Friday, September 30, 2005

Bill Bennett Gambling Again

William Bennett, former secretary of education under President Reagan, former drug czar under President Bush I, and publicly reformed gambling junkie, has apparently fallen off the wagon in a big way.

Bennett, host of talk radio show “Morning in America,” this week stated, “If you wanted to reduce crime… you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down.” He then went on to confirm that while it would be a reprehensible thing to do, it would reduce the crime rate.

These comments were a big gamble for Bennett, who was basically, if only theoretically, extolling the virtues of genocide! Broadcast personalities have lost their jobs or been dropped by networks for making such incendiary comments (just look at Bill Maher). Probably the next best thing Bennett can do for his career now is be photographed snorting coke with Kate Moss. Still, I don’t imagine his tenure with Fox News is in any jeopardy, whatever he may do.

Democrats have been as quick to condemn Bennett’s remarks as Republicans have been quiet. Coming on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, his comments only add gravitas to the notion that “red” America doesn’t care about black America. With the stakes against Republicans as high as they now are, they’d be wise to get on the ball and condemn Bennett ASAP.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bush: Sex Slavery, Pedophilia A-OK

If you rely primarily on popular news sources, you probably missed these two recent disturbing items:

President Bush has declined imposing financial sanctions against Saudi Arabia for their continuing sex slavery issues.

The US Justice Department has stated that Pope Benedict XVI, as head of an ersatz “state,” should be immune from any legal action related to the cover up of church sex abuse, including a pending suit in Texas.

You’d never think these originated from the same president who took such a hard line on sex trafficking and the abuse of children last year at a Tampa hotel. In that speech, President Bush stated:

“Human trafficking is one of the worst offenses against human dignity. Our nation is determined to fight that crime abroad and at home.”

“This trade in human beings brings suffering to the innocent and shame to our country, and we
will lead the fight against it."

“America is also confronting nations that profit from or tolerate human trafficking.”

“Every nation that is complicit in human trafficking can know that the United States government is watching and there will be consequences if they don't act.”

The full transcript is posted on the White House Web site:

Toward the end of this speech, Bush zeroed in on Fidel Castro’s purported bragging about the quality of Cuba’s prostitutes. This was a nod to Cuban-Americans, whose votes Bush was courting at the time. Though the president mentioned many other countries, Saudi Arabia was notably absent from his speech.

Sure, Saudi Arabia is helping us with our anti-terror efforts; does that mean we can look the other way while people are terrorized, exploited, raped and beaten by their “owners” in that country?

What’s apparent from recent actions (or lack thereof) is that this administration believes subjecting women and children to sexual slavery and other forms of servitude and abuse can be overlooked when our allies are involved. At the same time, the offenses of our adversaries should receive extra attention - possibly to give the impression we truly care.

The demands of diplomacy notwithstanding, we must never allow unrelated issues (such as terrorism) to compromise our resolve against sex crimes. We must consider this a non-negotiable principle for every country we deal with, no matter what they’re doing for us. We cannot help the victims or punish the perpetrators/enablers of sex trafficking and abuse solely when it doesn’t conflict with our foreign policy objectives.

The Numbers Were Against The Anti-Anti-War Rally

This weekend a battle of war protestors took place, and the pro-war protesters were, ironically, routed by the anti-war protesters.

On Saturday, approximately 100,000 people gathered on the National Mall to speak out against the war in Iraq. The following day, 400 people - or 2% of the number anticipated - assembled for a jingoistic pro-troops, pro-war rally at the same location. This meager turnout comes on the heels of a poll indicating less than four in 10 Americans approve of President Bush’s handling of the war. It’s a sad time to be a flag-waver.

The 400 attendees of the anti-anti-war rally were a spirited bunch who had little to offer to the national dialogue on the war except for clich├ęs and fallacies. The gist of their message was that they support the troops in Iraq, who are fighting for our freedom, which, by the way, isn’t free.

Particularly edifying was keynote speaker and Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, whose comments may have been lifted wholesale from a Rush Limbaugh radio show or Ann Coulter column: "I frankly don't know what they (anti-war protesters) represent, other than to blame America first."

Perhaps I can shed some light on the mystery.

Anti-war protesters in general represent an alternative view to that which says you should always root for the home team without question. Saturday’s protesters were most certainly placing blame, but not on America as a whole. They were blaming those responsible for the war - the Executive Branch and the Department of Defense - who also happen to be American.

Very few people blame the individual soldiers on the ground in Iraq for the war. We’ve not seen the spitting and the shouts of “Baby killer!” directed toward returning vets the way we saw during Vietnam. Indeed, many of the anti-war protesters have or have had loved ones serving in Iraq, so the anti-anti-war side cannot claim a monopoly on that. Nor is their anger more righteous than that of their opponents, who value peace above what passes for patriotism.

The anti-war crowd is driven by personal loss and suffering, the confluence of the failure to find Iraq WMDs or links to al Qaeda and the Downing Street Minutes, and just plain truth. Iraq didn’t attack us on 9/11; people primarily from Saudi Arabia, President Bush’s favorite terrorist state, and recruited to Afghanistan, did. That indisputable fact is inexplicably still in dispute four years on, while Iraq remains the focus of our war on terror.

The anti-anti-war crowd seems to be motivated exclusively by the hackneyed, unenlightened rhetoric of “My country, right or wrong.” While it’s their right to protest the protesters, they should never mistake dissent for treason, or blind obedience to a bad cause for patriotism.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

He Would’ve Really Looked Out For The Chicks

Just a few days ago President Bush put forth one Norris Alderson as his choice to head the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health. Alderson, a man, had previously spent many years in the FDA dealing with animal breeding and related issues.

Mr. Alderson’s nomination was inexplicably withdrawn before he could begin his new appointment. It was a loss to us all - but mostly to all the American women who will surely now suffer without his oversight. And his skill in coaxing semen from reluctant bulls.

Was Alderson’s appointment a not-so-subtle White House jibe at feminists, who, among other things, object to the use of animal names to refer to women (fillies, foxes, chicks, etc.)? Or was it just the next in a puzzling pattern of animal-related appointments?

For example, the recently deposed head of FEMA, Michael Brown, had previously been the head of an Arabian horses organization; it was the only “experience” he brought to FEMA.

This begs the question: Will Bush’s next Supreme Court nominee’s prior legal experience consist of running a string of puppy mills in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country?

We can only hope he’s that qualified.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Misuse Of Presidential Power

When speaking for the camera, President Bush favors iconic backdrops that suggest patriotism (soldiers), religious faith (churches) and, sometimes, wishful thinking (“Mission Accomplished”).

When the president spoke to the nation on the evening of September 15 about his Hurricane Katrina reconstruction plans he did so from Jackson Square in New Orleans. His backdrop for the live TV address was St. Louis Cathedral.

Apart from the power needed to run the cameras, microphone, etc., additional power was used to make sure we could see that lovely cathedral behind him. At the top of the broadcast, commentators said the White House was supplying power for the address, which led me to picture an extension cord running from D.C. to N.O.

Not only was it waste of energy – in a city with virtually none – to light up a church for the telecast, it was a wasted opportunity for Bush to show New Orleans as it really now appears. But he chose a dry, pretty spot instead.

If the president and/or his people had been thinking, they would have quickly set up a couple of work lights and placed him in front of a pile of rubble, not in front of a cathedral lit in a cool, cinematic blue. The bleak appearance, devoid of productions values, might have actually benefited Bush.

By showing him in the thick of the disaster, they could have represented the president as someone not detached from its effects, as he's been accused of being. On the contrary, nothing we saw (versus heard) in the broadcast indicated a city in trouble, much less one that had almost been destroyed. Business as usual. Nothing to see here.

In any future disaster "productions," I hope whoever’s in charge will focus less on the scenery and more on the weakness of the script.

$200 Billion, But Who’s Counting?

It’s been estimated that it’s going to take $200 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In history books, the term “Reconstruction” may well shift away from its post-Civil War connotation and refer to the Katrina aftermath. Whatever the case, it’s going to have lasting financial effects.

Here’s a quick review of some of the proposed funding sources for the rebuilding efforts:

Don’t buy American.
Though 45% of participants in a recent national poll said they believe we should divert money away from our Iraq budget to help pay for post-hurricane reconstruction, it’s doubtful President Bush will take a cent away from his pet project. Taking money away from rebuilding Iraq and putting it toward rebuilding a devastated part of the United States wouldn’t make any sense – the South doesn’t have nearly as much oil as Iraq, and isn’t part of the “war on 'terra.’”

“We should not raise taxes.”
Raise taxes? Not if the corporate benefactors and other prosperous parties who helped put our president in office and keep him there have anything to say about it. While planned tax cuts may be deferred until a later date (more because they’re now politically untenable than because they’re ill-conceived), tax increases are GOP heresy, and aren’t likely to happen under this administration.

Over-inflate the balloon.
What’s a $314 billion deficit among friends? Since the Katrina bill won’t come due for some time – certainly not during Bush’s term of office – adding to the national debt may be an avenue he’ll consider.

“...cut unnecessary (government) spending.”
With a government that considers lawsuits against doctors who disfigure or kill their patients “frivolous,” I’m afraid to guess what “unnecessary” might mean. Nonetheless, the president has already said he would pursue cutting government spending as a way to fund the reconstruction. Sadly, and ironically, that may result in cuts to programs many needy people subsist on.

Though I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to pass, I wouldn’t be surprised if the president’s proposed “Gulf Opportunity Zone” turns into an opportunity for oil companies and housing developers to make a mint, while the poor remain unable to regain even what little they had prior to Katrina. We mustn’t allow the gulf of opportunity between the rich and the poor to grow wider still. (added 9/22)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Time Once Again For “The Blame Game,” Starring Pat Robertson!

God is going to send hurricanes to kill Mickey Mouse for allowing gays to ride Space Mountain. Women who want equality are partially responsible for 9/11.

“That’s the sound of Pat Robertson working on the Blame Ga-a-ame…”

Pat Robertson, as paraphrased above, has some interesting notions regarding blame and punishment for all manner of catastrophes – past, present and future.

Were a hurricane to hit Mickey’s landlocked hole in Orlando, as indeed at least one did last year, surely it would be in fulfillment of Robertson’s prophecy. All the heterosexual Orlando business owners who still haven’t replaced their blown-out signage from that storm should head down to the local office of GLAAD and demand recompense immediately!

For their part, 9/11 families need only visit their local chapter of NOW (or the ACLU, among others) for remuneration. Those organizations – as Robertson so adroitly pointed out – are at least partially responsible for ticking God off, causing Him to allow His normal Veil Of Protection over His favorite country to be pierced by freedom-hating heretics.

In the latest internationally broadcast verification of his detachment from reality, Robertson posited that Hurricane Katrina is God’s punishment on the US for legalized abortion. What a tremendous gift it must be to be able to divine the motivations of the Divine!

What I want to know is, why is that acts of nature are unfailingly interpreted as punishment from God, unfailingly for so-called “liberal” tendencies or beliefs? Does God really mete out punishment on such a narrow range of issues?

Is it possible, if you believe in God and His purported tit for tat vengeance policy, that the recent hurricane was God’s retribution on America for the devastating war in Iraq, or our failure to protect His creation by dropping out of the Kyoto Protocol? I doubt it, but it makes as much sense as drowning poor people over an objectionable health policy.

With Katrina, maybe God chose to pile another disaster on President Bush to publicly punish him for leading this nation without a hint of principle or honesty? If so, God’s not familiar with the power of Karl Rove. Bush would never learn his lesson, Rove would start a muckraking campaign against God (Who got high before He created the electric eel and never served in the military), and the see-no-evil GOP faithful majority would buy it all.

But I digress from the star of our show, and his causality expertise.

If I could, I’d ask Pat Robertson what level of transgression is sufficient to warrant Divine payback. Then I’d ask him what he did to make God so mad at him that He denied his pal Pat the 1988 Republican Presidential Primary.

If Pat Robertson got food poisoning after a visit to his favorite restaurant, would he wonder if it was because he had not come to a full stop at a stop sign earlier in the evening, instead of poor kitchen hygiene standards? A weekend in the john could well be God’s lesson to him.

But God wouldn’t do that Pat, nor George, because the Big Man is surely a wealthy, white entrepreneur Who lives in a red state and votes a straight GOP ticket. How convenient when God’s demographics and views directly mirror one’s own!

Pat Robertson is one man who has surely made God – and His retributive policies - in his own image.

9/22 ADDENDUM: some of Pat Robertson's "greatest hits" are mentioned at:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pet Peeves

The TV images of Hurricane Katrina’s animal victims – like the dog trapped alive inside a home for days due to burglar bars – bring to the fore a long-overlooked issue: the welfare of domestic animals during disasters. Judging from official policies, or the lack thereof, one might get the impression the people in charge could care less about our animal friends.

One related story in particular has caught the attention of many people in this country – that of a young boy whose dog Snowball was taken away from him by police as he was being evacuated from the Superdome. The incident left the boy so distraught he became physically ill; many of us experienced the same feelings out of disgust.

Consider also this theoretical scenario:
An 80 year-old widow, whose only companion since her husband died 10 years ago has been her lapdog, is trapped in her house during a storm and needs to be rescued. Forcibly separating this woman from the dog would certainly be shameful, and quite possibly irreversibly harmful to the very person the rescuers are trying to help.

Why is this painful practice necessary? The answer from public officials, if any, is that there are other priorities during a disaster. But we’ve been dealing with natural disasters in this country since its founding, and we still don’t have an acceptable plan to deal with pets. Isn’t it time to start looking at this seriously?

For many of us who have or have had pets, they’re not a possession but a full-fledged family member. When our golden retriever Ginger was alive, my family needed to move, but wouldn’t even consider moving anywhere dogs weren’t permitted. It was not an option. And I don’t think disaster personnel should be making some people choose between their medications and their pets, as has been reported.

I imagine some of the people who are refusing to leave New Orleans under mandatory evacuation orders are doing so out of concern for their pets, who must typically be left behind. I’m not sure if I’d do the same, and I hope I never have the chance to find out. I do know that I can’t blame any of those people for their stubbornness.

So, what’s a relief organization to do about pets? Perhaps those with pets would have to share any provisions (food, water, etc.) with their pets. Or perhaps they’d be limited in the belongings they could take with them to a shelter. Or perhaps a humans/animals emergency shelter can be set up, or an animals-only shelter where pets are left to be cared for temporarily. If smart minds would come together and discuss this issue I’m sure some acceptable solutions would be developed. Yet I’ve never heard of any efforts to do this on an official level; it’s still not any kind of priority.

I would implore government officials, heads of relief organizations and owners of businesses such as hotels to consider the welfare of our “best friends” when disaster strikes. Show your humanity, lest it go “to the dogs.”

9/9 ADDENDUM (pets mentioned as rationale for some holdouts):

The Whitewash Goes Into Spin Cycle

Politicos from both sides of the aisle are now drawing up plans to convene committees and determine “what went wrong” with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Hillary Clinton has suggested a 9/11 Commission-style effort (that’s the commission whose recommendations are still being largely ignored). Her Congressional antithesis, Tom DeLay, has cancelled House hearings on the issue in favor of a full Congressional review, with findings due early next year.

I can save everyone a lot of time with just a cursory look at the situation: It was a colossal lack of planning, communication and leadership that turned a natural disaster into a manmade one.

President Bush objected to any investigatory efforts at first, but has since relented. (He also said no one could have foreseen a disaster of Katrina’s magnitude, but after that notion was proven false by numerous sources, shifted blame on the poor disaster response to state and local governments.)

I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling skeptical about the efficacy of these fact-finding tribunals, which, like Scott McClellan’s daily press briefings, seem largely perfunctory nowadays.

What we’ve seen from committees investigating 9/11 and Iraq’s non-existent WMDs, for example, is final reports that tend to downplay any aspects which reflect negatively on top-level leadership, suppress them (as in, delay release of those parts of the report until a more favorable political climate comes about) or redact them altogether under the pretense of national security concerns.

For investigatory committees to have the trust of the American people they need teeth. They have to result in real answers and real plans for fixing any problems going forward. And there must be real consequences for public officials’ negligence, when applicable. The goal of these committees should be to discern all the facts and let the chips fall where they may – no matter who might end up looking bad as a result. Unfortunately, any official Katrina investigation is likely to be laden with partisan politics, and its only outcome will likely be a watered-down report and a few halfhearted promises of reform.

If his past actions are any indication, President Bush will soon be pinning a medal on FEMA head Michael “Brownie” Brown’s lapel for his role in directing relief efforts. That’s how incompetent officials are dealt with in this administration, after all. I’m reminded of General Dreedle from the book Catch-22, who gave medals to pilots after a bungled bombing mission just to save face. President Bush has turned American politics into the Theater of the Absurd, and the official Katrina committee will probably just be an off-off-Broadway production at best.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

“Ongoing” Problems

“There are ongoing problems that need to be addressed. We’ve got to keep our energies focused on the task at hand.”Scott McClellan, in response to questions on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts

In his role as spokesman for President Bush, Scott McClellan’s primary task is answering reporters’ questions. Is he not up to it? Will storm victims have to wait longer for food or even die if he doesn’t answer questions about the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina? Not likely.

Echoing his stance on Karl Rove’s recent troubles, McClellan says that hurricane relief efforts are “ongoing” and, essentially, “we’ll talk about it (poor planning/response) later.” But like the absentee father Harry Chapin sang of in “Cat’s in the Cradle,” it doesn’t appear that any time is ever a good time for those in charge to tend to those who they’re supposed to be looking after.

My question is, can this administration not talk and chew gum at the same time? Why won’t they deal with anything NOW? Maybe they just have too many disasters on their plate at the moment?

The war in Iraq, one of those disasters, diverted funds away from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work on the levees that normally keep New Orleans high and dry – the ones which broke open and delivered the coup de grace to the city after Hurricane Katrina had already ravaged it. But this was no sucker punch.

The president and his head of homeland security, among others, insist no one could have foreseen the failure of New Orleans’ levees and the resultant flooding. Yet, Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, says his agency had anticipated this kind of calamity at least two years ago. Lt. General Carl Strock of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also says his team was aware of the potential damage to the area from a powerful storm. And, way back in 2002, a New Orleans newspaper published this article:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding notwithstanding, it took five days to get any federal help to New Orleans after Katrina hit. This despite the fact that we all saw this storm coming for days in advance. True, the “when” and “where” can never quite be ascertained before a hurricane actually hits. But why weren’t relief efforts organized in the days before and sent out immediately after the storm? It doesn’t take five days to drive to Louisiana from any point in the contiguous United States.

Like many others watching the Katrina disaster unfold on TV, I quickly noticed the throngs of refugees crowding the Superdome in the storm’s aftermath were overwhelmingly African American. And I remember thinking that it was only a matter of time before Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other activists pointed this out, and tied the slow response to it. They did, and rightfully so. Does anyone believe that it would have taken so long to get help to Minneapolis or Denver after such a natural disaster?

The mostly white “haves,” including members of my family, got out of New Orleans while the getting was good. No one can hold that against them. The rest – including many with no transportation of their own, who rely on mass transportation to get from place to place – were left to fend for themselves. For this, many at the top levels of government share the blame, whether or not the White House wants to talk about it.

The powers that be ignored the warnings of the experts, didn’t take this storm’s threat seriously, got caught with their pants down, kept them down, and are still standing with their cheeks and other unsightly attributes exposed to the world. In more than one respect Hurricane Katrina is the 9/11 of New Orleans, but likely with a much higher death toll.

No wonder New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been cursing so much.