Saturday, December 24, 2005

Peace On Earth

Good will to all. Whether or not you celebrate. Whatever you celebrate and whenever you celebrate it.

Peace. Less spying. Less dying. Less lying. Less crying.

Peace. More caring. More sharing. Start looking like a damn kindergarten class.

Peace. More thinking. Less acting. Then more acting and less thinking.

Peace on earth. A girl can dream, can't she?

With love,

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Spies Who Loved Us All

They must love us liberals, right? I mean, they're spying on us all. They're spying on a "Vegan Community Project". They're spying on PETA and Greenpeace. And they're spying on the Catholic Workers, for crying out loud. Personally, I'm most frightened of those vegans. Back off. Keep away from my flank steak.

The FBI assures us that this is all about criminal activity. Certainly not about stopping peaceful protest or quelling activists who have non-Republican points of view. Yet the FBI Counterterrorist agents are the ones doing the spying. Not just spying, but launching terrorism investigations. Do you see a lot of reason for suspecting terrorism in the Catholic Workers or the Vegans? Let's call it terrorism so we can keep an eye on what the domestic enemy (aka liberals and Democrats) is doing.

Says the ACLU: "The FBI should use its resources to investigate credible threats to national security instead of spending time tracking innocent Americans who criticize government policy, or monitoring groups that have not broken the law."

Says the ACLU. "It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans."

Says me. Uh huh.

Bush and party continue to come out swinging on the rightness (pun intended) of spying on Americans through all various agencies, including and particularly the NSA. His attorney general says it's been authorized by Congress (because Congress authorized going to war against Iraq). He and Bush both say that the President has power to do this under the Constitution (because he's Commander in Chief).

Really, I've got to reread that Constitution. I just do not remember anything in there about Presidents being allowed to suspend laws.

A more serious analysis of these arguments can be found here. And a somewhat similar discussion here. Or here. From these, I am frightened to learn that the President has more leg to stand on than I would have thought, based on somewhat tentatively related previous cases. But it's all very tentative and up for debate, particularly the Constitutional argument. No one thinks he's definitely in the clear. Some think he doesn't have a leg. Some think he does.

Whether he does or doesn't, what is clear is that no one is very happy with Bush's actions. The outrage in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, is palpable. Yet, after this weekend of media blitz, his ratings are rising. God, are we really that dumb? "Oh, we had to do it to protect you and couldn't use a court that would allow even us to act RETROACTIVELY because terrorism is a bad bogeyman and will get you in time travel."

At least someone in America is acting in an intelligent and rational fashion. The Dover judge ruled against intelligent design in the schools. Yippee!

Join the guerilla movement for impeachment. I've already got my signs on my front door.

Until tomorrow,

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Two Topics to Consider

1. Consider Oil.
Got a sneaky old politico trying desperately to get ANWR drilling approved ASAP (hey, like all those letters?) by attaching it to the military spending bill. Senator Stevens is apparently frustrated with his fellow Republicans, who've refused to pass a budget bill if drilling is involved. Democrats are exploring their options and trying to figure out how to de-tach, should it come to pass. But Senatorial folks may get pissy about it all--afraid it will look bad if they don't pass the military spending bill and support those soldiers.

Speaking of how things look, Peter Maas had a fascinating poke in the eye for all of us who so champion keeping America oil-drilling free. He suggests that we're ever so slightly selfish in our attempts to keep the US pristine, as Americans have shown no inclination to reduce our consummation of oil. Instead, we expect other countries, to their great detriment, to drill for our oil. Our beaches stay clean, theirs become foul and fowl-less. And we sacrifice nothing.


2. Consider Our Commander-in-Chief's Weekend
Bush's handlers have apparently decided it's time to get tough. Or at least look tough. He sent his boss, er, Vice President to Iraq, on a top secret visit designed to puff up the accomplishments of the war on Iraq while drawing media attention away from negative stories.

Condi Rice showed up on, surprise, Fox News to proclaim the absolute necessity of spying on Americans without a court order. Then she attacked the press for focusing on the issue, saying

(Like the terrorists didn't already know you would find some way to know about their activities?)

And Bush himself will speak to US twice. He's already done a live radio address, and will do an Oval Office speech in a few hours. Here's my favorite pre-released quote from the speech to come: "But it (the election) is the beginning of something new: constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East." I'm glad someone is going to have a constitutional democracy. Feels like this one is on the wane at the moment, with a President seizing power whenever and where ever he likes.

The point of the National Security Agency's set up was to provide some protection, however small, against precisely the type of actions the President's order expressly approves of. Don't believe any of the administration's baloney about the need for speed. Please. According to Talking Points, the law surrounding the NSA "specifically empowers the Attorney General or his designee to start wiretapping on an emergency basis even without a warrant so long as a retroactive application is made for one 'as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance.'"

There is no need for speed. There is only, on the part of the President and his pack, a salivating desire to answer to no one. And this is just one area of intelligence in which Bush is tossing the lawbooks over his shoulders, with about as much care as David Letterman shows when he tosses his cue cards over his shoulder each evening. Political Animal highlights the "worrisome pattern" in which we are all at risk of losing our freedoms in the defense of "freedom".

Time to get off, get a glass of wine, and ready myself for a dose of Bush telling me what he's doing to defend me and mine. If only I felt as free as he thinks he's making me.

Until tomorrow,

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush loses; us, too?

It's a bloody Christmas miracle for those of us who treasure our civil liberties, with a bitter backsplash from the morning news.

On one hand, the Senate, with both Republicans and Democrats on board, blocked renewal of the extension of the Patriot (sic) Act. Think this act of gutsy-ness has anything to do with the snowballing Bush free-fall? At the very least, let's hope it has something to do with our outrage over the US's acts of torture that Condi Rice has traipsed the world, trying to smooth over.

Backsplash. Perhaps it also has something to do with today's news that Bush issued an order allowing the National Security Agency to spy on all of US without a court order. According to the NYTimes, the NSA is primarily an international spy agency. The administration defended itself by saying that this has helped prevent terror attacks, and listed one specific incident. Condi defends Bush by saying that Bush has acted "with a healthy respect for the civil liberties that are at the core of the law."Up to 400 Americans are being spied upon at a time. Without court approval. Mmm. Respectful.

Making this harder to swallow, the Times cops to the fact that they delayed, at the request of the Bush Administration, publishing this news for one year while they continued to report and examine the story. Sheesh, how nice of them. Have we discussed the right-wing media conspiracy lately? I can't depend on my government to safeguard my civil liberties, nor can I depend on the media to alert me to my government not safeguarding my civil liberties.

There are so many different intelligence agencies in our government. I find it hard to keep track of them all. NSA is one that we rarely hear about. The Times says it is the biggest one, though. It's job is to spy on foreign folks. The drill it is supposed to follow to spy foreign folks is to go before a special court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court aka the secret court. Never heard of them. Neither have you?

It's a special court, 11 members, appointed by the Chief Justice. 7 of them are Federal District Court Judges, the rest have to live near DC. Senator Rockefeller is currently one of those judges. The reason it is considered a "secret" court? It's proceedings are not a matter of public record.

So, NSA's job is to spy on foreign folks (or to procure foreign intelligence, if you'd like me to sound intelligent) after getting an ok from the secret court whose goings-on we can know nothing about. Sounds bad enough. Instead, NSA is spying on Americans without even the approval of the secret court.

Did I mention that the secret court has reviewed over 10,000 requests for spying and turned down only a handful? And that the court has virtually no congressional oversight? Yet the Bush administration felt the need to avoid it? Bush once again circumvented the law. Avoid. Evade. And make nice when you get caught through lying and skating the truth.

Sounds like more grounds for impeachment, my friends.

Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A few things

1. Now, how can this not be news? 53% of Americans believe that Bush should be impeached if he lied about his reasons for leading America to war in Iraq. Well, duh. So let's impeach the guy and get it over with, says me.

We need proof that he lied, says you? How about the ongoing Chicago Tribune Editorial page look

And folks rant about the left wing media conspiracy? Please. If there were truly such an animal, this survey would've been on the front page of every major paper. The fact that it got virtually no coverage tells us an entirely different story. A Fox news kind of story.

2. Oh My God. Bush administration does something good for the environment. It cooperated with numerous other state and local groups to come up with a proposal to fix up the Great Lakes.

It's a reasonably fabulous plan, filled with noble goals like fighting invasive species and restoring coastal wetlands (remember those? the areas that are to protect the rest of the land that didn't NOLA during Katrina?). Sewers would be upgraded so that they didn't untreated and partially treated sewage into the lakes. Seems like a good idea, huh?

Oh never mind. The Bush administration isn't actually planning on the US funding it, given that the Republicans want to cut the budget by $50 billion. So the report and recommendations and plan isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Representative Bart Stupak agreed, saying, "We've been through this a million times. Nothing is going to happen with the Great Lakes until there is a commitment of money. I don't see that happening until we have a new president."

There's a lot of issues waiting for a new president. Brings us back to that impeachment idea . . . .

One piece of good news that isn't dependent on money is the agreement signed by eight states and two Canadian provinces that prevents outsiders from taking water from the region. Places like Arizona or California want our water to keep their lawns greens. Nope. Not happening. It's important to the ecosystem to keep our water right where it belongs: here. Glad to hear our government(s) feel the same way.

If you're interested in the Great Lakes, and if you live in the Midwest, you ought to be as it most likely supplies your drinking water (directly or indirectly) check out this great Detroit News series on the Great Lakes. You can also go here for more information.

My parents are recently retired and are fortunate enough to live on Grand Traverse Bay, which is part of Lake Michigan. Beautiful, beautiful area. Dad works with The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, a private nonprofit working to protect the Bay. Great group to support, if you're looking for some end of the tax year giving opportunities.

Though maybe you should find an Impeach Bush group to give to, instead. ;-)

Until tomorrow,

Friday, December 09, 2005

Our less valuable citizens

My stomach has been knotty for the past few days over the air marshal shooting of Rigoberto Alpizar. Alpizar was shot by air marshals who claim that he said he was carrying a bomb. Right behind him was his wife, shouting that he was bipolar and hadn't taken his medication. All the officials quoted thus far back the air marshals 100%, saying that they executed (sick pun intended) exactly as they are trained to do.

Officials have confirmed that Alpizar was bipolar. According to a NYTimes article, Miami Dade police say that interviews with over 100 passengers and crew confirm that Alpizar refused to surrender. None of the articles I've read, however, have confirmation from any passenger regarding any bomb threat. Did the captain of the flight did hear a bomb threat? Again, a Times quote: "But Mark Raynor, an American Airlines pilot and local union official in Miami, said an account he heard from the plane's captain had supported law enforcement accounts of the shooting."

And here's another quote from Reuters:

Security experts said even if it turned out that the man was mentally ill, the air marshals had acted exactly as they have been trained to in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. "The man was clearly intent on committing 'suicide by cop,'" said Scot Phelps, associate professor of emergency and disaster management at the Metropolitan College of New York. "That's exactly what you want an air marshal to do, that's what they're trained to do," Phelps said.

What an irresponsible statement, to presume Phelps knew Alpizar's intent, given how little we know about him. And what an irresponsible statement, given what we do know about bipolarity. Gotta say that I'm not thrilled with the notion that our air marshals are trained to shoot to kill, regardless of a person's mental status.

My husband attitude was one of resignation. He didn't think that much could be done to stop such a situation. And he pointed out that being bipolar (or having any other mental or neurological health issue) could easily be used as a ploy to give a terrorist just enough time to set off a bomb.

Come on, people. Aren't we smarter than this? Isn't there some system, some plan, that our government can come up with to assure the safety of our mentally ill citizens in this time of over-blown terrorist hysteria? I desperately want there to be.

I've mentioned my son before, who has Asperger's Syndrome. Mild autism. Brilliant. But terrible social skills. Poor reading of, and responding to, social situations. And any situation that involves people is a social situation. When it comes to people, he has an IQ of zero. And he panics easily and becomes reactive when frightened or mad.

Parents in the autism community worry a great deal about their children's possible interactions with the police, particularly as our kids grow to adulthood. We worry about our kids not responding to police commands in a timely fashion. (Stop! Stop!) We worry about our kids not taking in information in a panic situation and doing exactly the wrong thing. (Don't touch that bag! Drop the bag!)

I can just hear Jonathan saying, "But, Mom. I was just reaching into the bag to show them that there was no bomb." Or. "But, Mom. I was telling them that I didn't have a bomb" even though we've told him to NEVER mention the word "bomb" in an airport.

We try to train our kids to make the right decisions. All parents do. But parents of kids with special needs do more than most. Lots of parents take their kids photos to the police, introduce them around, describe their behaviors so that their autistic quirks won't be misinterpreted as aggressive or criminal behavior.

So how do I train Jonathan to travel safely on a plane? How do I eradicate his autism when he hops into air marshal territory so that he won't do something that might provoke air marshal attention--or worse?

Clearly, I have to figure out a solution, as the situation isn't going to change. Why? Two reasons. First, the Bush administration thinks the air marshals did a fine job. ""I don't think anyone wants to see it come to a situation like this," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. "But these marshals appear to have acted in a way that's consistent with the extensive training that they have received. And we'll see what the investigation shows, and lessons learned from that will be applied to future training and protocol."

More importantly, though, there is no funding to do a better job of training air marshals. The Republicans apparently killed $50 million in funding for new hirees and more training. Nice touch during this era.

So, folks. Take your meds. Or keep your mentally ill or neurologically challenged loved ones out of airports. Because the air marshals are trained only to give a damn about saving our lives, not theirs.

Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fa la la la la?

We'll head out this weekend for the Yule Tree. Stockings are already hung by the non-existent chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there. And he will be, as I'm almost finished with my Christmas shopping. Clothes for the girl, video games and books for the boy. Annie is just a touch obsessed with slippers, of which she is getting several pairs.

It's darn cold here. High of 12 today, with wind chills below zero. And our home is cold, too. In anticipatory fear of the projected huge gas bills, we're living at 63 during the day and 61 at night. The kitchen, which is underventilated, is often 59. Thank goodness for my space heater, which is conveniently parked adjacent to my computer!

Sounds pretty uncomfortable, doesn't it? Well, it is. But. I don't live in a tent in Pakistan, as do approximately 3 million earthquake survivors. In Muzaffarabad, the average high for December is 61. But the average low is 38. In a tent. With no fancy sleeping bags or foam bedding to keep the frigid hard ground from sucking the heat out of you. That's one of the warmer places being affected, as it is at a lower altitude than many of the smaller villages affected up in the Himylans.

Meteorologists are predicted a rough week ahead, as well as a rough winter, overall. NATO predicts that half of the earthquake survivors may perish this winter, with suggestions of a severe winter with "subzero temperatures and snowfalls of up to five metres." That's 16 feet for US.

This is not Katrina, my friends. Katrina's victims seem to be housed, all across our country. None of them appear to be camping out in tents in the snow. And we're not talking about a few thousand souls hanging out in this weather. We're talking three million people who are homeless right now.

There are many articles out in the past week focusing on the emotional damage to those who have survived Katrina. And I do not doubt for a moment the incredible pain and suffering those who have lost their homes must feel. I'm more concerned, at this point, with those who was struggling to meet their basic physical needs. And I'm puzzled and saddened that we have not, as a people, responded to meet those needs. Are the only people who can commandeer a helicopter and fly in supplies to the remote regions Brangelina?

Pakistan plans to build 400,000 houses to help house these people. In April. In the meantime (pun intended) folks are living in the zoo. Cages are providing better housing than the government and aid companies are able to. I'm not blaming the government, particularly. Can't imagine the massive amounts of people power and organization it would take to recover from this catastrophic event. And the government has provided temporary housing to over 50,000 survivors.

But how many more people will die before needed supplies reach them? Read this article from a Red Cross/Red Crescent worker on her visit to a remote Pakistani village. Then prayer for a few more "days of grace" that allow workers time to deliver the supplies these families need to survive the winter. And, if you are so moved, drop a little fa la la money into the Red Cross.

Until tomorrow,

Friday, December 02, 2005

Off with their heads

The land of the free and the home of the brave is also the land of government-sanctioned killing. We've managed to execute 1000 people since 1976, with the execution of the sorry human being Kenneth Boyd yesterday. He is sorry, but we should be sorrier.

I have only the same old tired arguments to share. Executing criminals is not a proven deterrent. Executing criminals is barbaric, and places us in an ethical or moral plane similar to that of Saudi Arabia or Iran or Vietnam. Inmates on death row are, with alarming frequency, found to be unjustly convicted. And inmates on death row are statistically significantly more poor and black than the populace.

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan (now on trial for corruption) was so struck by the inherent unfairness in our legal system that his last act as Governor was to commute 167 death row inmate's sentences. He said that death penalty was "arbitrary and capricious."

My favorite state, Texas, has more than a third of all executions thus far. But even Texas, after years of stinging public attacks by death penalty opponents, is finally slowing down its fevered pace of killing. Public opinion is apparently swinging there (and elsewhere) against the death penalty after press coverage of shaky death penalty killings. An October Gallup Poll indicates only 64 percent of Americans favored the death penalty, down from a high of 80 percent in 1994.

Outside of the prison, as 1000th man Boyd was being executed, a Sheriff said, "Tonight justice has been served." I've really thought long and hard about that. What does justice mean? Revenge? Eye for an eye? I looked up "just" in my trusty online dictionary. (Wish I still had my family's gimongo dictionary. Loved that thing.) Says it means "having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason."

I don't see it, it being "just" to kill someone for killing someone else. I don't see the basis in fact, nor do I see it in reason. Executions are not a just punishment, all the way through the spectrum of reasons. On one side, killing is too short, too easy--particularly when we have life in prison to offer criminals. On the other side, a life for a life is never an even trade.

And a nation engaging in revenge is not a pretty sight. Look at Iraq, the war being our revenge for its supposed hand in 9/11. Revenge is a mucky mire that sticks to your boots long after you've managed to extricate yourself from the initial mud. Dubya may never get that crap off his cowboy boots. Do we, as a nation, really want the blood of a 1000 on our shoes?

Not me.

Until tomorrow,

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Never be surprised

Really. I should never be surprised by the actions of the our government. I've told you before the my 17 year old son is in a extremely paranoid state right now, doing his best imitation of Chicken Little as he discusses the state of our federal government. When news comes across my computer screen like this, I move to join him. Bwaak, bwaak.

So our military is following the example of the Bush administration and is paying for good press. Remember the Bush administration paying columnists to be nice to them around the issues of education? Remember the Bush administration distributing "news" pieces to television stations that were not exactly news?

There is nothing new under the sun in Bushland. The military is simply following that example. So it seems just a bit disingenuous for the White House to demand to get to the bottom of this. "We're very concerned about the reports. We are seeking more information from the Pentagon," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Hey. He's back. McClellan. Guess Bushland thought it was safe for his face to appear in public. Not that anyone trusts anything he says now. Odd position for an administration spokesman to be in, isn't it?

Anyway. "Concerned"? Please. The only concern this administration would have about such efforts would be that the military was caught misbehaving. The White House would, on general principles, applaud such propaganda and misinformation. And breaking of the law.

Because the LA Times article made it clear that the military did break a law this time around. US law says no planting propaganda through US press. Any propaganda anywhere inevitable ends up in the US press, given how small the world has become through the internet.

And there doesn't seem to be any question that these plants in the Iraq press were not news. Even military folks say that "(a)bsolute truth was not an essential element of these stories". Simple equation for those of us who are math-challenged: news=truth. No truth? Not real news. Unless, of course, you count news made by lying. Which Bushland seems awfully good at making these day.

Something else this administration is good at is attacking the press. Didn't I just blog about that? But wait, there's obviously more. We can talk about Bush's plans to bomb Al Jazeera. Or the constant US attempt to silence Al Jezeera. Or we can talk about the ironic embarrassment of this happening while our government trains Iraqi journalists in Western journalism.

Speaking of embarrassment. The BBC noted that the planted propaganda is "an embarrassment to the American military at a time when it is trying to promote transparency in Iraq". Said with typical English understatement.

Think the Bushies will be starting up a Fox news outlet over there soon? Seems a logical next step, now that this hasn't worked out.

Until tomorrow,