Monday, April 30, 2007

Let's look at the news

As my two regular readers might have noticed (and I'm only married to one of them, to the best of my knowledge), I usually prefer longer blog entries with multiple links, occasionally comparing or contrasting news items that I consider related in some way.

It's simple. By concentrating on this "long-form blogging" rather than the brief blurbs most bloggers go for, I can feel better about my sheer laziness in only posting an entry roughly once per week.

Not this week though. I found two unrelated stories this weekend that I'm going to heckle. That's just the way it is, sometimes. First of all, the reason I have no plans to move to Utah any time soon.

You have to admire any story that starts with:
Utah County Republicans ended their convention on Saturday by debating Satan's influence on illegal immigrants.
I mean, come on. For an opening line, you just can't beat that.
The group was unable to take official action because not enough members stuck around long enough to vote, despite the pleadings of party officials.
You kind of wonder if "embarrassment" had anything to do with that...
Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants "hate American people" and "are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won't do."
And he's right. They'll pick lettuce for pennies per day, they'll collect your garbage, and generally do jobs that nobody else wants for less money than any American would accept. Anybody who tries to claim that they're "stealing jobs from Americans" needs to show me a list of Americans who would accept those jobs, at those wages.
"Illegal aliens are in control of the media..."
Excuse me? Not even Univision... ah, never mind.
...and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said.
(Excuse me while I misquote an American doing a bad Spanish accent.) You know, you keep saying that word "fact." I do not think that word means what you think that word means.

While I realize that Larsen probably doesn't consider "Roman Catholic" (the religion of most Mexican immigrants) to be equal to "Christian" (they are, after all, godless idolators under the sway of the Antichrist in the Vatican), it does give a somewhat limited definition to his concept of "Christian America."
At the end of his speech, Larsen began to cry, saying illegal immigrants were trying to bring about the destruction of the U.S. "by self invasion."
"Self invasion"? They're invading themselves?

I suspect that he started to cry because he'd finally realized what an idiot he is.
One speaker, who was identified as "Joe," said illegal immigrants were Marxist and under the influence of the devil.
"Marxist"? This just gets better and better, doesn't it?
Another, who declined to give her name to the Daily Herald...
Again, "embarrassment," perhaps?
...said illegal immigrants should not be allowed because "they are not going to become Republicans and stop flying the flag upside down. ... If they want to be Americans, they should learn to speak English and fly their flag like we do."
So if their ship is taken by pirates, they won't be able to use the standard international symbol of distress?
Senator Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, spoke against the resolution, saying Larsen, whom he called a "true patriot and a close friend," was embarrassing the Republican Party.
Finally, somebody who makes a little sense.
"This only gives fodder to the liberal media to give negative attention to the Republican Party."
Too late.
Larsen was allowed to finish the debate with a one-minute speech.

"If the Democrats take over the country, we will be dead, and we will have abortion and partial-birth abortion and the Republican Party will go into extinction," he said.
OK, let me get this straight. We'll all be dead, right? So how will we be getting abortions at that point?

And isn't the "Republican Party will go into extinction" bit a little redundant at that point?

But these mental giants couldn't manage to not embarrass themselves even when they switched to other subjects.
(Enid) Greene (state Republican Party chair) said she was disappointed in BYU professors who protested Dick Cheney's visit to campus, calling them "self-appointed intellectuals."
OK, folks. Be real. These guys were hired as professors. Yes, they're "intellectuals." Isn't that what you want as a teacher?

But they definitely don't qualify as "self-appointed." If anyone, BYU and the Dean of Faculty appointed them to that position, right?

But while that was my favorite story this weekend, I've got to pass along this little gem.
Two police officers pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter in the shooting death of a 92-year-old woman during a botched drug raid last fall. A third officer still faces charges... The charges followed a Nov. 21 “no-knock” drug raid on the home of Kathryn Johnston, 92. An informant had described buying drugs from a dealer there, police said. When the officers burst in without warning, Johnston fired at them, and they fired back, killing her.

Fulton County prosecutor Peter Johnson said that the officers involved in Johnston's death fired 39 shots, striking her five or six times, including a fatal blow to the chest.

He said Johnston fired only once through her door and didn't hit any of the officers. That means the officers who were wounded likely were hit by their own colleagues, he said...

When the plainclothes officers burst in without notice, police said, Johnston fired at them, and they fired back.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Yonette Sam-Buchanan said Thursday that although the officers found no drugs in Johnston's home, Smith planted three bags of marijuana in the home as part of a cover story.
So they're some real winners, right? Fine, upstanding knights in blue. (And really bad aims, too.)

But let's ignore the fact that a bunch of unidentified men broke into her house, and Ms. Johnston was only protecting her home. (Shouldn't the NRA be all over this story?) She was 92 years old! Let her get baked once in a while. At her age, she's earned it.

But that isn't the punchline. This is.
The case raised serious questions about no-knock warrants...
Well, duh! But it gets better.
...and whether the officers followed proper procedures.
Yup. That's would be the question, all right...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Well, I already talk about politics. Might as well include religion.

My son is now an ordained minister. I don't really know what to make of that.

When he was a kid, we asked him what he wanted to be. His answer? "A policeman, a fireman and Spiderman." So this seems like a step down, really.

Technically, there are probably people who might argue the point of whether he qualifies as a priest of any kind. He got ordained for free over the internet, by the Universal Life Church, because he wanted to perform the wedding for two of his friends.

This might possibly come as a surprise to my sisters: one's a Wiccan and might be OK with it, but the other is an ordained Episcopal minister. Somehow, I don't think she'll see the humor in all this, really.

But that isn't the most disturbing news on the religious front, though.

Studies are now coming to light that show that "abstinence-only" programs, Bush's biggest "faith-based agenda" effort, don't work. They're ineffective. Not only do these programs not have any effect on whether children will have sex, they don't even have any effect on whether the sexually-active children will use a condom. (At least a traditional sex-ed class can improve that statistic.)

That's $176 million dollars in federal money, and millions more in state and local grants, teaching a program with no effect at all. And they intend to waste more money starting this year, because they plan to push it on adults (as old as 29) despite the fact that it's a complete waste of our tax money.

However, we can take heart in the fact that this program was merely ineffective. Usually, the policies coming from the White House are disasterous and destructive - in effect, the "abstinence-only" program is actually an improvement in job performance for our Chief Executive.

And in other news, the latest hero of the Religious Right is Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former chaplain for the Navy. He says that, in March 2005, he was released from the Navy as punishment "because he refused to practice a 'government-sanitized' faith that he calls 'Pluralism,' with a capital P." He claims that he was kicked out of the Navy because he wanted to "pray in Jesus' name." (The Religious Right calls him "Chaplain," or sometimes just shorten it to "Chaps." There are so many Village People jokes here, I don't know where to begin.)

You can trust me on one thing, by the way. Having gone to military chapels for my entire life, there is no shortage of prayers to Jesus or about Jesus, and the vast majority are in Jesus' name. And I've even met one or two chaplains who seemed to think that they might be Jesus (I'm pretty sure they were wrong).

After Klingenschmitt (or his handlers) convinced the Kentucky House of Representatives to honor him for his "service to God, country and the Commonwealth of Kentucky," his former commandant, Capt. Norm Holcomb, sent an email to the members of the Kentucky House, explaining what actually happened. The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State (who, admittedly, have their own agenda on the matter) printed part of Holcomb's letter.
I was the dishonored ex-chaplain's supervisor for the past 2 years... I found him to be totally untruthful, unethical and insubordinate. He was and is contemptuous of all authority. He was not court martialed for praying in Jesus' name. I sent him out in uniform every week to pray at various ceremonies and functions. He always prayed in uniform and in Jesus' name. He was never told that he could not pray in Jesus' name. In fact, the issue of prayer had nothing at all to do with his dismissal from the Navy. He disobeyed the lawful order of a senior officer. I am sure that you understand that Navy Regulations forbid any of us, regardless of rank or position, to appear in uniform in support of any political or partisan event.
At the time that it happened, incidentally, even the Associated Baptist Press (speaking of people with their own agenda) reported it this way:
But the commanding officer at Klingenschmitt's base, Capt. Lloyd Pyle of the Norfolk Naval Station, had earlier ordered him, in writing, "not to wear your uniform for this or for any other media appearance without my express prior permission." Pyle's order came shortly after Klingenschmitt spent 18 days last December on a hunger strike in front of the White House to protest the policy on sectarian prayers.

Of the conviction, Klingenschmitt said he was only "guilty of praying in Jesus' name," according to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. His attorneys claimed that he had the right to appear in uniform at the event because he was conducting a bona fide religious service.

But the jury agreed with prosecutors, who argued that the evangelical Episcopalian's uniformed presence at the press conference alone was sufficient to determine he had violated Pyle's order and military policy.
But that isn't the way you're going to hear it from his supporters these days.

And finally, the most important news story about the things we worship would have to be this:
The federal Food and Drug Administration is proposing to redefine the very essence of chocolate and to allow big manufacturers such as Hershey to sell a bar devoid of a key ingredient — cocoa butter. The butter's natural texture could be replaced with inferior alternatives, such as vegetable fats. And consumers would never know.
There's even a website which will tell you how to defend your constitutional right to good chocolate. Those of us who've lived in Germany, and eaten chocolate made in Europe for European consumption know that Hershey's is a waxy, paraffin-filled bar of faux-chocolate already. Don't let them make it worse.

They can have my chocolate when they pry it from my cold, dead, chubby fingers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Honesty. It's such a lonely word.

I took a month or so off, so this one's a long one, even for me.
We continue to be plagued by a distinct lack of honesty in our government. And although the Democrats are probably making a few lies here and there, it's the overwhelming, snowballing dishonesty of the Republican party that's coming to the surface lately. Lying and hypocrisy seem to be the only two family values left to the Republicans.

George Bush gave a speech to an American Legion post in Virginia earlier this month. Which, by itself, is fascinating. Considering how he allows veterans to be treated at Walter Reed, you'd think that he'd have second thoughts about standing in front of a crowd of them.

(Of course, his first thoughts aren't usually particularly impressive, so I doubt that the second ones would be much better...)

He even had the unbelievable cojones to bring up the fact that he belonged to an American Legion post in Houston. Does the Legion allow other people to join when the very few records that they can find show that they didn't even manage to fulfill the minimal requirements of Vietnam-era National Guard service? As opposed to the current National Guard requirements, where the "surge" that was supposed to only involve 21,500 troops (if you ignore the extra 8,100 support troops, anyway) has recently been further swelled by adding Iraq and Afghanistan tours for another 12,000 National Guard and Reserve troops.

And as Bush stood there in front of his American Legion audience, he even trotted out one of his oldest catch-phrases. He said to them that "We want to defeat them there, so we don't have to face them here." Which is fascinating, since only 4 days earlier, we learned that military and diplomatic experts all agreed that the "over there" argument is a fairly feeble-minded thing to say.
"The president is using a primitive, inarticulate argument that leaves him open to criticism and caricature," said James Jay Carafano, a homeland security and counterterrorism expert for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy organization...

Daniel Benjamin, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at The Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, agreed.

"There are very few foreign fighters who are going to be leaving the area because they don't have the skills or languages that would give them access to the United States," said (Daniel Benjamin, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at The Brookings Institution), who served as the National Security Council's director for transnational threats from 1998 to 1999. "I'm not saying events in Iraq aren't going to embolden jihadists. But I think the president's formulations call for a leap of faith."

"The war in Iraq isn't preventing terrorist attacks on America," said one U.S. intelligence official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he's contradicting the president and other top officials. "If anything, that - along with the way we've been treating terrorist suspects - may be inspiring more Muslims to think of us as the enemy."
In fact, if anything, the Middle East situation is making us less safe. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was just released, and it explains that the Iraqi conflict is only making jihadist fundamentalism in the Middle East stronger.

Thank God that Bush won't be reading that report either. It might depress him.

John McCain has been pushing Bush's little war for some time, and tried to tell America that there were parts of Baghdad where you could walk down the street in safety. And he was called on that lie by a reporter who was, in fact, in Baghdad at the time, who said that he didn't know what Never-never Land McCain was talking about.

Because John McCain is never willing to admit that his "Straight Talk Express" has left the tracks, he went to Baghdad and took a walk in a market to show how safe it was. Safe, at least, if you have a hundred armed soldiers, two Blackhawk helicopters, body armor and up-armored Humvees. Sucks to be the locals, though, who told anyone who'd listen that it was all a PR stunt, and who went back to being shot at and blown up right after McCain left.

Pope Benedict XVI came out and criticized evolution, saying it can’t be proved. Which is ironic, since he’s a pretty strong supporter of that whole "God" thing.

(I am so going to Hell.)

Of course, this is, after all, his job, so you can't really call that a lie, or even hypocrisy – you would kind of hope that he actually believed in his own religion (especially if you're Catholic). But I've been hoping to make that joke ever since I saw the story. So there you go.

On the subject of hypocrisy, though, Bob Barr was once a hard-line GOP senator from Georgia. In 1998, he single-handedly prevented the voters of the District of Columbia from enacting a medical marijuana measure which they'd approved, by creating what is known as the "Barr Amendment" (the city is stripped of all funding if they attempted to "enact or carry out" any such initiative). But now that he's left the Senate, he became (as so many do) a lobbyist. Ironically, he's lobbying for the Marijuana Policy Project. And his first job will be to try to tear down the Barr Amendment.

Don Imus received some publicity that he didn’t want recently when he referred to a primarily black women's basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's." That, in itself, is not a lie, if that's the way Imus felt about it. He's allowed to be a racist, after all. And at least he's open about it. But SilentPatriot on makes a valid point.
"Human Events" editor Terry Jeffrey said that Don Imus "represents a general decline in standards in American broadcasting" and that politicians should avoid his show because they would then have to "take a stand on the various outrageous things he says." During his high and mighty sermon of decency, Jeffrey conveniently ignores the far more toxic venom spewed on a daily basis on conservative talk radio.

(Here’s where they put the link to download or watch – you’ll have to go there to see it, though. I’m not going to eat their bandwidth. That’s rude, and I’m not John McCain.)

Imus' statements past and present — documented here by MediaMatters — are deplorable and should be condemned. That goes without saying. The point, however, is the blatant double standard. Did Dick Cheney have to "take a stand" on Rush Limbaugh's myriad racist/sexist/insensitive remarks before going on his show last week? Did Secretary Gates have to condemn Laura Ingraham for advocating that her listeners jam the Democratic voter assistance lines in November before chatting it up last week?
So, technically, I’m not sure if you can call Mr. Jeffrey's statement a lie, or simple hypocrisy (SilentPatriot goes with the latter), but I think it's worth inclusion here.

(And having mentioned John McCain again, I should point out that I have no problem with gay marriage. Particularly marriage between passionate females.)

(I would like to apologize for that last joke; the persons responsible have been sacked. Along with their llama.)

A lawyer with the Justice Department is invoking the Fifth Amendment in the investigation of the politically-motivated firings of US Attorneys. Which, if you think about it, tells you something. The applicable part of the Fifth Amendment, in this case, reads "No person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself..." (At least, I'm pretty sure that's the important part. This counts as a grand jury, and part of the "due process of law." Of course, maybe they teach these things differently at the Pat Robertson School of Law.)

So, exactly what crime is it that she committed? Because, after all, that's the whole purpose of the Fifth Amendment. You can't use it to avoid telling the truth about other people, can you? (But again, maybe they teach these things differently at Pat Robertson U.)

However, to get ready for that same Senate testimony, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has cleared off his desk, and is devoting all his resources to preparing to testify. But it’s not going well.
Gonzales kept contradicting himself and "getting his timeline confused," said one participant who asked not to be identified talking about a private meeting. His advisers finally got "exasperated" with him, the source added. "He's not ready," Tasia Scolinos, Gonzales's public-affairs chief, told the A.G.'s top aides after the session was over, said the source.
But, as Kevin Drum points out in Washington Monthly,
If Gonzales was planning to simply tell the truth, he wouldn't "keep contradicting himself" in practice sessions and he wouldn't need to bring his schedule to a standstill in order to figure out what he's planning to say. He'd just review the appropriate documents to make sure he had his dates straight and then tell Congress what happened.
You know, you'd hope that people elected to the highest offices in the country would think that it was their duty to be honest and forthright with the American people.

But of course, if you believe that, then you must also be living in Never-never Land. Right next door to John McCain.