of Dubya hisself was responding to an email I sent through the good folks at American Rights At Work who are understandably pissed off by a recent decision by the NLRB that would be quite funny if it wasn’t so disturbing. Here are a few of the highlights (as stated by the ARAW in their press release)...

[...The] National Labor Relations Board’s new definition of supervisor significantly departs from past interpretations and could have the result of depriving millions of workers the opportunity to choose to unionize because they are classified as a supervisor. It is yet another decision by the current Board that sides with business, directly against the interests of workers...

[According to the NLRB...]
the assignment of routine tasks is sufficient to confer supervisory status, even if the assignment is a reflection of professional judgment and even if the employee in question has no input into the general allocation of work assignments. Dissenting Labor Board members aptly expressed their grave concern about the ruling, stating that, 'The result could come as a rude shock to nurses and other workers who for decades have been effectively protected by the NLRA, but who now may find themselves treated, for labor-law purposes, as members of management, with no right to pursue collective bargaining or engage in other concerted activity in the workplace…The majority’s decision thus denies the protection of the Act to yet another group of workers, while strengthening the ability of employers to resist the unionization of other employees.’

Well, so much for our esteemed president making policies to ‘reward hard work and enterprise.’ I had no idea the man was such a lying sack of shit. Anyway, the email I sent to The Dub which started this whole back-and-forth is as follows...


Millions of working men and women struggle every day to provide for their families. Now when they join together to form a union to have a say about their working conditions, benefits, and job safety, they not only find themselves up against stiff resistance from their employer, but the government, too.

The very agency that is supposed to protect a worker's basic right to form a union has once again taken away those rights, and moved instead to protect the interests of big business. Your appointees to the National Labor Relations Board decided to reclassify employees with limited supervisory duties as 'supervisors,' therefore stripping millions of workers of their right to form a union.

President Bush, hard-working men and women deserve better! I am outraged about this decision.

America has a duty to uphold and protect workers' rights to form unions and collectively bargain. It's time you reversed the course of your administration's path of destroying workers' rights and championing the cause of big business.

I urge you to take whatever steps are needed to restore our rights. Please take a pledge to start standing up for working men and women across the country.


Wow. Really shook my finger right in his fucking face, didn’t I? Geez, if he’s getting emails like that all day long, no wonder he walks around looking like he’s just been smacked upside the head with a two-by-four. But, yeah...that should take care of that. (Picture me adjusting my pants with a self-congratulatory snort, a la Barney Fife.)

Actually, you would be correct in assuming, based on the proper grammar and respectful tone used and the lack of my typical verbal j/o, that I did not compose the above message myself. It was one of those pre-written form thingies that we’re all sending all over the place these days. And in the prez’s defense, shouldn’t he be able to respond in a similarly non-personal fashion? Absolutely.

(And it’s certainly preferable to what our moronic senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, does, which is to mail out an actual letter – like, on paper and in an addressed envelope – in response to every email she gets. Or maybe she just really likes me, personally. But I doubt it, and it pisses me off to no end every time I get one. Hell, one day last week I got three of the fucking things at the same time about three different things. And every goddamn one of them sounded exactly the same...the printed equivalent of elevator music. It makes me wonder if our tax dollars are paying some bunch of flunkies – excuse me, supervisors – to sit down there printing out a hundred thousand of these stupid things that read like Charlie Brown’s teacher sounded, then stuff them into envelopes and mail them out. It’s the silliest waste of paper, postage and labor I’ve ever seen. I just hope she’s using her money and not ours to do it.

(You know, Kay, I’m not emailing you to ask what your thoughts
have no thoughts. If you could figure out how to relocate your office so that your face is in Dubya’s lap underneath the Oval Office desk, you’d do it. We know this. You already come across to the nation as the head cheerleader from “Animal House,” which is embarrassing enough as it is. I don’t think any of us are expecting a surprise in the form of independent thought from you. The purpose of your receiving our messages is because...well, you’re supposed to represent us. So why waste our time and yours – not to mention all those resources – with the very redundant formality of physically sending out a form-letter response? Just send us a completely pleasant, thoroughly innocuous email auto-reply like the Commander In Chief does? See, it’s that kind of ‘skill and determination’ that got him where he is. If, by ‘skill and determination,’ I really mean “just the right balance of opportunism and stupidity.” But I digress.)

But the issue here isn’t so much all the emailing the G-Man and I have been doing lately. The larger issue is, of course, that blasted decision and the fact that these people have once again found a way to overturn decades of legislation by coming in the back door and changing the reality of the situation to fit an existing legal profile. They can’t change the law...therefore, they’ll simply redefine some of the words used in the law – very basic, specific, non-ambiguous words like “supervisor” – to make their agenda legally acceptable.

I think there are a couple different ways of looking at the ruling. The optimist might say, “Our nation’s economy is so prosperous – what with its ‘more than 6.8 million new jobs’ – that all companies should now be able to consider every last employee a supervisor! Oh, god bless us, every one.” Apparently, ‘the assignment of routine tasks is sufficient to confer supervisory status, even if the assignment is a reflection of professional judgment and even if the employee in question has no input into the general allocation of work assignments.’ Well, fuck me...I’m a supervisor! When did that happen? How did that happen? Whatever it was...Suck my ass, you lowly non-supervisor peons! True, being a supervisor means I can’t participate in union-related activities. But who needs that when you’re in fucking management?!? I’ll be getting more vacation days and a big, honkin’ raise and shit like that anyway, right? Right...?

Whereas the pessimist might say, “Hmmm...Now every employee can be considered management simply based on the fact that they get a paycheck. Which makes unions legally obsolete. And the only ‘bonus’ the new ‘supervisors’ will be getting is the opportunity to be fired for involving themselves in any organized labor groups because they have no protection from the government. Nifty. And quite ‘enterprising,’ indeed, on the part of whichever lobbyists thought this up. Look out, have competition...”

Here is what the NLRB’s own website says...

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act [Note: As with all legal-related issues, the NLRA is a long-ass, brain-melting smorgasbord of legalese. Enter at your own risk.], the primary law governing relations between unions and employers in the private sector. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers, and to engage in other protected concerted activity with or without a union, or to refrain from all such activity.

Doesn’t sound to me, based on the definition provided by their website, that the NLRB is doing its job at all. It may, technically, be “independent,” but the members of the board who were appointed by the Dubinator – which is almost the entire board – were undoubtedly appointed because they possess the professional and political makeup necessary to perpetuate his administration’s vision. Which isn’t in itself all that noteworthy because every president would do the same thing. It’s just that I find it a little disturbing that the board’s decisions appear to be in violation of its own expressed purpose.

Anyway, with all the above nonsense aside, I’d now like to translate RoboDubya’s response to me in a more realistic fashion...


On behalf of President Bush, blahblahblahblahdeblah.

The NLRB is a federal agency created by Act of Congress to administer the National Labor Relations Act, which legally gives them a buffer from the perception that they might be functioning for the sole purpose of administering the current president’s objectives, which include promoting or creating scenarios that allow the maximum legal profit for corporate shareholders and executives, often at the expense of non-executive employees. President Bush has made appointments to the NLRB consistent with his commitment to imposing policy that contributes to the financial gain of the wealthiest corporations and individuals with whom he has been connected his entire life because he was fortunate enough to be born to the
Bush Dynasty, which includes brothers Jeb, Neil and Marvin, sister Dorothy, uncles Jonathon, Prescott Jr., and Bucky (and don’t we all have at least one Uncle Bucky...?), cousins Billy Bush and John Prescott Ellis, father George H.“no new taxes”W., grandfather Prescott, and great-grandfathers George Herbert Walker, Marvin Pierce, and Samuel P. Bush. To name just a few. Because the president understands the meaning of ‘hard work and enterprise’ as well as most average American citizens (or ‘supervisors,’ as we’ve taken to calling them). While his blood is an uncommon shade of blue, he nevertheless bleeds like everyone else. Just ask Uncle Bucky. But as for appointments the president has actually made to reward hard work and enterprise, there have been plenty. How about these folks for starters...?

a.) Who can forget Michael (doin’ a heckuva job, Brownie) Brown? He was the Director of FEMA until some unpleasant weather arrived in the gulf coast. Prior to that, he did a stint as head of an Arabian horse association. Not sure if that means it was an association of actual horses or a group of people that watched horses or what, but we’re sure some sort of emergency could have broken out at any time. Brownie was (presumably) there to take care of it when it did. Just like he did in New Orleans.

b.) John Snow became Secretary of the Treasury after his stint as CEO of CSX, a multi-million dollar global transportation corporation that was somehow able to make all its profits in three of the last four years “pre-tax” AND score an impressive $164 million in tax rebates…especially impressive considering the rebates were for taxes never paid. Enterprising, indeed! Why WOULDN’T he become Secretary of the Treasury...?
c.) Gale Norton was a former mining industry lobbyist before she became Secretary of the Interior. She’s thoroughly aware of what it takes to destroy the environment...!

Linda Fisher became “Deputy Administrator” (it’s a ‘supervisor’ of sorts) for the EPA after spending her previous years lobbying for Monsanto in opposition to having genetically modified foods labeled as such for consumers. A logical choice, don’t you think?

e.) Stan Suboleski was an executive with the A.C. Massey Coal Company which, according to the United Mineworkers, has one of the worst safety records in the industry. A.C. Massey is also the company responsible for the devastation of more than seventy miles of streams in eastern Kentucky when 300 million gallons of coal sludge spilled from one of its mines - the worst ecological disaster in the U.S. since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It takes a lot of hard work to do something that big, which is probably why Suboleski was appointed head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. As for enterprising, Suboleski’s appointment was made during a senate recess, which freed him from having to go through senate confirmation hearings. He was able to get started immediately! That’s hard work and dedication right there, folks...

f.) Then there’s our old friend, James Baker, who was recently appointed “Iraq Debt Envoy.” We don’t know what that is either, but we’re assuming it probably has something to do with debt, Iraq and being an envoy of some sort. Baker has made his name working for three previous Republican administrations, so you know he’s got a pretty kickass pension waiting for him. At any rate, in addition to being a longtime Washington scuzbag, er, supervisor, Baker served as chief legal adviser for
George W. Bush during the 2000 election campaign, oversaw (‘supervised!’) the Florida recount, and was instrumental in getting the Supreme Court to intervene. (Over 200,000 votes were not counted due to problems with punch card ballots. He’s a take-charge kinda guy.)

When not busy envoying debt to and/or from Iraq, Baker is also senior counsel to the Carlyle Group, a global investment company with close and celebrated ties to the Saudi royal family. And he’s a partner in Baker-Botts, a Houston law firm whose client list includes Halliburton and the Saudi royal family. He’s so good at supervision, vice-president Dick Cheney, who chairs the White House Energy Policy Development Group, commissioned a report on ‘energy security’ from the Baker Institute for Public Policy (Baker’s ‘think-tank’). Said institute then forwarded its recommendations to the vice president. Among the advisors to the policy recommendations...the late Kenneth Lay, former Enron CEO; Luis Giusti, a non-executive director(?) for the Shell corporation; John Manzoni, regional president of British Petroleum (BP); and David O'Reilly, chief executive of Chevron-Texaco. Much hard work and unbiased enterprise was undoubtedly involved.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But now you see what the president means when he talks about ‘pro-growth policies and agenda.’ ‘Growth’ is Washington slang for ‘profit.’ The president and his friends (and supervisors) intend to do a LOT of growing before his term is up...

The success of the American economy further reflects the President’s commitment to the growth and prosperity of our Nation. Though, when we use the words ‘success,’ ‘growth’ and ‘prosperity’ we don’t really refer to
this report from August which says, 'one in eight Americans and almost one in four blacks lived in poverty last year, a figure virtually unchanged from 2004 (according to a U.S. Census report). (The same report showed) 15.9 percent of the population, or 46.6 million, had no health insurance, up from 15.6 percent in 2004 - the fifth increase in a row.' However the good news is that 2005 'was the first year since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 that the poverty rate did not increase.' Now THAT’S success!

Since August 2003, the US economy has created more than 6.8 million new jobs, though we’re not sure how that compares to the number of jobs given away by outsourcing. But growth is growth, right? And there are a bunch of corporations who are way more prosperous now than they were prior to 2001. And that is most definitely a tribute to the skill and dedication of the American worker and President Bush’s pro-growth agenda. We think.

Thank you again for taking the time to write. Though it was a complete waste of your time to do so.


So that’s my take on Dubya’s “message.” Not that anyone asked. Oh, and while I can’t vouch for the total accuracy of the Bush family biographic links above, they do make for interesting reading...


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