Who Hijacked Our Country

Monday, January 31, 2005

Identity Theft

There’s been more and more publicity about identity theft, where somebody runs up thousands of dollars on your credit cards. It’s a serious situation, made even worse by the fact that the banking and retail industries are giving top priority to issuing gazillions of new credit cards, and a very low, back-burner priority to preventing identity theft.

There’s also a lesser known variation of identity theft: Hundreds of thousands of stolen Social Security numbers are being used by illegal immigrants so they can get jobs. (Unfortunately, the anti-immigrant crowd will probably try to turn this into a political football so we can keep them furriners out.)

More often than not, several government agencies and private corporations already know about it if your Social Security number is being used by someone else. But they probably won’t inform you until “you” get in trouble for the back taxes or unpaid loans that “you” owe.

The chief marketing officer for the data collection firm ChoicePoint says the average victim sees their Social Security number shared about 30 times. Once a number is obtained, it gets passed around to other family members, and even around a whole neighborhood.

An assistant attorney general from Utah has said "They are destroying people's credit, Social Security benefits, and everything else. This problem has been ignored by the federal government, and it's enormous."

Unfortunately, everybody (except for the victim) benefits from this. There’s more tax revenue for the IRS and the Social Security Administration, banks get more loans and employers get more cheap labor.

So if your Social Security number gets stolen, several banks, employers, the IRS and Social Security are probably aware of it, but they don’t want to upset the apple cart by telling you about it. That is, until you get in trouble with the IRS or a collection agency for the money that “you” owe.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Homesick for California

We moved from urban California to rural Washington five months ago – talk about culture shock.

Some of the things I miss about California: let’s see, orange air; bumper to bumper traffic everywhere, always; gentrification; Yuppies; having our humble Neon (or pickup) surrounded by BMWs and Mercedes’ everywhere we went…

And now this. Too f*ckin’ much. “Only in San Francisco” stories have always been a popular item in northern California (second only to “only in Marin” stories), but this takes the cake. San Francisco probably has more homeless people per square foot than anyplace outside of Calcutta, plus a sky-high crime rate. So what’s the top priority for the Board of Supervisors? Oooohhhh!!!! People are smoking in parks – we’ll get right on it!

Granted, smoking is an important health issue and everyone should quit (or not start) – for health reasons. But there’s a point where it’s no longer a health issue, and just becomes a chance for people who don’t smoke to feel virtuous and sanctimonious and to be appalled at the sight of someone (ugh!!) smoking.

I don’t smoke but my wife does; so do most of our friends. The looks and reactions we used to get in Sonoma and Marin Counties were not coming from a heartfelt concern for anyone’s health. It’s more like the looks you’d get if you walked into a black tie event wearing torn jeans and a dirty T-shirt.

In many cases, it’s an undeclared class war disguised as a health issue. If smoking was associated with people sipping Chardonnay and wearing $800 suits, there wouldn’t be any of this nose-wrinkling “eeewww, look what they’re doing” attitude. Since it’s mostly those lowly blue-collar types that still smoke (according to the stereotype anyway), they’re fair game. Have at ‘em!

Rob Reiner pushed for a state referendum several years ago to create a huge cigarette tax increase in California. All the proceeds would go towards a wide array of children’s programs. Radio and TV stations and newspapers were flooded with ads for all the wonderful programs that would be possible only if this tax were enacted.

It passed – barely (probably the closest statewide election this side of Washington’s current gubernatorial mess). I always liked Rob Reiner and the projects he used to work for, but he alienated a lot of his fans with that cigarette tax. I was glad to see him get dissed on a South Park episode. Archie Bunker was right, Mike: you are a meathead.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act has been a thorn in the side of every U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson. Most presidents (not including the current one) have sort of grudgingly gone along with it. Bush – via former Attorney General John Ashcroft – has done more than anyone to try and derail it. Ashcroft had a standing offer to “help” any government official who tried to withhold data that was being requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Ashcroft stymied scholars and business researchers as well as journalists with his insatiable desire to hoard information. When he announced his resignation, you could practically hear the collective sigh of relief among reporters and editors of all political persuasions.

Now they’re finding out that his successor, Alberto “Electrodes” Gonzales, might be even more gung ho about hoarding and guarding information.

The director of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists has said “There’s a lot we don’t know about his actions as White House counsel and his advice to the president. What we do know is rather discouraging.”

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, when he was White House counsel Gonzales showed “a penchant for strictly regulating access to government and executive branch information.” They also said Gonzales pursued a policy of “quasi-executive privilege ... so named because the privilege’s breadth, as defined by the Bush administration, is much greater than what is commonly known by lawyers as the executive privilege.”

This quasi-executive privilege policy was used by Gonzales to delay the release of information on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. And since Gonzales helped formulate the policies that led to the Abu Ghraib fiasco – the circle is complete.

Enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act is part of the Attorney General’s job. It’s too bad Bush keeps hiring one fox after another to guard the henhouse.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


The people who engineered our invasion of Iraq are full of jingoistic slogans and buzz words. “Patriotism,” “Support our troops,” anyone who disagrees with the war “hates America,” etc. Spouting off simple-minded slogans is the easy part. It’s much more difficult to provide our troops and veterans with the health care and other benefits they’re entitled to.

VA hospitals are overburdened beyond capacity. More than 10,000 U.S. troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan; some of them have waited months to get the help they need.

When a soldier is killed in action, do you know how much the surviving family members get? $12,000. Whoa!!! Don’t spend it all in one place. Some members of Congress want to raise this benefit to $100,000, but how likely is that? We need that money for the war in Iraq – not to mention more tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Veterans’ groups are concerned that funding for veterans’ programs could be frozen, or even reduced.

I don’t want to be reduced to rightwing sloganeering, but if there’s anyone who “hates America” it’s the lawmakers – of either party – who refuse to provide the necessary funding for veterans’ benefits. We can spend hundreds of billions to invade Iraq (and Iran and Syria might be in our crosshairs) but we don’t have enough money for veterans’ health care? Where’s the outrage on the Right? Have any of the Patriotism-spewing Chicken Hawks been pontificating about this?

The former chairman of the House Veterans Committee, Chris Smith (R-NJ) was a strong advocate for veterans; and that might be why he’s no longer the chairman. According to a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “It's our contention that in the eyes of the leadership he did too good a job. He was clearly pushed out. It's unprecedented.”

His replacement has said that “funds are finite” and that future cuts might be “inevitable.”

In a related story, the Army expects to maintain its current troop level of 120,000 in Iraq for at least two more years. And Army officials are trying to extend the current 24-month limit that a reservist can be assigned to active duty.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Climate Change

At a global conference in Kobe, Japan on natural disasters, the U.S. wants to purge all references to climate change, so the Bush administration can keep pretending that global warming isn’t a problem.

So, not mentioning something, deleting all references to it, will make the problem cease to exist? OK, I want to be able to jump 300 feet high, so we will now delete all references to gravity.

Rising sea levels, more droughts and more hurricanes (with more ferocity) will be the result of global warming. For people who want to insist that greenhouse gases have nothing to do with global warming – that it’s strictly a natural/cyclical phenomenon – fine; believe what you want. But global warming is happening – whatever the cause – and it needs to be dealt with.

Much of the world lives in low-lying areas near a coastline. With rising sea levels, future flooding catastrophes – similar to last month’s tsunami – could be triggered by a much smaller earthquake than the December quake that triggered the tsunami.

Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said “I hope there will be a global recognition of climate change causing more natural disasters.” He also said “there is climate change. That is not really controversial. What is controversial is what causes climate change.”

The main document produced at the conference says climate change is one factor pointing toward “a future where disasters could increasingly threaten the world’s economy, and its population.” Other parts of the document call for strengthening research into global warming and for clear identification of “climate-related disaster risks.”

The U.S. (plus Australia and Canada) wants to delete all references to climate change. This deletion is opposed by the 25-member European Union and by poorer nations whose location and topography make them vulnerable to rising sea levels and intensified storms.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Pendulum Will Swing

Republicans who are complacent about controlling Congress and the White House, and Democrats who are despondent for the same reason: the pendulum always swings.

The conservative movement which is now on such a roll had its start either (depending on which expert you talk to) in 1964 when Barry Goldwater lost the presidential election to Lyndon Johnson, or 1976 when Ronald Reagan lost the presidential nomination to Gerald Ford. One of Reagan’s ideas in 1976 was the privatization of Social Security. This idea may not get very far even today, but it has a lot more momentum than it did 29 years ago. Ironically, Reagan’s idea in 1976 got trounced by the Republican Powers That Be, including Cheney and Rumsfeld, who were members of the Ford administration.

Republicans in 1976 were having the same identity crisis the Democrats are now undergoing. Some Republicans (like Reagan) wanted to move further to the right and “stand for something.” Others wanted to move to the center, or even left, to attract more moderate and swing voters. The mainstream Republican movers and shakers decided that Reagan would only appeal to the far right of the party, and would get trounced in the general election.

So, with this in mind, maybe some of John Kerry’s far-reaching ideas could become more acceptable in the future. Let’s see, that would include………I’m thinking……..uuhhhh…… well, you get the idea.

Expanded health care coverage – which almost spelled political suicide for Clinton when he pushed for it – might become a reality someday. Bush rolled back a lot of Clinton’s measures protecting workers’ safety and the environment; someday Bush’s assaults on working people and the environment will be rolled back by a future president.

The pendulum always swings.

Monday, January 24, 2005

More Drilling in Alaska

400,000 acres of Alaska’s North Slope may be opened for oil exploration by the Bureau of Land Management.

This land has been protected since the early 1980s because of caribou and migratory birds. The protections were first put in place more than 20 years ago by that well known tree hugger, Ronald Reagan.

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska comprises 22 million acres; most of it is open to oil development. The lake region in the northeastern corner is the area that’s been protected. The Bureau of Land Management has now concluded that these 400,000 acres should be opened for exploratory drilling “with restrictions.”

Interior Secretary Gale Norton is expected to sign the agreement with the BLM next week. (The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is not to be confused with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, whose fate has been debated and fought over in Congress since 2001. This debate will undoubtedly get more contentious than ever during this session of Congress.)

Environmental groups, including the Wilderness Society and Ducks Unlimited, are fighting to continue protection of the lake region, pointing out that most of the 22 million acres of the NPRA are already available for oil exploration.

Slight improvements in gasoline mileage (not to mention making buildings more energy efficient, and increased use of mass transit) would more than equal the amount of oil that’s being fought over. Yet whenever Congress brings up any of these conservation measures, Republicans turn the whole concept of energy efficiency into the most trivial, wimpy issue imaginable. Then, when the debate turns to whether we should drill for oil in a protected area, our energy dependence becomes synonymous with Osama bin Laden and the World Trade Center, and the name-calling begins.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Buh Bye Michael Powell

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has announced his resignation; he will be leaving this March. If you’ve disagreed with Powell’s decisions these past 4 years, don’t be too relieved at his departure until you find out who his replacement will be. Remember, everyone who heaved a sigh of relief at John Ashcroft’s departure ended up gasping in horror when they found out that Alberto “Torquemada” Gonzales would be his replacement.

Powell generated lots of controversy for his absolutely schizophrenic views on regulation: a hands-off free-market approach, allowing several (or even fewer) megacorporate monoliths to control most the broadcasting industry; and a gigantic bleeding-heart nanny state for people who wanted offensive TV programs taken off the air.

When Powell’s free-market personality was dominant, he eased regulations, making it even easier for more newspapers and TV/radio stations to be owned by fewer corporations. These changes were opposed by a huge coalition of strange bedfellows: liberals, conservatives, religious groups and the National Rifle Association, among others.

Everyone complains about media bias – left or right – but when too many newspapers, magazines and broadcasting stations are all owned by the same company, their only “bias” is toward the bottom line. Anything controversial that might decrease the sale of newspapers or the number of TV viewers – forget it. This has turned the press from a watchdog to a lapdog.

This also makes censorship much easier. Remember when the Dixie Chicks made a joke about President Bush? One broadcasting executive threw a tantrum, and poof! The Dixie Chicks were suddenly banned from hundreds of radio stations.

When Powell’s government-meddling nanny-state personality was dominant, he wanted the government to babysit for everybody who might be offended by a TV show. Anyone who complained that “there’s an offensive TV program on and I can’t reach the remote. Heelllllppp!!!” was to be coddled and wet-nursed by the freemarket-spouting FCC.

Go figure.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


Whew!! We’ve been saved again. While most of us were just going our merry way, oblivious to the evils lurking in our TV sets, a brave band of moral guardians has vanquished another enemy at the gates.

Most of us had no idea of the danger we were in. You, too, probably thought SpongeBob was just an innocent – if wacky – cartoon character. Well, we were all duped, and we’ll never know how close we were to the edge. He’s gay! And he wants to corrupt millions of American children and turn them into – oh, it’s too awful to think about.

We owe our survival to two Christian activist groups, the American Family Association and Focus on the Family.

At least Jerry Falwell can be assured that when he finally goes to his reward, his work will be carried on by plenty of like-minded saviors. It was Falwell who alerted us to the menace of the Teletubbies in 1999. One of them was gay, and the Teletubbies’ audience was mostly toddlers, some as young as one year old. Just imagine – some infants might have started turning gay before they even learned to speak. (What would their first words be?) If the Good Reverend Jerry hadn’t alerted us in time, our grade schools might be inundated right now with armies of militant 7-year-old homosexuals.

And, let’s give credit where it’s due. Jerry Falwell probably learned a lot from the Reverend Donald Wildmon, who went on a TV censorship crusade during the 1970s and ‘80s. And he didn’t just go after the obvious dangers – sitcoms with suggestive language, violent police dramas, etc. His most astute discovery: the cartoon series Mighty Mouse contained references to drug use.

Evil is lurking everywhere. Please save us.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Unforgivable Blackness

This is the title of a 4-hour PBS documentary by Ken Burns this past Monday and Tuesday evenings. It’s the story of Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight boxing champion (from 1910 to 1915). Johnson was portrayed by James Earl Jones in “The Great White Hope” in 1970. Miles Davis made an album in 1970 titled “Tribute to Jack Johnson.”

This documentary depicts the political and racial climate in the United States in the early 1900s. As terrible as today’s racial injustices are, this country has presumably made some progress since then. From 1908 to 1910, Johnson was by far the best boxer anyone had ever seen. (A lot of experts thought Johnson was a far better boxer than any of the champions that came after him; that the Jack Johnson of 1910 would have trounced any of the champions from the 1930s, '40s or '50s.) However, the “color line” was firmly in place. No white boxer would fight him; this way the world champion would always be white, and Johnson could only be the best “Negro boxer.”

The racial hatred was incredible. Everywhere Johnson went – boxing matches, hotels, nightclubs – there were mobs of furious white people jeering him. He received constant death threats.

In 1910, Johnson was finally able to fight the official (white) champion, Jim Jeffries, and he won. When he became the world heavyweight champion, there were race riots all across the U.S. – white riots, that is. Scores of people were killed in these riots; mostly blacks. And this was mainly in northern cities – can’t blame the Deep South for this. (Funny, I don’t remember reading about these riots in any history textbooks.)

Newspaper editorials reflected the racial prejudices of the day. The New York Times editorial right before Jack Johnson’s fight with Jim Jeffries said “if the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbors.” The Chicago Tribune warned in an editorial that a win by Johnson would encourage blacks to challenge the power of whites.

Also, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during this time was a former Ku Klux Klansman.

So, I guess we’ve made some progress…

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Turn Your Back On Bush

I first posted on this subject about a month ago, but this is just a reminder, now that the inauguration is tomorrow. Also, when I first wrote this I hadn’t joined Blog Explosion yet, so with all due respect to everyone who read my post the first time (all 3 of you), I’ve decided to write about it again.

For the last few years every major Republican event (the convention last summer, any public appearance by Bush) has been fully equipped with a First Amendment patrol. All demonstrators, anyone carrying a sign – move over here to this tiny corner that’s 900 yards away from the stage. But during the inaugural parade next month, demonstrators will unveil a new stealth tactic.

http://www.turnyourbackonbush.org/ is urging protesters to leave their placards and zany costumes at home and just attend the parade. Just blend right in with the other thousands of parade watchers. And then, as the Bush motorcade is passing by, turn your back. What could be simpler or more foolproof? No signs, costumes or shouted slogans to label you as sickocommiedevilworshiper who hates America. No worries about being relegated to the protesters’ ghetto 17 blocks away from the parade route.

Organizers of this event are determined to keep everything peaceful. They’re warning all participants that when they turn their backs, they might face hostility or threats from Bush supporters in the audience, and not to respond in kind. Please keep it peaceful and nonviolent.

For any last minute updates – changes in the parade route, obstacles to watch out for – please log onto http://www.turnyourbackonbush.org/ for the latest information. This site also has links to articles on nonviolence training, in case you think there might be a need for this.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

He's Been Re-elected: Forget What He Said

As many people feared, Bush has read way too much into his “mandate” last November. Karl Rove ran a much smarter and shrewder campaign than Kerry’s campaign staff, and the election result means the public wholeheartedly supports all of Bush’s policies?!?

Bush told the Washing Post “we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections. 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.”

Since being re-elected, Bush has felt no need to endorse Colin Powell’s recent statement that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could be reduced by the end of 2005, or to push Congress to increase the ranks of the National Guard and the Army (as many military experts say is necessary). He also hasn’t been giving any more gung ho optimistic speeches about how great the war in Iraq is going.

He has also jilted the Religious Right by saying he will not be pushing for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Sorry, Suckers! You brung him to the dance, and he found a prettier girl to go home with. Bush scored with the Religious Right, and now he just wants to roll over and go to sleep. The Religious Right wants to cuddle and talk for hours about their long and happy future together, and Bush is saying “hey, stay on that side of the bed, will ya, I’m trying to sleep.”

Now that all of the administration’s reasons for invading Iraq have been proven false – and he got re-elected anyway – there’s no more need for rosy predictions and simplistic platitudes. “Flowers and ice cream” and "Mission Accomplished" have been replaced with “On a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad."

Now, this next Bush answer is for real. This is not taken from Saturday Night Live or the Daily Show. Seriously! When confronted with his administration’s failure to find Osama bin Laden, and asked why, Bush replied “because he’s hiding.”

Monday, January 17, 2005

Iraq and Terrorists

One of the Big Lies constantly spread by the neocons was that Iraq was affiliated with al Qaeda; Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were working hand in glove. Nevermind that Hussein’s government was secular and bin Laden thinks all secular governments are evil – facts are just a pain in the butt when you’re gearing up to conquer somebody.

Now that our invasion has killed countless thousands of Iraqi civilians and stirred up a civil war with insurgent groups coming out of the woodwork, we have a textbook example of a self fulfilling prophecy. Moslems from all over the world who hate the West are now forming terrorist training camps in – guess which country. Iraq, which previously had no ties to bin Laden or al Qaeda, is now the world’s foremost training ground for the next generation of “professionalized” terrorists, according to the National Intelligence Council.

According to the NIC chairman, Iraq “is a magnet for international terrorist activity.” The ongoing Iraqi war has joined the list of conflicts – this also includes the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate and Chechnya’s ongoing attempt to break away from Russia – that have strengthened solidarity among radical Islamic groups.

The NIC report says that during the next 15 years, al Qaeda will become more and more diluted as other Islamic extremist groups affiliate themselves with local separatist movements. (This is already happening, but the trend is expected to increase.) This constant morphing and decentralization will make terrorist groups even more difficult to uncover.

The NIC acts as an advisor to the CIA director. Their goal is “to provide policymakers with the best, unvarnished and unbiased information – regardless of whether analytic judgments conform to U.S. policy.”

Uh oh. Hey, careful there, fella. You saw what happened to Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. Watch your back.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Checks and Balances

Our Founding Fathers intended for our government to have numerous checks and balances, stumbling blocks to prevent one person or small group from steamrolling over the opposition with their agenda. Only three times in recent history (i.e. my lifetime) has the president been in such a powerful position. In 1964 Lyndon Johnson rushed an unprecedented wave of civil rights legislation through Congress. In the early 1980s, Reagan’s popularity, combined with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Richard Viguerie’s direct mail wizardry, made the Right practically drunk with power.

And now, of course, Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, and Bush intends to “spend the political capital I’ve earned.”

Lots of Republican senators and congressmen have been under Bush’s thumb ever since the summer of 2002 when Bush campaigned heavily for the mid-term elections. And some of them are deciding that “Nosiree, we’re not gonna be Bush’s Bitches any more. We have minds of our own, and constituents to represent.”

And state governments, Democrat and Republican, are starting to take on some of the responsibilities that the federal government has been neglecting over the past four years. The State of Connecticut will be investigating whether drug companies are using deceptive marketing practices. Ohio has filed suit for securities fraud against Fannie Mae. And eight states are suing to force utility companies to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

Connecticut’s Attorney General summed things up with “Our action is the result of federal inaction. The [Bush] administration has not just failed to enforce the law, it has sought to undercut it and gut it. . . . States are filling the vacuum."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are concerned about the growing “problem” of “the overreaching of the state attorneys general.”

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has been the best known example of prosecuting corporate sleaze at the state level; consequently he’s a favorite target of Big Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Spitzer said that “Conservatives pushed for federalism to begin with. They were trying to limit federal enforcement. They are now paying for the Frankenstein they created."

Business leaders, as they always do when a state regulator goes after them, are complaining about “a patchquilt of state and local regulations.” Translation: Hey, it’s hard enough to bribe one federal agency. Now we have to pay bribes, I mean, campaign contributions, to fifty state regulators as well.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Abu Ghraib Verdict

Yesterday’s guilty verdict for Charles Graner – the torture ringleader at Abu Ghraib prison – represents a proud moment for our country. This is an occasion to feel genuinely patriotic. Not the mindless flagwaving and xenophobic slogans that this term usually conjures up; but a genuine pride. Our Constitution, and our belief that no one is above the law, has been reaffirmed.

People in positions of authority – police, prison guards, soldiers – are accountable for their behavior. Yes, we have brutality and abuse of authority by soldiers and law enforcement personnel, but they are breaking the law. And sometimes – not often enough, but sometimes – the perpetrators are apprehended and brought to trial.

Two out of the four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King nearly to death were convicted and jailed. The Brooklyn cop who sodomized a prisoner with a broken plunger handle received a 30 year prison sentence.

Yesterday’s verdict demonstrates to the world that America tries to live up to its ideals. Soldiers and guards who torture their captives are violating our laws and the Geneva Convention, and they are accountable. How many other governments have prosecuted their own soldiers and police for brutality? Yesterday’s verdict sets us apart from most of the world.

Yes, there’s still room for lots of improvement but, for all of its numerous flaws and imperfections, our system works.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Salvador Option

Nuke ‘em. Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out. Turn the Middle East into a parking lot. No, our “leaders” aren’t yet considering these options (at least not publicly), but the way things are going…

As you probably know by now, the Powers That Be are considering putting us in the same league as Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and the El Salvador government of the early 1980s. Death squads, hit squads – whatever you want to call them – would be created for the purpose of hunting down and killing Iraqi insurgent leaders and their sympathizers (and how loosely is the term “sympathizer” going to be defined?). Seriously! This isn’t just another bad movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris; this is for real.

Now, there’s no question that, being the mightiest military power in history, we have the ability to ultimately prevail in the Iraqi war. But before we round up and torture and murder every Arab who might have spoken to a rebel leader (or knows someone whose cousin has a friend whose roommate used to know an insurgent), why don’t we all just step back for a minute, take a deep breath, and focus.

Why are we in Iraq? Every reason given to us by the Chicken Hawks has been a lie. Weapons of Mass Destruction? Ixnay. Saddam Hussein conspiring with Osama bin Laden? Only in the warped funhouse of Dick Cheney’s imagination. Were any Iraqis involved in the 9/11 attacks? No. (Sorry to burst your bubble, Fox News.) This war was supposed to take just a few hours, involve no U.S. casualties (Bush actually said this to Pat Robertson before the March 2003 invasion), and American soldiers would be greeted with flowers and ice cream by throngs of grateful Iraqis. Riiight! To make the understatement of the century, this wasn’t thought through very well. For a Chicken Hawk, spouting out slogans and drumming up hysteria is much more fun than doing a bunch of boring research and planning.

Yes, Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator. But we toppled him; he’s in jail and waiting to be tried for international war crimes. So, we’re still in Iraq because…

And now we might create Death Squads in Iraq to round up and eliminate anyone who seems the least bit suspicious, thereby putting us (and our Iraqi puppets) in the same league with Stalin and Hitler. Whew! It’s a good thing we got rid of Saddam Hussein. He was a dictator. Iraq was a police state!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Thank God for the Supreme Court and our system of checks and balances. Several recent 5 to 4 Supreme Court decisions have just barely kept us from spiraling downward into – well, let’s not go there.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled (5 to 4, of course) that federal judges are not bound by federal mandatory sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines are now just advisory, not mandatory. (Isn’t that what the word “guideline” is supposed to mean?) Furthermore, if a judge chooses to impose a longer sentence based on the federal guidelines, it will now be easier to have that sentence overturned by an appeals court.

A lot of these federal mandatory sentences (usually drug-related) have been based on facts that were not found by the jury nor admitted by the defendant. This violates the defendant’s right to a fair trial, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Predictably, the Justice Department is disappointed in the ruling. About 64,000 criminal defendants each year have been sentenced under these “guidelines,” and thousands of cases have been on hold, pending yesterday’s ruling.

The stakes are getting steadily higher in the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy(ies). The Religious Right, of course, wants a Fundamentalist who will help propel us back to the 4th century. Big Business is also lobbying heavily for an ultraconservative judge. Protecting the environment, providing safe conditions for those lowly workers – what a pain in the butt. And those medical malpractice lawsuits are getting way out of hand – inept doctors have rights too.

Now, in addition, the people who are drooling and champing at the bit to lock up every small-time drug offender for 9,000 years will be lobbying to put a gung ho Narc-DEA type on the Supreme Court.

Democratic senators, you have your work cut out for you. To paraphrase the real estate cliché of “location, location, location”: Filibuster, filibuster, filibuster.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Law and Order versus Coddling Criminals

If you took a survey asking the public to name today’s most burning issues, the harsh treatment of corporate thieves probably wouldn’t be high on the list.

Eliot Spitzer, New York State Attorney General, has become practically a folk hero to investors for his prosecution of corporate sleaze. Among other achievements, he helped craft a $1.4 billion settlement with Wall Street banks over fraudulent stock research, and he filed suit over the multi-million dollar golden parachute given to Richard Grasso, outgoing head of the New York Stock Exchange.

Now, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is complaining about Spitzer’s ruthless prosecution, calling it “the most egregious and unacceptable form of intimidation that we have seen in this country in modern times."

In a similar vein, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the obstruction of justice conviction of Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm which shredded numerous incriminating Enron documents.

Now, this is the same country that has sentenced thousands of victimless “criminals” to huge prison terms for possession of microscopic amounts of marijuana. Thousands of other people have had their property – homes, businesses, life savings– confiscated by the government if their property was somehow remotely connected with that big bugaboo – Drugs!!

And yet CEOs and senior executives who gouge billions of dollars out of their employees and shareholders and customers, are being treated too harshly when they finally have to show some accountability.

Is there any logic here?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to my high school and college years. But several recent news items have brought waves of nostalgia for the good old days.

Awhile ago, Rush Limbaugh pointed out that those sniveling crybabies at Abu Ghraib had nothing to whimper about; their “abuse” and “torture” were no more “harsh” than fraternity stunts. That got me reminiscing about my fraternity days.

Then, the lawyer for Charles Graner – the alleged ringleader at Abu Ghraib – defended the Abu Ghraib practice of stacking tied-up naked prisoners into a human pyramid. He said “don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year? Is that torture?”

Ah, the memories. Who could forget the fun we all had, stripping and hog-tying the cheerleaders and stacking them into a pyramid. Sometimes we’d cop a feel; sometimes we’d put them on leashes and take pictures. God, I loved high school. I used to wish those days could last forever.

Then, just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, I went to college and joined a fraternity. The fun was just beginning. I didn’t enjoy my initiation much at the time, but in retrospect, I loved it. Several times they pushed my head under water ‘til I almost drowned. I loved those guys! The following year, it was my turn to do some initiating. Yeeaaahhhh!!!!! We had to make sure those pledges really wanted in. We’d take a cattle prod and hold it against some guy’s scrotum, or take a lit cigarette and hold it inside someone’s ear. Hey, we were a fraternity! This one crazy dude, he used to wrap a burlap sack around some pledge’s head, get him in a headlock and then punch him in the face as hard as he could. Too much!! He used to love Hell Week. He was always saying to himself “I love to see a grown man piss himself.” God, what a character.

Those were the days.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Big Business and the Religious Right

Senators who filibuster any of Bush’s judicial nominees are already threatened by the Charge of the Bible Brigade. Now, in addition, a powerful business lobby is preparing a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to intimidate anyone who gets in the way of Bush’s judicial crusade.

Large corporations are usually reluctant to get embroiled in the social issues being pushed by Christian lobbying groups, but this tactic will lump them together with the Religious Right whether they like it or not.

This lobbying effort is being pushed by former Michigan governor John Engler, who is now head of the National Association of Manufacturers. They will be providing money and a strong get-out-the-vote effort.

This combined effort of the National Association of Manufacturers and the extreme Religious Right could make some senators even more reluctant to filibuster Bush’s nominees.

Or, it could backfire. The director of People for the American Way said “I believe that a sizeable percentage of NAM’s membership would be stunned to learn that their leadership has decided to join the right wing’s effort to eliminate a constitutional right to privacy, to strong civil rights protections and a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.”

Do the country’s most famous CEOs really want to be lumped together with Jerry Falwell and James Dobson?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Army Reserves

Because of our endless quagmire in Iraq, the U.S. Army Reserve is degenerating into a “broken force,” according to the Army Reserve chief. The Army Reserve consists of 200,000 part-time soldiers who can be mobilized in times of national need.

Currently 40% of American forces in Iraq have come from the reserve ranks. That number is expected to grow to 50%.

While Bush and Rumsfeld keep underestimating the Iraqis’ strength and continue to see light at the end of the tunnel, the army is anticipating the need for “significant troop levels” in Iraq for the next four or five years. These mixed signals are leaving reservists caught in the middle. Their terms in Iraq are continually being extended, they’re given inferior equipment and they’re often sent over there with three to five days notice.

Because of being so depleted in Iraq, the Army Reserve is in danger of being unable to meet potential emergencies in the U.S. Also, National Guard and Army Reserve recruiters have had a terrible time attracting new recruits during the last few months. (Hmmm...I wonder why.)

More than any other current issue, the war in Iraq has shown the Bush administration to be all hat and no cattle; all rhetoric and no substance. Bush/Cheney/Rove were geniuses at the Orwellian tactic of repeatedly mentioning Saddam Hussein, 9/11, al Qaeda, Iraq and terrorism together in sentence after sentence, speech after speech. And it worked on millions of gullible voters and their spineless senators and representatives.

Shouting out slogans and drumming up anti-Iraq hysteria was the easy part of Bush’s job. For his success in persuading/bullying Congress (and his “Coalition of the Willing”) to get us mired in the Middle East, he gets an A. For the follow-up, nuts-and-bolts part of his job – planning ahead, thinking things through, making sure there are sufficient troops and equipment – he gets an F.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Tom DeLay and Ethics

Warning: the above title is an oxymoron.

How could such a backstabbing sleazebucket rise to such heights in Congress? And does this say more about DeLay or more about the system that keeps promoting and protecting him?

As if you didn’t already know more than you ever wanted to know about this sanctimonious power-crazed bigot, click here for even more fun facts about the Hammer. Yes, the article is obviously just a parody, but when someone’s sleaze quotient reaches a certain height (or depth), there’s almost nothing slanderous you could say. DeLay does an unsurpassed job of combining corruption and self-righteousness.

As you probably know, the same Republican leadership that thumped the Bible and spouted moral platitudes during Clinton’s presidency is now trying to undo the ethics standards they themselves put in place 10 years ago. First they scrapped their own rule requiring party leaders to step down if they are indicted, allowing DeLay to keep his post if he gets indicted for illegal corporate donations. (They’re also rationalizing DeLay’s probable indictment by pointing out that the District Attorney who’s pushing for an indictment is a Democrat!!!) Well, that settles that.

Next they proposed changing the House rules to make it more difficult to bring an ethics complaint against a representative.

Thirdly, they decided at the last minute to avoid public humiliation by not making these changes after all. Their spin: DeLay says he’s confident he won’t be indicted, so he won’t need any new rules to hide behind.

However, there will be a change in the House Ethics Committee. The committee, consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans, only needs a tie vote to launch an investigation of a representative. Under the new rule, a majority vote will be required in order to begin an investigation. So if all five members of either party can just tighten the ranks, hold their ground and vote against any investigation no matter what – hey, we don’t need no steenking ethics!

Another change: the current Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Joel Hefley of Colorado, will be losing his chairmanship. He made the mistake of allowing the committee to investigate DeLay in the first place. He must be punished.

So, in a nutshell, it’s more important to: A) Maintain high ethical standards; or B) Rally ‘round the Sleazebag.

If you’re a Republican member of the House of Representatives, choose B).

Friday, January 07, 2005

Alberto Gonzales

You probably thought John Ashcroft was the most God-awful attorney general in our history. Unfortunately, there’s room to sink even further. The main culprit behind the American torture of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay – Alberto Gonzales – is about to become the next attorney general.

The Constitution, the Geneva Convention, innocent-until-proven-guilty – all quaint and outdated according to Gonzales. This is the genius who decided to redefine suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners as “enemy combatants” instead of prisoners of war, thereby wriggling out from under the Geneva Convention. Note the boldfaced word in that sentence: suspected. Not terrorists (does the word “trial” ring any bells?) – suspected terrorists.

The White House is adding to the tension between Gonzales and Senate Democrats (and even some Republicans) by refusing to provide additional requested documents that might further clarify Gonzales’ connection to the torture scandal.

During Thursday’s hearings, Senator Patrick Leahy said “America’s troops and citizens are at greater risk” because of administration policies that are “tantamount to torture.” For those American “Patriots” who dismiss Third World citizens as just a bunch of dark-skinned foreigners who worship a different god and don’t even speak English, Leahy’s quote should bring home a very clear point: what goes around comes around. If American soldiers torture their captives, American soldiers are more likely to be tortured by the enemy when they get captured. (Joseph Biden spelled out this same point to John Ashcroft during a hearing several months ago.)

Another item that’s been in the news off and on is the CIA practice called “rendition.” What this nice, bland, innocuous-sounding word means is: transferring suspected terrorists to Egypt, Yemen or Saudi Arabia (as we speak, there’s still a difference between America and those countries – savor the moment) for “questioning.” In these countries, “questioning” includes but is not limited to: electric shocks (in that spot where you’d least want to be shocked), being repeatedly “almost” drowned, beatings, and being left hanging/suspended by the arms for long periods. (This reminds me of a cartoon several years ago in a bodybuilding magazine: two prisoners are being suspended by their arms, and one of them says to the other “the worst part of this is, my lats are getting way overtrained.”)

Anyway, these two stories keep dancing around in my head: 1) Alberto Gonzales luxuriating in a nice soft chair while senators politely question him about his torture policies, and 2) suspected terrorists being electrocuted, kicked and beaten, and having their heads submerged under water for long periods while they’re being “questioned.” It just seems like there’s something wrong with this picture, a certain inconsistency. Hmmm, I can’t quite put my finger on it…

Wait, I’ve got it! Since Alberto Gonzales thinks “exporting” prisoners to Egypt or Saudi Arabia is such a great idea, well, what’s sauce for the goose…Let’s see Gonzales’ answers, and general demeanor, if he’s getting a cattle prod rammed into his unmentionables, or having his head shoved under water while he’s being questioned. After all, the Constitution and Geneva Convention are soooo 1990s. He hasn’t been convicted of anything, of course, but then neither have our suspected terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And those henchmen in the White House who refuse to turn over those aforementioned requested documents – let’s see, where shall we put those electrodes…

So, which is it? If we’re appalled at the way Third World countries treat their suspects, and then we export our own suspects to these exact same countries (while we’re looking for loopholes in the Geneva Convention and the Constitution) – let’s just say we’re sending out some mixed signals. Let’s have a little sanity and consistency here, shall we?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sleazy Bankers (Part II)

Instant Credit! It’s easy for you to walk into a store with no money or credit, and walk out a few minutes later with a new credit card and several thousand dollars worth of merchandise. Unfortunately, someone pretending to be you can also do this just as easily. Result: identity theft.

There were nearly 10 million victims of identity theft last year, and the problem is getting worse all the time. The problem can mostly be blamed on the banking and retail industries’ urgent desire to issue more credit cards faster.

The author of “Credit Card Nation” notes that “you can apply for a credit card on the phone 24 hours a day, but when you file a claim for identity theft you'll get an answering machine."

Another result of this more credit faster mentality is the huge number of bankruptcies. And the banking industry is just appalled – shocked! – at the number of irresponsible consumers who go bankrupt. Hello, anybody home?!?!?

An individual person wouldn’t get away with being this oblivious to the connection between his behavior and the obvious results: he’d be taken away to Happy Acres for lots of rest and some friendly doctors to look after him. But this degree of cognitive disconnect is quite acceptable for a multi-billion dollar corporation.

There seems to be little hope of increasing protection against identity theft or reigning in the surge of instant credit all the time. The banking industry has way too much power and authority over their prostitutes, er, legislators.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sleazy Bankers

Capital One, one of the nation’s largest issuers of credit cards, is being sued by the State of Minnesota for false advertising, consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices. They’re accused of using bait-and-switch tactics by promising fixed interest rates to consumers, and then jacking up their interest rates by up to 400%.

40% of Capital One’s fixed rate customers in Minnesota have had their interest rates drastically increased. The tiniest error by the consumer – if your payment is one day late, for example – can cause the interest rate to skyrocket.

Another Capital One tactic is to lower someone’s credit limit without notifying them, and then penalize them with higher interest rates when they unknowingly go over their credit limit.

They also constantly check their customers’ credit reports (often monthly), and if they find a late payment on any other (unrelated) loans, they’ll use this as an excuse to raise the interest rate, even if the customer has a perfect payment record with Capital One.

Now, where are all of our moralists and self-appointed guardians at a time like this? Didn’t the Bible mention something about Jesus driving the moneylenders from the temple? When a giant corporation – with godlike power over the “legislators” who are supposed to be “regulating” them – cheats millions of its customers, where’s the outrage? Corporate sleaze never draws a peep out of the sanctimonious types who go absolutely berserko over gay marriage, marijuana and abortion.

I guess everybody has their priorities.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Focus on the Family

A voice of fire and brimstone from the Far Right is warning senators that they “will be in the bull’s-eye” if they block any of Bush’s judicial nominees.

The warning came from James Dobson, founder of the ultra-conservative Focus on the Family. Like many Republicans, Dobson is claiming that Democrats alienated moderate voters by “obstructing” Bush’s agenda during his first term. (Earth to the Bible Brigade: This is a 2-party system. The opposing party – representing 48% of the electorate – is going to “obstruct” and disagree with the party in power. Bush’s job title is President; not King or CEO.)

Referring to Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority Leader who got voted out of office last November, Dobson said “Let his colleagues beware, especially those representing red states. Many of them will be in the bull’s-eye the next time they seek re-election.”

Focus on the Family has a mailing list of 2.5 million, plus 13 radio and TV programs. The group was one of the main instigators of the get-out-the-vote drive to inject the Old Testament into current American politics by bringing Fundamentalist Christians to the polls last November.

Republicans are pretending to be appalled at Democrats for obstructing Bush’s judicial nominees, even though they themselves perfected this tactic during Clinton’s presidency. Bush had 204 of his judicial nominees confirmed during his first term, and the federal judicial vacancy rate is the lowest it’s been in 16 years. One school of thought is that Bush purposely nominated some of the most controversial, ultra-rightwing judges he could find, so that when they were turned down by Congress, he could point the finger at these “obstructionists” and create a bogus campaign issue.

A Democratic spokesman dismissed Dobson’s threat as an “attention grab,” pointing out that Dobson’s message reached the news media before it reached the senators he was threatening.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Wild Horses

Thirty years ago Congress gave federal protection to wild horses, calling them “living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West.” But now Congress, in that standard Republican Stealth method – also known as the legislative drive-by shooting – has changed that law, with no hearings and no debate.

There are about 37,000 wild horses in the Western states; about half of them are in Nevada. With their protection being repealed, about 9,000 of them could be slaughtered within a year, according to the National Wild Horse Association. The most likely destination for the slaughtered horses would be Japan, France and Belgium, where horse meat is a delicacy.

The government (i.e. the wealthy ranchers who hold their “legislators” in a tight scrotal grip) says there are too many wild horses competing with livestock for scarce food and water. (?!?!?) These ranchers are already using public lands – hey, the public, that’s us, the taxpayers – to graze their sheep and cattle. Millions of acres are being “leased” to ranchers for next to nothing. We’re subsidizing them, whether we like it or not. Sounds like welfare to me, even though these ranchers pretend to be such archetypes of self-reliance and rugged individualism.

Until Congress repealed their protection, these wild horses would be rounded up and put in sanctuaries, or put up for adoption. But with the new law, the slaughterhouse will be their most likely fate.

This is the kind of environmental and wildlife assaults we can look forward to for the next four years. Let’s have a big round of applause for the millions of Bible thumpers and snake handlers who elected Bush by making gay marriage and “family values” more important than preserving the environment for future generations.