Saturday, November 26, 2005


(This column will appear in the 12-1-05 THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL)

Misuse of intelligence to justify invading Iraq. Kerry’s “true” Vietnam War record. Privatizing Social Security to enrich fat cat Republican Wall Street brokerage firms. Clinton’s inexcusable failure to capture Osama Bin Laden. FEMA’s Mike Brown, the failed executive from The Arabian Horse Association, and his spectacularly inept response to Katrina.

You name it, and the Blogosphere has fierce, take no prisoners advocates on either side of an issue. (“Blog” is short for “web log,” sites on the Internet where persons can post information, comments, photos, and more.) Also known as “Cyberspace,” this is the one venue in modern America where political musings and diatribes are measured by their wit, their passion, their veracity, or lack of same. It is one place in our country where all persons have an equal opportunity to persuade.

Anyone with access to a computer can create a website- and they range from the fancy and well heeled (millionairess Arianna Huffington’s launched with great fanfare last year), to the obscure and inexpensive (i.e. my own modest costs me nothing and lets me post pictures along with essays, including my Albany Journal columns). Even if you don’t have a website, you are free to roam the electronic universe and post comments on other people’s websites. It’s just like writing letters to the editor, but usually there is no editor, swearing and scatological comments are permitted, and they are immediate, appearing within seconds on the website for all to see.

Comments posted on websites such as The Washington Monthly can range from the rabid right wing:

No way is GWB even below average. His achievements in the GWOT are historic. We have 25M Afghan tasting freedom and prospering for the 1st time in 1,000 years. We will have a prosperous Democracy in Iraq and have completely re-written the rules regarding terrorism. Arafat was Bill's best friend. GWB exposed him as a total fraud and piece of garbage. He was Bills most frequent Oval office visitor. Bush correctly refused to meet him. We've seen the effects in Lebanon, Libya, the Ukrane and other places... What GWB has done globally has been brilliant tactical diplomacy...
Posted by: rdw on November 21, 2005 at 8:15 PM

To the irrepressible, unabashed left:

Daddy Bush managed to get the Turks to buy in. I wonder why little Bush failed so miserably, at such a key portion of the pre war planning? ...Too bad little Bush let the world down with this latest miserable failure in his life, which is a long list of miserable failure after miserable failure... All because Cheney sold our nation's credibility for a few good quarters on the Halliburton balance sheet.
Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on November 21, 2005 at 8:18 PM

And from the drily witty:

“The interesting thing here is that we will be withdrawing about 60,000 troops by a year from now. That's the Bush plan”. (from rdw’s comment)

The original plan was to be down to about 30,000 troops by fall 2003. How'd that work out?
Posted by: Stefan on November 21, 2005 at 6:34 PM”

To the blunt:

Bush will be remembered as the new Warren Harding, and Iraq his expensive and disatrous Teapot Dome
Posted by: phleabo on November 21, 2005 at 7:43 PM

Net surfers can glom onto whatever political viewpoint suits their interest or curiosity- including right wing blogs, such as The National Review Online, which gives us print commentators such as Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg, and Victor Davis Hanson’s website. Hanson, a rising syndicated conservative commentator, was reported to have been brought in to brief White House staffers. He, Lowry and Goldberg are apparently part of the Republican “talking points” network, whose recipients receive their faxed or e-mailed talking points to defuse the latest Bush Administration imbroglio or national Republican scandal. (Jon Stewart’s capable staff at The Daily Show continually delights in skewering the administration’s apologists by running rapid clips of the Bush Bots repeating the same phrases- i.e. virtually simultaneous whining about the alleged “criminalization of politics” came out of the mouths of Administration spokespersons and right wing political pundits in the wake of Tom Delay’s money laundering indictment).

Unlike talk radio, which is dominated by the rabid right- Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, and Sean Hannity (other than Air America, which can’t be heard over the air in SW Ga. or most other places, I couldn’t think of a “left wing” talk show), the best writing and research in blogs come from the left. Atrios, Daily Kos, This Modern World, Billmon, Washington Monthly have all reported stories that later hit the mainstream media, and the debates and discussions there are generally steeped in facts and analysis of the highest order.

One key difference between the left and the right in the blogosphere is that the best leftish blogs permit their audience to post comments, regardless of ideology. By contrast, most right wing blogs either remove critical comments, or, like the National Review and Hanson websites, won’t permit any dissent in their well ordered universe, where the war in Iraq is a resounding success and President Bush is a brilliant theorist. If this sounds like hyperbole or a line from Harriet Myers’ resume, consider this paragraph from Hanson’s November 23rd commentary (

"The president misled us." "Still no WMDs." "If I had only known then what I do now…"
This is the intellectual level of Democratic wartime criticism about the Bush administration as we near the third Iraqi election — the one that will finally give faces to the first truly elected parliamentary government in the Arab world. So what is behind this crying game at home — when we are so close to achieving our goals abroad?

Ah yes, “so close to achieving our goals” in Iraq. Sounds like Dick “the insurgency is in its last throes” Cheney has found a soulmate in Victor Davis Hanson, whose expertise and Ph.D. are not in political science, but in the classics of ancient Greece and Rome (in this, Hanson resembles his fellow charlatans like “Dr. Phil” and “Dr. Laura”who aren’t “real” doctors who treat human maladies.)

So no matter who you are, if you are looking for validation, information, well reasoned debate, irrational diatribes, or hypocrites repeating their scripted lines from the Republican National Committee and Karl Rove’s White House, the blogosphere is the place to go.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


(this column will appear in 11-24-05 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

I grew up just outside Johnstown, Pennsylvania. When I was off in law school in 1974, a former Marine from Johnstown who served in Korea and Vietnam was elected to succeed the venerable Congressman who had died after years of service. The new Democratic Representative was John Murtha. Congressman Murtha went on to chair the House Subcommittee on Defense and became one of the most respected public servants on issues involving defense and the military, frequently being consulted by the first President Bush during the 1991 Gulf War. His character is apparent from a recent encounter he had at a military hospital: he became angry when informed that a wounded American Marine- blinded and having lost both hands- would not receive a Purple Heart because his injuries came from “friendly fire.” Murtha met with the Commandant of the Marine Corps and told him “if you don’t give him a Purple Heart, I’ll give him one of mine.” And they gave him a Purple Heart.

Last week, 73 year old Pennsylvania Congressman John P. “Jack” Murtha made the speech of his 30 year Congressional career. After loyally carrying water for Democratic and Republican administrations alike, after voting in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq, and after re-affirming that position in 2004, the 37 year veteran of the Marine Corps, who earned a Bronze Star with Combat V and two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, addressed the nation on the issue of Iraq, calling for a six month phased pullout of American troops:

“The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We can not continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.”

The Congressman’s website posted the speech, which ends with the following, in capital letters: “IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME.”

Within 48 hours, Murtha was called a coward on the House of Representatives by Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmitt of Ohio, who was roundly booed for her incredible blunder. He was vilified by President Bush’s press secretary as a member of the “Michael Moore” extreme liberal left and criticized by Vice President Dick Cheney. His name was prominently featured in Saturday Night Live’s opening skit during a mock Presidential press conference, and he appeared on Meet the Press the next morning.

Although host Tim Russert continually attempted to bait Murtha, he took the high road, refusing to engage in personal attacks on his critics or on President Bush, continually espousing the hope that Americans would begin a bipartisan debate on extracting our troops from Iraq, and predicting that the pullout would occur before the 2006 midterm elections.

Murtha did not come to his position easily or lightly. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette,

“...before he formed his conclusions and made his speech, he made numerous inquiries of the Bush Defense Department asking what was being done about shortages in body armor and special radio jammers that could prevent insurgents from remotely activating bombs planted to kill U.S. soldiers. [On a recent visit to Iraq], when he flew to his destination, he was accompanied by two Black Hawk helicopters and flanked by two Apache helicopters on either side of his plane.

‘I talked to the commander on the ground and he said every convoy is attacked,’ Mr. Murtha said. ‘So I knew the situation's not getting better.’”

Last year, top American commanders in the region had already noted that American combat operations had made the insurgency worse. On May 9, 2004, The Washington Post reported that Major General Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, responded when asked whether he believes the United States is losing: “I think strategically, we are.”

The Post also reported that Army Colonel Paul Hughes, the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad who is involved in formulating Iraq policy, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. “Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically. I lost my brother in Vietnam. I promised myself, when I came on active duty, that I would do everything in my power to prevent that [sort of strategic loss] from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in."

In May of 2005, the infamous “Downing Street Memo” not only revealed that the Bush Administration was fixing the intelligence prior to the war, but also confirmed that the neo-cons running America’s foreign policy had neglected to plan for the aftermath of a successful invasion of Iraq. By failing to provide enough troops to secure numerous ammunition dumps, the Bush Administration in effect armed the insurgency, which was able to simply walk in and carry off explosive ordinance which they have been using to blow up American soldiers and Iraqi civilians over the last two and a half years.

On Meet the Press, Murtha explained he changed his position because not only had there been no progress in the last year and a half, matters were getting worse. He cited the escalating American casualties and the fact that polls showed eighty percent of Iraqis want Americans out, with forty-five percent agreeing that the attacks on Americans were justified. Murtha readily admitted to Russert that his 2002 vote to authorize the President to use force in Iraq was a mistake.

As much as he wanted to support his President, Congressman Murtha could no longer abide a policy which was destroying America’s military, its finances, and its credibility. He told the nation last week that America needs to do the following:

* To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
* To create a quick reaction force in the region.
* To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines.
* To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

In Murtha’s speech last week, with tears on his cheeks, he told Americans: “This war needs to be personalized. As I said before, I have visited with the severely wounded of this war. They are suffering. Because we in Congress are charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, it is our responsibility, our obligation, to speak out for them. That's why I am speaking out. Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.”

Within three and a half years after Pearl Harbor, America had helped defeat the greatest military powers in the world and freed all of Europe and eastern Asia. Two and half years after the fall of Baghdad, the Bush Administration can’t guarantee safe landings at the Baghdad airport or the safety of travelers on any road from the airport to the American headquarters downtown. So when Congressman Murtha tells America that it is time to bring the troops home, his word should carry a lot more weight than Dick Cheney's, who sought and received five deferments during the Vietnam War because he had "other priorities."

Monday, November 14, 2005


(This column will appear in THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL on 11-17-05)

Most important thing in life: Live every moment to the fullest and love like you'll never be hurt.
From bio of ex-Carolina Panthers Cheerleader Renee Thomas.

We are a schizophrenic society. We sell everything- everything!- with sex. Women with silicone breasts spilling out of tight gowns pose next to everything from pickup trucks to chewing gum. One of the most disgusting products ever marketed- cigarettes- is pushed on suggestible youngsters by “cool” sexy Hollywood stars and provocative ads like the infamous Joe Camel campaign. Men being men, we can’t help but react when serious cleavage is thrown our way. So when the Internet lit up on the first Sunday in November with the story of two drunken Carolina Panther cheerleaders being arrested in Tampa, Florida, after being caught having sex in a bathroom stall at Banana Joe’s- now there’s a nightclub that will be packing them in for the next few months- then assaulting patrons who complained that they were tying up the bathroom- gosh, I’ve got to take a timeout here, this one’s just too good. I took an informal poll of the class I teach at Albany State University, and two out of three college males were highly aware of the story. The two females in the class had no idea what I was referring to. By the end of the week, they all had heard the story.

I would bet fifty bucks right now that you could walk into any bar in America and ask the next three guys you see if they heard about the Carolina Panther Cheerleaders, and two out of three (and most likely three) would not only say yes, but they’d tell you they preferred the blonde over the brunette. Penthouse made the pair an offer to pose within days of their arrests and dismissal from the Panthers’ cheerleading squad. The Panthers official team website had so many hits it had to shut down for a day, displaying only an official team logo. Their mug shots were on the internet within hours, next to their official team photos- which were removed from the team’s website when it resumed operations.

So what’s wrong with us? Why are Americans so schizophrenic about sex? Last year the Republican Party mobilized millions to the polls in places as disparate as Ohio and Georgia by promising an opportunity to cast a vote to keep two guys in Massachusetts or California from tying the knot. Yet the vast majority of the males who cast those ballots wouldn’t hesitate a moment if given the opportunity to see photos of Angela Ellen Keathley and Renee Thomas, the blonde and brunette, respectively, who were busted in Tampa for reacting violently when women pounded on the door to the restroom stall where they were carrying on. Apparently the only gay marriage that offends us is when two males- or unattractive females- want to enter into a legally binding commitment. Put two hot looking female cheerleaders into the mix, and male hormones, at least, override the bigotry genes.

If you think about it logically, women should be the ones up in arms over gay men marrying, while men should look on the practice as an opportunity to improve the odds of landing a female companion as potential competition removes itself from the dating marketplace. Yet women, who lose a prospect every time a guy prefers another guy, are pretty much accepting of gay males. At least that’s true in my informal poll, which includes the admittedly intelligent and educated subset of the female populace. Meanwhile, men have a visceral negative reaction to two gay males getting it on. Ewww is their natural reaction- and the votes at the polls, typically above the 75 percent level opposing gay marriage- pretty much proved it in 2004.

In fact, if you look at issues which are considered “hot button” in American politics, many of them have a connection to sex: abortion, gay marriage, sex education in the schools, condom distribution, censorship of television and movies. Europe, by contrast, can’t understand the infantile reaction of Americans to sex. They’ve had nudity on their over the air television for decades, and their civilizations haven’t imploded as a result. (France doesn’t count.)

But there is one thing that trumps sex in America- and that’s violence. If you’ve ever been to a Hollywood slasher Halloween Freddy Texas Chainsaw Massacre type movie, you’ll note that the victims are frequently young, good looking, and female. (This observation being based solely on the previews, since I’ve never paid a penny to attend one of those simple minded gore-fests.) I’ve never forgotten the advertising campaign for the 1971 Dustin Hoffman movie, Straw Dogs, which opened in London when I was in school there, and was still showing in America when I came home for Christmas. In England, the movie posters were all about the sexy actress who played Hoffman’s young British wife; in America, posters focused solely on the violence at the end of the movie when Hoffman had to fight a whole town to protect a murder suspect. Unfortunately for our cultural maturity, thirty-four years later, things haven’t changed a bit.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


As Katrina victims died in New Orleans waiting for FEMA, President Bush was on the road in Phoenix touting his campaign to channel Social Security billions to his Wall Street friends

(This column will appear in The Albany Journal for 11-10-05)

"I want that dumb public money coming across my desk." Comment by stockbroker excited by President Bush's Social Security privatization plan.

Almost lost in the wake of the FEMA foulup following Katrina, the Scooter Libby perjury indictment, and the failed Supreme Court nomination of the spectacularly unqualified Harriet Miers, is the fact that on August 30, 2005, the day after Katrina devastated New Orleans, President Bush’s Social Security “reform” roadshow was still in full swing. Although it’s probably safe to say that the country is now safe from Mr. Bush’s nefarious attempts to gut the Social Security program and send billions of dollars in investment income to his Wall Street cronies, that doesn’t mean that reforming Social Security has to be a dead issue. If the Democratic Party has any sense (an improbable hope, since after numerous exploratory expeditions from the grassroots, there are still few signs of intelligent life among nationally prominent Democrats), it will embrace the opportunity for a national debate on Social Security reform and propose legislation that will maintain the integrity of the program, broaden the tax base to assure a continued flow of benefits as Baby Boomers ease into their golden years, and reduce overall tax rates, which will, not incidentally, provide a much needed boost to the nation’s economy.

The average person might believe President Bush when he says that the status of the Social Security Trust Fund is a present day "crisis" because, based on current projections, by the year 2042, the fund will be "bankrupt." What President Bush doesn't say, because it would defeat his proposal- the specifics of which are still a secret he won't share- is that in his dictionary, if the Trust Fund can only pay you 99 percent of what it owes you, then the system is "bankrupt." Of course, the "crisis" could easily be fixed simply by removing the current $87,000 cap on income taxed for Social Security and by requiring the superwealthy living off their interest and capital gains to pay their fair share of taxes. Currently, a billionaire who doesn't work a minute a year and who annually earns $100 million in interest or capital gains will not pay a penny in Social Security taxes. (As a sidenote, if President Bush gets his way, they also won't pay a penny in Federal income taxes.) In stark contrast, a manual laborer who works 50- 60 hours a week and earns $40,000 a year, will pay over $6,000 a year into Social Security. Should the laborer die unmarried and childless before his 65th birthday, he will never get back a dime of the tens of thousands of dollars he contributed to the system.

If you are wondering why the President thinks that Social Security is a "crisis" needing fixing because in 38 years it may not be able to pay back 100 cents on every dollar owed, but he has no plans to resolve either Medicaid or Medicare spending (Medicare's trust fund will really be broke in less than 15 years) and he completely ignores the current federal budget shortfall of over $400 billion every year, you only have to listen to investment bankers and CEO's who hold stock options from their publicly traded companies. Here are two quotes, courtesy of "The Cunning Realist" website (, from President Bush's financial backers who are the real motivating factor behind his push for Social Security "reform:"

"I want that dumb public money coming across my desk."

"This executive sees one shining beacon in the fog of increasingly strict accounting standards and a difficult business environment: The prospect of Social Security reform. He told me that he and many of his colleagues at other companies favor the creation of private accounts, because a new source of demand for his stock will help compensate for the increasing unattractiveness of his company from an investment perspective."

Now, if you still think the President has your best interests at heart when he says diverting money to private accounts is the best solution to the "crisis," ask him where he plans on getting the money to make up the immediate shortfall in Social Security taxes if his privatization proposal (whatever it is) is put into effect? Answer: the government will have to borrow the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to pay its current obligations to Social Security recipients, increasing our dangerous budget deficit to even higher levels.

Democrats have the opportunity to tell Americans what they will do if they obtain a majority in either or both houses of Congress. My suggestion is that our country preserve benefits guaranteed by the current program, broaden tax bases by removing caps on earnings and by including interest and capital gains income to let the wealthy pay their fair share, and reduce overall rates to let those earning less than $87,000 a year have more disposable earnings. Cutting the tax rates will provide a stimulus to the economy, but raising the caps and expanding the base to the superwealthy will keep us from having to borrow to fund the tax rate cut.