Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dreams dying

When I am wrong, I'm man enough to admit it.

Senator Obama, I was wrong about you.

I've seen Clinton folks saying that you're Republican-Lite, reaching across the aisle to the Republicans, but not to your own folks. And I scoffed. A person supporting Hillary "War is cool if it wins me votes" Clinton saying that you, Barack Obama, are "Republican-Lite"?

Bullshit, I thought.

Back in Philly, I couldn't believe how strong you sounded, saying that you couldn't abandon your pastor. And I was amazed to hear you say that we have to understand those folks who are angry at affirmative action... I mean, everyone knows that there are damned few folks who lose anything over affirmative action. Yes, maybe - maybe - in those rare instances where there are no more jobs, no more positions at any school, etc., then maybe somebody gets cheated by affirmative action. But for the most part, it's just a bit of shuffling around, the same kind of shuffling folks have always had to do.

But I realized you were right. We have to understand it. We have to appreciate it.

And you were standing by an angry man, but a good man, and I just about cried.

Because we need our angry, good men (and women, of course - but let's face it, I'm talking about Wright at the moment), the people who will shrilly shout out against injustice, even when they're wrong, because someone always has to remind us that we're never above criticism. Even if that criticism is some likely-bullshit story about the government spreading HIV.

Look... I don't get him saying that kind of thing. I really don't. He's smart enough to know it sounds crazy.

But I don't really care. Saying bullshit like that isn't what's hurting this country. What's hurting this country is the idea that we're above criticism, the idea that if someone says something that offends the powers that be, we shouldn't ever listen to them, even when they're talking sense.

Even when they're wrong, we need our Jeremiah Wrights, and hell, even our Ward Churchills or, and, dare I mention him in the same sentence, our Martin Luther Kings (who was quite widely reviled by all the right people in his day, just in case you've forgotten). We need the passionate angry folks who will speak out, because some day, when everyone else is turning a blind eye to injustice, it's going to be one of those folks who points it out, and finally gets heard.

That's what we need.

And I thought when you talked about reaching across the aisle, I thought you meant reaching both ways. Not just reaching to the rightwingers who call folks like you and me "traitors", but to the leftwingers who say we're not doing enough.

You still have my support. You're still better for this nation than Hillary Clinton or, god help us, any Republican with a chance of winning the election.

But the dream of finally seeing this country uniting, and healing its wounds, died a little death today.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Reverend Wright speaks out...

I've seen this going through liberal blogs now.

Some folks are excited. Wright is going out there, showing that he is not the caricatured "angry black man" that people want to pretend that he is. He's smart, funny, and charming. He has the truth, and he's not afraid to use it.

And some folks are scared. And I don't blame them. Me, I'm almost heartsick with fear.

I've already heard the people spreading the bullshit claims that how Wright preached nothing but racial hatred and anti-semitism from the pulpit.

I've seen the racists coming out. They do their best to smear him, and I wonder if they know it sounds like they're saying "See, take the worst things he ever said, right? And those are the things that are most truthful! Because that's what we want to believe!"

But that is what it sounds like they're saying. They want to believe the worst of him, so they do.

The thing is, the truth doesn't support that. He's retiring from heading up a church. A church that feeds the hungry, that shelters the homeless, that visits the sick and imprisoned. You might think that litany sounds familiar, and that's because it's exactly what Jesus said would be true of those he judged to be righteous on the day of judgment.

If the world was just, the folks trying to smear Wright would have to try to reconcile Wright's good works with the lies being told about him. But it's not a just world. Wrights critics don't have to dig in and seek the truth. The can just hate him and call him an angry, hateful black man, and not care about about the good that he does.

And yeah, it scares me, it sickens me, to see them doing this. It makes me wonder if we deserve people like George W. Bush as our leaders, if we can be so easily swayed by stupidity and hatred.

But I realize that, you know something? It's probably time. It's probably time for our greatest test this election cycle. Can we, the American people, learn that the Evil Demon Wright is just a man - flawed like every other man, but essentially good?

It's time to put this controversy to rest. It's time to know the truth. If Wright is going to sink Obama's chances, the time to do it is right now. Better now, than in November, that's for sure!

Because Obama's biggest weapon in this campaign is his authenticity. If he starts having to hide parts of himself, if he has to start showing a false face everywhere he goes, that's going to kill what he has to offer this country. I support Obama because he's real, because he can spout cliched platitudes about change and about us all working together and make them new again, because he really means them. And part of who he is, is a man who respects Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

His best hope to win is to let America see that Wright is someone that a good man can respect... and the only way to do that, is let us see enough of Wright that we can make that call.

It could break him... but if it doesn't, I think it'll put this controversy to rest, forever.

Supreme Court demonstrates common sense idiocy

Okay, so, the Supreme Court of the United States just said that it's okay to require photo identification at the polling place.

To quote from Yahoo's AP article:
"We cannot conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters," Stevens said.

Stevens' opinion suggests that the outcome could be different in a state where voters could provide evidence that their rights had been impaired.


Okay, so check this out. You're poor, or elderly, or homeless. You have a hard time providing a photo idea, so one of your most sacred rights is in danger.

But that's okay because there's no evidence that your rights have been impaired. All you have to do is file a court case alleging discrimination, and the court might decide to grant you your rights.

Isn't that great? If you don't have a photo idea, for whatever reason, that's cool, because you can just file a court case, and a few years down the road, someone might deign to grant you your right to vote!

Ever since the Supreme Court decided that a full, fair count of the votes was a violation of equal protection, the Court has shown contempt for voting rights, but this isn't just contempt, it's idiocy. People who don't have the power to maintain and preset a photo ID don't have the power to establish that their rights are being violated.

This decision basically says that rights are only for the powerful, those who can raise enough of a fuss, those who have the resources to be heard.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bush knew about the "principals meetings"...

I want you to imagine something for me.

I want you to imagine that the Bush administration had a very small, tightly targeted "enhanced interrogation techniques" program. Only the worst of the worst, determined by strong evidence, would be in the least bit eligible.

I don't believe this, but let's just imagine that, okay?

This means that the people who've been beaten to death in US custody were not ordered to be beaten by the administration. The administration should have had those people arrested and jailed to prove that "The US does not torture" as per the words of George W. Bush. Further, let's pretend that the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were not, in fact, ordered (or overlooked) by the Bush administration. Let's pretend that it was a bottom-up phenomena, and, again, the administration should have come down on the offenders with both feet to cut out the rot before it poisoned the military.

Well, guess what? They couldn't. Because if they investigated, and dug in deep, determined to cut out the rot, to chase it as far and as high as it went, they'd end up at the White House, having to admit that, yes, they talked torture there. But, no, really, they didn't authorize beatings that could end up killing people, or the widespread abuse at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib! Because, after all, who would believe them?

One of the common memes that's spread around is the scornful claim that "hah! Torture! We've only waterboarded three people!" as if anyone but the Bush administration knows if that's true.

But the fact of the matter is, even if the Bush administration had been telling the truth about their intentions, and about their actions, once they walked down the path to torture, they made absolutely sure that neither they, nor we, would ever know the whole truth, because they could no longer investigate allegations of torture fully... because doing so would reveal their own acts... including the knowledge, and hence, complicity, of the President himself.

Even the most loyal Republican who thinks the best of the Bushies should, at this point, be recognizing how egregiously stupid his delving into "enhanced interrogtation techniques" was, and how harmful it was to our national character, even if the Bush administration's program was as limited as they claim. Because it set up a situation in which torture could no longer be investigated fully.

I, of course, don't think it was as limited as they claim. I think the beatings got a wink and a nod, and I think the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were orchestrated from the top down. But even if we pretend that they were limited, we still end up with a horrible, and entirely foreseeable, mess.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Book review time

So, I picked up some books recently, and since one of them is by one of my favorite bloggers, Amanda Marcotte, I figured I'd throw up a review.

When I started reading her book, It's a Jungle Out There, I have to admit, my first feeling was disappointment. You see, for no particular reason, I'd been expecting a book of long essays. I'd been expecting to write a review that started off something like "Freed of the confines of short blog entries, Amanda Marcotte demonstrates her powerful intellect along with her wit...".

But life is never what you expect, and this book was nothing like that. So what was it?

You have to be careful here. Have you see Return of the Jedi, and found it to be an excellent movie? I did. But one day, the philosophy of it struck me. We're calling Darth Vader's action an act of redemption... but what did he do? He decided to kill the emperor, who had, just moments ago, been egging his son on to kill him. Was this redemption? It could just as easily be revenge! So, as a philosophical treatise on the nature of redemption, it was lousy, but as an action movie with a bit of emotional interplay, it was good.

Before you can judge something properly, you need to look at it from the right perspective. So, what is It's a Jungle Out There?

Thankfully, it tells you right on the cover; it's "(a) Feminist survival guide to politically inhospitable environments". It's a set of short bits of thinking, humor, and snark about dealing with various and sundry issues that a modern feminist will come up against, especially online.

It's well written, and just as sharp and as funny as you'd expect from reading Amanda Marcotte's entries on Pandagon. But it does take a certain readiness before you start to read it.

This is not a book for the timid feminist (or feminist-ally). This is not a book for the folks whose most common words are "oh, we shouldn't say that, it will upset people!" This is not a book for beginners who might feel overwhelmed and upset if they see snarkiness or anger or impatience.

No, this is a book for folks who've gone past Feminism 101, and probably past Feminism 205. This is a book for folks who accept that women have the right to be royally pissed off about how stupid society can be about a lot of issues. This is a book for folks who can listen to something, and keep listening, even if the speaker is willing to be not-nice, or even nasty, if the point being made is fair.

Please understand that I'm not saying she's nasty in this book. Nothing sticks out in my mind as "oh my god, that was such a terrible thing to say!" But... well, I've been learning to deal with in-your-face feminism and a lot of things that roll of my back might not roll of of someone else's.

It is exactly what it claims to be: a survival guide. It's based on the assumption that it's a nasty old world out there, and you have to be tough enough to handle it. And it's a good picture into the mind of a woman who most certainly is tough enough to handle it, and handle it well.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The latest smear on Obama

Have you heard the news? Barack Obama is a terrible, terrible person. He said that working class folks in places like Pennsylvania are bitter over the fact that none of the politicians listen to them. So, what does he say they do? They vote based upon other issues. They vote based upon gun rights, or religious statements made by politicians, or vote to attack illegal immigration, etc..

This prove that he's elitist and out of touch, right?

Because you know that everyone in Washington cares about working class jobs, right? We have careful economic management that protects unions, and good paying jobs that support a middle class, right? Oh, heh, silly me, no, the powers that be tend to ignore the plight of the working class folks.

Well, we know that people don't choose to vote based upon religion, right? We know that the NRA is this piddling little organization that does nothing but give marksmanship and gun safety lessons, right? And no one has heard anything about, oh, illegal immigration, or gay rights over the past few Presidential elections, right?

Frankly, I think it's pretty damned elitist to suggest that the first part isn't true: that people seen their jobs, and their families' jobs, and their friends' and neighgors' jobs, vanish, and they're angry about that. To ignore that issue is indescribably out of touch. And once you've taken their ability to make a living off the table, once you've made that a political non-starter because no one is going to do anything about it anyway, what's left?

So Obama said that the way he'd have to win in places like Pennsylvania was to go forward and show that he cared about the plight of the working class, and prove that it was more than just him saying that... he'd have to earn their trust.

This is not the position of an elitist.

Clinton and McCain, of course, are trying to make as much out of what he said as possible. But they know what he said is true. They just think they see a vulnerability. "We can attack him on this! What he meant, that doesn't matter. What matter is, we can twist his words in a mean spirited way."

He has a response. And yes, he punches back... but he doesn't twist words in punching back. He goes for actions.

The YouTube is here...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Boy, it must suck

So... a question for the right wing nutcases out there. Specifically, the ones who think torture's just dandy, so long as we insist we're in a terrible war.

Do you feel how it's all coming apart on you?

I've seen you defending the Yoo memo. You've still got some oomf there, "hey, it's okay if we torture because they cut off heads! Got it? They cut off heads so if we violate every international agreement we've signed about how to treat prisoners, that's okay!"

But I don't think your heart's in it any more. And you know, I guess I can't blame you.

It started off so nice and bright didn't it? Before anyone complained about prisoner mistreatment at Guantanemo, you were passing around chain letters talking about how the prisoners are well fed and getting excellent medical care, and oh, how those awful traitorous liberals were complaining about how the prisoners were being treated.

You kinda missed how stupid that was, didn't you? To start defending yourself before any attack was made? But it seemed like such a good idea at the time, and doesn't it feel good to get angry at those awful liberals who would have held us to one of our founding principles?

Seriously... treating prisoners well is one of our founding principles. George Washington, in the face of stories that the British were mistreating colonials, insisted that we would do better by our captives. Now, granted, he wasn't facing having his head cut off; no he might have been facing something really fun, like drawing and quartering. I can't be sure of that; I'm not a historical lawyer, but I did check, and note that the last time the British did that was in the 1800s, long after the end of the Revolutionary War. That's where they hang you for a bit, not enough to kill you, then open you up and pull your guts out and toss them in a fire. I've heard different stories about how you die; the references list a couple of ways, including taking out your organs until they reach your heart, and others saying they just start hacking your body apart once they've yanked your guts out, but does it matter?

He was facing charges of treason, and they would have invoked their harshest punishments against him, to make an example of him, and I doubt even their best punishments for treason were gentle. But he had courage, and a sense of morality, and insisted we would treat British prisoners humanely.

But forget about people like him; you don't care about wimpy liberal folks like that, do you? No, you want to think about another George W. and his brilliance in battle, right?

Except you couldn't for very long, could you? Because then the word started leaking out. A lot of those prisoners who you insisted were "the worst of the worst" turned out to be innocent. And then, the incidents of torture started slipping out, but you still had control, so all you had to do was scream and shout about how awful they were - forgetting how many of them weren't awful at all - and it all seemed okay.

But then Abu Ghraib leaked out. People saw what happened when you let folks like the Bush administration be in charge of prisoners. But no, you insisted, it was just a few bad apples.

And now, with the Yoo memo, and revelations that the top members of the Bush administration were involved, it wasn't a few bad apples at the bottom of the barrel, it was rotting corruption up top. Now you're running out of steam aren't you?

Someday, someday soon, the awful reality will start to fall around you. You'll realize that you've supported some truly despicable behavior, and the claim that "well, our enemies were worse!" will fall kind of flat, given how many innocent people got caught up along the way.

It's really going to suck.

I'll tell you: if you start the repudiation of torture now, you'll look a lot better than those who have to have their faces rubbed in it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Real patriiotism

With a hat tip to Glenn Greenwald, I'd like to reference an issue raised by Joe Klein over at Time.

Klein says "This is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right," and laments that it's self-defeating behavior.

There are two problems with this idea. First, who loves you more? Someone who can see your flaws, and hopes you can work past them (and who will help you work past them if you ask them to), and loves you anyway, or someone who insists that you don't have any flaws?

The latter might talk a better show, and might make you feel better about yourself in the short term. But flattering, sycophantic people aren't people who love you... they're people who want something from you.

So that's one problem with this; while talking about patriotism, Klein forgets that true love includes the ability to love something, flaws and all.

The other problem is one that the Republicans have been using in a very cunning way. Complain about an action by the US government, and they'll insist you're attacking America. (Dare we point out the hypocrisy inherent in this, where the Republicans scorn every product of the government when it's to their advantage, and fanatically defend it when that's to their advantage instead?)

The Bush administration has started a ruinous war; they've cheered (and lended a regulatory hand when they could) as big corporations worked to put our economy in the toilet in the name of short term profits; they've ignored the Constitution, with a special contempt for the Bill of Rights (except the Second Amendment, of course).

But challenge the results of their actions, and you're not being patriotic. Perhaps it's because you stopped wearing an American flag lapel pin, because too many scoundrels use it as a substitute for real patriotism, for really caring about the future of this country, and her people.

(BTW: the number of national figures who've criticized this decision by Barack Obama, in interviews in which they, themselves, were not wearing a lapel pin, is up to at least two, including everyone's favorite hypocritical two-face, Karl Rove.)

(No offense, Karl... I know you don't limit yourself to *two*.)

Anyway... back to the article I reference. I have to admit, Klein has some decent stuff in his article. I just wish he'd pushed harder to point out that the real "patriotism problem" is that a certain jingoistic patriotism is what's been considered real. What's worse is, this "real" patriotism is a patriotic vanity, all puffed up and painted real pretty, but meaningless, at best. Heck, it is, to swipe an idea from a pretty decent fellow, like a whitewashed tomb, bright and pretty on the outside, and filled with corruption inside.

That's the kind of thing folks need to hear from our national media... a reminder of some simple truths that they themselves have helped to obscure.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Thoughts on the war in Iraq

The Washington Post has some stunning news.

President Bush is listening to a man who agrees with him, and provides political cover for his disastrous war in Iraq.

In other news, water is wet.

Here's a great quote from the story: Administration officials say it is natural that Bush would give extra weight to the views of his commander on the ground, especially one whose congressional testimony in September helped deflect efforts to force a withdrawal. Yes, it is perfectly natural that the President would listen to someone who helps him accomplish his political goals. If a man can help accomplish a political goal, then clearly, he must be a good commander for the military. For example, look at President Bush himself; he sold the war in Iraq quite nicely, and, hey, mission accomplished, right? You remember the landing on the aircraft carrier!

I think this makes for a good time to reflect back on the tart of the war because it's an issue that few people give proper attention to.

War is, to quote Ozzy, the ultimate sin. People are going to die, and you can guarantee that it will include people who are guilty of doing nothing wrong. Even if it includes only "enemy soldiers", well, soldiers have to follow orders, sometimes even questionable orders (but not illegal orders). People who've chosen to do nothing more than be willing to go through hell to protect their homes will end up dying, and that's if you're lucky, and it's only soldiers, not civilians.

So war requires a huge amount of justification. People like to talk about America defending her "vital national interests". There are even times when such talk is justified, but war is about killing people. When folks trumpeting "vital national interests" aren't referencing matters of life and death, they're spouting pretty words and sophistries to cover up murder.

So, why did we invade Iraq?

The Bush administration did not trust the weapons inspectors. The Bush administration claimed that Iraq had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and a nuclear program. The weapons inspectors said that there was no evidence of this. There was some hesitancy about Saddam Hussein's cooperation at first, a sense that he still didn't realize how serious the matter was, but before the invasion, he was cooperating with the inspections. The inspectors came up with the truth - that there were no active weapons programs, but the Bushies didn't want to believe them.

This was not a matter of life and death; it was fear and mistrust.

So what about the rest? Don't we have a right to depose Saddam Hussein for the good of his people?

Well, let's look at it from another perspective. If a man has a gangrenous spot on a finger, one that could grow and eventually kill him, do you get to lop off his arm? Of course not. You can't even treat the gangrene without the consent of the patient. If a person has a rampaging illness, medical treatment can sometimes be forced, but not when the patient is stable and in no immediate danger.

More importantly, war is not like a surgical procedure where you can take off just a part of a finger, or just the finger itself. Warfare is only "surgical" if the surgeons you know use sledgehammers in lieu of scalpels.

(Yes, there are singular operations - think "battles", not "wars" - that can be viewed as surgical. That's why I said "warfare", not "singular military operations".)

Invading Iraq "for the good of its people" simply can't be justified. The Iraqi people get to decide when it's time to put their lives at risk for their freedom. We don't get to kill thousands of them because we think we know better.

There have been many arguments made by Very Serious People who all think that the war could be justified. It's a sign of a very sick society that they can be taken seriously at all. Tens of thousands of people have died; more are still dying, because of our nation's actions, and at no point in time did we have any purpose that could justify the causing of those deaths.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

An answer to some stupid questions

So, you may have heard this story.

Debbie Shank, who worked at WalMart, was injured when a truck ran into her minivan. She informs WalMart of the situation, and her intention to seek damages. Why does she inform WalMart? Because WalMart has, as part of its health plan, a right to demand payment for medical bills it pays in such cases. Her lawyer settles the case against the trucking company, and after a time, there's $417,000 in a trust intended to pay for Mrs. Shank's continuing care expenses (of which there are many). WalMart sues her for $470,000 to recoup their medical bills, and wins. So, the trust fund, intended to pay for her care, was going to be emptied to pay the judgment against her.

Thankfully, WalMart has finally decided to do the right thing, and stop seeking damages from her.

I've seen a lot of idiots asking why people are so upset at WalMart for suing an accident victim to pay back her medical expenses. "Why should WalMart's medical plan pay for medical costs caused by a trucking company?" they ask. "Why shouldn't the victim of the accident pay those costs instead?"

Okay, granted, they don't quite say it like that, but that's because they haven't bothered to think about the situation in the first place.

Sure, WalMart should have a claim against the trucking company over Debbie Shank's medical bills... but not against Debbie! She's not responsible for those medical bills, the trucking company is. But because of WalMart's medical coverage contract, the courts found her responsible to WalMart for medical bills that she never would have incurred except for the action of a third party.

To create a situation in which an accident victim has to fight for the best interests of her insurance company (rather than concentrating only on her own best interests) is reprehensible. WalMart is a big company; it can, and should, fight its own battles. Asking its injured employees to fight for WalMart, at their own expense, is just plain wrong. But that's how WalMart wrote up their insurance plan. "If someone hurts you, you have to fight for our interests, even if it's at the expense of your own."

This time, WalMart has done the right thing... but we should ask ourselves if we can trust them the next time.

If it requires changes to the law, those changes should be made, but this kind of situation should never be allowed to happen again.

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