26 July 2007

The Lonely Voice of Justice (BR)

About the only ink afforded to Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich after his performance at Tuesday's CNN/YouTube debate was in reference to his dubious distinction of having the lowest-testing moment of the night among focus groups.

He earned the enmity of these political taste-testers by being the only person on a panel of eight candidates, including one black man, who is openly in favor of the payment of reparations to African-Americans for the crime of slavery.

It's worth mentioning that this performance by Kucinich tested lower than a statement by Mike Gravel that American servicemen "died in vain" in Vietnam and are doing the same thing in Iraq today.

Maybe most Americans see an increasing black middle class, and the ascension of African-Americans to prominent and valorous positions in society -- like, for example, legitimate contender for the presidency -- and see the broaching of the topic of reparations as dredging up old unpleasantness and resurrecting a dialogue about race that we were never very comfortable taking part in, and decide that the whole thing is an anachronism and some karmic statute of limitations has expired.

Or maybe we're just used to the government not having to pay for hurting people.

The practice of kidnapping black Africans to America and forcing them and their children to work without pay was tolerated, regulated, and therefore endorsed by the United States government for the first 87 years of its existence. Millions who should have enjoyed rights equal to any other citizen instead were denied them wholesale, and could look forward to nothing other than pitiless oppression and endless toil, and release only in the form of death.

Was our government coddling the American Indians when it "reserved" some land for them to live on after defeating the natives in war? Should individuals today who abduct and hold victims against their will not have to answer for their actions? The United States, great and glorious though we are, for a time democratically sanctioned the trafficking of human beings like cattle, in violation of principles enshrined elsewhere in our laws. See the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

This is not abstract conceptualizing. Our legal system is based on a standard of justice whereby an injury to one party, materially and/or by denial of rights protected by law, must be repayed by the injurers, in direct monetary compensation or by forfeiture of their own rights.

Congressman Kucinich is not my preferred candidate for president, but he is no lunatic for understanding this very simple principle and applying it honestly to the topic of reparations. The unpopularity of his comment speaks less to his being out of touch with voters and more to how out of touch many Americans are with the ideals we claim to venerate.

24 July 2007

We Haven't Learned a Goddamn Thing (BR)

I'm in the midst of enjoying my morning coffee at 1:00 PM, as is my custom, and browsing Crooks and Liars to catch up on whatever ass-hattery perpetrated by Team Bush I managed to miss thanks to our species' confounded need for sleep.

A post titled Dems' big advantage on Iraq by Steve Benen reports the results of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, which does indicate a shrinking level of public tolerance for the President's assertion of exclusive dominion over the handling of the war:
Most Americans see President Bush as intransigent on Iraq and prefer that the Democratic-controlled Congress make decisions about a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As the president and Congress spar over war policy, both receive negative marks from the public for their handling of the situation in Iraq. But by a large margin, Americans trust Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular. And more than six in 10 in the new poll said Congress should have the final say on when to bring the troops home.
While this is encouraging data for anyone who, like me, favors a withdrawal from Iraq, I can't share in Benen's enthusiasm when he sums it all up this way:
Any Dems who are still worried about how the public might react to Congress forcing Bush’s hand just aren’t paying attention.
This is a popular line of thinking among my fellow Democrats, but it does not ring true to me. Even though Americans of all stripes are growing sick of the war, we are not as gung-ho to end it as we were to invade in the first place.

As if to confirm my skepticism, The New York Times published a separate poll today, showing that popular support for the initial invasion of Iraq has increased seven points since May; a frightening and baffling 42% of our countrymen and -women would go to war all over again today, even knowing everything we know now, even having seen the chaos and death that has ensued.

Another interesting finding in the Times poll is that notwithstanding John Edwards' and Governor Richardson's frequent admonitions regarding how easy it would be to simply cut off the money and force the President to bring the troops home, only eight percent of those polled favor blocking funds as an option. Fully 63 percent say they support fully funding the war with a timetable for withdrawal, but this only illustrates the cluelessness of the electorate about the process and the ground rules of the debate.

It's a bit like someone stating his support for being fed cheesecake by five nude models. It's a nice idea, but it speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of how things work in the real world.

I'm not as heartened by the vox populi today as some of my friends, and I see the Democrats' hedging as fairly standard political maneuvering. If a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq precipitates an escalation of the current civil war into full-fledged genocide, or turns the country into a safe haven for Islamist groups with aspirations to global terror -- two very real possibilities -- it will be determined to have been the Democrats' fault.

More to the point, nowhere in these poll results do I see a people that has learned anything from this horrendous botch-job of a war. There may be sympathy toward the de facto "peace" party, but there's nothing that would identify a solid majority in favor of military restraint, robust diplomacy, or non-interventionism. If anything, I see a nation increasingly protective of its prerogative to screw up just as badly in the future.

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20 July 2007

Aim For His Head (BR)
A modest proposal to reclaim the integrity of America's game

As this article begins, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds stands within two home runs of tying the Major League record of 755, currently held by Henry Louis (Hank) Aaron, and three of breaking it. Bonds is and has been embroiled in a cloud of controversy for several years as allegations of performance-enhancing drug use have been leveled at him from several sources.

In last year's book Game of Shadows, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams documented Bonds' dealings with disgraced BALCO trainer Greg Anderson. Anderson was indicted for distribution of steroids to athletes before striking a deal with federal prosecutors under which he would not be compelled to identify his clients by name in open court.

The allegations in Shadows, based upon leaked grand jury testimony from Bonds, Anderson and others, paint a picture of the 14-time All-Star which most baseball fans had already understood: That of a phenomenally talented egomaniac with a sociopathic streak and few scruples to speak of.

Bonds was well in the midst of compiling a sure-fire Hall of Fame resume in 1998, when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa each began hot pursuit of the all-time single-season home run record, held to that point by Roger Maris, the New York Yankees outfielder who hit 61 round-trippers in 1961. Both players surpassed Maris' total -- McGwire finished the season with 70 homers, Sosa with 66 -- and the story captured America's attention, largely eliminating remnants of ill will toward the game following 1994's season-ending players strike.

According to Shadows, the events of 1998 stoked Bonds' competitive spirit, as well as his jealousy. McGwire and Sosa were being hailed as saviors of baseball as the national pastime, despite rumors among players and press that they were getting a little "help" on the side. (During the '98 season, McGwire admitted to using androstenedione ["Andro"], a bodybuilding supplement that was legal and allowed under Major League Baseball's drug policy at the time. McGwire famously refused to confirm or deny accusations of illegal steroid use in front of Congress in 2005. Sosa has steadfastly denied ever taking steroids, and is currently enjoying a resurgent season with the Texas Rangers after a year out of baseball.)

Bonds coveted the adulation and professional respect afforded McGwire and Sosa and assumed that his methods would not come under scrutiny from MLB authorities so long as fans and revenue continued to roll in. In 1999, according to Williams and Fainaru-Wada, Bonds began a regimen of anabolic steroids. In 2001, Bonds, whose previous highest single-season home run total was 49, clubbed an astonishing 73 homers, breaking McGwire's three-year-old record. But the kudos Bonds thought he had coming once again eluded him, as his power surge was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks on the U.S. that same September.

Bonds' story is one of extraordinary ability not wasted, but most certainly tarnished and sullied. You or I could take all the steroids we wanted and never hit .370 against Major League pitching, as Bonds did in 2002. Steroids would not imbue any of us with the patience and visual acuity the slugger possessed in 2004, when he accepted a record 232 walks in a season, though his fearsome, "enhanced" presence likely contributed to that total. And steroids don't help anybody win Gold Glove awards for outstanding defense, of which Bonds has eight. Without steroids, Bonds was arguably the greatest baseball player of our generation. With steroids, the same is true, yet he is also a disappointment and a disgrace.

But why spill all these words over one man's dearth of character? Because: As we speak, this man is sneaking up on the most hallowed of records in professional sports; the all-time Major League home run record. And it's not just the record, it's the man who holds it.

Hank Aaron, who has still hit more home runs than anyone to ever put on a Major League uniform, began his career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues before signing a minor-league contract with the Milwaukee Braves in 1952. He made his big-league debut in 1954. In an era of painful transition for baseball, when racial epithets screamed across baselines were still the norm, Aaron won the hearts of fans and colleagues alike with his no-nonsense style, superlative play, and clockwork consistency that garnered him 24 trips to the All-Star Game, another Major League high mark.

In 1973, as Aaron himself closed in on the record of 714 career home runs, held by Babe Ruth, he was inundated with racist hate mail and threats of death should he break Ruth's mark. He finished the year one homer short of Ruth. He tied the record on his first at-bat of the next season, and, on April 8, 1974, Henry Aaron sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field wall at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium to become the home-run King of all time, having overcome professional and societal adversity to achieve the improbable feat.

So now we come to the summit of what to now has been a history lesson, and a full explanation of that to which the title of this article alludes. My suggestion and plea to pitchers throughout the game is to do whatever is in their power to prevent Barry Bonds from ascending past Hank Aaron on the all-time home run leader board. In short, throw at his head. Or aim a fastball at his kneecaps. Maybe throw one behind him to provoke an altercation and rough him up when he charges the mound.

Whatever means are necessary -- short of outright criminal conduct, of course -- to put this big baby and no-good cheater out of commission and end his pursuit of a record rightfully owned and earned by a living embodiment of athleticism, sportsmanship and gentlemanliness, should be employed. The tacit policy of the league's pitchers should be not to allow Bonds to escape an at-bat without fearing for his long-term health. Hurlers with more pacifistic inclinations (I assume these are a minority contingent) should intentionally walk him. But the bottom line is that the batters' box should be a perpetually scary place for Bonds to venture into.

Hitters get thrown at for any number of violations of baseball etiquette. This is really no different. Stealing signs, crowding the plate, spiking a fielder on a slide into a base, all eventually earn the offender a knock-down or a bruise.

This sort of justice for Bonds would be beyond poetic, to come within tasting range of the glory he has for so long sought, and employed underhanded, unethical and illegal methods to attain, only to be ultimately stymied, and have his career ended, by a united front of his fellow ballplayers, who have for years now been victimized by Bonds' cheating. It would be the first real show of commitment on the part of players themselves to a steroid-free workplace, and the first step on a long road for Major League Baseball, an organization whose naked greed afforded monsters like Bonds a safe haven, back to respectability.

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03 July 2007

Gimme a break.................. (CS)

Of course everyone is going to write about this filth. It is, to me, the winning stroke for George W. Bush's bid for the worst President in American history. In the words of Armagideon Time: "Congratulations, Mr. President. There is no bar for venality set so low that you can't find a way to slither underneath it."

Two blog posts really brought home how truly disgusting and foolish a man the President has proven himself with this action. Matt Cooper points out that,
Scooter Libby was indicted by a Bush-appointed prosecutor who was given his authority by the Bush Justice Department and then a Bush-appointed judge presided while a jury of his peers convicted him on four of five counts...The appelate court, loaded with such noted liberals as Reagan appointee David Sentelle, denied his appeals. Where is the miscarriage of justice that required a president, notoriously stingy with pardons, to swoop in?

Cynical-C Blog dredged up an Atlantic Online artice from 2003 which showed Bush's tendency towards this sort of thing... or rather his lack-thereof. Of the 153 cases/executions brought before GW Bush during his tenure in Texas, he showed mercy just once. 150 men and two women and only one was worthy of such benevolence... and it wasn't the mentally retarded Terry Washington.

A lot of people will say, "Well, we shouldn't be surprised. Libby was never going to do time." In a way they're right. The worst is what we've come to expect from this, the worst of presidencies. But it is no less depressing then had it been a complete surprise. It is even worse as this feels like the final stroke against the possibility of seeing the right thing done in this country. As if it were the final proclamation that even when some form of justice might be done, these crooks and their cronies will find a way to slither free.

Too often we see the rich buy their way out of justice. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been quoted recenty as saying that, "It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals." After this incident I sincerely think Fitzgerald's hope will not be so with Bush and those around him and I wonder how much damage this King of American Failures has really done to justice, to the presidency, and to the country.

16 April 2007

Pork You, Mr. President (BR)
GOP Congress spent millions on non-military projects in past appropriations bills

As the debate rages on between Capitol Hill and the White House over the military appropriations bill currently being hammered out between the two Houses of Congress, President Bush has stuck to the narrative that he will veto anything but a "clean bill" that comes across his desk. "Clean" means in this case no timeline for withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq, and no "pork" spending on projects unrelated to defense spending.

I decided to investigate the pork angle, as Bush and Republicans in Congress mention it in the same breath as the withdrawal deadline whenever asked. Much has been made over the allotment of a few million dollars of the $80 billion or so for things like economic relief to spinach farmers and the storage of peanuts.

The objection appears fishy off the bat, as the president and his party spent the people's money like drunken Democrat sailors during the last four years when the GOP controlled Congress. They passed a Medicare prescription drug bill to the tune of half a trillion dollars (and counting) in 2004, a bill that did not provide health insurance to a single American who wasn't already covered by federal programs, but did help old men get discount Viagra. This was no isolated event: From bridges to nowhere to tax giveaways for multinational corporations, the last two Congresses were not the tightwads they now claim to be.

But if it took last November's brutal ass-kicking by Democrats to get the GOP to find religion and start listening to their constituents again, I'd be all for it. Unfortunately, every military appropriations bill passed by the 108th and 109th Congresses and signed by President Pennypincher himself was riddled with what would certainly be classified as "pork" if proposed by Democrats today. And Bush has made clear that he will be using the unrelated spending in this year's bill as one of the main bases for a veto that will deny American troops on the ground the funding they need to fight and defend themselves while they're stuck in the crossfire of a bloody civil war.

Skeptics can examine the text of H.R. 1268 as agreed to by the House and Senate for FY 2005 in the section marked "TITLE VI--GENERAL PROVISIONS AND TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS." The purpose of this section is to increase funds made available in previously passed, unrelated legislation. Here are some highlights:
SEC. 6006. Section 219(f)(30) of the Water Resources Development Act of 1992 (106 Stat. 4835; 106 Stat. 3757; 113 Stat. 334) is amended by striking `$20,000,000' and inserting `$55,000,000' in lieu thereof, and by striking `treatment' and inserting `infrastructure' in lieu thereof
For the ADD-afflicted, that means the government increased funding to the water board of Desoto County, Mississippi by $35 million, and changed the mandate for dispensation of those funds from the specific purpose of "treatment" (we assume that refers to water, and not weekend plastic surgery) to a more general "infrastructure."
SEC. 6007. Section 325(f)(1)(A) of Public Law 106-541 is modified by striking `$20,000,000' and inserting in lieu thereof `$25,000,000'.
That's a $5 million bump for those brave salmon and trout fighting the war on terror in the fish farms of Big Sky country. God bless 'em.
SEC. 6010. In division C, title I of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 (Public Law 108-447), the item relating to Corps of Engineers--Civil, Construction, General, is amended by inserting before the period at the end the following: `: Provided further, That of the funds made available herein for Ohio Environmental Infrastructure, $500,000 shall be used for the Liberty Little Squaw Creek sewer upgrade and $1,000,000 shall be used for the Lake County, Concord Township sanitary sewer line improvement[.]
I'd just like to take this moment to remind readers that this text is from a bill titled Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005
SEC. 6014. ...
What is it with Republicans and spending defense money on fish?
SEC. 6032. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the National Park Service is authorized to expend appropriated funds for the construction, operations and maintenance of an expansion to the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center to be constructed for visitors to, and administration of, Yellowstone National Park.
Perhaps part of a plan to give terrorists bad directions so they can't blow up our geysers and mountains.

Also, the government was nice enough to use our defense bill to let their buddies in industry wreck just a few more acres of what's left of our natural landscape:
SEC. 6034. (a) The Secretary of the Interior shall allow the State of Mississippi, its lessees, contractors, and permittees, to conduct, under reasonable regulation not inconsistent with extraction of the oil and gas minerals reserved by the State of Mississippi in the deed referenced in subsection (b):

(1) exploration, development and production operations on sites outside the boundaries of Gulf Islands National Seashore that use directional drilling techniques which result in the drill hole crossing into the Gulf Islands National Seashore and passing under any land or water the surface of which is owned by the United States, including terminating in bottom hole locations thereunder; and

(2) seismic and seismic-related exploration activities inside the boundaries of Gulf Islands National Seashore to identify the oil and gas minerals located within the boundaries of the Gulf Islands National Seashore under the surface estate conveyed by the State of Mississippi, all of which oil and gas minerals the State of Mississippi reserved the right to extract.
There's more in this and other bills. You may visit THOMAS, the Library of Congress' online database, to explore.

Unlike elected officials, I don't have any problem, real or pretend, with the concept of pork spending. Fish need to be hatched, water needs to be treated, tourists in Yellowstone need to be told not to poke their heads inside Old Faithful. I get it. I'm uncomfortable with the employment by House leaders of unrelated federal spending to whip Democrats in line to get it passed in the first place.

But Republicans fearful of losing votes because of growing discontent within their own ranks over the war need to be straight with their base. The cold truth is that the President's coming veto of this year's defense appropriations bill will be a denial of funds to our troops in Iraq because of a withdrawal timeline which he finds unacceptable. It has nothing to do with pork spending. Nothing. If it did, Bush would have vetoed every appropriations bill passed by Congress in the last five years.