Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Voters need to claim power.

The shell game that is American politics is more transparent than ever. Democrats scurried from the liberal moniker like rats from a burning tenement in elections past, now Republicans are scouting out new territory in the coming midterm election. Senate seats are up for grabs and battle lines have been drawn on all of the rhetorical issues but it is clear that nobody is willing to take a stand on anything critical. At least not this far away from the election.

Republicans who are safe in this election are trying to rekindle the blind sense of nationalistic pride that provided the party with victories in elections past and of course the issue of homosexuality is back in the crosshairs, but voters seem poised to think things through this time around and it has politicians, particularly those on the right very concerned. Eight years of right wing politics has destabilized a once burgeoning economy. Prices are up, wages are down and Americans are terrified that medical care might become a luxury. And then we have war. Not one of those romantic wars where the enemy is clearly defined and progress is easily measured, but a nasty little war against ambiguous foes who seem impervious to our ponderous might.

In the coming months battles will heat up. Republicans will have to decided whether or not it’s time to throw Bush under the bus and reach toward the middle to bring the ship back to even keel, or lean even further to the right and dump the whole shebang into the murky waters of ultra-conservative politics.

Democrats won’t have to stake out much of a position. Republicans have enjoyed a staggering degree of control in Washington for the better part of eight years and the results have been awful. They managed to blame Democrats for their shortcomings in 2004, but now voters aren’t buying that one. Fool me once...can’t get fooled again. While it would be an excellent time for the Democratic Party to make its move to restore credibility and honor to the maligned cause of liberalism, it’s obvious that Howard Dean is going to lay up and play it safe counting on the power of disenfranchisement to sway voters to the left.

As reasonable as such a position might be given the state of modern politics, it’s painfully obvious that this country needs a complete overhaul of the political process. The basic structure of the government is fine, but layer upon layer of cheap paint has been slapped over what was once a masterpiece of statesmanship. When you remodel an old house you don’t tear it down and rebuild it, you rip out the shag carpet, knock out a few walls and remove the old fixtures. You get rid of the junk and invest in some high quality accessories. That’s what we need to do with our government.

Sadly the two power parties aren’t rising to that challenge. They haven’t addressed anything truly patriotic or humanitarian in decades and the corruption hangs in the air like the fetid smell of black mold. For years the ruling class has worked hard to insulate its grasp of power in this country and the result has gotten us right where we are today.

This November voters can take the keys to the kingdom back and unite to vote for candidates who are brave enough to align themselves with a third party. Libertarian, Green...even communist. It’s not really about who we elect, it’s about who we shut out. Let Democrats and Republicans sit one out and see how they respond.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rove Walks

Why is Karl Rove walking away from federal charges the least bit surprising? Was there ever any question that he would be protected from any reciprocity? Haven't these scandals always left the real culprits unscathed?

From John Adams and the XYZ Affair where bribes were paid to French diplomats, to Warren Harding's Teapot Dome scandal, deep rooted corruption has always gone largely unchecked in our government. They always put the screws to some patsy, but the power mongers who orchestrate everything walk. Who got nailed for Watergate? G. Gordon Liddy, a flunky FBI agent who was more than happy to blur the lines between duty and politics and a handful of henchmen, but Nixon resigned and was pardoned. Did any heavy hitters take the fall in the Iran Contra affair? Nope. Ollie North did some time but after he got out he was rewarded by those who appreciated him taking the fall and not naming names. He ran for office, writes a column and hosts a radio show.

What is surprising in this is the fact that Karl Rove is one of those peripheral characters who is normally offered up as a sacrifice when a scandal goes public. The Plame Affair has been linked to administration heavy Dick Cheney but as of right now the only head to roll is the one belonging to Scooter Libby. The fact that Rove is getting a pass reveals that he has a much stronger hold over this administration than anybody previously thought.

The Plame affair is a big deal. Valerie Plame's position as an active CIA operative was exposed in retaliation for her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, alleging that Bush was trying to offer bogus evidence as proof of Saddam Hussein's attempts to acquire weapons grade uranium. In fact, it took only a few days for Plame's CIA affiliation to be released after Wilson commented on the evidence.

It was a childish act of retaliation, but it sets a dangerous precedent. While it seems safe to assume that Plame wasn't a deep cover operative who was dispatched to corners of the globe to assassinate enemies and sabotage plans, the fact that CIA operations could be compromised for spite by the very men elected and appointed to guard against breaches of national security is cause for concern.

Furthermore this issue has challenged our understanding of the first amendment. Instead of accepting full responsibility for the leak, the Bush Administration has allowed some blame to be shifted on the press. Now there is serious discussion about imposing criminal charges on journalists who leak issues of national security.

That's just wrong. The press doesn't take an oath to uphold national security. In fact, the very nature of the press is the exact opposite. Reporters are supposed to be terrible at keeping secrets and nobody should expect anything they tell a reporter to remain in confidence. If that changes the press becomes censored and information falls under the control of the government. That is the ultimate form of corruption. The Bush administration is using the Valerie Plame affair, a scandal they created, to attack the media and limit the power of the press.

We expect our elected officials to uphold our national security. We trust them to hire qualified people to manage our nation's secrets and pay handsomely to ensure that said security is maintained through the worst possible scenarios. Valerie Plame wasn't a major player in the intelligence game, but the fact that this Administration would compromise the integrity of the CIA's security to retaliate against a former ambassador who dared to question the Bush Administration proves that our elected officials don't take security very seriously. How far will they go to lash out at their political enemies?

At the very least Dick Cheney should resign over this, but we know better than to expect something so appropriate. After all this is the same guy who got drunk, shot a buddy and hid from the police until his BAC was under control. Why would we expect Cheney to be a stand up guy and admit that he pulled the trigger on Valerie Plame? Even though Cheney should have taken the heat over this thing, we knew it wasn't going to happen.

The bottom line is that the Bush Administration has no qualms about being wicked. They lie, cheat and steal and don't care who knows it. They have surrounded themselves with those who never question them and even have a media network that happily obfuscates the truth for them. In spite of this country's long sordid past with scandal, this current administration has taken things to a new low. These guys aren't just corrupt, they're plain dirty and they don't care who knows it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Vatican Revealed

I haven't read The DaVinci Code. The premise for the book seems a bit convoluted and the hype all but assures me I'll be disappointed in the story. I'm not particularly interested in seeing the Movie. Frankly I just don't like Tom Hanks very much. Somewhere along the line he went from being a funny down-to-earth guy to being an elitist prick. He's dull and annoying.

This is odd because I typically enjoy anything that takes a shot at religion and the stir created over this book/movie enterprise makes The DaVinci Code interesting to me. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, but I still don't want to see or read it.

Atheism makes people uncomfortable. Even your casual practicioners of religion bristle at the notion that there are people around who laugh at the notion that there is some divine being floating amongst the clouds keeping a detailed record of who gets into heaven and who burns in hell. God could save some time and just buy Santa's list. It's not the people I dislike, but the institution of religion.

The Vatican made The DaVinci Code a huge hit. Had it not been for all the priests, bishops, cardinals and of course the Pope pitching a fit over the book and the way it represents Catholicism, Brown's tome would have flitted around the bookshelves for a few months before fading into oblivion. Nothing sells like controversy and the cloistered clowns with the Catholic church were all to happy to oblige. Cha-ching.

By the time the movie was released the Vatican realized what a hit it had made out of a mediocre book so they ignored the movie, refusing to provide any hype that might help Tom Hanks snag some award ceremony hardware. They dismissed the movie as mildly interesting at first before it slipped into a dull pseudo-thriller. Had they taken the same approach with the book there probably wouldn't be a movie unless some network executive bought the option for a summer programming filler. Anything would be better than 10.5.

The Vatican proved that it is essentially the headquarters of a very large corporation. The success of the business entity is based largely on public relations and the Catholic church has always been quick to take action based on public appeal. Recently the Vatican demonstrated more of this opportunism when church officials revealed the pontifical position of the church on current social issues.

Riding that wave of fundamentalism that has become so popular, the Vatican nominated a hardline pope with Nazi ties and has firmly staked out a position against gay marriage and birth control. This includes condoms. The church is not OK with rubbers. How's that for a giant step backward? I suppose the next step will be buying the naming rights to the NASCAR championship series when Nextel's contract is up. Catholic Cup.

The Catholic church has been promoting an abstinence only policy for nearly 2000 years. It doesn't work. Devout Catholics can't keep it in their pants. That includes priests, bishops and cardinals. Maybe young boys are part of that abstinence program, but not all clergy members are pedophiles. In this day and age, how can the Catholic church take a stand against birth control? Especially condoms.

Millions of children are born into poverty and disease. AIDS is still rampant in third world countries and other diseases are developing that resist treatment. In Latin America exploding birth rates are overwhelming the education systems and entire countries are being crushed by illiteracy, increasing poverty and a culture of drug cartels that are happily exploiting the situation. Sadly, it is in these countries where the Vatican has tremendous influence that condoms make the most sense. People in these countries have three things to look forward to: sex, drugs and church. Sadly, they take what they want from all three. The Church doesn't stop them from having sex, because they confess the sins and ask for absolution, but the hardline stance against condoms keeps disease spreading and babies coming. Forgive me father for I have sinned...but I didn't wear a rubber!

Jesus Christ was the sort of guy who would have wanted to address the welfare of his fellow man, not petty social issues. It seems that the Vatican would better serve humanity and this God they are so kooky about by implementing strategies that work instead of clinging to the myth of abstinence or railing against a couple of homos getting hitched. Somehow I think Jesus would have been a lot more interested in finding a cure for AIDS, feeding the hungry and putting an end to war than rubbers and lesbian weddings.

But the Vatican isn't in the business of making the world a better place. It's all about putting butts in the seats. They need money and that money comes from the customers. Sure they call them parishioners, but money changes hands. It's a business transaction. That body of Christ isn't free. About 20 years ago the Catholic Church softened its position on issues like birth control. While the Vatican didn't condone it, they did make it clear that using birth control was not a sin. Now, with fire and brimstone becoming popular once again, the Vatican has tinkered with its image to make the church more appealing. People don't want an understanding god these days. They wants wrath and vengeance. The Vatican has seen the paradigm shift and they are moving fast.