Saturday, June 18, 2005

Kay Bailey Hutchison: Big Liar

I'm disappointed that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison won't be challenging Rick Perry for governor next year. That means that there won't be a big fight to fill an open Senate seat and - since one of the likely candidates in that race would have been U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla - I'll still be stuck with my worthless excuse for a congressman.

I think everyone should recall that back in 1994, Hutchison campaigned as a big supporter of term limits and promised repeatedly to serve only two terms in the Senate. So her decision now to run for a third term means that she LIED!
Unfortunatley, that is unlikely to lose her too many votes and it is doubtful that she will have a serious challenger for her seat this time around.

I can still hope that Carole Keeton Strayhorn might weaken Perry with a nasty primary campaign and make him more vulnerable to a worthy Democratic candidate. But that may just be wishful thinking at this point. If people can't see by now that George W. Bush is the worst president ever and that Republicans are too blinded by right-wing ideology to effectively run the government, then I can't see much worse happening between now and 2006 that might snap them out of their trance.

Friday, June 17, 2005

No. 43 at 42 percent

Here is another poll for conservative Bush backers to ignore and dismiss...

George W. Bush’s overall approval rating has sank lower than his rank order among presidents according to the latest NYTimes/CBS News poll.

The only bright spot for Bush is that a slim majority - 52 percent - say they support his efforts in the “campaign against terrorism.” But what is odd about that is that the same poll places support for Bush’s war in Iraq at a measly 37 percent. Could it be that folks are finally starting to distinguish between fighting actual terrorists and launching a costly invasion and occupation of a country that had nothing to do with the terror attacks? If so, it’s about time.
The poll puts support for Bush’s foreign policy at just 39 percent. Ditto the economy. While Bush’s plans to overhaul Social Security gets an abysmal 25 percent approval despite months of Bush and Co. barnstorming the nation with its carefully scripted Bamboozapalooza tour in support of privatization.

Oh, and the Republican Congress? 33 percent approval. And only 19 percent of respondents say that the Congress “shares their priorities for the country.”

Bring on the 2006 mid-term elections!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Redefining torture and terrorism

Sen. Dick Durbin caused a stir recently when he quoted from an FBI report documenting some of the prisoner abuses that have taken place at Guantanamo.

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

Conservative bloggers have been beside themselves claiming that this treatment does not rise to the level of torture. But what exactly is torture if not this?

Here is a definition we might consider by the "United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" or UNCAT:

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

The Geneva Convention further specified that prisoners of war “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and that there must not be any "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture." or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment".

It is fairly clear that inmates at Abu Gharib were being tortured on a routine basis. Along with the photos that documented some of the abuses we have the report from Major Gen. Antonio M. Taguba that describes:

”Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.“

We also have the reports on abuses at Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of at least two detainees - one of whom was widely believed to have been innocent of any involvement in military action against the U.S.

Conservatives who continue to defend these systematic abuses argue that such treatment is necessary if we are to defend ourselves against future 9/11-like terrorist attacks.
But while you might be able to make a case for harsh treatment in some limited circumstances where we have captured a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who might have details of a pending terrorist attack, that is not the case with the vast majority of inmates at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Many of these prisoners being subjected to this treatment are not top-level members of al-Quaeda, but are at best foot soldiers in the Taliban or the Iraqi insurgency with little useful information to provide. In the worst cases, they have proved to be innocent civilians who were caught up in events and wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But the same conservatives who are so ready to give a very narrow definition of torture, like to use a very broad definition of the word terrorist. Everyone at Guantanamo is a “terrorist” as is anyone in Iraq who is opposed to our occupation of that country. By labeling them as such we make them accountable for not just 9/11, but for all of the suicide attacks and roadside bombings that have plagued Iraq since the beginning of our occupation. And thus we are free to torture them as much as we want because they are not worthy of humane treatment. And anybody who challenges their treatment is faced with the Bush/Darth Vader dictum: “You are either with us, or you are our enemy.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Left/Right religious convergence

Here is a promising story today in the Washington Post - Religious Right, Left Meet in Middle

The Rev. Rob Schenck is an evangelical Christian and a leader of the religious right. Rabbi David Saperstein is a Reform Jew and a leader of the religious left. Both head political advocacy groups in Washington, and they have battled for years over abortion, gay rights, stem cell research and school prayer.
This summer, each intends to preach a bit of the other's usual message.
Schenck said he plans to tell young evangelicals at a Christian music festival on July 1 that homosexuality is not a choice but a "predisposition," something "deeply rooted" in many people. "That may not sound shocking to you, but it will be shocking to my audience," he said.
Saperstein said he is circulating a paper urging political moderates and liberals to "demonstrate their commitment to reduce abortions" by starting a campaign to reduce the number by half within two years.
Schenck and Saperstein disclosed their plans in separate interviews. They are not working together. The minister remains a die-hard opponent of same-sex marriage; the rabbi staunchly supports a woman's constitutional right to choose an abortion. But both are trying to find common ground between liberals and conservatives on moral issues -- and they are not alone.

First it is nice to see the media acknowledging that there is a Religious Left in this country, and not just a Religious Right. Second, I am happy to see people representing both sides reaching out in an effort to find common ground. Reducing the number of abortions in the country is an excellent goal for both left and right advocates. We have differences about how to pursue that goal, but that should not prevent either side from cooperating in areas where we can agree. And recognizing that there is something more to homosexuality than just a choice someone makes to be different may break down some of the barriers to cooperation in those areas as well.

Saperstein noted that the phenomenon of strange bedfellows began a decade ago on foreign policy. During the Clinton administration, the rock star Bono, former senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and religious leaders across the political spectrum teamed up to champion debt relief for Africa. Since Bush took office, broad religious coalitions have backed U.S. peacemaking efforts in Sudan, funding to combat AIDS and pressure on countries that restrict religious freedom.
What is new, the rabbi said, is the effort to forge such coalitions on domestic issues.
"For 25 years, evangelicals involved in conservative politics and mainline denominations involved in liberal politics really have been adversaries, both in politics and in the free market of ideas, and that continues because we have very different visions of religion in American public life, and very different views of the Constitution, and very different views on some core issues," he said.
"But right now on abortion, poverty, gay issues, the environment, there's a lot of talk about crossing the lines and finding common ground. There are elements of a common vision, but not yet common policy or legislative proposals."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Star power

Obi-wan Ginobili
Originally uploaded by mwthomas87.
The San Antonio Spurs are currently mopping the floor with the defending champion Detroit Pistons after nearly sweeping league MVP Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns. There should be little doubt that they are the best team in basketball right now.

So why then are we still seeing stories like this one?
Star-free finals are hurting NBA

Star-free finals? How can this be? The reigning champions of 2004 are playing the champions of 2003 and they are saying there are no “stars” on either team? How does one become a star if not by leading your team to the finals year after year? Tim Duncan is obviously a superstar and now Manu Ginobili is threatening to surpass him in star quality this season.
But the real problem turns out to be merchandise sales.

...The more immediate problem is merchandise sales, which are down 42 percent for the year to date.
"They're missing their chance to highlight their most popular players," said Neil Schwartz of SportsScanInfo, which tracks sales of sporting goods at 13,000 stores nationwide...
...part of the problem is that NBA fans have not warmed to the league's current crop of foreign-born stars...

Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki has the best-selling jersey of any foreign born star, but he's No. 24 in the rankings by SportsScan.
Houston center Yao Ming might be a huge star in China, but here there are 40 jerseys more popular than Yao's.
And both Nowitzki and Yao outsell any jersey worn by a Spur or Piston...

Spurs star Manu Ginobili, who was good enough to lead Argentina past the United States for the Olympic Gold Medal in 2004, isn't even on the radar on year-to-date sales.
"Pete Maravich sells more uniforms today than Ginobili," said Schwartz.

Perhaps that will soon change after the Spurs wrap up their third championship victory, but if not it would be a sad testament to the so-called fans of basketball. Why can’t people appreciate a team that just plays well together? Just because you don’t have one guy hogging the ball so he can score 50 points every game doesn’t mean you don’t have great players on the team.

These types of complaints are similar to the ones leveled against the New York Yankees during their run of three consecutive World Series titles in 1998-2000. That was probably one of the best teams in baseball from the past 50 years but you had no one other than perhaps Derek Jeter who stood out as a superstar. And now that the Yankees have filled their team with “superstars” they are not as good, so go figure.