Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A beacon of freedom? Not so much.

CNN and the Washington Post are reporting that anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested tonight while attending the State of the Union address in Washington. Apparently, her crime was to wear a shirt with an anti-war slogan on it while she sat in the gallery as a guest of a member of the House.

She opened her jacket to reveal a T-shirt that, according to a supporter, gave the number of U.S. war dead and asked, "How many more?"

She was also boisterous, according to U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, and after she ignored instructions to close her jacket and quiet down, she was escorted out and arrested. Demonstrating in the House gallery is prohibited.

Boisterous, eh? Is it a felony or a misdemeanor to be boisterous these days? Seems to me there were more than a few members of the Senate and House who were a little too boisterous tonight. Were they arrested, too? Didn't think so.

President Bush tonight essentially called the U.S. a beacon of democracy and freedom around the world. But is there any reason why the other 6 billion or so inhabitants of our planet should take his words seriously when people are being arrested here for speaking - or displaying - what's on their minds? Are our leaders so incapable of listening to other, dissenting points of view that they feel the need to quash that dissent?

The bottom line is that President Bush and his administration are setting an undeniably poor example for burgeoning democracies around the world. Whether it's stamping out dissent, painting opponents as traitors, or authorizing illegal spying on Americans' conversations and other communications, this administration is tearing apart the very fabric of our Constitution bit by bit.

As a true American patriot once said, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." If only President Bush and others who support him would take those words of Thomas Jefferson to heart. Sadly, they appear both unwilling to do so and incapable of understanding why it's important. And bit by sickly bit our own freedom and our democratic ideals whither away.

State of which Union?

According the Washington Post, President Bush is planning to convey "optimism" in tonight's State of the Union address. Optimism? About what?

I'm all for looking at things from a "glass is half full" perspective, but come on! Bush's glass is so empty, it makes the Mojave Desert look like the Land of 10,000 Lakes in comparison.

That said, I just can't get too excited about the address. Frankly, Bush continually spews nothing but lies and falsehoods, which only makes my blood boil. It's not as though there is any sort of debate taking place that would force him to defend his position on things. Now that would be entertaining...and maybe even just a bit informative. Instead, we'll get just more of the same one-sided garbage he throws out to the myriad pre-screened audiences he and his handlers seem to favor so immensely. After a while, you just can't take it anymore.

This administration has become such an embarassment, but what's even more embarassing is that 40% - give or take - of Americans still contend that Bush is doing a good job. Are these people INSANE?!!

As I watch the President tonight, if I watch the President tonight (with TiVo, I may even watch tomorrow instead), I constantly will be reminded by looking at Bush - and Vice President Cheney sitting behind him - that these men and many of their cohorts should be going to jail. They and their ilk essentially are nothing but criminals.

Perhaps this bunch should be appearing on "America's Most Wanted" instead. Now that I would watch!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Quote of the Day: "We do not negotiate with terrorists."

Those were the official words of the Bush administration, as spoken last week by White House press secretary Scott McClellan. It seems like a pretty clear-cut statement, uttered by McClellan shortly after the release of the latest Osama bin Laden audiotape.

Well, according to an exclusive report in the latest issue of Newsweek, U.S. officials are currently engaged in talks with Iraqi insurgents. Say what?!

American officials in Iraq are in face-to-face talks with high-level Iraqi Sunni insurgents, NEWSWEEK has learned. Americans are sitting down with "senior members of the leadership" of the Iraqi insurgency, according to Americans and Iraqis with knowledge of the talks (who did not want to be identified when discussing a sensitive and ongoing matter). The talks are taking place at U.S. military bases in Anbar province, as well as in Jordan and Syria.

Now that's a radical departure from the rhetoric we've been hearing about "no negotiating, only killing" the insurgent terrorists. Is the Bush administration finally going soft after all of the tough talk? Are they becoming desperate to end the occupation in a somewhat peaceful manner?

Or, perhaps, is this a new tactic designed to drive a wedge between the indigenous Iraqi resistance and the foreign jihadists imported by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi?

U.S. intelligence officials have had back-door channels to insurgent groups for many months. The Dec. 15 elections brought many Sunnis to the polls and widened the split between Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's foreign jihadists and indigenous Sunni insurgents. This marks the first time either Americans or insurgents have admitted that "senior leaders" have met at the negotiating table for planning purposes.

With a fear on both sides that Iran soon may begin to play a more intrusive role in the political future of Iraq, perhaps there's increased urgency to cooperate against a new, common enemy. What this means for the future of the insurgency and the future of "Al Qaeda in Iraq" remains to be seen. Certainly, if it begins to lose the support of the Sunni resistance, Zarqawi's organization may find itself fighting an uphill battle in its effort to destabilize the new Iraqi government.

On the other hand, extensive talks between the U.S. and the Sunnis may spark concern amongst the majority Shia population, creating a potential backlash that could push the country further in the direction of the Iranians. And, in fact, that could be the overriding concern for the U.S. as it delicately tries to toe a fine line between placating the insurgency and keeping the nascent Iraqi government from cozying up to Iran.

Contacts between U.S. officials and insurgents have been criticized by Iraq's ruling Shiite leaders, many of whom have longstanding ties to Iran and are deeply resented by Sunnis. "We haven't given the green light to [talks] between the U.S. and insurgents," says Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi, of the Shiite party, called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

In many ways, it appears that the Bush administration is caught between the proverbial "Iraq and a hard place." But they need to cut the crap and come back to reality on the whole "we aren't negotiating with terrorists" stance. Either they are or they aren't. Apparently, they are negotiating while the rest of us continue to get nothing but lies. The beat goes on...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Oh, say can Jussi!

Among this year's crop of sensational rookies in the National Hockey League, most of the attention has fallen upon the likes of young super-phenoms Sidney Crosby, 18, of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin, 20, of the Washington Capitals. Without question, Crosby and Ovechkin, both of whom are in the NHL's top 15 in scoring with nearly two-thirds of the season completed, will be the dominant players of the next decade or two. And, arguably, they are the closest proxies of Gretzky and Lemieux that we've seen yet.

Among the remainder of this year's outstanding rookie class is a 22-year-old native of Kalajoki, Finland, named Jussi Jokinen (YOO-see YO-kuh-nehn). In his first season playing for the Dallas Stars, Jokinen has blended in nicely playing primarily with longtime Stars Mike Modano and fellow countryman Jere Lehtinen. While Jokinen (32 points) hasn't put up the numbers of Crosby (59 points) or Ovechkin (64 points) so far, he has excelled beyond expectations when it comes to the newest wrinkle in this season's NHL: the shootout.

Prior to the 2005-06 season, NHL regular season games that were tied after regulation finished with a 5-minute, sudden death overtime period. If the game still was tied after the 5-minute overtime, the game ended in a tie.

This season, the NHL has implemented a three-round shootout - basically a series of 1-on-1 penalty shots pitting a skater against the opposing goaltender - in order to ensure that no game ends in a tie. If the teams are tied after the three rounds of the shootout, they continue going one round at a time until one team wins. It has become an unmitigated hit with the fans.

So, how has Jokinen fared in this newfangled shootout? As the Stars' typical #2 shooter in each of their eight shootouts so far this season, he hasn't missed, including today's exciting 2-1 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings. That's right, he's a perfect 8-for-8 going head-to-head with the opposing goaltender.

The next best performance by any other player in the league with at least five shootout attempts is none other than Ovechkin, who's made 6 of 9. But even this surefire phenom hasn't been able to keep pace with Jokinen's perfection.

When Finland's 2006 Olympic hockey team was announced last month, Jussi Jokinen wasn't on the list. But then fate intervened when Chicago Blackhawks forward Tuomo Ruutu suffered what is likely a season-ending ankle injury on January 8th. In order to fill the spot on the Olympic team that opened as a result of Ruutu's injury, the Finnish national team selected Jokinen to take his place in what could be a very portentious decision.

You see, since the shootout is used in international play to decide tied games, having Jussi Jokinen (not to be confused with his unrelated countryman and fellow Olympian Olli Jokinen of the Florida Panthers) there to participate could be the difference between a medal and no medal for Team Finland.

Yes, they will be quite happy to see Jussi in Torino, Italy, with a game on the line, just as his Dallas Stars teammates have been happy to see him on their side all season long.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bursting the Bubble

Just finished watching the HDNet premiere of Steven Soderbergh's Bubble. This new film also premiered tonight in select theaters around the country and it will be out on DVD on Tuesday. It's Mark Cuban's new film distribution brainchild, getting its kick-start tonight.

Bubble certainly wasn't your everyday Hollywood production. Far from it, in fact.

One's first clue to how different this movie really is was the acting. Soderbergh used untrained actors - regular people, if you will - for the entire cast. Some performed better than others. And while I suppose it added an aura of normalcy to the story, I thought the use of non-actors detracted from the emotional depth of the characters. It seemed that the dialogue was forced through much of the first half of the film. Certainly not what one would expect from a professional film production.

That said, this clearly wasn't intended to be a standard Hollywood production. As Soderbergh himself has said, this was meant to be something different, something unusual, something out of the mainstream. And it certainly was.

What I did like about the film was the cinematography. It was very well done in the way it used a variety of angles, depths and imagery to portray the poor, small town setting, the unusual doll factory and the implied thoughts of the characters. The high definition filming also looked wonderful on a large-screen HD television. Soderbergh's consistent use of natural lighting also imbued most scenes with a sense of realism, like this could be happening in anyone's neighborhood.

The plot itself was a bit bland and shallow. Clearly, we've seen much more interesting storylines in a Scooby Doo cartoon. Soderbergh says that he was interested in playing out the repetitive and monotonous nature of a small town, dead-end factory job against the backdrop of friendship, jealousy and murder. I see his point, but I'm not sure that it came through as strongly as he might have liked. The shallowness of the characterizations made it difficult to feel empathy - or anything else - for the people in the film. It was almost like watching a reality-based documentary without the accompanying analysis.

Did I like the film? I'd have to say no.

Was it interesting? Somewhat. Entertaining? No. While it may have been fun for Soderbergh and crew to make Bubble, it just wasn't much fun to watch.

So I will give Bubble 2 out of a possible 5 drewl buckets. I would have given it just one drewl bucket, but I'm willing to give Soderbergh some slack on this one.

Soderbergh has five more flicks planned for Mark Cuban's and Todd Wagner's 2929 Productions, all of which will be shown on HDNet, in theaters and distributed on DVD at virtually the same time. Hopefully his others will be more interesting than his first.

How about the Tampa Bay Pat Robertsons?

One would think that a major league baseball team known for its inability to win baseball games would have more on its collective mind than fiddling around with the club's nickname. Apparently not.

Rather than trying to develop young pitchers or attempting to lure a legitimate power hitter, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the team with the worst overall winning percentage (.401) of any current major league franchise, seem to think that the road to baseball salvation begins with saying "no" to the Devil. The "Devil" in Devil Rays, that is.

"When [new owner] Stu Sternberg came in, he said there was a need for dramatic change. One way for dramatic change is to change the name," team president Matt Silverman told the paper.

Silverman said that one option is to remove the "Devil" from Devil Rays after meetings with focus groups revealed a negative association with the with word "devil," the Tribune reported.

"When they liked something we did, they would refer to us as the Rays. If they were discussing a complaint or gripe, we were the Devil Rays," Silverman told the paper.

Perhaps by exorcising the Devil from their name, the Rays believe that God will shine His glory on the club and turn them into a winner. After all, the only time the Devil did anything good in baseball, he was a creepy dude named Mr. Applegate who helped the hapless Washington Senators beat those "Damn Yankees". But that was just show business. Sadly for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays, a deal with the Devil wasn't enough to make them a winner. Where's Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO, when you need him?

Time will tell if the name change will do the Rays any good. Pitching and hitting are overrated, anyway, right?

Another shot over the bow of Congress

Just when you thought the Bush administration's contempt for Congress couldn't grow any stronger, earlier this week the administration's top official for mine safety and health decided that he had had enough of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee's questions, so he got up and left the proceedings. Think Progress has the video.

The administration's two top mine safety officials had finished testifying, but Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) asked them to stick around for an extra hour in case other questions came up -- as is the panel's custom. Sorry, said David G. Dye, the acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. He and Ray McKinney, the federal administrator of coal mine safety, had too much real work to do to sit around listening to a group of pesky senators. A rescue team was still in the Sago Mine, Dye said, and a mine fire was burning in Colorado.

While one can appreciate that people have busy schedules and work to do, when a Senate subcommitte is taking time out of its collective schedule to delve into issues surrounding several recent mining disasters, taking an extra hour to answer senators' questions isn't asking a whole lot. But that sort of arrogance and hubris seems to run through the veins of many in the executive branch these days. "Thank you for your time, Senators. But, frankly, we have more important things to do. Ta-ta." Now that's the way to win friends and influence people.

And this, in a nutshell, is the way this executive branch treats its supposedly equal partner: as an annoying impediment to the real work of government. It provides information to Congress grudgingly, if at all. It handles letters from lawmakers like junk mail, routinely tossing them aside without responding.

It unabashedly evades the need for Senate confirmation of officials by resorting to recess appointments, even for key government posts; see, for example, the recent recess appointments of the top immigration official, the number two person at the Defense Department and half of the Federal Election Commission.

It thinks of congressional oversight as if it were a trip to the dentist, to be undertaken reluctantly and gotten over with as quickly as possible. Most astonishingly, it reserves the right simply to ignore congressional dictates that it has decided intrude too much on executive branch power. President Bush's thumb-in-the-congressional-eye statement when he signed the bill banning torture of detainees, in which he announced that he would construe the law "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President," is one recent, and flagrant, example.

The Bush administration continues to dig a virtual moat around the executive branch as it methodically builds a towering castle that is increasingly impervious to criticism and oversight by the other, supposedly balancing branches of government. And with the recent appointments of conservative Supreme Court justices Roberts and Alito (expected to be confirmed by the Senate next week), the Bush administration may be counting on the high court to uphold its major league power grab when several highly questionable - and arguably illegal - tactics are likely to be brought before the Supreme Court over the coming weeks, months, years.

War on terror? More to the point, there is an internal war on the Constitution taking place, and the commander in chief might just as well be described as a virtual terrorist in chief, intent on bringing our most sacred governance document to its proverbial knees. Our founding fathers must be spinning in their graves.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Democracy is like a box of chocolates...

With the recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections and the strict Islamist Shia election victory in Iraq, I wonder if the Bush administration has decided to re-think its "Democracy is on the march" mantra for the Middle East.

Democracy is a wonderful thing...that is, as long as you get the results you were hoping for. The funny thing about democracy is that it allows the will of the people to prevail, regardless of what result the United States government might prefer. In many respects, the Bush administration will get exactly what it deserves in the Middle East. And the more they try to fight it, the more militant will be the support for whichever regime opposes the U.S.

Maybe one day the Bush administration will understand this concept.

And speaking of Middle East elections...

Regarding Iran, some say that an attack by the United States in order to curb Iran's apparent nuclear intentions could actually backfire by galvanizing internal support for its controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And if people don't understand why that might happen, just think back to September of 2001 when a relatively new U.S. President who was out of favor with the majority of Americans suddenly found his support above 90%. And all it took was a one-day assault by nineteen men upon four commercial aircraft and three buildings to turn a virtual lame-duck president into the trusted and fearless leader of a nation of 300 million under attack. Do we really want to help Ahmadinejad by throwing the support of 70 million Iranians behind his twisted view of the world?

Right now, the best lesson for the Bush administration may be one made famous by Forrest Gump: Democracy is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

Unfortunately for the United States and Israel, the "box of chocolates" in the Middle East isn't tasting quite so sweet these days.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

DoJ and Congress opposed FISA changes in 2002!!

Got this from a few different places, including Worfeus, Unclaimed Territory and Knight Ridder journalist Jonathon Landay. And, no doubt, we'll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming days and weeks. It has the potential to blow the lid off the entire warrantless spying controversy. I think this information turns the controversy into a full-fledged scandal. Time will tell.

According to reports, the Department of Justice declined to request changes to the FISA law which would have loosened its restrictions to make it easier to conduct surveillance.

In its 2002 statement, the Justice Department said it opposed a legislative proposal to change FISA to make it easier to obtain warrants that would allow the super-secret National Security Agency to listen in on communications involving non-U.S. citizens inside the United States.

James A. Baker, the Justice Department's top lawyer on intelligence policy, made the statement before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 31, 2002. He was laying out the department's position on an amendment to FISA proposed by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. The committee rejected DeWine's proposal, leaving FISA intact.

So while Congress chose not to weaken FISA in 2002, today Bush and his allies contend that Congress implicitly gave Bush the authority to evade FISA's requirements when it authorized him to use force in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks three days after they occurred - a contention that many lawmakers reject.

So, Congress didn't see a need to relax FISA. But Bush and company claim that Congress agreed to allow the NSA to ignore FISA altogether. And even the DoJ agreed that there was insufficient evidence to indicate a need to relax FISA. Yet, the White House determined unilaterally that it didn't need FISA at all!!

This is going to get very interesting. Very interesting, indeed!

Quote of the Day: "If there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth."

That statement was uttered on Monday by the former head of the National Security Agency, General Michael Hayden, as he tried to defend the warrantless spying program approved by President Bush. But based on the comments he made just before that, one has to wonder if he really is all that familiar with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Here is what the Fourth Amendment, a part of the Constitution's Bill of Rights, says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

You'll note the emphasis I've placed on the words, "probable cause". As you're about to see, there's a reason for that.

Near the end of the press conference, a journalist named Jonathon Landay from Knight Ridder asked General Hayden a question about the need for probable cause to exist in order to execute a search. Much to the surprise of Mr. Landay - and, no doubt, others in the room - the General indicated several times that the Fourth Amendment says nothing about "probable cause."

Crooks and Liars has the video up from Keith Olbermann's show. Here is the transcript of the exchange, as provided by Editor & Publisher:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, "We reasonably believe." And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say "we reasonably believe"; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, "we have probable cause."
And so what many people believe -- and I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place of probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order.

Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

So, as one can see, the General needs a refresher course on the Fourth Amendment. How many others at the NSA and within the Bush administration need a similar refresher?

We've been led to believe that the Bush administration is full of people who believe in "strict constructionism" when it comes to the interpretation of the Constitution, and that they want to see jurists who have a similar outlook appointed to the bench. But now we have to wonder if they are, in fact, either confused or beholden to "strict constructionism" only when it suits their needs.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear: The attacks of 9/11/01 were like a family picnic compared to the attack being unleashed by our own government against the very document - and its ideals - that has framed and defined our nation's commitment to democracy for over 200 years. 9/11 was a great tragedy for this nation. But allowing our Constitution to be violated as a result will be the greatest tragedy of all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

DoJ: Department of Justification?

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who spoke today at Georgetown University, seems to be pulling out all the stops to defend the President's approval of warrantless spying by the NSA. Of course, given that the New York Times sat on the story for over a year, the administration has had plenty of time to come up with some rationale and justification for breaking the law. Unfortunately, the arguments being offered are nothing more than blatant attempts to condone criminal behavior by our own government officials.

Here is a sampling of Gonzales' comments along with my take on them:

"As far as I'm concerned, we have briefed the Congress," he said. "They're aware of the scope of the program."

The only members of Congress who were briefed were the Democrat and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. And none of them were permitted to discuss the program with anyone, including aids, lawyers, constituents or other members of Congress. For those who may have had misgivings, such as West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, getting the legal opinion of a third-party lawyer was verboten. Call me crazy, but this does not constitute a "briefing of Congress" when only four members of a 535-person legislative body are involved.

"It is simply not the case that Congress in 1978 anticipated all the ways that the president might need to act in times of armed conflict to protect the United States," he told an audience at Georgetown University law school in Washington. "FISA, by its own terms, was not intended to be the last word on these critical issues."

Gonzales makes it sound like the FISA law was enacted in 1778 instead of 1978. FISA was passed by Congress just twenty-eight years ago, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter and in response to the many abuses of power exhibited by the Nixon administration in the early 70s. This isn't ancient history we're talking about. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was still going strong and terrorism had been a concern for many around the world for years. Maybe Gonzales should head to his local cinema and check out a nice little film entitled Munich.

And if FISA wasn't the "last word" on the legalities of government surveillance, it certainly was - and is - THE word based on the manner in which this country enacts laws. Our legislative process dictates that, if someone has a problem with a law that is on the books, then that person or persons may petition Congress to alter the law or to enact a new law. If the FISA law was deemed by the Bush administration to be too restrictive in some fashion, then their recourse was to request a change in the law by Congress. Did they do that? No.

"We have to remember that we're talking about a wartime foreign intelligence program," he said. "It is an 'early warning system' with only one purpose: to detect and prevent the next attack on the United States from foreign agents hiding in our midst."

Firstly, we find ourselves in "wartime" only because we choose to call this "a war" and because the Bush administration elected to start a war in Iraq without legitimate provocation. Did an attack occur in this country in September, 2001? Yes. Was it a military attack? No. Was it a criminal act? Yes. Have terrorist attacks ever happened before? Yes. Were they considered acts of war? No. Were they considered criminal acts? Yes.

Secondly, was the FISA law of 1978 not enacted in order to deter agents, in particular, of the Soviet Union? Yes, it was. In fact, I believe one could refer to them as "foreign agents hiding in our midst." Did the Soviet Union not have weapons of mass destruction? Yes, they most certainly did. In fact, they had enough nuclear weaponry to turn the United States into radioactive dust. Yet, FISA was deemed by Congress to be an adequate measure to help deter the threat.

Thirdly, while Gonzales surely would like us all to believe that the warrantless spying was carried out with the sole intention of rooting out terrorists, haven't we all as Americans earned the right to be distrusting and skeptical of our government and their intentions? FBI surveillance of civil rights leaders, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Abscam, WMDs in Iraq, Valerie Plame, Jack Abramoff, etc. And this brief list only touches the surface. You name it and our government has attempted to get away with it. Why the hell should we trust them on ANYTHING?

"This is about ... gathering up intelligence regarding al Qaeda," he said. "We're talking about communications where one end of the call is outside the United States and where there's a reasonable basis to believe that a person on the call is either a member of al Qaeda or affiliated with al Qaeda."

Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but if there's "a reasonable basis to believe that a person on the call is either a member of al Qaeda or affiliated with al Qaeda", then that should provide enough probable cause for a FISA court judge to issue the required warrant. And that warrant, according to the law, doesn't have to be issued until after 72 hours of surveillance have elapsed. One would think that 72 hours is sufficient time to determine whether or not there exists "a reasonable basis to believe that a person on the call is either a member of al Qaeda or affiliated with al Qaeda," as Mr. Gonzales contends.

"I can't speak to specific cases," he said. "What I can say is we believe the program is lawful, the information was gathered in a lawful manner and will not jeopardize any ongoing cases.

"We begin with the proposition that we believe this information was gathered in a lawful manner ... under the authorization to use military force."

First of all, the program clearly is not lawful because it was not conducted within the bounds of the law that specifically covers these activities. And, based on this law, any evidence collected in a manner that isn't allowed by this law...i.e. without a warrant...would be inadmissable in a court of law. Assuming that this administration intends to prosecute cases through the courts - which may, in fact, be a stretch - then that's a problem. They keep talking a good game about "bringing the terrorists to justice". It will be difficult to do so without legally-obtained evidence.

On Gonzales' contention that warrantless spying is allowed based on Congress' authorization to use military force, is he saying that the President is condoning "military force" against U.S. citizens? Typically, such action - sometimes referred to as martial law - is reserved for dire circumstances when the civil court system is incapacitated for one reason or another. In fact, when President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1863 during the Civil War, three years later the U.S. Supreme Court determined that his actions were unconstitutional. Last time I checked, the secret FISA court set up specifically to issue surveillance warrants was still up and running. And the authorizing of military force does not extend to employing that force against U.S. citizens.

The more the Bush administration and its apologists try to justify this illegal program, the more desperate and pathetic they sound. The warrantless spying was illegal, it still is illegal, and the parties who perpetrated it need to be held accountable in a court of law. They need to be brought to justice...the real kind of justice, not some cheap bastardization of it often favored by Bush, Cheney and the Attorney General.

There is no reasonable justification for what was done. None!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Captions, Anyone???

This photo needs a caption. Any ideas?

Bush = Dork

This photo of President Bush today trying to justify his warrantless spying says it all. That condescending, leaning-in sneer of his makes you want to go - POW!! - right in the kisser!

What an annoying, supercilious prick.

Quote of the Day: "We are stepping up our efforts to educate the American people about this vital tool in the war on terrorism."

Those are the words of our good friend, indefatigable White House press secretary Scott McClellan, as President Bush kicks off a stretch of appearances designed to tell us - or at least those who already agree with him - why he felt the need to break the law.

It's nice that they now want to educate us about this "vital tool". They didn't seem too interested in doing so prior to the New York Times' disclosure last month that this "vital tool" existed. There must have been some reason why they were so keen on keeping it all so hush-hush for at least a year after the Times first became aware of it.

At the administration appearances, Bush and aides plan to repeat arguments they have made before: This is a limited program that kicks in only when one of the parties is beyond U.S. borders and has some kind of link to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

And as has been outlined and highlighted over and over again, the existing FISA law covers such scenarios as long as the government requests a warrant from the court within 72 hours after surveillance begins. Is that so difficult to understand? For those who have sipped heartily from the Bush administration's kool-aid trough, apparently it is.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

March of the unknown white guys

The National Football League, long known for its teams' inability to hire minority head coaches in significant numbers, found itself this season with three black head coaches whose teams were among the best in the league: Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals) and Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears). Lewis and Smith, in particular, produced amazing success stories by turning abysmal teams into Super Bowl contenders. And Dungy's Colts managed one of the best regular season records in NFL history.

Meanwhile, seven NFL head coaches were served pink slips during or after the 2005 season. The common denominator? All seven of them are white: Steve Mariucci, Mike Tice, Norv Turner, Dom Capers, Jim Haslett, Mike Sherman and Mike Martz. Two other head coaches, Dick Vermeil and Mike Mularkey, stepped down after their teams missed the playoffs. Both are white. (Herman Edwards, who is black, left the Jets as head coach in order to take the same position with the Kansas City Chiefs.)

So, given the relative success of black head coaches this season in the NFL and the lack of success of many white head coaches, one would think that several top African-American assistant coaches would be in line to get a shot as a head coach. Seems logical, right? As it turns out, not so much.

While a number of black assistant coaches have been mentioned as possible candidates for the many open jobs, and several have even been invited for interviews, none have been given a shot as a head coach. In fact, all of the open jobs filled to date - Detroit, Minnesota, New Orleans, St. Louis, Green Bay, New York Jets - have been given to unknown and relatively inexperienced former assistant coaches, all of whom are white. Their names read like a "who's that?" list of nobodies:

Rod Marinelli (Detroit)
Brad Childress (Minnesota)
Sean Payton (New Orleans)
Scott Linehan (St. Louis)
Mike McCarthy (Green Bay)
Eric Mangini (NY Jets)

Meanwhile, quality minority assistants such as Tim Lewis, Ted Cottrell, Jerry Gray and Ron Rivera, to name just a few, are being passed over like three-week-old leftovers crammed into the back of the refrigerator.

Interestingly, even among the many fired head coaches, several of them are being considered for other head coaching jobs, in spite of their apparent failures with their previous clubs. In fact, Dick Jauron, who was the interim head coach in Detroit after Mariucci was fired mid-season but was not retained, may well land the top job in Buffalo. Jauron was the head coach of the Chicago Bears for five seasons before losing his job after going 35-46. Oh, and Jauron is white. Tice, Sherman and Haslett have been interviewed by other teams, as well.

While I would like to believe that this is nothing more than a numbers game in which it's merely an ugly coincidence that black coaching candidates are being ignored in favor of white coaches, I find it hard to fathom how so many relatively-unqualified white candidates could have landed jobs ahead of more qualified black candidates without some kind of nefarious intentions at work.

For example, new Packers coach McCarthy was the offensive coordinator for the NFL's worst offense this season in San Francisco. The Vikings' Childress, who previously had been the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, didn't even call his own plays for the Eagles. The Jets' Mangini spent just one season as a defensive coordinator with the Patriots before being offered a head coaching position. These guys arguably haven't proven they can be effective assistants let alone head coaches.

There still are a few open head coaching positions around the NFL. Perhaps Al Davis, longtime owner of the Oakland Raiders and a man not afraid to buck the status quo, will give a qualified minority candidate a chance. After all, he's the one who hired Art Shell as the NFL's first black head coach in 1989. Shell lasted six seasons with the Raiders, posted a 54-38 record and led the team to the playoffs three times. Strangely, he hasn't been offered another head coaching job since he was let go by the Raiders in 1994.

With the success enjoyed by Dungy, Lewis and Smith in 2005, let's hope others will get a chance to show what they can do as head coaches. Clearly, ethnicity has no bearing on how successful someone can be as a head coach. Based on what we've seen over the last month or so, though, I'm not holding my breath. And that really is a crying shame.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

There goes the neighborhood

Why is it that self-proclaimed conservatives feel so threatened by families headed by a homosexual couple rather than a heterosexual couple? With the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the horizon, conservative groups are up in arms over the desire of gay couples to bring their children to the event. In fact, some have even suggested that all the fun should be restricted to an invitation-only list of attendees. "Sorry, but we don't want kids here if their parents are gay." Nice.

Yet some conservatives, alerted to the plans this week, accuse gay activists of trying to "crash" an event for children and turn it into a forum for ideological politicking. Some groups are discussing ways to respond.

"It's improper to use the egg roll for political purposes," said Mark Tooley of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. Tooley wrote a critical article this week in the Weekly Standard magazine about the planned event that has circulated widely on conservative Web sites.

Since the article appeared, Chrisler said Family Pride has received "a flood of hate-filled, venomous messages telling us that our families aren't welcome."

At the moment, it appears that the White House is refusing to heed the call for restrictions on attendance.

Susan Whitson, press secretary to first lady Laura Bush, indicated the White House was unlikely to restrict admission to the egg roll.

"All families are really welcome to attend," she told the Associated Press on Friday, provided they comply with rules that each family group have no more than two adults and include at least one child under 8.

Well, that's a bit unexpected, given how this administration typically bows to the wishes of its most radical elements. And we all know how they prefer to limit attendance at presidential appearances to those who will not challenge the President or his beliefs. Hopefully, the White House will hold to this policy of openness for this event. The sexual orientation of one's parents should not dictate one's participation in some harmless Easter fun or anything else, for that matter.

And maybe...just maybe...people will begin to see that good and caring parenting goes well beyond the gender and sexual orientation of the parents. People who believe otherwise do nothing but show their ignorance.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Poetic Justice?

So, al-Qaeda's #2 dude, Ayman al-Zawahri, has just released a new audio of jihadist poetry. And word has it that this new release is climbing the charts faster than Dubya can say, "misunderestimate."

Loosely translated, one of the poems had a vaguely familiar cadence to it:

Roses are red, Violets are blue. Bush is a moron. Oh, and Cheney, too.

That crazy Ayman. He cracks me up.

What next? Osama sings Perry Como? Hmmmm. I can't wait!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fear and shaming in America

I have one question about Osama bin Laden's latest "appearance" on the world's stage, where he contends in an audiotape that al-Qaeda is planning new attacks in America:

Why announce it?

I mean, any terrorist worth his salt would take the Nike approach: Just Do It. That was their M.O. prior to 9/11/01. There were no announcements. There were no overt warnings.

And, by the way, what's the point in offering a "truce" if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan and Iraq? I mean, al-Qaeda didn't seem to have a problem attacking the U.S. before we had any presence whatsoever in Afghanistan or Iraq. So what's changed? Is old Osama getting tired of holing up in a cave somewhere in the middle of nowhere?

Isn't it an interesting coincidence that Osama's latest communication comes amid a myriad of Bush administration troubles and just days before the President's upcoming State of the Union address?

So many questions. So few answers. And so much skepticism.

Just say no!

While I'm all for people eating healthier foods, the lawsuit announced yesterday by a couple of Massachusetts parents and a couple of special interest groups in Boston has to be one of the most frivolous legal actions I've ever seen.

Are food and beverage companies targeting kids with their product ads? Yes. Do kids today consume too much junk food? Sure. Should kids have a healthier diet? Probably. But is this right way to go about it? Absolutely not.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Boston-based group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and two parents served notice that they intended to sue Viacom, the maker of the popular children's TV show "SpongeBob SquarePants," and the Kellogg Company, a big marketer of food to children, which features the lovable SpongeBob on packages of cereal, Pop Tarts and cookies.

At a news conference in Washington yesterday, the groups argued that using cartoon characters to sell to children is deceptive and unfair.

"It's unfair because kids under 5 don't even know it's a commercial," said Stephen Gardner, director of litigation for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "They think it's a very short SpongeBob program. And it's unfair because at a very important time in their physical and psychological development, kids are being encouraged to eat food that is just not good for them."

The suit, to be filed in Massachusetts under the state's aggressive consumer protection laws, seeks to ban the marketing of food of "poor nutritional quality" to children under 8. Under law, plaintiffs are required to give a 30-day notice to defendants before filing a suit.

The problem here is that parents are the ones who should be monitoring their kids' television watching and their kids' eating habits. It's not as though 5-year-olds are driving themselves to the store and buying up a cart full of Lucky Charms and Cap'n Crunch, for goodness sake. It is the parents who buy the products and it is parents who serve them to their children.

For people who think that parents are put at an unfair advantage because their kids whine incessantly about buying the products they see on TV, there's one word that would solve everything: N-O. No. And it's really not that difficult to do. I know. I'm a parent.

If adults with children would stop trying to be their child's best friend and start being a parent, which usually involves a very healthy dose of the word, "no", then this would cease to be an issue. And if the kids insist on whining about the parent's decision, then it's likely because they've learned that such protestations generally are met with the parent's backing down. Kids aren't dumb.

Just because much of the food marketed to children may be deemed unhealthy doesn't mean that occasional treats aren't warranted. It just means that parents need to do their jobs as parents to monitor and control what their kids eat. It's not easy, but then being a good parent never is.

Scrap the lawsuit. Just say no!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship...

Conservative columnist and erstwhile CNN commentator Robert Novak penned a column in last week's Chicago Sun-Times that was overtly critical of the Bush administration's Medicare prescription drug program. Yes, that would be the prescription drug program that Bush has touted among his very few "victories" on Capitol Hill. And that also would be the prescription drug program that is presently in the throes of a crisis in its first few weeks of implementation.

When Bob Novak is trashing a Republican administration, to say there are some chinks in the armor is a gross understatement. The rats are jumping ship, a sure sign that the USS Bush-Cheney is sinking at a rapid pace.

The hideous complexity of the scheme, which has the effect of discouraging seniors from signing up, is only the beginning of difficulties it entails for the president and his party. It will further swell the budget deficit without commensurate political benefits. On the contrary, the drug plan may prove a severe liability for Republicans facing an increasingly hazardous midterm election in November.


Rove's aim was to entice low-to-middle-income seniors who vote heavily Democratic and complain about the cost of prescription drugs. That political maneuver was translated by bureaucrats and health-care technicians into a government program so difficult to understand that someone receiving any prescription drug care would be inclined to stick with the present program even if it seems inadequate. For many whose existing insurance does not help pay drug bills, the Bush program is only a disappointment.

Another winner from Bush and his incompetents. The fun just never ends. These people are all about style and PR and getting elected, but they have absolutely no clue how to govern or administer. The Bush administration - and I use that term very loosely - will go down in history as one of the most insanely inadequate bureaucracies in the 230 years of our nation's existence.

It almost makes one wonder if they're doing it on purpose in order to sour all Americans on our government. Could they intentionally be trying to look so utterly incompetent that we would have no other choice but to pare our federal government to the bone? With these people, anything is possible. And I mean ANYTHING!!

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Yesterday, as noted below, was the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth. I've always been fascinated with Franklin. In fact, when one sometimes hears the question asked, "Which four people from history would you like to have over for dinner, if you could?", I've always known that Ben Franklin would be at the top of my list.

Which others would be on my list? That's difficult to answer. There are so many very interesting historical figures from which to choose. And it often might depend on what mood I'm in. Am I interested in learning more about politics, music, literature, art, sports, different periods, etc.? If I made an exhaustive list, I'd be entertaining every other evening!

I suppose my initial four invitees would be:

- Benjamin Franklin
- William Shakespeare
- John Lennon
- John F. Kennedy

A Ben, a Bill and a couple of Johns. I'd envision some lively and insightful discussion amongst the four of them. I'd just sit back and listen. What an evening that would be!

So, if given the chance, which four people from history would you choose to invite over for the evening?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy 300th Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!!

Famous American patriot, statesman, philosopher and inventor Benjamin Franklin was born on this date (January 17) in 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. Here is a brief synopsis of his accomplishments, as published at Who2.com:

Franklin is perhaps the single most multi-talented figure in American history. His accomplishments are too varied to fully describe here; they include signing the Declaration of Independence, publishing the famous Poor Richard's Almanac, serving as postmaster of Philadelphia, founding the first American fire insurance company, living in Paris as American ambassador to France, and inventing useful objects like the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, and bifocal glasses.

Franklin was a man whose insightful wisdom would be quite useful in the present day. Who knows what he would have thought of the Internet and blogging. As a publisher, no doubt, he would have been utterly fascinated by it.

In honor of the 300th anniversary of Ben Franklin's birth, let's reflect on just a few of his many wonderful quotes as we reside here in the year 2006:

-Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

-Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.

-For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.

-Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

-Honesty is the best policy.

-In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

-One today is worth two tomorrows.

-The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.

-The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.

-There was never a good war, or a bad peace.

So let's all lift an ale's mug in remembrance of a truly great American. Cheers, Ben Franklin! And happy birthday, too!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Quote of the Day: "Freedom is crawling — over broken glass."

That pessimistic quote - no doubt to the chagrin of the Bush administration - came from an anonymous State Department official, in stark contrast to President Bush's frequent contention that "freedom is on the march" in the Middle East.

Indeed, in spite of Bush's militaristic approach to forcing democracy on the Middle East, many countries actually are gravitating more closely toward Islamist-controlled governments. If you think about it, it's kind of like independent-minded teens who rebel against their parents (not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea). Many in the Middle East want nothing to do with the United States' presumptuous approach to how Middle Easterners should be governed. Even if many in the Middle East might prefer the democratic approach, as many likely would, that doesn't mean that they want others - in particular, the "holier than thou" Americans - telling them what to do.

President Bush's efforts to spread democracy to the Middle East have strengthened Islamists across the region, posing fresh challenges for the United States, according to U.S. officials, foreign diplomats and democracy experts.

Islamist parties trounced secular opponents in recent elections in Iraq and Egypt.

Hamas, the armed Islamic Palestinian group, appears set to fare well in Palestinian parliamentary elections Jan. 25, posing a quandary for how the United States and Israel pursue peace efforts. Hamas has carried out suicide bombings against Israel and calls for the country's destruction.

In Lebanon, the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah is part of the government for the first time.

Washington considers Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which have Iranian support, to be terrorist groups.

"In the short run, the big windfall winners ... have been the Islamists," said Michael McFaul, a Stanford University expert on democracy and development.

In the long run, democracy probably will lead to a more stable, economically flourishing Middle East, McFaul recently told a Washington conference. But, he added, "We're taking a chance."

Democracy isn't something that can be forced on others, especially those who are already suspicious of - or even downright hostile toward - anything that is espoused by the United States' government. Let's face it, in spite of what Bush, Cheney and company would like to believe, the U.S. doesn't have a good reputation in much of the world. And attempting to force something upon them isn't going to help matters much. In fact, it very likely is making things worse.

In a region renowned for governments dominated by religion and competing ethnic tribes for hundreds if not thousands of years, to force a radical, overnight change to something as foreign as democracy is nothing but a fantasy. And turning such a fantasy into reality will not come without an unbearable price - or wait - for decades, if not centuries, to come.

Perhaps the United States should try a different tack, like benevolence and diplomacy perhaps? Unfortunately, both concepts are about as foreign to the Bush administration as democracy is to those in the Middle East. Until we have a more astute administration in place, the gulf between fantasy and reality will remain virtually unbridgeable.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Come join the He-Man American Haters Club

Thanks to our gang of "brain surgeons" in the Bush administration, who seem to believe that precision airstrikes on small villages full of women and children make for positive propaganda in the Middle East, the number of people intent on hating - and possibly attacking - the U.S. continues to grow at an astounding rate.

Pakistani officials said Saturday that a U.S. missile strike intended to kill al Qaeda deputy Ayman Zawahiri had missed its target but had killed 17 people, including six women and six children.

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis staged an angry anti-American protest near the remote village of Damadula, about 120 miles northwest of Islamabad, where Friday's attack took place. According to witnesses, the demonstrators shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Musharraf" -- referring to Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf -- and the offices of at least one U.S.-backed aid organization were ransacked and set ablaze.

If they really want to win the "war on terror" - which I'm beginning to doubt - then they need to come up with a different strategy. Maybe it's just me, but killing innocent women and children doesn't seem like a particularly effective way to win the hearts and minds of South Asians. Call me crazy, but aren't these the people we hope would recognize the goodness and benevolence of the great democracy known as the United States of America? Kind of tough to do that if we keep killing them, don't ya think?

Last time I checked, many supporters of President Bush were ardent supporters of the death penalty. If someone kills another human being, these people believe that the perpetrator should be put to death. And many of them aren't shy about their support for execution.

Now, you may ask, what does an errant bombing in Pakistan have to do with Republicans' support for the death penalty? Well, let's give some thought to this for a moment.

John Doe in Houston, Texas, breaks into a home in the Bel Air section of town and shoots to death the family that lives there because they got in the way of his burglary. Naturally, the Republican loved ones of the family - who are royally pissed off at what happened - want to see justice done, and that means putting the dirty SOB to death. No ifs, ands or buts. Kill the bastard.

On the flip side, let's say that the United States drops a bomb on a small village in Pakistan and kills over a dozen women and children. Naturally, the loved ones of those killed are royally pissed off at what happened. They want to see justice done, and that means getting back at the United States. No ifs, ands or buts. Kill the bastards.

Hmmmm. See any similarities? I thought so.

Larry Johnson, ex-CIA, at NO QUARTER lamented last week that a strategy of "precision" air strikes is just asking for trouble. And if the U.S. doesn't figure out a way to accomplish its objectives (whatever they may be) without killing innocent bystanders, then this neo-con fantasy of a democratized, pro-West, pro-United States Middle East will die a slow, painful death...and remain nothing more than a ridiculous fantasy.

At the moment, this "war on terror" is doing nothing but giving more and more people reasons to hate us and to see us die. Is that what we want?

Thank God for...Bush?

Thanks to my bro-in-law Charlie for alerting me to this truly odd - though frighteningly common - belief that we should all bow down and thank the Almighty for the honor of having George W. Bush as our President.

What appears below is a letter-to-the-editor in today's Salt Lake Tribune. Insanity such as this is just a bit unsettling, to say the least.

Take a read and judge for yourself.

Thank God for Bush

Salt Lake Tribune

I've read many letters from Tribune readers that disrespect and dishonor President Bush. Do these people remember 9/11? If not, I suggest they find before and after pictures of the New York skyline. The Twin Towers were destroyed by fanatics who want every American dead.

While you read this, they are plotting ways to kill you, and if every American were to die, they would fire their guns in the air and dance in the streets while burning our flag. This is not the most pleasant thought; it is reality.

Right after 9/11, I saw our flag flying by the thousands. Where are they now? Mine flies proudly every day. I remember the thousands who died by a foreign hand.

How would you live if your whole country took on the look of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, your job gone, your food supply gone, no electricity or communications systems, heat or shelter?

This is their goal. While you sleep warm in your bed tonight, these factions will be thinking and planning ways to kill you, the same way they methodically carried out the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

My humble opinion is you should get down on your knees and thank God you have a president who is trying to save your life and your way of life.

A.J. Porche'


Shelley Winters, 1920 - 2006

Shelley Winters, the famous actress often remembered for her dramatic underwater swim through the bowels of the S.S. Poseidon in 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, died today at the age of 85. She received an Oscar nomination for her performance in that film.

Winters won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and A Patch of Blue (1965). In addition to her Oscar nomination for The Poseidon Adventure, she also received a nomination for her role in the 1951 film A Place in the Sun.

But for those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s, Winter's turn as former competitive swimmer Belle Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure was her signature role. Who can forget the scene in which she propels her overweight frame through a section of the flooded ship to reach safety on the other side. Sadly, in spite of her heroic swim, her character didn't survive to see eventual daylight when the remainder of the survivors reached the propeller room at the bottom/top of the capsized ocean liner. Veteran character actor Jack Albertson played her husband in the film.

Another grand lady from the golden days of Hollywood has passed on. But her image and talents will live forever on film. RIP.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Quote of the Day: "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second."

That "enlightened" quote comes from a high school biology textbook published by Bob Jones University Press. The textbook purposely lays out creationism and intelligent design as legitimate alternatives to evolution. Apparently, a number of private, Christian schools are using this biology text book, among others, with a decided slant towards religion and away from scientific facts.

And now that major universities are starting to reject high school course credits from classes that are taught using these textbooks, some private Christian schools are starting to fight back.

A Christian high school's lawsuit against the University of California is escalating the culture war over the role of religion in public education.

The Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, Calif., with 1,300 students, is suing UC for not giving credits for some courses with a "Christian viewpoint" when students apply for university admission. The lawsuit is about theological content in "every major area in high school except for mathematics," says Wendell Bird, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel.

Courses in dispute include history, English, social studies and science. In federal court here, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero could rule soon on the university system's motion to dismiss the high school's claims that its First Amendment rights to free speech and religion were infringed.

While the private Christian schools are claiming discrimination and a violation of their constitutional rights, the University of California's position appears to be pretty clear cut. They have certain course standards that are required for admission. Students are welcome - and free - to take any and all courses offered by their private high schools; however, only certain courses and textbooks will be accepted for admission.

Seems fair to me. And if certain private school students and their parents don't like it, they are free to go to college at a fine, upstanding Christian college like Bob Jones University (sometimes referred to as...ahem...BJU). I'm sure they will accept any and all course credits from classes that put the word of God before science.

Of course, let's not forget that BJU is known as a place where inter-racial dating isn't allowed among its students, but that's another story for another day...

Senator Cornyn Responds...Finally

A couple of months ago I sent an e-mail to my congressional representatives to express my concern that our troops in Iraq were not being reimbursed, in spite of recent legislation, for their purchases of armor and equipment that would to help protect their lives.

I heard back via postal letter from my Republican U.S. Representative and from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in fairly short order. Both agreed with me that our troops should receive the protection and support - as well as the money - that they deserve, and which had been approved by Congress.

Senator John Cornyn, on the other hand, hadn't responded until today via e-mail. Here is the text of his response:

Dear (Mr. Bucket):

I regret that my reply to your letter has been delayed. I strive to respond to each constituent in a timely fashion, but a technical error in an e-mail system used by the Senate prevented my reply from reaching you before today. The input that you and other Texans provide is valuable to me, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond without further delay.

Thank you for contacting me about reimbursing our troops serving overseas. I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this matter.

I share your concern that our troops should be properly equipped so that they are able to fully serve and protect our country. As you may know, Congress passed legislation last year (P. L. 108-375, section 351) to begin reimbursing service members for protective, safety or health equipment purchased for Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom. Because my father served in the military for thirty-one years, I grew up around men and women dedicated to protecting our country, and I strongly believe that they deserve the best and safest equipment possible. You may be certain that, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I will keep your views in mind as the Senate considers relevant legislation.

I appreciate the opportunity to represent the interests of Texans in the United States Senate. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.



United States Senator

Well, firstly, Senator Hutchison didn't have any trouble responding in a timely fashion. Perhaps Senator Cornyn uses a different e-mail system than does Senator Hutchison. Anything's possible when it comes to our efficient federal government.

Secondly, even though Senator Cornyn's response indicates an interest in seeing that our troops are properly equipped, he fails to address the substance of my e-mail to him, namely that the funding approved by P. L. 108-375, section 351, wasn't being distributed to soldiers who had personally paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars for their protective gear.

While I appreciate the response from Senator Cornyn (no doubt via some low level staffer of his), in spite of the lengthy delay, I do wonder if the timing of the response had more to do with recent news reports and media coverage about the inadequate protective quality of many U.S. soldiers' body armor. Would he have bothered to respond if this issue hadn't suddenly become a significant part of the national discourse once again? Maybe. Maybe not.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I hope Senator Cornyn and the rest of his colleagues in the Senate and House will get on the stick and make certain that our troops receive not only the proper protective gear, BUT ALSO the money that our troops had to pull out of their own pockets - and let's face it, they don't make that much money to begin with - to give themselves the protection their government should have provided them from the get-go. That's the least they deserve for being put in "harm's way", as President Bush is so fond of saying.

I oppose the war. That should be clear. But I DO support the men and women who have been forced by their government to put their lives on the line in a war of convenience and ideology. I only wish the Bush administration supported the troops. If they did, then adequate protective gear and equipment for our troops would not have been an issue to begin with.

Support our troops. Bring them home. But at a minimum give them the equipment they need to defend themselves. Anything less than that is criminal!

When an IED isn't an IED

Remember earlier this week when a bomb was found in the bathroom of a Starbucks outlet in San Francisco? As reported in the San Jose Mercury News:

Police received a call reporting a suspicious package at the coffee house, located at 1401 Van Ness Ave., at 1:15 p.m. The police explosives ordinance unit diffused an improvised explosive device, or IED, around 2 p.m., Sgt. Neville Gittens said.

And here's what a police spokesperson had to say at the time:

"If it had detonated, it would have caused damage," Gittens said. "It was what we consider an IED," an improvised explosive device. "We're following some leads. We have some pretty good leads."

Well, now we've come to learn that the alleged "IED" that was encased in a flashlight was, in fact...just a flashlight. Apparently, a homeless man had found it and then inadvertently had left it on the bathroom floor of the Starbucks.

Just when we thought that, perhaps, the incendiary military lingo and lethal weaponry of Iraq (had anyone heard of an IED before the Iraq war?) was about to find its way into our everyday domestic mindset, we learn that sometimes a flashlight is just a flashlight.

But we have to look out for those homeless people, you know. This guy could have had a bomb - excuse me, an IED - strapped to his belly with the intent of blowing that coffee shop to smithereens. It could have been a latte disaster of the highest order.

Thankfully, as far as we know, flashlights are still just flashlights and homeless people are still just homeless people. And all is right with our world.

Anyone for a cup of joe?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bremer requested more troops; Rummy said no

A few days ago we learned from Paul Bremer, the man initially in charge of the U.S. - excuse me - coalition occupation of Iraq, that the Bush administration and U.S. - excuse me, again - coalition military commanders failed to foresee the brutal insurgency that would go on to kill or maim tens of thousands of people.

Today in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that he had received a request from Bremer in May of 2004 requesting up to 30,000 additional troops to enhance security and quell the insurgency in Iraq. Bremer's request was denied.

The request, disclosed in Bremer's new book on his year-long tenure in Iraq, reflected what he said was his fear that the United States was becoming "the worst of all things -- an ineffective occupier."

Rumsfeld, speaking (today) at a Pentagon news briefing, recalled that he showed the Bremer memo to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff then, Gen. Richard B. Myers, saying: "This is a reasonable proposal from a reasonable person; let's look at it."

But after evaluating the proposal, the Joint Chiefs of Staff concurred with U.S. commanders responsible for Iraq that troop levels were adequate, said Gen. Peter Pace, who succeeded Myers as chairman of the Joint Chiefs and appeared with Rumsfeld at yesterday's briefing.

So on one hand we have leadership that failed miserably to anticipate the insurgency, which would have required additional troop strength to control. And on the other hand, once the insurgency had made itself plainly evident, we have leadership that failed to respond to new requirements. Sounds to me like a lot of failures by our leadership.

But the interesting kicker is that Rumsfeld never responded to Bremer's request.

In his book, Bremer says that Rumsfeld never responded to his recommendation to add more troops. Rumsfeld said he did reply, although not substantively.

"I thanked him for his suggestion and said we would look into it, and we did," Rumsfeld said. He said Bremer departed his post before the Joint Chiefs completed its response, and so Bremer did not receive that. "By the time he left he was . . . no longer in a position where it would be appropriate to have given him the outcome, and he never asked that I recall," Rumsfeld said. "So it's no big deal."

Of course, this was at a very critical point politically in the U.S. with the Presidential election just months away. One suspects there was trepidation within the administration about the potential political fallout from a significant increase in the number of troops in Iraq leading up to the election. While it may have been the right thing to do militarily (although Rumsfeld disputes that), it certainly would have been a political liability.

I wonder what other interesting tidbits we may be hearing from Paul Bremer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tears for Smears

During the Senate confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel Alito today, Alito's wife broke down in tears at one point and had to leave the proceedings for a period of time. She was reacting to Sen. Lindsey Graham's comments praising Alito as a "good man" in the face of harsh questioning from Democratic senators on the panel.

While I take issue with Senator Graham's comments, I also find it odd that the families of Supreme Court nominees are invited to attend the hearings and sit directly behind the nominee. I mean, when I go on a job interview, I don't bring my family with me. Why would the family come along to sit through the often tedious and sometimes humiliating confirmation process? At least Judge Alito hasn't had to respond to questions about pubic hairs on Coke cans...yet. Justice Clarence Thomas' family had the "good fortune" to sit through that riveting verbal intercourse nearly 15 years ago.

No doubt the handlers of Judge Alito want America to see the supportive family that stands - or sits - behind the man. That's all well and good, but I still think it's a bit inappropriate. Martha Alito's tearful episode today, in full view of the Senate panel and an international television audience, didn't do herself or her husband any favors. Sure, it might score some points with the "sympathy" crowd, but ultimately it serves as an unnecessary diversion from the issues at hand.

Martha Alito shouldn't be criticized for her display of emotion. On the contrary, one can fully understand why the comments about her husband - both pro and con - might tug at her heartstrings. Sadly, she shouldn't have been put in that position in the first place. It's not fair to her, to her husband or to the very serious process unfolding this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee's chambers. Perhaps future nominees and their families will choose to do otherwise. One can hope so, anyway.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

CNN Poll: 50% approve of warrantless spying

According to the latest CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll, 50% of U.S. respondents indicate they're not troubled by the Bush administration's domestic spying without a court-issued warrant.

This should be troubling, to say the least. Uncontrolled domestic spying was standard procedure in the Soviet Union, among other totalitarian nations around the globe. But isn't the United States supposed to be the pillar of freedom from that sort of thing? Don't we value personal privacy? Aren't we the ones who fought the British empire in order to eliminate the long arm of governmental oppression?

One major terrorist attack and, four years after the fact, half of us are ready to throw in the towel on over 200 years worth of hard-earned rights. Geez, imagine what would have happened if we'd been hit time and time again since 2001.

I've said this before, but it still resonates with me. We could ensure our safety from terrorism by becoming a de facto Soviet Union. Close the borders (both directions), declare martial law, initiate a comprehensive surveillance operation across all methods of communication, and order unannounced door-to-door searches. Is that what we want? I certainly don't.

Living in a democracy that offers freedom from government intrusion and interference invites certain risks. If we truly believe that those freedoms are worth living - and dying - for, then we should be willing to accept those risks in order to retain the freedoms for which so many of our forbears have given their lives. Violating the personal protections that are guaranteed by our Constitution is not the way to combat those who may threaten us, regardless of whether those threats are real...or perceived.

As legendary American patriot Patrick Henry once declared: "Give me liberty or give me death!" If we give up our freedoms, is it really worth fighting for anymore?