Monday, June 25, 2007

News of the Week

* 102 American soldiers killed in Iraq in June 2007

* I work with a girl whose brother is in Iraq. He joined the Army right out of high school. As soon as basic training was over, he was sent to Iraq for a year, then came home for a year. When that year was over, he went back to Iraq for 15 months, then came home for nine months. Now he is in Iraq again for 15 months.
His family is distraught about his continued deployments. For one thing, they believe that every time he is is sent into a war zone, his odds of being killed or wounded go up. For another, it is obvious to them that each time he comes home he is quieter and angrier, less sociable and more depressed. They wonder who he will be by the time he comes home for good.
I told her that I thought her generation should do what mine did during the Vietnam War, which was to take to the streets. "Why," I asked her, "aren't families like yours shouting from the rooftops that what they are doing to your brother and the others is wrong?" She simply shrugged as if she thought it was impossible to fight the system.
I don't know. Maybe it is impossible in the environment we live in today. During Vietnam, there was a draft so millions of American families had a vested interest, through their sons, in what was happening there. Today, we have an all-volunteer military (although you have to question the definition of volunteer in light of a stop-loss program which says the military can retain soldiers beyond the time they'd been led to believe their commitment was over).
I've had people tell me, "well, they knew what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line, so they've got no right to bitch". End of collective responsibility.
But, did they know what they were getting into? They may have been prepared to put their lives on the line to support their country's policies but did they read the fine print that said they could be sent back again and again, like my co-worker's brother? I doubt it. They probably assumed that at most, we would do as we'd done in Vietnam - if you made it through your deployment, you were home free. And did the National Guard volunteers realize that the entire non-military part of their lives would be disrupted again and again as they lost families and businesses and jobs due to multiple deployments? And were they aware that though we would find the money for everything else, including no-bid contracts for corporations like Halliburton, we would somehow run out of funds when it came time to buy the body armor or the armored vehicles that would save their lives....or the dollars needed to completely and fully fund the medical care that tens of thousands of them would need to be rehabilitated to the fullest possible extent? Somehow, I doubt it.
To me, how the country is treating this young man and others is the farthest thing I can imagine from "supporting the troops".

* As we all know from the wall-to-wall television coverage, both the London and Glasgow airports were hit last week by, luckily, rather unsuccessful attempted terrorist attacks by means of using vehicles containing gasoline and nails and a cellphone ignition system which didn't work very well.
An article in the New York Times stated that "the idea of multiple attacks using car bombers is a departure from the backpack suicide attacks of the London bombings of 2005 and raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to Al Qaida may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq".
In other words, what we did by invading Iraq was to create an enormous terrorist university where jihadists from all over the world go to learn and then take the lessons learned back to other countries. Are we safer now than we were before there were so many alumnus with degrees in Terrorism from the U of T-Iraq roaming the world in search of opportunity to cause us harm?
The weakness of the "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" theory was always that, of course, they are capable of maintaining their training programs in Iraq while still sending the graduates of those programs to other parts of the world at will. There is no way to keep them all "there" and we are teaching new classes of terrorists quicker than we can kill the old ones.

* In our "it all depends on whose ox is being gored" segment, it seems that principles once dear to the hearts of Republicans have become so much nonsense. For instance, 239 bills have passed the House of Representatives but have not passed the Senate. The Senate is, of course, the branch of government with arcane rules meant to slow down or bottle up legislation. The founding fathers planned it that way. The Senate is supposed to be less political and more considerate of larger issues than the House. (Since House members have to run for re-elections every two years, compared to a Senator's six years, they tend to be more sensitive to hot-button political issues). It is for this reason that the Senate is called "the world's greatest deliberative body".
If you remember, back during the the discussion about President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, the Republicans were livid about Democratic threats to filibuster and not allowing "up or down votes". In fact, they were so incensed by the very idea of the filibuster that they threatened a "nuclear option" to do away with it altogether. When a few Democrats and Republicans came together in a bipartisan way to come up with an alternative, the nuclear option was taken off the table. I bet the Republicans are really happy about that now, because it turns out that now they are the minority party, they flat out love the filibuster and use it at the drop of a hat to kill legislation they don't like, even though a majority may approve of it. And the up or down vote? The Republicans mantra is: "We doan need no steenkin' up or down vote."
Trent Lott, Senate Minority Leader is up front about the the Republicans use of obstructionism, "so far it's working for us." Don't you just love politics?

* And discussing filibustering and up and down votes and obstructionism, recalls those long ago fights about Supreme Court nominees. George Bush may have the lowest percentage of popularity of any president. With the defeat of the immigration reform bill and the number of people turning against the Iraq War, he may be the lamest of ducks. But he has had one huge success, as far as his base is concerned, and that is the way his nominees have been able to swing the court right.
In case after case, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have sided with the other conservative justices, Alito and Thomas, with an assist from Justice Kennedy, in moving the court toward decisions beloved of the evangelicals. They have made it more difficult to get an abortion, more difficult for employees to prove job discrimination, more difficult for defendants to appeal injustice in their cases. They have made it harder for students to prove that their free speech rights have been violated but easier for organizations to to prove the same.
Do you notice something about all these decisions? In every instance in which a single citizen has gone up against an institution, the individual loses. Every abortion involves first of all a decision by a woman. It may later include support from a doctor but the initial decision is made by that single woman. That woman's choices are now fewer because of this Supreme Court.
The court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter although it did not deny that she had been systematically discriminated against in the pay which she received compared to the men in her company. It found against her because she did not file her claim within 180 days of the discriminatory act although she didn't know about the pay disparity that soon. "Too bad, so sad," said the five conservative members of the court. In other words, if your company can successfully hide it from you long enough, they can discriminate at will. Who is the power player in this kind of situation? Why I believe that would be the employers. (I have worked for more than one company that forbade discussion of salary among employees).
The Supreme found that the school that suspended a student who unfurled a banner saying, "Bong Hits for Jesus," at a school-sponsored outing, though not at the school itself, was proper in limiting the student's free speech rights, with Justice Thomas, in particular, arguing that students have no rights at all and that we should probably go back to the days when teachers could take a hickory stick to their impertinent pupils. (Well, no, he didn't actually say that in so many words but he may as well have).
On the other hand, the justices knocked down a part of Campaign Finance Reform that limited the contributions third parties, such as unions and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, can make toward our political discourse. Upshot: get ready for the hordes of primarily negative ads you'll be subjected to as the presidential campaign gets closer.
These particular justices seem to have an obsession about a rigid adherence to time. As in Lilly Ledbetter's case, it was the all-important consideration. The death-row defendant filed his appeal one day too late, even though he'd been instructed about the timing by the lower court judge, the justices ruled that even though a man's life and/or freedom was at stake and even though he'd been given incorrect advice, such measly consideration were as nothing compared to that all-powerful 24-hour sweep of the clock. What the hell kind of thinking is that?
So, if you are a conservative who believes that when it comes to the lowly individual American versus any power organization, the organization should always win, then you're probably thrilled with George Bush's Supreme Court.

* Another decision made the by Court considered what remedies school systems may engage in while trying to maintain some level of diversity in their student body and actually involves individuals on both sides - blacks who may have an interest in attending a non-segregated school and whites with an equal interest in being able to attend a school of their choice without being denied that choice in the interest of greater diversity.
Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas wanted to throw out Brown vs Board of Education altogether (so much for precedent, something all the justices promised to honor during their confirmation hearings). Justice Kennedy, however, insisted on a more nuanced ruling. He essentially said school boards should go back to the drawing board and try to find other ways to encourage diversity besides taking race into consideration, for instance, where they build schools or how they draw school borders.
There is little doubt that this ruling will result in more segregated schools and perhaps that is what whites, at least, desire. But it is difficult to tell if white parents resist integration in the 21st century because of an inherent opposition to their children going to school with black kids or more because, primarily black schools have tended to be inferior - in infrastructure, in school resources, in teacher pay.
I personally think the schools should be federalized and financed by a school tax instead of property taxes (which let renters completely off the hook for their children's education), with every school district given exactly the same amount of money per student. Instead of inner-city schools with crumbling buildings and not enough books and large class room sizes versus suburban high schools with huge new gyms and auditoriums and state of the art libraries and small, responsive classes, each school would have the same resources to give their pupils the same opportunities. That isn't likely to happen any time soon and even if it did, it wouldn't solve the segregation problem but it would be a big step in the right direction toward scholastic equality.
Furthermore, No Child Left Behind, would be a lot fairer if every school were compared based on the same criteria.