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May 24, 2007

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said ?For heaven's sake, look where we've come? when he was asked to comment about Congress?s decision to send a bill to the President to fund the war through the end of the fiscal year without any restrictions, mandatory benchmarks, or timeline for withdrawal. Look where they have come, indeed. It is as if the Democrats marched all the way down to the President?s goal line and fumbled the ball. That?s right, they turned over all the gains they have made to the President. And many say the Democrats probably only made it just barely past the fifty yard line, since even the bill the President vetoed provided funding for the war into 2009 and offered little means to enforce the benchmarks and withdrawal timeline.

Seems the Democrats don?t know when to hold ?em or when to fold ?em. They explain that they are sending this clean supplemental war funding bill to the President because they do not have the votes to overturn a veto of a bill that has any restrictions in it. So they have folded. But as Congressman Dennis Kucinich argues, Congress need not pass any bill to force the President to bring the troops home. There is enough money already in the pipeline to fund the withdrawal and the Democrats control the Congressional agenda. If they don?t want to vote on a war funding bill, they don?t have to. They could simply ?hold ?em.?

Meanwhile, Kucinich is also opposing the inclusion of one benchmark requiring the Iraqi?s to pass a law that would turn over much of the control of and profits from its oil industry to private, multi-national companies. This little talked about provision would turn Iraq into a cash cow, but not for the Iraqis. Some might consider this requirement akin to demanding that Iraq consent to rape. Yet, over here in the US, supporters of this benchmark call it a pre-requisite for peace. Can you say ?blood for oil??

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May 14, 2007

Apparently, the Virginia Citizens Defense League President, Philip Van Cleave, thinks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a ?vigilante? because he sent undercover investigators into Virginia to see if they could buy guns via ?straw purchases.? The NYC agents filled out forms to purchase guns for someone else, successfully. Bloomberg contends that many of the guns purchased in Virginia end up in the hands of NYC criminals. As a result of this investigation, Bloomberg has filed a lawsuit against two Virginia gun dealers. Is the Mayor a vigilante? Hardly.

According to Webster?s, a vigilante is ?a self-appointed doer of justice?. But the Mayor is not self-appointed, he was elected; the agents were not self-appointed, they worked for NYC law enforcement; and none of them have taken the law into their own hands, they are seeking remedy in the courts. So the claim that Bloomberg is a vigilante is simply ignorant.

Worse still, the response of the Virginia Citizens Defense League is to hold a gun raffle in a Fairfax County office building. They want to give guns away in order to help raise money for the legal defense of the two gun shops that sold the NYC agents guns illegally. Hmm, are they taking the law into their own hands? Perhaps not in this instance.

But the deep contradiction here is that Van Cleave and the VCDL are staunch advocates and practitioners of vigilante behavior. Van Cleave regularly carries a concealed weapon wherever he is allowed to, in case he needs it. Much as the pro-gun lobby?s responses to the Virginia Tech massacre advocated that the teachers and students should have had guns to shoot Cho down before he could shoot more people, Van Cleave is essentially arguing that all citizens have the right to be a vigilante. He wants us to carry guns so we can take the law into our own hands. Who appointed this guy?

Seems his hypocrisy knows no bounds.

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May 11, 2007
Well I built me a force and its ready for fighting
That Ol? Euphrates, she?s calling our name
Iraqis are jumpin', our mercs just keep thumpin'
Blackwater keeps shootin? at them just the same

Congress is finally paying attention to the fact that there are 120,000 civilian personnel in Iraq serving side-by-side with our troops, 48,000 of which are fighting forces. And Congress is finally paying attention to the fact that these mercenaries make as much as ten times what our soldiers are paid, some are paid more than the Secretary of Defense. Even the civilians serving our soldiers their meals are paid more than the soldiers.

And as for equipment, the mercenaries are better equipped in every respect. It speaks volumes that when General Petraeus?s personal guard is comprised of mercenaries, rather than US military troops.

Is this the message of support we want to be sending to our troops?

This is how the President and the former Republican majority set things up in Iraq. And worse than the money disparities, on the day before Paul Bremer turned sovereign control over to the Iraqi government, he issued an order that these private mercenaries and support personnel were immune to Iraqi law.

So, while US soldiers are being held responsible when they murder innocent civilians, not one of our private contractor soldiers have been indicted, let alone convicted. Feeling this was an outrageous situation, one US General decided to tally up incidents of private contractors shooting civilians in his jurisdiction for a one month period. There were about 20 incidents, six leading to death, but not one charge was filed.

And when Iraqis look at the mercenaries, they do not distinguish them from our troops. They see both as American occupiers.

It is time that we simply stopped accusing Democrats of not supporting our troops. When we look at the totality of the situation?the disparity between how the DoD treats mercenaries compared to our military troops, the failure to provide adequate equipment to our troops, the failure to provide adequate health services to our wounded troops, and the continued commitment to put our troops in harms way in a civil war we created?it is clear that it is the Administration that is not supporting our troops where it counts.

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May 10, 2007

Is there such a thing as a good terrorist? Can the targeting and killing of innocent civilians in an act of political violence ever be condoned? We certainly won?t be condoning the six men who planned to attack Fort Dix this week. But while all eyes have been diverted to New Jersey, another terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles is being allowed to walk free in Texas.

Luis Posada Carriles was the mastermind behind several terrorist plots in the late 1970?s, including the bombing of a civilian Cuban airplane. That bombing killed all 73 passengers, including the Cuban Olympic Fencing Team and tourists from other Latin American countries. 73 innocent deaths; and we know Carriles is the man behind the attack.

According to a document written in Carriles? own hand available from the National Security Archives, several Cuban targets were listed, including the fight that was subsequently blown out of the sky. So why is he is free? Worse still, why has he not even been charged with terrorism in the US?

Carriles was set free in El Paso, Texas this week when a Federal Judge dismissed charges that he lied on his immigration forms. Despite the evidence, despite standing indictments for terrorism against Carriles in Venezuela and Cuba, the US refuses to charge him for terrorism or extradite him to Venezuela in accordance with US-Venezuelan treaty obligations. Why?

Apparently, the reason he is still free is that Carriles was working for the CIA. He has also claimed that if he is extradited to Venezuela, he will be tortured. It seems that the US does not want to take even the slightest chance that their actions would lead to the torturing of a terrorist, if that would happen at all. They don?t want the Venezuelans to extract information about the CIA orchestrating terrorism against innocent civilians.

Imagine that.

But even if the US refuses to extradite Carriles, the treaty obligates us to prosecute him. This is not happening. If we are truly in a war on terror, why is this terrorist allowed to walk free?

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May 4, 2007

Crossposted on DrDigipol.com.

In celebration of World Press Freedom Day yesterday, the Bush Administration has made two policy decisions regarding media coverage of the Iraq war that fly squarely in the face of a free press. First, new military rules require soldiers to clear all content with superiors before posting them to their blogs and this rule may be applied to email, as well. Second, the Army's 1st Information Operations Command new handbook lists journalists alongside al Qaeda as a threat. Add to these the fact that the US continues to hold two photojournalists prisoner without charge and we begin to see a picture of an Administration that is aggressively assaulting our rights to a free press.

If these developments seem hypocritical given our policy of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East and the world, it is because they are. Consistent with its long-standing philosophy of how to save things that are important to us, the Bush Administration feels that they have to destroy freedom in order to save it (they also think we have to burn forests to save them, occupy countries to free them, run up huge deficits to balance the budget, and destroy civil liberties to ensure our freedom).

The restrictions on military bloggers and emails apparently also cover soldiers? families and military contractors, further expanding the Administration?s commitment to censorship. Many people are speculating that these rules could spell the end of military blogs, altogether.

This is a sad development, because to a large degree, military blogs and soldier emails have been the best source of unspun information coming from the war zone. The words of soldier bloggers not only give us a fairer assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq than the military?s propaganda program, but they also create deeper bonds between the soldiers in combat and the people back home. If we really want to support our troops, this new policy is clearly a step in the wrong direction.

According to the new Army handbook, as Democracy Now reports, ?soldiers should view the media as a threat alongside Al Qaeda, computer hackers, drug cartels, warlords and militias.? I suppose this new policy retroactively justifies the US?s shelling of journalists staying at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003, when a US tank killed a journalist filming from the top of the hotel. In fact, three locations hosting journalists in Baghdad were attacked on the same day, April 8, 2003.

And the US continues to hold two Muslim journalists prisoner without charge. Pulitzer Prize winning AP photographer Bilal Hussein has been held for 13 months in Iraq and Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj has been in Guantanamo since June 2002. While the Administration will claim these journalists are held for good cause, the reasons are suspect. These detentions put the US on a par with Egypt and other nations that imprison journalists that are deemed opponents to the state?s interests.

These policies and practices are hardly worthy of a nation that claims to be the champion of freedom and democracy. It is time that we recommit ourselves to practicing what we preach. Our global reputation depends on it and our citizens deserve it.

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May 3, 2007

Bee Killer

The bees are dying. Is it genocide or natural selection? Scientists are puzzled, for sure. But regardless of what might be causing the death of honey bees throughout the world, the implications are severe. In the US, a third of our food comes from plants pollinated by honey bees and honey bees account for 80 percent of that pollination. That is a lot of food to lose.

The Digital Shredder

Aside from the fact that it is illegal for emails regarding official government business to be deleted, the odds that millions of them were deleted, as the White House claims, is absurd. Email lives on the local computer hard drive of the sender and the receiver, as well as on the mail server. The idea that Karl Rove?s emails are truly lost just makes no sense. And Senator Leahy (D-VT) gets that. In his latest move, Leahy has subpoenaed all of the emails related to the prosecutor firings and the Plame leak case from the Justice Department. In response, the Justice Department says they have cooperated, having provided more than 6,000 pages of documents. Yet we know that they claim to have lost millions of emails. 6,000 pages hardly seems a drop in that bucket.

Does anyone else see the parallels between the White House deleting emails and Enron shredding documents?

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Apr 23, 2007

?Good fences make good neighbors,? said Mr. Frost. They help us maintain our personal boundaries. Facilitate civil relations with those living next to us. At least, that is how Robert Frost saw the walls separating neighbors in rural America. These walls were built by people living inside them to secure their homes and demarcate what was theirs from what belonged to others.

Ronald Reagan saw the wall in Berlin for what it was: a threat to freedom and democracy. ?Tear down that wall,? he said to Mr. Gorbachev. When the wall came down, it was seen as a victory throughout the world for freedom.

Despite Mr. Frost?s proclamation, walls are not always a sign of freedom, especially when they are built around other peoples. Behind my Virginia neighborhood is an old community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. Their community was surrounded by a wall. You can still see parts of the wall, today; a sharp reminder that real freedom came to the former slaves far too long after they were released by their former owners.

In Warsaw, Poland, the Nazi?s built a wall was built around the Jewish community, creating a ghetto that was little more than a prison where 450,000 Jews were held awaiting deportation to Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps. The people of that community did not build a good fence to make good neighbors; they were penned in like animals ?til slaughter. By the time the Nazi?s were finished, only 37,000 Jews remained in Warsaw, as more than 400,000 were herded off in cattle cars.

The Twentieth Century might have earned the named the Century of Walls, if only the practice had stopped. But it has not. Today, we and our allies are still building walls to pen in our enemies. From the Israeli walls surrounding Palestinian villages in the occupied territories to the US building walls to separate Sunnis from Shi?ites in Iraq, the practice of building walls around others against their will is no longer practiced by the enemies of democracy and freedom, but by their so-called champions.

Hopefully, the calls by the Iraqi government and people for the US to halt the building of the will be heeded. After resisting these calls, reports this morning suggest that they may.

In the end, freedom means the right to build a wall around your own property. It does not give people the right to build them around someone else.

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Apr 22, 2007

It was a very bad week, filled with senseless killing in Blacksburg and Iraq. And several other places, too. Senseless death saddens me. Death, generally, saddens me. I wish I could stop it and I wish I could bring solace to those death leaves behind.

And in the wake of the tragedy in Virginia Tech, I hear that we need to think about mental health and health privacy issues, mostly. And this is true. But I also hear arguments from Newt Gingrich and others saying, if this is about guns, it is about too few guns. Virginia Tech, after all, was a ?gun free? zone, an oasis of peace in the midst of Virginia with its incredibly lax gun control. Face it, Cho bought bullets on eBay.

Newt actually said this morning that if that professor?the one who survived the Holocaust, the one who threw his body to shield a student?had a legally concealed weapon, he could have saved a lot of lives. Perhaps.

I was a professor in Virginia for many years and I am trying to wrap my head around what it would have been like for me to carry a concealed gun with me as I taught (otherwise, how could I protect my students). A classroom is a place for the free exchange of ideas, for learning. I encourage my students to engage the class, even when we disagree.

So the idea that I, or any student, would be sitting there with a loaded gun seems so out of place as to be absurd. It is bad enough when one disturbed student brings a gun, or when we worry that someone may have one right now. I can?t imagine anyone feeling safe KNOWING someone in the class has a gun. The best solution is to make people uninterested in bringing weapons to class, not figuring out ways to bring more, regardless of the purity of intentions.

Where did the conversation go so wrong? Why is this idea even part of the discussion? I can understand how it might work in a perfect world, where all the good guys have perfect control and all the bad guys are rational, but the world isn?t always like that. And in the world of classrooms, ideas, young adults, and passion (which our classrooms should be) is no place for guns. It is one of the greatest expressions of our freedom, both of speech and from the chilling threat guns, even good guns bring.

So if you cherish your right to bear arms, go hunting or target shooting if you want to use one. But keep your gun locked away when you are not using it. And don?t introduce them into situations not meant for violence. Like classrooms.

We should not think for a minute that someone who goes ballistic on a room full of classmates would be deterred by the possibility someone else in the room was armed. Newt is talking about turning a murder spree into a gun fight in the middle of a classroom. Would that have saved lives? Or would it have led to more deaths? Frankly, I think it could easily go either way.

It is a very rare moment when a crazed gunman takes out a classroom. It is crazy to put more guns into that mix. In the end, we have to ask ourselves if we are seeing the world clearly when we are more willing to restrict the sale of Sudafed than bullets.

To read more and take action visit the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

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Apr 18, 2007

But not Time Warner?s presses.

In another glaring example of this Administration handing the regulatory role of the government over to narrow business interests, the Postal Service has accepted a proposal from Time Warner to raise the postal rates for periodicals in a manner that favors mega-publishers like Time Warner and cripples smaller and future publishers. Despite First Amendment protections for freedom of the press, the new plan would make rates cheaper for mega-publishers than for small publishers.

And it is not just tiny publications that will suffer. Even long-established publications like The Nation would suffer. In fact, the real casualty would be the people. If we are to be effective citizens, if democracy is to thrive in America, we must be well informed. This requires the availability of a wide range of news sources.

But this postal scheme would serve to further consolidate an already too consolidated media market. The risk of smaller publications going out of business and new publications blocked from market entry is just too high.

For more information, read Robert McChesney?s piece on Common Dreams.

To contact the Postmaster and Congress to voice your objections, visit the Free Press website?s action page.

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Apr 16, 2007

In a highly combative interview of the Reverend Al Sharpton yesterday by Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace, Wallace revealed his uninformed bias in an embarrassing way. He billed the interview in his introduction as "fair and balanced" and then proceeded to try an on-air lynching of Sharpton, accusing him of not fighting for the same standards against rappers that he did against Don Imus.

Wallace claimed that his researchers were unable to find any evidence that Sharpton had pursued these matters before the Imus ordeal. Wallace pressed Sharpton with a narrowly framed question, "Have you led marches ? and educate me, because we couldn't find any record of it. Have you led marches? Have you called for boycotts when it involves this kind of racist and misogynist language?"

Instead, Wallace 1) should have asked him what he had been doing, rather than ask if he used specific types of tactics, and 2) Wallace should have checked his own network's archives before saying he couldn't find any information about Sharpton's past efforts.

With one Google news search for "Sharpton Rappers" and an additional click to the Google News Archive, I found this piece from Fox News within 30 seconds: "Sharpton to Buy Stock in Record Companies." The story explains how Sharpton used a different tactic, buying stocks in record companies, to exert shareholder pressure against these companies for the vile language their artists use. Sharpton put his money on the line. Maybe it wasn't a march, but it was certainly substantial.

This is but one story of many available in the archives about Sharpton's efforts to confront the rap music industry.

So, as for being "fair and balanced," Chris Wallace was neither. Worse still, he was incompetent and misleading, framing his questions with factually incorrect premises.

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