Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On human rights

Okay, so Amnesty International released a report last week saying that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are being mistreated and calling for the base to be shut down. Dick Cheney responded, in an interview taped for Larry King Live, by saying, "Frankly, I was offended by it. For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously.”

Big, huge shock.

In honor of Dick Cheney's denial issues, mounting allegations of mistreatment, and what I perceive to be a lack of appreciation, in general, for the importance of basic human rights and dignity, June has been declared Human Rights Month here at Practically Harmless. For the entire month of June, we're going to be looking over the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights to see exactly what, in 1948, the civilized world decided were inalienable human rights, and what that means for Americans today. Tune in tomorrow for a little history on the Declaration and a look at the preamble. Until then, keep your holy books out of the toilet and your lightsticks far, far away from any vulnerable orifices; this is Human Rights Month, dammit.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On a little bit of Thursday levity

Okay, so we're not all hard work here at Practically Harmless. We know how to kick back and have a good time, especially if it's at someone else's expense. That's why when all else fails, th reader mail at whitehouse.org is always good for a laugh.

Any perceptive person just picked up on the fact that the actual White House web site is .gov, and the pornographic version is .com. This one is just a good old parody website that features headlines like "Scott McClellan Directs Newsweek Magazine to Immediately Cease and Desist Infringing President Bush's Patent for the Mass Enragement of Muslamian Wackos " and the First Lady's Iron Hymen abstinence initiative. With articles like that, it would be impossible to mistake whitehouse.org for the real thing.



DATE = 05/16/2005
SUBJECT = An idea
MESSAGE = Maybe the president could issue a statement to reporters that the Koran flushed down the toilet at Guantanemo was a terrorist Koran and not the regular Christian Koran. That should make things right with the Afghans and end the recent violence.

Double sigh...
DATE = 05/07/2005
SUBJECT = Dear President 43 Our armory in the city of Tonawanda NY was sold to a Muslim.
MESSAGE = Dear President 43 Our armory in the city of Tonawanda NY was sold to a Muslim... I would like you to know that I realize we are not to be preg. towards others....... but, this is our armory... And, I want you to know that in light of what is going on... I want you to realize that it is frightening it just is... across the street is a convenience store and a family of Muslims... just please know they bought a civil war armory our armory and it scars me still if I told U before... just the thought hurts my stomach... please help on this matter... maybe U can take in back in home land security name... it's on Delaware St. ave... Tonawanda NY 14150... coming from buffalo on the right.... sigh...


Tonawanda, NY...

Sniff, sob...
DATE = 04/29/2005
SUBJECT = question
MESSAGE = Mr. President, I'm just an average citizen but I do have concerns. Why is it not possible to just start from zero in our financial crisis??? we can print them money pay our debt and start from zero.when the first government was I guessed formed way back yonder,they started from zero. why couldn't we do that?? Is it not possible to do that, Restart it all

Cough, choke...
DATE = 02/20/2005
MESSAGE = Dear George W. Bush,
I Believe Un Born Again Christians And UnBelievers And Children Of Devil And Sons Of Devil Should Be Stop Going To CHURCH. I Believe Believers And Born Again Christians And Children Of God And Sons Of God Should Be Only Be Going To CHURCH. I Testifiy To You To Have GOVERNMENT Have Un Born Again Christians That Have No Come To SALVATION Being Baptized In Water Should Stop Going To CHURCH.

And my very own favorite:
DATE = 12/18/2004
SUBJECT = you're website
MESSAGE = i have reported you to the federal building of Investigation.

Kinda makes you wonder what kind of e-mail they're getting over at whit ehouse.com.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On stupid-ass compromises

Or, give it away, give it away, give it away now.

Okay, so if my grandfather gave a rat's ass about politics, he would say, "What the hell kind of stupid compromise is this?" Once again the Democrats, the battered wives of the political world, have rolled over for the Republican majority. In case no one has told you, Senate Dems, a compromise is when both parties give something up, not when you give something up and they laugh at you behind your back.

The conditions of the fingerquote-compromise-unfingerquote reached by fourteen fairly moderate Republican and Democratic senators are that the Repubs won't take away the filibuster as long as the Dems promise to only use it under "extraordinary circumstances." And apparently, those circumstances don't include judges like much-debated Priscilla R. Owen, who had been for the Dems the poster child for objectionable appointments but is now hunky dory, along with Janice Rogers Brown and William H. Pryor.

Now, don't get me wrong - I am all about bipartisan cooperation, and I know that the rest of the country doesn't particularly care about Senate procedure as much as, say, education, or health care, or the environment. But this compromise is, to be a little bit frank, a load of horse poo. Dems have gone from voluntarily giving up their lunch money to flushing their own heads in the toilet and closing themselves in their lockers, in the hopes that the cool kids will like them more. Unity and cooperation can only go so far; there's only so much you can give up.

For the record, in case there was any question, the Republicans have given up precisely nothing. They've said that they wouldn't change 200 years of Senate precedence to disallow the filibuster. Well, folks, to do that would be wrong. The majority of American people know it, the majority of senators know it, there's a good chance they wouldn't be able to ban the filibuster anyway because even moderate Republicans know it would be wrong. The Republicans have volunteered to just not do the wrong thing, and in return, the Democrats have volunteered to back away from their principles and greenlight three judges that they've been blocking because they're too extreme for mainstream America and would be bad judges.

Democrats, I know it's hard to accept, but the cool kids will never like you. And the more you do their homework for them, the more you cover for them when they get caught smoking in the bathroom, the more lunch money you give them, the more they laugh about you in the locker room. This isn't the way to gain the respect of the Republicans, and it certainly isn't the way to gain the respect of the American people. There are times for compromise and times for backbone, and the Democrats aren't going to win a damn thing until they figure out when those times are.

Cross-posted at Hey Jenny Slater.

Monday, May 23, 2005

On true democracy in Afghanistan

Okay, so back in January, when Iraq was having its elections and Republicans were wandering around with purple fingers and pretending that they'd made those historical votes themselves, President Bush said that he was prepared to pull out of Iraq should the new government so request. Now, the Iraqi government hasn't actually made that request, which would be a foolish thing to do considering the current unrest (she says mildly). But someone else has.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai didn't even ask Bush to pull US troops out of Afghanistan; he just wants more authority over the troops currently occupying his ostensibly democratic country. Bush said no.

In his defense, Bush did make the point that "of course, our troops will respond to US commanders." And it makes sense that they should. The US military comes as a complete package with chains of command established; they're not mercenaries ready to be parcelled out one by one to whomever needs them next. And also in Bush's defense, recent riots over desecration of the Quran as reported by Newsweek indicate that Afghanistan might not be the most stable of nations. But it's a sovereign nation and a democratic nation.

President Bush's favorite words are liberty and freedom. He loves talking about spreading democracy to nations newly freed from tyranny. The democratic elections in Afghanistan and Iraq were claimed as triumphs for the Bush administration. Now it's time for Bush to show how much he really loves democracy. If he really loves it, if he's all about freedom and liberty, he'll let the democratically elected Afghan government take control of its country. If he doesn't like the way they run the country, if he thinks it puts US troops in danger, he can pull them out, but he can't threaten Afghanistan's sovereignty. It's one thing to invade a country under the tyrannical rule of a dictator or theocratic government (and whether or not that's okay is another debate for another time); it's another thing entirely to keep unseating democratically elected governments until you find one you like, or to play shadow president with a country that has a president of its very own. If Bush is really confident that he did the right thing in bringing freedom and democracy to Afghanistan, then he needs to back off and let them use it.

Cross-posted at Hey Jenny Slater.

Friday, May 20, 2005

On doing what I say, not what I do

Okay, so this week's award for Most Egregious Use of Unrecognized Irony in a Newspaper Headline has to go to today's Washington Post for their story "Army Warns Iraqi Forces On Abuse Of Detainees."

In other news, Ann Coulter addresses the ACLU on the importance of religious tolerance and Lindsay Lohan lectures high school girls on the dangers of eating disorders.

Unfortunately, it's far from unusual to see pictures of Iraqi detainees cut and bruised from beatings with fists, sticks, and electrical cords, or to hear reports of confessions coaxed out by choking or electrical shock. We just haven't heard about the abuse coming from Iraqi security forces. And of course we're shocked. Just shocked!

Anyone with a couple of hours of Dr. Phil viewing in their past understands the flat basics of armchair psychology: abusive parents tend to raise abusive children. A kid who was beaten by his father will certainly recognize that beating your kids is bad, but is also more likely to resort to that same behavior when his own kids misbehave. It's the only way he knows to deal with kids; he knows that the beatings hurt, but he hasn't been shown an example of how to express his frustration/anger/disappointment any other way.

So now we have the very men responsible for the security of Iraq behaving exactly the same way. Interrogations and coerced confessions by beating and electrocution were status quo during Saddam Hussein's regime, so these Iraqi officers just assume that's the way things work. Unfortunately, the US has missed a great big opportunity to come in and show them how it's really done. Allegations surface every day about detainee abuse, most famously at Abu Ghraib, most recently at Guantanamo Bay.

How are these Iraqi officers going to learn acceptable interrogation techniques if not by example? So far, the US has a pretty good reputation for whacking the crap out of detainees while telling Iraqi officers, "Don't do this." Human Rights Watch says that since the first allegations were made back in October, little progress has been made to "enforce existing laws and put an end to" the abuse. Well, duh. The Iraqi officers have no reason to take the laws seriously if their US counterparts continue abusive behavior that has been condemned by their own superiors.

Army General George Casey wrote recently to his troops that "[i]t is very important that we never turn a blind eye to abuses, thinking that what Iraqis do with their own detainees is 'Iraqi business.' Nor can we wink at suspected transgressions." The job may be far harder than he expects. The Bible, proposed rulebook for good behavior in our supposedly Christian nation, tells us to remove the planks from our own eyes before going after the specks in our brothers'; the US military has to do both simultaneously, or "justice" in the newly democratic Iraq will be same playbook, different team.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

On blogging double-duty

Okay, so Doug over at Hey Jenny Slater has asked me to do a little guest-blogging while he's jaunting around Italy, and because I have no intention of doing any actual work at work and because he's really great with the Christmas presents, I was happy to accept. What does that mean for Practically Harmless? Little to nothing; it's not like I post all that often anyway.

Expect new and exciting blogness shortly; until then, jaunt on over to Hey Jenny Slater and help me figure out why Republicans hate America.

Monday, May 16, 2005

On Newsweek's great big screwup

Okay, so Newsweek screwed up big time, and I'm pissed off beyond the telling of it. I'm not pissed off for all the reasons the conservatives are pissed off about it, because some liberal rag caused the death of 15 people in Afghanistan (although, truth be told, I can't help but be pissed off about that). And I'm not even pissed off for the reasons that Kos and Avedon (linked from Eschaton) are pissed off, for the times that the Bush administration has relied on one lousy source and even lied outright to accomplish their goals. I'm not going to start pointing the finger at everyone else I can be pissed off at, because I'm pissed off at Newsweek and I'm pissed off big time.

I stand up for the news media all the time. I'm part of it, and people I know are part of it, and I know for a fact that the media as a whole aren't liberally biased and out to smear the Bush administration. I defend the media and try to explain what happens, and sometimes people understand, and usually they don't. When people ask what I do for a living, I introduce myself as an evil liberal journalist just so that I can get it in there before they do, and then sometimes they're more open to hearing what I have to say. But dammit to hell, Newsweek, you make it so damn hard.

Stop. Screwing. Up. I order you to stop screwing up. I thought you'd have learned your lesson after the whole CBS debacle; nothing like the Memogate scandal to take a good, solid swipe at whatever little credibility the Fourth Estate had left. Why was it such a big deal? Because CBS relied on one source, and it wasn't even one particularly credible source. They thought they had a story, and they ran it without checking the facts, because they wanted to be the first to get it out there. The first to break a big story? The first to smear the president? Dunno. Who cares? CBS's impatience screwed them over big, screwed Dan Rather over big, and screwed over the global news media as a whole by association.

But you just couldn't learn, could you, Newsweek? You ran a story based around the claims of a single, unnamed government official who, after the story ran, said, "Whoops! Maybe I'm not remembering clearly after all! Maybe what I said can be substantiated, and eh, maybe not." Dammit, Newsweek, dammit. What can you say to that? Tell me what I'm supposed to say. Tell me how I'm supposed to defend you now.

After this, it just doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that reports of the desecration of the Koran might be true - are probably true. It doesn't matter that your story might be completely on the level outside of that one nameless source's statement. None of it matters. This is beyond saving. In your apology - which, for the record, placated no one - you didn't retract the story, because there's every likelihood that everything else that it said is true. Well, Newsweek, it doesn't matter. That one minor mistake, that one weed in the flower garden, has lost you any tiny bit of credibility you had left. Your trustworthiness is somewhere on a level alongside Condoleezza Rice, and that is not a good place to be.

How many media outlets have to go down in flames before you learn to double and triple-check your sources? How many reporters have to eat their jobs with a knife and fork before you learn that an "anonymous government source" is going to turn on you like month-old milk? Honestly, how stupid can you get?

I can't defend you anymore. I can't defend you if you're going to continue to screw up like this. I can't put my own credibility on the line if you won't take tiny, simple steps to protect your own. I'm sorry, Newsweek. It's over.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On the president's team

Okay, so let me say, first of all, that I respect Sen. John McCain beyond the telling of it. I would have voted for him over John Kerry, had the choice been available; I might do it in 2008 if the price is right. Just about everything that McCain says strikes me as moderate and reasonable.

But this morning on This Week, he said something that I just can't get behind. Regarding the upcoming (possible? Probable?) filibuster of the president's judicial nominees, he said that the Senate was designed for the protection of the minority and the filibuster should be available for that protection, but that the president's entire slate of nominees should be approved, because the president has a right to choose his team.

Respectfully, Senator, no. It's one thing for the president to choose his own cabinet - in that case, I think they should be looked at closely (we all know how I feel about Condoleezza Rice), but it's better for the country that he be allowed to choose those with whom he's going to be working closely, within reason. But this isn't his cabinet. These aren't his advisors, these aren't people who are going to be bouncing in and out of his office, these are judges. And in many cases, these are judges who will be in a position to overturn his pet legislation. And these are judges who will be appointed for life.

One of the reasons the government works as well as it does (even as well as it does) is that each branch of the government is checked by another branch. Once upon a time, our legislators got to choose our president; that doesn't happen anymore. When one branch gets to pick and choose the members of the other branches without any kind of review or judgment, those checks and balances no longer exist. A president isn't going to try to check a legislature that selected him, and a president doesn't get to pick judges who will never check his decisions. This isn't his team, this is our team. This is the team established to protect our constitutional rights. And since it's our team, it's only right that it should only be appointed with the advice and consent of the legislators that we elected to represent us.

Friday, May 13, 2005

On the quality of mercy

Okay, so there are plenty of reasons to think that Jonah Goldberg is an utter tool. This one is mine:

Some conservative Christians - and many other anti-death penalty advocates - argued [Karla Faye Tucker] should be spared the death penalty but not absolved of her crime. George W. Bush - the supposedly theocratic Christian - was the governor of Texas at the time, and was empowered to halt the execution. His response to such requests: No dice. "I have concluded that judgments about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority," he declared. "May God bless Karla Faye Tucker, and God bless her victims and their families."

Actually, I believe what he did was scrunch up his face mockingly and whimper, "Please don't kill me."

You're a man of God there, George. A man of God.
Okay, so any non-comatose individual knows that the White House and the Capitol were evacuated Wednesday as a meandering Cessna violated protected airspace and was escorted away safely by two fighter jets. The only person who didn't know, in fact, was the President himself, who was merrily riding his bicycle through Maryland, blissfully unaware that his wife was, at that very moment, being rushed to a secure location lest aircraft fall on her head.

Now, I'm not going to judge here, because everyone knows I'm all about cardiovascular fitness. But a recent
press gaggle
did put Scott "Rainman" McClellan in the hot seat regarding a few inconsistencies. You should read the whole thing, if only to watch Scotty cram the word "protocol" in there a staggering fifteen times, but it can really be summed up with one final question:

Q: Right, but there seems to be so many disconnects here. You've got a plane that was assessed as not being a threat, you've got 35,000 people evacuated, you've got a person who you claim is a hands-on commander in chief who is left to go ride his bicycle through the rural wildlands of Maryland while his wife is in some secure location somewhere, it's just not adding up.

Because if our president is forced to get off of his bicycles, the terrorists have won.

Much thanks so TBogg for the link.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

On lessons learned in Iraq

Okay, so Atrios points us at an editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journalist written by Molly Bingham. Molly is an American journalist who spent ten months in Iraq, trying to get the complete story there - including the perspective of the insurgents. She also spent some time there at the beginning of the war as a hostage, held by Saddam Hussein's forces in Abu Ghraib.

Read the whole thing. it's compelling in its entirety. Quasi-journalist that I am, I was struck by one particular passage:

One of the hardest things about working on this story for me personally, and as a journalist, was to set my "American self" and perspective aside. It was an ongoing challenge to listen open-mindedly to a group of people whose foundation of belief is significantly different from mine, and one I found I often strongly disagreed with.

But going in to report a story with a pile of prejudices is no way to do a story justice, or to do it fairly, and that constant necessity to bite my tongue, wipe the smirk off my face or continue to listen through a racial or religious diatribe that I found appalling was a skill I had to practice. We would never walk in to cover a union problem or political event without seeking to understand the perspective from both, or the many sides of the story that exist. Why should we as journalists do it in Iraq?

One thing that I run into constantly when discussing the war in Iraq with conservative friends, particularly those in the military, is the idea that American journalists are traitors for trying to cover all sides of the conflict. To them, it's very simple: the insurgents/terrorists/resistance forces/what have you are evil, they're corrupted by the wickedness of Islam, and they want to kill us all because they hate America for our freedom. Now, never having been there, I can't speak to that one way or the other, but I think it's valuable to have a neutral party to go in and find out what really is going on. I'm not saying that the insurgents might have something to say that would justify suicide bombings and constant attacks on our troops, but insight from the other side might well help us win diplomatically what we've been struggling with militarily - not that we're going to convince the insurgents to stop surging, but that we'll be able to hand over full governance to the Iraqi people that much sooner.

Friday, May 06, 2005

On the apocalypse, still merely impending

Okay, so everyone is going a little bit apocalypse wacky of late. NBC is running Revelations every Wednesday, preceeded by specials on faith and religion and exorcisms and the Rapture and anything else that might spotlight the loony fringe of religious society and thus cast a shadow of kookiness over the rest of us. Some claim that our new Pope Benedict XVI is St. Malachy's "Glory of the Olive," the second-to-last Pope before the end of the world.

But I want to make something perfectly clear: we here at Practically Harmless are watching your back. We've spent countless minutes poring over ancient texts on the Internet and compiling a list of signs of the apocalypse, convenitently provided as an Apocalyptic Index for future reference (as of today, it still sits at 50). And while these other sources certainly get points for creativity, it must be said that the ersatz apocalyptic omens they're throwing around aren't actually mentioned in the book of Revelations. So now, as a companion piece to the Apocalyptic Index, I give you:

Weird Stuff That Nonetheless Is Not a Sign of the Apocalypse

1. Dude cuts off finger, does... not... bleeeeeed!
2. Severed fingers in chili (hoax) or custard (not hoax)
3. Exploding toads
4. Britney Spears reproducing
5. Michelle Malkin hears about President Bush masturbating a horse and flips out

Well, okay, maybe that last one.

Monday, May 02, 2005

On Treasury bonds, which are bad. Except when they're good.

Okay, so is stands to reason that President Bush should spend a lot of time contradicting himself these days, especially at press conferences. After months of proclaiming his mandate (and actually showing us a week ago, and yes, I had to go there), he's starting to look at the polls and realize that his approval rating is slipping and that even staunch Republicans are becoming reluctant to support his policies simply because they're his - basically, that the American people are realizing that our emperor is naked.

We also, if we're smart, realize that his Social Security plan suffers from a distinct lack of a plan. Bush is willing to take time out of is presidency to tour the country and pitch his plan to every American who's already agreed not to disagree with it, but the fact remains that, much like a toddler confronted with a lie, his story changes just a little bit every time he tells it.

"Did you eat the cookie?"
"No, no."
"You've got chocolate on your hands."
"Oh. Um... Well, yeah, I took the cookie, but I didn't eat it."
"Where's the cookie now?"
"Where is the cookie now?"
"Well, okay, I ate it, but I only ate half of it."

Except that little Georgie can't keep his story straight on the security of Treasury bonds.

"What about Treasury bonds to fund Social Security, George?"
"Well, they're inherently unsafe. They're just a bunch of IOUs from the government to itself, really not worth the paper they're printed on."
There is no "trust fund," just IOUs that I saw firsthand, that future generations will pay -- will pay for either in higher taxes, or reduced benefits, or cuts to other critical government programs.

The office here in Parkersburg stores those IOUs. They're stacked in a filing cabinet. Imagine -- the retirement security for future generations is sitting in a filing cabinet.

"But what about the people who would use them as an investment option under your plan for privatized Social Security?"
"Well, they're not actually so bad. As a matter of fact, they're good! Better than good! The US government stands behind them one hundred perecnt."
In a reformed Social Security system, voluntary personal retirement accounts would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

"Didja see that bug over there? That was a big one! It was as big as an airplane!"
Sigh. "George."
"Go to your room."

Sunday, May 01, 2005

On my Sunday night insomnia iPod Top Ten, again.

Okay, so:

1. 'Round Midnight - Ella Fitzgerald
2. Cast No Shadow - Oasis
3. Bodies - Drowning Pool
4. One Girl Revolution - Superchick
5. Sanctus - Rossini
6. If You Were Here - Kent
7. Swing, Swing - All American Rejects
8. Sing Sing Sing - Benny Goodman
9. Ain't Too Proud to Beg - The Temptations
10. La-bas C'est Naturel - Serge Gainsbourg