Monthly Archives: December 2007

HOPE DIES LAST*–or We Can Make It Better**

*Apologies to Studs Terkel.
**Apologies to Wilco

I’ve spoken before about my ditto-head “friend” Greg from work before. He’s the guy who told me that Scooter Libby was 100 times the man Bill Clinton was. I know, what a ridiculous comment. How do you respond to that–besides with laughter? I don’t want to and won’t speculate on how Scooter and Bill’s manhoods match up. That’s a visual I don’t need. All kidding aside, here’s some context: Greg made a oblique reference to lying under oath not being a big deal when “your guys do it” (his words–meaning liberals) whereas “libs” thought lying under oath was a really big deal when “our guys do it.” (conservatives) I really wanted to retort that I hate the fact he thinks we’re on different “sides”. I feel all Americans are on the same team, and I hate the divisive politics of Limbaugh and his ilk. But I let this drop and simply tried to explain to Greg that I didn’t/don’t condone Clinton’s lying under oath, but admitted that I didn’t think lying about an extra-marital affair–which was Clinton’s private dirty laundry–could seriously be compared to lying about the outing of a covert CIA agent–for spite and revenge against her husband. Diddling Monica and lying about it was an insult to the American people, but outing Valerie Plame-Wilson and lying about it was criminal and TREASONOUS.

OK, got that off my chest. But the conversation between Greg and myself I really wanted to talk about was something else entirely. Weeks after the Libby/Clinton exchange, we were talking about our kids, his grown ones and my infant son. “My kids,” He spat in his best Limbaugh impersonation, “are both bleeding heart liberals.” He further explained that his daughter even wanted to become a social worker and “help people”. Greg said “help people” with such snide derision and condescension I almost felt sorry for him. What kind of twisted S.O.B. has a problem with helping people? Oh yeah, a person who listens to and parrots Rush Limbaugh.

But the kids, as The WHO said in that song, are alright. Greg, arch-dittohead, has produced two offspring who believe almost the exact opposite of him. Adults who give a damn and know right from wrong. My gut feeling is that a majority of dittohead scion turn out the same way. They realize their parent(s) political views, when shaped by a cowardly, truth-averse junkie like Rush Limbaugh, are complete rubbish.

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Filed under dittoheads, rush limbaugh

Unforgiven in Iraq: Ruminations on frontier justice for Jamie Leigh Jones

First, a primer on the horrible details of the story of Jamie Leigh Jones (from the Australian, Dec 21, 2007, ‘Gang-raped by Contractors’) :


A TEXAN woman who claims to have been raped by American contractors in Iraq testified in Congress yesterday, telling legislators she was kept under armed guard in her trailer after reporting the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, 23, said she was gang-raped inside Baghdad’s Green Zone in July 2005 while she was working for Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc, which has contracts with the US military.

Ms Jones said she knew of at least 11 other women who were raped by US contractors in Iraq.

“This problem goes way beyond just me,” she told the House of Representatives subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.

Ms Jones said that on her fourth day in Baghdad, some co-workers, whom she described as Halliburton-KBR firefighters, invited her for a drink.

“I took two sips from the drink and don’t remember anything after that,” she said.

The next morning she woke groggy and confused and with a sore chest and blood between her legs. She reported the incident to KBR and was examined by an army doctor, who confirmed she had been repeatedly raped vaginally and anally. The doctor took photographs and made notes and handed all the evidence over to KBR personnel.

“The KBR security then took me to a trailer and locked me in a room with two armed guards outside my door,” Ms Jones testified. “I was imprisoned in the trailer for approximately a day. One of the guards finally had mercy and let me use a phone.”

Ms Jones called her father in Texas, who called his representative in Congress, Republican Ted Poe, who contacted the State Department, which quickly sent personnel to rescue Ms Jones and fly her back to Texas.

“Iraq is reminiscent of the Old Western days and no one seems to be in charge,” Mr Poe told the subcommittee. “The law must intervene, and these outlaws need to be rounded up and order restored.”

Ms Jones said the rape was so brutal she was still undergoing reconstructive surgery. She tried to get her case resolved first through KBR channels, then through the Justice Department. When neither course seemed to work, she gave an interview to US television network ABC.

After listening to the grisly details of Ms. Jones’ ordeals, my mind took me in some directions I’m not fully comfortable with. Specifically, the avenues for vengeance against the alleged rapists that exist in the “Old Western days”, Aka the lawless environment inhabited by US Contractors in Iraq. I posited that the same setting that condoned–and tried to cover-up–the gang-rape of a 20-year-old young woman could also condone vengeance in her name–an “Unforgiven”-type scenario, if you will.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the reference, Unforgiven was multi-award-winning film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. It heralded his return to the “western” genre of film that was the hallmark of his early career as an actor. Unforgiven radically altered the genre, however, presenting a gritty, brutal, morally ambiguous environ absent from Eastwood’s earlier westerns. The film begins with a knife attack on a prostitute by a john. Said john cuts the prostitute’s face badly, and, if memory serves me, would’ve hurt her much worst if his companion and/or other prostitutes didn’t intervene. After the sheriff imposes a small punishment on the men for the deed, the prostitutes in the brothel take up a collection and put a bounty on the two men. Clint Eastwood’s character, an aging widower with two young children, financial problems, and a dark past as a drunk and a murderer before his wife reformed him, takes the job and kills the two men in “cold blood”. Those murders are far from the climax of the film, and my synopsis leaves out most of the great details of the plot, but as I said, the murder of criminals in the fictional, nearly-lawless frontier society of Unforgiven is what most intrigued me as I read and viewed the grisly details of Jamie Leigh Jones’ rape.

In America, we expect justice when a violent crime like rape is committed, and demand it if there is evidence of the crime and witnesses to the crime. Owing to the “laws” governing contractors operating in Iraq (Bremer order 17 makes them immune to Iraqi law, other legal loopholes place them outside the reach of U.S. Criminal courts and the Uniform Code of Military Justice), there will probably never be a trial, let alone convictions, of the cowards who drugged and savagely raped Ms. Jones.

If Ms. Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers– if the allegations are true–and others in Iraq know this, it must weigh on their consciences. If, regardless of the horrible acts inflicted on Ms. Jones, justice cannot be carried out due to the legal black hole contractors operate in in Iraq, it must haunt the sleep of any men in Iraq who believe in justice and value the rule of law. What if conscience, personal moral codes, and knowledge that frontier justice is the only avenue for any justice to be gained causes a person or persons to seek vengeance? If these would-be vigilantes hurt, maim or kill the alleged rapists (This assumes some or all of the rapists are still in Iraq) would they be punished? Or would the same legal black hole and “wild west” environment of “contractor Iraq” that shielded Jamie Leigh Jones’ attackers from punishment protect them too?

Most likely it would initially, but with congress already trying to enact legislation to bring US contractors in Iraq under the rule of law, these hypothetical acts of vengeance would spell the end of Bremer Order #17 and the other legal loopholes protecting US contractors in Iraq. No one in congress or the State or Defense Departments would condone such actions. And the Contractor community wouldn’t tolerate frontier justice against their own. Laws would be hastily changed or enacted, with special focus on punishing some crimes (Vigilante “justice”) and ignoring others (such as Iraqi Government officials’ allegations of wanton murder of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater USA and other contractors) and the would-be vigilante(s) would find himself/herself/themselves the first contractor(s) tried and convicted of crimes up to premeditated murder (depending on the severity of their frontier justice) under U.S. Criminal Law or the UCMJ.

These are my speculations and personal thoughts only. I do not support or advocate the use of frontier justice on Ms. Jones’ alleged attackers.

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Filed under Bremer Order 17, Halliburton, Iraq, Jamie Leigh Jones, KBR, L. Paul Bremer, US Defense Contractors

shameless plug for AIR AMERICA RADIO

I’m an Air America Radio junky. Daily, I listen to The Young Turks, Thom Hartmann, Rachel Maddow and Randi Rhodes on my iPod at work. After months of spotty service via the free podcast downloads at iTunes, I plunked down $69.99 and became Premium Member of Air America Radio for a year. (Technically, it’s a Christmas gift, but I’ve been downloading and listening to the programs for two weeks now–don’t tell my wife!)

So far, it’s awesome. I love getting all 3-hours of TYT (on iTunes you only get the first hour) and listening to Thom Hartmann commercial-free. Despite top-rate talent, Air America Radio has suffered mismanagement and financial difficulties since its birth in 2004. Its missteps are well-documented, especially in the right wing blogs. If you are a fan of AAR or progressive talk radio, I encourage you to support them either by becoming a premium member or patronizing their advertisers on your local AAR station. If you don’t get AAR in your area, it might be time to bug the program director at one of the talk stations near you. Some things are worth shelling out your hard-earned greenbacks and/or precious time for. If you’re a progressive democrat or thoughtful independent, Air American is one of those things.

You can get info on joining AAR premium here. You can check out the “official” AAR fan site, Air America Place here.

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Filed under air america radio, rachel maddow, randi rhodes, the young turks, thom hartmann program

A 15 year-old Saves Public Education

My wife and I got a kick out of this letter in US News and World Report:

Classroom Controversy

December 06, 2007 10:57 AM ET | Permanent Link

As a 10th-grade student in public school, I believe that the United States will not be able to compete in the future global economy, especially against China and India. The main reason is not the government but the students. I came to this country in third grade with no English but after two years enrolled in a gifted and talented program. It all goes back to parental discipline. If parents do not start making their kids appreciate education, I’m afraid we will become a very fragile country. Also, I believe that teachers should be respected more and paid higher salaries.

Alvin Tsao
Houston

From the mouths of “babes”. I love how young people can cut to the heart of the problem so succinctly: Parents need to step up to the plate and teachers need more respect and higher pay.

Bingo, bingo and BINGO! If parents don’t discipline their children, teach the value of education, and reinforce good study habits, their children will have a harder time learning. And if they don’t pay attention to the day-to-day curriculum of their children, they won’t notice how flawed and potentially damaging the battery of standardized tests are.

As far as teachers are concerned, I think higher pay and more respect is part of a prescription for educational success. Giving Principles more power to identify and fire bad teachers would also help. But holding Principals accountable if they abuse their power or fail to discipline “bad” teachers is a must. This is a tricky area, and finding the balance of increasing administrative power while protecting teachers from excess scrutiny and/or witch-hunts is critical.

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Filed under education, teachers, unions, us news and world report

Wexler wants hearings on Cheney Impeachment

Congressman Robert Wexler has a new website dedicated to getting citizen support for H res. 333–Articles of Impeachment v. VP Richard B. Cheney. So far about 50,000 Americans have signed on in support. Wexler said on the Randi Rhodes program on Friday Dec 14 that he would take the signatures to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to show American support for impeachment hearings.

Hey, its another step toward impeachment. You can sign the petition at wexlerwantshearings.com

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Filed under Impeachment, randi rhodes, richard b. cheney, robert wexler

NIE on Iran’s nuke program: Lib v. Con view

The declassified portion of the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program boils down to two sentences. The first sentence reprinted will be greeted with gasps and hoots and sneers and “I told you so’s” by the left. The second will be greeted by the same by the right. Without further ado, here are the two key sentences of the NIE on Iran, as I see it:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” reads a declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate key findings.

“We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon is late 2009.”

The above two sentences were presented one after the other on the ABC news blog “Political Radar”, Dec. 3, 2007, probably to maintain the “balance” so cherished by mainstream media. Sort of a light/darkness, good/evil, ying/yang pairing. Sentence 1 cancels/equals/balances sentence 2, and vice versa. In other words, as far as Iran nuclear programs, and Bush’s War with Iran rhetoric, everything’s changed and nothing’s changed. More on that later.

Being a stupid demlib, I’m heartened by the first quote, though I’m not sure I understand why Iran halted its nuke program in 2003, soon after “mission accomplished” in Iraq was being declared by President Bush. Of course I’m not privy to the entire NIE on Iran. I’ll have to be content that the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies working on the estimate know what they’re talking about. And I am. Serious operators like them don’t usually throw around phrases like “high confidence” unless they are highly confident–unlike Cheney/Bush and company.

Understanding the right-wing mindset as I do, (Right-wing mindset: “My mind is set, no amount of factual information contrary to my views will be allowed to penetrate my thick skull”) I don’t think sentence 1 will sway, or even register, on their radar screen. However, they will devour sentence 2 like a hungry lion feasts on the slowest gazelle. I can see the 50 pt. headline on the Washington Times now: IRAN WILL HAVE NUKES BY 2009!!!!!!!

John Bolton has already hit the FNC to “debunk” the claim that the weapons program was terminated in 2003 (from Think Progress, here.) He feels left-leaning intelligence officials slipped in some lies, distortions or half-truths to discredit the Bush administration and/or derail the long-planned, long-delayed, long-anticipated, long-awaited (long-awaited if you’re a neocon chickenhawk sociopath, that is) precision-guided, tactical-nuclear, bunker-busting Air War against Iran.

Being a stupid demlib, I think just the opposite might be true: That one or more ruthless, partisan, extreme right-wing intelligence official(s) tacked on the bit about Iran having enough highly-enriched uranium to make a weapon by late 2009 in order to maintain a shred of justification for the Bush administration’s war with Iran rhetoric of the last year. Most estimates prior to this one had Iran five years away from having enough HEU to make a bomb, if that is their intent (and the highly confident intelligence that their nuke weapons program was suspended four years ago seems to refute that point).

As I see it this NIE is a draw: Dems will trumpet that our intelligence service feels Iran shut down its nuke weapons program in 2003 while Cons jump up and down while screaming that Iran will have nuclear weapons by 2009.

There will be a battle of rhetoric in the mainstream press and in the blogs. The Bush administration will win in the mainstream press, and will be roundly thrashed and eviscerated in the blogosphere. In the end it will be as Faulker said, “. . .sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Sound and fury but ultimately nothing will come of the hubbub (one example of said hubbub: Sy Hersh said Bush told Israeli Prime Minister Olmert about the possible termination of the Iranian nuke weapons program two days before the date Bush gave the media as when he found out about the info. TP has more here.) over when Bush knew of the suspected suspension of the Iranian nuke program and whether ithat knowledge preceded some of his inflammatory bomb Iran/WWIII talk of the last year. One rather poetic-sounding phrase sums up Bush’s defense, trotted out for the gagillionieth time: Profound stupidity married to plausible deniability.

More from ABC’s Political Radar:

[National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley said the President was told in August-Sept to keep using the same talking points as he was using before when speaking on Iran. “He [Bush] was not told to stop talking about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He was not told to change what he says about it. What he was told was, we have new information; it is interesting; it is going to take us some time to understand it,” Hadley explained.

Translation: Who I am to tell the President to stop lying to the American people about intelligence pertaining to national security? I’m just the . . . um, oh yeah.

However Hadley confirmed the intelligence was wrong in 2005 when the intelligence report said Iran’s nuclear weapons program still existed. “We thought they had that program — we did, indeed, in 2005.”

Sure it did. Sure you did.

All we can do is hunker down and hold our positions–not giving another inch–until January of 2009.

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Filed under GOP, iran nie, iraq war, john bolton, national intelligence estimate, right wing, think progress

An Argument Against Privatization

A caller to the first hour of the Thom Hartmann program’s “Brunch with Bernie” segment on 11/30/2007 asked Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) what his thoughts were on privatization, Blackwater USA, and crony capitalism in the Bush Administration:

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT): What [the Bush Administration] wants to do is destroy the ability of government in general to provide services in a cost-effective way. To my mind, and I say this not just as a US Senator but as a former mayor, the most cost-effective way of delivering services for taxpayers is to have a well-trained, group of people of high morale who see their work as a career. And where turnover is not high. And when you have that situation, you can deliver services in a cost-effective way. Very often what this privatization is about is that it looks cheap up front. It looks cheap tomorrow. But then you have turnover, you have to re-train people, you have lower quality work, you have people who are not dedicated. And in the long run the work is not as good and the cost is greater.

Thom Hartmann: There was an article in the current issue of Vanity Fair about one of the defense contractors, and, almost anecdotaly, they made the point that the amount of money that the federal government is now spending on private contractors on the privatization of government functions across the board is equal to the collected taxes of every taxpayer in america who makes $100,000.00 or less.

Sanders: Wow.

Hartmann: 100% of all the tax income from $100,000.00 or less taxpayers. Its mind-boggling.

Sanders: Its not just that they want to privatize social security; privatize medicare; privatize the post office; privatize public education, if you like, they are even, as we’ve said, moving aggressively to privatize the United States’ military. Very radical and very dangerous.

I agree with Senator Sander’s on the higher work ethic and retention of government employees who see their job as a career versus the private contractors. I see this all the time at the post office. While I don’t see my post office job as a life-long career, I appreciate the wages and benefits I enjoy there while I’m planning my career path. I feel I have an obligation to my employer, and to the American people, to process the mail in a timely manner and to make sure it gets where its going in one-piece.

I contrast myself and my full-time coworkers with the revolving cast of temporary “casual” employees. They receive less money and no benefits. They are continually prodded by management to work harder and faster (and quite often less safely or unsafely). They are sometimes forced to work 10-15 days consecutively without a day off. If there is a lot of work, they are forced to work up to a 12-hour day. If there isn’t a lot of work, they may be send home immediately, or as soon as the lion’s share of the work is done. They are fired for calling out sick more than once or twice during their contract period. If they get hurt off the job they are fired. If they get hurt on the job and the post office can establish it is not at fault they are fired. If they can somehow manage to not call out sick or get hurt for an extended amount of time, they are automatically laid-off at the end of their 6-month or 1-year contract. They may be quickly rehired (within a few weeks) or may have to sit by the phone for 6-months or longer waiting for the post office to once again have need of them.

Some casual employees I know have worked in these conditions for years (one woman has been working as a casual for 7 years) trying to get hired as career employees. A few get lucky and get hired. Most don’t. If the post office were privatized, employees like these would go from being a supplement to the work force to being the backbone of the work force.

The work conditions and lack of benefits of a casual employee generally tend to produce a worker who doesn’t give a shit. They work hard when the boss is over their shoulder and loaf when he/she isn’t. They don’t care if a package bound for Shelton, Connecticut ends up in a container bound for San Diego, California. And they abuse the mail–big time.

I’m not trying to say these people have it as bad as third-world sweatshop or slave-labor camp workers. That would be ridiculous. They still get $12.75/hour and time-and-a-half overtime pay after working 40 hours/week. They are paid a living wage and live in a democratic country with a high-standard of living. But their home life suffers. Over time, their health and well-being suffer. They have no medical insurance. They have no retirement. They have no security. And if economic trends continue in this country (downsizing, out-sourcing, privatization, collapsing housing market, rising costs of energy and goods along with a weak dollar), they’ll soon have more company where their at.

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Filed under post office, privatization, senator bernie sanders, thom hartmann program