Generally speaking, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been taking it on the chin, of late, as many officers formerly under his command have been decrying the Secretaryâ€™s leadership (or lack thereof) and calling for his ouster. This rebellion, of sorts, comes at a time when the U.S. military appears caught between Iraq and a hard place, mired in a â€œlong warâ€? that has no end in sight and is exacting greater than anticipated (and is acceptable) human and economic costs. Simultaneously, with the drumbeats of continued occupation in Iraq stubbornly echoing across the Potomac, other war drums are being pounded to announce the purported threat of a nuclear Iran, despite analysis that strongly suggests this new adversary lacks â€œthe skills, materials and equipment to make good on its immediate nuclear ambitions.â€? All the while, a depleted (physically and emotionally) military is spread thin across Iraq, Afghanistan, and bases worldwide. Logic suggests that something has to give. But, then, logic is not exactly the forte of our Commander-in-Chief, who continues to stand behind his flawed policies and his beleaguered Secretary of Defense, regardless of the mounting criticism and evidence belying their lies. Though the ship may founder, the band plays merrily onâ€¦
As of this writing, less than halfway through April, 36 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month, a number which already exceeds the total for all of last month. A total of 2,364 American soldiers have perished since the inception of this unnecessary and wasteful war. In memory of the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives, I offer the following untitled poem by the noted American poet and pacifist, William Stafford:
This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.
Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed â€“ or were killed â€“ on this ground
hollowed by the neglect of an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.
Truth be told, the distance between the 9th Ward of New Orleans and lower Manhattan in New York City is greater than the 1,300 or so miles that separates the two locations. They are worlds apart. All they would seem to have in common is their unique renown as 21st century disaster sites. On September 11, 2001, two planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Just less than four years later, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. All told, close to 3,000 individuals were killed on 9/11. The death toll from Hurricane Katrina currently stands at greater than 1,600, though the number continues to rise asâ€”amazingly, after 7+ monthsâ€”more bodies continue to be discovered. Shaila Dewan reports in yesterdayâ€™s New York Times on these disturbing developments, in an article (excerpted below) entitled â€œIn Attics and Rubble, More Bodies and Questionsâ€?:
The bodies of storm victims are still being discovered in New Orleans â€” in March alone there were nine, along with one skull. Skeletonized or half-eaten by animals, with leathery, hardened skin or missing limbs, the bodies are lodged in piles of rubble, dangling from rafters or lying face down, arms outstretched on parlor floors. Many of themâ€¦were overlooked in initial searches.
A landlord in the Lakeview section put a “for sale” sign outside a house, unaware that his tenant’s body was in the attic. Two weeks ago, searchers in the Lower Ninth Ward found a girl, believed to be about 6, wearing a blue backpack. Nearby, they found part of a man who the authorities believe might have been trying to save herâ€¦.
In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, there were grotesque images of bodies left in plain sight. Officials in Louisiana recovered more than 1,200 bodies, but the process, hamstrung by money shortages and red tape, never really ended.
In the Lower Ninth Ward, where unstable houses make searching dangerous, a plan to use cadaver dogs alongside demolition crews was delayed by lawsuits and community protests against the bulldozing. In the rest of the city, the absence of neighbors and social networks meant that some residents languished and died unnoticed. Many of the families of the missing were far from home, rendered helpless by distance and preoccupied with their own survival.
Now, as the city begins to rebuild in earnest, those families still wait, agonizing over loved ones who are unseen and unburied, but unforgotten.
“We never reached out to anyone to tell our story, because there’s no ending to our story,” said Wanda Jackson, 40, whose family is still waiting for word of her 6-year-old nephew, swept away by floodwaters as his mother clung to his 3-year-old brother. “Because we haven’t found our deceased. Being honest with you, in my opinion, they forgot about us.”
She continued, “They did not build nothing on 9/11 until they were sure that the damn dust was not human dust; so how you go on and build things in our city?”
In October and November, the special operations team of the New Orleans Fire Department searched the Lower Ninth Ward for remains until they ran out of overtime money.
Half a dozen officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency rebuffed requests to pay the bill, said Chief Steve Glynn, the team commander. When reporters inquired, FEMA officials said the required paperwork had not been filedâ€¦.
In February, FEMA agreed to pay for the search for bodies to resume, and on March 2 the agency’s special operations team was able to begin a systematic check of the 1,700 structures in the Lower Ninth Ward, the site of the city’s worst destructionâ€¦.
Often, the search is fruitless â€” in part because of Hurricane Rita, which flooded the area again two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Many who had perished in the first storm were washed away, leaving behind only the smell of deathâ€¦.
And finding a body is just the first step. Of the 14 bodies found since mid-February, none have been definitively identified and released for burial, partly because FEMA closed a $17 million morgue built to handle the dead from Hurricane Katrina. The morgue was used for eight weeks, and agency officials said there was no longer enough volume to justify keeping it open.
FEMA declined to allow the New Orleans coroner, whose own office and morgue were ruined in the storm, to continue to use the autopsy site. [full text]
Clearly, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina contrasts sharply with that of 9/11. The reasons for such appear obvious. It is all about economic class. The powers-that-be in this country care more about the workers on Wall Street than the residents of New Orleans. They care more about profit margins than those who live on the margins. For all its jazz and revelry, New Orleans is a city plagued by poverty. As noted recently in the magazine, Dollars And Sense, â€œ[t]he city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana were in trouble long before Hurricane Katrina flooded the city and long before the Federal Emergency Management Agency decided that the director’s dinner engagements were more important than the plight of hurricane victims running out of food in the Superdomeâ€¦.The people of New Orleans are poor, and in the Lower Ninth Ward even more so.â€? And, because they are poor, they are all too often neglected and forgotten. That the richest nation in the world can treat its citizens in such a fashion is unconscionableâ€”but, sadly, not surprising. There is a â€œchasm of wealthâ€? in this country, a chasm in which the poor and disenfranchised steadily tumble while the privileged and powerful idly look on. It is shameful, to the nth (or 9th) degree.
Somehow, I had hoped thatâ€”after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the season opening baseball game of the Washington Nationals todayâ€”Dick The Hawk Cheney would experience an epiphany and realize that his true love was baseball, not politics. He would then step down as President of Vice to pursue a pitching career with the Republican Traveling All-Stars. In doing so, America would be relieved of an arrogant and corrupt VP, and The Hawk would be able to relieve in the late innings of close ballgames. But, alas, my foolish fantasy was not in the cards. Heck, it never even made it to the mitt, as Cheneyâ€™s pitch short-hopped the catcher. On the plus side, though, those in attendance today at RFK Stadiumâ€”discriminating fans that they areâ€”greeted the VP with a chorus of boos. They know a lousy pitcher when they see one.
Senator John McCain has always struck me as a decent man, a battle-tested (in Vietnam and on Capitol Hill) individual posessing both integrity and good humor. Though the Senator and I might differ on any number of issues and political ideals, I feel as thoughâ€”were we given the opportunity to engage in a discussion of such over a couple of cold beersâ€”we would manage to find some common ground and, where we did not, manage to respect one another nonetheless. Given these qualities, Mr. McCain would appear to stand head and shoulders above the vast majority of his Republican peers (not particularly difficult when oneâ€™s ranks are filled by the likes of Tom DeLay and George W. Bush). However, of late, Senator McCainâ€”who may have eyes on the Oval Office, come 2008â€”has seemed to stoop a bit and has come under attack for such. Howard Kurtz writes in todayâ€™s Washington Post of the mediaâ€™s growing disaffection with the formerly maverick politician:
John McCain was expecting journalists to start slapping him around, and he hasn’t been disappointed.
As he gears up for a likely presidential campaign, the Arizona senator knows that reporters and columnistsâ€”whom he jokingly described last year as “my base”â€”have to prove their independence this time around. Media folks spent so much time riding on McCain’s bus and listening to his rolling news conferences in the 2000 campaign that they were often mocked for swooning over the candidate.
A spate of critical columns, some of them by disaffected liberals who were once honorary McCainiacs, seemed to culminate last weekend on “Meet the Press” when Tim Russert asked:
“Are you concerned that people are going to say, ‘I see, John McCain tried “Straight Talk Express,” it didn’t work in 2000, so now in 2008 he’s going to become a conventional, typical politician, reaching out to people that he called agents of intolerance, voting for tax cuts he opposed, to make himself more appealing to the hard-core Republican base’?”
McCain said he fights for what he believes in and defended his rapprochement with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom he had branded an “agent of intolerance” six years ago.
As a cultural watershed, though, nothing compares with Jon Stewart asking McCain last week on “The Daily Show”: “Are you freaking out on us? . . . You’re killing me. I feel it’s a condoning of Falwell’s crazy-making.” more…
Stewartâ€™s interview of the Senator over the Falwell flip-flop manages to be both pointed and hilarious. A video clip of the entire exchange is available on the Crooks And Liars website (here) and is well worth viewing. It will be interesting to see in the coming months whether John McCain continues to veer (rightward) from the course that has made him the successful and respected politician that he is in order to obtain the office he covets. He should know such Faustian bargains are fraught with peril. Personally, I think it would be a shame.
Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society. These words are attributed to the great 19th century American philosopher and writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I offer this quotation as I reflect on the litany of lies related to myself and the citizenry of this nation by our Commander in Chief and his minionsâ€”and as I reflect on the resultingly ill health of our government and society. To say that such pathological dishonesty and dissembling is disturbing is a grand understatement. I take great offense at it. I object to it. What I cannot fathom, though, is why these feelings are not more universally shared by my fellow citizens and how some can continue to support a President and an Administration that manifest such disdain for the truth and are so arrogantly blatant about it. Should those who offer such support require additional argument of Bush & Companyâ€™s chronic deceit, I offer the following editorial piece by Robyn E. Blumner of the St. Petersburg Times, which I have taken the liberty of reprinting in full:
President Bush once famously stumbled over the phrase “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” It was a Freudian slip. Bush knew just how often he’s put one over on the American people. Why rub it in?
Slowly this country has come to the realization that nothing the president and his minions say is believable, yet they still want us to just trust them. There hasn’t been a more dangerous combination of incompetence, mendacity and arrogance since Lansford Hastings encouraged the Donner Party to diverge from the Oregon Trail and take his “short-cut.”
Bush recently dropped a whopper by telling veteran journalist Helen Thomas that he never wanted to go to war, even as insider memos keep popping up detailing Bush’s early intention to attack Iraq. But nowhere has the bald-faced lying been as fierce as in the “war on terror.” Here, Bush has raised prevarication to national policy. From the president’s disingenuous proclamations that all prisoners are treated “humanely” to the administration’s laughable claim that it couldn’t disclose the names of those swept into detention after 9/11 because it would violate their right to privacy, there is nothing this crew won’t say to avoid accountability.
The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is perhaps America’s biggest international black eye and moral morass. We have been told by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that only “the worst of the worst” are incarcerated there, when that isn’t remotely true.
In an analysis of the Defense Department’s court files on 132 of the more than 500 prisoners, the National Journal found that more than half the group were “not accused of taking part in hostilities against the United States” and only eight were found to be tied directly to plans for terror attacks outside of Afghanistan. Oddly, two of those eight men have since been sent to their home governments, where they were released.
A different analysis, done by attorneys for two of the Guantanamo detainees in association with Seton Hall University School of Law, found that only 8 percent of the 517 prisoners in Guantanamo were characterized as al-Qaida fighters. The analysis was conducted using the government’s own data and documents.
Also, 164 prisoners, almost a third, were deemed enemy combatants because of links to groups the Defense Department designated as terrorist organizations that were not al-Qaida or the Taliban. What’s interesting about this is that 52 of the 72 organizations that the Defense Department named as terrorist groups do not appear on either the Patriot Act Terrorist Exclusion List or two separate State Department terrorist lists, according to the Seton Hall study. These are the lists used to keep terror suspects from entering our country.
That means the Defense Department is justifying indefinite incarceration of prisoners due to their associations with groups whose members are not even considered dangerous enough to be barred from visiting the United States.
It is no wonder the administration has vigorously argued that Guantanamo prisoners should be denied access to American courts. For a chunk of the men held there, the administration cannot possibly justify their continued incarceration.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that two of the men in Guantanamo, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, are not under suspicion of having broken any law or of planning attacks. Rather they have been held since November 2002 because we want them to be paid CIA informants on a radical Islamic cleric they know, and the men have so far refused. We are apparently holding them until they change their mind.
It doesn’t matter how blatantly lawless things get, the excuse is always that the president has the inherent authority to defend our national security.
Bush justifies his warrantless domestic spying program by saying: “If somebody from al-Qaida is calling you, we’d like to know why.” It sounds so sensible, until you peel back the statement just the slightest bit and realize that the president is undermining 200 years of checks and balances, claiming that he is not answerable to the nation’s courts.
And why should we trust that only phone calls with al-Qaida operatives are being surveilled? This is the same government that told us Jose Padilla was planning to detonate a radiation bomb in an American city. But that allegation disappeared when charges were actually filed. This is the same government that held American Yaser Esam Hamdi incommunicado as an enemy combatant, declaring him too dangerous for due process. But when the Supreme Court said to give Hamdi access the courts, the administration sent him back to his home in Saudi Arabia instead.
If there is one consistent theme running through Bush’s war on terror, it is that the administration’s public claims turn out to be a smoldering heap of nonsense. Yet for some reason we keep buying it. Shame on us.
In a classic episode from the television show Seinfeld entitled â€œThe Merv Griffin Showâ€? (1997), Kramer discovers the set from that old talk show in a dumpster and proceeds to reconstruct it in his apartment and then reenact the show there, with himself as host and his friends as guests. The moral, of sorts, therein is that one personâ€™s trash is anotherâ€™s treasureâ€”or, conversely, amid the daily detritus of our earthly existence, there may occasionally be found something of value or import. From where I sit, perched before my PC (Portal of Communication), the news items and headlines that daily greetâ€”and sometimes assaultâ€”my senses and sensibilities are akin to the aforementioned trash, not because they are necessarily absent of worth but more because they are often gritty, noxious, and nauseating. Fortunately, with modest frequency, I come across a shiny bit of news that is worth plucking from the rubbish and using herein. Todayâ€™s treasure is courtesy of Reuters, via the Environmental News Network, and appropriately enough concerns waste material:
April 07, 2006 â€” By Jon Hurdle, Reuters
PHILADELPHIA â€” When you can’t get people to recycle trash by appealing to their environmental conscience, there’s a simple solution that seems to work: pay them.
That’s the strategy taken by RecycleBank, a pioneering Philadelphia-based nonprofit group that gives households coupons to spend at local businesses in return for separating their recyclables from the stuff that really needs to go in the landfill.
The result has been a dramatic increase in recycling rates, and that success has led to its expansion into New Jersey, Delaware and several New England states, and has prompted inquiries from Europe, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“This is the most exciting thing that’s come along for the last 15 or 20 years” in recycling, said Christine Knapp of the environmental advocacy group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future.
RecycleBank has been operating in two Philadelphia neighborhoods and some areas of suburban Philadelphia, covering about 5,000 homes, since January 2005, improving one of the nation’s worst recycling records.
The program attracts users by allowing people to accumulate all their glass, plastic, aluminum, cardboard and newspaper in just one container rather than requiring separate bins. The single recycle bin is emptied by the local trash hauler.
In Chestnut Hill, an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood, the proportion of recyclable waste actually being recycled has jumped to 50 percent from less than 10 percent since the program began, said Ron Gonen, co-founder of RecycleBank.
More than 90 percent of households in the pilot-program neighborhood now recycle, up from less than 25 percent at the beginning of 2005.
Participating households earn “RecycleBank Dollars” which are accumulated according to the weight of recycled trash.
The “dollars,” up to $400 a year per household, are donated by about 150 local businesses, which seek to generate goodwill with shoppers and entice them with discounts of 10 or 20 percent.
“It’s the most brilliant idea,” said Ellen Hass, a Chestnut Hill resident. “Fifty percent of everything is recycled because it can be recycled.” more…
RecycleBank appears to be generating a lot of positive attention for its innovative and effective approach to waste recycling. The company and its founders, Patrick Fitzgerald and Ron Gonen, were the subject of an article in the business section of the New York Times this past February, which lauded their â€œelegantly simpleâ€? approach (full text here). The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported favorably on the company, as well. I suppose that it is only a matter of time before Merv Griffin himself comes out of retirement to interview Fitzgerald and Gonen. What a treasure that would beâ€”like RecycleBank itself.
As reported in the Washington Post and numerous other media outlets, Harry Taylor, a 61 year-old real estate broker, was afforded the rare opportunity on Thursday to directly challenge President Bush on the policies of his administration at a public forum in Charlotte, North Carolina. The text of their exchange, which is availableâ€”like all of the Presidentâ€™s public commentsâ€”on the White House website, follows:
Q. You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food. If I were a woman, you’d like to restrict my opportunity to make a choice and decision about whether I can abort a pregnancy on my own behalf. You are â€“
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not your favorite guy. Go ahead. (Laughter and applause.) Go on, what’s your question?
Q. Okay, I don’t have a question. What I wanted to say to you is that I — in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency, by the Senate, and â€“
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Booo!
THE PRESIDENT: No, wait a sec — let him speak.
Q. And I would hope — I feel like despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration, and I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself inside yourself. And I also want to say I really appreciate the courtesy of allowing me to speak what I’m saying to you right now. That is part of what this country is about.
THE PRESIDENT: It is, yes. (Applause.)
Q. And I know that this doesn’t come welcome to most of the people in this room, but I do appreciate that.
I appreciate it, too, Mr. Taylor. Thank you for having the courage and decency to say to the Presidentâ€™s face what many of us think and feel. Itâ€™s unfortunate that Mr. Bush felt the need to interrupt with a joke at one point and then to respond incompletely to your concerns. Nonetheless, in terms of holding the President publicly accountable and exercising your right to dissent, Mission Accomplished!
Remember Kenneth Starr, the former independent prosecutor whose overzealous pursuit of President Bill Clinton in the Monicagate scandal led to impeachment proceedings? Ever wonder what happened to Ken? Contrary to rumor, he is not currently working in the corner square on Hollywood Squares. Nor is he spending his time with Barbie and Stacie in their Malibu Playhouse, although you are getting warm. Mr. Starr is currently in Malibu, although strictly on business. He is a Dean and Professor of Law at Pepperdine University. Interestingly enough, the brief bio of Starr posted on the law schoolâ€™s website (here) makes no mention of Monicagate or the impeachment of President Clinton. Perhaps Starr has come to feel embarrassed by his role in that whole messy business, particularly in light of more recent and egregious high crimes and misdemeanors committed by the resident of the Oval Office. In any regard, the former independent prosecutor has moved on and appears to be doing just fine and dandy.
What brings Kenneth Starr to mind is a news report from Washington state that details yet another example of prosecutorial zealotry. Read on, Macduff…
TACOMA, Wash., April 7 — Talk about taking a bite out of crime.
Government lawyers tried to confiscate the gold tooth caps known as “grills” from the mouths of two men facing drug charges, saying the dental work qualified as seizable assets. They had them in a vehicle headed to a dental clinic by the time defense lawyers persuaded a judge to halt the procedure.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and I have never heard of anything like this,” said Richard J. Troberman, a past president of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It sounds like Nazi Germany, when they were removing the gold teeth from the bodies, but at least then they waited until they were dead.”
Prosecutors had a warrant to seize the gold dental work, according to documents and lawyers involved in the case. But they eventually abandoned the effort, saying they mistakenly thought the grills were removable. more…
Isnâ€™t it nice to know how well our tax dollars are being spent and how intelligent and reasonable certain of our government prosecutors are? For their dubious actions in this case, I hereby award them the Kenneth Starr Award for Overzealous Prosecution. Congratulations!
This is the third or fourth time in a year that Bush’s ratings have found new lows. Perhaps between Bush’s numbers and the numbers for Congress, a new meaning for “race to the bottom” has been found. From the AP via MSN:
WASHINGTON – President Bushâ€™s approval ratings hit a series of new lows in an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Republicans surrendering their advantage on national security â€” grim election-year news for a party struggling to stay in power.
Democratic leaders predicted they will seize control of one or both chambers of Congress in November. Republicans said they feared the worst unless the political landscape quickly changes.
â€œThese numbers are scary. Weâ€™ve lost every advantage weâ€™ve ever had,â€? GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said. â€œThe good news is Democrats donâ€™t have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one.â€?
Meanwhile, Workingforchange.com has an action to “call out President Bush, Leaker-in-Chief,” and hold him to his promise to fire anyone who leaked information. According to the action email:
A bombshell has just emerged from the investigation of Scooter Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice that President Bush himself may have authorized the leak of classified information to discredit critics of his rush to war. He’s repeatedly said he wants to get to the bottom of this matter, and that he would fire anyone found to have leaked classified information.