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Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, September 18, 2006


The Pope, the President and the Ayatollah

Apologies are never good enough. The Pope apologized for quoting a medieval text characterizing some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" and calling Islam a religion spread by the sword. It was a stupid thing to say made even stupider by who said it. The Pope simply can't go around calling other religions dirty names. After all, that's the president's job.


Now, I'm no great fan of those Muslims who call for Israel's demise, and I will never forget the pictures from the Gaza Strip and other areas in the middle east, of Muslims rejoicing at the death of 2,973 people on 9/11. But neither one, the Pope nor President Bush, are going to win "the hearts and minds" of the some one billion Muslims worldwide by spreading their own evil words aimed at exciting them.

The Pope did offer an apology, and that's something. And he doesn't even have to get a congress elected this November.

But since hate breeds hate, we now have to put others in the Bush-Pope Benedict category.

"Those who benefit from the pope's comments and drive their own arrogant policies should be targeted with attacks and protests,"
-Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Those don't sound like "live and let live" words to me. Do they sound that way to you?

Violent and non-violent protests in many predominately Muslim nations have broken out all over the world due to the Pope's thoughtless and insensitive remarks. But true people who believe in peace will forgive, even though they don't necessarily have to forget. Besides, this guy is more like an Interim Pope anyway... Right?

The response by groups like al-Qaeda was even more careless than the Pope's, however. They said that the "war against Christianity and the West will go on until Islam takes over the world." Now I want all of you to copy down that phrase and flip-flop the words "CHRISTIANITY" and "ISLAM" and substitute the phrase "middle east" for "West". It comes out this way:

"The war against ISLAM and the MIDDLE-EAST will go on until CHRISTIANITY takes over the world."

Now imagine the litany of American "leaders of the religious right" saying it. Don't tell me that you can't hear the likes of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson sneaking that phrase out during a Sunday "prayer" meeting. Don't tell me you can't see Ralph Reed rallying his "troops" to spread that word. I can even hear the likes of senator the likes of Senators Cornyn (R-TX) or Roberts (R-KS) or Santorum (R-PA) using that to shore up their "base" of "have little brains or have no brains".

"deeply sorry"
-Pope Benedict XVI

Hay, if the Jews could forgive the Catholic church for the apathy they displayed during the Holocaust, then certainly the Muslim community could give his a little slack here. But, just as the Bushies have done now, and as hitler did in the 1930's and 1940's, the Muslim leaders like Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and their president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sill use any means possible to keep power over their people. I see very little difference in the tactics that Bush and the religious right use versus the tactics that Iran's leaders use.

They have learned well from the Bushies the practice of "Rove-ism", and that's too bad.

"The pope's words have caused a deep wound in the hearts of Muslims that won't heal for a long time, and then only after a clear apology to Muslims,"
Egypt's religious affairs minister, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq

Notice Mr. Zaqouq's comments and those of Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi of Egypt as well, who called for "peaceful protests". Too bad others don't work that way.

Showing the world that they (those who call for violent protests) have the ability to turn the other cheek would do the Muslim cause a great deal of good. The Pope's ability, from now on, to keep his mouth shut will do the same.

-Noah Greenberg

Slanting Our Schools

I wonder how much of the trend to the right is due to US History being taught by right wing football coaches?.

My granddaughter is taking an Honors History course, but the slant on the history is so far rightward it is dangerous. The questions she had to write answers to last night gave me the chills -- leading questions -- like "perhaps the writers of the Constitution had erred in specifying the separation of powers: the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches, since in today's fast paced world of terrorism, the President needs to act quickly, and the system of government prescribed by the Constitution would slow him down" and do most Americans agree with that? Or, do most Americans today agree with the anti-Federalists that a strong central government is a detriment? And "what do Thomas Jefferson's words that to maintain a democratic government patriots and tyrants' blood must be shed?" Does that mean tyrants such as Saddam Hussein?" She asked me for help, and as usual, I gave her a long story, probably longer than she needed, but she wrote answers that were "politically correct" -- hey, she's got to get an A to get into college. Sad.

-Pat Thompson

It's not the coach, it's the curriculum. How many coaches are willing to risk their jobs for what is right? How many Bush administration employees are willing to do that? -NG

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

A few days ago an editor friend of mine and I were discussing Iraq and the downward spiral of the war. He’s a journalist and an historian who’s like Google when it comes to American history. So as I was making comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, he agreed and disagreed.

He said, “There was a joke that was going around during Vietnam. It was, ‘Let’s just leave and say we won.’ And that’s pretty much what we did. That’s what we should do in Iraq. But nobody cared about Vietnam except the Vietnamese. Iraq is the heart of the Persian Gulf. *Everybody* cares about Iraq. We *can’t* do that in Iraq. Iraq is like the Tar Baby–we got our hands in there and we are never going to get out.”

Editors keep asking me to write about something other than Iraq. I do, I have, I will–but Iraq is the backdrop of my daily life. I was in high school during the Vietnam War. Brothers and cousins of friends of mine were drafted. Brothers and cousins of friends of mine were killed.

I marched against the war. I was in Washington at the first big moratorium against the war (it was just like Woodstock, except colder and with more mud and less music). I was arrested time and again at various sit-ins and protests. Vietnam was the backdrop of my adolescence.

Iraq is the backdrop of my middle age.

I want my friend to be wrong about this war, but I already know he isn’t. I’m a card-carrying idealist, but I have no optimism about Iraq. No one I know has any optimism about Iraq. The U.S. has already been in Iraq as long as we were in World War II and longer than we were in World War I, Korea and the Gulf War.

But not longer than we were in Vietnam.

What I remember most about the Vietnam War was how it seemed to make us all dirty. Americans were loathed because of the war and we loathed each other because of it. I remember marching in protests and having people spit on me. Grown adults spit on me, a teenaged girl with long blonde hair and a peasant blouse with a peace symbol embroidered on it. That’s what Vietnam did to us.

The wound of Vietnam ran so deep that the presidential race in 2004 became about it instead of Iraq, the debate about whether Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who fought and was wounded in Vietnam, was a coward, even though George Bush was AWOL from his stateside National Guard duty.

Now the National Guard is fighting the war on Iraq.

Now, as in Vietnam, as in any war that goes on longer than anyone can stand it, we are getting the reports about crimes committed by soldiers, about assaults, rapes and murders.

And then there is the torture.

In high school I made a collage for the door of my bedroom with a photo of Lt. William Calley on it. I cut out pictures of Vietnamese children and put them with his photo. I captioned the piece “And babies? *And babies.*”

The reference, for those of you not old enough to remember who Calley was, is to the My Lai massacre, in which, like Haditha in Iraq, unarmed Vietnamese women and children–civilians-- were slaughtered by Calley and other U.S. soldiers

The war had gone on for ten years at the point of My Lai. It only took three for Haditha.

It took even less time for Abu Ghraib.

Iraq has made us uglier and dirtier faster than any war in our collective history. Iraq has turned us all into Lt. Calley. George Bush has led us to that moral precipice with bloodied hands.

I can see you shaking your heads. *You* don’t believe in torture. *You*don’t accept responsibility for what we are doing in the conflated war on Iraq/ war on terror/ look-what-they-did-to-us-on-9/11, I-want-to-get-those-SOBs.

Accept it. We are all torturers now. Accept it–or protest it.

Colin Powell protested it September 14, after President Bush insisted we needed to have the option of torture to protect America against terrorism. Colin Powell, the man who as Secretary of State helped make the case for Iraq on what he later acknowledged was a lie–the false claim of weapons of mass destruction. *Gen.*Colin Powell, life-long military man, Vietnam veteran, the guy who got us in and out of the Gulf War in three months and made that war look like a video game. Colin Powell stood up against the President and in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 [the provision against torture of the Geneva Convention] would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.”

In short, Powell said torture would make us less safe as a nation. Powell is one of only a handful of former cabinet members to ever speak out against a sitting president.

McCain, whom many assume will run for president in 2008, has been warring with the President over torture since Abu Ghraib. Like Powell, McCain served in Vietnam. McCain spent five years being tortured by the Vietnamese. McCain knows more about torture than anyone on Capitol Hill. He knows it from more than 30 years of his own nightmares.

McCain was unequivocal in his stance against the President’s proposal: If we invalidate the Geneva Convention, if we embrace the use of torture on suspected terrorists, what is to stop the other side–whatever that side is today, or tomorrow–from using torture on our military personnel?

The Pentagon has also taken a stand against torture. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, John Kimmons, argued in a briefing on Sept. 14th that, “I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that. . . . Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used.
And we can't afford to go there. We don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them.” Last week, the Pentagon revised its Army Field Manual; it is now quite clear that torture techniques are not allowed. The new Manual provides Geneva Convention protection for all detainees and eliminates the previously secret list of interrogation tactics that have been found to be torture.

The President is unhappy with that change and with the War Crimes Act and any kind of Geneva Convention protections for detainees. Bush wants to allow the military and the CIA leeway to “use tougher tactics” on detainees, in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Consider some of the tougher tactics: Imagine being tied up, then laid in water with a towel over your face while water is poured over your mouth and nose until you cannot breathe and believe you are drowning. (That torture technique is called waterboarding.) Imagine having members of your family threatened. Imagine having dogs set on you. Imagine being one of the people on the other end of the torture and humiliation at Abu Ghraib. Imagine your son or daughter being victimized in that way.

What would you say if you were being tortured to get it to stop? Anything? Sure, anything.

The problem with the slippery slope is it takes everything with it.

Bush wants to amend the War Crimes Act. That word *amend* seems mild enough, doesn’t it? After all, we’ve amended the Constitution, why not amend the War Crimes Act?

Well, for a start, because when we’ve amended the Constitution, it has been to better society–emancipate the slaves, give women the vote–not worsen it. The there’s the simple fact that torture is wrong and morally reprehensible. (Doesn’t the name “War Crimes Act” speak for itself?) Then there’s the problem of our soldiers–the ones who will be tortured to avenge the people on the other side who have been tortured. Pretty soon you have a lot of people being tortured on both sides. Isn’t that what Saddam Hussein is on trial for now? Torture?

That’s the slippery slope: One day you are the good guys, the next you are in the docket, labeled a torturer.

The attempt to revamp the Geneva Convention rules of war would of necessity also revamp the rules of engagement: If Bush tortures, how is he different from Hussein? He’s not. Which means he can be tried in the Hague for war crimes.

There’s no such thing as “good” torture, there’s only the immorality of torture. *Everyone* thinks their side is the good side–we think it, but so do the insurgents and terrorists. If it were your son or daughter being tortured, do you think you would find it acceptable?

Bush, however, doesn’t think past our side of the conflict, doesn’t consider what the other side might be thinking. Nor does the Vice President. Last weekend, Dick Cheney was making the case for torture on Meet the Press. When queried about why the Administration was working so hard to get Congress to sanction torture after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal in the Hamdan case a few months ago, Cheney was his usual arrogant self: “I happen to disagree with the Supreme Court.”

And with the civilized world. Because in the civilized world, torture is anathema.

Which is why, according to a report in the Washington Post on Sept. 13th, “a growing number of CIA counterterrorism officers have been insuring themselves against possible lawsuits. The reason? Heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct." According to the WaPo report, the legislation President Bush wants passed, not only amends the War Crimes Act, but also would provide those in the CIA who have been involved in torture with “retroactive immunity from prosecution,” should those operatives be accused of implementing techniques now banned by the Army Field Manual.

Bush’s desired legislation is specific: “Interrogators who engaged in those practices both in the past and in the future would not face prosecution.”

Remember those secret prisons run by the CIA that Bush acknowledged the U.S. has and which all happen to be in countries that are lax about torture? The secret prison program also gets a pass under Bush’s legislation. Plus the President does not want torture victims to have redress–his legislation would prohibit torture victims from seeking damages under the Geneva Convention and also eliminate habeas relief for aliens held outside the U.S. No detainee would have access to classified information pertaining to his case, which means the President’s legislation circumvents the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan completely.

The vote in the Senate Committee on Sept. 14th was 15-9. All 11 Democrats voted against torture. Four Republicans (McCain, chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham [R-SC], Sen. John Warner [R-VA] and Sen. Susan Collins [R-ME]) voted against torture, nine voted for torture. The President is adamant that if the Congress defeats his bill, he will veto it and cast his overriding vote for torture.

Bush has only vetoed one other bill in five years–the one that would have allowed stem cell research. Thus, only his second veto, would be to authorize torture.

“I will resist any bill that does not allow this program to go forward with legal clarity,” the President said from the White House on Sept. 14th.

The Geneva Convention has had legal clarity for the nearly 60 years since it was instituted. That clarity is succinct: torture is a war crime punishable in international and local courts.

The vote in the Senate Committee doesn’t end the debate. In the next week, the full Senate is set to debate the legislation proposed by the President, versus the Senate Committee’s legislation. The House has been more lenient on the issue–as well as more partisan–and the President’s version of the legislation could pass there; their Committee voted *for* Bush’s bill 52-8. Which leaves the Senate to stop it.
And us, of course.

In the wake of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, raw emotions have been rekindled, and stoked by the President. It’s easy to think that torture could be an answer to terrorism, particularly if one thinks that the so-called terrorists aren’t quite human.

But the bottom line on torture isn’t just about the victim–we may or may not view that person as less than human (how could we torture someone if we didn’t consider them sub-human?). The bottom line on torture is about *us.*Powell had it right when he said that in order to have moral authority we must act morally.

Torture is immoral under any and all circumstances.

The American people have allowed President Bush far too much leeway because of 9/11. We have illegal wiretapping at his bequest. We have eroded civil liberties. And now we have torture.

Bush is fond of saying that there hasn’t been a terrorist attack here since 9/11–the implication being that he and his policies have stopped that from happening. But there weren’t any terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the five years *preceding* 9/11 either, so one could just as easily extrapolate that the policies of the Clinton Administration kept terrorism at bay.

The fact is, we don’t know why there haven’t been any other attacks. What we do know, however, as the Pentagon’s Kimmons said, is that history tells us torture does not work.

We cannot allow the War Crimes Act to be altered. We cannot risk the repercussions to our own soldiers, nor the damage to our collective soul.

I was just a kid when Lt. Calley ordered the massacre of those women and children in that Vietnamese village, My Lai. I understood enough to be outraged, but I didn’t understand enough to know how deep the stain of atrocity would bleed into the fabric of America.

The stain of torture will run just as deep, just as bloody, just as long. You cannot undo torture. Thus, just as the crimes and torture of Vietnam have yet to leave us, if we take this step with regard to Iraq, there will be no turning back. We will have slid down the slippery slope, our moral compass gone forever.

When Will Ferguson Stop Hiding?

I wonder why Mike Ferguson (R-NJ) will not debate Linda Stender. I read letters from Ferguson supporters claiming he served his district well; if so, why not debate his challenger? Does he actually have something to hide?

Let's flush Fergie out. Even if he doesn't debate, it will be nice to prove that he is hiding!

-Forwarded and commented by Robert Scardapane


I am amazed that people can't understand the legal issue with the NSA wiretapping. It's not that wiretapping should be prohibited but it must be done within the law. FISA law requires the government to notify a special court within seven days. The NSA wiretapping did not live up to that requirement.

Those who say that the NSA wiretapping is justified because the British detected a plan to blow up planes are misrepresenting the truth. The British legal system requires their government to make a case in court that a wiretap is necessary.

Wiretapping is okay as long as it's done within the law. Linda Stender and other Democrats have said that loud and clear. It's deliberate distortion to make it seem otherwise.

-Forwarded and commented by Robert Scardapane

In response to, "I looked, and much like Dr. Mankiw, I couldn't find a job Dr. Lazear has performed that occurred outside of academia, "think tanks" or the government. You'd think that one of these guys telling businesses how to operate would have operated a business somewhere along the line," Pat Thompson writes:

It's a sad commentary on the state of this country, and the absolute "optimism" that they preach. They claim to be Christians, but ignore the basic statements that Jesus made about "doing unto others". They abhor welfare, but mainly exist on government handouts in such jobs as you mention, and many of their supporters make their living by extracting things from the public lands -- grazing their cattle, farm subsidies, oil and gas leases and timber leases on public lands. They hate affirmative action for students who are disadvantaged, but most of them have gotten their education based on the "legacy" system -- if their father or grandfather went to Yale, they get in even if they are marginal students -- which is certainly more than "affirmative" action. And the biggest business failure has become the President.

In response to, "It is a pity that in the Year 2006, religion can still spark such fierce hatreds," Pat Thompson writes:

Because most of the world's religions are thousands of years old. Christian right wingers are relying on the Old Testament to make excuses for slavery, beating their wives and children, building up large fortunes. The Koran gives Muslims the right, or duty, to kill nonbelievers, once they have been offered the chance to convert. I haven't heard any killing being done, or insults being hurled by a more modern creed like the Unitarians. We are right back in the middle ages.

Did anyone watch Bill Maher this week? The word was that Bin Laden has been given permission to kill 10 million Americans, since he has offered them the chance to convert three times. And, by the way, he does not hate us for our freedom -- if he hated Democracy, he says, he would have "attacked Sweden". He hates us because we are meddling in the middle East, and have fouled Saudi Arabia by having military bases there, in the land of Mecca and Medina. He wants the US out of Muslim countries.

We wouldn't be happy if Bin Laden or Hamas or Hezbollah were occupying Israel, or any European countries, or the US. We attacked Iraq in 1991 because Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Why do we, the biggest bully on earth, have the right to invade and occupy countries all over the world?? Over 140 countries of the "non-aligned" nations had a meeting in Havana Cuba this week. I would imagine they all want to find a way to protect themselves from the country who thinks it's the "cop of the world" (Phil Och's term, circa 1962)

In response to, "the only thing left for the elderly to eat will be "the donut hole," Dorothy Schwartz writes:

I was told by my aunt tonight that my mom has reached the donut hole. So her med costs go up astronomically. Interestingly, regarding Medicare premiums going up, as a Medicare provider (private practice) what I get paid by Medicare has not gone up at all. And as an employee in a home health agency, Medicare has just added another, incredible layer of paperwork. It's basically paper work to cover your ass, because someone in Connecticut sued Medicare, apparently successfully, because the number of home care visits they received weren't exactly the number they were told they would get.

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-Noah Greenberg