It Doesn’t Matter

Not to be callous toward the troops in the field, but the frustrating truth about our Iraq dilemma is that it doesn’t matter what we do there.

We may very well send a surge of additional troops. If I thought we could send enough to beat down the insurgency in an Enderian fashion—say, half a million troops or so—I would support it. Seriously. But we don’t have those kinds of resources. I must say, I have very much enjoyed the current president’s calls to grow the military, as if he has some magic wand he can just wave at it and make that happen. He has a wand, all right, but it isn’t magic. It rhymes with “belective bervice.”

We could leave. But there’s one thing the current president says that I believe: If we leave, all kinds of poop will hit the ceiling fan. The civil war will escalate. You risk invasions from all kinds of abutting nations. And, the United States loses more face and more ground in the Arab world. And, while I don’t drive Esther the Car all that much, I still wouldn’t like perhaps paying $12 a gallon for gasoline.

We could redeploy, but I’m skeptical about that option. I suspect we’d just end up having to invade all over again.

That, my friends, is why it is accurate to refer to Iraq as a “quagmire,” also known as “rock, meet hard place,” and it’s why the whole thing is so darned frustrating. There are no good options. None. As Joshua aptly noted in 1983’s “War Games,” the only winning move was not to play. Which, by the way, some of us have been saying all along.

So my hope is that the 110th Congress won’t spend a heck of a lot of time trying to frame our present Iraq policy. The current president is telegraphing quite specifically that he doesn’t intend to listen, and he can do that. I hope our new Congress will spend much of its time and resources investigating, investigating, investigating. I want the sky to turn black with subpoenas. I want impeachment hearings and war crimes tribunals. In particular, I want the Cheney Energy Task Force blown wide open: I predict that in 2007, we’re going to learn that the Task Force was central to this administration’s bit-champing.

Our new Congress needs to be a bulldawg. Hope they will.

A Style Point

When I write about this stuff, I struggle about how to refer to the man who occupies the Oval Office.

I have vacillated from wanting to at least have respect for the office to wanting to express my utter contempt for the man—I have been known to steal Stephanie Miller’s “Chimpy McCokespoon,” for instance.

It is upon reading Sarah Vowell’s excellent book, “Assassination Vacation,” that I have come across a phrase that strikes a nice balance. She writes:

“On the bus home, I flip through my Assassins program from the night before and read the director’s note. Of course talking about the murders of previous presidents is going to open the door to discussing the current president. That’s what I like to call him, ‘the current president.’ I find it difficult to say or type his name, George W. Bush. I like to call him ‘the current president’ because it’s a hopeful phrase, implying that his administration is only temporary.”

Thank you, Sarah Vowell. From now on, in this space, Chimpy will be known as “the current president.”

Dear Congressman Goode,

I am writing to you today to thank you for making all Virginia residents look like lip-doodling, drooling morons.

Your recent letter to supporters regarding the already bottom-feeding “controversy” regarding what bound stack of papers Rep.-Elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota will rest his palm upon when his photograph is taken as he pretends to be sworn in has managed somehow inexplicably to make more of this towering non-issue than has already been made of it, and you managed as well to prove yourself to be an ignoramus.

Your reaction to the Ellison story was to bring up the subject of illegal immigration, an issue that is, surprisingly, totally unrelated to the bizarre concern over this story. You see: Keith Ellison is an AMERICAN CITIZEN. He was born and reared in the United States of America. There was nothing untoward about his election, and there is no reason or law that forbids any American from serving in Congress because of religious affiliation.

Not to mention, Congressman: Why on Earth would you want a Muslim man to have his photograph taken as he pretends to be sworn in with his palm flattened down upon a Bible, a book that is not meaningful to him as he practices his faith in God? Would you not rather he pretend to swear in on the book into which he places his full faith in all its glory? I sure would.

I understand that political grandstanding using religious veracity and fear is an easy thing to do these days. It will certainly garnish you a headline or four. But, Congressman, it does not make you a good leader. And, it occurs to me that, if you’re going to participate in such grandstanding, the least you could do is lend your schtick a bit of sophistication, or, at least, a bit of humor.

Here’s a good place to start, sir: When it comes time for YOUR swearing-in ceremony, I think you should have not just one, but NINE Bibles at the ready. Place the Bibles one on top of the other, so you have to STRETCH up your hand to reach the top one to pretend to take your oath. Then, when you need a good picture for yourself to use, you can hand one to your supporters that shows that YOU LITERALLY SWORE ON A STACK OF BIBLES.

How do you like them apples?

Aaron B. Pryor
Arlington, Va.

A Modest Execution Solution

I do not believe in the death penalty. But like a lot of things I don’t believe in—the invasion and occupation of Iraq, SUVs, tax exempt churches, criminal penalties for drug use—we have them and we will continue to have them until Americans get as smart as I am. Not likely that will happen in my lifetime. So just a few thoughts on this foolishness about lethal injections that fail.

The most humane method of executing someone, from the perspective of the victim, is probably the guillotine. I suspect it is no scarier to be led up to the blade and be laid out on it than being led to a scaffold or an electric chair, or strapped to a gurney. You are aware the whole time that you are in your waning minutes, and the devices you see will kill you. At least with a Guillotine, it’s fast, and probably not very painful. I suspect the same could be said of a quick shot to the head with a 12 gauge, or a 30 Calibre bullet to the heart (which as I recall is what they do in Utah).

The problem with these quick and easy methods is that from the perspective of the killer, they leave lasting impressions. I hope I can report with some satisfaction and sense of human progress that we no longer take joy from lifting heads out of the basket and displaying them to the crowds.  Still, whacking off a head is a messy business. It would require that someone clean it up, wash down the killing room, remove the separate parts. Same for the shot to the head. Shot to the heart is less messy, but they say they use a full firing squad with only one person having a bullet, so that the shooters don’t know for sure that they caused the death…deniability, the theory is, spares the conscience. And what if one misses? (And why is it that
firing squads are queasier than hangmen?)

Hanging was for many years viewed as a humane way to do it if you tied the rope right. It is the oldest of the no muss no fuss methods. So clean in fact that lynching crowds in the American south often cut off body parts before the hanging, just for sport, and the Brits did the drawing and quartering thing.

In modern times, however, we have sought out “humane” ways to kill that did not leave a mess. The electric chair, for example. No one seemed to be too bothered by the smell of singed hair and cooked brains. In general it left an intact package that could easily be carted off. Gas was used for a while in some states,  California used it on Carrol Chessman, and the Feds used it on the Rosenbergs.

The lethal injection seems to be the perfect killing tool for those who want to think they are being humane and also want to avoid the problem of mopping up. So why is it so hard? Apparently the guy that first recommended it suggested a complex drug cocktail that would do its work fast and painlessly…but only if administered just right, which of course, no one seems to be able to do. Incompetents are everywhere, even in the killng rooms of our nation’s prisons.

Let me make a suggestion. Use morphine. Lots of it. 1,000 milligrams. Maybe More. It’s clean. Its painless, and if you screw it up the victim won’t give a shit. He’ll just ask for more.

The Blind Executing The Blind

I’ve noted this to some extent in this space before: Just being alive these days and looking around can really allow a person to witness some mind-boggling bullshit. Take, for instance, the temporary stay on executions in two states this week.

It seems that the state of Florida went to put to death the some-would-say ironically named Angel Nieves Diaz, convicted of murdering the manager of a topless bar 27 years ago, and, as it turns out, killing a person has the potential to actually cause him a bit of discomfort. It took 34 minutes and two injections, and the autopsy later showed that the reason for the delay was the the initial needle pierce went into and through the intended vein, so the initial spurt of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and/or potassium chloride, entered his tissue, not his blood.

Following this case, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, fresh from watching his Daddy cry like a wimp over him, said he’d sign no more death warrants until we can decide whether killing a person by injecting three drugs into his body might hurt if it’s not carried out in a textbook fashion, or, um, even if it is. And, quite clearly exercising his rabid commie California values, a federal court ordered that state to “revamp” its system of state-sponored killing, calling the current state of affairs “unconstitutional.”

Am I a simpleton for thinking that whether it hurts or not is not the central ethical issue to be concerned with here? Isn’t it time for the United States of America to stop dragging its knuckles on this and to catch up with all the rest of the other “civilized” nations of the world by banishing state-sponsored executions into the trash heap to join slavery, virus-laden blankets, and wiping with pine cones?

A new compelling voice is speaking about this issue: Robert Meeropol. Meeropol knows a bit of something regarding this issue. He is the son of Ethel and Julius Rosenburg. He is also a board member on the Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, a victims’ rights group that opposes the death penalty. I heard him interviewed on what seems my perennial source, The Rachel Maddow Show, last week.

Meeropol offered what to me was the most compelling argument against state-sponored executions that I’ve ever heard. This barbaric practice only gives birth to more victims, he said (I am paraphrasing). It creates more orphans, more widows, more families who’ve lost siblings and children and cousins. More hauntingly, the state-sponsored killing helps the initial shit splattered by the initial crime to end up all over the faces of the criminal’s family members. People point at and fear relatives of the condemned. So, it would seem that an execution spreads the trial, conviction, and eventual sentence, on to the innocent, spreading stigma like E. coli in a Taco Bell crudette plate.

Ghandi is reported to have said that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Here we are in this country, stumbling around like Clarisse in Buffalo Bill’s basement, still splitting hairs about how and when it’s okay for the government to end an adult’s life. The official stance is that the act itself does not violate the Eighth, but if there’s pain involved, well, lock up the guillotine.

I personally oppose the “death penalty” among other reasons because it cheapens liberty in a country supposedly built upon the principle that liberty means more to us than life. But Jeb and Judge Jeremy D. Fogel have brought yet another to light: Our awkward ethical mambo regarding the issue makes us look like a bunch of damned fools.   

Question One About Iraq

I don’t know about you, but I find the release today of the Iraq Study Group report to be utterly annoying. After all, it says what Democrats have been saying for a few years now only to be pointed at and called “faggots.”

More annoying than that, though, is that its purpose is to address question three, while not even attempting for a moment to talk about question one.

Sorry, skipped ahead: There are three essential questions about Iraq.

The third question, addressed by the ISG report, is: “Well, now what?” It is obviously an important question, though I think questions one and two are just as important.

Question two is nicely discussed in Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. It is: “Well, if you’re going to do that, shouldn’t you at least do it right?”

The first question, the one that’s been resolved the least effectively but the one that’s still vital, one many Amercans have just given up on or even one that they’re ashamed for some reason to want addressed, is: “What the hell did you do that for?”

Question one should be tattooed backward onto George W. Bush’s forehead. He should have an iPod stapled to his head looping nothing but Cindy Sheehan saying “What the hell did you do that for? What the hell did you do that for? What the hell did you do that for?” (which is, essentially, what she wanted to ask him in the first place). He should be forced to write a 500-word essay titled “What The Hell I Did That For,” and points will be taken off for spelling and grammar.

Because as of today, the number of Americans killed in this Dirty Big War has passed 2,900.

That’s the population of Hampshire, Ill. It’s the number of people killed in coal mining accidents in China. It’s 151 more people than were killed in the World Trade Center.

We watched George W. Bush and his closest staffers mouth like synchronized swimmers that, if we hesitated, the smoking gun could become a turnip truck. I mean, mushroom cloud. And they had to Zamboni away from that rationale and on down the road, until now, when, as noted in my first graf, all they’ve got left is to point at their opponents and call ’em homos.

We are nowhere near coming close to answering question one. We’re not even asking it anymore; we got shamed out of asking it anymore. But we can’t just shrug our shoulders anymore and figure that we broke it and bought it and had it bagged and that we’re on our way back to the car now so we might as well not ask what happened. It’s still relevant. It’s still important. It is still indeed Question Number One. So jot it down and stick it in your wallet for in case you run into your congressman or your mayor or your president tomorrow, so you can look him right in his eyes and go, Sir, I have an important question for you: What the hell did you do that for?  


O.J. Simpson for UN Ambassador

(Writer’s Note: Some phrases and central ideas in this were blatantly stolen from Air America Radio’s Rachel Maddow Show, 6-8 p.m. weeknights on your local AAR affiliate or XM167.)

JOHN BOLTON leaves big shoes to fill, big, stinky, gooey, angry shoes with an ugly mustache. Who should fill them? Who, who, who?

One report has it that none other than fresh ex-incumbent Rick “Man-On-Dog” Santorum might be nominated, a development that might prove nearly as entertaining as that video clip of Starr Jones getting beaned with a football. If said report is true, or even if it simply smacks of truthiness, the intended trend is clear and should come as no surprise to the administration that launched a thousand “Brownies You’re Doing A Heck Of A Jobs.”

After all, there’s not one person on-board at the White House today who didn’t pee a little upon first hearing the oft-quoted quoth from Grover Norquist that he’d like to make government so small he can drown it. Surely you’ve heard the rumor that they sometimes go paintballing and make Danny Quayle dress up like Big Government. That was, after all, the idea of sticking JOHN BOLTON at the UN.

You see, JOHN BOLTON padded his resume for the job with the following quote: “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining
superpower, which is the United States.” At which point, fire erupted from JOHN BOLTON’s nostrils and left his mustache bizarrely and permanently grayed.

So you see, the most sterling qualification a person can have to work with this administration is to despise the very thing you’re being asked to serve. JOHN BOLTON is perhaps the best example of this principle at work EVAR.

If you can’t choose someone who hates the institution so much that they may very well be tempted to thrash it and pee on it, then you can settle perhaps for a captain of the represented industry, who can at least work to stack the deck while he’s in so he can benefit from fewer regulations and more loopholes on his way out. Or, you can just staff the position with someone so hopelessly incompetent and unqualified for the job that he’ll make the entire agency look so woefully horrible that you can tear the whole thing down and start over and hope nobody notices while you’re extracting its canines in the process.

I think, however, that in these bleak times for the lame-duck low-approval-rating Bush administration, there’s another option that has yet to be exercised: Use the nomination to convince the country that you’re raving lunatic batshit crazy and then remind everone that you’re the one with the launch codes. You nominate Orenthal James Simpson to be the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations.

Hey. You could do worse.

(Namely: Congress could have approved the nomination of JOHN BOLTON.)

Gory Old Poopers

Ladies and gentlemen, another guest column from my Dear Old Dad:

Here is a puzzle. What does the GOP believe in? If you were a completely objective observer, standing on the outside looking in, what would you conclude they believe in? I know there are a lot of Republicans who are honest and sincere when they say they believe in small government, or are pro-business, or moral correctness, national defense, democracy.

Small government? Well, that’s a good one, except that there has yet to be a Republican administration that actually tried to do this, and I am not sure it is a valid basis for building a government anyway. The only administrations to reduce the size of the government in the last 50 years have been Democratic. Raygun thought it was more important to build up the military industrial complex. Busch has effectively neutered the government by establishing an incompetent kleptocracy, but he has not made it any smaller. The Raygun had it right, I think. A government needs to be as big as it needs to be to get the job done. If we have to beef it up to destroy the evil empire, then so be it. Raygun knew that. I will not speculate on what Dubya knows or does not know. My guess is he does not know much of anything.

Pro-business? A case can be made that Republicans are pro-business, but not necessarily pro-all-business. Republicans are pro-established business, like the oil business. By choosing industries to be for, they don’t necessarily help other businesses that might be more important to our future. Alternative fuels, for example. Pro the drug companies, opposed to the legitimate interests of small business in low cost health care for employees. Opposed to immigration, opposed to the legitimate interest of small businesses in low cost labor. Pro WallMart, opposed to Target.

Pro morality…There are absolute moralities and relative moralities. I suggest it is absolutely immoral to pervert the Constitution, invade the privacy of citizens, torture prisoners. Republicans think this is patriotic. Relativism makes this morality thing all the more complicated. So, whose morality? At what point in history? Had Republicans had their way, miscegenation would still be considered a moral imperative. Should government enforce the rigid morality of the Catholic Church? (I guess torture would be okay, then. They had the Inquisition, after all.) The gentle world view of the Quakers? Is it moral to deny the rights granted to heterosexual parents to same-sex parents? You can’t build a government on morality. Surely you can’t really build a political movement on it either.

National Defense. We would hope that the Republican party is in favor of national defense. Who isn’t? I think a case can be made that all those Republicans who favor an established religion would be more comfortable with Sharia than any Democrat. Certainly it is one of the dumbest notions Republicans have tried to promote that Free Thinking Democrats are somehow soft on Islamic terrorism. But do Republicans really care about National Defense? Would a true proponent of national defense create a phony war and squander our military power in the interest of winning an election? The most important issues of defense have been ignored by the Republican party for the last five years. They have payed lip service to homeland security and squandered billions on a useless bloodbath in Iraq. They have invested nothing in protecting our nuclear power plants, our ports, our major population centers from renewed terrorist attack. They have failed to establish any kind of intelligence network that understands Islamic cultures.  (The FBI trains Russian speakers, but has only 33 employees who have any familiarity (not fluency) with Farsi.) And we are no longer in a position to address the issue of Korean nuclear arms because we have no army to stand behind us. It’s tied down in Iraq.

Democracy? Republicans have openly and proudly participated in stolen elections and vote(re)/supression. They have had protestors arrested and or harrassed by police outside Busch and Chaney rallies, George Macaca Allen stood by while his stooges beat up a reporter, George Busch says people who do not agrtee with him are traitors. Sounds more like facism than democracy.

So what do Republicans believe in? Lining their pockets with government money. Taking that money from the middle class. Torturing captives. Censoring critics. Hating hispanics.