Friday, December 16, 2005

Xmas Cheer: Well, I'm off on my usual two-week Christmas break. There are so many blog items I wanted to write before I left, but I never got around to it. And today seems to be full of news.

  • President Bush apparently ordered domestic spying to find terrorists following the 9/11 attacks. The most shocking part is that The New York Times delayed publishing the story for a year to confirm it through additional reporting. Still, while we all expected the federal government to take additional leeway in finding terrorists, the thought of the NSA snooping on Americans' lives is chilling. We need to investigate to see whether the Bush administration went beyond the limits of the law. Then we need to see whether the law goes beyond the limits of common sense.

  • Bush backed down and endorsed Sen. McCain's torture bill. The legislation is vague and restrictive. But it may be necessary considering all the bad publicity the United States has been getting. I personally haven't seen anything that indicates that the U.S. is crossing the line with any invasive interpretations or out-and-out torture. There may have been a few bad cases, but those are the exceptions. The problem is the torture bill may unnecessarily tie our hands. Don't get me wrong, torture is immoral and it usually doesn't even work. Nobody should want to torture, but we should keep the threat alive. Now the terrorists know they can sit on their hands and wait us out, no matter how harsh the interrogator's voice gets. Remember, these terrorists have broken international law by committing war crimes, targeting civilians, and torturing and beheading their captors. While we don't want to go anywhere near their level (I doubt we ever could), they don't deserve any special protection.

  • Zarqawi might have been caught, then inadvertently set free over a year ago when Iraqi police didn't recognize him. And I was having such a good day today.

  • The House of Representatives voted to create a 698-mile wall between the U.S. and Mexican border. Just great. I wonder where they expect to get the cheap labor to construct this wall.

  • The Iraqi parliamentary elections were a tremendous success. This time the Sunnis even showed up. Unfortunately the major cities had to be held in virtual lockdown to prevent violence in order to facilitate the ballot process. But I think the joy from this small taste of democracy will ensure everyone in Iraq has a very merry Christmas (... er, wait).
That's it for now. Y'all take care. Have a Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas. I'll see you in 2006.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Civic Duty: New Orleans is known for its tours, whether of stately mansions or Ann Rice vampire landmarks. With much of that gone, the tour busses are taking visitors to see the devastated areas in the city. This has caused some controversy, as some residents don't want their personal pain to be on display.

But the tours should go on, not just for the economic boost they could provide, but the opportunity to show people first hand how bad the mess really is. If morbid, thrill-seeking, rubber neckers -- like me -- are going to venture down to gawk at the death and destruction, someone in New Orleans should make a buck off it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

'Tis the Season: Every year we get the same debate over whether we should say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or "Enjoy the Yule". These discussions in the media tend to get more heated each time. I'm afraid someday someone will claim to be offended by "Happy New Year" because the Chinese New Year isn't until the end of January.

I'm a God-fearing Agnostic who celebrates Christmas with my family, most of whom are Christians who never go to church. I still say "Happy Holidays" out of habit. It just makes more sense, and I used to work at a business during high school that encouraged us to use the all-inclusive phrase when talking to customers. This same business gave each of us a $25 gift certificate and a brand new Bible as our Christmas bonus. I still have the Bible, it sits on my desk at work. Haven't quite finished reading it though.

The real issue in this debate is, of course, the extremists.

The Left side of the debate is made up of devout secularists as well as the loudest among those who are religious but haven't accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. For some reason many of them are offended by the term "Merry Christmas". If you are offended by someone uttering the equivalence of "Have a nice day", then you deserve to be offended for being such a prick. If a Muslim said something along the lines of "Happy Ramadan" to me, I would accept it as a nice gesture of his trying to be inclusive and wishing me good tidings. In short, he was just being nice.

Then on the Right side are the Christian nuts who are offended by "Happy Holidays". This is supposedly political correctness running amok. And, according to anonymous conservative friends of mine, political correctness running amok is going to drive this country into the ground. Personally, I think this country is stronger than that.

This issue could be easily settled if people would just realize that Christmas is not a religious holiday. Oh, sure, most of the songs mention Jesus in some way, and both the X in Xmas and the Christ in Christmas are meant to represent the Messiah. But Santa, reindeer, presents, candy canes, Frosty, etc. are all related to our Savior's birth as much as the Easter Bunny is to His resurrection. (And Peter saideth unto Paul, "For lo, I was collecting Easter eggs when what's-His-face showed up in a bunny suit. I thought the Romans killed him a few days ago.")

Christmas is a consumer holiday and a time set aside to spend time with loved ones. It's winter, it's cold, let's relax together by the fire and exchange presents and sing songs.

Plus, Jesus was most likely born during the springtime, according to biblical scholars. The Catholic Church chose the December 25 date as a propaganda tool to convert some German Pagans. The Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice occurs around the same time, which the Pagans celebrated by lighting candles in evergreen trees while dancing naked. Some of those traditions have been passed on, and fortunately others have not.

Obviously, many true Christians revere Christmas. And as a sign of their personal religious faith, they openly celebrate and to display their beliefs. And because the vast, vast majority of this country is Christian, these often turn into community celebrations.

Of course, we should try to be inclusive to other members of our community who don't share the same beliefs as us. That inclusiveness should come not by fretting over whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays", but by smiling and wishing someone a "Happy New Year" in response to whichever way someone else reaches out to you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Whose side are you on?

The state of California just killed an innocent man!
So yelled Tookie supporters who witnessed the execution of Stanley Williams, the founder of the Crips gang. They shouted this in front of the families of people killed by Williams.

Williams was tried and convicted for murdering four people. During the 25 years sitting in California's death row, his conviction has been upheld. Still, some people say that Williams might not have been the gunman.

I'm skeptical of that claim, but even if it were true, Williams is still one of the founders of one of the most deadly gangs this nation has ever seen. The Crips, along with their rivals the Bloods, have wreaked havoc in Los Angeles, and their brand of violence has spread across the nation. Thousands have died, more lives have been ruined, and communities were left in shambles.

In the past quarter century of sitting in prison, Williams did apologize, and he has been publicly active denouncing gangs. And that really is good. But it does not make up for the pain he has caused.

I usually despise such extreme analogies, but in this case the gang warfare in this country is similar to domestic terrorism. And technically, Osama Bin Laden has not killed anyone, that we know of. He didn't fly the planes on 9/11. He was just a spiritual leader. Yet, even if we catch Bin Laden today, and 25 years later he has repented, converted to become a devout Agnostic, and wrote books against terrorism, that does not redeem what he is doing now.

No, Tookie is not anywhere near as horrible as Osama Bin Laden. But Williams has committed crimes worthy of the death penalty, and for that he was rightly punished.

If activists want to carry on the legacy of Stanley Williams, they should not paint him as some victim. Youths need to know that gang activity has serious consequences. We shouldn't point to law and order as the bad guy. Instead we should hold Williams up as an example of what happens when you do terrible things to people.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Just Silly: Leads like this make me laugh.

Killer whales are the most toxic mammals in the Arctic, riddled with household chemicals from around the world, the environmental pressure group WWF said on Monday.
What cracks me up is that the World Wildlife Fund sued the World Wrestling Federation over the rights to "WWF" and won. I've never been a wrestling fan, but I still relate WWF with wrestling instead of environmentalism.

So when I read something like that, I end up picturing some 300-pound beefcake wearing spandex and a feather boa while yelling about how the World Wrestling Federation is out to save the whales.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mid-Life Crisis: Mitt Romney is returning to his moderate roots, at least temporarily. He had been scoping out social conservative stances in preparation for his presidential run. But recently he decided to require all hospitals to provide morning-after contraception to rape victims -- denying private Catholic hospitals an exemption that they sought.

I can't imagine such a little gesture would torpedo his chances at the Republican presidential nomination. But even if it does, at least he's doing the right thing.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Help Wanted: Something I've wanted to do if I didn't have a job to do, is count the number of "number 3" men in Al Qaeda that have been captured or killed. Apparently there have been four or five already, according to Blogenlust (Hat tip: Slate's Chatterbox).

Dilbert's Scott Adams has a blog and writes a funny post saying that no matter how bad you think your job is, it can't be as bad as being the new Number 3 at Al Qaeda, which has got to rank as the worst job in the world. Scott's nomination for best job? That's the U.S. military guy who gets to snuff out the Number-Threes by firing missiles from computer-operated predator drones.

Insult to Injury: Talk about a crackdown. A 73-year-old man was crossing the street here in DC, got struck by a car, and later died of his injuries. But before he was rushed to the hospital, the police issued him a $5 ticket for jaywalking.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Food for Thought: For the first time ever, I may have been right about something.

A few months ago, I shared with you my secret to a healthy lifestyle. I call it the eat-what-tastes-good diet.

The logic is simple. If it tastes good, it has to be good for you, because our taste buds evolved to enjoy the foods that our bodies need. Mix in some outdoor activity and exercise, and you're living just as well as our evolutionary ancestors (nevermind, Mr. Hobbes, that their lives were generally solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short).

Now academic researchers are touting "intuitive eating". It's a no-diet diet that sets you free to eat whatever you want, with one major caveat -- you're only allowed to eat when you're hungry.

That befuddles me, because I don't understand why people would bother eating when they're not hungry. But then again, I'm always hungry and am well known to be scavenging my office for free food.

Still, it has had some success. Then again, so have the Atkins, South Beach, Slim Fast, Jenny Craig, and Abu Ghraib diets.

The lesson here is that there's no reason to overly restrict your lifestyle. Just so long as you feed your primal urges in -- say it with me now -- moderation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Nevermind the Bollocks: Quote of the day.

When I left Britain twenty-one years ago, there was no question that America led the way in equal rights for gays. No longer.
That's Andrew Sullivan celebrating Britain's decision to allow gay marriage. Legally, the arrangements are called "civil partnerships", but colloquially, everyone refers to them as marriages.

That's something I think we should adopt here in America. Gay partners who have decided to spend the rest of their lives together would be well served to refer to their loved ones as their husband or wife. They should participate in marriage ceremonies, even if their state laws don't recognize their relationships.

I'm not trying to tell gays how to live their lives. And Lord knows gays shouldn't treat marriages the way heterosexuals do -- with an eye toward divorce as an easy out whenever someone changes his or her mind.

But if people around the country get used to gay marriages, and see that there's nothing to be afraid of, then they'll be more likely to support legal recognition of such relationships.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sign On: The Coalition for Darfur is trying to help a Samuel Totten, a University of Arkansas professor who has closely studied attempts at genocide in different countries, collect signatures for a petition to encourage the United Nations to intervene in Darfur.

Please read here for details.

Batting a Thousand: Continuing with America's obsession with big round numbers, the news media has been contemplating the death penalty as we execute the 1,000th criminal since 1976, when capital punishment was reinstated.

Opponents are treating this news as a sad event, as if so many people have needlessly died. Am I the only one who looks at the number and think: That's it?

We have had well over 1,000 murders since 1976 -- many times more in fact. We've all heard that statistic that says someone is murdered in the United States every 30 minutes, or about 48 every day. Well, this means someone gets executed for those murders every 15,242 minutes, or about one every 10 days.

The fact that only 1,000 of those killers have been given the ultimate penalty means that we're not overzealous with our use of the death penalty. We're actually using it quite judiciously.

And if we want to compare the number of executions with other big round numbers, there have been more than 2,000 deaths in Iraq since 2003. That means it's many times safer to be on death row than to be in Iraq. I'll let liberals decide how they want to use that one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Not Getting Better: I've rather enjoyed reading Mickey Kaus, among others, rant about the inanity of Times Select. It makes me wonder: Are there any TS articles or columns worth reading that can't be found for free elsewhere on the Internet? I'll continue to do my part by posting Darfur-related columns by Nick Kristof. From the Coalition for Darfur.

Who would have thought that a genocide could become worse? But after two years of heartbreaking slaughter, rape and mayhem, the situation in Darfur is now spiraling downward.

More villages are again being attacked and burned -- over the last week thatch-roof huts have been burning near the town of Gereida and far to the northwest near Jebel Mun.

Aid workers have been stripped, beaten and robbed. A few more attacks on aid workers, and agencies may pull out -- leaving the hapless people of Darfur with no buffer between themselves and the butchers.

The international community has delegated security to the African Union, but its 7,000 troops can't even defend themselves, let alone protect civilians. One group of 18 peacekeepers was kidnapped last month, and then 20 soldiers sent to rescue them were kidnapped as well; four other soldiers and two contractors were killed in a separate incident.

What will happen if the situation continues to deteriorate sharply and aid groups pull out? The U.N. has estimated that the death toll could then rise to 100,000 a month.

The turmoil has also infected neighboring Chad, which is inhabited by some of the same tribes as Sudan. Diplomats and U.N. officials are increasingly worried that Chad could tumble back into its own horrific civil war as well.

This downward spiral has happened because for more than two years, the international community has treated this as a tolerable genocide. In my next column, my last from Darfur, I'll outline the steps we need to take. But the essential starting point is outrage: a recognition that countering genocide must be a global priority.

It's true that a few hundred thousand deaths in Darfur -- a good guess of the toll so far -- might not amount to much in a world where two million a year die of malaria. But there is something special about genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes.

Already, large swaths of Darfur are so unsafe that they are "no go" areas for humanitarian organizations -- meaning that we don't know what horrors are occurring in those areas. But we have some clues.

There are widespread reports that the janjaweed, the government-backed Arab marauders who have been slaughtering members of several African tribes, sometimes find it convenient not to kill or expel every last African but to leave a few alive to grow vegetables and run markets. So they let some live in exchange for protection money or slave labor.

One Western aid worker in Darfur told me that she had visited an area controlled by janjaweed. In public, everyone insisted -- meekly and fearfully -- that everything was fine.

Then she spoke privately to two sisters, both of the Fur tribe. They said that the local Fur were being enslaved by the janjaweed, forced to work in the fields and even to pay protection money every month just to be allowed to live. The two sisters said that they were forced to cook for the janjaweed troops and to accept being raped by them.

Finally, they said, their terrified father had summoned the courage to beg the janjaweed commander to let his daughters go. That's when the commander beheaded the father in front of his daughters.

"They told me they just wanted to die," the aid worker remembered in frustration. "They're living like slaves, in complete and utter fear. And we can't do anything about it."

That aid worker has found her own voice, by starting a blog called "Sleepless in Sudan" in which she describes what she sees around her. It sears at, without the self-censorship that aid groups routinely accept as the price for being permitted to save lives in Darfur.

Our leaders still haven't found their voices, though. Congress has even facilitated the genocide by lately cutting all funds for the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur; we urgently need to persuade Congress to restore that money.

So what will it take? Will President Bush and other leaders discover some backbone if the killing spreads to Chad and the death toll reaches 500,000? One million? God forbid, two million?

How much genocide is too much?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Jump Start: The governor of Virginia is making speeches about how we should go about finishing the job in Iraq.

Can we just make it official? Mark Warner has essentially announced that he is running for president.

That being said, I'm heartened to see that he has refrained from joining the cut-and-run chorus. Here's a quote from a Reuters story.

"This Democrat doesn't think we need to re-fight how we got into (the Iraq war). I think we need to focus more on how to finish it," Warner said.
See, he's even referring to himself in the third person. But not by using his own name, just his own political party. Ain't politics grand?

Anyhow, while 2008 is a long time away, it's good to see a centrist Democrat resisting calls (so far) to label the war in Iraq a mistake. We'll see whether he can maintain that position throughout the primaries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

War Games: A lot of my friends are concerned about this Asian appraisal of our fighting capabilities, and how the Tokyo governor publicly declared that the United States would never win a war against China.

This sounds like a challenge more than anything. But we can safely disregard this rhetoric for one simple reason -- We will never go to war against China.

Think about it. We never even went to war with Russia. Take a look around your house. What do you own that was produced in Russia? Some of you righties may have an AK-47, and you lefties probably have lots of Smirnoff. But those are the only things Russia knows how to make: guns and vodka.

Now take another look around your house. What do you have in your house that's not made in China? Going to war with China would bring economic chaos in the United States. That's the beauty of free trade, it brings diplomatic stability throughout the world.

True, militarily, the United States could never successfully take over China, but China could never successfully take over the U.S. either. That leads to a bunch of saber rattling, with nothing ever coming of it.

And that's a reason to be Thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Observation: The past few days at work have been extremely busy. I even had to work over the weekend and stay up most of last night typing my latest story.


Because the Thanksgiving holidays are approaching. If my office didn't have Thursday and Friday off, I could have relaxed more and gotten some sleep this weekend.

Just wanted to point out that holidays and vacation truly don't exist. You may now return to your previous state of misery.

Spread the Word: Coalition for Darfur sends out this NYT column by Nicholas Kristof about the horrors in Darfur. Unfortunately, the column is blocked by Times Select.

But I'm posting it in full. The New York Times can sue me, if it wants, and take all of my debt.

Never Again, Again?

770 words
20 November 2005
The New York Times
Late Edition - Final
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

TAMA, Sudan -- So who killed 2-year-old Zahra Abdullah for belonging to the Fur tribe?

At one level, the answer is simple: The murderers were members of the janjaweed militia that stormed into this mud-brick village in the South Darfur region at dawn four weeks ago on horses, camels and trucks. Zahra's mother, Fatima Omar Adam, woke to gunfire and smoke and knew at once what was happening.

She jumped up from her sleeping mat and put Zahra on her back, then grabbed the hands of her two older children and raced out of her thatch-roof hut with her husband.

Some of the marauders were right outside. They yanked Zahra from Ms. Fatima's back and began bludgeoning her on the ground in front of her shrieking mother and sister. Then the men began beating Ms. Fatima and the other two children, so she grabbed them and fled -- and the men returned to beating the life out of Zahra.

At another level, responsibility belongs to the Sudanese government, which armed the janjaweed and gave them license to slaughter and rape members of several African tribes, including the Fur.

Then some responsibility attaches to the rebels in Darfur. They claim to be representing the tribes being ethnically cleansed, but they have been fighting each other instead of negotiating a peace with the government that would end the bloodbath.

And finally, responsibility belongs to the international community -- to you and me -- for acquiescing in yet another genocide.

Tama is just the latest of many hundreds of villages that have been methodically destroyed in the killing fields of Darfur over the last two years. Ms. Fatima sat on the ground and told me her story -- which was confirmed by other eyewitnesses -- in a dull, choked monotone, as she described her guilt at leaving her child to die.

"Zahra was on the ground, and they were beating her with sticks, but I ran away," she said. Her 4-year-old son, Adam, was also beaten badly but survived. A 9-year-old daughter, Khadija, has only minor injuries but she told me that she had constant nightmares about the janjaweed.

At least Ms. Fatima knows what happened to her daughter. A neighbor, Aisha Yagoub Abdurahman, is beside herself because she says she saw her 10-year-old son Adil carried off by the janjaweed. He is still missing, and everyone knows that the janjaweed regularly enslave children like him, using them as servants or sexual playthings. In all, 37 people were killed in Tama, and another 12 are missing.

The survivors fled five miles to another village that had been abandoned after being attacked by the janjaweed a year earlier. Now the survivors are terrified, and they surrounded me to ask for advice about how to stay alive.

None of them dared accompany me back to Tama, which is an eerie ghost town, doors hanging off hinges and pots and sandals strewn about. The only inhabitants I saw in Tama were camels, which are now using the village as a pasture -- and which the villagers say belong to the janjaweed. On the road back, I saw a group of six janjaweed, one displaying his rifle.

Darfur is just the latest chapter in a sorry history of repeated inaction in the face of genocide, from that of Armenians, through the Holocaust, to the slaughter of Cambodians, Bosnians and Rwandans. If we had acted more resolutely last year, then Zahra would probably still be alive.

Attacks on villages like Tama occur regularly. Over the last week, one tribe called the Falata, backed and armed by the Sudanese government, has burned villages belonging to the Masalit tribe south of here. Dozens of bodies are said to be lying unclaimed on the ground.

President Bush, where are you? You emphasize your willingness to speak bluntly about evil, but you barely let the word Darfur pass your lips. The central lesson of the history of genocide is that the essential starting point of any response is to bellow moral outrage -- but instead, Mr. President, you're whispering.

In a later column, I'll talk more specifically about actions we should take, and it's true that this is a complex mess without easy solutions. But for starters we need a dose of moral clarity. For all the myriad complexities of Darfur, what history will remember is that this is where little girls were bashed to death in front of their parents because of their tribe -- and because the world couldn't be bothered to notice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fear Itself: This falls under the irrational fear category. A new poll reveals that many Americans believe cloned food is unsafe. Somehow, by making exact replicas of plants and animals, their food products will somehow be tainted.

Somebody needs to explain to everybody that cloned food is the same thing as the original food -- literally. An exact duplicate is created, and it's raised the same way as the original host. Doing such ensures the quality will remain identical.

This goes back to the widespread fear people have about genetically engineered foodstuff. For some reason people are afraid that fine tuning the food we eat at the genetic level will hurt people and the environment. The Left in Europe is so adamant about this that they won't allow potentially life-saving genetically altered food into Africa to feed staving people there.

The truth is we've been altering food genetically for centuries. It's called breeding. At the genetic level, we're just able to do it with more precision. The result is food that is healthier and hardier. But people who fear progress are endangering the people they are trying to protect.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It's Official: Alito doesn't like abortion and has said the Constitution doesn't protect abortion rights for women. I think we all knew this would be the case, but now we have evidence to back it up.

Oh sure, he's disavowing that comment. But it's pretty ridiculous that he would try to do such a thing. It's one thing to abstain from answering questions about future cases, but there's no reason to deny you have feelings about past cases. It is perfectly acceptable to ask how a nominee would vote on a case that has already been decided.

But I think we all assumed Bush would appoint an anti-Roe judge, which brings us to the conservative legal argument against abortion rights. Namely: It's not in the Constitution.

I've heard numerous conservatives rant about how the Supreme Court legislated from the bench with Roe v. Wade. They say that the Court invented a right that's not listed anywhere in the Constitution. To which I say, read the Ninth Amendment.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Now, conservatives have heard this argument before, although they don't seem to buy it. While they don't go so far as to totally dismiss that amendment as Bork did by calling it an "ink blot", they will argue the other extreme by saying that I'm essentially calling for anarchy via the Ninth Amendment.

No, that's not what I'm doing. There are many constitutional laws that can limit Americans conduct and behavior. But the Ninth Amendment makes it explicitly clear that just because something is not listed in the Constitution doesn't mean that it's not a protected right.

The next argument conservatives often raise is that the Ninth Amendment only protects rights that were already codified by state statutes and English common law. It's the originalist defense that the principles of the Constitution have not changed since its drafting.

While I take issue with that premise, I can entertain it in this case because abortion was perfectly legal in 1789. All the states allowed women to terminate their pregnancies until the point of "quickening" -- which refers to the moment that the mother can feel the fetus move inside her, and that usually occurs sometime during the second trimester. But women often knew they were pregnant well before that (when they ceased menstruation) and sometimes sought to terminate the pregnancy early, which doctors would do. It wasn't until the late 1800s that all American states outlawed abortion.

Another argument conservatives use is that the Ninth Amendment applies only to the federal government, and therefore states can regulate abortion as they see fit. They maintain that overturning Roe v. Wade would not automatically outlaw abortion, but that each state can decide for itself via its elected legislature.

That's true, except that the 14th Amendment extends the Bill of Rights to the states. Under the 14th Amendment, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." With that amendment, anything that the federal government is prohibited from doing, the states are prohibited from doing. (I am well aware of the Slaughterhouse Cases, and will gladly debate the fundamental flaws with that reasoning and the further mistake by the Supreme Court when it transferred the guts of the "privileges or immunities" clause to a new creation called "substantive due process". But we cans save that for another time.)

That brings us back to the original question: Is the right to an abortion a liberty protected under the Constitution? I say yes, given that reproductive rights seem to be fundamental to the principles of keeping the government from interfering with people's privacy, so long as people's conduct don't infringe on the rights of others. And because a fetus has little to no brain function early in the pregnancy, its termination should not be considered taking a life, but rather preventing a life from forming.

That's just my opinion, and conservatives are welcome to disagree. But the disagreement must be based on something other than mentioning that abortion is not listed in the Constitution. The Ninth Amendment doesn't say we can't have a debate about abortion. It just says you have to use a different argument.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Stepping Back: Democrats across the nation are giddy about their win in Virginia. As well they should be. But I hope they pay attention to the true lessons to be learned.

First, as I said before, be wary of any national implications. Yes a Democrat won in a Red State. But I'm doubtful Bush's sinking popularity had much to do with this. A Democrat won the governor's seat in November 2001, at the height of Bush's popularity. Kilgore, the Republican, was just a bad candidate. His negative attack ads hurt himself more than Kaine. I support the death penalty, but the ads I saw and read attacking Kaine's position on capital punishment were embarrassing.

Kilgore was actually ahead in the polls initially, but he blew it -- he blew it long before Bush came down for a visit. Republicans came up strong statewide otherwise. The GOP won the lieutenant governor's seat, which was won by a Democrat in 2001, and it looks like the Republican may win a squeaker for the attorney general position. Kaine was the state's lieutenant governor. The fact that he was promoted to the top seat is not a referendum on the war in Iraq. (Trivia: In Virginia, the winning candidate for governor has been from the opposite party of the president since 1977.)

Still, Democrats smell blood. And I encourage them to attack. But be smart. Right now the Democrats have no national agenda or any issues to run on. And the voters realize this.

Unfortunately, the liberal wing is already looking to rehash old strategies that keep failing. Many of them want to continue rearguing the war in Iraq. The Nation has already declared that it will not endorse anyone who does not repudiate the war and vow to withdraw ASAP.

I only speak for myself, but I'll bet others agree with me -- we don't want to relive the past. The national debate should be about where to go in the future.

Bush will have served two terms as president. He's not up for re-election. There is no reason to run against him or to promise to undo the good things he has done.

Kaine won in Virginia because he was a centrist. Moderate Democrats can win, even in conservative states. Moving to the extreme Left will only ensure defeat.

I'm tired of dominant GOP control. But I will vote against anyone who tries to erase all that we've accomplished during the past four years. Despite what The Nation says, we shouldn't hold a contest to find which politician will race to declare defeat the fastest.

The Democrats have an opportunity here. I hope they don't blow it by spewing hate, the way Kilgore did.

PS: I'm out on travel again Friday and Monday. Take care.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Premature Speculation: It's nice to know that a Red State such as the one I live in can elect a centrist Democrat as governor two election cycles in a row. It almost makes me feel like I live among enlightened folks who don't abide by any dogma, political or otherwise.

Then I find out that a Virginia appeals court still maintains that oral sex is illegal in the state, regardless of the fact that the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws. The Old Dominion statute maintains that oral sex is illicit behavior, even between a male and a female.

This calls for some type of civil disobedience.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kiss Me, I Plan on Voting: I still have to vote in the Virginia gubernatorial election today. Normally I do my voting in the morning, but I decided instead to spend the early hours taking photographs of the leaves changing colors on the Potomac River from the Key Bridge.

It's hard to get excited about this race. I'm all for bipartisanship, but I'm still upset that Republicans and Democrats decided together to raise our taxes, only to find out that the state experienced record surpluses immediately afterwards. I would gladly vote for anyone who promised to finally get rid of the god-forsaken car tax, but none of the three candidates have even mentioned it.

While I'm blasé about this election, the rest of the nation seems to be watching it with rapt attention. Once again, some local event is supposed to serve as the political bellwether for the entire country. In this case, Democratic candidate Tim Kaine is expected to eke out a victory, and this is supposed to mean that Bush and the Republicans are toast in the coming midterm elections.

NPR said as much this morning, noting that Virginia is a Republican state that voted heavily for Bush both times. Nevermind that a Democrat, Mark Warner, was also elected governor during that time. And when the NPR segment turned to the New York mayoral election, the fact that a Republican stands to be re-elected in a heavily Democratic city didn't seem to warrant any talk of national implications.

Putting aside any talk of liberal bias in the media, we should just leave local elections to what they are -- local elections. For some reason, the media always finds reasons to predict that the Republican dominance is over and the voters are going to turn in droves to the Democrats. And time after time, the Democrats go on to lose.

Now, I know no party will dominate politics forever (Thank God). But let's study the actual presidential and congressional elections, not all these side shows.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Judicial Fission: Conservatives aren't content with limiting their realignment of the judicial branch to influencing the Supreme Court. They are also proposing to split the left-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to water down its liberalism.

Under a plan buried deep in a bill to cut federal spending, a House budget panel passed a measure to divide the 9th Circuit into two circuits. This would create a new 12 Circuit Court of Appeals, with half the 9th Circuit judges going to the new court. And it would be up to President Bush to appoint judges of his choosing to both circuits, limiting the liberals' influence on the appeals level.

The 9th Circuit is by far the most liberal in the nation, and its rulings are overturned the most by the Supreme Court. Conservatives have had it out for this court for years, especially since this court is trying to outlaw the term "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Of course, publicly, Republicans focus on the fact that the 9th Circuit Court is the biggest with the largest number of cases backlogged in the nation.

This isn't the first time the proposal for splitting the 9th Circuit has come before Congress. And Democrats, most of whom oppose the idea, don't expect it to pass this year.

But with an increasingly desperate Bush administration and midterm elections approaching, don't be surprised if conservatives try some crazy stunt in an attempt to further impress their base.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Keep the faith, my brothers: I often get into a lot of political debates with both my liberal and conservative friends. Our arguments are usually pretty light, although I usually try to keep these two groups of friends separated for fear of a truly heated confrontation.

But one thing I do consistently hear from both sides is dread about the downward spiral this country is in. "Blah blah blah is running this country into the ground." "Blah blah blah, this country is going to hell."

Granted, it's easy to exaggerate in discussions. But I wonder why so many people have so little faith in this country. We're not perfect, but we're strong and stable. There's no reason to believe that same-sex marriage or faith-based programs are going to do anything to seriously hurt this country. Why the doom and gloom?

I do hear centrists and moderates bemoaning partisanship and extremism. But not to the extent of any imminent destruction. It seems that we in the middle are in the best position to observe that the tug-o-war/pendulum-swing of both sides will keep this country down a straight course. This country may sway from side to side, but it is not in any danger of running aground.

I'm sure most people hold this optimistic view. But it seems the loudest voices have the worst things to say.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Backwards: The Ku Klux Klan plans to hold a rally in Austin to support the proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Now, I've been a staunch supporter of gay marriage. And I do believe that people who are against it do harbor some homophobia and prejudice. But I wouldn't put people who are against gay marriage in the same league as the Klan.

Which makes me wonder, Why does the KKK ever rally for these things? The Republicans who wrote the Texas amendment don't want anything to do with the Klan. A KKK rally just brings negative light onto an issue Klan members support.

Sure, they have the right to speak, but they'd be better off speaking out against whatever it is they support.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Start Over: When all else fails, revert to picking white males.

Honestly, that's an unfair comment I just made. One thing that has impressed me about the Bush administration is that, even though he speaks out against affirmative action, he still practices it -- finding qualified women and minorities with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and others. It's nice to have a politician's actions exceed his rhetoric.

But that all seemed to go to hell with the Harriet Miers nomination. She appeared to be a token girl nomination with few qualifications to sit on the highest court in the land. And when critics lambasted her, administration officials fell back on the desperate tactic of labeling opponents as sexist, etc.

Alito seems to be a qualified jurist, although he's too conservative for my taste, but I don't think anybody expected anything less after what all has happened. However, after all the talk about possibly having the first Hispanic appointment, this is a bit of a disappointment.

But the Democrats are lining up against Alito already. So it appears we may have the exciting confirmation battle us news junkies have been waiting for after all.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Round and Round: When was the last time we had a president who wasn't embroiled in scandal during his second term? That would be Eisenhower.

Since then, LBJ (essentially in his second term, though he was eligible for another) had Vietnam, which prevented him from running for re-election. Nixon had Watergate. Reagan had Iran-Contra. Clinton had Lewinsky. Bush is now pestered by Valerie Plame.

What's disturbing about this trend is that each scandal seems to diminish in importance, but they still serve as a big distraction for the sitting president.

Clinton was impeached for lying about cheating on his wife. Bad man, but Republicans should have left the presidency out of this.

I still maintain that this Plame thing is overblown. Bush hasn't done anything wrong. I don't even think any of the White House aides knowingly identified Valerie Plame to get back at the nobody who is her husband. But that doesn't seem to prevent a Ken Starr wannabe from fishing for something, anything, to get an indictment.

"Scooter" faces charges of obstruction of justice, false statement, and perjury. No mention of any charges for outing a covert CIA agent. This is eerily reminiscent of Clinton getting charged with perjury about Monica Lewinsky, when Ken Starr was supposed to be investigating Whitewater -- an issue for which the Clintons were later exonerated.

Granted, the Plame case is far from being over, unfortunately. So the story isn't finished yet. And if we've learned anything in politics, it's that anything is possible, even if it seems unreal.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

No Way, Dude! My blog is worth more than $30,000? Um, any takers? (via Centerfield)

My blog is worth $31,614.24.
How much is your blog worth?

Thud: Executive privilege has now become the greatest excuse known to man. Clinton used it during the Lewinsky scandal. Now Bush is using it as a mulligan.

Of course, everybody knows that Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination for the Supreme Court because she was in over her head. The bipartisan consensus was that she was not qualified, and the scant amount of information available about her record made her nomination a scary prospect. Still, the White House maintains that she withdrew to protect lawyer-client confidentiality.

I hate to see all this happen. I'm sure Miers is an intelligent woman and a good lawyer. The fact that she was pushed into the deep end and unprepared to fight the ensuing piranha attacks is the president's fault. Bush made a bad choice. His credibility is hurt, and he has also mired the reputation of a good friend by putting her in that situation.

The Senate has come out looking strong, especially the Republicans for refusing to be a rubber stamp for the president. This, I'm afraid, may lead to a new nominee who is overtly conservative. That's what the base wants, and Bush doesn't have much political capital left to do otherwise.

I'm just curious who will be willing to be Bush's second choice. Hopefully the lure of becoming a justice on the top court in the land will overshadow the fact that the next nominee is filling in for Harriet Miers. And then, we'll still have a tough confirmation battle to fight.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Look Out! After Syria has been found to have possibly been involved in a political assassination, President Bush wants to convene the United Nations for a response.

I would say that it's about time for Bush to do something about Syria. But I'm a little nervous, looking at Bush's popularity plummet, wondering whether he may overreact to remind everyone that he's a wartime president. There are few things scarier than a desperate politician.

I'll be out of town most of next week. Y'all tell me how it goes.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

No News is Good News: BobJYoung at Centerfield is tired of the hype about hype. Bloggers and critics rail against the media for alarmist stories about Y2K, SARS, and a litany of other maladies -- all of which were duds.

Well, he says, that's because the added attention helped raise awareness and allowed people to do something about it before it became a catastrophe. Ask any computer expert about Y2K, and they'll tell you that it took a lot of work to make sure everything ran smoothly. The media likes to hype the problem, but not the solution.

Interesting take on the panicky press. Read the whole thing and join the discussion.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Relatively Peaceful: Drudge links to a report saying that the number of wars and violent conflicts in the world has been decreasing lately. That's fine and good unless you're currently in a war. In case you need a reminder, here's a roundup of news and images about the genocide in Darfur.

Strategery: President Bush has pledged to kick every single illegal immigrant out of this country. Yup, all 11-million of them.

This crackdown seems to be an appeal to the conservative base, which is still dumbfounded by the whole Harriet Miers nomination. But it's meaningless rhetoric. Nothing can come of it. This would be like pledging to put all criminals behind bars.

But the pledge has consequences. Bush, I assume, still wants to go ahead with his immigrant-worker program. Under the plan, illegals could continue to work legally if they register with the government, all on the promise that they might be given legal status someday. However, now that Bush has made it clear that he wants them all gone, don't expect too many more illegals to come out of hiding and let Uncle Sam know what they're up to.

Bush is hurting in the polls. Fair or not, he has been hurt by Katrina and Rita. Although the economy is doing well, the hurricanes have slowed some of that expansion, and have added to overall inflation with skyrocketing gasoline and energy costs. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are no longer Bush's saving grace. He's looking for some other peg to capture the nation's attention.

But this is beyond a flip-flop. President Bush is doing what we call, floundering.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

They're on to me: I've ranted before against the annoying fundraising drives conducted by public radio stations. However, because we have two stations in DC that play NPR, I would normally switch back and forth between the two while the other was fundraising.

Now, both 88.5-WAMU and 90.9-WETA are fundraising at the same time. That means neither of them are playing any news. All we get are the soft-spoken broadcasters whining endlessly about how they need money.

I still argue that these public radio stations should be allowed to play commercials. I know they're nonprofit, but they already have corporate sponsorship from the likes of Wal-Mart and other businesses. Their hands are forever tainted with the green of corporate money -- take advantage of it.

Most people would rather hear a 30 second jingle on occasion than a solid two weeks of all whining and no content. Commercials are at least designed to be somewhat entertaining.

Oh well, at least the Classic Rock station is playing music in the morning. I'll just listen to that until this is over and done with.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Devil in Disguise: A Prince William County, Virginia, school official has decided the marching band must stop playing a rendition of Charlie Daniel's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" because of the song's controversial subject matter.

After the devil went down to Georgia, it seems, he got censored in Prince William County.
When I first read that, I assumed that it must be another goddamn right-wing Christian do-gooder trying to save us from even the mention of anything salacious or evil. But that's not the case.

This time it's a godless left-wing PC nut who believes the song violates the separation of church and state. He wrote a letter saying as much, and the band director immediately took the song out of the music lineup.

In this case, it's nearly unanimous that the lone dissenting voice shouldn't be taken seriously, and the school official overreacted badly. Even the guy who wrote the letter says things got carried away.

Still, isn't it funny how easy it is to confuse the extreme Right and the extreme Left? Their tactics and their goals blend imperceptibly into one big mess.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Awww: Red State Romance. Complete with a spelling error.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Spotlight: Things have been busy here. That, and I haven't been able to find much to blog about. The news is dominated by the Harriet Miers nomination, the conservative backlash, and the Republican division. The blogosphere is seems to echo the mainstream media -- overkill on reporting some issues, not enough attention to others.

Let's put these news stories in perspective. The Coalition for Darfur reminds us that thousands of people are being murdered in Sudan.

Katrina and Darfur

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast last month, the American public was privy to 'round-the-clock media coverage of the disaster, especially of stories relating to the extraordinarily difficult living conditions faced by those who had been unable to evacuate. Thousands of people were left without food or water for days; their homes and cities destroyed, they were left to fend for themselves, trapped in squalid conditions and at the mercy of roving gangs of well-armed criminals.

As it turned out, many of the more horrific stories were later found to be false. Yet for the people of Darfur, the horrors that befell the people of New Orleans have become a way of life.

For more than two years, nearly 2-million people have been relegated to displacement camps across Darfur, with limited access to food, water and medical attention. They live in makeshift tents that provide little shelter from the elements, and in constant fear of rape, looting, and death at the hands of the Janjaweed militia.

An aid worker and blogger known only as Sleepless in Sudan, who has been working in Darfur for six months, has been kind enough to provide this assessment of the conditions in which the displaced are now living ("Sleepless" has chosen to remain anonymous in order to protect herself and the agency for which she works from the very real threat of retribution from the Sudanese government):

People are living inside temporary shelters, covering their branch or wooden huts (those who have been there longer have built mud brick ones) with plastic sheeting from the aid agencies, and even this has often already been torn apart by the rains. Everyone sleeps on the floor, sometimes in puddles -- 10 people in a little shelter is not unusual, more is common.

Now that the aid agencies are operating in many camps there is regular water supply, there are latrines, there are medical clinics and most importantly, there is a monthly food distribution of staple grains and things like oil -- but this does not mean people have it easy. This season has brought many floods and people have lost their belongings or even shelters, huts and latrines sometimes collapsed in the rains, and the food is never enough (and people have to scramble for things like fresh vegetables themselves anyway, as these are not included in the distribution). Malnutrition inside the camps is still high.

Overall, I would say conditions are adequate for survival -- though some camps (especially the ones further away from big cities) are a lot worse off than others (Abu Shouk, for example, has dozens of aid agencies, while places just a few hours outside of it have one or two). Whether they are adequate for what you would consider a normal life is debatable -- I would say absolutely not, and I have no doubts any American would find them a lot more "unacceptable" than New Orleans.

I suppose the worst part of living in the camps is having absolutely no idea how much longer you will be there (many people have already been there for two years) and also constantly having to worry that you will be attacked -- Aro Sarow showed us that even large scale attacks and killings inside IDP camps are still a threat. In many camps -- Kalma, Tawila, etc. -- it is part of everyday life to hear shooting at night, and in nearly all of them it is still very dangerous to wander outside and carry out chores like collecting firewood. Knowing that you are constantly at risk of looting and assault is be an easy thing to live with.
While the United States government was blamed for a poor response to the Katrina catastrophe, the government of Sudan is directly responsible for the catastrophe in Darfur. And whereas the state and federal governments are now in the process of cleaning up, and will soon begin the process of rebuilding, the devastated Gulf Coast, the people of Darfur currently have no prospects of ever being able to leave the camps because insecurity is still rampant.

In the last few weeks, there have been a series of attacks on villages and camps that have created several thousand new refugees. In addition, nearly 40 African Union troops and workers were kidnapped over the weekend and, in a separate incident, five members of the AU force were ambushed and killed. And even if a semblance of peace does ever come to the region, the people of Darfur have nothing to return to, as their villages and homes have been utterly destroyed while their land and possessions have been stolen.

The post-Hurricane nightmare faced by the victims of Katrina has been the reality in Darfur for more than two years -- and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Lesson in History: Aside from the likeable Roberts, George W. Bush has made other questionable judicial appointments in the past. As governor, he passed over a qualified appellate judge waiting next in line to become chief justice of the Court of Appeals for the Third District of Texas, and instead he appointed a lawyer who was former chairman of the Travis County Republican Party and who had no previous judicial experience.

In Texas, the governor appoints judges with no legislative confirmation. However, Texans vote directly to elect all judges. And in the next election, the voters removed the Bush appointee from office and gave the appellate judge her expected promotion.

In the Miers case, the people don't have a vote. But the Senate does. And it appears likely that Republicans and Democrats alike aren't going to put up with cronyism this time either.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wake-Up Call: I have a strange confession to make. I've always thought the most ideal job in the world would be Supreme Court justice. Lifetime employment, lots of time off, and you get to set the law to be whatever you damn well want it to be. I even had a dream one night a few years ago that I was nominated to be a justice. There was some controversy in the dream about the fact that I didn't even have a law degree, let alone judicial experience. But, hey, it was just a silly dream, right?

Maybe dreams can come true. While Bush hasn't done anything as nutty as nominating me, he hasn't done much better with this random chick he's chosen. I know some observers say that we need justices who dwell outside the isolated world of circuit courts, but Harriet Miers is a political crony who has remained hidden in Bush's back office for years.

What surprises me though is the skepticism among conservatives. They need reassurance that Miers is a right-wing nut like them. It seems obvious to me that they have nothing to worry about. Newspapers were able to determine within seconds of her nomination that this woman is strongly pro-life. My guess is that Bush chose this stealth nominee because he wanted to try to slip a rabid right-winger under the radar.

Moderates and liberals are the ones who should be most concerned. We don't know how far to the right Miers is. Granted, Bush chose a well-qualified conservative with Roberts, so the president has some history of making a sane choice in this regard. But the whole, "trust me, that's all I can tell you about my business" Michael Corleone thing is a little unnerving.

Here's a roundup of reaction from The Reaction.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler: I got to see New Orleans and the surrounding areas. You've heard all the horror stories and seen the footage, so I won't bore you with tales of destroyed homes and toppled trees.

I am happy to report that Louisiana continues to be the friendliest place on Earth. The people I talked to are tired and frustrated, but they're holding on to their optimism. It may take some time, but the great city of New Orleans will bounce back.

Friday, September 30, 2005

On the Run: I'll be out most of next week. I'm heading down to Louisiana to cover the rebuilding efforts after Katrina and Rita. I'll let you know what I see. Take care.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Explain Yourself: Al Qaeda terrorists were recently arrested in France for planning to bomb the French subway (via Power Line). This comes more than a year after a bomb was found on a French rail line but was disarmed before it could cause any damage. Al Qaeda is also suspected of planting the bomb that was found on Spanish rail lines a month after the original Madrid bombings, and after Spain promised to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Any talk that the London bombings or the Australian attacks are reaction to those countries' involvement in Iraq is entirely inconsistent with what Al Qaeda has been saying and what Al Qaeda has been doing. All of us in Western Civilization are targets. There's nothing we can do to make the terrorists mad, because they already are mad. There's nothing we can do to stop them from getting mad, because they already are mad. The only thing we can do is defeat them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Inescapable: I'm not sure what you have to do to get the United Nation's attention nowadays. Break their sanctions, they do nothing. Commit mass genocide, they do nothing. I'd honestly like to think that liberal and conservative commenter alike can agree that the miserable failure Google bomb belongs with the United Nations. An update from the Coalition for Darfur.

Anarchy and the UN

As Darfur descends into anarchy, the United Nations appears unable to do any more than express concerns and continue to ask the parties involved to cease their violent attacks.

After rebels attacked and took control of the town of Sheiria last week, the Sudanese army said it was prepared to retake the town, to which the rebels replied that they would "repulse anything from the Sudanese government's army."

The upsurge in violence forced thousands more out of the villages, swelling the ranks of the internally displaced that already numbers nearly 2-million.

As the violence was raging, even the UN's own Special Representative Jan Pronk, a man who tends to see everything in Sudan through rose-colored glasses, was forced to admit that the violence was spiraling out of control. He was joined by the US government, which stated that the "uptick in violence ... is of concern to us" and the UN's genocide advisor, Juan Mendez, who acknowledged that Khartoum had done little to disarm militias or end the "culture of impunity" that exists in Darfur.

Pronk went on to state that the UN must give the Sudanese government and rebels an ultimatum to compel them to reach some sort of peace agreement and even made the startling admission that, thus far, the UN has utterly failed to deal with Darfur:

Pronk said that when the Darfur conflict began U.N. humanitarian officials agitated for the Security Council to take up the conflict, which it refused to do.

A "massive force" was needed [in 2003] then to guarantee security but instead several thousand African Union troops and monitors had to carry the burden. And now the council needed to plan for how to keep the peace in case a peace deal was signed.
Pronk was quoted elsewhere as saying:

He said the war situation in Sudan was "everybody's failure" and could have been avoided if the international community had acted quickly.

How could the present day situation have been avoided?

"I think there should have been intervention in 2003," Pronk said, adding that while the occurrence of genocide in the country was debatable, "There was mass slaughter of people. It needed humanitarian intervention."
Of course, the international community did not act quickly, nor are they acting quickly now.

In fact, while Darfur burned, the BBC reported that American and British intelligence officials, along with representatives of the UN, China and 12 African nations were in Khartoum discussing cooperation on counter-terrorism operations in the region.

Hosting the conference is part of a sustained diplomatic push by Sudan to shake off its pariah status ... When the opportunity for this second regional conference on counter-terrorism came up, Sudan competed for the right to host it ... The decision of the CIA to agree to come to Sudan shows the pragmatism of the intelligence community against the continuing political desire of America to punish Sudan for what has happened in Darfur.
Khartoum continues to work to "shake off its pariah status," with Sudanese Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed publishing an op-ed in the Washington Times today claiming that "After two decades of brutal civil war, Sudan is emerging as a reminder that engagement, dialogue and intensive diplomacy can resolve seemingly intractable problems and permit a country to look to the future with optimism."

Meanwhile, the violence and anarchy Khartoum unleashed is now spilling over into neighboring Chad, a country that is already host to an estimated 200,000 refugees from Darfur:

A group of unidentified armed men in military uniform crossed into Chad from Sudan early on Monday, killing 36 herders and stealing livestock, the Chadian government said.
The violence, in addition to threatening the people of Darfur, is also threatening the relief work that sustains them, as U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland noted yesterday:

"If it (the violence) continues to escalate, we may not be able to sustain our operations for 2.5-million people requiring life-saving assistance," he said, adding: "In Darfur, it (aid distribution) could all end tomorrow. It is as serious as that."
As Eric Reeves never fails to remind us, in December 2004, Egeland warned that 100,000 people could die a month if humanitarian organizations are forced to suspend operations in Darfur.

Despite all of this, Pronk still managed to recently declare that progress was being made on implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and South and on efforts to reach peace in Darfur.

Such a statement is utterly feckless and shameful.

As Gerald Caplan, author of "Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide," wrote last week:

But what we are learning from Darfur, which we never remotely imagined, is that even naming a genocide is an utterly inconsequential exercise in hot air ... despite the apparent concern of many western leaders, despite the pressure from elements of civil society, the catastrophe in Darfur is explicitly allowed to continue ... As always, everything takes precedence over the suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of distant, exotic others. It won't be the last time."
After two years, 400,000 deaths, and an estimated 3.5 million now entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, it must be stated that the UN and every one of its member nations have failed the people of Darfur and, in all likelihood, will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Caught Sitting in Front of the White House Too Long? Tom DeLay has been indicted on conspiracy charges, and he is temporarily stepping down from his leadership position. I call for a loooong, in-depth investigation during this trial. That way, no matter what the final result, Tom DeLay will cease to be House Majority Leader for as long as possible.

I say that tongue in cheek of course. We all know that the World's Biggest Asshole will continue running things from the dark corner in which he lurks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Gung Ho: I don't know if Bush is panicking from his low approval ratings, overreacting to the whopping criticism he got from the Katrina issue, or is being an opportunistic fool.

But now he wants to put the Pentagon in charge of domestic disaster responses. This almost seems like the type of government fallacy that goes something along the lines of:

We must do something.

This is something.

Therefore, we must do this.
There's a reason why the military should stick to destroying things. I don't want our armed forces having a larger presence in domestic affairs any more than they have to. Now, they do have a role in the domestic portion of War on Terrorism, because it is a war that's being fought, in part, on U.S. soil. But natural disasters, while they have some similar characteristics to unnatural ones, are a different breed. We can fix FEMA without militarizing it.

The military operates as a force that doesn't mesh well with a free society. Granted, in major disasters you sometimes have to temporarily curtail some rights. But militarizing every big disaster is overkill. Plus, I don't want the military to become the default answer for every domestic problem in the future.

Enough! I really didn't approve of Cindy Sheehan before, but I sympathized with her being the mother of a dead soldier. Now after her concocted arrest, I have lost all respect for that woman.

It's one thing to for a mother to embarrass her son when he's still alive. It's reprehensible for her to dishonor Casey after he's dead. Casey Sheehan was not some child victimized by President Bush. He was an adult who volunteered to join the military, finished his tour of duty, then re-enlisted to continue fighting in Iraq. He believed in what he was doing.

Cindy started this whole scene by trying to meet with the president -- even though Bush had already met with her and spoken with her. Now she's just trying to bring attention to herself. She has become a media whore, barely able to stand the few moments that the news focuses on hurricanes and more noteworthy stories, that she has to go and pull a stunt like this.

Cindy Sheehan and the rest of the "antiwar" protesters from over the weekend are a bunch of frauds. These people aren't against war. They are just for the other side. They vocalize support for the terrorists and insurgents and celebrate every downturn in our fight.

I'm not saying that as some right-wing, if-you-don't-vote-for-Bush-you-hate-America nut. The liberals I know love this country -- they are critical of the war effort because they want us to win, and they don't like how Iraq is being handled. But many of the left-wing nuts who gathered this past weekend really do hate America. But for some reason the press doesn't have the balls to report this, and actually tries to depict these people as ordinary Americans. This is a complete lie.

It's a shame that these people have such loud voices and command so much attention from the media. There is a valid debate to be had about the war. Unfortunately, the voices we hear are those who support the enemy and hope they defeat our American troops.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Oops: Hamas terrorists accidently blow themselves up during a celebration in Gaza. Children were among the casualties. I only hope that the Palestinian people will now see what stupidity they have fighting in their name.

Shot Down: The NRA filed a lawsuit against New Orleans officials for seizing guns from law-abiding citizens, and it appears the group has won a temporary injunction while the case is being tried. No more guns are to be taken without valid reason.

I hope that this case is appealed to a high enough level that it sets a precedent for these types of situations. It would be nice for the Supreme Court to maintain that state or federal government is not allowed to disarm the population without due cause, especially when people are left vulnerable because regular law enforcement duties cannot be carried out.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Slow Motion: It's taking 16 hours for Houston residents to drive to Dallas. That's a trip that can usually be done in four. Cars are being abandoned on the road as they run out of gas. At least Houston officials have opened southbound lanes on Interstate-45 to northbound traffic. Still, there's no way that all of these people will be able to escape in time. All we can do is hope for the best, and say a little prayer.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Who's Acting Like Children Here? I'm scanning for children's books. My niece is turning 3, and she loves to read -- or at least look at the pictures while Mommy reads to her. In addition to the classics are some new books that have become popular within the Amazon rankings, including No, George, No! The Re-Parenting of George W. Bush and Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!

In case your kids aren't indoctrinated enough, you can teach them valuable lessons of mistrust by depicting our president as a malicious doofus.

This is a book about a President named George who has a dream. In this dream, George becomes a little boy, and he meets a Truth Fairy who is trying to teach him lessons about How to not manipulate the Media, How to treat Veterans, How to be honest, How to be respectful with families who have lost soldiers in war, How to go to War only when necessary, How not to label people as Boogeymen, How not to invade countries, How to control greed, How to hold fair elections, and How to behave as a leader.
And while painting is fun for kids, they should have even more fun learning to paint political enemies in broad brush strokes that are easy to vilify.

This full-color illustrated book is a fun way for parents to teach young children the valuable lessons of conservatism. Written in simple text, readers can follow along with Tommy and Lou as they open a lemonade stand to earn money for a swing set. But when liberals start demanding that Tommy and Lou pay half their money in taxes, take down their picture of Jesus, and serve broccoli with every glass of lemonade, the young brothers experience the downside to living in Liberaland.
Luckily my family isn't at all political, so my nieces won't be getting either of these books. I think I'll just stick with Harold and the Purple Crayon.

The Downward Spiral: There's that old joke -- The pessimist says, "This is awful. It cannot possibly get any worse." The optimist responds, "Oh, yes it can."

The situation in Darfur has already been determined to be genocide (at least by U.S. officials and others who are paying attention). The ceasefire has yet to cease any firepower. Now the situation is in danger of deteriorating. The latest from the Coalition for Darfur.

The Descent into Anarchy

One week ago, experts and observers warned that Darfur risked "sliding into a perpetual state of lawlessness." At a time when Khartoum and the Darfur rebels were preparing to meet in an attempt to move the essentially non-existent peace process forward, IRIN was reporting:

Banditry and continuous attacks by armed groups on humanitarian workers, Arab nomads and villages in Darfur have increased significantly over the past weeks and threaten to destabilise the fragile ceasefire in the volatile western Sudanese region.
The "fragile ceasefire" has never really existed and fears of "perpetual" lawlessness are misplaced considering that Darfur has been essentially lawless for more than two years.

Last week, the World Food Program reported that "security levels deteriorated in Darfur during the reporting week." This week, the WFP reported that "despite precautionary security measures, attacks on commercial and humanitarian vehicles continue in Darfur."

And as the UN was expressing its concern "about the recurrent attacks carried out by armed men and gangs in Darfur states, which target civilians and commercial vehicles hired by relief organizations," Norwegian Church Aid was reporting that a "relief convoy has been raided at gunpoint by bandits in Darfur for the second time in a short period. The security situation in Darfur shows signs of deterioration":

A growing problem is also that aid convoys are now being ambushed with increasing regularity by bandits on horses and camels. Norwegian Church Aid vehicles have been raided at gunpoint twice in a matter of weeks ... The field teams who travel most often through the western and southern parts of Darfur regularly encounter en route, and are often chased by, heavily armed men riding on horses and camels. Since the aid operation began just over a year ago, security has presented a great challenge for the agencies. Yet whereas assault, exchanges of fire and attacks on villages were previously politically motivated, much of the violence seems now to be criminal in nature.
And the violence continues.

Just yesterday, it was reported that 40 were killed in fighting after an attack on the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement/Army by "armed nomadic tribesmen" [aka "the Janjaweed"]. This was followed by another report that 80 government soldiers had been killed by the SLM when they captured the town of Sheiria in a surprise attack in retaliation for earlier government attacks on rebel-held territory.

The attack on Sheiria put at risk some 33,000 civilians who rely on humanitarian assistance after staff from three NGO's were withdrawn due to the fighting. And for good measure, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) "reported that the security situation in the Kalma camp housing displaced persons has further deteriorated with a large number of security incidents, including some 60 reported attacks on women over the last week alone."

All of this took place while the sixth round of peace talks were being held in Nigeria.

It has now been more than a year since the United States declared the situation in Darfur a "genocide" - and the security situation on the ground is now even arguably worse. While government-orchestrated attacks on civilians have diminished, mainly because "there are not many villages left to burn down and destroy," the rampant insecurity in all likelihood still qualifies as part of Khartoum's genocidal campaign to "deliberately [inflict] on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

The genocide is not ending and the situation is not improving. The people of Darfur have, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Nuclear-Free Zone: The big news this week is that North Korea has agreed not to pursue its development of nuclear weapons. This doesn't mean much. That country has made the same promises before, and then it went on doing what it wasn't supposed to behind our backs.

(Didn't North Korea announce that it already has nuclear weapons? I guess there's no point trusting our intelligence agencies to find out the truth in the matter.)

Still, this is good news for now. The concession we had to make was to promise not to invade North Korea in the near future. Some people wonder why we didn't just make that agreement a few years ago so we could be done with it. The answer is simply: Iraq.

Our invasion of Iraq was supposed to demonstrate America's might to the rest of the world, including any terrorists who might be paying attention. We hoped to put Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Palestinians on notice.

That didn't happen. No country is afraid that we may attack them now, considering the ongoing conflict in Iraq in addition to the continuing clean up in Afghanistan.

Some critics would argue that this equals failure. I don't agree. It's not ideal, for sure. But it doesn't mean we're not doing some good. Iraq has become the new Ground Zero in the War on Terrorism. Al Qaeda knows that they have to win their, or else they're movement will be seriously hurt. They will lose, and they will be hurt.

Others wonder whether the difficulties in Iraq make us look weaker. No, just not perfect. But if we hadn't invaded and let Saddam Hussein thumb his nose at us for another decade, we'd look even more impotent. Sure, North Korea can rest assured we won't invade anytime soon. But if we didn't have the guts to invade Iraq, Kim Jong Il would have come to the same conclusion regardless.

So Iraq didn't go as smoothly as we would have liked. But that's no reason to give up on the place. The war has changed, and we're meeting the challenge.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Dey-tuk-yer-jerb! Who says the illegal immigrants who come into this country aren't real Americans? Because they certainly are talking like them.

NPR had a piece this morning on how some recent immigrants want new immigrants to stop coming to this country. All these dang foreigners keep taking jobs away from the foreigners who are already here, they say.

The NPR broadcast focuses on Brazilians in Boston who have published ads on the Internet and in South American newspapers asking their people to stop coming here. "The United States is far from being the promised land," the ad says.

Illegal immigrants have to face a growing shortage of jobs, police raids, poor living conditions -- and that's only if they survive the deadly task of getting smuggled into this country.

Of course, this won't stop anybody from coming. The people leaving Central and South America usually have nothing, and they realize that they have more of a chance up here. The only way they may be convinced to stay were if many of the illegals moved back home empty handed. Since that's not happening, neither will the slow down of illegal immigration.

Friday, September 16, 2005

This Sucks: First, the bad news. We never caught the anthrax bandit.

Yeah, remember that whole anthrax issue we had right after 9/11? A few people died. It caused a national scare. They had to seal off government buildings as Tom Daschle and other lawmakers became targets. We vowed to get the evildoer(s). Well, the leads have dried up, and the case has grown cold. In the end, nothing.

In other news, more teens are having oral sex, and more women in their teens and 20s are experimenting with bisexuality. Looks like I picked the wrong time to turn 30.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Don't Let Him Bug You: The Boston Globe is highlighting a portion of a speech by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in which he calls for wiretapping mosques. Here's the actual quote from the Republican governor.

"How about people who are in settings -- mosques, for instance -- that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror," Romney continued. "Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what's going on?"
I'm not too worried about this "proposal". It sounds like the kind of political misspeak that Romney's campaign team will quickly downplay tomorrow, if not later today. But The Globe is correct in calling him on such a stupid utterance right now.

As most of us know, Romney is considering a run for president in 2008. In preparation, he's trying to beef up his national-security persona.

He was elected as a moderate. But he has lately shifted sharply to the right, much to the dismay of his constituents. I guess he thinks that while Republicans will always ridicule the "Massachusetts Liberal", his becoming a "Massachusetts Conservative" may convince primary voters that he's the right-winger that can win in the Blue states. I'm skeptical.

But it's way too early to be speculating about the 2008 election anyhow, so please disregard this post.

Another Chance? After every big mistake, there's always a loud effort to fix the system so the same mistake isn't made "next time". This applies to 9/11, Katrina, and whatever genocide happens to be going on at any given time. Now the United Nations is trying to reword its mission to play down the corruption angle. Having already missed an opportunity to stop the Rwandan genocide, and continuing to miss an opportunity to react against the Sudan genocide, the esteemed international organization is trying to figure out what to do for "next time". But the Coalition for Darfur shows that the words the United Nations utters are as worthless as its actions.

A Meaningless Pledge

Some are hailing the inclusion of language regarding a "responsibility to protect" in the draft declaration on UN reform to be discussed during the three-day summit being held in New York.

The "Responsibility to Protect" is, according to the seminal report on the topic:

[T]he idea that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe, but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states.
The report, and the idea, were generated by the international community's ignominious failure to intervene in situations such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The thinking was that it was necessary to shift the debate away from a "right to intervene," which carries serious implications for the cherished idea of national sovereignty, and toward a "responsibility to protect" those people in danger.

After much debate, compromise and rewriting, the final text included in the draft declaration came out looking like this:

The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapter VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to help states build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.
Nowhere has the Security Council or the UN member states actually pledged to do anything. This section carries no legal obligations; rather, it merely reiterates that the UN has a responsibility "to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity," which something they already an obligation to prevent under the Genocide Convention.

Note also that it doesn't say that the UN has a "responsibility to protect" but rather a responsibility ... to help protect" those at risk. That is a big difference.

As such, it is a little difficult to share Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's excitement:

But a Canadian-inspired initiative highlighting the world's responsibility to protect threatened people and prevent genocides is a clear move forward, Martin said.

The doctrine "essentially says that if Rwanda occurred today that the United Nations would act," he said, referring to the genocide that took an estimated 800,000 lives in the African country in the mid-1990s.
Considering that there is "another Rwanda" currently taking place in Darfur, why are we to expect that suddenly the UN is going to take seriously its "responsibility to protect"? Has the UN failed to act thus far solely because it lacked this one resolution? The UN has resisted acting on Darfur for two years and there is absolutely no reason to believe that this recognition of a theoretical "responsibility to protect" will have any impact on the legal or political concerns that have thus far prevented action.

If the UN and its members truly believed in the "responsibility to protect," they would be protecting the people of Darfur, not writing resolutions vaguely promising to act when Darfur-like situations arise in the future.

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