Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Incredible Shrinking Anchorman

Has anyone else noticed that vampire/token "liberal" Alan Colmes, shoeshine boy to Sean Hannity on the hit FOXNews program Hannity & Colmes, seems to be wasting away?

Perhaps Roger Ailes thinks Colmes will be even more of a pushover than he already is if he were to shed a couple of pounds.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn that FOXNews was enforcing Alan's manorexia. I can picture Colmes now, chained up in basement, forced to subsist on whatever morsels of falafel Bill O'Reilly can sneak to him.

But, I could be wrong. I report, you decide. Here's hoping that Alan finds a cure for what Ailes him.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Worst Job in New York City

In the wake of the London terror attacks, officials in New York City are stepping up their own efforts to safeguard the city's subway system. Part of the plan involves random bag searches at MTA stations. The other part is a call for vigilence from NYC's straphangers. Here is a list, taken from the Metro newspaper that is handed out at stations, of "suspicious" behaviors subway riders should be on the lookout for:

Anyone who has ever ridden the New York City subway will know that at least half of the riders at any given time meet these descriptions. At rush hour, that number goes up to about 75%.

If New Yorkers actually call the police every time they see someone on the subway acting "suspiciously," the worst job in New York will officially change from Assistant Crack Whore to 911 Operator.

Kudos to Melon Colonie for recognizing the absurdity of this, too.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

London Attacked Again

My first thought upon hearing the details of today's attacks is that they were copycat bombings. The types of targets—three trains and a double-decker bus—are exactly the same as in the bombings of two weeks ago. The original bus bomb is now thought to have been meant for a fourth train. The fact that a bus was chosen this time contributes greatly to my suspicions.

I must say, I greatly prefer terrorists who can't make a bomb to those who can.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Court's Out on Roberts

I think the court is still out, if you will, on Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts as Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement on the Supreme Court. It's a bit too early for anyone to have a well-formed view of what his tenure might portend for the high court, but there's no shortage of journalists scrambling about trying to fill in the gaps.

Perhaps the most reported fact about Judge Roberts is that he once wrote a brief in which he claimed that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Here's the actual quote: "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."

Seems damning, but appearances can be deceiving. He wrote this in his position as deputy solicitor general for the George H.W. Bush administration in 1991. In other words, he was doing his job and what he wrote may not reflect his actual views on abortion.

In 2003, Judge Roberts had this to say:
Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. It's a little more than settled. It was reaffirmed in the face of a challenge that it should be overruled in the Casey decision. Accordingly, it's the settled law of the land. There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent, as well as Casey.
If my ears did not deceive me, I believe I heard a spokesperson from a pro-choice group on the radio this morning describe Roberts with this hideously mixed metaphor: a Bork in sheep's clothing. It looks like that might be a bit hasty. As Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, it's definitely an encouraging sign that Ann Coulter thinks Robert's isn't conservative enough.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hate Blooms in Bloomington

Indiana is no stranger to hate—the KKK flourished here after World War I, and then there's Ron Artest—but Bloomington is a different story. Or was a different story until last week.

On July 9, not long after the London terror attacks, someone tried to burn down the Islamic Center of Bloomington. An unidentified attacker threw a Molotov cocktail into the mosque's kitchen at around 4 a.m. in an incident that is being investigated as a hate crime by the FBI. A burned copy of the Koran was found on the sidewalk outside.

Fortunately, there was a worshiper in the mosque observing early-morning prayers who was able to extinguish the fire before any serious damage was done.

The attack came as a shock to the city's residents and has put Bloomington's Muslim community on edge. Home to Indiana University, Bloomington is a little blue oasis in an otherwise solid-red state. Thanks to the university, Bloomington is one of the most diverse and tolerant small cities in the country.

Bloomington officials and residents were quick to condemn the attacks. Mayor Mark Kruzan pithily summed up the prevailing attitude: "The person or persons responsible for this action need to understand that they've just struck a blow on behalf of terrorism. They've chosen anarchy over democracy and insulted freedom." People at the Islamic Center reported being overwhelmed by well-wishers from the community who stopped by to reassure them that those behind the attack do not speak for the majority.

Unfortunately, a small minority of residents in Bloomington and the surrounding areas harbor more hostile feelings toward our sizeable Muslim community. A group from Old Paths Baptist Church in nearby Campbellsburg—a group that is mentioned in an unrelated Time article about Christianity on campus—regularly pickets at IU, harassing Muslims, Jews and sorority girls in short skirts.

This minority is also represented in the student body. On July 14, IU's newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student, printed a letter from a Hutton Honors College student named Mark Zacharias. The letter is shockingly ignorant for any college student, let alone for one who attends a division that focuses on community service and stresses the diverse and pluralistic nature of IU.

Here is an excerpt from his letter:
The incident at the Islamic Center sounds like an inside job. There are aspects of the story that are suspicious, such as the member who just happened to be at the scene at 4 a.m., happened to have a jug of water (on his way to the bathroom) and immediately put out whatever small fire had started. The attempted burning of a Quran is also suspicious. There has been so much media coverage of Gitmo and the alleged "desecration of the Quran," that this was likely done on purpose to make the situation sound even more sensational.
Only an ignorant or incurious person would find such aspects of the story suspicious. After a cursory investigation on the Internet, I was able to ascertain that Fajr, the first prayer of the day, is scheduled for 4:04 a.m. in the Bloomington area at this time of year (imagine that!). Furthermore, it is common (or easily acquired) knowledge that Muslims perform ritual ablutions, called wudhu, before praying. That would explain the jug of water.

With Zacharias' first two points obliterated, we are left with only the burned Koran which must be a hoax because it's the kind of thing that other non-Muslims have been accused of and therefore could not have been done by a non-Muslim. Similarly, because the KKK has been accused of putting burning crosses on black people's lawns, any burning cross you find must have been put there by a black person fishing for sympathy. Occam's Razor seems to be getting a little bit rusty.

As it turns out, he simply uses his fallacious argument as a meager justification for his hate.
Even if a member of our community did do it, there should be no surprise. People do not have to be misguided, mentally ill or an "extremist" to think about and then commit such an act. When humans feel increasingly fearful, powerless and threatened, then it is natural to want to strike back.
Zacharias goes on to weakly suggest that arson is not the answer, but this doesn't carry much weight after having justified the attack in such strong terms just a sentence earlier. This quote also contains a telling locution that one suspects is not a mere slip of the pen. In what way does "our community" not include the Muslims who inarguably make up a part of it? In setting the Muslim community apart from the greater Bloomington population, Zacharias' prejudices become crystal clear.

The attack on the Islamic Center is justified by the alleged threat posed by its members. The nature of this threat is not disclosed, and this is because there is not one. The Bloomington Muslim population is incredibly diverse—about as far away from the rigid and doctrinaire Islamic environments that actually produce terrorists as can be imagined. Zacharias and his ilk are not threatened by members of the Islamic Center, but rather by Islam itself. There is a name for this kind of thinking: bigotry.

Yesterday the Indiana Daily Student ran a sort-of apology from Zacharias as well as a strong rebuke from two members of the Muslim Student Union amongst others. Unfortunately, the paper also ran an ill-timed opinion column by Adam Sedia called "The Ugly Side of Islam," about Mohammed Bouyeri, the killer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. In the column, Sedia's mantra is "No tolerance, no dialogue, no mercy." While this certainly applies to people like Bouyeri, the wisdom of printing such an article so close to the incident at the Islamic Center—an incident which bears all the hallmarks of a vile misapplication of this very philosophy—should be called into question.

There are encouraging signs that people like Zacharias may not be in the majority in Bloomington. On Sunday, an interfaith rally in solidarity with the Muslim community was attended by hundreds. Now is the time for Bloomington to prove what kind of community it really is.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Too Much to Ask

Chatham House, a UK think tank, has just released a report on the London terrorist attacks. In this report, the authors decry Britain's role in the War on Terror, saying,
the UK government has been conducting counter-terrorism policy "shoulder to shoulder" with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as a pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat.
While the report appears to blame the US—and the Iraq war—for the attacks, the authors would like to have their cake and eat it, too. They shy away from directly blaming the attacks on the Iraq war, but note that, "there is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has posed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism." While this is undoubtedly true, connecting terror attacks to the war in Iraq only gets it half right (or, rather, somewhat less than half). Do they suppose that if Iraq had never been invaded, there would be no terror threat?

British MP George Galloway certainly does. Here is an excerpt from his statement released on the day of the attacks:
We have worked without rest to remove the causes of such violence from our world. We argued, as did the Security Services in this country, that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain. Tragically Londoners have now paid the price of the government ignoring such warnings.

We urge the government to remove people in this country from harms way, as the Spanish government acted to remove its people from harm, by ending the occupation of Iraq and by turning its full attention to the development of a real solution to the wider conflicts in the Middle East.

Only then will the innocents here and abroad be able to enjoy a life free of the threat of needless violence.
This point of view has also found currency among the anti-war set here in America. If only we could meet the terrorist's demands, they say. There must be a political-diplomatic solution. Unfortunately, unlike with the IRA or even the FALN, there is no political organization with which to negotiate a peace. The demands of al Qaeda and other nihilistic terror outfits cannot be met. Anyone who thinks they can be has a very short memory, indeed.

Shortly after the London attacks, Christopher Hitchens wrote an article for the Mirror called "We Cannot Surrender." The title is not meant to be Churchillian bluster. Rather, it is a statement of fact. There is no one to whom we can capitulate, even if we wanted to. Hitchens eloquently enumerates the grievances of the terrorists:
The grievance of seeing unveiled women. The grievance of the existence, not of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. The grievance of the heresy of democracy, which impedes the imposition of sharia law. The grievance of a work of fiction written by an Indian living in London. The grievance of the existence of black African Muslim farmers, who won't abandon lands in Darfur. The grievance of the existence of homosexuals. The grievance of music, and of most representational art. The grievance of the existence of Hinduism. The grievance of East Timor's liberation from Indonesian rule. All of these have been proclaimed as a licence to kill infidels or apostates, or anyone who just gets in the way.
In order to live in a world free from terrorism, these are the "wrongs" we would have to make right. Either that, or we fight for the world we believe in. The other side is doing as much, and only one side can win in the end.

This is not meant to be a blanket endorsement for the Iraq war or a free pass for the Bush Administration. It is simply in recognition that the Iraq war is but one of many grievances that set the terrorists to arms, and ending that occupation would only be the start of it. I don't think any of us would want to live in a world where we have satisfied all of their complaints.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

PTC: Manufacturing Discontent

The Parents Television Council, a right-wing, pro-censorship media "watchdog" group profiled in these pages back in December, have selected ABC as the target of their latest crusade. The PTC's panties are in a bunch over the unedited broadcast of the dreaded F-word during the Who's performance at Live 8 on July 2.

As much as I might despise the PTC and their reactionary mission (which is to make sure nothing ever airs on TV that's not suitable for an 8-year-old), I can see the value of their website as a sort of one-stop shop for huffy prudes. If, for example, you see an episode of Touched By an Angel that discusses man-on-man anal sex in a way that you deem inappropriate for your kids, you can hop right onto the PTC website where they make it easy as can be to file a complaint with the FCC.

The PTC takes it one step further, however, in their battle against ABC. On Friday, a weekly PTC e-alert that goes out to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of subscribers, contained an item with the following heading: "PTC Urges Members to File Complaints about Unedited 'F-Word' during ABC's Live 8 Broadcast." There is even a handy-dandy link to an already-completed FCC complaint form. All you have to do is fill out your name and click send. If you look closely, you will notice that the email doesn't urge members "who tuned in to Live 8 and were offended" to file a complaint. They obviously want everybody to pile on.

The inevitable result of this naked attempt to solicit outrage is that a number of complaints will be filed by people who didn't watch Live 8 on ABC and therefore could not have been offended by what they heard. The anti-ABC campaign is, simply put, an attempt by the PTC to ventriloquize the American public in order to further their own goals.

If the PTC does succeed in their goals, well, I hope you like Spongebob. Wait, not Spongebob, he's gay. Teletubbies! No, they're gay, too. Um, I hope you like reading. I hear the new Harry Potter is coming out. Oh, right, seductions of the Devil.

Shadow puppets, anyone?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Torture on a Whim

According to a report in today's Washington Post, it is the Pentagon's official policy—adopted over the protests of military lawyers—that the president is free to disregard legal prohibitions against torture. Why? Because he's the boss, apparently. Here's the key quote:
A law enacted in 1994 bars torture by U.S. military personnel anywhere in the world. But the Pentagon working group's 2003 report, prepared under the supervision of general counsel William J. Haynes II, said that "in order to respect the President's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign . . . [the prohibition against torture] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority."
So, it's only torture if the other side does it. If we do it, that's just a justified exercize of presidential prerogative.

This and other revelations prove that the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere were not the isolated actions of bullies. They were official US policy, and denials and claims to the contrary can now be seen for what they are: bald-faced lies.

How can we expect to act as a moral, positive force in the world when our own actions are constrained not by law, not by morality, not by the grand pronouncements of our noble mission, but by the president's whim alone? Each new revelation about the treatment of prisoners makes it that much harder to maintian principled support for the War on Terror.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Report: Abuse at Gitmo 'Humane'

The findings of the "Schmidt Report" on detainee abuses at Guantanamo were released at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday.

The report recommends only minor punishments for soldiers and officers involved, but paints a stark picture of the way Terror War detainees are being handled in our military prisons. Most telling is the revelation that abuses such as sexual humiliation and intimidation with dogs—treatment labeled by the report as "humane"—were not the "frat-boy antics" of a few loose cannons, but were in line with official military policy.

Given the political climate in Washington and the country at large, look for this report to change few minds.

For a complete rundown and analysis, look at the July 14 entries over at Andrew Sullivan's blog. He's a pro-war conservative, but with a level head and a conscience, proving that these designations are only usually mutually exclusive.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pope Pans Potter

LifeSite.net has published two letters written in 2003 by then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI, in case you haven't been paying attention) to German critic Gabriele Kuby, author of Harry Potter - gut oder böse? (Harry Potter - Good or Evil?). According to LifeSite, Kuby's book claims that the Potter series corrupts "the hearts of the young, preventing them from developing a properly ordered sense of good and evil, thus harming their relationship with God while that relationship is still in its infancy."

Anyone who has ever read a Harry Potter novel would have to agree that J.K. Rowling's children's stories never touch on issues of good vs. evil, especially not, say, in the context of an ongoing battle between benevolent wizards and the malevolent forces controlled by a wizard who is the personification of evil itself. Certainly there are no lessons about morality, friendship, loyalty, bravery or any other nourishment for a young child's soul.

In his first letter to Kuby, Cardinal Ratzinger says,
It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.
In a second letter, Ratzinger gave Kuby his blessing (so to speak) to make his "judgment" on Potter public.

It's nice to see that the Catholic Church is pledged to protect children from all forms of evil—except for child rape, of course. But that could never "deeply distort Christianity in the soul." Not like a Harry Potter book could.

Unanswered Questions Dog Rove Affair

While many things remain unclear in the Karl Rove leak scandal, one thing is certain: Rove was one of the sources that Time reporter Matthew Cooper nearly went to prison to protect. Rove's leak outed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame (even if not by name) thus compromising an agent engaged in undercover WMD work, presumably a high-priority area for the US Government in the War on Terror.

It is not yet known whether Rove's leak was intentional—if so, Bush's top advisor could face 10-years in a Federal prison. The Rove Affair dredges up a far more troubling question as well.

If the leak really was an honest mistake, then why didn't Rove come out immediately, admit it and throw himself on the mercy of the president? Instead, two years have passed with nary a peep. Meanwhile, in his silence, Rove blithely allowed one reporter to go to jail and another to be dragged more that halfway there, all to protect himself. These don't appear to be the actions of an innocent man. If he really did nothing wrong, then why all the obfuscation?

It is unspeakably arrogant of Rove to behave in such a manner, but, if White House reaction is any indication, he has every reason to do so. Rove denied involvement in the leak when asked by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan back in 2003. Now McClellan refuses to talk about that denial. Also in 2003, after the story broke, President Bush promised to fire anyone in his administration who was the source of the leak. Yesterday, however, McClellan said, "any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president." Thanks to President Bush's "loyalty," it looks like Rove has nothing to fear. It makes one wonder exactly how much Bush and other White House officials knew about Rove's involvement.

Conservatives are, as one would expect, on the offensive, wailing about partisan attacks against Rove and the Bush administration. Let's try a little thought experiment. What if the tables were turned and a prominent Democrat on the Intelligence Committee had leaked the name of a CIA agent engaged in covert WMD work in order to punish an outspoken supporter of the Bush administration? The Republicans would be crying treason, measuring their rope and looking for the nearest low-hanging branch.

So, how will Bush justify going back on his word and not firing Rove? Well that's one whopper that he's going to have to let "Bush's Brain" think up.

Update: The Wall Street Journal approves of undermining the War on Terror, as long as it's a Republican doing it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

We're Not Afraid

This warms the heart.

For a nice compendium of posts on the London terror attacks, visit Blogcritics.org.

'Bush's Brain' a Captive Mind?

(With apologies to Czeslaw Milosz.)

In a revelation that should surprise no one, Bush advisor Karl Rove has been named as one of Matthew Cooper's sources in the grand jury investigation of who leaked the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. According to his lawyer, Rove leaked Plame's identity, but did not use her name. Even so, Rove could be guilty of a felony that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

According to federal law,
Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. (emphasis added)
The fact that he didn't use her name but rather referred to her as the wife of Joseph Wilson should not matter here. The real question is whether it can be proven that Rove knew that she was a covert agent when he outed her.

Since the revelation of Plame's identity was widely interpreted as payback for Wilson's Op-Ed in the New York Times that contradicted administration charges that Iraq had attempted to purchase nuclear materials from Nigeria, and since Rove has a long history of political dirty tricks, it doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to assume that he knew exactly what he was doing. He is "Bush's Brain," after all.

It remains to be seen what if any charges will be filed against Rove. As matters stand in this bizarre case, New York Times reporter Judith Miller sits in prison on contempt of court charges even thought she never wrote an article about Plame. Meanwhile, Robert Novak—whose article publicly revealed Plame's identity—walks free, and Rove still has his job.

The onus is now on Bush to do the right thing and fire Rove (unless Rove himself steps down—an almost unimaginable occurrence). Don't count on it, though. As recently as mid-June, Bush had this to say about his right-hand man:
My level of confidence with Karl Rove has never been higher. He is a man who gives me sound advice. He adheres to the ethical rules of our government and he's done a great job on behalf of the American people.
The question of whether he "adheres to the ethical rules of our government" is now in serious doubt but, then again, it always has been.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Red Ken Sees Red

London Mayor "Red" Ken Livingston, today:
This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful; it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers; it was aimed at ordinary working class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christians, Hindu and Jew, young and old, indiscriminate attempt at slaughter irrespective of any considerations, of age, of class, of religion, whatever, that isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it's just indiscriminate attempt at mass murder, and we know what the objective is, they seek to divide London. They seek to turn Londoners against each other and Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack... I wish to speak through you directly, to those who came to London to claim lives, nothing you do, how many of us you kill will stop that flight to our cities where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another, whatever you do, how many you kill, you will fail.
Shades of Winston Churchill. It's nice to see one stalwart of the British left taking no quarter. Of course, every Winston Churchill needs his Neville Chamberlain. That's your cue, George Galloway.

London Calling

Once again, Al Qaeda strikes a blow against the mighty and powerful with cowardly, barbarous attacks targeted at ordinary citizens.

After 9/11, the Liverpool Football Club's anthem, "You'll Never Walk Alone," was dedicated to victims and survivors in the U.S. Those sentiments echo back across the Atlantic now as we stand together with England (and Spain, and Turkey, and Indonesia...).

(Sorry for the light blogging. Back to normal next week.)

Friday, July 01, 2005

There Goes the Swing Vote

Hold onto your hats, because Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement from the high court this morning.

The bad news: Bush gets to nominate her replacement. Perhaps he'll choose someone who believes that the Supreme Court has no right to exist. It worked for the UN. One thing's for sure: whomever he taps for the job will be a "good man."

The good news: New Supreme Court Justices have a pretty spotty track record of living up to the ideological expectations of the presidents who appoint them.

Watching and waiting.

Civil Rights March On...Abroad

With a 187-147 parliamentary vote on Thursday, Spain became the third country to legalize gay marriage. The other two are Belgium and the Netherlands. Pending the results of a July vote that is expected to pass the Senate in Ottawa, Canada will become the fourth.

As often is the case in matters of civil rights, the U.S. lags behind. We were quite late in officially abolishing slavery, but not last (thanks, Saudi Arabia!). The logical extension of that abolition—equality for blacks—took another hundred-odd years. We still won't let gays in the military (unlike Britain, Germany, Israel, etc.) and universal health care? Forget about it!

We usually get it right eventually, and this will be true for gay marriage as well. The only question is: when? How long will we live with the stigma of ignoring one of the great civil rights issues of our age? Let's try not make it a hundred years this time.
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