Monday, October 31, 2005

Trick-Or-Treaters Subject To Searches

It seems the US Department of Homeland Security is on alert for potential mishief from Halloween terrorists.

According to The Onion:
WASHINGTON, DC—Responding to "a possible threat of terror and fright," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Monday that trick-or-treaters will be subject to random bag searches this Halloween season.Trick-Or-Treaters To Be Subject To Random Bag Searches

"Individuals concealing their identities through clever disguise, and under cover of night, may attempt to use the unspecified threat of 'tricks' to extort 'treats' from unsuspecting victims," Chertoff said. "Such scare tactics may have been tolerated in the past, but they will not be allowed to continue this Halloween."

While he would not elaborate on the specific threat, Chertoff said his office had "heard a couple spooky tales," and indicated that there was good reason to believe that Americans face "a very ghoulish scenario" this October.

"We have done and will continue to do everything we can to protect citizens from those who would play on our fears," a haunted Chertoff said. "Nevertheless, Americans are advised to be in a state of readiness."

National Guard troops and local police are being stationed at checkpoints in residential neighborhoods to seize the contents of any paper bags, pillowcases, plastic pumpkins, or other receptacles. Additionally, candy-sniffing dogs will be posted at regular intervals to locate and devour suspicious items.

Local, county, and state officials have been placed on orange alert, with strict orders to confiscate and investigate bags containing Bit-O-Honey, Snickers, Baby Ruth, Twix, Butterfingers, Mr. Goodbar, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, gum, and any and all forms of taffy.
Happy Halloween!

Rosa Parks Memorial Service Today

Rosa Parks died October 24th at 92 in Michigan. Only days later, Congress approved of her body to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda, the first woman ever honored this way. The viewing ended this morning at 10am, with a Memorial Service to be held at 1pm at Metropolitan AME Church in District.
Rosa Parks in State

Friday, October 28, 2005

There Goes Middle East Peace... (Again)

Though relatively quiet on the Palestinian front before Wednesday's suicide bombing, Israel's anticipated retaliation is looming over the drawn-out reconciliation process. Is there any chance that national sovereignty and future peace will overwhelm the heated actions and rhetoric of these countries?

According to The Globe and Mail, Israeli soldiers are massing outside the Gaza Strip, preparing for a ground invasion to root out Palestinian militants. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, after being lauded for dismantling thousands of Israeli settlements, has ordered a "wide-ranging and continuous" operation in response to Wednesday's bombing. In a statement from his office, Mr. Sharon warned he would not meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas if such attacks continued:
Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority is not taking any serious steps in -- and is not serious about -- the struggle against terrorism. Therefore, we decided and agreed that we will conduct the struggle against terrorism in all its aspects.

In such a situation, I will not meet with Abu Mazen, and the Palestinians are losing all of their national dreams due to this situation.
Terrorists must be elated. Their dreams of jihad are coming closer to fruition the longer Israel matches atrocity with atrocity. Surely, this undermines any thread of control Mahmoud Abbas has over radical Palestinian groups in his country's midst.

This is a sick Greek tragedy, where the end is already pre-ordained and all are doomed to follow into oblivion. If both sides cannot respect the other, this part of the world will go up in nuclear flames.

I only hope the world community will stop it before it gets that far. But even by then, the centuries of hatred and fear will have shaped things for centuries more to come. The cycle of vengeance must be broken, and ultimately only by those in Israel and Palestine.

Prevailing Wage Reinstated

It is so rare that I can report good news from the current US administration, but yesterday is one of the exceptions. A few weeks ago, FEMA reopened $100 million worth of Katrina rebuilding contracts and allow local and open bidding. And now, the feds have reinstated the wage provision of the Davis-Bacon Act, guaranteeing that construction workers will be paid the prevailing local wage. George Bush had waived the provision days after the Katrina hit the Gulf States.

Both of this decisions come while the WhiteHouse is under tighter scrutiny with the Plame Affair and the Miers Blunder. Not surpisingly, the only way a government works is if it is held to account for its actions. Accountability, both grassroots and at the polling box, are key to keeping this government "for the people." Obviously, progressives and moderates are not screaming into the wind.

This is just the beginning in taking back our government.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Reactions To Suicide Bombing In Israel

Wednesday's suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Hadera provides another stark contrast between media sources in Israel and Palestine. The complete synopsis is at BBC News.

Editorial in Israel's Hatzofe
Whoever thought that a period of calm would follow the destruction of Gush Katif [Gaza Jewish settlement] and the surrender to Palestinian terrorism was wrong. The terrorist attack in Hadera and the Qassam rockets in Sderot and taught us that what happened in the past will happen again and in the end, the price will be paid by the Jews. [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is hero enough to send the police special unit to act against pioneering Jewish citizens but he stands helpless before Palestinian terrorism.
Commentary in Israel's Maariv
Does the barrel of terrorism have a bottom? Is it possible to dry out the swamp of terrorism? It is difficult to tell. The next few months will not be simple and also not calm. The weight now shifts to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. The [Palestinian militant] organizations will try to create a balance of terror opposite Israel. The best that can be expected in this situation is to ensure that terrorist attacks occur one every few months rather than several a month, and the understanding that this will not be simple, will not be short and will not always be pleasant.
Commentary in Palestinian al-Hayat al-Jadidah
It is true that there are those of us - individuals and factions - who are working to make things worse through their free and easy retaliation against Israel. However, this does not decrease in any way Israel's responsibility, as it has the keys to the doors and windows that it closes on us, thus leaving us ready to explode.
Columnist in Palestinian al-Ayyam
Israel has never desisted from carrying out incursions, harassment and assassinations in the West Bank, knowing full well that the Palestinians' patience will come to an end. It was waiting for this minute. The Israeli retaliation will be comprehensive and violent.
In retaliation, around 40 Israeli jeeps and tanks moved into the West Bank city of Jenin today. They surrounded Palestinian houses as shots rang out. Violence begets more violence.

I only hope the moderates in this situation will see their way out of this chaos. The longer the tension lasts, the more the wound will fester and gush forth the bile of mutual hatred. Peace must prevail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

GOP And DNC Struggle Within

The inner turmoil of the Republican Party has been on the horizon well before Bush's presidential nomination in 2000. But it has been a trademark of Karl Rove and company to snuff out resistance in even the most unbelievable of circumstances. The recent Valerie Plame investigation notwithstanding, most fiascos have escaped public scrutiny. Until now.

Perhaps it is because Rove is so involved with the grand jury investigations into the Valerie Plame scandal, he is detained from giving the Mier's Nomination his usual "bludgeoning of independent thought" approach. Whether conservatives in the Republican Party are right or not, they are clearly fed-up with empty promises. A new conservative group called Americans For Better Justice bought $250,000 of TV/radio time yesterday to broadcast a nationwide ad against Harriet Miers. They are asking for Bush to withdraw her from the nomination. David Frum, former Bush speechwriter and spokesman for the group sees Miers as unqualified and non-conservative:
Conservatives have worked too hard for too long to settle for anything less than our very best on the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, liberals are sparing with moderates in the Democratic Party. Cindy Sheehan, national frontperson against the Iraq War, has now taken aim at presidential front-runner NY Senator Hillary Clinton. She had this to say about Clinton's position on the Iraq War:
I believe that any candidate who supports the war should not receive our support. It doesn't matter if they're Senator Clinton or whoever.

With her position as a senator, she's become more: "Let's see which way the wind blows, and what's going to get me re-elected or elected, or how am I going to benefit from this" instead of truly voting from her integrity.
Sheehan is clearly attacking Hillary's stance the same way Frum is attacking Bush's nomination. This is a microcosm of the rift that split US voters in the 2004 election cycle. Unlikely alliances within both parties are falling apart as grass-roots organizations that once worked together now split in favor of political ideology and, more importantly, identity. The once rock-solid foundations of the two-party system is now shaking into their extreme fragments.

Is this the end of the march to the moderate center? Are voters now more concerned about issues and less about the elephant and donkey? Will a viable third-party emerge from the fray in the meantime?

As much as I may hope, I doubt it. But what has been changing drastically over the last 10-15 years is the degree by which politics has infiltrated everyday life in the US. For every blind vote, there are now just as many voters concerned about the issues and not party loyalty.

Surely, voters are waking up to the inherent corruption of a two-party system...?

UPDATE 10/27/2005: Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination today, claiming to be protecting the White House right to privacy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

UK comprehensives to become independent....

Leave them alone!

Seriousy though, this is SUCH a bad idea. I don't know why New Labour thinks that destroying the brilliant comprehensive system is a good idea. Yes, it certainly isn't perfect, but the whole point is its open for all. The point is that if your parents are busy, and don't take the time to get you into the perfect school, that it doesn't matter, because you can succeed in any school. And yes, that is not happening, but a "market" of schools is CERTAINLY not the way to improve. There are SO many worrying things about this idea

"The trusts are based on those that control academies, but in a marked departure from the academy scheme, the government appears keen to encourage charities, private schools, universities and groups of parents to run schools as opposed to attracting sponsorship from wealthy individuals.

Parents will also be given new channels to complain to the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, and to demand that a new school be formed or that a headteacher of an existing school be sacked if they think they are not up to scratch. Local parent advisers will also be employed to give parents advice on choosing their children's schools to ensure that middle class parents are not advantaged in "playing the system".

Parental choice will be backed by a new "market" in schools. Ms Kelly has previously indicated that failing schools will be closed if they do not improve after a year. A new provider will be found to run the school through a trust if no changes are made."

shudder parent power is SO overrated. Its petty politics at work, the worst kind, I have always found the idea of these idyllic communities of the past that som long for creepy- I prefer not to know my neighbours- why should I be friends who the only thing I have in common with is that they live on the same street?

"Trust schools will be able to set their own admissions, curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions, and will, controversially, be able to set these outside of national guidelines where they can prove that the measures will improve standards"

NO. Just no. Yes, the national curriculum IS flawed, but allowing individual schools to decide which bits they want is NOT the solution at all....

Sigh... and our alternative is David Cameroon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Federal Anti-Terrorism Is To Push More Paper?

After the launch of a large-scale security lockdown in the New York subway last week, U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials now claim the terrorist threat may have been a hoax. A voluntary source in Baghdad described a terrorist conspiracy where 20 bombers would set off 19 bombs during last weekend in the New York subway system using bomb-laden suitcases, baby strollers and other items to escape detection. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg described this information as the "most specific threat" ever received against the city's transit system. But this never came to pass. Despite the heightened security on the subway with special police units and National Guard, nothing was found, and in Baghdad, US authorities had "lost" the original informant.

NYPD tightens security

In common government fashion since Katrina, the federal authorities blame the local authorities for the situation. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke, who called the threat "noncredible" last week, had this cryptic message:
The intelligence community has not found any evidence to substantiate the threat information.
The president Bush's response was equally avoiding:
Our job is to gather intelligence and pass it on to local authorities. And they make the judgments necessary to respond. . .The American people have got to know that, one, we're collecting information and sharing it with local authorities on a timely basis. And that's important.
Needless to say, this prompted some well-found frustration from Micheal Goodwin, who had this to write:
There you have it - the gazillions we spend on security only pay for bureaucrats to push paper. Whatever happens after that, it's not their problem.

This is nuts. And it adds to cynicism about efforts to fight the real problem of terrorism.

Bloomberg and top cop Ray Kelly did right in taking the threat seriously, but their performance had holes, too. They provided few details at their Thursday announcement, yet within minutes, press reports quoting anonymous sources cited potential bombs in baby carriages and the number of alleged plotters. If Bloomberg and Kelly wanted such details out, they should have announced them so all New Yorkers could be informed. As it was, the inconsistent articles and broadcasts added to the confusion and fear.
I have explored this issue many times, believing that the whole "national security" ploy is really just a political platform to run on and beat your opponents with it.

I do not have a lot of answers, but creating more government bureaucracy shouldn't even be on the table. If anything, the government needs to break down the walls between the federal and local authorities and streamline communications by reducing red-tape. The first step is installing standardization and interoperability requirements, agreeing on shared information policies and allowing the agencies themselves work out the details. No government bureaucrat is going tell the FBI, CIA or other intelligence agency how to run. They must undertake this task by themselves. There must be a sound third-party that does verify the changes are occurring, of course. But no Intelligence Czar is going to accomplish all of this.

Beyond that, I am not sure what would be next. But if we should be so lucky to get beyond that simple sticking point: reliable and interoperable communication.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Miers is Good (Trust Us)

Before the diehard conservatives and radical liberals mobilize, let me put this down for the record: I do not have a strong opinion on Bush's nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the US Supreme Court. As a matter of fact, I think this is one of the few political events where I am uninterested.

But as is commonly the case in Washington, the reactions are unbelievable. Both conservatives and liberals are frustrated with the lack of judicial records to figure out her political and ideological leanings. She is even more cryptic about her viewpoints than new Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. There is a threat of independent opinions in the Republican Party. What ever shall we do?

Enter Michael J. Gaynor of The Conservative Voice. As is common among the blindly faithful, he claims the reason for conservatives to vote for the Miers nomination is because Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich says to. And why does trusty, partisan, retired Newt say to? Because Bush says to:
Newt knows, and dares to publicly state, what some conservative critics of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers who have never run for public office (unlike Ms. Miers), either do not know or do not admit:

"Conservatives should feel confident with the selection of Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court for a simple reason: George W. Bush selected her."

Newt recognizes the disappointment of many conservatives with the Miers nomination, how that disappointment has played into the hands of the leftist media, and that, in the case of the Miers nomination, that disappointment reflects disagreement as to personnel instead of fundamental principles:

"Much has been made in the press about conservative unhappiness with the White House on issues such as spending and immigration and most recently with the selection of Ms. Miers. However, while these tensions are not insignificant, the president has stayed remarkably true to conservative principles on every major decision he has made since winning the Republican primary."
Besides the fact that Bush has and will continue to disregard core conservative principles, Gingrich and by proxy, Gaynor both represent the largest strength and ultimate failing of the Republican Party: blind faith in human frailty. It seems by re-routing the strong religious faith and righteous anger of its evangelical base into government leadership, the GOP has created its own version of a holy empire. "Divine Rule."

Regardless of decision-making principles, the principle of "follow the leader" rules supreme. So, as suddenly pangs of individual thought arise from the Religious Right, they are crushed by the "bow down before the one you serve", God-complex of this administration. As long as the Republican Party offers little progress on evangelical issues, it can continue to win elections on these issues. What Republican wants to outlaw abortion, when it could be a key issue in an election if it's still legal?

I may not agree with the issues of the self-proclaimed "Religious Right," but I surely hope they will see through the smokescreen of the Republican Party. In the 20 years of the Republican takeover, more corruption has been introduced than the Democratic Party had in its 80 year rule. Wake up, people!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Replace The Politics Of Fear With Hope

Ira Chernus, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, wrote an excellent article at TomPaine about fear and loathing against President Bush. As he correctly asserts, this kind of tactic advances the progressive cause greatly, but only so far. This small excerpt hardly does it justice, but certainly conveys his argument:
Who can deny it? It's an almost physical pleasure to watch George W. Bush's fall from grace. And it's so easy. All you have to do is say, "Bush has botched the war on terrorism. Bush is not keeping us safe from terrorists - or from the terrors of nature." You've already got over half the country with you, and more are jumping on board the anti-Bush train every day. But before we settle in to ride that train to political glory, we ought to consider whether it can really take us to a better future.
. . .

Fear does move public opinion. That's a lesson the anti-Bush forces have learned well. Their nemesis in the White House has turned out, in this way, to be their master teacher. They are using fear most effectively to bring down a presidency built on fear. It's a delicious irony.

It's also a blessing, at least in the short run. A weakened presidency suffers on every front. The privatization of social security is moribund and will soon be pronounced dead on Capitol Hill. Chief Justice Roberts will be bad, but he may not be the Scalia clone that Bush promised his right-wing base. And when was the last time you heard the words "compassionate conservatism"? Though there is plenty to worry about under a weak Bush, it would have been far worse under a strong Bush.

But what price will we pay for this blessing in the long run, if we purchase it with the currency of mounting public fear?

The urge to be safe, to keep fear at bay, is certainly natural and understandable. But after more than half a century in a state of heightened national insecurity, Americans have largely forgotten the other side of the human coin: the urge to be daring, to take chances that can lead to positive change. Insecurity is now in the national bloodstream. That's why anti-Bush campaigns that evoke fear can be so successful. To be successful in the longer term, though, we have to constrict that sense of insecurity, to return it to the more modest place where it belongs, until actual security comes into sight.
. . .

Many demand that our tax dollars be used to fund services and repair damage all over the world. After all, that's actually the best way to begin to protect ourselves from danger. But even that won't work if we do it simply because we are scared. We'll never be safe if we make safety our ultimate goal. We'll be safe only if we let safety be a by-product of a society working together to improve life for everyone.

The best way to be secure is to imagine a genuine politics of hope. Imagine. Unfortunately, when John Lennon said, "It's easy if you try," he was quite wrong. After six decades of our national insecurity state, it's incredibly hard. But it's an effort that anti-Bush forces ought to make. The alternative is, however inadvertently, to reinforce the politics of fear that Bush and his kind thrive on. The belief that danger is everywhere - —that we must have leaders whose great task is to keep us safe -is the one great danger we really do need to protect ourselves against.
Fear, though effective in short-term motivation, can create a demobilizing cycle of phobia and anger. This will not change things, but only keep them as they are. Democrat or Republican alike should appreciate a political philosophy based on hope and change will engender more support than the divisive tactics so far. Hope alone can save us all from the precipice of tyranny.

I only hope America wakes up from this nightmare soon enough to realize that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Beware, Florida Tourists!

Florida's new "stand your ground" law went into effect Saturday, loosening self-defense restrictions to include the public arena. A person no longer needs to retreat or actively defuse a threatening situation before using deadly violence. What once applied only to the defense of the home now applies anywhere, providing that person is in a place "he or she has a right to be."
Stand your ground!

The Brady Campaign decided to inundate Miami airports with flyers that read as follows:
Thinking about a Florida Vacation?

Please ensure your family is safe. A new law in the Sunshine State authorizes nervous or frightened rsidents to use deadly force. In Florida, avoid disputes. Use special caution in arguing with motorists on Florida roads.

Police and prosecutors are concerned about the potential for unnecessary violence.
I am certainly not a big proponent for gun control. But this law seems ludicrious. Especially in the public arena, there must be some level of civility and control. The ability to carry concealed weapons is broad enough to bring guns into many public situations, but legally condoning unconditional use of that gun is insanity.

I may not always agree with the Brady Campaign, but I salute their tactics here. I wonder if it will really impact tourism as much as hoped.