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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Out of the way!

JB West and I have promised you Chicky Fridays, and we keep our promises.

What good is my awesome pink bike helmet? This smart researcher figured out that cars give bikers more room when they're sans helmet. The researcher was also hit by a truck during his study.

I really wish cars would be more thoughtful. Let's look at the logic.
  1. Mandasaurus rides a bike.
  2. Bikes do not cause traffic. Rather bicycles negate traffic.
  3. Mandasaurus is making traffic better by riding her sweet bicycle.
  4. Also, Mandasaurus is not threatening your car's self-esteem. Mandasaurus is slow on her bike. She won't beat you anywhere.
So why, why, why don't you just let me by?

This message about my bicycling extends to the White House and its "security" staff. The White House has a lovely, wide drive for bikes, walkers, protesters and very secure vehicles. Occasionally, like on Sept. 11 or when a cool foreign friend is visiting, security guards shoo me away from the White House. Rude!

So, party people, watch out on the streets! Bicyclists are excellent. Bikes are good for the environment. Bikes improve traffic.

Bicyclists are occasionally cute, sassy and awesome. Unless you hit them with your stupid car.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Unconscionable and unconstitutional

I have never been more ashamed of my government than I am today.

I know a lot of non-citizens living in this country. My roommate's parents, for example. The detaineee bill passed today would allow President George Bush to order them seized from their apartment in New York City, tortured, and held indefinitely without the ability to challenge their imprisonment.

Is Bush likely to do this? No. But the system of government establish by our Founding Fathers does not depend on the better natures of our leaders. They had a rather dim view of human nature, in fact, and knew that even the best of men would be tempted to abuse power (and Bush is hardly the best of men). The rule of law and the Bill of Rights exist us to protect us from our government, not faith and hope.

This law guts that. Think I'm exaggerating?
"Buried in the complex Senate compromise on detainee treatment is a real shocker, reaching far beyond the legal struggles about foreign terrorist suspects in the Guantanamo Bay fortress. The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

"This dangerous compromise," Professor Ackerman continued, "not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops 'during an armed conflict,' it also allows him to seize anybody who has 'purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.' This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison."
I'm too depressed to write much more. (Mandasaurous said "You are emotionally attached to the Constitution like I am emotionally attached to poor kids I've never met.") So I'll let a couple of Senators speak for me.

George Washington is Gordon's favorite president, for good reason. This is taken from the stirring speech delivered by Hillary Clinton (yeah, who'd a thunk it?) on the floor of the Senate today:
During the Revolutionary War, between the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which set our founding ideals to paper, and the writing of our Constitution, which fortified those ideals under the rule of law, our values – our beliefs as Americans — were already being tested.

We were at war and victory was hardly assured, in fact the situation was closer to the opposite. New York City and Long Island had been captured. General George Washington and the continental army retreated across New Jersey to Pennsylvania, suffering tremendous casualties and a body blow to the cause of American Independence.

It was at this time, among these soldiers at this moment of defeat and despair, that Thomas Paine would write, "These are the times that try men's souls." Soon afterward, Washington led his soldiers across the Delaware River and onto victory in the Battle of Trenton. There he captured nearly 1000 foreign mercenaries and he faced a crucial choice.

How would General Washington treat these men? The British had already committed atrocities against Americans, including torture. As David Hackett Fischer describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Washington's Crossing," thousands of American prisoners of war were "treated with extreme cruelty by British captors." There are accounts of injured soldiers who surrendered being murdered instead of quartered. Countless Americans dying in prison hulks in New York harbor. Starvation and other acts of inhumanity perpetrated against Americans confined to churches in New York City.

The light of our ideals shone dimly in those early dark days, years from an end to the conflict, years before our improbable triumph and the birth of our democracy. General Washington wasn't that far from where the Continental Congress had met and signed the Declaration of Independence. But it's easy to imagine how far that must have seemed. General Washington announced a decision unique in human history, sending the following order for handling prisoners: "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren."

Therefore, George Washington, our commander-in-chief before he was our President, laid down the indelible marker of our nation's values even as we were struggling as a nation – and his courageous act reminds us that America was born out of faith in certain basic principles. In fact, it is these principles that made and still make our country exceptional and allow us to serve as an example. We are not bound together as a nation by bloodlines. We are not bound by ancient history; our nation is a new nation. Above all, we are bound by our values.

George Washington understood that how you treat enemy combatants could reverberate around the world. We must convict and punish the guilty in a way that reinforces their guilt before the world and does not undermine our constitutional values.

Here's Harry Reid:
The Framers of our Constitution understood the need for checks and balances, but this bill discards them.

Many of the worst provisions were not in the Committee-reported bill, and were not in the compromise announced last Friday.  They were added over the weekend after backroom meetings with White House lawyers.

We have tried to improve this legislation. Senator Levin proposed to substitute the bipartisan bill that was reported by the Armed Services Committee. That amendment was rejected.

Senators Specter and Leahy offered an amendment to restore the right to judicial review — that amendment was rejected.

Senator Rockefeller offered an amendment to improve congressional oversight of CIA programs — that amendment was rejected.

Senator Kennedy offered an amendment to clarify that inhumane interrogation tactics prohibited by the Army Field manual could not be used on Americans or on others — that amendment was rejected.

And Senator Byrd offered an amendment to sunset military commissions so that Congress would simply be required to reconsider this far-reaching authority after five years of experience. Even that amendment was rejected.

I strongly believe this legislation is unconstitutional.  It will almost certainly be struck down by the Supreme Court.  And when that happens, we'll be back here several years from now debating how to bring terrorists to justice.

The families of the 9/11 victims and the nation have been waiting five years for the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought to justice. They should not have to wait longer.  We should get this right now — and we are not doing so by passing this bill. The National security policies of this administration and Republican Congress may have been tough, but they haven't been smart. The American people are paying a price for their mistakes.

History will judge our actions here today. I am convinced that future generations will view passage of this bill as a grave error. I wish to be recorded as one who voted against taking this step.

Our shameful Congress

Today the Senate is debating a bill that essential allows the president of the United States to authorize torture and deny detainees the Great Writ of habeas corpus. The New York Times explains why this is such an awful bill, our generation's version of the Alien and Sedition Acts:
Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of "illegal enemy combatant" in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there's no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.
The House passed the bill yesterday. It may be too late to make any difference, but please, if you cherish the values this country has held dear since its founding, call your Senators and ask them to oppose this abomination. As the Times says, if there was ever a time for a filibuster, this is it.

More on this later tonight.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Don't mess with Musharraf

updated below

Last week, Pakistan has accused the Bush administration of threatening it with military force if it did not cooperate in the War on Terror immediately following 9/11.

In a recently released memoir, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stated that Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage declared that Pakistan would be “bombed back to the Stone Age” if he did not . (It should be noted that Armitage denies ever making such a statement, and is chalking it up to a gross mistranslation.)

Musharraf also declared that that America paid Pakistan millions of dollars in bounties for catching Al Qaida fighters in the past five years. While this is not necessarily criminal, it is an embarrassing exercise for the world’s City on a Hill to participate in.

These are bold allegations coming from a man I consider the most important man in the world. Why do I consider Musharraf so damn significant? It’s not that his country is the most powerful in the world (I actually rank Pakistan #9). But Pakistan is ranked #1 in my book in three noteworthy categories:

1. Pakistan is America’s most powerful partner in the War on Terror. Britain offers the most troops in Iraq and Israel may offer the most moral support, but Pakistan is the one on the front lines catching the actual terrorists in places others can’t.

2. Pakistan is the world’s most powerful entity that can believably be expected to switch sides. Russia may still resent America, China may challenge us in a generation and France may fight us diplomatically, but Pakistan is a country that could realistically become a true enemy along the lines of Iran or North Korea within a very short period of time—if they were motivated to do so.

3. Pakistan is the world’s most powerful country run entirely by one man. He’s a dictator who doesn’t have to answer to a Parliament, a Cabinet or any voters. And when that one man executes policies that benefit us but are opposed by the vast majority of his people, we should be increasingly concerned with his well being. A single well-aimed bullet could turn America’s key ally into America’s greatest foe. (Did I mention he has several attempts on his life each year?)

Needless to say, Musharraf is far too important a global player to piss off at this stage in the game. If the allegations are true, then we should all be concerned with his decision to accuse Bush Administration now. Because allies who break rank with talk sometimes follow that up with action.


No more than six hours after I declare Pakistani President Musharraf the most significant man in the world, and he ends up being interviewed by the wittiest man in the world.

Catch Musharraf on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which originally aired on Tuesday, September 26. (My personal favorite moment: when Stewart asks Musharraf who would win an election in Pakistan between Bush and Bin Laden, and Musharraf responds "they'd both lose miserably."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Four young lives, stolen

In East St. Louis, Ill., a woman named Tiffany Hall killed her friend Jimella Tunstall last week — a friend so close she called her "cousin."

Life in East St. Louis.
Tiffany Hall confessed and said she killed her friend, cut the fetus out of her belly with scissors, and left her to bleed to death in a field of weeds. Jimella Tunstall's three other children were found dead Saturday in a washer and a dryer.

The three kids — ages 7, 2 and 1 — were missing for six days. You can read the whole story.

This is a tragedy. It's horrific and scary.

I've spent time in East St. Louis, in particular with the East St. Louis Action Research Project, which sends University of Illinois students to one the state's poorest, most crime-ridden areas to bring college smarts and grassroots improvements to the city.

East St. Louis is one of the most striking places I've ever been. It's not much different than bad neighborhoods in most cities, but here it's a whole city that's poor. A city where Ike met Tina, where you can see the Gateway Arch from almost everywhere, a city that once had great jazz clubs and now has notorious strip clubs.

Today it's a place no one would want to visit. Buildings are abandoned and falling down. The only businesses that seem to thrive are churches, liquor stores and check-cashing joints. There are 72.5 males for every 100 females, and 97 percent of the population is black.

I don't believe that Tiffany Hall or Jimella Tunstall had what they deserved — in life or, in Jimella Tunstall's case, death.

We all make choices, and many would have you believe that all of us pick choices out of the same hat. But we don't.

I can't believe that Jimella Tunstall and Tiffany Hall had the opportunities that you and I had at age 16. Jimella Tunstall was pregnant by then. Update: So was Tiffany Hall. The Department of Children and Family Services intervened with both of their families. Both women had children who spent time in foster care.

I think that these women grew up in a place where desperation is an everyday emotion. I think that these women and children lived a scary, sad and difficult life through and through. Not because they were poor, but because they were poor in a place where poor is a fact of life.

I think that all the services that are available to help young mothers, poor mothers and uneducated mothers weren't enough. Poor is life in East St. Louis. Many girls drop out of high school there with swelling bellies and babies on the way. Another baby follows the first, and pretty soon Jimella Tunstall was 23 with baby No. 4 on the way. And even after Jimella Tunstall, the fetus in her womb, 7-year-old DeMond, 2-year-old Ivan and year-old Jinela died, no one came forward to say, "That baby is mine, too." Even days later no newspapers come out and call the situation an outrage.

This is our fault. We live in a rich, rich world.

Why can't we help women not have four kids before they turn 24? And why do I feel convinced that if the women and children in this story were white it'd be a tragedy, but since they're black, it's a fact of life in a shitty, poor city?

Tell me I'm wrong all you want. I'm an optimist. An idealist, even. But this is almost knocking me down. We can't live like this. Can we?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Survey says

In another sign that Republicans might have trouble holding onto Congress in November, a poll commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies found a majority of voters who live in rural areas believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. That might be bad news for all the president's men, who have gained enough small-town votes in the recent past to overtake Democratic strongholds in the more populous cities.

But small-town voters still like Dubya a bit more than the rest of the country — 47 percent of them approve of the bang-up (or not) job he is doing, as opposed to the 44 percent of the rest of the land.
Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.