Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Next Election

The U.S. presidential campaign process for 2008 is well under way. The Republicans are so fractured by W's failed presidency that they are fielding everyone from Mormon erstwhile abortion supporters to previously ousted Newt Gingrich (who began by attacking Karl Rove) and now another actor who is being compared to Reagan, but only loosely. The Democrats are busy shooting themselves in both feet as usual due to the difficult balancing act their pretense as champions of the people forces on them when placed side by side with their allegiance to the same corporate structure that so strongly backs the Republicans.

For the common man, the issues are clearer, but will never come up in the presidential debates because they are too deeply seated in our government's approach to both internal operations and international relations.

For the well-being of the people of this country, it would be necessary for the politicians to completely change the electoral campaign process and the legislative process so that, in both cases, no leverage other than that offered by public money could be allowed access.

For the well-being of the world, the next president must not only find a way to extricate American troops from Iraq but also to completely change our approach to fighting terrorism. The fact is that our military approach has not only failed to slow the growth of terrorism in the Muslim world, but has actually added a great deal of fuel to the fire.

This fact was brought home in spades over the past three days in Florence during debate between American and European officials on how to combat terrorism at an NYU sponsored law school conference. Europeans hold that police investigation and the criminal justice system are the only way to successfully fight terrorism. The U.S. military method, "foments rather than subdues terrorism". They also hold that our methods are alienating Muslim youth, citing a new alliance between Al Qaida and Moroccan based groups, they expressed expectations that more terrorist acts will take place in Europe. Britain, in particular, is bracing for increased internal terrorism. The final consensus among participants was that the next president's priority will have to be damage control – trying to undo the terrible damage that our current administration has done to international relations.

Sadly, I fear that we can only be sure of one thing that will come out of the next election and that is that neither of these essentials will be adequately met.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Adam Kokesh

If you haven’t heard about Adam Kokesh, you should. In fact, we should do all try to stop the kind of persecution that is being perpetrated upon him and who knows what other honorably discharged veterans who have come out against the war in Iraq.

The Marine Corps is threatening to revoke Adam’s honorable discharge and change it to Other Than Honorable because he has protested against the war. Kokesh made the mistake of wearing military clothing during a demonstration, but it was strictly a prop for a mock combat unit action in Washington, D.C. He wore no name tag and no insignia of rank. He even removed the Marine Corps tag. He probably overstepped the boundaries of gentility in his response to the Corps' summons, but he doesn't deserve to have a blight put on his life for it.

On June 4, the Marine Corps will hold a hearing in Kansas City, MO. Adam is being re-activated just for the hearing so that they can discharge him again with an Other Than Honorable discharge. This for a man who has served two tours in Iraq during his six years of service. He has been on inactive reserve and was due for complete separation on June 18, just fourteen days after this hearing.

If ever there has been a case of punishing a citizen for speaking his mind in America, this is it.

Contact Kelly Dougherty at if you would like to find out how you can help. Kelly is Executive Director of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Also, if you wish, you can support the effort to fight this kind of suppression by helping with Adam’s defense fund. Either send a check made out to IVAW with “Adam Kokesh Legal Defense Fund” in the memo line to P.O. Box 8296, Philadelphia, PA 19101 or visit, then click on the Support IVAW Box in the upper right hand corner and then on the Donate Now box further down the page. Type “Adam Kokesh Legal Defense Fund” in the Special Project Support Window.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Be Well Cindy

Word circulated yesterday that Cindy Sheehan had resigned from the Democratic Party and the peace movement. In doing so, she wrote a letter which is posted at

This is hard news for the peace movement. Cindy has long been a strident but unimpeachably valid voice for the anti-Iraq war movement in this country. She is a mountain of rock in the movement. I am a mote of dust, but I can relate to her decision as, I'm sure, can anyone who has ever held a leadership position in such a movement.

Immediately upon learning about the Camp Casey she established across the road from W's Texas ranch in memory of the son she lost in Iraq, I led the effort to set up a sympathetic Camp Casey here in Springfield. It was one of my life's most harrowing experiences.

The first day went swimmingly. We had a very large turnout for our town, but the second day brought an invasion from a local war-mongering Rush wannabe and about 50 of his listeners (hopefully at this point that would be all of them). He left late in the morning, but many of them stayed for the next two days and into the nights. Their obscene heckling often triggered inappropriate responses from some of the folks on our side.

I learned over those three days that our side had as many nuts and loose cannons as the other side did. I spent as much time trying to console and control overwrought peace marchers as trying to contain the abusive behaviors from the other side. We had to call the police in three times the last day. I was able to leave around 10:00 the third night only by calling the police and asking them to clear the lot of people from our side. That was the last time I agreed to take a leadership role in such an effort. I just don't have the will to wrestle with all the people who, consciously or not, do everything they can to undermine the work. Combined with the pain of doing things like reading the names of the dead soldiers, I can't take it.

Cindy Sheehan's efforts to get America to understand that her son's life was taken in a false cause have been monumental and have unquestionably taken a huge toll on her emotional well-being. I broke down while reading the names of the dead because I came to one that could well have been the son or grandson of one of the fellows I was in basic training with. Cindy, every day for the last three years, has not broken down while intoning the name of the own lost son in the same context. The weight of just that task would be enough to crush most of us, but she also had to deal with daily villification by detractors and, far too often, the press - as she did here in Springfield and, ultimately, had to conclude that even the Democratic Party she was counting on to turn things around was paying no real heed to her words and her work. We're all fed up with them, but for her their perfidy was a direct, personal blow.

Namaste, Cindy. May time and love heal your wounds. May the nuts and loose cannons now leave you alone.

The nation owes Cindy a great debt. Our hopes for her well-being ought to be with her today and for many days to come. She did a great deal to open the nation's eyes to the horror that BushCo has unleashed upon the world.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Monday, May 28, 2007

In Memoriam

Today’s front page calls on readers to remember the fallen and tells us that to date 3,839 U.S. service members have died and lists the 72 Missourians who are on that list.

Their imprecation is certainly proper. We must remember those who have given their lives in this war. We must remember that their patriotism was so strong that it called them to risk their lives for their country; for that is what they believed, and that belief is worthy of remembrance.

We must remember that these people were the kind of folks who thought about others. In the face of what they saw as the risk terrorism poses to their friends and relatives, they were the ones who were willing to put their lives on the line to protect them. For this, they deserve our unending admiration and respect, and their deaths rightfully cause us grief and sorrow.

There can be no doubt that this kind of altruism is the highest calling of duty to one’s own kind. There can also be no doubt that the call to make that sacrifice is one that should never be made except in the most demanding circumstances. No one should be asked to lay down his life for his country unless that country is under imminent threat. No one should be asked to fight under the flag of any country unless that country’s future and freedom of its people are threatened.

No one carries a heavier sin to his grave than a leader who would ask his countrymen to die on false premises, and that is exactly what the leadership of America has done. The fact that they did this makes the grief we feel for those who gave the last full measure even deeper for those of us left to remember. The fact that they did this should not be forgotten or go unmentioned either. If Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney can sleep well at night, it is because they have no regard at all for those whose lives their political wills have taken.

By all means, give some time today to the memory of those who have died in the belief that they were protecting us. Tomorrow, though, give some time to the effort to remove those responsible from the positions that enabled them to do this to our soldiers.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Friday, May 25, 2007

Piled Higher and Deeper

THE PROGRESS REPORT of The Center for American Progress Action Fund for May 24, 2007 reported that:

Congressional leaders say they dropped Iraq timeline legislation because "White House attacks that they were again on vacation" for Memorial Day while the troops were fighting on the ground "seemed more politically threatening to them" than anger "from the left by bowing to Mr. Bush."
That’s just great. Our Congress proves once again that re-election is much more important to them than America’s future and the well-being of our military.

Three more military language specialists have been discharged for being gay, and the House Armed Services Committee wants the Pentagon "to explain how it can afford to let the valuable language specialists go."
Oh yeah. Let’s keep those “values” in the fore-front. The nature of someone’s sexuality is always more important than their value to national security. Every righteous American knows that.

"Hoping to subdue a rising wave of resistance" within their ranks, House leaders "are set to put their long-stalled lobbying reform package to a vote today."
So this morning’s news tells us all about the “reform package” that Congress voted on to ensure that they won’t have to give up their place at the trough. The saddest thing about all this is that when the lights go down and the camera is turned off, all members of both parties can be heard slurping up the deep green slop. You just can’t see their faces. If you look closely tomorrow, though, you’ll see the greedy drippings on the fat jowls of Republicans and Democrats in equal measure. How will we ever get rid of them?

Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has sued the White House " alleging the administration refuses to comply with a public records request related to more than 5 million e-mails from administration officials that have gone missing."
Just one more reason to ask, “Have you no shame?”
And, finally:

All over all the news this morning is word that our Congress has handed Mr. Bush all the money he wanted for his war - no strings attached. (Plus a lot of pork, of course.) Arguments for it included that not to pass it would be to abandon our troops. What about the argument that to pass it leaves them entirely vulnerable in Iraq? Is there no validity to the desire to remove them from danger? As for what we have done and will continue to do for Iraq, find the interview with an Iraqi family debating on whether or not to abandon their home at Sorry I can’t give you a direct link, but as I write this, they haven’t posted it yet. Just find the link to Morning Edition on the left margin of the NPR home page and then look for the Middle East section.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Immigration and Intelligence

Two stories jumped out of the news this morning about both of America’s wars – immigration and Iraq. The first is the combination of deliberations in the Congress about immigration law, an immigration related bust of a local employer and the city’s declaration that they will “curb illegal workers”. The second is a report about the warnings the U.S. intelligence agencies distributed widely within the government before we invaded Iraq.

I have been silent on the immigration issue largely because it is such a complex and murky issue that I wanted to see where congressional deliberations led. As usual, though, the tendency seems to be to focus on the bottom layer of the problem (i.e. the immigrant laborers) in both the creation of law and its enforcement.

This week, a major area employer was raided and nearly one-half of their employees arrested based on their illegal worker status. No charges have been filed on the employer who says that they comply with all laws and verify the names, dates of birth and social security numbers of all prospective employees. If that is true, then there is a serious problem with the data base. After all, each American gets one and only one social security number in his/her life. Can’t the number be cross checked in our data bases to determine who owns that number? If it can’t be, then the check is useless. If it can be, then the employer is manipulating the system. In either case, heads out to roll somewhere.

Springfield’s crackdown on illegal workers is really scary. They will fine employers $500 if they find that they hire illegal workers and $1,000 for a second offense. Loss of license comes after the third offense. Count up the number of businesses in town and then count up the number of busts in our history and see whether you think employers’ knees are knocking yet.

On the other hand, those workers arrested at George’s are being charged with everything the government can come up with. The U.S. Attorney, John Wood, made a powerful statement about his “…obligation to preserve the integrity of our nation’s immigration system by enforcing our immigration laws.”

What integrity? Our economy has always run by exploiting the lowest workers in the chain. We have done our best to ignore immigration laws from the beginning. Just last year there was a huge debate in California over whether or not the state should issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. We have court decisions about allowing their children into school and allowing illegal immigrant families to enroll in government sponsored health care programs. We lure people into the country to fill jobs and then we show our indignation for their having answered the call by throwing them into jail and giving their employers a slap, not even on the wrist but on the back.

Just as in Medicare and Medicaid fraud, our idea of immigration law enforcement is to make a show of enforcement by coming down hard on a few of the folks on the receiving end while we ignore the corruption, manipulation and incompetence nearer the top.

So what will we do about it? Well, let’s build a wall reminiscent of the Israel/Palestine monstrosity. Let’s expand our law enforcement capacity to catch them trying to get across the border. Let’s build some prison camps to put them in after we catch them and then let’s continue to ignore the ones who manage to get through and take the jobs we have waiting for them. Maybe we ought to pass a tax cut for employers whose production gets cut by the occasional raid, too. Now that’s the American way.

As to the prewar intelligence – it was just that an invasion of Iraq would most likely result in chaos and a new breeding ground for al-Qaida. There was no real surprise there. It’s just another little straw on the pile. My only question any more is whether or not there will ever be a straw that breaks this camel’s back.

Maybe it’s time somebody asked Congress and the American people - “Have you no shame?”

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Back in the beginning of time, when I was still scratching for my undergraduate degree, I had to take a course called Propaganda Analysis. It wasn’t the deepest subject I ever encountered, but it did teach me a few things that have helped to cut through the smoke screens the media puts up all the time.

This morning’s paper was loaded with them; starting with the headline, “Intelligence asserts al-Qaida, Iraq link: Bush declassifies information that says bin Laden envisioned Iraq as staging area” immediately followed by “Radical cleric al-Sadr poised for power grab: The anti-American Shiite leader’s backers say he is hiding in Iran”.

It amazed me that, prior to our invasion of Iraq, the majority of people in America believed that Saddam was harboring al-Qaida, but it is certainly more amazing that some continue to do so and that this headline will do its little bit to sustain that impression. There’s no way to confirm this, but I know darn well that a few rabid war supporters in my home area will read only that headline and its subhead and then conclude that Mr. Bush was telling the truth all along and Saddam was supporting al-Qaida when he was in power in Iraq.

All one has to do, though, is read the first line of the story to learn that bin Laden ordered a move into Iraq in 2005. Uncritical readers will not note that 2005 was two years after we invaded that country. Nor will they conclude that the opportunity for al-Qaida to gain a foothold in Iraq did not crop up until two years after America established clearly that they would be unable to achieve control of the country.

The irony here is thick enough to be called iron for short. Bush, the story says, declassified this information in an attempt to defend his war strategy, but a thoughtful reading reveals that his war strategy caused the opportunity. And yet, his argument will be swallowed and reiterated by those who constantly seek reasons to support this war.

The reason for leaning on al-Sadr’s presence in Iran, of course, is to keep the notion of Iran as a harborer of evil in the forefront of American thinking. Al-Sadr is not our friend. Iran is not our friend. Therefore, the intended conclusion is, both are evil, and headlines like this are employed to keep subliminal American outrage at Iran at a high enough pitch that we might support another invasion; this time into that country. Fact is that al-Sadr is in Iran along with a couple of million other Iraqis who have fled the horrors we have let loose on the streets of Baghdad and every other city and town in Iraq, but we never hear about them through our media.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly do not support al-Sadr in any way. He is not the sort of fellow one would hope would end up in control of any country, but the fact is that our invasion and destruction of the status quo in Iraq set the stage for his kind of leadership. The ultimate irony will be that the United States, which under the sway of the far right so often acts like a Christian theocratic state, has unseated a secular (though undesirable) government in Iraq and most likely enabled a new Islamic theocracy that will be virulently anti-U.S. for the foreseeable future.

Oh, what tangled webs we weave . . .

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Honoring the Fallen

The radio this morning brought news of legislators in Arizona seeking to illegalize the use of the names of soldiers killed in action for purposes designed to stop the war. The offenders would be war protestors who wear T-shirts with the names of military victims on them.

This is a fairly sticky issue because the effort grew from the anguish of parents who have lost sons or daughters and who feel that use of their names in protesting the means of their deaths will demean the value of their sacrifice.

I can understand their feeling that way. No one would want to think that their child died for naught. Parents who want this law undoubtedly continue to support the war, and most of them, I am sure, feel that if they didn’t continue to do so, the pain of loss would be magnified.

As one who has both served in the military and protested this war, I think I can empathize with these folks to a great extent, and I’m sure I can’t say much that would ease their anger over this issue. However, I also believe that this kind of legislation is inappropriate.

I have participated in ceremonies during which we read the names of the fallen, but I have never known a protestor who acted out of disrespect for a fallen soldier. In fact, the protestors I know are deeply grieved by the loss of each life that war takes. I know, too, that a great many people have trouble grasping the concept that protest is designed to honor those who gave their lives. The willingness to risk one’s life for his fellow man is certainly noble. “No greater love hath a man than this; that he lay down his life . . .”

The protestor does not devalue the fallen soldier even though he does demean the cause for which he died. In fact, his grief for that loss is heightened by the knowledge that this young person should never have been placed in danger. We honor those who serve, but rail against a culture that doesn’t offer clear alternatives to military service as a way to serve the country and the world.

Most of us believe that war is practiced far too often and could usually be avoided. Most of us believe that WWII was a war that had to be fought, but precious few, if any, conflicts since then fit into that class, and we believe that America could stand on much higher moral ground if we quit glorifying the sacrifice of our young people’s lives in favor of glorifying more humanitarian efforts.

Just think what we could have done if we had used the billions of dollars we’ve thrown into the fires of Iraq to fund the willingness of those fine people who died there in more positive, less destructive pursuits.

Who will be the next terrorist, the son whose father we kill, or the father whose son we feed?

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Monday, May 21, 2007

No Troop Withdrawal

If you ever had any question about the long term plans of the U.S. in regard to troop withdrawal, you can now lay them to rest. Testifying in the Senate, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was asked about plans to withdraw from Iraq.
"We have published no orders directing the planning for the overall withdrawal of forces," Pace replied. "We do have ongoing replacements of forces, and we do change the size of the force over time so that that system is available to either plus-up or draw down, but we have published no orders saying come up with a complete plan for total drawdown."

Okay, so what does that mean in street-speak? It means just exactly what the neo-cons came in to the Whitehouse to accomplish which is, in their words, “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” (Long time readers of my rants will know that this came from a document called Rebuilding America’s Defenses that was published back in September, 2000 by the bunch of loony neo-cons that lead the Bush foreign policy team. If you have not read this document, you really owe it to yourself and your country to follow the link above and do so. Otherwise you cannot fully understand why BushCo introduced such a militant form of leadership.)

But I digress! Getting back to General Pace’s testimony, let’s explore what he means by “no published orders saying come up with a complete plan for total drawdown”. What he went on to explain was that he foresees decades of American troop presence in bases in Iraq. Well of course he does. What else have we been building all those military bases over there for!?!?

As he sees it we will have 30-40,000 troops there for a long time to come. That’s one-quarter of our current force level. He named a couple of bases in his testimony – Tallil and Bashar, but the fact is that the U.S. has built or is building about many more bases “in-country”. The two reasons NPR’s reporter gave for the troop placement are training Iraqi police and military and guarding the oil. As most of the bases have been built right along the path of the oil pipelines, it isn’t hard to see which gets priority.

Global reported on this long ago:

"On 23 March 2004 it was reported that "U.S. engineers are focusing on constructing 14 "enduring bases," long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops expected to serve in Iraq for at least two years …”

By May 2005 the Washington Post reported that plans called for consolidating American troops in Iraq into four large air bases: Tallil in the south, Al Asad in the west, Balad in the center and either Irbil or Qayyarah in the north. Eventually, US units would be concentrated at these four fortified strategic hubs, from which they could provide logistical support and emergency combat assistance. Each base would support a brigade combat team, along with aviation and other support personnel."

In light of all this, I thought the following quote from Donald Rumsfeld in the same article was quite interesting, "I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed in any meeting. ...” Given that the neo-cons were talking about it in 2000 and that Don Rumsfeld hobnobbed with those boys on a regular basis, this would be a really surprising statement if we weren’t so used to Rummy and the rest of BushCo playing so fast and loose with the truth.

A permanent American presence in Iraq? Oh no. We’ll only be there as long as the oil holds out. In that sense, I guess you could claim that Rummy gave us the truth. I guess my complaint is just that I so constantly have to bend over and grab my ankles so that BushCo can shove their truths home.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But
in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pressed for Time

Finding myself uninspired by this morning’s news, I decided just to share a poem I wrote in 1973 while living off my garden alongside a pristine Ozarks stream during my “Thoreauvian” period.

I hope you’ll enjoy this little respite from my usual daily political ponderings and take advantage of it to enrich your own shores.

Only seems to lose time while it

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But
in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Falwell Legacy

Jerry Falwell died this week. He leaves behind quite a wake. Depending upon whom you ask he might be God’s finest emissary or just a caricature of the quintessential radio evangelist raising money on one hand and hell on the other. There is no doubt about one legacy he leaves, though. It’s not entirely of his making, but he has certainly had a hand in maintaining one of the world’s oldest prejudices – homophobia.

Locally, a private university just this morning announced that it would allow same-sex domestic partners of its professors access to health care and other fringe benefits. As part of the announcement, they mentioned that they would not make the same concession for unmarried heterosexual partners. As this town is also the home of Central Baptist College – Jerry Falwell’s alma mater – Bible Baptist College, Evangel College and the national headquarters of the Assembly of God, there will no doubt be much hullaballou about the “gay agenda” and the issuance of “special privileges” for gay and lesbian partners. (Never mind that the straight couples could be married if they so chose, but that the gays couldn’t.)

Nationally, the news is that the issue is heating up again in Massachusetts because two judges there ruled that as the state has a civil union law for gays, it must also recognize the New York marriages of gays who might chose to move to Boston. Even in Massachusetts, the home of the Kennedys and one of the last strongholds of Democratic sway, people have a hard time accepting that their gay friends and neighbors ought to have the right to the same quality of life that they enjoy.

This is largely thanks to the kind of religion that the Right Reverend Falwell and his ilk preach. (I almost said practice, but the fact is, of course, that homosexuality is just as common in those circles as it is anywhere else. It’s just more stringently repressed and denied.)

It will be a bright day for all religions and all peoples of the earth if the strict interpreters of the Bible and other such holy texts ever decide to pay attention to everything their manuals say instead of picking and choosing the verses they choose to use against their fellow man as Falwell and his sort do. If the church had had its way, we would all still believe that the universe revolves around the earth and the earth is flat. Such assertions are dropped because our evolved body of knowledge leads us to understand that conservative authorities often strive to maintain control by denying progress. It is high time that we recognized the effect of that process on our thinking with regard to sexuality.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But
in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace - BR

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

True Colors

Our local paper completely ignored this story this morning, but the testimony of former deputy attorney general, James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday was widely reported by more astute media. The Los Angeles Times did a credible job, though, as did the NPR afternoon news show, All Things Considered.

The most complete report I’ve read, though, came from the website Comment is Free Here is an excerpt:

It fell to Ashcroft's chief of staff, David Ayres, to break the news (of Comey’s decision not to OK the NSA surveillance program) to the White House. And as he drove home after doing so, he called Comey to relay a message from Ashcroft's wife, who was at the hospital with her husband: Someone had called her - Comey remembers vaguely that President Bush was involved - to say that Andrew Card, then the White House chief of staff, and Gonzales, who at the time was the White House counsel, were on their way to the hospital. Comey surmised that Card and Gonzales were going to pressure Ashcroft, ill as he was, to override Comey's decision. Comey called his own chief of staff and told him to get as many of his people to the hospital as quickly as possible. He directed his driver to use sirens to get him to the hospital on time. And when they arrived, FBI Director Robert Mueller instructed his own agents not to remove Comey from the hospital room under any circumstances. Comey and two more justice appointees awaited Card and Gonzales, all the while trying to get Ashcroft cognizant enough to withstand any pressure to recertify the program.

Just that paragraph should be enough to demonstrate how Bush Administration top officials deal with issues. Gonzalez and Card’s reputations must have preceded them to the hospital. Otherwise why would anyone be concerned enough about their visit to alert Mr. Comey, and why would he immediately assume that the two were going to coerce the Attorney General into overruling Comey? And why would the Director of the FBI feel impelled to order his agents NOT to remove Mr. Comey from the room unless he anticipated that the two would try to remove him?

The program was reauthorized the next day without DOJ consent. Many including Mueller prepared their resignations, but President Bush, much to his credit, issued an order that the program should be altered to comply with the DOJ position and thus forestalled those resignations.

Arlen Specter, sitting in during the committee’s deliberations, compared Comey’s testimony too the “Saturday Night Massacre” under the Nixon Administration saying, “It is hard to say how the DOJ can function with Mr. Gonzalez where he is.” The national reaction to this testimony over the next few days and the coming weeks will bear important testimony to whether or not our system still works.

Back in the day, my flagging belief in our system was buoyed by the fact that it worked to take Richard M. Nixon out of office in the face of just this kind of activity. At this point my faith in the system is even lower than it was in those days because I think that the offenses committed by the current administration make Nixon’s crimes look like chewing gum in school.

Will the system work again to look deeply enough into the background of Mr. Comey’s story, the firings of the federal prosecutors and other abuses to lead the nation to the ultimate conclusion that this kind of behavior is possible only because the top levels of the administration believe that their agenda is so strong and valid that the law shouldn’t apply to them?

If it does, the logical result should be the removal of the whole nest of snakes that now occupies the Whitehouse. If so, my faith in America will be renewed once again. If not, my pessimism will be rewarded with the sure belief that the nation is doomed.

It is worthy of note, though, that the possible exception to removal from office might be Mr. Bush himself. While I believe him to be the most incompetent president ever to sit in the oval office, I also believe that he is, as I characterized him yesterday, just an empty suit. I think he could as easily have been influenced toward the positive as toward the negative. He may just be the world’s most visible example of the weak-ego kid who finds himself in bad company. I would like to think that might be true, and if he should look at the evil by which he is surrounded and find the courage to react by rising up to throw the _____ers out, I’ll happily jump to my feet to applaud him.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But
in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Empty Suit Syndrome

Many right wingers are completely bumfuzzled at strong negative reaction of the left to their leader, G. W. Bush. Even though many of them have withdrawn their support for the man, that is because of his bungling the war in Iraq. They still somehow see him as a valid president and cannot understand the deep-seated contempt in which he is held by the left.

Well, as Dezi used to say to Lucy once a week, lemme ‘splain it to you.

There are many, many good reasons to consider W a failed and even despicable excuse for a president. My favorite one is his introduction of the concept of pre-emptive warfare as acceptable foreign policy. Many people think the best reason to hate the man is the immoral morass into which he sunk our reputation by embracing the idea that torture is an acceptable way to obtain information from prisoners. Others believe that no one who failed to win the popular vote should hold the presidency, and still others aver that the way he managed to do that smacks of illegality and a complete lack of ethical integrity. Others might castigate the man for taking over command of a country with a cushy surplus and a balanced budget and throwing good money after bad until, within months after taking office, we were in debt and sinking fast. Still others condemn him for fostering legislation that has eroded our rights and freedoms to wit; The Patriot Act, The Military Commissions Act, etc.

None of these reasons, however, are the biggest most pressing and most dangerous reason why this man should never have been and should not be allowed to continue to be the President of the United States. That reason is a longer term issue; one which risks the future of America as its citizens know it and the future of the very world as everyone knows it. That reason is the shadow government that really pulls the string and which thrives on the empty suit syndrome.

The right wing holds a very special place in its heart for Ronald Reagan largely because he presided over the demise of the Soviet Union, but those who maintain some objectivity about the man and his presidency recognize him as the first of the empty suits to fill the presidency while his “underlings” pulled the strings. Reagan was renowned for being lazy in office. His style was to trust his appointees to do the job while he noshed on jelly beans and napped. W’s style is the same, though he tends to nosh on hot dogs and watch football at the ranch in lieu of manning the oval office desk. W’s dad was ten times the man W will ever be, but he, too, was no towering paragon of mentality.

We’ve had other incompetent presidents in our history going back to Johnson (Andrew not Lyndon) and up through Hoover, but their incompetence was their undoing. For Reagan and W, incompetence is the secret of their success. In fact they were chosen for it. Their cabinets and advisors were enabled by it. A strong leader would have cut them off at the knees, but an empty suit provides the means through which to implement and enforce their agenda.

Here is the heart of the matter. Take a look at the continuity of the staffs and cabinets of the last three Republican presidents. What up-and-comers in the Reagan Administration became leaders in the Bush Administrations – particularly W’s administration? (George H. W. Bush, to his credit, could not be led around by the nose. He was a true patriot and man of his own convictions.)

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney both served with Reagan. Richard Perle served as aide to Casper Weingberger, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense. Collin Powell, National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan, Robert Gates, Director of Central Intelligence under G. H. W. Bush, Even Ollie North, commander of the Iran-Contra Affair has bobbed back up again on W’s watch. Less visibly, Douglas Feith and many other neo-cons have been working there way into the woodwork at the Whitehouse for lo these many years.

In my opinion, then, the real risk to the U.S. and to the world is the continuation of this line into the future of American politics. Just this morning, Newt Gingrich, ousted Republican power broker of the 90s, was interviewed on FOX news as a potential entry into the 2008 presidential race. Integrity doesn’t matter. Intelligence doesn’t matter – not that Newt isn’t intelligent, he is, but he is also a ruthless, purely party-line politician with no moral compass.

What matters to those “underlings” who really run things is that whoever is elected should be someone they can manipulate so that, in their single-minded thirst for power, they can continue to advance their destructive policies of American hegemony world-wide and citizen containment at home. Their best choice will always be another empty suit., and if Americans don’t wake up to this, I can’t see a very bright horizon anywhere.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M.K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace - BR

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Myth of the Monolith

As many observers have noted many times in the world’s history, one of the most powerful ideas that can be invoked to generate a patriotic response from any people is that of the “enemy”. The specter of the boogeyman lurking just around the next dark corner is enough to send us huddling together under the protection of our armies and persuade us humans to shoot at one another with great abandon.

To that end, extremists of an Islamic bent have labeled American soldiers as “crusader soldiers”. To that end the hawkish leaders of America, politicians and evangelicals alike, have labeled the fringe militants of Islam as “Muslim terrorists”. To that end, American airwaves constantly carry stories of the threats and atrocities carried out by Al Quaeda, which is characterized as the evil brainchild of Osama bin Laden, who from the caves of Afghanistan masterminds plot after plot designed to bring America to its knees.

Al Quaeda, many still believe, was always in cahoots with Saddam Hussein in these plots to destroy us. Al Quaeda, we are told, has arisen in Iraq in an attempt to take over the governance of that nation and wage war against us from that stronghold of Muslim terrorism. The boogeyman lurks in Iraq.

From the bombardment we receive on the subject through our politicians and news media, you would think that Al Quaeda was a bloc of Muslim terrorists banded together around the world hating Americans because we are free, following the dictates of their leader bin Laden in attack after attack on our women and children, torturers and murderers and evil-loving hatemongers who must be stopped in the name of democracy.

To be sure, Al Qaueda is not America’s friend, but to a great extent neither is America itself. We are our own worst enemy. We would rather listen to the scary stories about the evil that is out to get us than to clean up our own act in hope that the rest of the world might think more kindly of us.

We would rather worship the efforts of “America’s finest” to “preserve our freedom” than question our leaders as to whether or not those efforts are well placed. We would rather sing the praises of the democratic way of life than examine the effects of our actions on the lives of others.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush visited Jamestown, America’s first settlement of Englishmen and women, where he talked of their efforts to establish “the roots of democracy”. He spoke of a proud heritage of freedom and liberty for all. He spoke of the rights ownership they established that gave Americans the ability to advance themselves, each in accord with his own abilities, but all under the umbrella of a state protective of their rights. He alluded to Iraq and the efforts to establish democracy there in the same vein.

I heard his words, but humming beneath them was the song of the oppressed. Yes, Jamestown provided Englishmen with the ability to claim land for their own – but only at the expense of the native peoples who had a different concept of land ownership and management. Yes, those Englishmen were able to work “their” land, but only through the use of slaves were they able to manage the job and expand so successfully. Yes, he claims to be advancing the cause of democracy in Iraq, but only through the use of outlandish force, the destruction of established infrastructure, and the displacement of millions of people.

In the end, it comes down to a classic debate: Does the end justify the means? When the means are as destructive as the annihilation of native peoples, the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people, and the displacement of thousands upon thousands of individuals, America’s history shows that we have consistently believed that the ends do justify the means. But isn’t it about time that we questioned that premise?

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M.K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But
in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Friday, May 11, 2007

In Search of Happiness

If I were somehow able to compute the amount of time I have spent in my life pondering the nature of human happiness, I’m sure it would be an embarrassingly large number of hours. My mother used to coach me that the secret to living well was to do things that brought me happiness. I have cogitated over constitutional issues from the first day I encountered the document and noted that one of the rights guaranteed to all Americans is the pursuit of happiness. The danger in this lies in making poor decisions about what makes us happy.

Last week while listening to one of my favorite radio programs, The People’s Pharmacy, a health oriented talk show hosted by Joe and Terry Graedon, a couple of pharmaceutical types from the University of North Carolina, I heard a most interesting interview with Daniel Gilbert, PhD, Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has written a book called Stumbling on Happiness. His main assertion is that human beings suffer from an inability to identify what it is that will make them happy so that they can act in a way that will bring them true happiness.

As I recall it, Dr. Gilbert found through extensive research and study that happiness comes from wealth only to the extent that the wealth lifts us from insecurity to security in the knowledge that we do not need to fear starvation or exposure to the elements. In other words, if we increase our income enough to lift us from poverty into the middle class, our happiness increases commensurately. After that, though, happiness must be sought in other ways because, he also found that increasing wealth above that level does not increase happiness commensurately.

This comes as no real surprise. Just look at the American culture. Here is a people that has complete control of the richest continent on earth; a people who compose about 5% of the world’s population but consume over 25% of its wealth; a people who have the most cars per capita, the most square footage of housing per capita, the highest earnings per capita of all the people in the world. And yet, here is a people who live in a paranoid state -- constant fear that it will all be taken away somehow -- believing politicians who tell them that others are jealous of their wealth and their freedom; so jealous that they would wantonly kill us to take it all away.

We don’t just live in fear of “the others”, though. We more realistically live in fear of our own citizenry; that segment of our population that does not have real access to that wealth. Our upper classes and more and more of our middle class members live in gated communities; secure at night only in the knowledge that the gates are closed, the guards are on duty and the security system is armed and functioning.

With all this wealth, why is it that we are so insecure? Is it really because we have so much that we are afraid others are going to take it away from us? I don’t think so. I don’t think that level of insecurity arises from that kind of logical rationality. I think it is more deep seated than that and at the same time closer to the surface.

As Dr. Gilbert says, increasing our wealth above the level of security brings little or no return in the form of happiness. In fact, there is no doubt that a more equitable sharing of wealth could increase our personal security. If we were all on nearly the same level a great deal of the motivation for attack and theft would be removed. Why would we “covet thy neighbor’s goods” if they were little or no different from our own?

I’m not advocating a communistic system that in its utopian embodiment would equally divide the national product. “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need” is a wonderful sentiment, but not a working manifesto. What I am advocating is that we as individuals and we as nations could operate more effectively under some manifesto other than “winner take all”, which I see as the way the U.S. has tended to operate throughout its history.

Want happiness? Then listen to Dr. Gilbert. Listen to Maslow. Listen to Skinner. Listen to Gandhi. Listen to Jesus. Listen to Mohammed. Listen to Buddha. They all brought it down to the same formula. Seek self actualization through material gain only to the extent that you are secure, then seek it through expansion of your mental and spiritual capacities and the well-being of others.

Not only is all that glitters not gold, but all that’s gold is not of equal value. Individually, we must sift through what is available to us and learn to recognize that which is of true value and that which is frivolous. Beware the velvet trap -- the belief that we will thrive if we have all the soft, cushy, fun little luxuries that demonstrate to others that we have “made it”. That’s the American syndrome -- our national neurosis – and it has predictably made us not happy but rather stingy and obnoxious. We want it all. We’ve got it all. And like spoiled children, instead of gaining friends by sharing what we have, we create enemies by clutching it to our chests and screaming for more.

Our so-called leaders keep telling us that “they hate us for our freedom”. My response to that is in the last verses of my song “Bob Dylan Revisited”:

They don’t hate us for our freedom, They’d just like to have their own.
They don’t hate us for our riches, Though they know we’re sonsabitches,
They just don’t want us stealing it from them.

‘Cause we use it for our pleasure, And don’t pay them in fair measure,
And we sit and eat our popcorn while they starve.

If we could each find our personal peace in the comfort of our own accomplishments, we would have little to envy one another for.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But
in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Republican Rift?

Yesterday, as reported by Tim Russert, eleven Republicans met with Mr. Bush to tell him, among other things that, "The word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House or even you, Mr. President. There's no longer any credibility. It has to come from General Petraeus."

No longer any credibility in the Whitehouse – words that many of us have been shouting from the rooftops for several years with no apparent effect, but pretty powerful when they come from Mr. Bush’s own party. I wish they had come because the party had come to realize that they should be dealing more openly and honestly with the American public and that they had seen the light regarding the offenses committed by the Commander-in-Thief, but, no. The public breakdown of the Republican support for the BushCo position on Iraq has begun only because the mortar of loyalty has begun to crack under the hot light of realism that impending elections tend to cast our political parties.

Led to the Whitehouse by Mr. Boehner, the junior congressmen were simply making sure that their constituents would see that they were not aligned with BushCo so that, when the ballots hit the polling places in 2008, the citizenry might still feel like voting their traditional straight ticket instead of throwing the bums out for supporting this fiasco from day one.

These may be tangled webs we weave, but they aren’t very thick. In my estimation very few Senators and Congressfolk have earned the right to retain office next time around. If they aren’t smart enough to have seen all along that this emperor had no clothes, I don’t want them tailoring laws on my behalf.

Lord bring us some candidates who will speak and act on sensible truths and deliver us from the axis of weasels. Amen.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But
in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace - BR

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Surge Results: Al Qaeda Resurges

From comes this story:

In the months after September 11, President Bush declared victory over the man he once pledged to capture “dead or alive” and began turning his focus to Iraq:
I am deeply concerned about Iraq. … I truly am not that concerned about [bin Laden]. … We shoved him out more and more on the margins. He has no place to train his al Qaeda killers anymore. [President Bush, 3/13/02]
The results have been predictable: As the U.S. has been mired in an Iraqi civil war, bin Laden has slipped away from the crosshairs and is using his freedom to help al Qaeda resurge all over the Middle East. U.S. News reports this week that “bin Laden already has a safe haven in Pakistan — and may be stronger than ever” as al Qaeda “retains the ability to organize complex, mass-casualty attacks and inspire others.” Bin Laden is behind much of this resurgence:
The broader movement inspired by al Qaeda has only grown bigger, largely because of the group’s powerful propaganda machine. Bin Laden and Zawahiri have been able to fill in the gaps between their megaplots with a rising stream of smaller-scale, homegrown attacks.
Now, well over five years after 9/11, some administration officials are conceding they may have been too hasty in declaring victory over bin Laden:
Privately, U.S. officials concede that they had overestimated the damage they had inflicted on al Qaeda’s network. The captures of successive operational commanders, including 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, amounted only to temporary setbacks; they were replaced with disturbing ease. “We understand better how al Qaeda is withstanding the offensive that was launched against it in 2001 and later,” says a senior U.S. government official.
Bush is using the rise of al Qaeda as fodder to promote his misguided escalation plan in Iraq. He now claims that al Qaeda has made Iraq a central front in the war on terror, but al Qaeda leaders view Bush’s Iraq strategy as more opportunity to launch attacks against U.S. troops. “Iraq has, of course, been an undeniable boon for al Qaeda, both as a battleground and a rallying cause,” U.S. News adds.

Although this article uses one of today’s journalism’s most awful ploys – a quote from “a senior government official” – it’s a good example of the way Mr. Bush can accept and use the most twisted logic.

How is it possible for him to believe that he might win his “war on terror” – a term, BTW, that most diplomats including those from the UK have decided is not of valid use – by ignoring bin Laden? How can it be that the war in Iraq is the central fight against terrorism if the world’s most wide-spread terroristic group, Al Qaeda, is growing as the war progresses? How can “the surge” be the right approach if the result is the “resurgence” of Al Qaeda?

And yet, television news last night reported that the majority of Republicans, who are dropping away from Mr. Bush like flies from DDT, continue to support the war. How can this be?

The answer lies in one of the small experiences yesterday brought into my life. In response to a group email a friend of mine sent out yesterday complaining about Ann Curry’s interview with the Syian President Al-Assad. My friend was asking everyone he emailed to stop watching NBC news reports because he “. . . watched Ann Curry, NBC foreign correspondent for NBC, become as much of a traitor to the United States of America as Jane Fonda was during the Viet Nam war”.

One of his respondents replied that he never watched NBC anyway. All I need to know, he said, I get from FOX.

There lies the central problem in all of the mess America is in. It is that a significant number of people seem to think that anything that is published that is not in line with presidential policy is left wing propaganda. I never thought I would see this country come to such a state. The unquestioning followership implicit in this kind of thinking is every tyrant’s dream.

If American’s don’t wake up to the danger this kind of thinking poses to the future of their freedoms, they will wake up one morning to a dictatorship that only poses as democracy.

Wait a minute, didn’t we do that yesterday?

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But in silence we surrender our power.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The End of the IRA

Today marks a remarkable turn in the history of a nation and a bit of a tweak to our family story as, in Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley and Martin McGinnis will jointly assume power in a shared government.

Those who had to live through the enmity between these two men and their followers know best what a remarkable thing this is, but those of us who only casually watched their conflict can also appreciate what a milepost has been reached. As Senator Ted Kennedy characterized it, this day proves that it is possible for enemies to put aside their guns and their bombs and find a way to live in peace.

All of my life, I watched from the distant wings as Northern Ireland continued the horrendous terrorism that was woven into the tapestry of my family history. As a small child I was aware that my mother's sentiments, and a bit of her money, were with the IRA. It didn't take much prodding to get her to share the story of her parents and how her father, Peter Bannon on their wedding day, June 3, 1911, so the romantic version goes, told her mother, Mary Francis Flatley, that there would be times when he would be off involved in things about which she was to ask no questions. She agreed to this demurely, and, of course, it was his involvement with the IRA that he was hiding. But it wasn't until the Rising of 1917 that he found out that all along she had been smuggling arms for the IRA; sometimes using their babies as blinds by hiding arms and ammunition in the pram. Mom was proud of her role as a smuggler; though little she knew of it at the time.

The Republic of Ireland grew out of that and many other efforts, and the stories I was told were all of titanic heroism and so ignored the horrors of the actual terrorism that achieved that lofty goal. They also included some remaining support for the fight in the northern half of the country, a fight that has gone on until this very day.

So I grew up thinking the IRA was cool, and not realizing until my late teens that a better description was cruel. Stan Rogers, the great Canadian songwriter, said it best with these lines from "The Cruel IRA":

"But all rights and all wrongs have long since blown away
For causes are ashes where children lie slain,
Yet the damned UDL and the cruel IRA
Will tomorrow go murdering again."

I never thought that in my lifetime these words would become obsolete, but it looks as though the Irish have found a way to eschew "arms to arms" and instead walk forward arm in arm. Surely there will be some fireworks in the future polemics of the two sides, but they will be cold ashes compared to the firebombs they used to throw. And so . . . take a moment today to be thankful that in that green little corner of the world those in power have had the depth of character to put down their arms and shake hands.

Such men surely have a great deal to teach the rest of us. Pray to your Gods that we will all listen and follow suit.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But in silence we surrender our power.

Yours in Peace - BR

Monday, May 7, 2007

Executive Powers

The concentration of all power in one place is the very definition of tyranny. – James Madison, Federalist Papers No. 10

The founding fathers crafted a governmental structure based on the idea that separating powers within that government would result in checks and balances that would prevent any branch of government from becoming tyrannical. It is the deliberate erosion of those checks and balances that most alarms me about the present administration.

The power of declaring war was vested by the Constitution, not in the Executive Branch, but in the Legislative Branch. That branch abdicated its responsibility in granting the Executive the power to attack Iraq in such a way that the president feels that he is also empowered to attack Iran without consulting Congress.

The power of creating laws was vested in Congress, too, but this administration has used signing statements to declare itself exempt from following those laws, thus effectively removing the power of those laws to control Executive behavior in any way.

The power of enforcing laws was vested in the Judicial Branch. Very shortly after 9-11, the Justice Department, through John Ashcroft, presented Congress with a 1200 page law title The Patriot Act. (I have always thought it was amazing that they could so swiftly create such a huge and sweeping act unless they were standing by with it in hand waiting for the right opportunity to present it, and ,further, that this was the Judicial Branch creating law by herding Congress into such swift action without time to study the proposed legislation.) It was rushed through Congress purportedly in a fit of patriotism spurred by 9-11, and it contained provisions that allowed the arrest and detention of persons identified by the administration as being involved in activities dangerous to governmental policies. Those same provisions prohibit anyone else from making knowledge of the arrest public. The ultimate effect of this is that relatives and friends of detainees are not able to protest the arrests through the courts. This gives the Executive Branch power beyond that of the Judicial. It can not only keep the detainees and their families away from the courts, but allows the initial arrest to occur solely on the word of the Executive.

These powers have not yet been used extensively against American citizens, though we can see the methods for their implementation in the way people have been arrested and confined at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. We can see the shadow of the future in the detention centers which have been and are being built in the United States. Who are they designed to hold?

A clue lies in the fact that last November, the "President" Bush effectively achieved the repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) through enactment of the Defense Authorization Act. The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibits any use of the U.S. military for law enforcement while the Military Commissions Act authorizes that use by
". . .allowing the President more control over the National Guard [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order WITHOUT the consent of the nation's governors." – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)

Senator Leahy went on to stress that, "we certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy. One can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders while someone who has never visited their communities gives the orders." A few weeks later, on the 29th of September, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had "grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report," the language of which, he said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law." This had been "slipped in," Leahy said, "as a rider with little study," while "other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals." A familiar strategy?

In a telling bit of understatement, the Senator from Vermont noted that "the implications of changing the (Posse Comitatus) Act are enormous". "There is good reason," he said, "for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy. We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty."

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, "allows the President to declare a 'public emergency' and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to ''suppress public disorder''"
What's the risk Senator Leahy fears so? Check out this out:

Today, the United States presides over a burgeoning empire - not only the "empire of bases" first described by Chalmers Johnson, but a far-flung new network of maximum security penitentiaries, detention centers, jail cells, cages, and razor wire-topped pens. From supermax-type isolation prisons in 40 of the 50 states to shadowy ghost jails at remote sites across the globe, this new network of detention facilities is quite unlike the gulags, concentration-camps, or prison nations of the past.

Right now, it has only four major centers - the "homeland," Afghanistan, Iraq, and a postage-stamp-sized parcel of Cuba. As such, it already hovers at the edge of its own imperial existence, bringing to mind the unprecedented possibility of a prison planet. In a remarkably few years, the Bush administration has been able to construct a global detention system, already of near epic proportions, both on the fly and on the cheap.

Soon after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the U.S. began the process of creating what has been termed "an offshore archipelago of injustice." In addition to using "the Charleston Navy Brig" and locking up "one prisoner of war in Miami, Florida," according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Bush administration detained people from around the world in sweeps, imprisoned them without charges and kept them incommunicado at U.S. detention facilities at a CIA prison outside Kabul, Afghanistan (code-named the "Salt Pit"), at Bagram military airbase in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, among other sites.

We may never know how many secret prisons exist (or, for a time, existed) in the shape-shifting American mini-gulag, but according to the Washington Post, some locations for these black sites include itinerant CIA detention centers "on ships at sea," a site in Thailand, and another on "Britain's Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean."

Earlier this year (2006), news broke that Halliburton subsidiary, KBR - the firm infamous for building prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay and for scandals stemming from work in the Iraq war zone - received a $385 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build detention centers (in the United States), according to the New York Times, "for an unexpected influx of immigrants" or "new programs that require additional detention space." -- American Prison Planet By Nick Turse,

Every American should fear the potential apparent in a super strong Executive Branch unchecked by the balance of powers as much as James Madison did if not more given the mounting evidence of Executive disregard for public and Legislative opinion. Even if the Bush Administration never uses these potentials, a future administration could unless we have the foresight to dismantle them, and I don't see many signs of that.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K. Gandhi

Yours in Peace - BR

Friday, May 4, 2007

Mr. Smith Goes to Pot

As a Midwesterner who “served my country” during the Viet Nam “war”, I cling desperately to values that seem on the verge of becoming extinct.

In my lifetime I have seen America move from honoring the productive laborer to worshiping a self-centered, super-rich aristocracy; from rejecting McCarthyism to declaring that citizens may be deprived of their rights if government feels they pose some undefined sort of threat; from recognition that the Constitution allowed freedom from forced religion to inability to influence public thought unless at least leaning toward some form of right wing fundamentalism; fjavascript:void(0)
Publishrom liberator of Jewish holocaust victims to operator of an offshore prisoner of “war” camp for Muslims; from a formal position of non-aggression unless attacked - alterable only through Congressional action - to a request for the presidential right to declare war without Congressional input; from a society secure enough in its freedom to fight publicly against infringement of rights to a citizenry cowed into unthinking silence by the dictates of our own greed and an unresponsive government; from a governmental system seen around the world as fostering an unprecedented level of individual freedom to a self-interest driven aristomocracy seen by two-thirds of the world as the thief of their personal freedom and national wealth.

In short, we have gone from idealizing Mr. Smith in Washington to valuing the dollar above personal integrity.

It is high time that we listen to Thomas Jefferson who held that we should overturn the government periodically to keep it from becoming its own reason for existence. At this point, the majority of Americans don’t even use the path by which it should be done – the ballot.

I doubt that any public office currently held in the United States was filled through vote of the majority of citizens. About 25% of eligible voters actually go to the polls in any given election. Why? - because the vote is so routinely wasted on the lesser of two or three evils that people have entirely lost their faith in its power for good.

There may be a ray of hope, though. Maybe the present regime’s policy of ignoring common people and internal affairs while throwing the delicate purchase we briefly had on fiscal strength into the military abyss will backfire on all of us so that we become poor enough to go back to work, collectively recognize that the worker is no longer considered valuable, and fight for our rights once again. Gee, thanks, Mr. Bush.

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace -- Jimi Hendrix

Yours in Peace -- BR

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Honor in Service to One’s Country

This morning’s news brings a welcome breath of fresh air from the Bush Administration. Condasleeza is going to meet with her counterpart from Syria, and it’s to be a real meeting, not the chance encounter she hinted at before leaving for the Iraqi called summit. Maybe BushCo or at least Mr. Bush himself has at long last learned that even America is not powerful enough to use gunboat diplomacy all the time. The world is sick and tired of the cocky, “clear the way” attitude of the American government, so this should come as a great relief. Time will tell, and it won’t take long, how seriously Dr. Rice will approach the meeting, but at least she will be exposed to the humanity of her “enemies” instead of just hurling bombs at them from 20,000 feet as America is far too willing to do.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to share with you some thoughts I’ve had about national military service. I hope some of my readers are of the age to be considering whether or not to offer their services to their country’s military and that this essay will offer some meaningful counsel for that decision.

War has its allure. One’s nation sounds the call for help and its youth answer with the pledge that they will die before allowing their nation to lose its honor, its integrity, its territory or even its right to exist. That response says to all who see it that this young person is no longer a child, but a warrior and a patriot. But I ask you to carefully consider that patriotism is honored in every country.

It was honored in Britain when the Nazis were showering it with bombs every night. It was honored when American youth answered the call in response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It was also honored in Germany and Japan. It doesn’t matter whether the cause is truly honorable. What matters is whether or not one answers the call. When one answers the call, one is loudly proclaimed to be a patriot no matter what the cause.

When the cause is a Pearl Harbor, there is no doubt that the correct patriotic response is to accept the call and enlist. But if in a democracy the call is to climb into the planes and go bomb Pearl Harbor, the correct patriotic response is to refuse to touch that plane.

Under totalitarian regimes, such as Japan and Germany were before World War II, the only way one is allowed to show patriotism is to answer the call. In a democracy it is more patriotic to refuse a call to unjust war than to answer it.

I answered the call to the war in Vietnam. Ultimately, I did not have to go to Nam, but I donned the uniform in the belief that I was supporting my country in a just effort to save the world from communism.

I was wrong.

My patriotism was used against me to enable my country to carry on a war that had nothing to do with my nation’s future viability and everything to do with saving face for its president. My true patriotism would have been much better expressed had I refused to serve and spent my time protesting that political war. I had some great experiences in the army. I served with some of the finest people I have ever met. But . . .

I regret that I threw my patriotism blindly behind an unjust cause and contributed in my small way to the deaths of 58,000 Americans and so many more innocent Vietnamese people. Wearing a military uniform is not the only way to serve one’s country.

War is the worst, most horrible possible answer to a political problem. It is hugely wasteful of both lives and resources, and in the case of Iraq hugely wasteful of the goodwill America had in its political bag of tricks before the war.

I beg you.

Before you decide to show your patriotism by going to war, ask whether your country would benefit more by your protest than by the sacrifice of your life in the cause you are being asked to further. Carefully examine the motives of your leaders. Question the truth of their words. Then decide.

If you decide to serve without doing that review, you are offering your life for a cause you do not understand.

If you do examine the issues carefully and then decide to serve in support of the war, you deserve honor as one who believes his country needs him. If you decide not to support the war, you deserve honor as a true patriot – one willing to put personal acceptance on the line for the meaning and value of democracy and to serve the country by insisting that its government act honorably.

Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live? If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. – M. L. King, Jr., 1967

Yours in Peace -- BR

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

War Budget Bill

At last, the Democrats in Congress are at loggerheads with the Bush Administration. Bush objects to any budget language that limits the time we will keep troops in Iraq. He warns that funding delay will soon leave troops inadequately supplied.

Mr. Bush ignores the reality that his mission in Iraq will never be accomplished, while Congress has offered to supply more than the amount of money the administration requested.

In my opinion Congress should respond not with a compromise designed to meet some of Mr. Bush’s demands but with a harsher bill. Remove all references to anything except military expenses and include only money for withdrawal of the troops. NOW!

Due to the power of the press to ignore and thus stifle his arguments, Senator Gravel of Alaska, now campaigning for the presidency, probably doesn’t stand a chance but his suggestion for Congressional action is right on the money. They have two rights in this situation -- the power of the purse, and the power to withdraw their approval for the conduct of the war. In other words, they can pass a budget that could be used only to rebuild our military in a way that would better meet our needs for national security in an effective effort to curb terrorism and a law that says they do not authorize continued military intervention in Iraq. That would leave Mr. Bush with two choices -- withdraw the troops or disobey the law – end of debate.

Don’t look for that to happen, though. It would call for cojones of a kind that Congress doesn’t appear to have.

Believe it or not, though, I do agree with Mr. Bush on one point, though not for his reasons. When he says the “benchmarks” are not acceptable I say the response should be to remove them from the bill. Mr. Bush’s reason is to hedge against the potential for having to remove the troops if the benchmarks are achieved. My reason is that one of the benchmarks is the privatization of Iraq’s oil reserves. Such privatization would hand ownership over to the major western oil companies – bald-faced robbery.

Why are Democrats so reluctant to go back to the roots of this war to justify their opposition to it? As another blog I read yesterday pointed out, we really only have one party – the Business Party – with two subdivisions – Republicans and Democrats. Neither party can go so deep into the others’ smoke and mirrors without blowing the bottom line.

Despite his denials, Bush’s objections all point to the fact that his opposition to their approach is based on his desire to establish a permanent American presence in the Middle East. Regardless of the public statements about establishing a democracy, removing Saddam, etc., that goal is very clear in the documents his cronies use as their roadmaps for this power play. Link these two in public discourse and the Bush plans would unravel like a cheap sweater. But, again, the Democrats lack the fortitude to push such a point to its ultimate conclusion.

Oh, what tangled webs we weave . . .

Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live? If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. – M. L. King, Jr., 1967

Yours in Peace - BR

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Drain the Swamp

An AP story this morning tells the tale of the tape from the “war on terror”. The opening line tells it all: “Terrorist attacks worldwide shpt up more than 25 percent last year, killing 40 percent more people than in 2005, particularly in Iraq where extremists used chemical weapons and suicide bombers to target crowds, the State Department said Monday.”

Now you tell me – is it possible to be any more mealy-mouthed than the Secretary of State (Condasleeza Rice) going around the world spouting off about how righteous the U.S. is to carry out its war on terror while her own State Department’s report shows how ineffective the “war on terror” has been?

A “legitimate” act of war is carried out by a nation with a formal army. A “terroristic” act of war is carried out by individuals or groups separate from any nation, but having a shared ideology. Terrorists are like mosquitoes. They can swarm out of the swamp at night and make big enough pests of themselves to really ruin your fun, but they can’t inflict crippling damage. As Ryan Amundsen, brother of a 9-11 victim once said, “Do you fight mosquitoes with a sledge hammer? No. You can’t swat mosquitoes with a sledge hammer. What you do is drain the swamp.”

Our approach of using massive air attacks and mobilizing our Army and Marines is definitely a sledge hammer. A “terrorist” on his most effective day might take out a hundred people. A “sledge hammer” warrior on his most effective day might take out several thousand. Among them will be a few terrorist, yes, but what is the ultimate effect? My response to that question has for years been another question: Who will be the next terrorist, the father whose son we feed or the son whose father we kill?

Our “war on terror” is bogus. We always need an enemy, and Iraq is a way to keep patriotic fervor in high pitch while we attempt to gain control over resources and stabilize the region, but it is no way to fight terrorism. Obviously the stabilization effort is a bust, but the administration still remains fixated on grabbing control of the resources. If you need proof, just watch the debate over the war budget bill over the next few weeks. Both the Dems and the administration will make sure that the provision that Iraq must privatize its oil production survives the negotiations. Nothing else really matters to them at this point.

And speaking of bogus, here’s another one to watch. From the moment George Tenet showed up again touting his new book, I began to wonder what his motivation was. For a long time I thought he had fallen on his sword in leaving his job as CIA boss under the “cloud” of delivering poor intelligence prior to both 9-11 and the Iraq war. After all, anyone with any savvy at all knew there were no WMDs , that Iraq posed no threat to anyone, and that Saddam never supported Al-Qaeda, so I never believed the bull that the CIA didn’t know these things. When Bush awarded Tenet the Medal of Freedom after he resigned, it became obvious that he had been paid off.

This new book, at first blush, seemed to be an attack on the Bushies, but then, as alluded to in yesterday’s blog, it became apparent that he was still laying the intelligence failure at the feet of the CIA, basically exonerating BushCo from responsibility for manufacturing and distorting intelligence.

Thankfully, it didn’t work quite as planned because yesterday six other CIA agents who had worked under Tenet emerged to give the lie to his spiel. They characterized Tenet as a weak leader who kowtowed to the administration while on the job and still is doing so. They made it clear that they all knew the intelligence Tenet offered the Whitehouse and Colin Powell was bogus.

Still, I suggest you hide and watch for a few days. I only heard of those agents from one source, and I’d bet the farm that they will receive damn little air time and Tenet will remain the “big story” for maybe 24 more hours before the whole thing fades beneath the journalistic glow of some celebrity’s divorce. Once again, Tenet has fallen on his sword. What will W reward him with this time, a few thousand shares of Iraqi oil futures?

If we could drain the swamp of terrorism and clear the muck out of Washington in one fell swoop today, we could all wake up smiling tomorrow!

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. – Jimi Hendrix

Yours in Peace - BR