Independent Christian Voice

Wednesday

LAST POST: The Subjective Scribe bids farewell...

...but to the chagrin of this blog's detractors, the spirit of "Scribe" will live on. With the addition of two new contributors and after thoughtful consideration of the plentiful feedback from our readers, we have decided to retool the blog soon to be known as the blog formerly known as The Subjective Scribe. As the New Year is ushered in, the blog will re-launch with a new name, a new address, a new look and a new attitude. Until then, the blog will officially be on hiatus as we work on the new and improved blog. Thank you to all of our faithful readers, both those who agree with us and those who respectfully disagree. Your support and feedback help keep us plugging along. Please check back here with us in after the New Year and we'll point you to the new and improved site. Thank you again. Merry Christmas and have a blessed holiday season. .

U.S. consuming the planet, ignoring responsibility to rest of the world

The United States proudly heralds itself as the "greatest nation in the world" and most Americans consciously or unconsciously look down on other countries who just can't raise themselves up to our standard of living. There's a reason we're "better." We're taking a grossly disproportionate share for the world's resources at the expense of the rest of the world, especially the low-income countries. The U.S. accounts for about 4% of the world's population, but we consume more than 20% of world energy consumption and are responsible for 25% of the world's greenhouse gases. Even worse, some scientists now estimate that world consumption is outpacing what the planet can produced by more than 20%. Is this the example a "Christian" nation should be setting for the world? Our nation's greed and insatiable appetite is not only at the expense of other nations but also our own future. And our "Christian" administration is doing its part to maintain the status quo. From the Associated Press:
Global warming gases grew by two per cent in the United States last year, the Energy Department reported.

The report came nine days after a United Nations conference at which the United States and China refuse to join any talks for imposing binding limits on emissions of such gases. [...]

The UN conference's Kyoto Protocol, which took effect among many countries last year despite U.S. President George W. Bush's rejection of it in 2001, had called for countries to cut their 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent by 2012.

Instead, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 would be nearly 25 per cent higher than they were in 1990 if they continue at the current pace of growth. The United States is responsible for a quarter of these heat-trapping gases globally.

More than 150 countries have agreed to negotiate a second phase of mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2012. India has joined the United States and China in declining to take part in it.

There will be a huge price to pay for our refusal as a country to "pay the piper."

African-American 'overrepresentation' in the Army declining

From Knight-Ridder Newspapers:
Fewer African-Americans are joining the Army, a trend likely to make it harder to keep the all-volunteer military at full strength.

The percentage of African-Americans among all those who signed up for active-duty Army service fell from 24 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2005, according to Army statistics. That's the lowest percentage since 1973, when the draft ended and the all-volunteer military began, say David R. Segal and Mady Wechsler Segal, sociologists with the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization.

In the past, African-Americans have enlisted at higher rates than their overall percentage of the U.S. population, which was 12.9 percent in the 2000 census.

"These trends may spell trouble for the Army, which has depended on blacks to meet its recruiting goals and re-enlistment targets," the Segals wrote in a November study. [...]

"Basically, what has happened over time with the all-volunteer force is that the Army has become sort of dependent on the overrepresentation of African-American recruits, who have been more inclined to stay," David Segal said in an interview.

The problem with an all-"volunteer" army is that there is a gross underrepresentation by the privileged classes. The security of our nation is shouldered disproportionately by the underprivileged, which includes the economically disadvantaged. Unfortunately, African-Americans make up a disproportionate share of that group and many are faced with little alternative but to join the military for gainful employment. Now, many are paying a much higher price than they bargained for in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Drudge (False) Report

Matt Drudge shows that he's as committed as ever to the right-wing talking points disinformation machine. In another effort to justify Bush's illegal actions, Drudge employs the "Clinton did it to" defense, plastering the following headlines at the top of his page (as of this morning at 5:30):
CLINTON EXECUTIVE ORDER: SECRET SEARCH ON AMERICANS WITHOUT COURT ORDER... CARTER EXECUTIVE ORDER: 'ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE' WITHOUT COURT ORDER...
Think Progress exposes the Drudge Distort's disinformation:

What Drudge says:

Clinton, February 9, 1995: “The Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order”

What Clinton actually signed:

Section 1. Pursuant to section 302(a)(1) [50 U.S.C. 1822(a)] of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Act, the Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year, if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that section.

That section requires the Attorney General to certify is the search will not involve “the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person.” That means U.S. citizens or anyone inside of the United States.

The entire controversy about Bush’s program is that, for the first time ever, allows warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and other people inside of the United States. Clinton’s 1995 executive order did not authorize that.

Drudge pulls the same trick with Carter.

What Drudge says:

Jimmy Carter Signed Executive Order on May 23, 1979: “Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order.”

What Carter’s executive order actually says:

1-101. Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.

What the Attorney General has to certify under that section is that the surveillance will not contain “the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.” So again, no U.S. persons are involved.

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: Restrained spending

by Bruce Plante, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Tuesday

Ingraham, Carville discuss domestic spying scandal

The Political Teen examines a discussion this morning on The Today Show discussing the domestic spying scandal. The video clip is worth watching both sides spinning the political angles; the anaylsis is equally "entertaining."

Bush apologists' defense: "Clinton did it too"

Today on several blogs and message boards, I've read many Bush apologists try to mitigate the unlawful actions of the president by resurrecting an all too common refrain — "Clinton did it too." Think Progress reports on it and then debunks it:

Prominent right-wing bloggers – including Michelle Malkin, the Corner, Wizbang and Free Republic — are pushing the argument that President Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program isn’t news because the Clinton administration did the same thing.

The right-wing outlet NewsMax sums up the basic argument:

During the 1990’s under President Clinton, the National Security Agency monitored millions of private phone calls placed by U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries under a super secret program code-named Echelon…all of it done without a court order, let alone a catalyst like the 9/11 attacks.

That’s flatly false. The Clinton administration program, code-named Echelon, complied with FISA. Before any conversations of U.S. persons were targeted, a FISA warrant was obtained. CIA director George Tenet testified to this before Congress on 4/12/00:

I’m here today to discuss specific issues about and allegations regarding Signals Intelligence activities and the so-called Echelon Program of the National Security Agency…

There is a rigorous regime of checks and balances which we, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the FBI scrupulously adhere to whenever conversations of U.S. persons are involved, whether directly or indirectly. We do not collect against U.S. persons unless they are agents of a foreign power as that term is defined in the law. We do not target their conversations for collection in the United States unless a FISA warrant has been obtained from the FISA court by the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, the position of the Bush administration is that they can bypass the FISA court and every other court, even when they are monitoring the communications of U.S. persons. It is the difference between following the law and breaking it.

Keeping us safe from those dangerous Catholics...

From The New York Times:
Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

F.B.I. officials said Monday that their investigators had no interest in monitoring political or social activities and that any investigations that touched on advocacy groups were driven by evidence of criminal or violent activity at public protests and in other settings. [...]

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

A slippery slope indeed...

To Bush apologists: How is this not an example of Bush lying?

Yesterday, Bush reluctantly admitted to NSA eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant after a published NY Times story exposing the practice in place since shortly after 9/11/2001. Contrast that with what he said during his re-election campaign (April 20, 2004):
Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.

Fox News' War on Christmas, the ongoing saga

Gawker.com reports that the Fox News' publicity department sent out this card to the press.
They took "Christ" out of Christmas! There's no nativity scene, there's a Santa Claus and the greeting on the side of the building says "Happy Holidays"! Of all the humanity, where's Bill O'Reilly when you need him? What's that? He works at Fox News? That's kinda ironic, huh?

Republican Jesus: Blessed are the Chekists

Columnist: Snoopgate revealed Bush "as a lawbreaker"

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter has a piece on MSNBC.com about Snoopgate and why the president was so desperate to kill the New York Times story:
Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. [...] The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference... No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. [Read entire piece]
Perjury was grounds for impeachment. What about breaking a federal law against spying on Americans without court approval? I'm just asking.

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: "...someone I can believe in"

by Dick Locher, The Chicago Tribune

Monday

Frist AIDS charity paid big money to inner circle

From the Associated Press:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's AIDS charity paid nearly a half-million dollars in consulting fees to members of his political inner circle, according to tax returns providing the first financial accounting of the presidential hopeful's nonprofit. [...]

World of Hope gave $3 million it raised to charitable AIDS causes, such as Africare and evangelical Christian groups with ties to Republicans — Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse and the Rev. Luis Cortes' Esperanza USA, for example.

The rest of the money went to overhead. That included $456,125 in consulting fees to two firms run by Frist's longtime political fundraiser, Linus Catignani. One is jointly run by Linda Bond, the wife of Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. [...]

Frist's lawyer Alex Vogel, according to the article "was proud that overhead costs amounted to less than $1 of every $5 raised. 'It's leaner than the average charity,' Vogel said." Now, unless I'm missing something, the lawyer's math is a bit fuzzy. According to the article, the charity raised $4.4 million; $3 million was given to charitable AIDS causes, leaving $1.4 million in overhead. If my math is correct, that's roughly 32% in overhead costs — closer to $1.50 of every $5 raised. According to Forbes, the average for charitable commitment (how much of total expenses went for charitable purpose, excluding management, overhead and fundraising) is 84%; by my math, Frist's charity is at 68%. It smells fishy to me. The AP article adds this insight from the experts:

Political experts said both the size of charity's big donations and its consulting fees raise questions about whether the tax-exempt group benefited Frist's political ambitions.

"One of the things people who are running for president try to do is keep their fundraising staff and political people close at hand. And one of the ways you can do that is by putting them in some sort of organization you run," said Larry Noble, the government's former chief election lawyer who now runs the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that studies fundraising. [...]

[Former disclosure chief for the Federal Election Commission Kent] Cooper said the consulting fees were "excessively high" and the fact that they were "paid to primarily political consultants also raises questions about the long-range strategic benefits for the 2008 presidential race."

The pursuit of power can be a very messy business.

Columnist challenges Bill O'Reilly's to look at a real war on Christian values

In an op-ed piece (subscription required) in Sunday's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof issued the following challenge to Bill O'Reilly:
If you really want to defend traditional values, then come with me on a trip to Darfur. I'll introduce you to mothers who have had their babies clubbed to death in front of them, to teenage girls who have been gang-raped and then mutilated -- and to the government-armed thugs who do these things.

You'll have to leave your studio, Bill. You'll encounter pure evil. If you're like me, you'll be scared. If you try to bully some of the goons in Darfur, they'll just hack your head off. But you'll also meet some genuine conservative Christians -- aid workers who live the Gospel instead of sputtering about it -- and you'll finally be using your talents for an important cause.

Unfortunately, there's little chance that Bill would accept such a challenge. It's much easier to sit in a comfortable studio manufacturing "wars" while ignoring the true wars where Christian values are in true jeopardy. If American Christians were as concerned about the real threat to basic human rights of Christians and non-Christians around the world as they are about their perceived threat to peripheral consitutional rights, we would have the opportunity to truly demonstrate's Christ's love and Christian values. "They will know that we are Christians by our love." Kristof also made this compelling point that all Christians can heed: "When you've seen what real war does, you don't lightly use the word to describe disagreements about Christmas greetings."

Bush administration present vs. Bush administration past

Administration present (Bush, from Sunday night's presidential address):
I will make decisions on troop levels based on the progress we see on the ground and the advice of our military leaders - not based on artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.
Administration past (Bush, 6/5/99):

I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.

Administration present (Bush from Sunday night's speech):
Reconstruction efforts and the training of Iraqi Security Forces started more slowly than we hoped. … At this time last year, there were only a handful of Iraqi army and police battalions ready for combat.
Administration past (via Rumsfeld, 12/8/04):
Their security forces, as I mentioned earlier, are – oh, they’re now up to something like 110[000], 120,000 — up from zero. And they are putting their lives at risk as well…they’re being trained rapidly
Why can't Bush apologists understand why some Americans cannot trust this president or this administration? This is not about partisanship. I am an Independent, not a Democrat. This is about not trusting our government. They have a repeated and documented pattern of saying things that are later proven to be incorrect, untrue or unfounded. This administration is either guilty of incompetence or dishonesty. What are they saying now that will prove to be untrue a year from now? In the eloquent words of our president, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." Exactly.

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: Improving conditions

by Steve Kelley, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Sunday

IN MEMORIAM: 2,156 Fallen Heroes

Names released this week:
Spencer C. Akers, 35, Army National Guard Sergeant, Dec 08, 2005
Milton Rivera-Vargas, 55, Army National Guard Staff Sergeant, Dec 08, 2005
Adrian N. Orosco, 26, Army Sergeant, Dec 09, 2005
Julia V. Atkins, 22, Army Sergeant, Dec 10, 2005
Kenith Casica, 32, Army Sergeant, Dec 10, 2005
Clarence L. Floyd Jr., 28, Army Sergeant, Dec 10, 2005
Travis L. Nelson, 41, Army Staff Sergeant, Dec 10, 2005
James S. "Shawn" Moudy, 37, Army Sergeant 1st Class, Dec 11, 2005
Keith A. Bennett, 32, Army National Guard Staff Sergeant, Dec 11, 2005
Jared William Kubasak, 25, Army Specialist, Dec 12, 2005
Curtis A. Mitchell, 28, Army Staff Sergeant, Dec 12, 2005
Lex S. Nelson, 21, Army Specialist, Dec 12, 2005
Brian C. Karim, 22, Army Sergeant, Dec 13, 2005
James C. Kesinger, 32, Army Specialist, Dec 13, 2005
Peter J. Navarro, 20, Army Specialist, Dec 13, 2005
Michael S. Zyla, 32, Army Staff Sergeant, Dec 13, 2005
Kenneth B. Pospisil, 35, Marine Staff Sergeant, Dec 14, 2005
Michael B. Presley, 21, Marine Corporal, Dec 14, 2005
Joseph Alan Lucas, 23, Army Specialist, Dec 15, 2005

Saturday

Feds visit UMass senior who requested communist book for research paper

The chilling of the First Amendment:
A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book." Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program. The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said. The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS

David Horsey, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer by John Cole, The Scranton Times by Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune by John Trever, The Albuquerque Journal by Monte Wolverton, The Wolvertoon
by Sandy Huffaker
by Mike Lane by Mike Keefe, The Denver Post

Friday

FRIDAY FUN: "Carol of the Bells" (Burger King style)

A bastardized Christmas Carol to bring you some holiday cheer this Friday!
Ding Fries Are Done! (to the tune of Carol of the Bells)

It depends on what your definition of "the same intelligence" is

The next time you hear the White House or the GOP leadership claim that Congress saw the same intelligence as the president did, we now know why they are lying. A memo sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein by Alfred Cumming, specialist in Intelligence and National Security for the Congressional Research Service. Here are excerpts from that memo:
By virtue of his constitutional role as commander-and-in-chief and head of the executive branch, the President has access to all national intelligence collected, analyzed and produced by the Intelligence Community. The President's position also affords him the authority - which, at certain times, has been aggressively asserted - to restrict the flow of intelligence information to Congress and its two intelligence committees, which are charged with providing legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. As a result, the President, and a small number of presidentially-designated Cabinet-level officials, including the Vice President - in contrast to Members of Congress - have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods. They, unlike Members of Congress, also have the authority to more extensively task the Intelligence Community, and its extensive cadre of analysts, for follow-up information. As a result, the President and his most senior advisors arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the Community's intelligence more accurately than is Congress. In addition to their greater access to intelligence, the President and his senior advisors also are better equipped than is Congress to assess intelligence information by virtue of the primacy of their roles in formulating U.S. foreign policy. Their foreign policy responsibilities often require active, sustained, and often personal interaction, with senior officials of many of the same countries targeted for intelligence collection by the Intelligence Community. Thus the President and his senior advisors are uniquely positioned to glean additional information and impressions - information that, like certain sensitive intelligence information, is generally unavailable to Congress - that can provide them with an important additional perspective with which to judge the quality of intelligence. [...] The President is able to control dissemination of intelligence information to Congress because the Intelligence Community is part of the executive branch. It was created by law and executive order principally to serve that branch of government in the execution of its responsibilities. Thus, as the head of the executive branch, the President generally is acknowledged to be "the owner" of national intelligence. [...]

The executive branch generally does not routinely share with Congress four general types of intelligence information:

  • the identities of intelligence sources;
  • the "methods" employed by the Intelligence Community in collecting and analyzing intelligence;
  • "raw" intelligence, which can be unevaluated or "lightly" evaluated intelligence, which in the case of human intelligence sometimes is provided by a single source, but which also could consist of intelligence derived from multiple sources when signals and imagery collection methods are employed; and,
  • certain written intelligence products tailored to the specific needs of the President and other high-level executive branch policymakers. Included in the last category is the President's Daily Brief (PDB), a written intelligence product which is briefed daily to the President, and which consists of six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics. The PDB emphasizes current intelligence and is viewed as highly sensitive, in part, because it can contain intelligence source and operational information. Its dissemination is thus limited to the President and a small number of presidentially-designated senior administration policymakers.
That last excerpt is important. I certainly can understand and don't necessarily have any problems with why Congress cannot see all the same information as the president and his staff, especially since most politicians — particularly those in Congress — have serious problems with loose lips as they try to impress others with their power and access. Information about sources and operational information is very sensitive and not something you want floating around everywhere — I have no quarrel with that. However, if the source and operational information is relevant to the credibility of the intelligence itself, it's a vital piece in the puzzle — something the president knows that Congress wouldn't necessarily have access to knowing. And it's for that reason that I have profound doubts that Congress saw the "same intelligence" that Bush, Cheney and his war advisors saw. So, they need to put that attack against Democrats and war opponents to rest; it's a disingenuous position.

Big Brother Bush is watching you

The New York Times reports on yet another agency that's engaged in domestic spying:
Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials. Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications. The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches. [...] Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.
For some, this is no big deal because, after all, we are trying to protect ourselves from terrorism in this country. I have no problem with trying to protect ourselves, but how many freedoms do we give up in the process and how far before it's too far. There's very little oversight and certainly very little accountability within this administration. The GOP-led Congress won't do anything until it hits close to home (which is likely more likely than they might believe). The ultimate point is this. If we lose our freedoms in the process of protecting ourselves from terrorists, then haven't the terrorists won anyway? It's a very slipperly slope when the government gets a taste of domestic spying. Today it's Arab Americans, tomorrow it could be activist organizations — oh, wait... that's happening today too...
(A paraphrase of a paraphrase of the poem written after World War II)
When they came for the Arabs and the Muslims,
I turned away
When they came for the Jews and the blacks,
I turned away
When they came for the writers and the thinkers and the radicals and the protestors,
I turned away
When they came for the gays, and the minorities, and the utopians, and the dancers,
I turned away
And when they came for me, I turned around and around, and there was nobody left...
And that's the point.

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, Mr. Hannity

Sean never lets hypocrisy prevent him from expressing his moral "outrage" against anything the "liberal establishment" (like universities) or liberals or Democrats may do (or what he claims that they do with circumspect motives). But people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. From News Hounds:
For Sean Hannity, what's good for FOX and the Bush family is a scandal for universities. Last night's (12/13/05) Hannity & Colmes included a critical look at Saudi Prince Al-waleed bin Talal's large donations to two top US universities. Hannity and author Richard Miniter slimed the schools by saying, without offering any sources or facts to back up the claim, that the donations were evidence of anti-Americanism on campus. Meanwhile, everybody seemed to overlook the fact that the same prince is a large stockholder of FOX News parent company, News Corporation. Also overlooked were the recent allegations that, at the request of the prince, FOX News changed its news reporting to make it more Muslim-friendly.

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: And the winner is...

by M.e. Cohen

Thursday

The real Christmas scandal

By Jim Wallis, in the latest SojoMail:
There is a Christmas scandal this year, but it's not the controversy at shopping malls and retail stores about whether their displays say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." The real Christmas scandal is the budget proposed by the House of Representatives that cuts food stamps, health care, child support, and educational assistance to low-income families - while further lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans and increasing the deficit for all of our grandchildren.

That was the message we brought to the steps of the House office buildings yesterday. The day was cold but the message was clear, as hundreds of religious leaders and faith-based organizers who daily serve the poor joined for what became a revival and prayer meeting in the United States capital.

This was the culmination of a yearlong effort by people of faith to teach our nation's political leaders that "a budget is a moral document." I was proud to be one of the 115 pastors and leaders out of that group who were arrested for kneeling in prayer. In the final stages of the budget process this week, after praying and making our best arguments from afar, we decided to take our prayers and presence to the steps of the Cannon House Office Building.

After some powerful preaching on the steps and a press conference that was more like a revival, we continued our praying and singing in front of the entrance, symbolizing the denial of access to Congress for low-income people. "Come walk with us!" we said as we invited members of Congress into our neighborhoods to meet the people who will be most impacted by their votes on a budget that virtually assaults low-income families. We sounded like a choir (and a good one at that) as we sang Christmas carols while being arrested, handcuffed, put into buses, and taken to a large holding cell roughly a mile away.

We all noted how full of faith the day was for those involved. Many of those who took part in the prayerful and nonviolent civil disobedience were from groups such as the Christian Community Development Association, whose member organizations around the country live and work alongside poor people every day. Their founder, John Perkins - who at 75 was one of the oldest people arrested - inspired us all as he has for 40 years of faithful ministry among the poor.

The text we kept repeating at the Capitol Christmas vigil was from the book of Luke - the best words ever about the true meaning of the coming of the Christ child. Mary, the mother of Jesus, herself a poor woman from an oppressed race and an occupied country, prophesied in her powerful prayer of thanksgiving — the Magnificat - about the Messiah whom she carried in her womb.

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Though today on Capitol Hill Mary would be accused of class warfare for uttering such words, they still bear the true meaning of Christmas. And the budget and tax cuts being proposed by House leaders directly reverse the priorities of Mary. For instead of filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty, this budget would fill the rich with good things and send the hungry away empty!

So yesterday, on the House office steps, we tried to put Christ back into Christmas. Thursday morning, The Chicago Tribune led with the headline "Christmas Scandal Outcry!" and the story of the faith-inspired action in Washington was in dozens of newspapers around the country.

Yesterday the faith community across the country stood up and spoke up. Our vigil in Washington was followed by more than 70 vigils in more than 30 states. We prayed for a change of heart in our Washington leaders, we prayed for the poor families we serve, and we prayed that those elected to represent us act to protect the common good in ways consistent with the Christmas message of hope.

The bipartisan Senate budget bill, in contrast, protects low-income families, and yesterday senators passed resolutions vowing not to cut food stamps and Medicaid in the final budget negotiations with the House. They should be thanked and urged to stand firm.

So I have already received my Christmas present this year — the chance to participate in a faithful and powerful witness to the real meaning of the child who is born again to us this season. See the pictures and podcast of the event, and read the testimonies of others — and you will also receive the gift. Merry Christmas.

Dingell's Holiday Jingle

(Courtesy HouseDemocrats.gov) Congressman John D. Dingell (MI-15) recited the following poem on the floor of the US House of Representatives concerning House Resolution 579, which expressed the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected. “Preserving Christmas” has been a frequent topic for conservative talk show hosts, including Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House No bills were passed ‘bout which Fox News could grouse; Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer, So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;

Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds, While visions of school and home danced in their heads; In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan, Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell; Americans feared we were on a fast track to… well… Wait — we need a distraction — something divisive and wily; A fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly

We can pretend that Christmas is under attack Hold a vote to save it — then pat ourselves on the back; Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger Wake up Congress, they’re in no danger!

This time of year we see Christmas every where we go, From churches, to homes, to schools, and yes… even Costco; What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy, When this is the season to unite us with joy

At Christmas time we’re taught to unite, We don’t need a made-up reason to fight So on O’Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, and those right wing blogs; You should just sit back, relax… have a few egg nogs!

‘Tis the holiday season: enjoy it a pinch With all our real problems, do we honestly need another Grinch? So to my friends and my colleagues I say with delight, A merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O’Reilly… Happy Holidays.

Wingnuts whining about "Shame on you" billboard

The DNC paid to have the following billboard erected in Rep. Jean Schmidt's district: Right-wingers are crying foul, calling it an outrageous smear — which I guess they would be experts on since their party seems to employ that strategy regularly. But it is quite ironic that such a billboard would be considered an outrageous smear when the subject of the billboard herself called a fellow Congressman a coward. What's even funnier is that one commenter on The Political Teen said this:
Picking on a woman who only repeated another soldiers words. Where is the backbone of the democrat party to go after the soldier who wrote that email?
That writer apparently has faulty memory, faulty intelligence or simple ignorance. Schmidt claimed to be quoting a soldier who she had just talked to on the phone (not an email) and the soldier she was supposedly quoting denied ever saying the words she said calling Murtha a coward. But, then again, facts isn't really important to these wingnuts. The Congresswoman lied and called a fellow member of the House a coward... and that's okay. Calling her on it is not. That's truly twisted logic. But, then again, that's wingnuts for you.

MalkinWatch: Goodwill shortlived, malice returns

The non-partisan goodwill was shortlived in Malkinland this morning. After her respectful and admirable noting of the passing of a Democratic legend, it didn't take long for the bitter partisanship to resume. Malice in Malkinland set her unhinged sights on the liberals and Democrats, manufacturing outrage at perceived offenses around every corner: AN OUTRAGEOUS DEMOCRAT SMEAR, QUICK! SOMEONE CALL JOHN KERRY!, THE IRAQI ELECTIONS AND THE UNHINGED LEFT and WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? PT. 9,999.

From her last post:

From the notoriously biased Associated Press reporter Jennifer Loven, comes this fair and balanced dispatch on the Iraqi elections:

President Bush hailed Thursday's voting in Iraq as "a major milestone" in establishing a democratic ally for the United States in the Middle East and moving toward the day when American troops can come home.

The appearance of a buoyant Bush in the Oval Office alongside six smiling young Iraqis displaying purple-stained fingers was an attempt to capitalize on any positive news in Iraq.

Well, Michelle, whether it came from a biased reporter or not, it's a pretty fair and accurate description. In another post, HAVE YOURSELF A TWISTED LITTLE CHRISTMAS, Malkin shows graphics of a few of the latest controversial (and sick) Christmas displays. She says, "As if you needed evidence that absolutely nothing is sacred anymore." However, I don't remember her mentioning the family displaying the bloody Santa was part of the Christian warriors fighting against the alleged "War on Christmas." Michelle, I believe that's a right-wing engineered fight. Be sure to get on O'Reilly for inciting such militant behavior during your next lovefest on his Faux News broadcast.

Tax cuts for the rich don't help the stock market, according to the experts

Gene Sperling, National Economic Advisor to President Clinton and senior fellow with American Progress, writes a piece for Think Progress debunking White House and GOP claims that cutting taxes on dividend income helps boost the stock market and, in theory, help improve the economy:

In the drive to make cutting taxes on dividend income a top national priority, the White House and their allies in Congress hope to obscure how regressive the cut is (in 2005 nearly 80% of the capital gains and dividend tax cuts went to those making over $200,000) with the self-assured assertions that it has: 1. lifted the stock market, 2. driven job and wage growth, and 3. helped the small investor.

All of these claims are off the mark — but I’m going to debunk each assertion one at a time over the next few posts.

Claim 1: The dividend tax cut has led to a stronger stock market. (A brief aside: the fact that a policy might increase the price of certain stocks, or even the stock market as a whole, does not end the discussion of whether or not it is a sound idea. One could provide a $1000 rebate and a toaster to every investor who purchased stock and probably drive up the market, but it would hardly increase our overall national economic well-being. The wisest economic policies focus on strengthening the underlying foundations for economic growth and productivity – not immediate market impacts).

A new study by economists at the Federal Reserve Board found no evidence that the dividend tax cut raised stock market prices as a whole. They didn’t even find much evidence that it raised the prices of dividend-paying stocks.

The authors of the Federal Reserve study, Gene Amromin, Paul Harrison, Nellie Liang and Steve Sharpe “fail[ed] to find much, if any, imprint of the dividend tax cut news on the value of the aggregate stock market.” For details on how the study worked, read my explanation here.

Read more »

MalkinWatch: Feelin' the love for a Democrat

Michelle Malkin pays a "cross-the-isle" tribute to the legendary Wisconsin Democrat Sen. William Proxmire who died this morning.
Didn't agree with everything he stood for, but he was the original Porkbuster--a crusader against government waste who issued "Golden Fleece Awards" to expose taxpayer-funded boondoggles. [...] Would that we had more like him...in both parties.
We do indeed need more like him. On this, Malkin and I can agree wholeheartedly.

Congressman: Celebrate Christmas by raising minimum wage

House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls on Congress to act on the true meaning of Christmas:

As Congress focuses on leaving town to enjoy the holidays, I stood in the cold before the Capitol Christmas Tree with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) today to call on Congress to act on the true meaning of Christmas – hope, generosity and good will toward others – and raise the minimum wage.

As a new report we released today with the Center for Economic and Policy Research details, families living on the minimum wage scrape and struggle each month to afford life’s most basic necessities. It is simply not possible for them to enjoy the holidays like the rest of us. No dozens of presents piled under the Christmas tree. No lavish meals on Christmas Eve and Day. It would take almost their entire December paycheck to afford the more than $700 that the average American spends celebrating Christmas.

Congress has the power to brighten the holiday for the almost 8 million Americans living on the minimum wage by increasing their paycheck.

Yet, this is the eighth year in a row that Congress has failed to enact even a small increase in the minimum wage. By freezing it at an inadequate $5.15 and ignoring the effects of inflation, Congress has essentially given a pay cut to these workers. In fact, if the minimum wage in 2005 was worth what it was worth in 1968 (its peak value), it would be $8.88 an hour.

How can the leadership in Congress leave Washington this week to enjoy a plentiful Christmas and a comfortable New Year knowing that their inaction has guaranteed another tough Christmas for millions of Americans?

This is just another stark example of how the Republican-controlled Congress does not have the right priorities for America. At the same time that they ignore the minimum wage and cut programs that invest in students and children, help our elderly and the poorest Americans, they vote for tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks that benefit the wealthy few. We can – and must – do better.

Representative Miller and Senator Kennedy have introduced a fair bill to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 over two years. Providing a livable wage to hardworking American families is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an issue of doing what is right and good.

Please contact your Members of Congress and urge them to pass the Kennedy/Miller bill before Congress adjourns this holiday season. This is a small gift that we can and should give to honest, hardworking Americans.

Help us put Christ back into Christmas. Fight for a living wage for every American. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" — Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:40)

Bush appoints Rice to stabilize Iraq …again

Another report from Think Progress:
In October 2003, President Bush gave Condoleezza Rice the authority to manage postwar Iraq. USA Today, 10/6/03:

President Bush is giving his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the authority to manage postwar Iraq and the rebuilding of Afghanistan…

Rice will head the Iraq Stabilization Group, which will have coordinating committees on counterterrorism, economic development, political affairs and media messages.

It didn’t work out so well. Washington Post, 5/18/04:

With all the chaos and uncertainty in Iraq, this would be a good time to call on the White House’s Iraq Stabilization Group. At least it would have been a good time to call on the Stabilization Group if the group itself had not become, er, unstable…

But seven months later, the four original leaders of the Stabilization Group have taken on new roles, and only one remains concerned primarily with Iraq. A search of the White House Web site indicates the phrase “Iraq Stabilization Group” has not been mentioned publicly since October.

…[S]ome within the White House, said the destabilized Stabilization Group is a metaphor for an Iraq policy that is adrift as U.S. ambitions in the country are thwarted by an insurgency and a prisoner-abuse scandal.

Today, it was deja vu all over again:

The White House formally gave Condoleezza Rice authority on Wednesday to take the lead in planning and reconstruction efforts in conflict areas such as Iraq.

Her first task, I assume, will be to clean up the mess the Iraq stabilization group left.

The Political Pit Bull points us to another speech (by Rice) "you should know about." See if it sounds to you like a re-run.

This could be a good sign: Bush says Rumsfeld is doing "a heckuva job"

Think Progress has the report (and the encouraging analysis):

In an interview today with Fox News’ Brit Hume, President Bush offered praise for Donald Rumsfeld that’s usually reserved for utterly incompetent disaster management officials:

HUME: Is he here to stay as far as you are concerned?

BUSH: Yes. End of my term is a long time, but I tell you, he is doing a heckuva good job. I have no intention of changing him.

Bush was trying to brush aside speculation that Rumsfeld was on his way out. Of course, the last official Bush praised for doing a “heckuva job” was gone a week later.

Let's hope that Bush's trademark consistency holds true with this endorsement.

"RING"ING ENDORSEMENT: The Moonbat (Don) King is in Bush's corner

The Moonbat King: "I love George Walker Bush." With an endorsement like his, with all his "credibility" and "integrity" is sure to help boost Bush's sagging ratings. And his gift for eloquence inspires even the most ardent critic to see Bush as a great president who loves his fellow man.
I love George Walker Bush because I think he’s a revolutionary. He’s a president that comes in with conclusiveness. [...]

I think he’s a president that cares about the people he represents, but doesn’t compromise himself to the extent that he acquiesce and accommodate. He goes out there and says like it is, and tries to make things better. Inclusiveness, education, is fighting for that.

These are the things that many guys that don’t fight for — George Walker Bush is a tremendous advocate to America, a great president for the great American people, and he’s decisive. He’s doesn’t equivocate.

Thanks, Don, for setting those of us straight who: thought Bush's "conclusiveness" and "doesn't equivocate" and "doesn't compromise" was a simpleton's arrogant stubbornness; thought his fighting for "inclusiveness" with rhetoric like "good vs. evil"..."us vs. them"..."with us or with the terrorists" seemed, at least by definition, divisive and exclusive; thought his painfully slow response to the Katrina disaster looked like he was out of touch rather than that he "cares about the people he represents"; and didn't realize that "a great president for the great American people" who "tries to make things better" would leave the future of America saddled with crushing debt. I will grant you one thing, Mr. King. George Walker Bush is consistent — consistent arrogance, consistent obstinance, consistent partisanship, consistent cronyism, consistent ineptness, consistent... And I'll agree that George Walker Bush will indeed be remembered in history.

(Hat tip to The Political Teen)

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: "9-11 changed my look..."

by Bob Englehart, The Hartford Courant

Wednesday

Saddam = Bad Guy = War = Compassionate Humanitarianism?

I have been openly in opposition to the War in Iraq from its beginning. I was opposed to this invasion because there was too much question about the people trying to push us that direction. For anyone who has followed the development of the neo-cons "Project for a New American Century," it was no surprise that the players in the Bush administration were looking to attack Iraq long before the attacks on 9/11. They said they thought it was our key strategy back in 1998 in a letter to President Clinton. You don't have to take my word for it, they have the letters published on their own website. There is no way the American public was going to support a war for military and economic interests in the Middle East. Then came the attacks on 9/11 and a newly declared "War on Terrorism." Who was one of the greatest threats in the War on Terrorism? Saddam Hussein, of course. After all, he had used weapons of mass destruction before and was openly antagonistic to the U.S. Then, the American public is sold on the imminent threat we are facing from Saddam. Based on this imminent threat, we must defend ourselves by attacking preemptively. This was the rationale for the war on Iraq. Now, in hindsight, that rationale doesn't hold much water. Bad intelligence was to blame. Did this make the war unjustifiable? Not from a right wing perspective — after all, Saddam is a really bad guy who has done some really bad things. Since Saddam is bad, our preemptive attack on a soverign nation was "just" because we are simply trying to help the Iraqi people (stop the tortures, get the oppressed Iraqi women the right to vote, etc., etc.). These are all practical reasons but certainly the fundamental rationale clearly cited pre-invasion. My question is why? Why not list this as the primary reason or at least a significant reason to invade Iraq prior to invading? Why use it only after the other reasons have failed? The answer: it is a post-facto explanation of why the invasion was not completely wrong. As a matter of fact, it is the only justification that can be left. I will often have the question posed to me, what is so bad about bringing freedom to Iraq? Aren't the Iraqi's going to be better off down the line? I certainly hope so; they have paid a dear price to get it. The answer, of course, is that it is not a bad thing to bring freedom to oppressed people. But, it is time for the U.S. to take a good hard look at what we are committing ourselves to do. This is nation-building plain and simple — the very thing President Bush pledged not to do when campaigning for office the first time. There are a lot of oppresive regimes (by many measures, Saddam's was hardly the worst). We have spent over $200 billion and we are no where near the democratic freedoms in Iraq that would allow for troop withdrawl without unrest in the country. Parade Magazine offers a list of the 10 Worst Dictators — you can read the methodology they use to determine the list from their site. In 2003, Saddam was #3 on the list. We have a lot of work to do, a lot of lives to be lost and we better pony up some pretty big bucks because there are a lot of oppressed people who need our help. If it is just and right to do these things for the people of Iraq, it is just and right to do it for all these people as well.
1. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan. Age 61. In power since 1989. Last year’s rank: 7 A colossal humanitarian tragedy in western Sudan’s Darfur region has uprooted 2 million people and killed 70,000, mostly through the activities of government-supported militias. This is nothing new in Sudan, where Omar al-Bashir, its dictator, has engaged in ethnic and religious persecution since seizing power in a military coup. Sudan has 6 million internally displaced persons—more than any other nation. In southern Sudan, where Christianity and traditional religions are practiced, Bashir tried to impose Islamic law in a campaign that included aerial bombing of villages and enslavement of women and children. His forces met with armed resistance, escalating to what some called a civil war between Muslims and Christians. (In Darfur, meanwhile, he has been killing Muslims.) Last month, Bashir signed a cease-fire with rebels in the south. It allows government troops to remain in southern Sudan and prohibits southerners from voting for independence for six years. 2. Kim Jong Il, North Korea. Age 62. In power since 1994. Last year’s rank: 1 The Ministry of People’s Security places spies in workplaces and neighborhoods to inform on anyone who criticizes the regime, even at home. All radios and TV sets are fixed to receive only government stations. Disloyalty to Kim Jong Il and his late father, Kim Il Sung, is a punishable crime: Offenses include allowing pictures of either leader to gather dust or be torn or folded. The population is divided into “loyalty groups.” One-third belong to the “hostile class.” These people receive the worst jobs and housing and may not live in the capital, Pyongyang. Below the hostiles are the estimated 250,000 held in prison camps, some for crimes allegedly committed by relatives. Executions often are performed in public. 3. Than Shwe, Burma. Age 72. In power since 1992. Last year’s rank: 2 Freedom of expression is not allowed; unlicensed possession of a fax machine or modem is punishable by 15 years in prison. To relocate ethnic minorities, the army destroyed 3000 villages and drove 1.2 million Burmese from their homes. 4. Hu Jintao, China. Age 62. In power since 2002. Last year’s rank: 3 Some 250,000 Chinese are serving sentences in “re-education and labor camps.” China executes more people than all other nations combined, often for nonviolent crimes. The death penalty can be given for burglary, embezzlement, counterfeiting, bribery or killing a panda. Hu’s government controls all media and Internet use. Defense lawyers who argue too vigorously for clients’ rights may be disbarred or imprisoned. And if minorities (such as Tibetans) speak out for autonomy, they’re labeled “terrorists,” imprisoned and tortured. 5. Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia. Age 81. In power since 1995. Last year’s rank: 5 Women may not vote or run for office, owing to “technical difficulties”: Most Saudi women don’t have the photo IDs needed to register; there aren’t enough female officials to register those who do; and men may not register women, because the sexes are forbidden to mingle in public. Worldwide, the royal family promotes an extreme form of Islam called Wahhabism, which considers all followers of other religions—even other Muslims—“infidels.” 6. Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya. Age 62. In power since 1969. Last year’s rank: Dishonorable mention Freedom of speech, assembly and religion are harshly restricted. Entire families, tribes and even towns can be punished for “collective guilt.” Political opposition and damaging public or private property are considered “crimes against the state.” 7. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan. Age 61. In power since 1999. Last year’s rank: Not mentioned “The country is more important than democracy,” he said. Pakistan has endangered the world by spreading nuclear technology. Last year, it was discovered that Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, had been selling nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. As for civil liberties in Pakistan, a woman who has been raped may present her case only if she can produce four Muslim men who witnessed the attack. 8. Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan. Age 64. In power since 1990. Last year’s rank: 8 He controls his one-party state with torture, disappearances, detentions, house demolitions, forced labor and exile. He muzzles all media, and it is illegal to criticize any of his policies. Statues of Niyazov appear everywhere, and his picture is on all denominations of money. His “moral guide,” Rukhnama (Book of the Soul), is required reading for students, married couples and even applicants for a driver’s license. 9. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe. Age 80. In power since 1980. Last year’s rank: 4 Average life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 33 years—among the lowest in the world. One of Mugabe’s many repressive laws deems it a crime “to make an abusive, indecent or obscene statement” about him. He continues to hold elections, but opposition is discouraged. Looking toward a vote in March, the parliament passed a law banning from Zimbabwe any human-rights or civil-liberties group that receives money from abroad. In other words, independent election monitors will not be allowed. 10. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea. Age 62. In power since 1979. Last year’s rank: 6 Since major oil reserves were discovered there in 1995, U.S. oil companies have poured $5 billion into this tiny West African nation. Most of the oil income goes to President Obiang and his family, while the majority of the people live on less than $1 a day. Some American oil companies are being investigated for improprieties involving Obiang. The U.S. State Department has accused Obiang’s government of committing torture. In November, 20 people—including 11 foreign nationals —were sentenced to prison for an alleged coup attempt. The only evidence against them, says Amnesty International, were confessions extracted through torture.
So, some pretty bad guys = we must go to war = compassionate humanitarianism. I see the formula. What I am wondering is why Iraq was the first in our mission? It is great for the people of Iraq, what about the people of Sudan, North Korea, Burma, China....? Why are we allowing them to suffer under oppressive regimes? Is it possible this great humanitarian outcry is another game of smoke and mirrors? I guess time will tell...

FAUX NEWS anchor continues to propagate disinformation

FAUX NEWS: We distort. You comply. Think Progress reports on the latest distortion:

Last night on Fox News, Brit Hume argued that waterboarding - an interrogation technique dating back to the Inquisition in which the prisoner “has water poured over him to make him think he is about to drown” – does not constitute torture:

Torture has an actual definition, and it means extreme physical pain, it also means the kind of thing associated with the failure of your organs. Now waterboarding is hair-raising and frightening, terrifying as it obviously is, would not appear to fit that category. [Video]

The Justice Department has explicitly rejected Hume’s “definition” of torture. In a 2002 memo, then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales argued that to be defined as torture, punishments “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel later revised this definition, but Hume apparently never got the memo.

Also, former torture victim Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) disagrees:

For instance, there has been considerable press attention to a tactic called “waterboarding” … In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.

To send a signal to Hume and right-wingers that this kind of “exquisite torture” should stop, take action.

MalkinWatch: Presidential malfeasance? "What about the Barrett Report?"

This is seriously entertaining (if not galling). The same people who have had to jump through a bunch of logical and rhetorical hoops in a feeble (and absurd) attempt at defending this president's and this administration's malfeasance are pointing fingers at another administration's alleged wrongdoings. To help divert attention from the sitting president who continues his reign, right-wingers are digging up old scandals from the past administration — I kid you not. Malice in Malkinland points her readers to a piece written by Tony Snow that will make most rational people shake their head in wonderment. I'm not saying there was no malfeasance in the Clinton administration nor will I defend any malfeasance by any politician. What I am saying is that perhaps the Republicans should follow the advise of Jesus (of whom they claim to be fans):
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 NIV)
Once you clean up your own house, then you can worry about cleaning up your neighbor's house.

An Empire Without Virtue

Paul Craig Roberts, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, writes a piece for counterpunch.org about "The Defenders of Torture," a great perspective that's worthy of your time. Here is a brief excerpt:
Some Americans, horrified at what the Bush administration has done to their country, took hope in Europe's uproar over Bush's rendition/torture policy. Alas, European governments were shedding crocodile tears for show purposes only. On December 11 the Telegraph (UK) reported on a European Union document in its possession that summarizes an EU-US meeting in Athens Greece on January 22, 2003 in which the EU agreed to "co-operation in removals." The Telegraph reports that "EU officials confirmed that a full account was circulated to all member governments." So we have the entire Western world complicit in kidnapping and torture. The entire non-Western world surely notices the unbridgeable gap between the Bush administration's immoral practices and Bush's moral posturing about "freedom and democracy." The prestige of the Western world is gone forever.
James at The Left End Of The Dial adds his thoughts:
The prestige of the Western world rested on a myth (I'm using the term partly in the pejorative sense) that its governments and leaders, and of course its populace, were civilized. Of course, civilized folks don't torture, enslave, or commit genocide either - and regrettably the Western world (basically Western Europe and the US) has a long history of expertise in such practices. The dirty little secret is that a good proportion of the rest of humanity had long ago figured that out.

It's no longer a democracy if the government spies on you for being anti-"them"

This is where democracy ends and totalitarianism begins. It's happened before, but we thought that there had been reforms. But as with so many things, our government has regressed under this president. The government is now spying on Americans who happen to disagree with the official government talking points and agenda. From MSNBC:
A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military. A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period. “This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible,” says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project. “This is incredible,” adds group member Rich Hersh. “It's an example of paranoia by our government,” he says. “We're not doing anything illegal.” The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups. “I think Americans should be concerned that the military, in fact, has reached too far,” says NBC News military analyst Bill Arkin. [...] The military’s penchant for collecting domestic intelligence is disturbing — but familiar — to Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer. “Some people never learn,” he says. During the Vietnam War, Pyle blew the whistle on the Defense Department for monitoring and infiltrating anti-war and civil rights protests when he published an article in the Washington Monthly in January 1970. The public was outraged and a lengthy congressional investigation followed that revealed that the military had conducted investigations on at least 100,000 American citizens. Pyle got more than 100 military agents to testify that they had been ordered to spy on U.S. citizens — many of them anti-war protestors and civil rights advocates. In the wake of the investigations, Pyle helped Congress write a law placing new limits on military spying inside the U.S. But Pyle, now a professor at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, says some of the information in the database suggests the military may be dangerously close to repeating its past mistakes. “The documents tell me that military intelligence is back conducting investigations and maintaining records on civilian political activity. The military made promises that it would not do this again,” he says.
Next step? The secret police and ratting out neighbors, friends and families (wait, we already tried this shortly after 9/11, but that program got scuttled... but it'll come back). Many left-wing bloggers have noticed increased visits to their blogs by Pentagon's domestic spying unit, CIFA (Counterintelligence Field Activity). Is this the direction we want our country to go?

GOP-MART: Gifts for your friends on the right

From Jesus' General:
I have a new sponsor, GOP-MART. Don't you think your friends deserve the gift of graft for Christmas?

Army trying to circumvent intention of McCain amendment against torture

This administration will stop at nothing — nothing — to get its way. It reminds me of a little boy who can't take "no" for an answer and is always looking for ways around the rules — you know, those things that define what is right and wrong. This morning we learn that the Pentagon is trying to outsmart McCain. Think Progress reports:

With Congress on the verge of passing the sweeping McCain amendment, the Bush administration has taken its drive to permit torture to new depths.

The basis of the McCain amendment is establishing the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation as the uniform standard for interrogation. That manual explicitly prohibits the use of so-called “coercive interrogation techniques.” As former Army interrogator Peter Bauer has written, “the standard interrogation techniques found in the US Army Field Manual 34-52 were far more effective than such abusive behavior as stress positions, sensory deprivation, and humiliation. We obtained more information – and more reliable information – with our basic skills than we did with even days of harsh treatment.”

Realizing this, the Pentagon has one-upped McCain, and simply rewritten the manual:

The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods that may complicate negotiations over legislation proposed by Senator John McCain to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in American custody, military officials said Tuesday.

The techniques are included in a 10-page classified addendum to a new Army field manual that was forwarded this week to Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence policy, for final approval, they said.

The addendum provides dozens of examples and goes into exacting detail on what procedures may or may not be used, and in what circumstances. Army interrogators have never had a set of such specific guidelines that would help teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations.

The political fall-out from this move is sure to be significant. The New York Times notes that McCain will likely be “furious” with the changes, and an unnamed Pentagon official is quoted, “This is a stick in McCain’s eye. It goes right up to the edge. He’s not going to be comfortable with this.”

The idea that we have a “Vice President for Torture” now appears quaint. What we really have is an entire administration, openly and unapologetically for torture.

Remember this, this president said on more than one occasion during his first presidential campaign and even after he took office that his administration would be one of "the highest ethical standards," one that doesn't just do what is legal, but does what is right. Mr. President, your administration is not doing what is right, it's redefining what is legal to try to legally justify its unethical and illegal (by international law) activities. If you cannot see this, Mr. President, or do not do anything about it, your administration has no integrity.

MalkinWatch: Iraqi's message for "moonbats"

Malice in Malkinland gleefully cheers on this "Iraqi" woman (Betty Dawisha?) for her "blunt words... for the Cindy Sheehan Left":
"Anybody who doesn't appreciate what America has done, and President Bush, let them go to hell!"
No wonder the right-wingers love her comments. It reflects their idea of respectful, rational, and reasonable discourse; it represents how they react and respond to opposing viewpoints in this nation's "democratic" dialogue. If this woman is representative of most Iraqis (which I doubt), Iraq is headed down the same path the U.S. is on — ever increasing division, bitter partisanship and ineffectual government. That's indeed something to "cheer" about.

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: King Kong with Condoleezza Rice

by R.J. Matson, The New York Observer and Roll Call

Tuesday

LIAR, LIAR (Part 2): O'Reilly wrong again and again

Since my first LIAR, LIAR post earlier today, Media Matters uncovered two more falsehoods by Mr. O'Reilly told in the last week. About postage stamps:
On The Radio Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) no longer offers Christmas postage stamps with a "spiritual" theme. In fact, the USPS continues to offer the commemorative "Madonna and Child" stamp.
About Texas school's dress code:
On both The Radio Factor and The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed a Texas school district "told students they couldn't wear red and green because they were Christmas colors." The school district has since released an official statement refuting O'Reilly's false contention.

HOLIDAY FUN: If you're gonna put up Christmas lights, this is how to do it

This homeowner takes holiday light display to a whole new level. It's really, really cool. As Life and Deatherage says, "If yours don't do this, then why bother installing them?" > Download video (4.8MB WMV)

A response to recent reader comments about post on Tookie's execution

There have been quite a few comments received recently regarding the opposition to the death penalty expressed on this blog. These range from absurd suggestions — like Tookie being paroled to come live with those who oppose his execution — to more reasonable statements that Tookie is deserving of death and this represents Justice (albeit imperfect) and Justice is a pillar of Christianity. I can state whole-heartedly that Tookie is deserving of death — as are we all. Lest we forget that the penalty for all sin is death. Thankfully, we live under a system of grace. I am respectful of the law that exists (where the law gives the state the right to execute, I never suggest that the state is not acting within its rights). I will also continue to do what I can to change the law for several reasons. One, the system of personal Justice discussed in the Old Testament Mosaic Law was an imperfect system. Hebrews 8:7, 13 — "For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another… By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete." Second and more importantly, "justice" should be truly "just." Tookie and others on death row are guilty of their crimes and deserving of punishment. Is justice carried out blindly and fairly in this country? If it is not, we have a problem when reading the same bible others use to defend this brand of "Justice". A New Testament follower would be better served to look to Jesus' lead. One example would be the woman caught in adultery. He upheld that the law had the right to stone her but he also put the burden back on the accusers that "Justice" should be just and only those without sin should cast the first stone. "The written Law" is often misapplied by man (as it often was by the Pharisees) when the "Spirit of the Law" is ignored to ensure that justice is applied to all but ourselves. In Matthew 5, Christ explains that he did not come to abolish the law, he came to fulfill it. This is often used as the bridge between the OT system of an "eye for an eye" and Jesus' obvious preference for grace. Throughout the rest of Matthew 5, he goes on to show that what "mankind" likes to see in the law is not always a full representation of the "Spirit of the Law." He put us to a higher standard that so many Christians would like to ignore because it is often easier to understand a system of do(s) and don't(s) than a system driven by grace and the Holy Spirit. There is an important and practical reason why society would not be well served by Tookie's death that pro-death advocates choose to ignore. He still carries a voice with the youth entrenched in the violence he helped create. His voice can still do something good. Whatever one's position on the morality of capital punishment, this is still an issue to consider. I am not trying to diminish his crimes or the punishment he deserves. His danger to society has been addressed by his imprisonment — that is no longer an issue. His death must be viewed in the light of punishment or revenge. As a Christian, I am confident Tookie will address his wrongdoings when he stands before the Creator. From an earthly perspective, I am aware he is already being punished by the loss of his freedom. I am left with the feeling that the primary issue is revenge. Revenge is not a particularly Christian attribute. God asked us to leave room for his vengeance and I can trust in his Justice above man's laws. I will offer the opinion writing of David Chandler regarding the death penalty as I think he makes some very valid points that we as Christians must consider if our first concern is truly "justice."
Since 1973, over 100 people have been exonerated and released from death rows around the country. The average time served by these innocent victims of the system was 9 years. The error rate is so high that in the year 2000 George Ryan, the Republican governor of Illinois declared a death penalty moratorium. The racial discrimination argument runs a little differently than the straw man version presented last week. The number of white inmates on death row (45%) slightly exceeds the number of black inmates (42%), but these numbers are way out of proportion with the population. The issue is not who commits more crime. A study in Philadelphia showed that when black and white defendants were convicted of comparable crimes, black defendants were 38% more likely to receive the death penalty. Even more telling than the race of the defendant is the race of the victim. A study in North Carolina showed that murders with white victims were 3.5 times more likely to result in the death penalty than murders with black victims. Black murderers of white victims are most likely, and white murderers of black victims are least likely, to receive the death penalty. 50% of murder victims are white, but 80% of those given the death penalty have white victims. The geography of executions is not determined by population density, as suggested last week. The densely populated Northeast has the lowest murder rate nationally and has executed only 3 people since 1976. The Western states have executed 59, the Midwest 96, and the South 735. Texas and Virginia alone account for 406 of the South's total. Hand in hand with racial discrimination is economic discrimination. In California in the 1980's, 42% of blue-collar workers convicted of first-degree murder received the death penalty, compared to only 5% of white-collar workers convicted of similar crimes. Most defendants in capital cases cannot afford to hire their own attorney. This is clearly tied to the high rate of error in convictions. There are deeper reasons to reject the death penalty. The death penalty is based on the concept of retribution: "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life". Retribution is not about protecting society. That is accomplished once the criminal is imprisoned. Rather, it is a way of collectively venting our anger. When we have been wronged we have an urge to strike back and make the offender suffer. When someone is murdered we feel we owe it to the family of the victim to avenge the death of their loved one. But vengeance cannot reverse the original act or heal the pain. Instead it arouses and legitimizes our own murderous impulses. Vengeance does violence to the soul and perpetuates violence in society. Retribution is Biblical, but so is its antithesis. When Jesus was asked whether a woman taken in adultery should be stoned to death in accordance with the Mosaic law, he responded simply, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone...." By his response he rejects the entire concept of retribution. All of us, both accusers and accused, are flawed human beings, so mercy, not retribution, is appropriate. Jesus changes the focus to restoration and healing. Where our society parts ways with Jesus is in seeing murderers as monsters. He sees them instead, no matter how horrible their crimes, as prodigal children of a loving Father who awaits their return with open arms. The monster image alienates us from the person behind the crime. We see monsters as twisted, evil, and, most importantly, unlike ourselves. But criminals are in fact people like ourselves in whom God dwells. They may have grave weaknesses and failings, but they are the weaknesses and failings of humanity. If we deny our human bond with the criminal we implicitly deny our own capacity for evil and become guilty of hubris. Most of the nations of the world have come to realize that capital punishment does not serve the best interests of society. It is an irreversible penalty meted out by a fallible process that is not, and can never be, applied equitably and without error. It works more harshly against the poor, the dark skinned, and the damaged than against the sometimes greater evils of the rich and powerful. It denies the sacredness of human life, it precludes the opportunity for redemption, and it perpetuates the cycle of violence. Murder is just the tip of the iceberg of a violent society. The narrow focus of capital punishment diverts our attention from the systemic evils that permeate our society at all levels. Rather than venting our anger on the few, let us work to melt the entire iceberg of violence.