Monday, December 31, 2007

Come on 2008!

What does the clock flipping to 12:00 am tonight mean? Besides putting the past year behind us and getting ready for: hangovers, junk food while we watch football, resolutions we won't keep and another year of insipid campaign ads? January 1, 2008 will mean that we will only have 384 days to go before the worst presidency in the history of the United States comes to an end.

I wish we could speed up time to 1-20-09 12:01pm eastern time, when the oath of office is taken by someone, anyone else besides George W. Bush. I'm so tired of this man's desecration of the office that I want to be Rip Van Winkle and just go to sleep until it's done with.

My hope and wish for 2008 is that we end this travesty of a war in Iraq. According to the Pentagon, casualty counts for Iraqis are down since June of this year. That's excellent news on its face. Anytime fewer people are dying because of policies we implement so much the better. General Petraeus has attributed this to better security from both the "surge" of US troops and an interior "sure" of upwards of 100 thousand Iraqi military and security services coming online in the area.

To be sure, this is good news. I'm not going to get into a debate here about the surge. Those who agree with the surge will use this information to say "see, it's working". Those who didn't agree with the surge will point out rightly that no political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia communities in the Iraqi government has been achieved. In either case, strong argument for each side can be made. The only thing that matters to me is that the killing, at least in Bagdhad, has lessened.

For the politicians, this has become a mixed bag of messages. Those with a more sophisticated view of the matter (Biden, McCain, Richardson, Dodd), all seem to embrace the view that this is excellent news. McCain sees it as vindication of his criticisms of the Rumsfeld era of war planning, but support for the Gates/Petraeus strategy of adding resources. The Democrats are all calling for different actions, but each seem to believe that the primary focus should be on political agreement among the various factions in the Iraqi government. Iraq will be a key campaign issue throughout 2008. Should things continue to improve, it helps the Republicans salvage something from the Bush disaster. Should conditions deteriorate, then it helps those Democrats (especially Obama) who have decried the Iraq war from the beginning.

I personally opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. And, unlike Bill Clinton, I have documentation to prove it. I still believe this was the worst foreign policy decision the US has made since we (CIA) helped overthrow the government of Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953 and installed the Shah. Man, talk about your decisions coming back to haunt you.

Anyway, I'm not posting any resolutions, and only hoping, hoping that the end of George Bush's reign of terror comes with no more major screw ups from this administration.

Tell me what you think,

Regards,

Dennis

PS, all the best for 2008

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, etc. etc.

To My Democrat Friends:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere . Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

To My Republican Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mr. Reid, You've Let Us All Down

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-UT) has made a decision to move legislation updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) out of committee and on to the senate floor for debate and vote sometime this week. OK, no problem there, that's his job. The problem is with which bill he is moving to the floor. The one he decided to take out of committee, over the objections of the ranking Democrats and ignoring a hold placed on the legislation by Senator Chris Dodd (D-MA) is the bill the president prefers. Why? Because this version of the bill contains a provision granting retroactive immunity to the major telecommunications carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, etc. who assisted the government in eavesdropping on communications without a warrant.

There was another version of the bill, that the Judiciary Committee had openly debated in public and that 14 Democratic senators have sent a letter to Reid asking that he move to floor for a vote. It does not contain the immunity provision and the president has threatened to veto it as a result of it lacking the protections for the telecommunications companies.

Senator Chris Dodd has decided to filibuster the bill. This will be the first filibuster in the Senate in 15 years, and he's interrupting his candidacy for the presidency to do something he cares greatly about. Protect the US Constitution.

Now, this entire mess is a result of the Global War on Terror and the Bush Administration's voracious expansion of presidential powers. Dodd thinks the warrantless eavesdropping is a violation of the 4th amendment of the Constitution protecting against warrantless search and seizures. So do I.

But regardless of the content of the bill, or why Dodd will filibuster, both of which are important topics for another post, the question to me is why is Harry Reid doing this? He was swept into power as Majority Leader as a result of the American people's resounding rebuke to the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration in general. Why is he consistently caving in?

My thoughts here are relatively sinister. I think Reid, Pelosi and others in the Democratic leadership have done something that the Bush Administration is holding over there heads. This somewhat came to light last week when it was revealed that Speaker Pelosi among others attended a briefing in 2002 where waterboarding was discussed as a tool used in our interrogations and kept quiet about it. So, is that the deal? Does George and company have some type of leverage against the Majority Leader? Perhaps. If so, it's sad, and Mr. Reid, you've let the country down in a moment where we need serious leadership. Thank goodness for Chris Dodd.

Tell me what you think,

Regards,

Dennis

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Say It Isn't So, America

This past week former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell published his report on his two year investigation of drug use within Major League Baseball. As expected, the report was full of reports of abuse of steroids, use of human growth hormones, and other performance enhancing drugs. Of course, like people slowing down to view the aftermath of a traffic accident, the American people (especially those of us who love baseball) paused briefly to see who the report would name. Big names such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco and several others were identified as allegedly taking steroids or some other performance enhancing drug over the course of their careers.

Also, expected, denials from the players, especially Clemens came swift and vigorous and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig promised action.

Sigh.

One of my favorite movies is Casablanca. I never thought anyone has been cooler than Bogart playing Rick. But, my absolute favorite scene in this film is when Claude Raines, playing the Vichy police Lieutenant Louie proclaims to Rick after closing down his club that "I'm Shocked! Shocked to find gambling going on in this establishment!" Immediately after saying this, the croupier comes up to Louie and gives him his winning which he immediately pockets with a hearty laugh. See, the deal is that Louie is being enormously obvious and hypocritical.

Commissioner Selig isn't Louie in this sense, rather he is the pious, somber guy who promises to reform the game. Bullshit. Selig, along with the rest of the owners (he owns a stake indirectly in the Milwaukee Brewers), the players and the fans (yes, my friends, us) is complicit in allowing this to occur. My beef is we exclaim disgust, disappointment, outrage (see Congressman Chris Shays R-CT bloviating about this on the House floor this past week) that we cheaters in Major League Baseball.

Please Bud, get over it. Stop trying to sell us a line. We know you've ignored this as just about every other baseball commissioner has since Kennesaw "Mountain" Landis. As long as the game has been played there have been people cheating. Anyone remember the Black Sox Scandal of 1918? Perhaps the name Shoeless Joe Jackson brings it back to you? Whether it's stealing the other teams signs, cheating by throwing spitballs, corking bats, running out of baselines to avoid being tagged, there are a number of ways that one can and does cheat in this game. The fans have been there all along, never doing anything more than shaking there heads in disappointment when one got caught, but lining up the very next day to buy their tickets, hot dogs and beer to watch some other juiced guy hit a home run.

Didn't we always know? Didn't we understand that when men turn from lithe, graceful speedsters who can hit for average to hulking, muscle rippling, homer pounding behemoths whose heads look like they've been inflated by an air pump, that something was up? Sure we did. We kept going anyway. We'll keep going anyway.

The problem with drug abuse or any other type of performance enhancing activity in professional sports is that it is expected behavior and the only time it's punished is when it is caught. To stop this, the fans (yes, you and me again) will have to cut the monster's head off. We'll have to stop going to the games. Can you do that? Would you do that for Baseball, Football, Hockey, Soccer, Tennis, Running, Golf, etc. etc. etc? Can I do that?

Tell me what you think,

Regards,

Dennis

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Can We Please Get Past This Religion Test?

The link on the title post takes you to an article on the Huffington Post written by Ryan Davis. In this, he castigates another Huffington Post writer, Jason Linkins, for writing a criticism of another writer who posts on The Huffington Post, Lawrence O'Donnell, who may be better known to you as a sometimes character actor (Big Love, West Wing), sometimes producer (West Wing), sometimes political pundit (McLaughlin Group, MSNBC) for "losing his ever loving mind" about Mormonism.

The catalyst for the two articles was a passionate castigation of the Mormon faith by Mr. O'Donnell on the aforementioned show The McLaughlin Group, where he declared that Mitt Romney (the reason why Mormonism is now top of mind) should be held to task for a religion he proudly proclaims as his faith that until 1978 had declared black people unworthy of the faith because they were the decedents of Ham and Cain. Whew, what a mouthful, and also, what a pant load. Mr. O'Donnell was right regarding the views of the Mormon faith and the timeline of when a "divine revelation" was given to a Mormon elder that said it's OK for blacks to join the church.

Mormonism is also top of mind because one of the other devoutly religious presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee, made an off-hand comment that Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil were once brothers. This stirred up a hornet's nest of rebuttal, indignant statements that Mitt was being persecuted because of his faith, etc. etc. Huckabee is/was a Southern Baptist Minister (I don't know if you can ever stop being a minister once you've had the calling. How does that work? "Hey, God, I quit! or, Hey God, I need a sabbatical to run for public office, cause you know, the stress of this job is just too much). Anyway, I digress. Huckabee is also a very shrewd politician, and knows this plays well in Iowa and pretty much anywhere south of the Mason - Dixon Line. He's not making off-hand comments without a purpose. He knows, this will make a few of the "true-believers" stop and think about Mitt Romney and his crazy religious beliefs being in the White House. "Holy Smokes!", they'll say, "we can't have someone that nutso with their finger on the button. Let's vote for the other guy who believes in a virgin birth, a resurrection, and the idea that someone died for every one's sins, past, present and future, and if you just believe in him, when you die, you'll live forever". Yeah, that makes much more sense.

OK, I'm sure I've just pissed off every fundamentalist Christian and Mormon who bothers to read this blog (all 2 of them I'm sure). But, you know, I don't care. I'm tired of this nonsense. It's the 21st century A.D., not the 21st century B.C. If you want to be spiritual, and think there's something out there that binds us all together, and that we will be better people by maintain a belief in treating others as we want to be treated, then great. I'm all for it. However, the minute one of you (you know who you are) ask me to believe the hocus-pocus, you lose me. I don't need to believe that God made the earth in 7 days to think that there's some greater force out there. I don't need to believe that Moses talked to a burning bush to believe that people can be inspired to great things. You guys (same you guys again) try too hard. As a result, you miss the point. See if you can match the following "Wow, did that really happen?" to the person and the faith. If you know all of this, then you've either gotten very curious about religion overall, or are a religious studies scholar, or are a nut job. (Note: answers at the bottom of the post)

1. Man receives revelation from God in the Form of Golden Tablets. Has to sit separated by a curtain in a small house dictating the message to a friend to write it down otherwise the friend would be struck dead if he gazed on the tablets or the person dictating the message.

This is either:
A. Jesus - Christianity
B. Joseph Smith - Mormonism
C. Elijah - Judaism
D. Muhammad - Islam

2. Man strikes the River Jordan with his clothing, the water divides and he and a companion start to cross when a chariot picks him up and he ascends into heaven

This is either:
A. Jesus - Christianity
B. Joseph Smith - Mormonism
C. Elijah - Judaism
D. Muhammad - Islam

3. Man gets executed by the Romans, is taken to a tomb and three days later walks out of the tomb alive, spends some time with his friends, and then ascends into heaven.

This is either:
A. Jesus - Christianity
B. Joseph Smith - Mormonism
C. Elijah - Judaism
D. Muhammad - Islam

4. Man has a conversation with the Angel Gabriel, visits his church farthest away from home, tours heaven and hell, and speaks to Abraham, Moses and Jesus. He also ascends into heaven.

This is either:
A. Jesus - Christianity
B. Joseph Smith - Mormonism
C. Elijah - Judaism
D. Muhammad - Islam

OK, the point of this rant is that we need to "Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar's, and Render unto God that which is Gods". Or, in a less ecclesiastical form, separate church and state. The founders knew what the hell they were thinking when they created the establishment clause guaranteeing freedom of worship and freedom from worship. It's worked fairly well over the last couple of hundred years and I say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". The evangelical movement of the late 1970's and early 1980's through groups like the Moral Majority have attempted to push theology into the public square for some time and have been remarkably successful in two ways. First, we have a "religious test" of national candidates. There is absolutely no way that any acknowledged atheist or agnostic would every seriously be considered for the office of the president. Additionally, I would find it remarkable if a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist or even a Jew would be seriously considered for president.

Secondly, they have effectively turned a national debate on serious issues around health-care, security, education and charity into a religious argument. Don't think so? Then, please, by all means tell me that Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, the Moral Majority, Operation Rescue, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, are not political action groups. Anyone who takes issue with these people winds up on the ash-heap of political has-beens. Don't believe me? Then I give you one John McCain, war hero, pragmatist, conservative (fiscally), and Senator from the great state of Arizona. He was Barry Goldwater's legacy. In 2000, when Mr. McCain was running for president, he made the terrible mistake of castigating these fundamentalist groups (not Christians mind you, but the groups I've mentioned above) as "voices of intolerance". He was arguing that perhaps there was a better way to use their influence. Just to prove him wrong, they mounted a vicious campaign against him and helped fund a smear attack in South Carolina alleging he had an (gasp!) illegitimate black child. This, and the fact that his chief rival for the Republican nomination, that bastion of piety himself, George W. Bush, went out of his way (Bob Jones University kiss-ass) to declare himself a born-again Christian and help the offended groups chop McCain off at the knees. So much for John McCain the "straight talking pragmatist". Mr. McCain has been re-born as the fealty swearing, feet washing, oil anointing, holy roller that goes to Liberty University to give a commencement address and basically reinvents himself to align with the Christian Right.

Look, if you want to worship Jesus, Moses, Mohammad, or any of the other literally thousands of deities that human kind has at one time or another decided was the real God, then fine, be my guest. However, don't expect me or anyone else who is devoutly sceptical to line up with you when you tell me that only your God and the Presidential Candidate who worships him/her/it are the right choice. I'm not buying it.

Tell me what you think,

Regards,


Dennis


ps. the answers are (1b, 2c, 3a, 4d) If you got them all correct, please go see a movie or something.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Legacy?


One of my new favorite political blogs, "The Politico", has an excellent article on the attempts of the Bush administration to "rehab" his image in 2008. The article describes attempts by Bush's aides to set up a plethora of activities from trips to AIDS ravaged countries to economic policy, and an attempt at another photo-opp middle east peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
This is really nothing new, as all two-term presidents have been mindful of their legacies and how history would regard them. This time however, it is different. There is little in my mind that George W. Bush can do to redeem himself from being enshrined in that list of Top Ten Worst presidents ever.
Try as he might, peace will not come to the middle east. As a matter of fact, his presence on the dais with Olmert and Abbas can only make things worse. Mr. Bush's legacy is and will be the man who set the Middle East aflame and then left it for another to clean up.
The eight years of this administration has been so bad for America and the rest of the world that it is highly likely no Bush will achieve the presidency again in our lifetimes. Sorry, Jeb. Mr. Bush has a litany of sins that he will have to atone to, but perhaps the largest is playing the citizens of this country as suckers. Lying, mis-direction, secrecy, abuse of constitutional powers (signing statements anyone?), and his utter contempt to do any self-reflection and admit that yes, he may have screwed up occasionally only paint a picture of arrogance and self-delusion.
The man that feels "called by God" to the leadership of our country needs to think about what condition the country will be in when he finally leaves the office that God put him in. Will we be better off than we were when he arrived? I think not. What kind of legacy is that?
Tell me what you think,
Regards,
Dennis