Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In Baghdad

I guess I had sort of promised to get away from politics in order to show mercy to everyone who is in media overload on the whole business. But try as I might, I....can't ....break ...free.... .Political...power.....too...strong. Sorry.
In the unlikely event that you are an undecided voter, here are some nonpartisan clues I find useful in trying to see who's telling (or maybe closer to telling) the truth. Candidates who seem determined to be the loudest often do so in order to cover up something. When a candidate says"..This election really comes down to one simple thing...", then you can be sure whatever is said next is at least an exaggeration, and very possibly a lie. Bill O'Reilly used this one on Letterman last week asking Dave if he wanted us to "win" the war. Perfect question, because Dave isn't going to show by attacking the question that he actually is smart, and of course he doesn't want to be "against victory", because whatever that means, it sure isn't funny.
The week's best sound byte may have come from, who else? Mr. Cheney, who used his usual source (none) to opine that the terrorists want to influence our election, darkly hinting in his usual conspiratorial voice that the bad guys have hooked up with the Dems to bring destruction on us all. That's the kind of statement that works so well on people who don't give such things a second thought. It's a bit like that ridiculous theory that "fighting them there" means "we'll never have to fight them here," as if holding an al Queda membership card doesn't allow one to blow up things in the US as long as there's fighting in Iraq. Hey, even the BUSH folks don't believe that, or they wouldn't find it necessary to listen in on a billion phone calls or so without a warrant looking for people who, in fact, DO want to fight us here.
But what if, for the sake of discussion, various evildoers in Baghdad wanted to skew US elections? Can you imagine the conversation?
Ahmed and Mahmud are fiddling with a TV, trying to get CNN's latest polling data before the 2 hours of electricity expires.
Ahmed screams, "That is not election news, you son of a jaundiced camel, you're watching 'Friends!!'"
Mahmoud replies, "Relax, goat-dropping breath, I'm changing from FOX. Oh, those wicked American anchorwomen. Their blonde hair makes makes my body parts stand at attention."
"But we're supposed to be fixing the 3rd District of Indiana race. It's within the poll's margin of error."
"Does that men we should lob a grenade or two into the marketplace, Wise One?"
"Stupid! You never heard of the October Surprise? We are to attack in the name of the Indiana governor in order to cause confusion in the 3rd District. His name is, ah...Larry the great flying Bird". Our plan willl finish Bush in Indiana forever, or at least until the great Super Bowl."
"Super bowl? I thought we were talking about attacking, not serving dishes."
"Idiot! We must keep all this a secret so that the all-seeing Vice President Cheney doesn't figure out our intents and throw back our own grenades by telling the American heterosexuals of our plan for total world domination."
"I hear you, O large fellow. Our secret is safe with us. But I must ask. Does Cheney watch "Friends" too?
"Fool. All Americans do, except for Secretary Rice. She went to college instead."
"Yes, but that Phoebe. She's such a stitch!"
"Forget about it. We must think only of Indiana."
"But isn't HE a movie star? He is an ally to Israel, no?"
"Oh, never mind."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

go Demo

Will Rogers once famously said "I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat ." Organized or not, that's me today. I couldn't pretend to guess at all the races in all the places, and doubtless there are some fine candidates in the GOP. But, having said that, here are the reasons to vote Democratic (and use the whole name, please) in 2006.
1. Family Values - I know what you're thinking, but shouldn't government have a hand in at least helping families stay together? If it does, than it's time to stop the ripping apart of American families now missing dead or wounded members for the purpose of occupying Iraq, hoping a rose will grow where today we have only nasty thorns. The divorce rate for such families is astronomical. Come to think of it, don't the Iraqis have families? Doesn't God love them, too?
2. Tough Judges - It's going to take some awfully tough magistrates to undo what the Bush folk have done in the name of "security". If you eavesdrop, you need a warrant, and that law needs a rescue that usually comes from the courts. Same with upcoming trials involving current and former congressmen, almost all of them Republicans. It'll take some guts to go against the guy who gave torture a good name (A.G. Gonzales), and this one may have to wait until someone else is appointing the judges, but habeus corpus itself is now on the shelf, and that alone requires some tough-as-nails black robers.
3. Christian Principles - I'm not calling on all to call on Jesus here, but some things are ALWAYS wrong. Torture, whether done in secret or on the Capital Mall, is one of them. I know what your'e thinking: "What if there's a guy who knows there's a bomb and that it's going to explode?" Fine. Torture that guy if you have to. But people we've had as prisners for years are NOT going to tell us anything new OR true. Sharing is a Christian principle, too, though one that's sadly out of favor. The Dems are going to be more likely to share through law the nation's assets in such a way as to make the nation a more fair place. Bigshots have plenty of representation, and always will. They'll be fine no matter WHO'S in office.
4. Thriftiness - Laugh if you like, but who created the last budget surplus? The Clinton administration, that's who. And who wants you to be impressed that the next budget is in red ink for only about a quarter trillion? That other party. Remember too, that the official deficit includes not a penny of Iraq expense, which comes under the heading of "special appropriations". Spending bill vetoes under Bush? Still ZERO.
5. Small Government - No, we don't have one, and there are next to no plans in place to MAKE one. But think how much BIGGER a government would have to be in order to prevent flag burnings (an item the Congress had time to discuss at length this year), or save the unborn by recriminalizing abortions, a proposal the GOP has been promoting, but not quite to completion for about 30 years. Now THAT'S big government. Just ask them in Romania, where they tried to ban ALL forms of birth control.
6. Personal Responsibility and Accountability - We shouldn't have to remind ourselves that in the real world, when people foul up consistently, they get fired. That never seems to happen in the Bush administration, where loyalty is valued above all, and screwups get promoted. We lack the muscle to fire Bush and Cheney. The closest we can come is to fire some of the ones who we elected to stand up and speak out against what was being done in our name. About 1000 indictments were sent from Congress to the Clinton White House, but NOT ONE has gone up against any of the neocons running the current mess. That's wrong, but it can't be corrected unless Democrats at least have the power to call hearings to see just what went wrong and why.
Those are the reasons I see to vote Democratic this year. Any of those reasons surprise you? I hope they did, but I stand by them. Two weeks to E-Day and counting.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Hey, let's be honest. Republicans have come up winners in most of the national elections of the last generation. Whole books were and are still being written to tell us why, but one term that keeps recurring is "October Surprise", referring to a last-minute occurance that causes a few votes to shift rightward and "save" things for the GOP.
The first such "surprise", never proven, involved the election of 1980. The nation, under President Carter, was very near an agreement with Iran to gain the release of US embassy hostages, an issue which had hung over the Carter administration like a circling vulture for over a year. Still, Election Day came and went with no deal consummated until the very hour Ronald Reagan took office, at which the hostages left the Tehran airport headed to US facilities in Germany. Democrats have spent many hours in the years since scratching their heads to know the details of a possible deal between candidate Reagan and the Iranians.
The phenomenon continued at various other times, which I'm not going to list because I was accused of making last week's entry too long. Anyway, today's Democrats suffer from some well-earned paranoia just at the mention of the term October Surprise".
I've looked over the possibilities and conclude that if one or more of the following were to happen just prior to the election, that Democrats will once again claim to have been snookered. In other words, if any of these should occur in the next couple of weeks, you heard it here first. Otherwise all Republicans have to shout about is how terrible it would be if any of the people they've tried to demonize during the last few years actually TAKE OFFICE in a Democratic majority situation. The list:
Osama bin Laden is captured.
A new bin Laden tape, full of vicious threats, shows up at the door of Islamic media bigshot Al Jazeera.
A horrible bombing takes place in a city somewhere populated mainly by white people.
The Pope declares that all American Catholics need to vote to oppose the "criminal" practice of abortion.
The price of gas drops by another 50 cents per gallon.
A new book is published insisting that Saddam's WMD's are hidden in Syria.
Al Queda terror cell members are arrested in Florida and shout "Death to America" to the camera.
A high-profile assassination occurs in a western Country. The victim is...white.
A high-ranking Democrat is linked to sexual scandal involving a minor.
An unexplained hike in the terror level color sends Americans scrambling for duct tape.
You've probably heard this one but it bears repeating: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're NOT out to get you. Enjoy the week!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

'Tis the Season

Aside from local races, we common folk have just one chance every two years to make any meaningful contribution to the public debate, which really never ends. That's on Election day, now within the next month. Of course, the guy who's plans matter the most to us, the president, doesn't have his name on the ballot. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have a stake in the election results. He needs a continuing GOP Congressional majority to continue at full effectiveness. Otherwise, it's the quacking of lame ducks instead of the shriek of the war-mongering eagle.
The Senate elects a third of its body, and the House puts all its members on the line, at least the ones still around or without other plans. Tip O'Niel once said that "All politics is local", and each race has its own character, depending on personal and local issues the rest of the country cares little about. Most seats in the House are, in fact, safe for incumbents due to power exercised locally to draw congressional districts in a certain way to give an advantage to one party or another. My local congressman for example, a Democrat, has very little opposition. The battle for control of the House boils down to about 30 or 40 races close enough to be competitive. Most of those this time around are Republican seats, in keeping with the "off-year" election tradition. In fact, a net swing of just 15 seats from Republican to Democrat changes the entire House structure and turns the House from administration GOP pussycat to major fanged Democratic lion of the Capital jungle. The comparable Senate number is 6.
Dozens of issues determine votes. Let's consider three. First, the War. Depending on your view, that "W" word is either followed by "on terror" or "in Iraq". The former is touted as a success by the administration, maily because there have been no successful terror attacks on US soil since 9/11, now five years ago. It's a little like saying, "Look, we only failed to protect you once", but it sometimes works. The War in Iraq can't be touted as any kind of success when the bodies keep turning up and the country descends into civil war, obvious to all who DON'T speak for the Bushies. The Bungles in Badhdad fill one book, one column after another. Even GOP allies like Colin Powell and John Warner express doubts about the whole venture. It's hard to brag about how successful your torture program has been, especially since it's all kept in secret. Anyway, you see where I come down on this.
The second issue is naturally tied in with the first. Congress has not done its job to keep the executive branch under any kind of control. Threats to our own freedoms, ignoring of laws like FISA (the one requiring a warrant before wiretapping) , assumption of power on a grand scale backed by a judiciary branch owing their jobs to the Bush crowd ALL seem to get no bipartisan opposition from Congress. This was not the case with Nixon or Reagan, but hearings are not held, no subpoenas issued, no protests lodged. The House in particular seems to act as a group of sheep dependant on the Whaite House to keep financing races, which, in turn, buys silence from the majority party. It used to be that bipartisan committees would meet to hash out differences on bills before Congress. Now the Republicans meet, then vote en mass to roll things through according to White House dictates. A law is being broken? Change the law, and make it retroactive while you're at it. Torture isn't our policy? No problem. We'll redefine it. Don't like what you're hearing from the Ethics Committee? Get a new guy to run it.
In fact, Congress has had a whole set of nasty scandals all its own in the past two years which have led to resignations, and not just of small fry. Tom DeLay is out of the House, and not for anything Democrats could do to him. So is Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, and Mark Foley.
Foley is actually the 3rd issue here. I don't claim that this is the biggest scandal to ever hit Congress, but there's something here which can't be forgotten. The public may not get the full impact of a true scandal for years after it hits (Who understands Watergate even TODAY?), but those scandals involving sex get more serious attention. The public KNOWS about sex, and can tell right from wrong pretty clearly on issues that involve it. They'll even tolerate quite a bit of fooling around, as with Bill Clinton, whose popularity never went down to the levels Bush's is right now. But Speaker Hastert has already tried to pass the buck on the Foley thing about a dozen different directions and may yet keep his job, but if the "who knew what" questions keep pointing his way next month, it could contribute to a leadership change in the House, and I mean to a new party, not just to the next guy in line to hand out tobacco company checks on the House floor.
See you on Election Day!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

To Kill or not...?

As things were left last week, the discussion centered on capital punishment, and that using things like the Bible or this country's history as guides was unreliable due to all the changes in societies in the previous centuries. What follows is meant to continue the discussion.
But some things have happened to interrupt the process. The most high profile of crime in the past few years, school shootings, has arisen again in three separate incidents, all in rural areas, with two of the three involving an adult shooter unconnected with the schools themselves. I mention these because of the natural tendency to want 1. An explanation of how or what "failed" to protect us, and 2. A solution that will guarantee that something so horrible can't happen again. That people would want the shooters dead is also not surprising. Who wouldn't feel that way?
At the risk of sounding smug, I suggest that the best advice may come from those not directly involved. It's well nigh impossible to enter the mind of a murderer regardless of what we hear from family or neighbors. That the shooters turned the guns on themselves may prove that death itself was not a deterrent to the criminals, but what about other arguments made in favor of carrying out executions? First, that it is simply too expensive for society to pay the criminal's living expenses in prison, perhaps for decades? Or another lately used claim that only execution brings any kind of closure to victims' loved ones?
I think educated people know by now that it's almost always the state itself that pays for the defense of accused murderers. The quality of the defense or the prosecution can be good or poor, but most states make executing a person, even after conviction, hard to do. I believe it should be hard to execute someone. The appeals process takes years to exhaust itself, and those are very expensive years in terms of legal fees. They are, in fact, so expensive as to exceed the normal cost of decades of simple imprisonment. The media will often comment on how long it took to finally execute someone, but they refrain from saying that room, board and medical care made up just a fraction of the late criminal's real cost to the state. As with many things in life, it's a boon to lawyers, but that's about it.
Then there's the "closure" argument. Here again, we are required to go into someone else's mind, this time that of the survivor. Our only test for the effectiveness of the execution is to perform it, then ask if "closure" was achieved. Note that we may ask victims of other types of crimes about their losses, but we don't permit them to set the terms of fines and/or imprisonment. What if the victims say that executing the murderer just wasn't "enough"? What other option is there? Permitting victims to kick or stab the dead corpse? Fairness, it seems, is impossible to achieve.
Our legal system is actually made up of the systems of 50 states and hundreds of local systems within them. Capital punishment customs not only vary from state to state, but within them, too. And that's not even accounting for race as a factor in sentencing. Does the defendant have assets he can apply to his defense that the average person doesn't? Justice really is "up to God", since people have so many different opinions about it, and are subject to manipulation as well. There are too many variables here.
I think that's where we should leave it - with God, I mean. Most of the western democracies have left capital punishment behind, and are aghast that we still hace it in most states. Yes, some people simply can't be let loose, and we have to decide who those are. There
should be such a thing as "life without possibility of parole". But believers should have no problem feeling that if the average person will one day face a judgment that is absolutely fair and impartial, then killers, rapists, traitors and assassins will face the same judgment and receive precisely what they deserve, from a judge no one would second guess. I guess I'd go crazy if I didn't feel this way, so I'm endorsing my own prejudices. But when Job wished for an explanation of all he had endured, the voice of the Lord said, in so many words, "Don't ask." We'll have to live with that until something better comes along.