Thursday, May 31, 2007

More on Muslin and Christian "extremism"

Yep, not letting this topic go easily. Here's an excerpt from a piece on AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/rights/52666/) by Margaret Kimberly reflecting on the "selective outrage" certain members of the media had about a Pew poll of Muslims in America (still looking at you, Glenn Beck). The basic point, as I opined previously along with many others, is that certain unscrupulous and intellectually lazy people find it very easy to demonize Muslims, while turning a blind eye to the extremists that exist in Christianity.

And that's really the point. The problem is not a faith as a whole, the problem is those that will hijack that faith to further their own evil. And that happens with ALL faiths, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or Christianity.

Pardon me for breaking format by quoting something in this part of the 'blog, but I was just sent a copy of an article from The Onion on September 26, 2001 (http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28151), which I think is very relevant to this point. And, as many times happens, the comedian is able to speak the truth much plainer than the philosopher:

NEW YORK—Responding to recent events on Earth, God, the omniscient creator-deity worshipped by billions of followers of various faiths for more than 6,000 years, angrily clarified His longtime stance against humans killing each other Monday.

"Look, I don't know, maybe I haven't made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again," said the Lord, His divine face betraying visible emotion during a press conference near the site of the fallen Twin Towers. "Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand."

Worshipped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, God said His name has been invoked countless times over the centuries as a reason to kill in what He called "an unending cycle of violence."

"I don't care how holy somebody claims to be," God said. "If a person tells you it's My will that they kill someone, they're wrong. Got it? I don't care what religion you are, or who you think your enemy is, here it is one more time: No killing, in My name or anyone else's, ever again."

...

God praised the overwhelming majority of His Muslim followers as "wonderful, pious people," calling the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks rare exceptions.

"This whole medieval concept of the jihad, or holy war, had all but vanished from the Muslim world in, like, the 10th century, and with good reason," God said. "There's no such thing as a holy war, only unholy ones. The vast majority of Muslims in this world reject the murderous actions of these radical extremists, just like the vast majority of Christians in America are pissed off over those two bigots on The 700 Club."

Continued God, "Read the book: 'Allah is kind, Allah is beautiful, Allah is merciful.' It goes on and on that way, page after page. But, no, some assholes have to come along and revive this stupid holy-war crap just to further their own hateful agenda. So now, everybody thinks Muslims are all murderous barbarians. Thanks, Taliban: 1,000 years of pan-Islamic cultural progress down the drain."

God stressed that His remarks were not directed exclusively at Islamic extremists, but rather at anyone whose ideological zealotry overrides his or her ability to comprehend the core message of all world religions.

"I don't care what faith you are, everybody's been making this same mistake since the dawn of time," God said. "The Muslims massacre the Hindus, the Hindus massacre the Muslims. The Buddhists, everybody massacres the Buddhists. The Jews, don't even get me started on the hardline, right-wing, Meir Kahane-loving Israeli nationalists, man. And the Christians? You people believe in a Messiah who says, 'Turn the other cheek,' but you've been killing everybody you can get your hands on since the Crusades."

Growing increasingly wrathful, God continued: "Can't you people see? What are you, morons? There are a ton of different religious traditions out there, and different cultures worship Me in different ways. But the basic message is always the same: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism... every religious belief system under the sun, they all say you're supposed to love your neighbors, folks! It's not that hard a concept to grasp."

"Why would you think I'd want anything else? Humans don't need religion or God as an excuse to kill each other—you've been doing that without any help from Me since you were freaking apes!" God said. "The whole point of believing in God is to have a higher standard of behavior. How obvious can you get?"

"I'm talking to all of you, here!" continued God, His voice rising to a shout. "Do you hear Me? I don't want you to kill anybody. I'm against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don't kill each other anymore—ever! I'm fucking serious!"

Upon completing His outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God's shoulders began to shake, and He wept.

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Recently members of that same group had a collective hissy fit about Muslims. A Pew poll indicated that a small number of American Muslims, a minority of only 8 percent, considered suicide bombing acceptable under certain circumstances. The vast majority, 78 percent, said suicide bombing against civilian targets was never acceptable.

The selective outrage was immediate, but few commentators pointed out what Christians tell pollsters about their urge to maim and kill. Most Christians, 65 percent of Protestants and 72 percent of Catholics, believe that torture is justifiable under certain circumstances. Nearly half of Americans, 46 percent, believe that it may be acceptable to deliberately target civilian populations in war time. An average of 75 percent of Muslims in Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Morocco believe that such attacks are never acceptable.

Just as it is unfair to smear all Muslims with the legacy of bin Laden, it would be unfair to smear all Christians as disciples of Jerry Falwell. Muslims are constantly asked to denounce their members who are terrorists. Why is there no similar demand of Christians? Will the good Christians, the peaceful ones, ever speak out against their co-religionists who carry bombs in their cars or drop them on civilians in Iraq?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Those who do not learn from history ...

OK, well, movies about history, anyway. Here's some quotes from Judgment at Nuremberg, which I am sad to say I never got to see with my friend Frank Podany before he died. But the quotes - and their applicability to America under the current President - should cause you at the very least to stop and think about where we have allowed ourselves as a nation to come, and where we are going. Thanks to Eddie Torres of AlterNet for pointing them out:

German Judge Ernst Lanning (played by Burt Lancaster), describing the climate of fear in pre-war Germany and how that climate allowed Hitler to do the things he did:

"There was a fever over the land… We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. There was, above all, fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, fear of ourselves… What about us, who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we participate? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later…"

Judge Dan Haywood (played by Spencer Tracy) in response:

"There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the protection of the country. Of survival. The answer to that is: survival as what? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult. Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth… and the value of a single human being."

That's the America I love. And the one that's harder and harder to find these days.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Liars, damn liars and Muslims

Insightful article from Newsweek by Lorraine Ali reflecting on the national coverage of the Pew Center's broad-based survey of Muslims in the United States. Even though the upshot of the survey is that American Muslims are, according to the survey, “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world,” the media coverage of that survey picks out small pieces to make far more exciting headlines - you know, like "SURVEY SAYS ONE IN FOUR MUSLIM YOUTHS SUPPORT SUICIDE BOMBING"

It doesn't say that, of course, and you have to use some pretty tortured logic to try and stretch the statistics to cover that headline. But the sad reality is that using Muslims as the latest Boogeyman to scare people - much like the Great Yellow Peril a generation ago - sells papers and moves the ratings needle. So, while this kind of race-bating hysteria (again, I'm looking at you, Glenn Beck) may be irresponsible and dishonest, it does get the ratings!

So, while we should rightfully chastize the "news" outlets who chose to participate in this type of fearmongering-for-dollars, the real villain of this piece is the public as a whole, who should be demanding far more from their news media than we're getting from Glenn Beck and Wolf Blitzer.

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Media Coverage of Muslims Bombs
A Pew poll on Muslims in America painted a positive picture. So why was the coverage so negative?
WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
By Lorraine Ali
Newsweek
Updated: 7:57 p.m. CT May 24, 2007
May 24, 2007 - According to a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this week, Muslim-Americans are “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.” The poll showed the majority surveyed have close non-Muslim friends, believe in a strong American work ethic and feel there is little conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. Overall, an encouraging picture, right?

Not according to a cavalcade of major media outlets. On Tuesday and Wednesday, coverage of the poll was downright foreboding. “Supporting Terror?” read the CNN crawl at the bottom of the screen as John Roberts interviewed a group of young moderate Muslims about the poll. On CBS News online, the headline incorrectly stated that 26% OF YOUNG U.S. MUSLIMS OK BOMBS. And in USA Today, more misinformation and scare tactics: POLL: 1 IN 4 YOUNGER U.S. MUSLIMS SUPPORT SUICIDE BOMBINGS.


The fear-inducing reports were based on the responses to a couple of questions in the Pew survey: is suicide bombing justified? The outcome: “Very few Muslim Americans—just 1%—say that suicide bombings against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam; an additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified in these circumstances,” according to the Pew poll. As for U.S. Muslims under 30, Pew reported that 15 percent believe suicide bombings can be often or sometimes justified. The numbers were tucked inside a 108-page report that also found a large majority of U.S. Muslims rejected the idea of violence against civilians, had very unfavorable views of Al Qaeda and were concerned about the rise of Muslim extremism in the United States.

So why, amid all the other encouraging data, would such a large number of media outlets mine the poll for evidence that Muslims—even the ones next door—are dangerous? Hussein Ibish, executive director of the Foundation for Arab American Leadership, says the answer is as disturbing as it is predictable. “It suggests there is an appetite for negativity about U.S. Muslims in the American media,” he says. “There’s two templates post-9/11 for coverage about American Muslims. One is they are scary—be very afraid. The other template is the sorry, poor pathetic victims of hate crimes. It’s villain or victim—a ridiculous set of choices—and coverage of this poll has fallen into the villain category. It’s irrational, because if you read the poll, it is actually quite positive.”


Yasmin Hamidi, 26, was one of the three young Muslim-Americans interviewed on CNN last Tuesday. “I didn’t see the graphics on the screen until I watched it online,” she says. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was so irresponsible that they put “Supporting Terror?” on the bottom while we’re speaking. Two Columbia Ph.D. students and someone who works full time at an interreligious-understanding NGO—I mean, come on! It’s not surprising, but it’s still upsetting to see.”

Since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. Muslims like Hamidi have become accustomed to gritting their teeth while watching pundits on cable news or reading the paper. The 2001 attacks, the war in Iraq and the babblings of warped political figures like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have come to stand for Islam and its followers in the most negative terms. For many Americans, coverage of these issues is the only exposure to the Muslim world they get. Yet surely the media has a responsibility to present the whole picture—the good and the bad—rather than just the titillating, scary bits that help drive higher ratings.

Still, despite the fact that U.S. Muslims are far more assimilated than those in Europe, many large media outlets never let us forget that American Muslims are still a potentially dangerous group. The Pew poll is simply our latest reminder. “There’s absolutely no basis in the poll for concluding it’s a radicalized community,” says Ibish. “I can almost guarantee that the overwhelming majority who were asked the suicide-bombing question were thinking about Palestine—not Iraq or America. They’re not willing to say it’s never OK because they think Palestinians have no other options. They’re wrong, but that’s what they think. It’s exactly the same kind of statistic you’d get if you asked young Israelis about torture, demolition of villages, assassinations—they’d say yes because they know the Israelis have done it but loathe to say it’s wrong. I’m sure, knowing the Muslim community, that if you resolved the occupation in Palestine, that number would go very close to zero.”


Some media outlets also focused on the unusually high percentage of American Muslims (28 percent) who still don’t believe that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were Arabs—a result that I, too, find baffling. Still, the overall coverage of the Pew poll was way out of whack. It’s no wonder that when the pollsters asked U.S. Muslims how they felt about American news coverage of their faith and its followers, 57 percent said they felt is was unfair. It’s unlikely that number will make headlines anytime soon.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18853924/site/newsweek/page/2/

Friday, May 25, 2007

John Edwards - the naive one?

Nice piece from AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/52333/) summarizing John Edwards' speech about how the current President's literal use of the "War on Terror" language not only doesn't work, but has hurt our ability to actually, you know, fight terror. The basic premise of the speech is that the military is A tool, but not THE tool, to use in the fight. Included with and implicit throughout is that a smarter approach to things will be a lot more successful.

My favorite line might be - "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

If the current President feels threatened enough by a speech from a guy who by all polls is in third place in the Democratic race, then I suspect he must be on to something. I have yet to hear anything from Clinton, Obama, or any other contender that's as well put or as thoughtful as Edwards' position.

He's got electability problems, and I am not at all convinced he can win the primary. After all, the Democrats are the party that won the November election on an "end the war" platform and just wrote the current President another six-month blank check. But he's got my vote at this point, and I hope he can at least move the debate to a place where the current administration's policies will be exposed for the anti-American poison they are.

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In the late 40's and early 50's a Venezuelan child's first experience of America might have been being treated by an American doctor with American anti-biotics. Today a Venezuelan child's first experience of Cuba is probably being treated by a Cuban doctor with Cuban drugs....

In 1956 when Britain, France and Israel conspired to seize the Suez crisis from a Muslim nation it was an American president who gave them the curt order to stop. This was probably the capstone of US/Arab relations, which had probably been the friendliest of any of the great powers for well over a hundred years. Arabs saw America as a foe of colonliasm and as their friend.

John Edwards didn't mention either of these facts in his speech, but it's very clear that he gets it. When one reads the speech what one is struck by immediately is by how much good will there is in it, at how much Edwards is neither scared nor contemptuous of the rest of the world. The speech, with its careful words of reaching out to both allies and enemies; with its promise to make sure that every child in the world is educated (something that should be done not just with American money, but with American teachers in a way similiar to the Peace Corps), is the reasoned manifesto of a man who actually understands that while every nation has to have a military, it really is the last resort, and not the first and that military action is as likely to weaken you and make you enemies as it is to do anything good for you.

More After the Jump

I read the speech expecting to find reasons to quibble - to see language like "all options", to see some token macho posturing. Instead what I found was a speech that takes a razor blade to the idea of a "war on terror" or of a "long war' and surgically cuts them to ribbons.

The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics, not a strategy to make America safe. It's a bumper sticker, not a plan. It has damaged our alliances and weakened our standing in the world. As a political "frame," it's been used to justify everything from the Iraq War to Guantanamo to illegal spying on the American people. It's even been used by this White House as a partisan weapon to bludgeon their political opponents. Whether by manipulating threat levels leading up to elections, or by deeming opponents "weak on terror," they have shown no hesitation whatsoever about using fear to divide.

But the worst thing about this slogan is that it hasn't worked. The so-called "war" has created even more terrorism--as we have seen so tragically in Iraq. The State Department itself recently released a study showing that worldwide terrorism has increased 25% in 2006, including a 40% surge in civilian fatalities.

By framing this as a "war," we have walked right into the trap that terrorists have set--that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war against Islam.

The "war" metaphor has also failed because it exaggerates the role of only one instrument of American power--the military. This has occurred in part because the military is so effective at what it does. Yet if you think all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

Edwards reaches back in his speech to the same place the warmongers do - World War II. But instead of talking about a great crusade, he remembers a man named Marshall - the man who created the Marshall plan and helped rebuild Europe, ensuring that America both had strong allies and good friends. The US, after World War II, was truly mighty, with over half the entire world's industrial production. It didn't have to be generous; it didn't have to be kind - but it was, and in so doing it sowed the seeds for 50 years of American security and prosperity.

Edwards point is not that the swords should be beat into plowshares, or that a military isn't needed. Indeed, he spends about half the speech giving quite specific details on what he will do rebuild the army, take care of soldiers and veterans and reformulate military strategy.

His point, rather, is that the military is only one part of America's power, and that it is not suitable for all tasks. Unlike many others (such as Hilary) he explicitly rejects the idea of necessarily expanding the military "why, if it's leaving Iraq, which it must" without first examinging "what do we need the military for?"

Edwards' speech is perhaps the best I've read in foreign policy terms this electoral season, probably even more so than Richardson's (for all that Richardson gave more specifics), because of the way it strikes right at the foundations of jingoism, fear and militarism in the US. It seeks to make the military just one tool for foreign affairs; it urges America to live up to her own ideals and it rejects the politics of terror which have been used not just to whip up Americans against Muslims, but against each other. Edwards isn't just thinking about what will win (must offer more money to the military, Americans like that) but is thinking about what it takes to rebuild America's influence in the world - hard influence, and soft influence.

This refusal to play into Republican frames; this refusal to pander in any way to the politics of fear that Republicans used to master America is exactly what the US needs. It's time to stop saying the things one "ought" to say and to say the things that need to be said. In attacking the war on terror; in saying the "long war" is a lie; in promising outright to restore habeas corpus, end torture and close Guantanmo; and in promising to reach out to the world not with guns, but with aid and education, Edwards reaches back to the true spirit of the men who lead the war against the Reich - to use force only when you must, and to be fair and generous in your dealings with others.

That was the America that many, myself included, grew up loving.

Hopefully Edwards will stay true to this vision, and hopefully Americans will join with him in restoring America to its place as a beacon of freedom for all in the world to admire. Hopefully in the future we will again be able to say that while the US does ill (as do all great nations), it does much much more good.

Hopefully. In a sense, it's really not up to Edwards. It's up to Americans whether they respond to this or whether fear has made them into the sort of people who need a "strong man" to "protect them".

Diary of a Christian terrorist

Frightenting story on AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/52317/) about Mark David Uhl, a student at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, who was arrested for planning to assassinate Fred Phelps, a "pastor" who was planning to protest Falwell's funeral with his ubiquitous "God Hates Fags" signs.

Whether or not Phelps is a man who deserves much sympathy, the bigger story is one of perspective. In an era where many on the Right are making good money whipping up their followers by demonizing all Muslims (I'm looking at you, Glenn Beck), it should be remembered that all faiths have their share of unhinged crazies.

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This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Visitors to Mark David Uhl's Myspace page will quickly learn that Uhl is a student at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, that he is a devoted Christian, that his name means "Mighty Warrior" -- and that he likes Will Smith's saccharine tear-up-the-club track, "Switch." Uhl reveals his career ambitions on his page as well: "I will join the Army as an officer after college." Already, Uhl was preparing in Liberty's ROTC program.

Uhl waited until he was offline, however, to reveal his plot to kill the family of itinerant Calvinist provocateur Fred Phelps (famous for their "Fag Troops" rallies outside soldiers' funerals). The Phelpses planned to protest Falwell's funeral, a bizarre stunt designed to highlight Falwell's somehow insufficiently draconian attitude towards homosexuals. Uhl made several bombs and allegedly told a family member he planned to use them to attack the Phelps family.

He was arrested soon after and charged with manufacturing explosives. On the surface, Uhl appears to be the latest version of Virginia Tech rampage killer (and "Richard McBeef" author) Cho Seung-Hui. Indeed, both Uhl and Cho were alienated young men who conceived or carried out campaigns of mass murder on college campuses.

But there is a crucial difference between Uhl and Cho: while Cho's motives remain a source of intense debate, Uhl was an a devout evangelical Christian who advocated religious violence in the name of American nationalism. Uhl's blog, featured on his Myspace page, offers a window into the political underpinnings of his bomb plot. In one post, Uhl implores Christians to die on the battlefield for "Uncle Sam." He justifies his call to arms by quoting several Biblical passages and reminding his readers that the "gift of God" is eternal life.

"Christians, we have been given life after death and we should help others receive it and not sit here in our big buildings and sing to ourselves so we can go home and feel good about ourselves," Uhl writes. "Christians, fear of death, fear of death. The fear of death shows you don't believe."

Uhl concludes, "God needs soldiers to fight so his children may live free. Are you afraid??? I'm not. SEND ME!!! "

Uhl's imploration sounds eerily like the battle-cries of another, more notorious religious radical: Osama bin-Laden. Consider what bin-Laden < a href=”http://www.usvetdsp.com/osam_qts.htm”>told the Independent in 1993. "`I was never afraid of death... As Muslims, we believe that when we die, we go to heaven. Before a battle, God sends us... tranquility."

Christian right leaders from the late Falwell to James Dobson have turned Muslim-bashing into a cottage industry, using the words of bin-Laden and his acolytes to allege that Islam is an inherently violent religion that "breeds" terrorism. After meeting with President George W. Bush two weeks ago about Iran and Iraq, Dobson conducted a hysterical five-part broadcast hyping the threat of radical Islam. (CD's of those broadcasts will soon be available on Focus on the Family's website, with all proceeds going to support Dobson's kulturkampf -- and his paycheck).

The response of Dobson and his allies to Uhl's arrest will reflect more on themselves than on any impressionable 19-year-old college student. The Christian right has warped religious doctrine to advance a Utopian political worldview that promises to purify the land of liberal decadence. Through one of its flagship universities, the Christian right produced a terrorist. Their hysterical warnings of the threat of radical Islam sound increasingly like projections.

But then again, maybe it's all Will Smith's fault.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Stretching of the Military

Disturbing story from AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/52292/?page=1) by Winslow Wheeler, detailing the mental health effects of the extended tours our soldiers are enduring in Iraq. The highlights:

"Only 47 percent of soldiers and only 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect."
"Well over a third of soldiers and Marines reported torture should be allowed, whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine … or to obtain important information about insurgents…."
"28 percent of soldiers and 30 percent of Marines reported they had cursed and/or insulted Iraqi noncombatants in their presence."

Well, that should go well towards winning the hearts and minds of Iraq. At least now General Petraeus recognizes that a political solution is the only thing that's going to make a difference. The problem is, I believe, we're far past even that point now. Our soliders have been in such an untenable, unwinnable position (as described by the article) for so long, that the best we are doing now is postponing the inevitable disaster until after the current President leaves office.

------

Two weeks ago, the press reported on the findings of a five-month-old study dealing with soldiers' ethics and mental health from the Office of the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army Medical Command. Some accounts focused on an alarming statistic in the executive summary of the report: 10 percent of the Soldiers and Marines interviewed reported "mistreating noncombatants (damaged/destroyed Iraqi property when not necessary or hit/kicked a noncombatant when not necessary)." The articles raised the specter of widespread mistreatment of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops -- an issue darkly hinted at by previous -- but seemingly isolated -- reports of rape and murder, such as in Haditha, Iraq.

Some of the press accounts of the surgeon general's study, "Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) IV; Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07," also reported the more detailed findings from its chapter on "Battlefield Ethics." The information became more disconcerting; the problems were clearly more serious and pervasive than the executive summary indicated:


"Only 47 percent of soldiers and only 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect."
"Well over a third of soldiers and Marines reported torture should be allowed, whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine … or to obtain important information about insurgents…."
28 percent of soldiers and 30 percent of Marines reported they had cursed and/or insulted Iraqi noncombatants in their presence.
9 percent and 12 percent, respectively, reported damaging or destroying Iraqi property "when it was not necessary."
4 percent and 7 percent, respectively, reported hitting or kicking a noncombatant "when it was not necessary.
The study also reports that only 55 percent of soldiers and just 40 percent of Marines would report a unit member injuring or killing "an innocent noncombatant," and just 43 percent and 30 percent, respectively, would report a unit member destroying or damaging private property.
It is notable that these are the responses the survey team received; there are probably more soldiers and Marines who may have been reluctant to respond completely and accurately to an Army questionnaire on such sensitive topics. Therefore, the data recorded should be regarded as a floor, not a ceiling.

Regardless of just how frequent the abuse may be beyond the survey results, these are descriptions of behaviors that can only alienate the Iraqi population against the U.S. military presence there, and against any among that population, including its politicians, who welcome or even tolerate our presence. It is not just that we are not winning; we are helping the enemy. When the historians explain why America lost the war in Iraq, this study should be prominent evidence.

Reacting to the surgeon general's devastating study, our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, said he was "very concerned" and that he had been writing "a memorandum to our leaders and to our troopers to discuss these kinds of issues and to note that we can never sink to the level of the enemy" ("General to 'Re-Educate' Troops on Values," UPI, May 9, 2007). It is the kind of reaction one might expect from a politician being careful to offend no one (except Iraqis), or perhaps a bureaucrat who believes memoranda make the world go around.

If he read the entire study from the surgeon general, Petraeus probably hopes that no one else reads it. The study seeks to explain the reasons for our troops' abusive behavior, and that explanation casts devastating illumination on the logic of this war. It also provides a prospective explanation for why the "surge" of American troops in Iraq, which Petraeus has accepted as his mission, can only make things worse.

Page 38 of the surgeon general's study states that "soldiers who screened positive for a mental health problem (anxiety, depression or acute stress) were twice as likely to engage in unethical behavior (i.e., abuse of Iraqi civilians) compared to those soldiers who did not screen positive." Subsequent pages make the same point about Marines.

What causes the "anxiety, depression or acute stress" that can result in the abuse? For Army personnel, deployment tempo is a major factor: "Soldiers deployed to Iraq more than once were more likely to screen positive for acute stress," notes the report. And perhaps even more significantly, given the rotation schedule in Iraq: "Long deployment length [described as one year] continues to be the top concern for … soldiers."

The study recommended extending the period of time soldiers spend at home with their families to 18-36 months, while also decreasing the length of deployments in Iraq to under one year.

As the study noted, Marines typically deploy to Iraq for six or seven months, and the study found that "because of shorter deployments, Marines tend to have fewer deployment concerns" and the resultant stress from that cause (16). But the Marines engaged in the same "unethical" behavior toward Iraqi civilians. The study made it clear that Marines share other conditions with soldiers, especially involvement in combat.

The study categorized three levels of combat involvement: high, medium and low, as determined by how much time soldiers and Marines spent "outside the wire" of base camps, garrisons or the infamous "Green Zone" in Baghdad. The study found a "linear relationship between combat level and screening positive for anxiety, depression, acute stress and any mental health problem."

Then, the study noted:


Thirty percent of soldiers in the high combat condition screened positive for a mental health problem compared to … 11 percent for the low combat condition, with soldiers from the high combat spending 56 hours a week outside the base camp compared to approximately … 12 hours for soldiers in the low combat condition."
As above, the number of troops reporting they experienced "anxiety, depression or acute stress" should also be regarded as a floor to the data. Just as was the case from Vietnam, it may be years before we, and the rest of American society, know how many of our soldiers and Marines have been permanently and deeply scared by their combat experiences in Iraq.

The study continued:


At no time in our military history have soldiers and Marines been required to serve on the front line in any war for a period of 6-7 months, let alone a year, without a significant break in order to recover from the physical, psychological and emotional demands that ensue from combat. During World War II, entire units were withdrawn from the line for months at a time in order to rest and refurbish. Even during Vietnam, weeklong combat patrols in the field were followed by several days of rest and recuperation at the base camp.

Yet, in Iraq neither soldiers nor Marines experiencing high levels of combat receive significant in-theater periods of recovery. ... Arguing that the intensity of the combat operations in Iraq is not comparable to those of previous wars such as World War II and Vietnam and, therefore, recovery periods are unnecessary demonstrates a lack of appreciation of what constitutes combat in general and ignorance as to the level of combat soldiers and Marines are experiencing in Iraq. Being in mortal danger for hours on end, every day of the week for months at a time is at best physically exhausting and mentally draining.
It must be noted that the study was written in November 2006, shortly before President George W. Bush announced the "surge" that Petraeus would command. The surge, as implemented by Petraeus, is doing everything exactly wrong for the soldiers and Marines described in this study, namely:


The surge has increased the frequency of soldier deployments; it requires them to serve 15 months in Iraq on each deployment, rather than 12, and it reduced to 12 months the period they can expect to be at home with their families to recuperate.

Most importantly, for both soldiers and Marines, the surge exacerbates their already prolonged exposure to combat. It is not just a question of operations being more intense; a fundamental aspect of the surge is to locate soldiers and Marines outside their base camps and garrisons into forward locations, in the middle of towns and cities, in civilian neighborhoods.

The soldiers and Marines are being asked to mingle on a 24-hour per-day basis among the very same civilians we now know have been on the receiving end of widespread abusive behavior from soldiers and Marines previously stressed out by the mismanagement of how we deploy them.

The surge plan is to take those factors that alienate our soldiers and Marines from Iraqi civilians, make those factors worse, thereby increasing the likely alienation from those civilians, and then telling the soldiers and Marines to live among those civilians 24 hours a day and to protect them.

It is a prescription for disaster: more stress, more abuse, more alienation, more sympathy and support for the enemy, more combat, more stress, and so it goes on and on.

Petraeus told us he was writing a memo to his soldiers and Marines, exhorting them to interact with Iraqi civilians in a positive manner. He is not altering how, when or where our troops are being deployed, either inside Iraq or to and from it. Making their circumstances worse, Petraeus now tells our troops to simply "suck it up."

Our soldiers and Marines are in an utterly impossible situation: Their leadership creates circumstances that cause their alienation from the Iraqi civilian population and then forces them to live among those same alienated people.

The ill-logic of this war -- started for reasons no one now accepts -- continues to astound. It is impossible for our soldiers and Marines to endure it without great cost to themselves or the civilians who surround them, almost certainly both. Having failed to alleviate the circumstances of their stress but aggravating them, many political figures in the Pentagon and Congress will surely declare themselves shocked and repelled by the unavoidable results. The next step is the inevitable punishment of the perpetrators, but only the ones they will prefer to identify lower on the totem pole than themselves. The leadership of this war will prance on, pointing the finger of blame at someone else when the inescapable failure becomes unmistakable.

Monday, May 21, 2007

With the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft ...

Kind of a neat story from ESPN.com (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=granderson/070520&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab2pos2) by LZ Granderson about Greg Oden, the center from Ohio State who almost certainly will be the first selection in the '07 NBA Draft. Oden sounds a little like another of my favorite NBA players, Tim Duncan, a quiet guy who goes about his business dominating the hardwood. Woven into the story is a discussion about the value of "street cred," especially in the NBA marketing, and how a guy like Oden (or Duncan) really doesn't fit into that image.

Although I STILL say his foul at the end of regulation against Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Tournament should have been called an intentional ...

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Dear Greg: Don't change who you are

By LZ Granderson
Page 2

I thought Greg Oden was pulling my leg.

Sure, "Switch" was hot for a minute but who actually knows every song by Will Smith? Least of all the guy who is supposed to be the NBA's next great big man? But Oden didn't blink when I asked him to give me a couple of bars of "Summertime," a classic, but Oden was what, 2 years old when it came out?

"Here it is, the groove slightly transformed
Just a bit of a break from the norm ..."

"I don't want to go no further, you know, make him mad, copyright his stuff ..." Oden says with a smile.

Greg Oden and Travis Smith
Photo courtesy of Travis Smith family
Travis Smith, Oden's best friend, was killed in an automobile accident in January.

His admiration of Smith doesn't end there. Not only does Oden own every CD but he also has all of Will Smith's movies and has seen every episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."

He also watches way too much CBS for a 19-year-old.

To look at Greg Oden -- his towering frame, dark skin, grizzly face -- he fits the stereotypical image of one not to mess with.

But to know Greg Oden, how could you not?

The future lottery pick has this refreshing affinity for some of the corniest things middle America has to offer. There's nothing edgy or hardcore about Will Smith and there isn't anything edgy or hardcore about his biggest fan -- pun intended.

"I wanted to be a dentist when I was younger," Oden says, ironic, considering he recently had 11 cavities filled because of his sweet tooth. "But then I started to get big and realized that my hands were so big, I'd kind of scare the little kids away.

"I just realized that basketball and going to the NBA was a possibility, and that's something that I want to use to better my family and possibly help the world if I can."

You want to help the world, Greg?

Don't change.

Stay the same warm, slightly goofy and totally un-hip person that you are. Love Will Smith, TiVo "The New Adventures of Old Christine," and if you want, wear a fanny pack on road trips.

OK, don't wear the fanny pack.

But do continue to be yourself.

Greg Oden and friends
Photo courtesy of Travis Smith family
It's hard to develop street cred when you spent part of your childhood in Terre Haute, Indiana.

One of the reasons black men in general, and specifically those in the NBA have an image problem is because too many of us treat street cred as a precious commodity to obtain, as opposed to what it really is -- the byproduct of unfortunate circumstances. The rationale is so perverse that otherwise friendly players will scowl in photo shoots and spin tales about the hustle despite growing up attending private schools in the suburbs or in a loving home with two parents. Listen, regardless of what they will tell you, every black person older than 50 did not march with Dr. King and every black NBA player did not dodge bullets to get to school.

Members of the media will often blindly play along, walking into an interview with the story already written in their heads because, "Hey, it's a black ballplayer, of course he had it rough." They will edit video footage to show a player looking menacing on the court and yelling toward the heavens while a voiceover describes him as a "beast" or "monster" over a hip-hop beat. They will leave clips of a smiling Greg Oden on the cutting room floor because it doesn't fit the theme they are going for. They will briefly mention how the death of his best friend, Travis Smith, affected his life because he died in an automobile accident but had it been a gang-related death it would have been the dramatic lead. I've already had an exchange with someone in the media wondering how Oden's love of Will Smith will affect his street cred. All I kept thinking was, "Greg Oden grew up in Terre Haute, Ind. How much street cred can he have?"

It doesn't help that shoe companies prefer their basketball players black, intimidating and with a high level of street appeal. It makes it easier to market their products to consumers who wear "Stop Snitchin'" T-shirts and the people who inspire them. This explains why the past two NBA MVPs -- Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki -- don't have their own shoes but Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady do. All are talented players but obviously the who-gets-what decisions are not based solely on wins. A shame considering there are tons of 30-something gym rats who would probably love to buy a Nash shoe if for no other reason than they can identify with him.

And there are plenty of young, black men who identify with Greg Oden. Not everyone is edgy, or hardcore, or from the streets. Some are warm, slightly goofy and totally un-hip, and they need someone they can relate to as well.

You can't control what people think about you but you can control what you think about yourself.

Very soon Greg Oden will be presented with that opportunity to help the world. But it won't come from writing a check or volunteering for a charity. It will come from his willingness to continue to say "Two and a Half Men" is his favorite TV show and "Parents Just Don't Understand" is the greatest rap song ever recorded.

Corny? Yes. But it's important to remember the street is not the only place where cred comes from.

Osama doesn't really hate our freedom?

Really well done, short-but-sweet piece from Michael Sheuer, the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit. It's an excerpt from a Slate article telling us what we should already know - that Osama bin Laden is not a cartoon villain that acts just because he hates Mom, apple pie, and America, but instead has specific goals and objectives that he is trying to achieve.

Turning bin Laden into Cobra Commander is certainly useful for propaganda purposes. It makes it easier for Joe Sixpack watching TV to get all excited about things like warrantless wiretaps and "enhanced interrogation techniques." But it doesn't really do anything to, you know, actually solve the problem.

But why would the current President want to do something like that, anyway?

Let's be clear. Acknowledging that bin Laden may have actual, rational goals he's trying to accomplish does not in any way legitimize him. By recognizing that he's not a cartoon doesn't mean that he's right, and we shouldn't oppose him. But how in the world can you defeat an enemy if you don't understand what the enemy is trying to accomplish?

Unless, of course, actually defeating the enemy isn't as important as using the enemy in true Orwellian manner to mold the people you rule ...

------

Osama Doesn’t Hate Our Freedom: The fundamental flaw in our thinking about Bin Laden is that “Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do.” Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It’s American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaida, not American culture and society.

How is the United States threatening Muslim lands? The post-9/11 crackdowns on Muslim charities have effectively ended tithing, which is one of the five pillars of Islam; our casual denunciations of “jihad” sneer at a central tenet of the Muslim faith. America supports corrupt anti-Muslim governments in Uzbekistan and China, “apostate” governments in the Middle East, and the new Christian state of East Timor. And, above all, it continues to house occupying forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In several videotaped messages since 9/11 bin Laden gave very different, specific reasons for the attack, to wit: the U.S.-led embargo of humanitarian aid to Iraq in the 1990s following Gulf War I (in hopes that starving, illness-crazed Iraqis would arise to overthrow Saddam Hussein), later replaced with a corrupt and equally ineffective U.N. food-and-medicine-for-oil program, which together were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children; America’s unwavering Israel-first Middle-East foreign policy which has so often ignored the rights of Palestinians and which contributes to so much instability in the region, and the continued, growing presence of U.S. military bases in the Middle East, specifically in Saudi Arabia, the holiest lands in Islam.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On Patriotism

Very well written piece by Bob Geiger via AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/51969/) expressing his dismay at the American Legion's consistent positions that any opposition to the Iraq war should be stifled in the name of "supporting the troops." The AL is another in a long line of groups that demand that we forfeit our right and obligation as citizens to shape the policies of our country in the name of patriotism.

I am not a veteran, so I am at a disadvantage in a discussion about war. Mr. Geiger is not at such a disadvantage, and his passionate defense of the duty of a free citizenry to participate in the governmental process - even if it means criticizing a war in progress, or ESPECIALLY if it means it - is one I applaud.

------

It's always been kind of sad for me that, ever since my discharge from the military in the mid 70s, the best thing I've been able to say about the American Legion is that their restaurant makes the best damn steak I can get in my tiny Nebraska hometown. Other than that small bit of merit, the organization has done nothing but embarrass me with their rote, pro-war positions and, over the last few years, how they seem to care far more about people burning the American flag than they do about troops being used as cannon fodder and Veterans being neglected in V.A. hospitals.

I thought I hit peak disgust with their twisted brand of patriotism in 2005 when the group's last national commander, Thomas Cadmus, gave a speech at the Legion's national convention in which he called for an end to all "public protests" and "media events" against the Iraq war. The convention delegates then voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Cadmus told convention delegates.

I know when I was sworn into the U.S. Navy, I made a pledge "to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America" and it was apparent to me in 2005 that the American Legion had forgotten that the oath we all took was intended to protect exactly the rights they threatened to destroy with un-American stances like that.

And it looks like they haven't changed a bit in two years.

Now they're after Senator John Edwards and his presidential campaign for creating a web site in which Edwards submits that the best way to observe the upcoming Memorial Day, might be to take a stand designed to limit the number of newly-dead Americans we mourn at 2008's observance.

Well, the American Legion's current National Commander, Paul Morin, didn’t like that one bit -- he wants, what, more dead in the next 12 months? -- and said so in a strident post on his web site yesterday.


"One presidential candidate has blatantly violated the sanctity of this most special day. I recently received an e-mail from a group called 'Supportthetroopsendthewar.com.' It included a video of former Sen. John Edwards. He calls on Americans to use Memorial Day weekend as a time to 'bring an end to this war.'


"Shockingly, the video is titled 'A Memorial Day Message from John Edwards,' with the smoking gun note, 'Paid for by John Edwards for President.' Moreover, the e-mail recommends that Americans bring signs with the message 'Support the troops, End the War' to local Memorial Day parades. Revolting is a kind word for it. It’s as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington headstone
Morin blabs some more and then ends by saying that we should "attend a parade without the divisive political signs."

It kind of tells you where this guy's head is at that he considers banners displaying a message supported by the majority of Americans to stop the needless death of American troops to be "divisive political signs."

But then, this is the same guy whose organization fought like crazy to help keep the truth of the Abu Ghraib photos from getting out, has rabidly supported George W. Bush escalating the Iraq quagmire and who opposes a troop-withdrawal timeline with this misleading and silly analogy: "Thank God there was no mandated timetable after the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima. Thank God, there was no mandated withdrawal or imposed exit strategy at Valley Forge or our Country would have lost the American Revolution.”

And, again, the Legion really really spends a lot of energy on the issue of flag burning, despite the fact that I stand a better chance of scoring a hot date with Scarlett Johansson than the average American has of seeing our flag burned in their lifetime.

And what outrageous, radical thing did Edwards say on his web site's video to get Morin's blood pressure up? Brace yourself… Here's Edwards:


"What we're asking you to do this Memorial Day weekend is to gather together with your friends, to volunteer, to pray, to speak out and make it clear that we support the troops, we want to honor their sacrifice, that we are incredibly thankful as a nation for what they've done for us in their service in Iraq.


"And the best way to honor their service and the best way to support them is for the President of the United States to do what America has demanded be done -- and that's to end this war. So this Memorial Day weekend, don't stand quietly, don’t just go to picnics, don't just gather with your friends -- engage in an act of patriotism, show how much you love this country and speak out in support of our troops and bring an end to this war."
Harsh stuff, huh?

And, in a list of ten suggestions for Memorial Day weekend that included praying for the troops and those we have previously lost, preparing and sending care packages to our military in Iraq and helping Veterans at home, Edwards did indeed suggest displaying signs asking that we end the needless killing of our troops and end this war.

It's going to be tough for the Edwards team to respond to Morin's attack because the aura of faux patriotism created by the Bush administration has made it difficult to question an organization like the American Legion -- even when they make downright un-American pronouncements and other veiled threats to stifle dissent. It doesn't take much these days to be called unpatriotic if you argue with anyone in the military or who has ever been in uniform.

But the American Legion might as well get ready to tell this honorably-discharged Veteran and many more like me that we too are wrong -- and "revolting" -- because a whole bunch of us will stand with John Edwards on this one. I hurt every day when I read the names of those who have been killed in Iraq. My loyalty is with them, not with the American Legion and the right-wing creed of their misguided organization.

And the former Democratic Senator from North Carolina is absolutely right in suggesting that the best way to support the troops is to remove them from the Iraqi civil war.

While John Edwards is expressing the sentiments of the vast majority of the American people, he is also speaking from his own heart about the sorrow he feels for the most recent of those we honor on Memorial Day and making the very patriotic suggestion that we all get out there and do something about it.

Meanwhile, the American Legion castigates people like Edwards, while themselves advocating more war having nothing to do with our security, more death and, in the process, assuming some small share of accountability -- along with their Chickenhawk heroes in the White House -- for the ongoing carnage

John Edwards can't say it, but I can: When it comes to stances like that expressed by Morin yesterday, the American Legion is full of crap – and they most assuredly do not speak for this Veteran.

So let the American Legion continue to give blind allegiance to a president who has the blood of thousands of our brave men and women on his hands because he purposefully misled our nation into war with a country that did not attack us and that we now know posed no threat whatsoever to the United States.

In the face of this disgusting misuse of our military and when honorable people are dying for nothing, the best thing this group can do is battle the people exercising their rights to prevent more military lives from being needlessly lost.

Shame on you, Mr. Morin. You may be a fellow Veteran, but, when all is said and done, you don't have a clue about the principles on which our nation was founded or why we fight.

I haven't forgotten the oath I took so many years ago, sir -- have you?


* * * * *

Numbers Note: While people often associate the American Legion with all Veterans, the Legion's membership of 2.7 million comprises only 10 percent of our country's 26.5 million Vets.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Olbermann on Giuliani

My apologies for being a little tardy, but Rudy Giuliani's comments about how the country would be "safer" with a Republican President and how the Democrats would be inable to protect us from a terrorist attack absolutely require universal condemnation. No one does that better than K.O.

------

This is the text of Keith Olbermann's special comment about Rudolph Giuliani's remarks at a Lincoln Day dinner in New Hampshire, where Giuliani said that if a Democrat were elected president in 2008, America would be at risk for another terrorist attack on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001.

Since some indeterminable hour between the final dousing of the pyre at The World Trade Center, and the breaking of what Sen. Barack Obama has aptly termed "9/11 fever," it has been profoundly and disturbingly evident that we are at the center of one of history's great ironies.

Only in this America of the early 21st century could it be true that the man who was president during the worst attack on our nation and the man who was the mayor of the city in which that attack principally unfolded would not only be absolved of any and all blame for the unreadiness of their own governments, but, moreover, would thereafter be branded heroes of those attacks.

And now, that mayor -- whose most profound municipal act in the wake of that nightmare was to suggest the postponement of the election to select his own successor -- has gone even a step beyond these M.C. Escher constructions of history.

"If any Republican is elected president -- and I think obviously I would be best at this -- we will remain on offense and will anticipate what (the terrorists) will do and try to stop them before they do it."

Insisting that the election of any Democrat would mean the country was "back ... on defense," Mr. Giuliani continued: "But the question is how long will it take and how many casualties will we have. If we are on defense, we will have more losses and it will go on longer."

He said this with no sense of irony, no sense of any personal shortcomings, no sense whatsoever.

And if you somehow missed what he was really saying, somehow didn't hear the none-too-subtle subtext of "vote Democratic and die," Mr. Giuliani then stripped away any barrier of courtesy, telling Roger Simon of politico.com:

"America will be safer with a Republican president."

At least that Republican president under which we have not been safer has, even at his worst, maintained some microscopic distance between himself and a campaign platform that blithely threatened the American people with "casualties" if they, next year, elect a Democratic president -- or, inferring from Mr. Giuliani's flights of grandeur in New Hampshire -- even if they elect a different Republican.

How ... dare ... you, sir?

"How many casualties will we have?" -- this is the language of Osama bin Laden.

Yours, Mr. Giuliani, is the same chilling nonchalance of the madman, of the proselytizer who has moved even from some crude framework of politics and society, into a virtual Roman Colosseum of carnage, and a conceit over your own ability -- and worthiness -- to decide who lives and who dies.

Rather than a reasoned discussion -- rather than a political campaign advocating your own causes and extolling your own qualifications -- you have bypassed all the intermediate steps and moved directly to trying to terrorize the electorate into viewing a vote for a Democrat, not as a reasonable alternative and an inalienable right ... but as an act of suicide.

This is not the mere politicizing of Iraq, nor the vague mumbled epithets about Democratic "softness" from a delusional vice president.

This is casualties on a partisan basis -- of the naked assertion that Mr. Giuliani's party knows all and will save those who have voted for it -- and to hell with everybody else.

And that he, with no foreign policy experience whatsoever, is somehow the messiah-of-the-moment.

Even to grant that that formula -- whether posed by Republican or Democrat -- is somehow not the most base, the most indefensible, the most un-American electioneering in our history -- even if it is somehow acceptable to assign "casualties" to one party and "safety" to the other -- even if we have become so profane in our thinking that it is part of our political vocabulary to view counter-terror as one party's property and the other's liability ... on what imaginary track record does Mr. Giuliani base his boast?

Which party held the presidency on Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party held the mayoralty of New York on that date, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party assured New Yorkers that the air was safe and the remains of the dead recovered and not being used to fill potholes, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party wanted what the terrorists wanted -- the postponement of elections -- and to whose personal advantage would that have redounded, Mr. Giuliani?

Which mayor of New York was elected eight months after the first attack on the World Trade Center, yet did not emphasize counter-terror in the same city for the next eight years, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party had proposed to turn over the Department of Homeland Security to Bernard Kerik, Mr. Giuliani?

Who wanted to ignore and hide Kerik's organized crime allegations, Mr. Giuliani?

Who personally argued to the White House that Kerik need not be vetted, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party rode roughshod over Americans' rights while braying that it was actually protecting them, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party took this country into the most utterly backwards, utterly counterproductive, utterly ruinous war in our history, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party has been in office as more Americans were killed in the pointless fields of Iraq than were killed in the consuming nightmare of 9/11, Mr. Giuliani?

Drop this argument, sir.

You will lose it.

"The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us," Mr. Giuliani continued to the Rockingham County Lincoln Day Dinner last night. "Never, ever again will this country be on defense waiting for (terrorists) to attack us, if I have anything to say about it. And make no mistake, the Democrats want to put us back on defense."

There is no room for this.

This is terrorism itself, dressed up as counter-terrorism.

It is not warning, but bullying -- substituted for the political discourse now absolutely essential to this country's survival and the freedom of its people.

No Democrat has said words like these. None has ever campaigned on the Republicans' flat-footedness of Sept. 11, 2001. None has the requisite, irresponsible, all-consuming ambition. None is willing to say "I accuse," rather than recognize that, to some degree, all of us share responsibility for our collective stupor.

And if it is somehow insufficient, that this is morally, spiritually, and politically wrong, to screech as Mr. Giuliani has screeched, there is also this: that gaping hole in Mr. Giuliani's argument of "Republicans equal life; Democrats equal death."

Not only have the Republicans not lived up to their babbling on this subject, but last fall the electorate called them on it.

As doubtless they would call you on it, Mr. Giuliani.

Repeat -- go beyond -- Mr. Bush's rhetorical calamities of 2006.

Call attention to the casualties on your watch, and your long, waking slumber in the years between the two attacks on the World Trade Center.

Become the candidate who runs on the Vote-For-Me-Or-Die platform.

Do a Joe McCarthy, a Lyndon Johnson, a Robespierre.

Only, if you choose so to do, do not come back surprised nor remorseful if the voters remind you that "terror" is not just a matter of "casualties." It is, just as surely, a matter of the promulgation of fear.

Claim a difference between the parties on the voters' chances of survival -- and you do bin Laden's work for him.

And we -- Democrats and Republicans alike, and every variation in between -- We Americans! -- are sick to death of you and the other terror-mongers trying to frighten us into submission, into the surrender of our rights and our reason, into this betrayal of that for which this country has always stood.

Franklin Roosevelt's words ring true again tonight.

And, clarified and amplified, they are just as current now as they were when first he spoke them, 74 years ago.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself" -- and those who would exploit our fear, for power and for their own personal, selfish, cynical, gain.

Good night, and good luck.

Friday, May 11, 2007

First Amendment right to lie

Really interesting article from factcheck.org about how the First Amendment protects political speech, even when it is calculatingly false. Ultimately, I think that's probably a good thing, as the idea of a government screening board for a political ad is even more frightening, but some of the examples given are really wake-up calls for people to be attentive and engaged during a campaign.

And, yes, that sound you heard was in fact a herd of pigs flying overhead.

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False Ads: There Oughta Be A Law! - Or Maybe Not
June 3, 2004
Updated: May 10, 2007
By Brooks Jackson
(This article was originally posted June 3, 2004. We are reissuing it now, updated only to fix bad links and such. Politicians still can lie legally, and the high volume of ads expected in 2008 campaigns makes it likely that voters will be exposed to more deception than ever. —B.J.)


Here's a fact that may surprise you: Candidates have a legal right to lie to voters just about as much as they want.

That comes as a shock to many. After all, consumers have been protected for decades from false ads for commercial products. Shouldn't there be "truth-in-advertising" laws to protect voters, too?

Turns out, that's a tougher question than you might imagine.

For one thing, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech," and that applies to candidates for office especially. And secondly, in the few states that have enacted laws against false political ads, they haven't been very effective.

Bogus Psychics & Twirling Ballerina Dolls

Laws protecting consumers from false advertising of products are enforced pretty vigorously. For example, the Federal Trade Commission took action in 2002 to protect the public from the self-proclaimed psychic "Miss Cleo," who the FTC said promised free readings over the phone and then socked her gullible clients with enormous telephone charges. The FTC even forced a toy company a while back to stop running ads showing its "Bouncin' Kid Ballerina Kid" doll standing alone and twirling gracefully without human assistance, which the FTC said was video hokum.


Federal Communications Act

(U.S. Code: Title 47, Sec. 315. - Candidates for public office)


(a) ... If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provisions of this section.

But there's no such truth-in-advertising law governing federal candidates. They can legally lie about almost anything they want. In fact, the Federal Communications Act even requires broadcasters who run candidate ads to show them uncensored, even if the broadcasters believe their content to be offensive or false.

This is taken very seriously. In a 1972 case, the Federal Communications Commission forced stations in Atlanta, Ga., to accept a paid political ad from J.B. Stoner — a self-proclaimed "white racist" running for the U.S. Senate on the National States Rights party ticket. The NAACP objected to Stoner's ad because it said the "main reason why niggers want integration is because niggers want our white women." The FCC sided with Stoner, citing freedom of speech decisions of the Supreme Court.

Stations can reject ads for any reason from political groups other than candidates. And they may reject ads from all candidates for a given office. But if they take ads from one candidate, they can't legally refuse ads from opponents except for technical reasons (such as being too long or short to fit standard commercial breaks, or if the recording quality is poor) or if they are "obscene." Rejecting a candidate's ad because it's false is simply not allowed.

So what gives? Surely the public stands to suffer more damage from a presidential candidate lying about his opponent than from a bogus psychic. Isn't the process of choosing the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet a more important matter than whether some doll really does what the TV ads show?

Yes. But ...


The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For one thing, the First Amendment guarantee of free speech poses a big obstacle to enacting or enforcing such laws — which it should. The very idea of self-government rests on the idea that voters — given enough uncensored information — can best decide who should be in power and who should not. So free speech applies first and foremost to candidates. As the U.S. Supreme Court said unanimously in a 1971 libel case, "It can hardly be doubted that the constitutional guarantee [of free speech] has its fullest and most urgent application precisely to the conduct of campaigns for political office."

So states have found it hard to enact laws against false political advertising — and even harder to make them work.

Minnesota: The Case of the Furloughed Rapist

Example: In a 1994 House race in Minnesota, Republican candidate Tad Jude ran an emotion-packed ad against Democrat William Luther in the final weekend of the race.

It was reminiscent of the notorious "Willie Horton" ads run against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. In the Jude ad, the candidate cited the case of a woman and two daughters who were kidnapped and raped repeatedly over two days by a man who had been released from prison on a furlough.


The False Ad
That Couldn't Be Outlawed

Announcer: In 1990, a Minnesota woman and her two daughters were abducted and repeatedly raped over a two-day ordeal. Despite two prior convictions, the perpetrator, Daniel Patten, was out of prison on a weekend furlough.
Patten may never have been released and this crime never committed had legislation authored by Tad Jude been enacted. But Jude's bill was stopped by Bill Luther and his liberal friends in the Minnesota Senate. Bill Luther's willingness to set violent criminals free is putting every woman in Minnesota in danger. Sending him to Congress would be a crime.

Jude's ad claimed the rapist "may never have been released and this crime never committed" if Democrat Luther, a state senator, had not blocked a bill sponsored by Republican Jude, who was also a state senator. "Sending [Luther] to Congress would be a crime," it concluded.

The ad was false. Even if Jude's proposed legislation had been enacted, it could not possibly have prevented the crime it described. Reason: Jude's bill would have applied only to persons imprisoned for offenses committed on or after August 1, 1987, and the convict mentioned in the ad had been sentenced in 1983.

Jude lost the election, but the ad may have had an effect. His losing margin was only 549 votes out of more than 200,000 cast.

It was Jude's misfortune, however, to live in one of the very few states that outlaws false political advertising. A special prosecutor presented the case to a grand jury, which indicted Jude and his campaign manager. A conviction could have led to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Problems with Enforcement

The trial judge later threw the case out, however, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the indictment against Jude. In its opinion, the appeals court said that the Minnesota law was too broad, allowing someone to be charged for having only "reason to believe" that an ad they helped prepare was false. The court said that U.S. Supreme Court rulings required a higher standard: evidence of "actual malice." (The full opinion is posted here. A free registration is required.)

To convict, prosecutors would have to prove Jude either knew the ad was false or acted with "reckless disregard" for whether it was true or not. That would have been a tough job; Jude had testified to the grand jury that he was under the false impression that the ad was true, that the rapist named in the ad had been convicted later of a second offense that would have made him subject to the legislation he had proposed. So Jude went free and, in fact, ran against Luther a second time in 1996. That time Luther won with nearly 56 percent of the vote.

The case exposes two problems with relying on truth-in-advertising laws to protect voters from campaign falsehoods. First, prosecutors can't move quickly enough to cure the damage caused by a last-minute, false attack. Jude wasn't indicted until more than a year after the election that he almost won. And second, under the "actual malice" standard a candidate could lie profusely in ads and still get away with it by claiming he or she thought the ads were true, so long as no convincing evidence surfaced to the contrary.

Washington State: The Case of the Killer Ophthalmologists

Washington state also ran into problems trying to enforce its truth-in-political-advertising law after a 1991 ballot referendum fight. At issue was a proposed "death with dignity" law. A group opposed to it, the "119 Vote No! Committee," issued a leaflet saying that if the proposal passed it "WOULD LET DOCTORS END PATIENTS' LIVES WITHOUT BENEFIT OF SAFEGUARDS . .
. No special qualifications-- your eye doctor could kill you."

The ballot proposition failed, and the state's Public Disclosure Commission brought an action charging the 119 Committee with violating state law against false political advertising. The commission said the proposition did contain standards and it was false to say it would open the door to killer ophthalmologists. But the trial court dismissed the charges in this case, too, and the Washington State Supreme Court later struck down the law under which the committee had been charged.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion questioned whether state government officials had any right to substitute their judgment for that of the voters in matters of political speech. Quoting earlier court opinions, it said:

Instead of relying on the State to silence false political speech, the First Amendment requires our dependence on even more speech to bring forth truth. ... The First Amendment exists precisely to protect against laws such as [the Washington state truth-in-advertising law] which suppress ideas and inhibit free discussion of governmental affairs.

The Washington court wasn't unanimous. A judge who dissented complained that the majority had become "the first court in the history of the Republic to declare First Amendment protection for calculated lies" and said that his fellow judges were "shockingly oblivious to the increasing nastiness of modern political campaigns."

At least one other state is enforcing a law against bogus campaign ads. But voters shouldn't take much comfort from that, as the following case study shows.

Ohio: The Case of the Lying Treasurer

Ohio's law has been tested in the courts and has survived, and the Ohio Elections Commission looks into 30 to 40 complaints each year, according to its executive director, Philip C. Richter.


Taft's False Ad: 1998
Announcer: The men and women of law enforcement — they want a governor who is tough on crime. Ohio's police have endorsed Bob Taft for governor — and rejected Lee Fisher.

Our law officers back Bob Taft to expand Ohio's drug courts and hold violent juveniles more accountable.

And Lee Fisher? As attorney general, Fisher cut crime-fighting employees by 15 percent, while increasing his PR budget to $1 million.

Bob Taft for governor. That's how it gets done.

And the seven-member, bipartisan Elections Commission takes its job seriously, as demonstrated in a 1998 case involving a false TV commercial run by the Republican candidate for governor, Bob Taft, against his Democratic opponent, Lee Fisher.

The ad appeared Sept. 18. Fisher complained to the commission, which held hearings and decided the matter less than a month after the ad first aired — astonishing speed to anyone familiar with the usual pace of election-law enforcement. Richter told FactCheck.org that the commission wanted to decide the matter before voters went to the polls, and it met that deadline with more than two weeks to spare.

On Oct. 16 the commission announced its decision. By what it called "clear and convincing evidence" it ruled that the Taft ad violated Ohio's law against false statements. The ad claimed Fisher, who had been the state's attorney general, "cut crime-fighting employees by 15 percent," when in fact the number of credentialed investigators actually increased from 214 to 231 during his four-year tenure. Also, the Taft ad claimed "Ohio's police have endorsed Bob Taft ... and rejected Lee Fisher." Actually, the state's Fraternal Order of Police had been split over its endorsement of Taft, and it didn't represent all of "Ohio's police" in any event.

But Taft paid no real penalty for the false ad, except for some unfavorable publicity. The Elections Commission issued only a letter of reprimand to Taft's campaign treasurer and his campaign organization. The commission has no power to levy fines. In rare cases it forwards complaints to a prosecutor for possible criminal proceedings, but it didn't do that in the Taft case. Taft went on to win the election easily. He's still governor.

Contrast this nearly toothless Ohio law with what the Federal Trade Commission was able to extract from Miss Cleo, who agreed to pay a $5 million penalty to the government and also to give up claims of more than $500 million (yes, half a billion dollars) against her former "clients."

"Convicted of Lying?"

As if to underscore the futility of using government to regulate truth in politics, The Associated Press quoted Fisher's campaign manager, Alan Melamed, after the commission's decision was announced as saying: "Bob Taft has found his place in history. ... He's the first candidate for governor to be convicted of lying." That itself was a false statement. The commission specifically rejected Fisher's complaints against Taft personally, and it has no power to "convict," a word that implies criminal violations.

And so it goes. All this should tell voters that — legally — it's pretty much up to them to sort out who's lying and who's not in a political campaign. Nobody said democracy was supposed to be easy.

It is, of course, the job of news organizations to assist; that's why the First Amendment guarantees a free press as well as free speech. We at FactCheck.org try hard to help. But on Election Day, it's up to you.


Sources:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, The Interplay of Influence: News, Advertising, Politics, and the Mass Media, Fifth Edition, Wadsworth/Thomas Learning (Belmont, CA) 2001: 304-307.

"FCC Won't Block Racist Ad in South," The New York Times 4 Aug 1972: 37.

U.S. Supreme Court, Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265 (1971).

State of Minnesota Court of Appeals, "State of Minnesota v. Thaddeus Victor Jude," C5-96-509 Opinion filed 15 Oct 1996. (free registration required).


Randy Furst, "Jude indicted by grand jury for anti-Luther campaign ad; Prosecutors say he knew ad was false," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 29 Nov 1995: A1.

Randy Furst and Jim Parsons, "Charges against Jude are dismissed; Political ads law unconstitutional," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 2 March 1996: 1A.

Supreme Court of Washington State, "State of Washington v. 199 No! Committee," 957 P.2d 691, 11 June 1998.

Paul Souhrada, "Elections commission says Taft ad was misleading," The Associated Press , 16 Oct. 1998.

Mary Beth Lane and Benjamin Marrison, "Taft Commercial Ruled Untruthful; Commission Says Data On Fisher Was Misused," Cleveland Plain Dealer, 17 Oct. 1998: 4b.

Randy Ludlow, "Taft camp scolded for TV ad," Cincinnati Post , 17 Oct 1998.

"'Miss Cleo' Promoters to Forgive Approximately $500 Million In Outstanding Consumer Charges and Pay an Additional $5 Million to Settle FTC Charges," news release, Federal Trade Commission, 14 Nov 2002

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Evidence of going through the looking glass

ALBERTO GONZALES

Responsible for - Legal justification of torture, indefinite detention, and kidnapping of foreign nationals. Promulgating warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens.

In trouble for - Prosecutors being fired for political reasons, and lying about it.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ

Responsible for - Masterminding a poorly planned and poorly executed war, and helping to create the philosophical underpinnings that has mired the United States in the crossfire of a sectarian civil war.

In trouble for - Getting a cushy job for his girlfriend.

GEORGE TENET

Responsible for - Mishandling at best, manipulating at worst, pre-war intelligence to allow the current President to dupe the American people into a war.

In trouble for - Waiting too long to cash in with his his tell-all memoir.

I understand that Al Capone went to prison for tax evasion, and sometimes that's how things work. But, God almighty, why are we having front-page coverage of Gonzales' handling of the prosecutors but not a peep about his hand in the destruction of America's moral authority? Why is Wolfowitz being crucified for getting his squeeze a sweet deal but getting a pass on being the architect of America's biggest foreign policy disaster, at the cost of over three THOUSAND American lives?

Karma works in mysterious ways.