Monthly Archives: September, 2006

How Low Can the Bush Administration Go?

Like a coddled child brimming with entitlement, the Bush administration seems to respond petulantly when it fails to get or hear what it wants, acting out against those who dare to express dissent with intimidation and/or name-calling. Today’s Los Angeles Times features a story that suggests just how low the Bush administration or its agents can go. On this occasion, the target of their sullen pique is a California church:

All Saints Episcopal Church Won’t Comply With IRS Probe

A liberal Pasadena church on Thursday declared that it will refuse to comply with an IRS investigation into its tax-exemption status launched after a guest speaker was critical of President Bush in a sermon.

At a news conference attended by 50 cheering supporters gathered before the marble altar at All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Ed Bacon said his 3,500-member congregation did not violate tax regulations barring tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates when a former rector, George F. Regas, criticized the Bush administration two days before the 2004 presidential election.

The Episcopal faith, the 58-year-old rector said, “calls us to speak to the issues of war and poverty, bigotry, torture, and all forms of terrorism … always stopping short of supporting or opposing political parties or candidates for public office.”

Joined by members of other faiths, he added, “We are also not here for ourselves alone but to defend the freedom of pulpits in faith communities throughout our land.”

The All Saints case escalated a week ago when the IRS slapped the 80-year-old parish with a summons demanding that it turn over by Sept. 29 all materials, such as newsletters and sermons, produced during the 2004 election year with political references. Bacon was told to testify in person Oct. 11.

At stake, several religious leaders say, is freedom from government intimidation when churches address moral issues of the day from the pulpit.

In an interview, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “Churches should not endorse political candidates. But the IRS is seriously out of kilter and wrong-headed on this one; it’s an appalling intrusion and it smacks of intimidation.” [full text]

Bush and McCain Embrace Compromise

Bush and McCain hug and make up

All is right in the world again…or, at least, right-wing. George “Iceâ€? Bush and John “Maverickâ€? McCain have patched up their differences. They’re back on the same team and flying high. It turns out that the Senator’s opposition to the President’s proposal on the interrogation and treatment of detainees was largely the product of feeling spurned. John saw George kissing Ringo—I mean, Joe Lieberman—and did not take well to being second banana (if you know what I mean, nudge nudge, wink wink). Feeling hurt and unloved, much as he did as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain acted out by fomenting rebellion against Bush’s beloved proposal. But then these two manly men got to talking, and, soon enough, all was forgiven and a “compromiseâ€? was reached. Now, Maverick is back to being numero uno banana. Isn’t that appealing?

Daily Kudos for Thursday, September 21

Yummy Kudos

• KUDOS to British business mogul Richard Branson for following in the footsteps of fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and setting aside significant capital to tackle issues of global import that might otherwise be underfunded or neglected. At a summit sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative (see below), Branson pledged to “invest about $3 billion to combat global warming over the next decade.â€? It seems only fitting that Branson—who is also renowned for his exploits as a balloonist—would contribute money to the atmosphere after having previously contributed a good deal of hot air to it. more…

• KUDOS to former President Bill Clinton for organizing the Clinton Global Initiative, which has “gathered heads of state, business leaders and international nonprofits to find and fund solutions to the world’s most pressing problems: poverty, limited access to health care, energy and climate change, and religious and ethnic conflict.â€? Even a good half decade removed from his tenure in public office, Clinton remains a charismatic and influential leader. Anyone care to lay bets on whether the same might be said of George W. Bush in 2014? more…

• KUDOS to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for using a bully pulpit at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday to give words—however inflammatory or hyperbolic—to what many around the globe have long thought. He “bitterly and sarcastically assailed President Bush…portraying Mr. Bush as ‘the devil’ who thinks he is ‘the owner of the world.’â€? Not surprisingly, after Mr. Chavez gave his speech, a spokesperson for the Devil (who looked very much like Tony Snow) issued a press release taking exception to the Venezuelan leader’s “hurtfulâ€? analogy. more…

• KUDOS to U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte for yesterday “ruling against the Bush administration’s efforts to open national forests for logging and mining…[by setting] aside a U.S. Forest Service rule that allows governors to decide which land in national forests is suited for development.â€? It’s encouraging to see that justice can occasionally prevail and that some in positions of authority have the best interests of the globe and the species which still inhabit it at heart. more…

Celebrate National A.D.D. Awareness Day

Poster Child for ADHD

Break out the Ritalin, folks! The U.S. Senate has designated today as “National Attention Deficit Disorder Awareness Day.� To be honest, it almost escaped my notice that such an august occasion was taking place. Perhaps all the hullabaloo about war, terrorism, genocide, corruption, global warming, and killer spinach had me distracted. Gee, maybe I have ADHD. Heck, maybe the whole country’s got it. (And wouldn’t that just send the pharmaceutical fat cats into a priapic stupor?) Seriously, given the humongous mess we’re in and the yahoos we put in charge, how well could we have been paying attention?

Does A Commitment to Safety End at the Metal Detector?

As air travelers in the United States remove their shoes, discard their beverages and personal hygiene products, and are herded like cattle through metal detectors, they can rest assured that such stringent impositions, however absurd, signify that the government will spare no measure or expense to ensure public safety, right? Right?!?

Well, yes and no. Yes, if it means preventing your grandmother from smuggling a dangerous bottle of Jean Naté in her carry-on case. No, if it means preventing air traffic controllers from working longer hours or feeling adequately supported by management. Today’s New York Times provides coverage:

Air Controllers Chafe at Plan to Cut Staff

DALLAS, Sept. 13 — A drive by the Federal Aviation Administration to cut the number of air traffic controllers nationally by 10 percent below negotiated levels, and even more sharply at places like the busy radar center here, is producing tension, anger and occasional shows of defiance among controllers.

At the radar office that controls planes around Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and at a cluster of other airports where staffing levels are falling fast, unhappiness is usually not visible in the darkened radar centers where they work, except when it is glaringly obvious.

Like the recent day when a controller here went to work in lime green pants and a clashing brown jacket, along with hair dyed blue, to protest a new dress code. Elsewhere, male controllers have rebelled by going to work in dresses.

Most controllers here say they are far more concerned with workplace changes that do not involve wardrobe, including salary caps, lower pay for new hires and stricter control of vacation schedules and sick leave.

The F.A.A. imposed the changes on Sept. 3, three months after it declared an impasse in contract talks. Most of the changes have had little effect on the public. But one in particular may have safety implications, controllers and some outside experts said. That is the ending of contractual protection against being kept working on a radar screen controlling traffic for more than two hours without a break.

The agency has been defensive about staffing rules since a plane crash on Sept. 1 in Lexington, Ky., in a case where the workload of the lone controller on duty violated policy.

Having just one controller on duty “degrades the safety net,� said Pat Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, “by not having another set of eyes and ears.� Mr. Forrey and others make a similar argument about keeping controllers at their work stations in positions that require intense concentration for extended periods.

The president of the union local here, Michael Conely, said that with the number of controllers now scheduled, “you can’t staff all the positions properly.’’

“You are on position longer, watching more airplanes, and it becomes a tired-eye syndrome,� Mr. Conely said. [full text]

Scientists Discover Shark That Walks

It’s true. Yesterday’s Washington Post offered an AP article which reported that scientists recently “had discovered dozens of new species, including a shark that walks on its fins and a shrimp that looks like a praying mantis.” Of course, in a world where sharks have such unsettling mobility, it makes sense that other species would appear to be praying.

Health Care: the Only Booming US Industry

Much of our economic health at the moment is the result of the continuing growth of jobs in the health care sector, reports Business Week.

This might not seem like cause for concern, but as Paul Krugman points out, “the government pays directly or indirectly for more than half of the nation’s health care.� Add to the equation that medicine in the US is a for-profit industry that feeds on identifying and treating new diseases, not on preventing illness. The end result is that medicalization, including disease-mongering on the young, the old, and other vulnerable populations, is becoming the American way of life.

However, there are some signs of hope. A September 25, 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine identified how Medicaid programs could save $5.5 billion by using a generic antipsychotic medication instead of Zyprexa, the popular new drug on the market. In fact, the article points out that people experienced more side effects on Zyprexa than other drugs, and Zyprexa rated as only slightly more effective.

So as Rhode Island looks at ways to trim its Medicaid spending, perhaps it will consider putting the kabosh on the gravy train for Zyprexa.

Detention in the 21st Century

Once upon a time, detention meant little more than having to stay after school and clean the blackboard under the teacher’s watchful eye or stay in at recess while classmates cavorted on the playground. A great many who have experienced such punishment have no doubt felt wronged or singled out and chafed at the cruelty and injustice of it all. Consequently, at every opportunity, when the tyrannical teacher chanced to turn her back, a searing look of petulant resentment would be thrust between her shoulder blades. Soon enough, though, a reprieve would be granted, and all would be seemingly forgotten and forgiven. For, once upon a time, detention was but a brief slap on the wrist.

Nowadays, detention is a shackle upon the wrist that may endure for weeks, months, or even years—not for school children in America but for Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. In many if not most cases, those in detention are never formally charged or given any real opportunity to have their day in court, often held indefinitely and subjected to harsh interrogation and treatment. Their captors call them “enemy combatants,� but they are prisoners of war. However vile or villainous some may be, they are deserving of the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions. They are not all terrorists. Some have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. They deserve justice—and reprieve.

Of the 13,000 or so detainees in Iraq, one is an Associated Press photographer named Bilal Hussein, who has been held by the U.S. military for some five months now. As of yet, there is no evidence that Mr. Hussein has done anything wrong and no sign that he will be freed. The AP is, therefore, speaking out:

U.S. holds AP photographer in Iraq 5 months

The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned an Associated Press photographer for five months, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing charges or permitting a public hearing.

Military officials said Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was being held for “imperative reasons of security” under United Nations resolutions. AP executives said the news cooperative’s review of Hussein’s work did not find anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system.

Hussein, 35, is a native of Fallujah who began work for the AP in September 2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained on April 12 of this year.

“We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable,” said Tom Curley, AP’s president and chief executive officer. “We’ve come to the conclusion that this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, or Geneva Conventions, or any military procedure.”

Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide – 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom.

In Hussein’s case, the military has not provided any concrete evidence to back up the vague allegations they have raised about him, Curley and other AP executives said.

The military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, including Hamid Hamad Motib, an alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. “He has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on coalition forces,” according to a May 7 e-mail from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, who oversees all coalition detainees in Iraq.

“The information available establishes that he has relationships with insurgents and is afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities,” Gardner wrote to AP International Editor John Daniszewski.

Hussein proclaims his innocence, according to his Iraqi lawyer, Badie Arief Izzat, and believes he has been unfairly targeted because his photos from Ramadi and Fallujah were deemed unwelcome by the coalition forces.

That Hussein was captured at the same time as insurgents doesn’t make him one of them, said Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor.

“Journalists have always had relationships with people that others might find unsavory,” she said. “We’re not in this to choose sides, we’re to report what’s going on from all sides.” [full text]

Source of E. Coli Found?

Osama bin Laden contaminates field of spinach

Although it may sound preposterous or paranoid, I would be willing to bet that the Department of Homeland Security has considered the possibility that the terrorists are behind the recent E. coli outbreak. Because the next best thing to hijacking an airplane and flying it into a skyscraper is defecating repeatedly in a field of spinach. And then sitting back and watching with amusement as the infidel Americans fall violently ill or grow dangerously weak from the deprivation of an important source of iron, calcium, and other nutrients. No doubt the terrorists hatched this cunning scheme after viewing training films featuring Popeye. When you think about it, a lot of these yahoos do resemble Bluto.

White House Press Corps Undeterred By Snow

In the photo above, White House press secretary Tony Snow appears to be receiving a communiqué from the mother ship, perhaps advising him to Abort! Abort! Or maybe he is experiencing a psychotic break, and the voices that only he hears are taunting him for having left a cushy job at Fox News to serve as lion tamer to an increasingly rebellious White House press corps. Yesterday, Tony attempted to offer his standard Snow job with regard to the Bush administration’s efforts to push through legislation that would sanction aggressive interrogation and treatment of detainees. Certain members of the press, including NBC’s David Gregory, begged to differ with Snow’s interpretive dance on the matter, in particular his stubborn refusal to acknowledge that such legislation would constitute a revision of the long-established Geneva Conventions. In the course of Snow’s mad spinning, he had the audacity to say that former Secretary of State Colin Powell—who recently expressed strong opposition to any such revision—was “confused.� Boy, talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

In any regard, for more on Snow’s song and dance (which, perhaps, will soon be featured on American Idol), check out the following:

• Tony Snow says Colin Powell is confused: So was every other reporter (Crooks and Liars)

• Tony Snow and Press Spar: ‘Torture’ For All of Them (Editor & Publisher)

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