Friday, December 30, 2005

Guilt And Missed Opportunities: An Abridged Review Of 2005

As relief trucks finally rolled into New Orleans five days after Hurricane Katrina hit, I safely sat several states away watching the scene unfold on television. I was enjoying a few beers, a sandwich and a tasty dessert at a local microbrewery at the time.

The disparity between the circumstances of those I was watching and my own was not lost on me. Nor were feelings of guilt, even though I wasn’t really doing anything “wrong” by enjoying my day off.

The end of a year often makes us look back and examine the year’s regrets and missed opportunities – and not just our own.

President Bush’s multi-million dollar re-inaugural gala was held early in the year, shortly after it was made public that many US troops in Iraq were still using equipment and vehicles without proper armor. Some had taken to picking pieces of metal off scrap heaps to fabricate their own armor in the absence of the real thing.

President Bush could have forgone the party (considering he’d already had an inaugural gala in 2001; this was essentially just an extension of his first term) and asked to have those funds put toward up-armoring Humvees and supplying troops with body armor. Instead, he kept his plans and ended up looking out of touch with the realities and sacrifices of war.

I wonder if the president looks back at that choice now and feels a twinge of guilt, or regrets missing an opportunity to be a hero of a commander in chief.

When the Big One – Hurricane Katrina – hit in August, Bush was on vacation. Even though we had all watched the storm barreling toward its target for days, he remained on vacation.

The president was slow to realize the enormity of the storm’s effects and slow to take action to remedy them. Yet, earlier in the year he had wasted no time boarding Air Force One in the middle of the night to sign a bill to “save” one brain-dead woman.

I wonder if Bush now feels any guilt about that.

Later in 2005 Hurricane Wilma cut a swath across Florida, just swiping my county with its outer bands. I was prepared for much worse, as one of the four consecutive 2004 hurricanes had left me without electricity for days.

Wilma took the lives and demolished the homes of many Floridians. I encountered some heavy wind and rain, but did not personally see any damage. Not even many downed tree limbs were evident after the storm passed. Instead, Wilma left behind it a cool, sunny and breezy autumn day in Central Florida.

For days after Wilma, the weather here was beautiful. As such it was hard to grasp the notion that not too many miles south of me Floridians were once again homeless as the result of bad weather. Again came those feelings of guilt.

President Bush didn’t seem as concerned about any state’s hurricanes in 2005 as he had in election year 2004. In fact, he made sure FEMA handed out relief money left and right in swing state Florida during 2004; some people who hadn’t been seriously affected by the storms got checks.

I wonder if Bush now feels any guilt about that.

My hope for 2006 is far fewer reasons to feel guilty and far fewer missed opportunities. For all of us.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005 Father Of The Year: Nazir Ahmed

Some parents are strict "disciplinarians." Then there's Nazir Ahmed.

Last week Ahmed, a Pakistani laborer, murdered his 25-year-old stepdaughter and three daughters, ages four, seven and eight, respectively. He slit each girl's throat with a machete as their horrified mother watched.

What could have driven a father to such a barbaric act?

The stepdaughter had been unfaithful to her abusive husband, and Ahmed feared her younger sisters would eventually follow in her footsteps. Hence they all had to be, in his remorseless words, "eliminated."

If you're still trying to process this information at home, here's the Reader's Digest version:

  • Infidelity = A no-no!
  • Murdering your adult step-child for a marital indiscretional = Okey dokey!
  • Murdering your three young daughters for something they might one day do = Ditto!
Apparently some look upon infidelity and infidels with the same regard.

Killings like this, known as "honor" killings, are common in Pakistan (America's best buddy in the War on Terra). Typically, some immoral act by a member of one's family - most often female - is morally rectified by their death at the hands of one or more family members.

Though such crimes are technically illegal (under Pakistani law, but not Islamic law), perpetrators of violence against women are not agressively prosecuted by authorities.

Hence, I'm sure I wasn't the only American who winced just a bit to hear that Pakistan, one of the world's worst countries in terms of women's rights, was to be our ally in the invasion of Iraq. But, as has been stated on this blog and elsewhere, we never hesitate to overlook such details when it's to our advantage.

Women voting in Iraq? Woo-hoo! Women's rights in Pakistan? Um, we're kinda busy right now.

There's no "honor" in slicing up little girls. Nor any humanity in beliefs that would allow such to happen. Nor any excuse for being chummy with the killers' enablers.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Radio City: The Grinch That Stole Christmas ‘87

Like many non-religious people I enjoy the overeating, free gifts and time off from work that come with Christmas.

The one Christmas tradition I’ve never gotten to enjoy, nor likely ever will, is the annual Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show, which typically features The Rockettes, excerpts from The Nutcracker, a reading of “'Twas The Night Before Christmas,” etc.

Not that I haven’t tried.

Back in 1987 my mother and I went to New York to enjoy Christmas with my brother and his family, in-laws and a few friends. Mom had ordered tickets for a group of us to go to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show the previous spring to be sure we’d have tickets.

We did some sightseeing in Manhattan before heading to Radio City. There was a line wrapped around the block for tickets, but luckily, we already had ours. One of us handed the ticket-taker seven tickets, and we filed into the lobby as she counted us off one by one.

Wait a minute, seven adults and one infant, but only seven tickets. We’re one ticket short.

The ticket outlet had assured my mother those many months earlier that there was no charge for infants, since they’d be on their mother’s lap anyway.

Not so said Radio City. "Insurance requirements." Our problem was with the ticket outlet, not Radio City.

The Radio City manager, whose name was Kevin I believe, was polite but not very helpful.

We could buy another ticket – as there were still some individual seats available up in the stratosphere – but that would mean there’d be an empty seat somewhere that we were paying good money for but not using. The baby was going to sit on his mother’s lap regardless, and we were going to be occupying only the same seven seats we would have if we had been admitted originally. So this prospect was unacceptable to us.

Sometime during the proceedings a tall, stocky guy started looming nearby. Turns out this organized-crime-henchman-looking dude, whom I’ll call “The Juicer,” was Radio City security guard.

We stated that we could not use the tickets we bought, and wanted a refund. No refunds. And, as The Juicer said, we couldn’t “sell them here,” because that would be scalping. Whether you buy tickets expressly to resell them on the streets or you get stuck with them due to someone else’s error, it’s scalping to sell them.

Finally, manager Kevin suggested that he might be able to give us eight seats together if we returned the following day. That would mean the eight of us, including an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and two grandmothers, would have to take the long, crowded train ride to Manhattan again, and occupy seven seats during the show while paying for eight.

It sucked, but it was the best we were going to do.

We spent the rest of the day sightseeing, taking in the observation deck at the World Trade Center, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and other “Christmas in New York” stuff.

Back home later that night, as we stewed over our Radio City experience, we all began to feel worn by a long day navigating a chilly city, and some us of seemed to be developing colds. A few of us opted not to go the next day, and decided it probably wouldn’t be good for the baby to go out in the cold again, and the rest didn’t want to go because they wanted it to be a family experience - as was intended.

We ended up passing off the tickets to my aunt and some cousins, who went in and enjoyed the show immensely. True to her nature, my mother wouldn't accept any money for the tickets which she had paid several hundred dollars for and had ordered nine months in advance to ensure we’d have seats. So much for that!

I’ve never been able to look at or listen to anything involving Radio City since that time. The mere mention of the place gives me a sick feeling that hasn’t softened any with the years. An enduring mental association has been rooted in my head between that venue and bah humbug feelings.

Radio City Music Hall is, for me, the real grinch that stole Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Sacrifices Were Hung From The Tree With Care

The so-called “war on Christmas” has raged hard this year, with Bill O’Reilly and other attention-craving neocons desperately stoking at a few cinders to start a blaze.

O’Reilly has of late backed off a bit, but the war is far from over. Indeed, though it’s been going on for years in different forms, this year’s battle seems more intense than ever.

One pre-cable news and pre-Internet war weapon was the billboard campaign imploring us to remember “the reason for the season.”

Many Christians have become disillusioned with the commercialization of Christmas, the intrusion of secular traditions like Santa Claus and the damper that our increasingly pluralistic society has put on what they view as a spiritual occasion.

They’re absolutely right in proclaiming that Christmas isn’t about Santa Claus. (Still, without him we never would have had all those awesome animated Christmas specials from Rankin-Bass, like Rudolph and Year Without A Santa Claus.)

But Christmas isn’t about Jesus H, either.

Christmas was originally a Germanic pagan holiday that marked the winter solstice (that’s today, by the way), which, like Easter and Halloween, was annexed by Christianity to make the nascent faith seem more cool.

It’s like those churches that have rock bands performing at their services. “Look, holy rollers can rock!”

Meaning, you can go to church and enjoy whammy bar guitar solos. You be can a Christian and enjoy your tree holiday, sort of. It’s just a sanitized Wal-Mart version. (It wasn’t ornaments that the pagans hung from trees, it was human and animal sacrifices.)

So, the “late December holiday” morphed from a pagan celebration to a Messianic birthday party to a philanthropic right jolly old elf with frighteningly unfettered access to our homes (why doesn’t he set off all those great security systems we now have?).

War on Christmas? Everyone must acknowledge that Christmas is many things to many people. In the spirit of John Lennon’s song, let’s end this war and have a happy Christmas – in our own ways. Instead of arguing about the reason for the season, let's have a season of reason.

And of course, for those who don’t celebrate any version of Christmas, that’s cool, too.

Happy Solstice!

Wait, that was impolitic of me.

Happy Shortest Day Of The Year!

Saddam On Trial Part III: Hanging With A Bad Element

A somewhat subdued Saddam returned to a Baghdad courtroom today to continue his trial.

It’s unclear how the man is going to defend his years of brutality and murder once he takes the stand. In any event, it’s very doubtful much of what he says will be coherent.

One subject we should pay close attention to, though, is what he may say about the United States and our former relationship with him.

There was a time when Saddam hated Iran as much as we did/do. And since he was their neighbor, and as such was in a good position to lob SCUDs at them, we supported him through the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War.

Donald Rumsfeld even paid him a cordial wartime visit in 1983.

The man we supported was the same fellow who initiated a blood purge against his own party after he took power in 1979, ordered a 1982 massacre and razing of an Iraq village, and later topped off the Iraq-Iran War by gassing thousands of Kurdish civilians.

It’s clear why we would back a man like Saddam – he’s so much nicer than those American hostage-taking Iranians.

So if Saddam starts spewing bile about America while on the stand, we can’t automatically dismiss it as the ravings of a madman (whatever he may have looked like when he was pulled from that spider hole).

The fact is, we have historically trained, funded or otherwise supported many, many bad people, or simply looked the other way while they committed their crimes, whenever it suited us.

Remember Osama bin Laden and the Taliban? We trained those characters to fight off the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan back in the 80s. Osama and friends later repaid us with 9/11.

A major mea culpa is in order for America, if not just because it’s the right thing to do, to beat Saddam to the punch he may soon be throwing. What right did we have to go after a monster that we aided and abetted without first admitting our complicity in his monstrosities?

That’s many things: disingenuous, hypocritical, and just plain wrong. One thing we should never call it, though, is “American.”

Before we fired bullet #1 against the brutal dictator of Iraq in 1991 or 2003, our country should have stated to the world:

We helped Saddam rise to power.

We were wrong to help such a brutal, immoral man, whatever the benefit to us.

We’ll never knowingly do it again.

The duty for this theoretical confession would obviously have fallen on the leader of our country; that would be President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush, respectively.

It’s still not too late to renounce our onetime chumminess with Saddam, one very bad element indeed. And while we’re at it, why don’t we throw Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan and a few others we’re still supporting into the mix?

Messrs. Bush, how ‘bout it?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mr. President, Are You Listening?

Though my preferred meal is a pint of stout, I am sometimes known to eat solid foods. When I do venture into that realm of sustenance, though, the fare is strictly vegetarian.

Does the fact that I don’t eat animals make me a national security risk? At the very least, it must make me look suspicious.

In addition to eyeing suspected terrorists, the FBI has been conducting surveillance on animals rights advocates, peace activists and environmentalists.

Are these groups really a threat? Possibly, but their threat is only to conventional thinking:

It’s wrong to eat/mistreat animals. It’s wrong to wage war. It’s wrong to destroy the environment.

These notions ain’t exactly Ozzie & Harriet, but then again, they ain’t exactly Osama & Zarqawi either.

Still, our federal government, under President Bush, has deemed it necessary to watch and even illegally listen to the phone conversations of peaceful American citizens in an alleged attempt to root out terrorists.

Throughout history, dictators have rationalized extreme and illegal actions against the “rebels,” “guerillas,” etc. as being for the protection of the people. (In this instance, you could substitute the words “activist groups.”)

Bush made the exact same claim in his press conference yesterday morning. The thrust of this is, I’m the president and I’ll do whatever I see fit to protect the American people.

This kind of rhetoric is the sphere not of the leader of a democracy, but of a dictator. And some of these actions – i.e. illegal wiretaps – are impeachable offenses.

Are you listening, Mr. President?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Guns Don’t Just “Go Off”

A four-year-old boy died Sunday morning in Tampa, Florida while playing with a loaded gun. The child found the gun in his own home, but the gun’s owner is yet to be determined.

In a tragedy involving a child, it’s understandable that the press would want to be sensitive toward the family. By not showing grisly photos of the scene, for example.

Another way they do this is by using language that removes responsibility from anyone involved in the incident. This language doesn’t typically jive with reality, however.

Often the accounts say the children were playing with the gun when it “went off.” This is a customary phrase journalists use to avoid sounding uncaring – and to avoid libel litigation.

Guns don’t just go off. Someone pulls the trigger.

But people don’t want to think of their children killing themselves or another a child, albeit accidentally, even when that is in fact the case.

My suggestion for those who feel that way is, if they have to have a gun in a home with children, keep it locked in a cabinet with the safety on.

Friday, December 16, 2005

No More Goodbyes

Earlier this week word came down that the US military has been carrying out surveillance on peaceful activist groups.

On the heels of learning that Big Government is watching us, we’ve now learned that in 2002 President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to perform wiretaps and listen to us without judicial warrants.

If you’ve made a phone call (or sent an email) to an overseas party within the last few years, someone in your government may have been listening.

I’ll leave it to the ACLU and others to launch legal challenges to this practice. But I would like to suggest a simple but satisfying countermeasure to this unwarranted invasion of our privacy.

From now on, when you finish a phone call or email, instead of signing off with the customary “Goodbye” or “See ya,” use one of these phrases in its place:

- “Oh, I almost forgot, did you know 'NSA' stands for Nut-Sucking Assholes?”

- “(Former National Security Adviser) Condi is a c*nt.”

- “Bush is a moron, and so are you, dear listener.”

- “Federal agents are big, fat doodie-heads.”

Or, if none of these float your boat, try:

- “Stay out of my business, you fucking fascist mother-fuckers!”

They’ll get an earful, and you’ll get a modicum of cathartic revenge.

Of course, you can use your own ideas if you like. Get creative! Then get in touch with your elected officials and let them know that this practice is unacceptable in a democracy.

White House Says “Uncle!”

After being put to the thumbscrews by John McCain in recent weeks, the White House finally gave in and accepted his “No torture, no exceptions” provision yesterday. McCain had been trying to append the ban to a defense spending bill for some time.

This defeat for the White House is a victory for American ideals. We should never (again) lower ourselves to the level of the Husseins, Amins and Mengeles of the world.

While the specifics still need to worked out, there are some troubling aspects to the compromise.

Interrogators will be permitted to say they were following orders, or thought they were following orders, if sued by their subjects in a court of law.

I’m not sure why some insisted on this condition, but it sounds frighteningly reminiscent of the “We were following orders” defense used by so many Nazis after World War II. In fact, it’s exactly the same.

What’s perhaps most troubling is that, as long as we hold ghost detainees in secret prisons, torture may well continue covertly. If officials are not willing to confirm the location, identity or even existence of a prisoner, our laws certainly can’t protect them.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

You’ll Never Work, Eat, Bank, Shop, Sleep, Drive, Etc. In This Town Again!

If you’re a devotee of right wing activist/psychologist/multimedia star Dr. James “Dobby” Dobson, listen up: Just about every financial institution, store, restaurant or hotel you deal with loves gays and hates your family.

Dobby just published a list of companies which are “leading the charge to re-engineer society and bring about the normalization of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and a fundamentally redefined family structure.”

Phew! And I thought Kraft just made tasty cheeses!

The list is intended to help the faithful choose their purchases, affiliations, etc. wisely. They wouldn’t want to inadvertently support the vast corporate “pro-homosexual agenda” that’s overtaking the country, after all.

The upshot of the list is basically, if you want to keep your money out of gay pockets, your only option is to just stop doing stuff. I mean, like, everything. This is an extensive list, folks.

At the top of the list, which ranks each company based on its level of gay-friendliness, is financial services giant JP Morgan Chase. Get those scissors out and cut up your credit cards – lest some of your money end up funding a Frisco bathhouse!

Blacklists (or in Dobby’s case a better name might be “ROY G. BIV lists”) are once again becoming popular with the fanatical-paranoid crowd. Multimedia loudmouth Bill O’Reilly recently published an “enemies” list and encouraged his listeners not to do business with them.

Next up: Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn are going to be brought back to life through cloned DNA, and will provide the FBI with a list of commies, pacifists and everyone who’s ever donated some spare change to the SPCA. (Anti-war groups and animal rights groups are high on the FBI’s terror watch list – no joke!)

In publishing his list, Dobby is in actuality saying, “These entities are not as bigoted as I am, and that’s unacceptable.” He and all his Focus on the Family cohorts should be ashamed.

Should Dobby do a second list featuring the names of individuals, I’d like to have my name added to it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Few Painful Facts

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a beating over the issue of torture during her recent diplomatic jaunt through Europe. To allay criticism over recent revelations, however, she firmly stated that the US “doesn't engage in torture, doesn't condone it, doesn't expect its employees to engage in it."

Rice added that the United Nations Convention against Torture "extends to U.S. personnel wherever they are."

These commendable assertions simply don’t gel with a few facts:

- Senator John McCain, who was tortured during the Vietnam War, is at this moment “negotiating” with White House officials over the torture ban he wants included in a defense spending bill. The president has said he would veto any bill with that provision. If we don’t torture, the White House shouldn’t have any problem putting it in writing.

- Just before the story of secret US prisons in Europe broke, Vice President Dick Cheney told his GOP colleagues that he was seeking to exempt the CIA from all rules prohibiting torture. Why would an exemption to torture rules be necessary if we’ve already declared that we follow them?

- A German citizen of Lebanese descent is suing the CIA for abducting, torturing and detaining him for five months. Khaled al-Masri has publicly described his experience, which the CIA has not acknowledged, though the US has essentially admitted his detention occurred as a case of mistaken identity. More details will likely come out in court.

- The pictures of a smirking, pointing Lynndie England were just the beginning of numerous documented cases and accusations of prisoner abuse at the hands of Americans. No high-level military officials have been charged, but many are reported to have ordered or at least tolerated abuse. Photographic proof of these incidents is expected to be made public any day now.

Throughout the torture scandals, Rice and other US officials have steadfastly refused to define torture – which essentially makes the denials meaningless. You can’t really say, “I don’t do that!” when “that” hasn’t been established!

Politicos, journos and activist groups should continue to press the White House for a definition of torture, which would entail listing which specific acts are prohibited and which are not.

Still, don’t expect this administration to, er, bind itself to specific standards anytime soon. They’re not inclined to break with tradition.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Middle East Miscellanea

Imagine Madison Square Gardens at full capacity. Now imagine it 1.5 times full with people. Now imagine all of them dead.

Breaking with past policy of not counting the other side’s dead, President Bush said at a speech in Philadelphia yesterday that some 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the 2003 US invasion.

Also breaking with practice, Bush cited the number of US war dead – about 2140 – to presumably offset the larger number of Iraqi dead.

Referring to Iraqis’ ongoing efforts toward independence, Bush spoke of a “struggle” that would not go smoothly. What he failed to acknowledge is that all those bumps in the road Iraqis should continue to expect will actually be corpses.

The most telling (and alarming) statement Bush made was, "It took a four-year civil war and a century of struggle after that before the promise of our Declaration was extended to all Americans.”

Was it wise for the president to have evoked a civil war, which his administration denies Iraq is moving toward, in that comparison? And the century of struggle? Ouch. Between this and the death tolls, Bush handed his anti-war opponents a healthy supply of ammunition yesterday.

In other news…

The Iraqi people are set to vote for a permanent National Assembly on Thursday, December 15. (For their own sakes, they had better hope their voting equipment isn’t provided by Diebold.) Whatever the outcome, the elections are expected to cause unrest from one or more of Iraq’s sectarian factions.


Yesterday in Lebanon Gebran Tueni, an anti-Syrian journo and MP (member of parliament), was assassinated. Syria is believed to be behind the killing. Then, today a Sunni Arab candidate for the Iraqi parliament was assassinated in Ramadi.

Do we still the believe the root cause of terrorist acts like assassination is unemployment?


Israel may bomb Iran if the latter goes forward with its plans to build a nuclear power plant. Good! Let’s let someone else do the dirty work and deal with the consequences for a change. Seriously.

As hypocritical as it is for a nuclear country to oppose another country’s nuclear efforts, the thought of a radical Islamist nation with nuclear anything is really scary.

Meanwhile, in a bizarre sort of “good faith” gesture, Iran has invited the US to take part in the building of their nuclear reactor. Though ill-advised, were we take them up on the offer, it wouldn’t be the first time we foolishly helped out that treacherous country (see the Iran-Contra Affair, et al).

Nor would it be the first time we assisted a country with something that might later be adapted for use against us (see the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan-US training of Afghan rebels-al Qaeda/Taliban-9/11).

So, to summarize: Civil war, contentious elections, assassinations, bombings, nukes... In other words, there’s very little new under the desert sun in the Middle East.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Clooney’s Head Safe

“Yes, I’m a liberal and I’m sick of it being a bad word. I don’t know at what time in history liberals have stood on the wrong side of social issues. We thought that blacks should sit at the front of the bus, that women should be allowed to vote, that maybe McCarthy was a jerk, that Vietnam was wrong and strip-bombing Cambodia was probably stupid. We’ve been on the right side of all these issues.”
– George Clooney

“The price you pay for using ‘liberal’ as a negative is: I collect your fucking head.”

– Pete Bogs

George, you my boy!,,2092-1919851_1,00.html

Friday, December 09, 2005

Nazi? Not So!

Ok, enough! No more public evocations of Nazis outside the context of WWII or the Holocaust. No more metaphors or similes. No more likening. Politicians and pundits, I’m talking to you.

If you ask just about anyone who the worst person who ever lived was, they’ll probably say “Adolf Hitler,” the king of the Nazis. (Osama bin Laden would probably get an honorable mention.)

Because Adolf has this nefarious distinction, it’s become quite chic for public figures to compare their opponents and/or their tactics to Hitler and the Nazis. And it’s ridiculous.

Nine times out of ten, these statements are completely outrageous, false analogies that are made to elicit maximum shock value and maximum damage to the accused.

Just this week Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly stated on his TV show, “…the far left in this country, the zealots - I mean these are zealots - are Nazis and this is what the Nazis did.” (Not too long ago Bill also recommended terrorists bomb a building in San Francisco, by the way, but I digress.)

O’Reilly made the Nazi statement in objection to a commotion at a recent speech by neocon author and anorexia poster child Ann Coulter.

Yes Bill, I’m sure the folks at are planning their own night of broken glass, where they’ll smash the windows of Republican-owned businesses (which I think is most of them). This will of course be followed by the business owners being shipped off to frigid reeducation camps in the Great Blue North.

Ann Coulter herself recently referred to liberal opponents as “Nazi block watchers.” Yep, Ann, I’m sure you’re right on the money there.

And last summer Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., started a firestorm after comparing US treatment of Guantanamo detainees to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. He actually stated that if you read a description of the treatment and didn’t know the context you might think you were reading about something the Nazis did.

Durbin’s comments were not entirely unfounded (a point where he differs from O’Reilly’s and Coulter’s), but they were impolitic. He later apologized about them (another point where he differs from O’Reilly and Coulter).

The Nazis, their tyrannical leader and all their offenses are understandably a sore subject for most civilized human beings. That whole period of history is a topic in which too many people have a deep emotional stake for others to use so flippantly and/or for political gain. Which is why it’s probably wise to avoid that line of rhetoric altogether.

PS: I reserve the right to use the expression “Gestapo tactics” when describing any incident in which law enforcement goes too far. And to call public school uniform proponents "fascists."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Saddam On Trial Part II: Contempt Of Court

Saddam’s trial continues today in Iraq, but without him.

At the end of yesterday’s court session Saddam told the judge to “go to hell,” and said he would not return.

Can he do that?

Saddam also complained of his treatment, which he called “terrorism.” (You’ve got to hand it to the guy – he’s keeping his rantings topical.) Apparently he and his fellow defendants had been denied fresh clothes, cigarettes and the opportunity to bathe.

This behavior is not new: Saddam has repeatedly disrupted proceedings since his trial resumed Monday, interrupting the judge, lawyers and witnesses at will.

Perhaps in building their new democracy Iraqis need to add a “contempt of court” clause to their legal proceedings. You can’t have a legitimate trial with the accused running the show.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Saddam On Trial Part I: The Green Mile

My credentials as a capital punishment skeptic are always under the threat of revocation when a serial killer or genocidal dictator is the one facing the ultimate punishment.

My skepticism hinges in part on the fact that scores of people who’ve been in prison for decades have ultimately been exonerated of the crime that put them there, typically as the result of DNA testing or of a witness recanting. The thought that just one of these innocent people could have been executed during their sentence by a law system ostensibly designed to protect them is horrifying.

The trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gets underway (again) today, and may result in his execution.

Few question Saddam's guilt, though there is some debate over his potential sentence. If he is sentenced to death, he will probably be hanged.

Saddam, apart from torturing and killing individuals who opposed him, has a few massacres on his resume, the best known of which are the 1988 gassing of Kurds and a 1982 purge of a village where an assassination attempt on him took place.

When Saddam took power in 1979, one of his first acts, as he sat chomping a cigar before his fellow Ba’athists, was reading the names of his political enemies, who were then taken to the basement straightaway and executed.

No one on this planet should wield that kind of power. No one should be able to order the death of another human being simply because that person is a hindrance to one’s own ambitions. Saddam probably did so many more times then we’ll ever know.

It’s not only appropriate that Saddam be executed for his many crimes, it’s crucial. He needs not only to have his life taken from him, but during whatever’s left of it needs to experience what it feels like to be a condemned man. Only then is he likely to feel a shred of human empathy for his own countless victims, far too late though it may be.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Axe Abramoff, Scalp Scanlon, Raze Reed

Decimating their populations through massacres and disease and pushing the survivors onto reservations wasn’t enough. At least a number of well-connected political players felt that way about the remaining Native American tribes.

These American patriots decided to start a new, modern-day war on Native Americans. This time, though, they left the cannons, rifles and horses at home and plied their skills at bleeding the tribes’ bank accounts dry.

The central figure in the tribal bilking is lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who goes on trial in January for fraud and conspiracy charges related to the purchase of a gambling boat company. However, he’s expected to cop a plea before any trial on the tribal dealings, which are also gambling-related.

Abramoff played tribe against tribe and tribe against government in numerous casino-related schemes, and profited from all sides. His total bill for services rendered to various tribes is estimated at $80 million.

In one instance, Abramoff pressed legislators for the closure of a Tigua tribe casino. The El Paso-based Tiguas, unaware of Abramoff’s involvement in the casino closure, then agreed to become one of his clients, paying him to wield his lobbying finesse to get it reopened.

Michael Scanlon was Abramoff’s partner in crime. Scanlon has already plead guilty to defrauding tribes, presumably to turn on his former lobbying partner and receive a reduced sentence.

Meanwhile, Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition and 2006 candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia, has also been implicated in the Tigua scandal. Like his Puritan forefathers, it seems Ralphie can’t keep from screwing over Indians in some fashion.

Reed was, due to his deep-held Christian beliefs, on the “closure” side of the Tigua deal. House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was involved on the “reopening” side, though he claims he was bamboozled into it.

Reed, Scanlon and Abramoff are connected to indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who also had a stake in the tribal swindles. Scanlon used to be DeLay’s press secretary; Abramoff was the nice fellow who arranged DeLay’s golf jaunts to Scotland.

It’s a safe bet at least some of these guys, and others, will go to prison for fraud. My hope is that they’re sent to a prison built on top of an old Indian burial ground – that way they’ll not only be punished for their crimes, but haunted by them

Singapore: Model Neocon Society

Today Australian citizen Tuong Van Nguyen was executed in Singapore. He had been found in possession of 14 ounces of heroin while boarding a plane from Singapore to Australia in 2002.

If the penalty for this crime seems excessive, it should be noted that Singapore is a city-state renowned for its draconian laws and unrepentant censorship.

In fact, in many respects, Singapore is a contemporary conservative’s ideal society.

Executions are common and are carried out, typically by hanging, not only for murder but for also for many drug offenses.

Caning, or whipping with a rattan rod, is the penalty for numerous offenses. (Michael P. Fay, an American teen who vandalized several cars there in 1994, was caned - to the delight of corporal punishment devotees everywhere.)

In Singapore, as in some American states, oral sex, anal sex and homosexual relations are illegal. Hence, gay marriage isn’t even a topic of debate.

Also, like the US, Singapore is not comfortable with the mention of condoms, even in the context of AIDS awareness campaigns. “To educate people you don’t have to be offensive,” said one Singaporean health official on the topic.

There is no pornography or anything resembling it allowed in Singapore.

Magazines, newspapers, films, television and all other forms of media are highly censored. The country famously demanded a censored version of Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (but didn’t get it).

Offending the political and religious views of others is also forbidden.

A political documentary called Singapore Rebel was seized by police earlier this year and the director, Martyn See, threatened with fines and jail time. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong needn’t ever worry about a Fahrenheit 9/11-style film challenging his leadership.

Singapore is indeed an American neocon’s wet dream. So, to them I make this modest proposal:

Instead of continuing their conquest of America, as they seem intent on doing, our neocons ought to establish their own country elsewhere in the world, using Singapore as a model.

That, or at the very least, they could all move there. (I can dream, can’t I?)

Thursday, December 01, 2005


If President Bush’s just-released National Strategy For Victory In Iraq (NSVI) is a roadmap for success in that conflict, it’s a map with no roads, cities, bodies of water or other topographic features.

NSVI is a plan without a plan. No amount of “Plan For Victory” signs behind the president can mask that.

This 35-page document is the political equivalent of giving a report on The Old Man And The Sea by simply saying it’s about an old man who spends time on the sea.

In this scenario the teacher gives the student an “F” because she knows he/she didn’t read a word of the book and has nothing substantial to say on it.

When it comes to substance, NSVI gets a big, red “F” with a circle around it.

At least you’d think the president could throw us a few scraps to chew on. For example:

· Fund the remainder of the war with a major corporate sponsorship, which would require the renaming of the country (e.g. Halliburton Presents The Republic Of Iraq or Coke With Lime Presents The Iraqi Free State).

· Pull out, drop flu-infected birds throughout the country and let nature take its course.

· Send in a contingent of armed children. God would never allow innocent children to be harmed by Persian heathens.

Instead, we essentially got: Stay the course. We’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie.

NSVI states, “…success (in Iraq) depends upon meeting certain conditions, not arbitrary timetables.” Yet no specific conditions were mentioned. Only generalities – i.e. no objectives to which Bush could ever be held to account.

The document also states, "No war has ever been won on a timetable and neither will this one."

No war has ever been won without a plan, and neither will this one.