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What Else Is In Scott's Head?

The blog site for writer Scott C. Smith. Some observations on the world we live in and life in general. And maybe some politics.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Terri Schiavo's Death

Terri Schiavo died today. She was 41. The big question is: will the media let the family grieve in peace and privacy? It's time to let this family deal with their daughter's death outside the spotlight of cameras. How long will it take for the conservative pundits to take her death and run with it as political ammunition? You may recall how consevatives criticized the memorial service held for Paul Wellstone in October 2002, following the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Wellstone, his wife, daughter and others close to the family. Critics like Rush Limbaugh accused Democrats of using the memory of Paul Wellstone as a cheap political stunt to exploit Wellstone's death for political gain. How long before Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the other right-wing pundits use Terri Schiavo's death in the same way? My guess is: they're doing it right now. I'll check back to the Rush Limbaugh web site to see if they've posted Limbaugh's comments today on Schiavo's death, which I suspect will be more about liberals than about Terri Schiavo.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Government Report: Flawed Iraq WMD intel

A quick note to my regular readers: with school in session, I sometimes find I don't have the time to update the site daily. I'll do my best, but don't be surprised if a day or two goes by without an update. Luckily, today was just a math lecture with no homework, so I have a little time free to spread my special brand of anti-American hatred. (Note: I'm being sarcastic. Maybe).

Obscured in the non-stop Terri Schiavo coverage was a report from MSNBC that on Tuesday, federal officials confirmed that George W. Bush's commission on weapons of mass destruction will confirm what we already know, that the intelligence gathering process was flawed with intelligence agencies not sharing information with each other.

The MSNBC piece quotes an official familiar with the report as saying that policy-makers might have been seeking preconceived conclusions about the WMDs, and also to determine if foreign intelligence agencies had reached the same conclusions as the United States.

In another story, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was "furious and angry" that he had been misinformed about Iraq's stockpiles of weapons when he laid out the WMD claim to the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.

You'll recall that former CIA director George Tenent was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Dec. 14, 2004, for his role in...well, I guess in doing a great job of producing erroneous intelligence to support the claim that Iraq had WMDs.

And finally, the report that longtime Boy Scouts of America official Douglas Sovereign Smith, Jr. has pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. It's a good thing the BSA has made it a rule to keep out undesirables like homosexuals and atheists, because lord knows only they are into child pornography (that's me being sarcastic again). Found on Smith's home computer were 520 images of child pornography and video clips. But, as a Boy Scouts spokesman stated, Smith was not in contact with children in his role at the BSA, so I guess that means it's not quite as bad to have child pornography if you collect it on your own time. Another piece of good news in this story is that Smith traded the child pornography with others, but did not sell it. Which is a pretty important distinction. (Sarcasm again).

Oh, and Michael Jackson is still on trial. Just in case you were wondering.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Back to School

It's back to the classroom following a short spring break. As you may recall, I'm going back to school to get myself some fancy book learnin'. Actually, I'll be the first person in my family to have a college degree, so I have a lot to work for. But it's all worth it. Part of the college experience for an older student is having to re-learn things we were taught in high school, which in my case would have been in 1985. Through my life as a working adult I haven't had to rely on math skills, which means now I have to re-take basic math in order to prepare myself for the math I'll have to take in my junior and senior years. So, this term I get to re-learn algebra. The only downside to the basic math classes is that the credits do not count towards my degree, since right now I'm not in 100-level math (i.e., freshman math), and it will take a few terms to reach the level where I'm taking math that applies to my degree.

I've said it before in this space: if you are an older adult thinking of going to college, and you can do so -- go for it. In fact, right now would be a good time to apply for student aid for the coming year. You'll need to have finished your 2004 tax return. You can get all of the details at the U.S. Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASA) web site. In the very least, you'll probably qualify for a student loan. The application process is a little involved but you can do everything online. I don't know if my situation was typical or not, but when I applied last year I had my award letter (the letter outlines what financial aid you qualify for) in about a month. Obviously it may take longer (or sooner) depending on any number of circumstances. (Check out this piece at MSNBC that discusses other ways to get money for college).

News coverage of the Terri Schiavo case continues non-stop, with the conservative punditry stepping up efforts to blame the whole thing on liberals, taking every opportunity to accuse liberals of actually wanting Schiavo to die, all in the name of ugly politics and another battle in the culture wars. I'm not going to argue one side or the other as far as Terri Schiavo goes, but this whole debate is really showing how this case should never have been politicized. I blame Republicans more than Democrats as it was the Republican leadership in Congress who decided to make this a political issue and to create a massive rift between people who support Michael Schiavo (Terri Schiavo's husband) and those who support Bob and Mary Schindler (Terri Schiavo's parents), with the fingers of blame being pointed at Michael Schiavo (accused of abusing Terri Schiavo and deemed a 'murderer' by many conservatives) and at liberals who supposedly are waiting with glee for Schiavo to die. It's been a disgusting display, and will likely continue after Terri Schiavo has died. Michael Schiavo has ordered a full autopsy on his wife, putting at bay (at least momentarily) those who claimed that he wanted to have Terri Schiavo cremated to hide evidence of abuse, neglect, or medical proof that she could have recovered.

I certainly hope that if these next few days are her last, it would be out of the media's eye and left a private matter. But, knowing the media, the final private moments will be made very public.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Saturday Musings

I'm as guilty as anyone as far as covering the Terri Schiavo case, and in doing so let slide through the cracks news items that were not reported during the past week. Bear with me for one more item, because it's pretty significant.

From the Knight Ridder Newspapers, March 25

Fla. Officials Attempt, Fail To Seize Schiavo

"Hours after a judge ordered that Terri Schiavo wasn't to be removed from her hospice, a team of Florida law enforcement agents were en route to seize her and have her feeding tube reinserted - but they stopped short when local police told them they would enforce the judge's order, The Miami Herald has learned. Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park, the small town where Schiavo lies at Hospice Woodside, that they were on the way to take her to a hospital to resume her feeding...in the end, the state agents and the Department of Children and Families backed down, apparently concerned about confronting local police outside the hospice."

So, it appears that Jeb Bush was ready to take the law into his own hands, despite all of the court rulings, from the United States Supreme Court on down, that the feeding tube could not be reinserted.

Now, back to one underreported item from last week: this piece from the March 20 Washington Post, about the United States misleading allies about North Korea exporting nuclear materials.

(Registration is required to view Washington Post stories; you can read the same piece at MSNBC).

Quoting from the article:


"In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction."

Considering that North Korea is an "axis of evil" country, reporting that the North Korean government had sold nuclear materials to Libya could be one piece of an argument to take action against North Korea, to prevent them from arming terrorists.

Does the Bush administration really need to continue misleading the world community? How are we going to restore our credibility when it is already strained due to the whole Iraq WMD FUBAR?

It's just business as usual for the Bush administration. At least they are consistent liars.

Moving on to another bit of news that, hopefully, will be blasted across the media and blogosphere:

Bush Hits A New Low In Polls for Job Approval

The latest Gallup poll has Bush's approval rating at 45%, an all-time low. So much for all of that political capital you received from the voters. It seems people are not happy with Mr. Bush for his involvement in the Terri Schiavo case, as well as not doing more to help stall rapidly rising gas prices.

Also, national polls show a majority of Americans -- between 70 to 82%, depending on the poll -- disapproved of Bush and the Republican congress for intervening in the Terri Schiavo case.

Nearly 60 percent believe our economy is getting worse, not better.

The record lowest approval rating goes to Richard Nixon, who scored 24% approval during the Watergate scandal.

I'm hoping George W. can beat that record.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hypocrite of The Month

I'm starting a new feature here at What's In Scott's Head: Hypocrite of The Month. I'll spotlight right-wing politicians and/or pundits as they speak out of both sides of their mouth.

This month I'm combining two groups, but all of them are involved in the exploitation of Terri Schiavo: conservative pundits and conservative politicians.

First off are the arrogant, grandstanding Republicans of Congress. After years of showing no concern for Terri Schiavo, the Republicans have decided to do everything politically they claim to oppose in their effort to usurp the state of Florida while meddling in a private family matter. Remember the memorial service for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone following his death in 2002? Conservatives suddenly were all outraged by an event they claimed was strictly for political purposes; an effort to exploit Paul Wellstone and his family.

And now we have the Republican Congress exploiting Terri Schiavo for political gain, while showing just how hypocritical they are. This is the same group that complained loudly to the media about liberal "activist" judges "legislating" from the bench. And now the Republicans want the same thing; they want judges to legislate from the bench, in their favor, rather than reviewing the merits of the case based on testimony and the facts of the case. Why else would President Bush and others say they were unhappy with the decisions made by the many judges who have recently reviewed the case, basically saying "this is not the outcome we wanted."

Even worse is what the Republicans have put Schiavo's parents through, giving Mary and Bob Schindler the false hope that their intervention would save their daughter's life.

What a spectacle. Sen. Bill Frist, a doctor, suggested he could diagnose Schiavo -- by watching video tapes of her. Yes, that's how modern medicine works, doctors look at video tapes instead of doing an actual examination of the patient.

Conservative pundits have also behaved despicably. True to form, they have taken what should have been a private family matter and turned it into a liberal vs. Conservative issue. "Why do liberals want Terri Schiavo to die," they ask, seeking to divide Americans politically by basically saying that when Schiavo dies, it will somehow be the fault of liberals.

These same pundits apparently had no opinion of Terri Schiavo prior to this last week, and no one wrote passionately in 2001 that Schiavo's life should be saved when her feeding tube was removed.

Republicans, apparently, are pro-life in certain situations, especially situations that result in political capital. They support the rights of states -- until a state does something they disagree with, and then they have to jump in and violate the 10th Amendment.

Check back next month to see who the hypocrite of the month is. It'll probably be Ann Coulter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Politicizing of Terri Schiavo

Not surprisingly, the Terri Schiavo case has turned yet again into a conservative vs. Liberal debate. Conservatives claim liberals want Terri Schiavo to die. Which is ridiculous. Yet it seems conservatives en masse have suddenly become life-long friends to Terri Schiavo and her family, presuming to know what conversations she may have or not have with her husband, Michael, who says Schiavo did not want to be kept alive on life support. Of course, the conservative pundits have seized on the subject of "life support," claiming Schiavo is not on life support (Michelle Malkin makes this point in her syndicated column). However, she cannot eat or drink on her own.

So, Republican leaders this past weekend did what they could to overturn court decisions made in Florida. And in doing so they not only created a false hope for Schiavo's parents that, due to Republican influence, the courts would rule in their favor to have Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted. That has not happened. A federal judge in Florida and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta also ruled that the tube could not be reinserted. The next possible step would be to send the case to the Supreme Court for review -- although, in the past, the Supreme Court has declined to intervene in this case. The idea is that, since a federal court decision is being appealed, rather than a state court, the Supreme Court might be more willing to take the case.

Democrats who did not support the idea of Congress interfering in what should be a state matter are being accused of basically murdering Terri Schiavo.

And, in the blogosphere, conservative bloggers are attacking liberal bloggers for the same reason.

Republicans, arrogantly, assumed they could decide Terri Schiavo's fate by flexing the arm of big government, and conservatives everywhere apparently have developed psychic powers in divining what they think Terri Schiavo's wishes were prior to 1990, when a chemical imbalance caused her heart to stop, resulting in brain damage.

It's curious that Republicans did not step in when Schiavo's breathing tube was removed in 2001 and 2003. Yet now, all of the sudden, they believe they are better capable of dealing with the case than the state of Florida. It must help that Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, is the brother of President George W. Bush. Both men want the feeding tube reinserted.

I understand that this is a very emotional issue. But it's a private, family issue, between Schiavo's parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, and Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo. I know that people have strong opinions in this situation, bute ngaging in back-and-forth attacks between liberals and conservatives is not going to keep Terri Schiavo alive, or to allow her to die, as her husband claims was her wish before 1990.

Surely most couples, at some point in their relationship, discuss what their wishes are in the event of any kind of trauma or accident that results in being kept alive artificially. And while the best course of action following such a conversation would be the preparation of a living will, if an accident happened before the living will was written, I would expect my spouse to carry out my instructions as far as keeping me alive or not. I would not want any branch of government to interfere with my wishes.

One has to wonder if there are other motives in play here. The case is a win-win for Republicans: if Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is reinserted, they will have appeased the religious Right; if she dies, they could use that against Democrats who did not support Congressional intervention.

ABC News reported on March 21 of a memo distributed to Republican members of Congress. The memo states, in part (with emphasis added):

"Teri (sic) Schiavo is subject to an order that her feeding tubes will be disconnected on March 18, 2005 at 1p.m.

The Senate needs to act this week, before the Budget Act is pending business, or Terri's family will not have a remedy in federal court.

This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.

This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats.

That's compassionate conservatism for you: the fate of Terri Schiavo is a "great political issue."

This is not a great political issue. It's heart wrenching, and I feel badly for everyone involved. I wouldn't want my family and my wife pitted against each other to decide if I should live or die. And I definitely do not want the federal government interfering. It's not for them to decide.

There are no easy answers. Whatever the outcome, someone will be hurt or affected, whether it's Schiavo's husband or Schiavo's parents. It's not up to me to decide Terri Schiavo's fate, nor is it up to Congress to decide. This is a private, family decision to make, and it should be kept private.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Judge Rules in Schiavo Case

Ever since Republicans in Congress announced that they would be stepping in to interfere with the state of Florida and the family of Terri Schiavo, the woman who has been in a vegetative state since 1990, when her heart stopped briefly due to a chemical imbalance, resulting in brain damage.

Over the weekend, Republicans took the extraordinary step of interfering with the state of Florida in order to make the decision about Schiavo's fate. Grandstanding politicians, who apparently were not aware of the three previous times Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, deemed themselves as a sort of surrogate guardian for Schiavo. No matter what Schiavo's husband has said in regards to his wife's wishes not to be kept alive by life support equipment.

Republicans were even ready to issue a subpoena for Schiavo to appear before a Senate committee as a "witness." Talk about grandstanding.

More grandstanding can be found on conservative talk radio, on the cable news debate shows, and in blogs, as people who do not know Terri Schiavo or her family decide her fate for her. Typically, conservatives are playing this up as a conservative vs. Liberal issue, with the accusation that liberals want Terri Schiavo to die.

I feel awful for her parents. Surely they believed that when Congress intervened to have the case heard before a federal judge, the judge would rule in their favor. Sadly, he did not.

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore denied the request to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube. The case is being appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, before a three-judge panel. If the Court of Appeals follows the numerous rulings of other courts, the tube will not be reinserted.

I know there will be some readers who will say I want Terri Schiavo to die. My opinion does not matter in this situation. It's a private family matter. The family, the Florida court system, and the doctors involved should be the ones to decide this case, not the media and not by politicians.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Hypocrites AT The Gate

When conservatives talk about what they stand for, often they will mention the importance of limited government intrusion of state's rights. They believe that big government should not interfere with the way state government is run.

They say these things, but they don't really mean it.

Republicans are all for state's rights, until that state does something they don't like, and suddenly it's big government to the rescue. We saw that in the 2000 election, when the Bush team was able to stop the recount of votes by getting the Supreme Court involved.

Republicans once again have their eye on Florida. This time, interfering with the life of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who has been in a vegetative state since 1990 following severe brain damage when her heart stopped due to a chemical imbalance.

Schiavo's husband, Michael, contends that his wife did not want to be kept alive should she be in a condition where she could not live without the use of medical equipment to keep her alive.

Her parents contend that Schiavo's husband should not be involved at all.

So, it's a horrible situation for everyone involved. But why does Congress need to get involved in this issue? This is between the family, doctors, and the state of Florida. Congress needs to leave this one alone. If it were me, I would not want Tom Delay or anyone in Congress, Republican or Democrat, to decide my fate.

Here we have another example of how Republicans pick and choose the issues they deal with, rather than dealing with issues consistently.

Where were these "compassionate" conservatives when a juvenile was put to death? Where was their outrage when we learned that youths as young as 11 were being kept as prisoners in Iraq? How about when the state of Texas executed a mentally retarded man? Where were the Republicans? Nowhere. Republicans like executions, and they've never been concerned if it was someone under the age of 18 being executed.

No, this is all political grandstanding, designed to usurp the legal authority of Florida. However, with Governor Jeb Bush opposing the removal of the feeding tube, one has to wonder if Jeb didn't get on the phone with brother George and see if there was anything that could be done.

I know, my right-wing readers will claim I want this woman to die. That's not true. I just don't want to have Congress interfering.

This terrible tragedy also serves as a reminder of how important a living will is. Make your intentions known for how you want to be treated if you are ever in a situation where you cannot make decisions for yourself. The American Bar Association has a resource page with all the information needed to draft a living will. It's an important document.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Iraq War: Two Years Later

Today is the second anniversary of the military action against Iraq, a preemptive strike for the purpose of fighting the war against terror. Oh wait, that's not the reason we went to war. It was to disarm Saddam Hussein of his massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, to prevent him from selling the arms to terrorist groups. We all know now that Saddam had no weapons to begin with (bring up this fact with any conservative and watch how they'll change the subject). Our death toll stands at 1520 Americans dead, and about 176 coalition troops dead. Iraqi civilian casualty numbers are harder to come by, but estimates run between 17,000 and 19,000.

In addition to the cost in lives, the war has cost us money (about $160 billion so far) and it has cost the United States credibility in the eyes of the world community. Of course any conservative will say they don't care about what the world community thinks, believing, apparently, that the United States has unlimited funds, resources and personnel to wage any war at any time. Which just isn't true. There are times when the assistance of other countries is needed.

Here's the full text of George W. Bush's announcement of military action on March 19, 2001. I'm going to emphasize some points within the text.

"THE PRESIDENT: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign. More than 35 countries are giving crucial support -- from the use of naval and air bases, to help with intelligence and logistics, to the deployment of combat units. Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of serving in our common defense.

To all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed.

The enemies you confront will come to know your skill and bravery. The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military. In this conflict, America faces an enemy who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality. Saddam Hussein has placed Iraqi troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for his own military -- a final atrocity against his people.

I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.

We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.

I know that the families of our military are praying that all those who serve will return safely and soon. Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent. For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done.

Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.

My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.

May God bless our country and all who defend her."

If you haven't seen Angry Candy's powerful Remind Us presentation, take a moment to check it out, to remember the real reason why we went to war.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Nation's Most Pressing Issue

The threat of terrorism. The illegal drug trade. Fixing Social Security. These and other domestic issues are matters of importance. Time and money have to be spent to combat these problems. In a time of budget deficits, it would seem that issues need to be prioritized in order to carefully plan out the resources needed to address not only domestic issues, but foreign issues as well.

The House Government Reform Committee met today for hearing of the most important domestic issue facing this country: the use of steroids in Major League baseball.

Yes, apparently all domestic issues have been resolved, so we now have time to launch an investigation into the use of steroids in baseball.

Of course we need a Congressional investigation, what with the steroid abuse widespread to perhaps dozens of baseball players.

I know, you're thinking this is some goofy Democratic committee wasting time and money on the non-issue of steroid abuse. But no, the House Government Reform Committee is actually headed by a Republican, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia.

Davis began the hearings with this statement:

"I would hope that baseball would see this hearing as an opportunity to talk about the step it's taking to get a handle on the situation...we're not interested in embarrassing anyone, or ruining career or grandstanding. This is not a witch-hunt, and I am not looking to have witnesses 'name names.'"

Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, a member of the baseball hall of fame, told lawmakers that the best course of action in curbing the huge, deadly issue of steroid abuse by...government intervention.

What?

And to think I've always thought that Republicans favored minimal government interference when it comes to business and industry. You know, like having "voluntary" guidelines for corporations to follow as far as polluting the environment goes.

Here's more from Sen. Bunning:

"If baseball fails to fix this scandal, there are a lot of things we can do to get their attention, by amending labor laws, repealing the outdated antitrust exemption that baseball alone enjoys, and shining the spotlight of public scrutiny...there's no doubt that Congress has a direct and important interest in what happens in baseball."

Uh...yeah, right, baseball. Needs Congressional oversight. Yes, let's allocate resources to that important issue.

Coming up next for the House Government Reform Comittee: the threat of dogs against that nation's postal carriers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wednesday Miscellany

Sorry for the lack of updates. I had finals this week and spent most of the weekend doing homework. I'll have a couple of weeks before the next term begins, so I should be able to update more frequently.

First up: my new column is up at CounterBias. If you read it, let me know what you think. Also, at CounterBias, is an interview with Jeff Gannon! Yes, the former Talon News reporter. He has an interesting web site. "So feared by the Left it had to take me down" greets the reader as you load up his blog in your browser. I thought it was Talon News that took him down. Hmm. I like this bit from his web site:

"Despite all the pleas from the Left to go over to the 'dark side' and expose the 'corrupt Bush administration' simply isn't going to happen. My faith and my ideology are rock solid."

I wonder which faith embraces gay pornography? Or escort services? I'm not sure.

Also today: new hate mail! This time coming all the way from Germany. I'm not sure how sincere the author of the mail is. Might be a fake. I don't know, but you can read it and many others at my Hate Mail Central. The e-mail writer clearly knows nothing about me, saying I hate Israel (I don't -- I'm Jewish, remember?) and am an anti-Semite. Which, again, isn't true.

I do like that my new pen-pal, Regis Terven, thinks I'm an "evil bastard." He also says I'm a "treator" which I think is a typo. Regis seems to have written to me with a copy of the GOP power words in front of him. It's a list of words Newt Gingrich's GOPAC published several years ago. Words to be used when describing liberals and words to use when pushing the GOP agenda.

So, keep those e-mails coming!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Abu Ghraib and Compassionate Conservatism

Today brings extensive coverage of America's gulag in Iraq, Abu Ghraib prison. Documents obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request shed new light on events at that prison.

First up: reports that the United States had detained an 11-year-old boy at the prison. Conservatives, of course, like seeing children suffer (especially children with dark skin) and I doubt that many conservatives will shed a tear over this revelation.

In transcripts of interviews between Brigadier General Janis Karpinski (she was the commander of Abu Ghraib and 16 other prisons in 2003 ) and Major General George Fay, conducted in May 2004, Gen. Karpinski stated she often visited the prison's youngest inmates. Karpinski stated that one child looked to be "eight years old."

"He told me he was almost 12," she said. "He told me his brother was there with him, but he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother. He was crying."

Children are protected under the Geneva Conventions, and one provision states that families are to be kept together if detained. Which begs the question, where was this boy's mother?

It interesting that the United States upholds the rule of law, until it becomes an inconvenience, and then we simply find loopholes to those laws, such as capturing prisoners and calling them "enemy combatants."

The May 2004 transcript also states that, according to six witnesses, three interrogators and an interpreter -- all drunk -- forced a 17-year-old female prisoner to expose her breasts while the four kissed her. Harmless frat house fun, eh, Rush Limbaugh?

Other witnesses say that U.S. forces had raped a 14-year-old prisoner, although the transcript did not provide specific details.

Also revealed today, the existence of "ghost" prisoners at Abu Ghraib. These were prisoners the CIA wanted tucked away -- in other words, prisoners kept at the prison but not not recorded as prisoners and hid from the eyes of the Red Cross. Another violation of the Geneva Convention. Of course, at the time, Donald Rumsfeld wanted to classify the detainees in Iraq as enemy combatants, so we could side-step the "antiquated" Geneva Conventions we are signatories to.

So, it would appear that, in the eyes of conservatives, the rule of law is a subjective thing: applicable to Democratic presidents who have lied to a court about sex; not applicable to any Republican for anything at all.

One last bit of compassionate conservatism: the Senate voted to make bankruptcy more difficult for the little guy.

Banks and credit card companies are reportedly very, very happy.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

ChoicePoint: Excellence in Inaccuracies

If you've read Greg Palast's book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, you'll be familiar with the company ChoicePoint. They were the database company contracted by the state of Florida for the 2000 presidential election to provide county election officials with "scrub lists," a database of names to remove from Florida's voting records. For the detailed reporting by Palast, you can read it in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy or at Greg's web site.

Here's a brief overview: the database of names provided by Choicepoint had many glaring errors, so voters who should have been eligible to vote were denied that right. For instance, the database would have flagged a John H. Smith as ineligible to vote, but would have matched that name with the wrong person, such as John H. Smith, Jr. These records were mainly the names of convicted felons who should have had their right to vote restored in Florida. Palast's investigation showed thousands of irregularities in this database, meaning Al Gore could have taken Florida had the state received an accurate scrub list from ChoicePoint.

Sure, data collection can be time consuming and not always 100% accurate, but remember, companies and governments spend thousands (or hundreds of thousands, or millions) of dollars for ChoicePoint data services. Such as the contract between ChoicePoint and the state of Florida: a $4 million contract in 1998 for the voter scrub lists. If you lived in Florida, that was $4 million of your dollars spent for data that, by the 2000 election, had resulted in thousands of voters not being able to vote. Quick: do you suppose the voters in the database by mistake were historically Democratic voters, or Republican?

Give yourself a trip to Orlando if you guessed "Democrat."

As if the Florida fiasco wasn't enough, MSNBC reported on Feb. 14 that criminals had obtained confidential data that affected upwards of 150,000 individuals.

And now, a new report from MSNBC: consumers discovering that their information in the ChoicePoint data records was not always accurate. Or, in some cases, completely wrong.

Now, this may not be an issue as fascinating as the Michael Jackson trial, but it is troubling to say the least. You would have thought Palast's original reporting would have attracted the attention of the so-called liberal media; after all, it showed how thousands of potential Al Gore voters had been denied the right to vote based on data provided to Florida by ChoicePoint. Funny how the "liberal" media didn't jump on that story. With MSNBC's report, we have further proof that the data collected and distributed by ChoicePoint is potentially tainted.

Which further begs the question: which state will obtain voter purge records from ChoicePoint to be used in the 2008 presidential election?

It could be your state. Or mine.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Torture, American Style

Imagine for a moment you're George W. Bush (I know, I wouldn't want to imagine what's going inside his head, but stay with me for a moment) and you have a problem: trying to extract information from terrorism suspects. What do you do? After all, as leader of a nation bound by the Geneva Conventions you can only do so much with your prisoners.

The answer: much like many customer-service call centers, you outsource the job to another country. Well, not just any country, but one that isn't bound by international law in its treatment of prisoners. See? That's a clever solution. You take your prisoners, ship them off to Egypt or Pakistan and bam! The prisoner is tortured, and intelligence is gathered (of course, intelligence gathered through torture isn't always accurate, but hey, gotta think outside the box).

It's a nice loophole. As the New York Times reported on March 6, President Bush approved policy to allow the CIA to transfer terror suspects without approval from the Bush administration (instead of the old policy of approving the transfers on a case-by-case basis) in the days following Sept. 11, 2001.

The process is known as "rendition" and it may itself be in violation of international law and the Geneva conventions against torture, according to the group Human Rights Watch.

Here's what the Geneva Convention against torture stipulates:

Part One, Article Three

Article 3
1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

I can just hear the right-wing nutters out there: "How can you defend terrorists!"

I'm not defending terrorists. I'm suggesting that there might be moral and ethical problems in a nation deciding to violate laws it has agreed to uphold. We are signatories to the Geneva Conventions. But hey, sometimes you have to break the law to gather useless intelligence. For instance, the intelligence revealing the location of Osama Bin Laden.

Of course, the Bush administration has claimed that no prisoners had been tortured in the rendition program. Which might be true. Then again, the Bush administration claimed Iraq had huge stockpiles of weapons, and that turned out to be false.

Oh well. One of these days we'll actually bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. Probably around the same time we fix social security.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Budget Deficits, Bush Style

To attend college I've had to take out a small student loan, and by the time I graduate I'll owe somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000. Yikes. An investment in an education is pretty important, so going into debt for it isn't such a hard thing to do.

And now, on top of what I'll have to re-pay when I finally get my JD (and for my liberal readers, know my goal is to work for the ACLU...you know, so I can do what I can to remove all references to God in public) will be the huge debt created by George W. Bush. Let's just say Mr. Bush isn't afraid to spend money. Lots of money. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2015, the budget deficit will be $2.58 trillion dollars. If it's easier to picture in your mind, imagine a room filled with 2,580,000,000,000 dollar bills.

Oh, and the CBO figures do not include the costs to partially privatize the social security system (sorry, I should use the Bush administration lingo: to create personal accounts for workers), which are estimated to be $1 trillion dollars. So, again, imagine a room filled with dollar bills, this time 1,000,000,000,000 dollar bills.

You know, I just realized: no one cares about huge budget deficits or a stack of 1,000,000,000,000 dollar bills. I should be blogging about Martha Stewart. Did you know she was released from prison the other day? Oh, and Michael Jackson in on trial. Remind me to keep up-to-date on those stories.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Osama Bin Who?

In case anyone has forgotten, the terrorist mastermind of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 is a man named Osama Bin Laden.

Osama remains at large.

You may also recall something President George W. Bush said on Sept. 17, 2001, regarding Bin Laden:

"I want justice," Bush said of Bin Laden. "And there's an old poster out West...I recall, that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.'"

As things turned out, the Bush administration's attention turned to the pressing issue of Iraq, and how Saddam Hussein's massive stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons were an imminent threat to the United States. Saddam could sell the weapons to terrorist groups and, as many in the Bush administration said, the "smoking gun" could turn out to be a "mushroom cloud." Of course, as the hunt progressed and no WMDs were to be found in Iraq, Bush defenders offered up a ludicrous excuse about the failure to find WMDs, stating that Bush had never said Iraq possed an "imminent threat." I guess it depends on what the definition of "is" is, right, Bush defenders?

Of course, lost in the rubble that became the current conflict in Iraq (1502 U.S. lives lost in the war so far to disarm Saddam Hussein), was Osama Bin Laden himself.

As time progressed and Bin Laden remained at large, eventually the Bush administration decided to take a course of action by never actually mentioning the name of the man responsible for over 3,000 deaths on Sept. 11. I guess W. thought that famous short attention spans of Americans would assist him and his administration in removing the name Osama Bin Laden from our collective memories. Something. But, of course, Americans have not forgotten, and we wonder why the United States has been unsuccessful in finding and bringing Bin Laden to justice.

Now, almost five years later, George W. Bush has addressed the issue of Osama Bin Laden. Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for the new director of homeland security, Mike Chertoff, Bush said, of Bin Laden, "We're on a constant hunt for bin Laden. We're keeping the pressure on him, keeping him in hiding." Addressing the recent intelligence report of communication between Bin Laden and his man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Bush said, "...today Zarqawi understands the coalition and Iraqi troops are on a constant hunt for him as well...Bin Laden's message is a telling reminder that al-Qaida still hopes to attack us on our own soil," Bush said. "Stopping him is the greatest challenge of our day..."

Personally I'd probably be a bit more concerned about North Korea, a country that has told the world repeatedly that it possessed at least one nuclear weapon, which could be used to attack nearby Japan, home to thousands of U.S. forces.

It amazes me to no end that so many people defend the actions of George W. Bush and his administration. And it seemed to phase no one at all when Bush claimed that his administration was not responsible for the intelligence failures that led to the United States attacking Iraq and the failure to find WMDs because, as Bush put it, "We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush told the Washington Post on Jan. 16. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

See how that works? It's a neat trick, something the Beltway press corps will not touch out of a fear that the Bush administration would simply shut them out of press conferences.

America...what a country.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Accountability AWOL at Pentagon

Donald Rumsfeld, May 7, 2004, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"(I have accepted full responsibility) for the terrible activities that occurred at Abu Ghraib."

"(The abuse) occurred on my watch, and as secretary of defense I am accountable for them, I take full responsibility."

Fast-forward to March, 2005. The ACLU and the group Human Rights First are suing Donald Rumsfeld for the abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib.

"Secretary Rumsfeld bears direct and ultimate responsibility for this descent into horror by personally authorizing unlawful interrogation techniques and by abdicating his legal duty to stop torture," said Lucas Guttentag, lead counsel in the case.

In direct contradiction to Rumsfeld's statements of May 2004, the Pentagon has responded to the case, denying that it had "approved of, sanctioned, or condoned as a matter of policy detainee abuse."

"No policies or procedures approved by the secretary of Defense were intended as, or could conceivably have been interpreted as, a policy of abuse, or as condoning abuse."

So much for accepting responsibility, not that the Bush administration would ever admit to any kind of impropriety.

In other news, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that it is unconstitutional to execute youths under the age of 18.

Poor W. I'll bet he's pounding his head against a wall. After all, as governor of Texas, he ordered the executions of lots of people, included the retarded, as well as executing at least four youths aged 17.

America: land of the free, home of the brave...except when it comes to accountability and ethics of our elected officials.