20 April 2008

Bill Moyer's is, like, a GOD!

I can't say how much I respect Bill Moyer's and his Bill Moyer's Journal on PBS.

This week's episode is just another example of his integrity and critical examination of the issues. The guest was Leila Fadel, who's the Baghdad bureau chief for the McClatchy Newspapers (formerly Knight-Ridder).

You should go to the website ( to see a full transcript or the video of the interview. Fadel focused on the human beings (both the U.S. forces and Iraqis) who are over there, and its frustrating and heartbreaking to see how many lives are being ruined because our leaders (and theirs) have to make a point, preserve their honor, or some such other rubbish justifying slaughter.

A telling anecdote is one Fadel related about her embedded experience with a U.S. squad that was squatting in an abandoned house in Sadr City. The owner showed up and wanted to move back in but the soldiers wouldn't let him. They wouldn't even allow him to come in to gather some things for his daughter; the translator gathered them and slipped them through the door. When Fadel asked a soldier what he would do if a foreign army occupied his house, the soldier said he would tear down half of it to get back in or take up arms against the occupier. When she followed up by asking him how this was different from what the Iraqis were doing, he replied, "But we're trying to help them." (I paraphrase here but the idea is the same -- we're the good guys and only criminals would even contemplate opposing us.)

It's frightening to see such a disconnect with reality and a lack of empathy.

A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq?

Well, maybe.

While reading the latest issue of The Nation magazine, I came across this website: It's a group of Democratic candidates who have devised a strategy for rolling back the worst excesses of the criminals currently running our Executive and their collaborators in Congress.

It aims to end U.S. military action in Iraq, promote diplomatic solutions, restore Constitutional checks and balances, repair the damage to the military, amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and promote energy-independence policies.

I added my name to the list of endorsees because I agree with the general goals of the proposals and it's a good start toward fixing what's wrong with this country but I still think it falls short because it lacks a sense of history and it doesn't even attempt to break out of the fallacious Cold War-era assumptions that have terrorized us for the last 60+ years.

Case in point: The authors write that "the U.S. Military [has] been instrumental in preserving our country's liberty and democracy." From whom? With the exception of the original Revolution, the War of 1812 (when British troops burned the capital), and WW2, this country's existence as a democracy has never been in danger. Prior to WW2, this country's military had always been miniscule. After every large-scale military conflict, the federal government savagely slashed military budgets and reduced troop numbers, even at the expense of economic disruption. Since WW2, unfortunately, we've bought the myth that we are the policemen of the world, that the increasing militarization of our culture is a good thing, and that the Executive needs unfettered hands to deal with all the "monsters lurking in the closet."

The first assumption we have to drop (and which I've mentioned in an earlier post) is that our military has any business intervening in a foreign country.

The author's also have little historical memory for the erosion of congressional checks on executive power. For them, the undermining begins with the war when it's been going on since WW2 (and, arguably, since the Civil War, where Lincoln unfortunately sowed the crop which we're beginning to reap now).

On page 10 of the "Responsible Plan," the authors write about the intervention of Iraq's neighbors in the country. What bothers me in particular about this bit, is that no mention is made of the ur-intervention -- OURS! U.S. policy in Iraq (and the Middle East) was a disaster by any measure before the war but the ham-handed, self-righteous arrogance of the current administration's intervention has demonstrably made it a catastrophe.

The authors set out several bills currently floating around Capitol Hill:

The first is HR 3797 (New Diplomatic Offensive for Iraq Act). Now, beyond the use of the word "offensive," which might not be the best term, it's not a bad bill but it maintains the assumption that foreign countries (i.e., the U.S. and, if necessary, other Western democracies) need to intervene in Iraq, presumably because the Iraqis don't know what they're doing.

HR 3674 and HR 2265 would address the shameful way we've treated Iraqi refugees and those who have collaborated with us (such as translators) and I support that.

Tellingly, they mention on page 16 that the authors support efforts to try war criminals but there's no mention of any congressional effort to do so and there's only vague, "feel good" sentiments about brings such criminals to justice. I wonder what the reaction would be if the Hague brought charges against Bush and Cheney? Or U.S. military personnel?

I like the authors' plans to restore the Constitution (though I think a lot could be done if Congress simply exercised its already delegated powers).

Incorporate the cost of the war into the regular budget. Good move. We should also raise taxes to pay for it. That would bring the troops out real quick.

Eliminate signing statements (my favorite). HR 3045 would prohibit courts from using signing statements as authorities in determining the meaning of an act of Congress.

Restore habeas corpus. HR 1416 would restore the right of habeas corpus to anyone detained by the government -- either military or civil authorities.

End warrentless spying (S 139).

Another favorite: End torture and rendition (HR 1352).

HR 4102 and HR 2740 would prohibit the use of mercenaries and hold contractors accountable for their contracts (there's a novel concept in DoD contracting history!).

HR 2874 would recognize how poor the physical and mental care we give to the men and women whose lives have been destroyed by the admininstration's chickenhawks has been and work to change that.

HR 2247 and HR 2702 would expand educational benefits for veterans. The only problem I have with these last two measures is: Why don't we make education assistance available to everyone? How many studies do we have to fund before we get it through our thick skulls that a well educated population is a fundamental requirement for a well functioning democracy?

HR 400 would amend the contracting process.

S 2332 attempts to diversify media ownership. From the summary presented in this report, I'm not sure it will do much toward that end. It seems to me that we need to repeal the entire Telecommunications Act and start over -- this time, not letting the telecommunications industry write the bill.

HR 2809, which proposes subsidizing plans exploring alternative-energy solutions, sounds like another one of those vague, feel-good, pie-in-the-sky" pieces of legislation that throw money at a lot of people and to which pols can point during the next election to show how concerned they are about the environment. That it would actually lead to anything is doubtful.

As I wrote above, it's a good start but it still falls short of a fundamental rethinking of America's role as a nation and how it should act to restore some measure of peace and stability to this old world.

17 April 2008

Requiem for Another Great Cat

Chester, 2006? - 2008

Today I again had the sad responsibility of putting a sick cat (and her kittens) to sleep.

Chester appeared among the ferals at my apartment complex a couple of years ago. It was heartbreakingly obvious that Chester had been abandoned - she was unafraid of humans and sought out the pat on the head or the back stroke. I considered letting her join the Clan but she looked healthy enough and I already had my nine and my apartment wasn't getting any larger.

In short, I took the coward's way out.

This last Thursday (10 Apr), Chester showed up on my patio with 2 scrawny kittens. This was too much - I no longer could look away and I lured her (and the bairns) into the apartment and scheduled an appointment with the vet.

Things look promising at the initial exam. The kittens were scrawny but otherwise appeared OK, and they went after the kitten food offered them like gangbusters. Today (17 Apr), the blood workup came back and Chester tested positive for AIDS.

I couldn't expose my "children" to AIDS and I couldn't isolate Chester from them. As this story from yesterday's Yahoo! News shows, shelters are already overwhelmed with stray and abandoned cats. The chance that an AIDS-infected cat, even a sweetheart like Chester, would be adoptable were not good. So I spared her and her children the agony of lives lived with the AIDS virus and had them put to sleep.

I will always treasure the last hour I was able to spend with Chester; and I will always hate myself for not intervening sooner and perhaps saving her life.

05 April 2008

Requiem for a Great Cat

Marvin the Martian, 2005? - 2008

In the last few months, I've had to put down four feral cats who have wandered onto my patio. The first three were relative strangers; old, sick cats who were looking for a quiet place to die. The fourth, however, who was put to sleep this morning (5 Apr), affected me more deeply because he has been a fixture around the apartment complex where I live for the last 3 years or so.

His name was Marvin the Martian.

As you can see from the photo above, he was a very handsome white/orange tabby. He was also very friendly (as far as ferals go). Outside of the patio, he acted just like any wild animal -- "Humans? I'm getting the heck outta here!" On the patio, he felt safe enough to allow me to scratch his chin and rub his back.

He suffered from cerebellar hypoplasia, a nonfatal disorder contracted in the womb, which gave him a lopsided gait.

Unfortunately, he also suffered from Feline AIDS. When he showed up on my patio scabby & balding, I managed to catch him and took him to a vet. I had hoped that it would just be a matter of curing the scabies (and finally "fixing" him) but it was not to be. In fact, his advanced case of scabies was most likely due to his ravaged immune system being unable to fight off the mites.

So this morning, I went down to the vets' and rubbed his back one last time.

I'll miss Marvin.