Friday, February 24, 2006

Writing Checks, Ignoring Balances

I am worried. I am worried, because the more I live outside of U.S. borders the more I am afforded the opportunity to see more clearly the fault lines and the cracks that threaten the nation’s stability and future path. A fish in a pond can’t necessarily see the effects or ripples on the surface when a rock is thrown into it (maybe because it doesn’t want to), but the observer on dry land can see those ripples, where they begin, and how far they have the potential to travel. The observer on dry land can see the person who threw the rock in. The fish, though, if it is hit on the head is never granted an answer to the question of “Why did this happen? How did this happen?”

The disrespect that I see being shown to the cornerstone of the American Republic – that is, the Constitution – with the levels of secrecy and the unapologetic attitude of a White House that is flexing Executive Branch muscle while the Legislative Branch has been sluggish to respond in kind, is incredibly alarming to this American expatriate, especially when I’ve not been a Bush opponent a lot of the time in recent years. In fact, I don’t consider myself an opponent of Bush now – but nonetheless I do disapprove of the way he’s been running his administration lately. Is he at fault? Not personally. Not totally. But in a democracy we have the duty and right to hold our leaders accountable for mistakes.

The Bush administration is acting lately as if the post-9/11 era has given the Executive Branch the right to do pretty much whatever it wants, be it secret National Security Agency wiretaps or this recent ports deal. It is turning out to look more like an “imperial presidency” these days – not in the sense of an American imperialist spread, but the dictates coming from Bush, Scott McClellan, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales.

As a proud American living overseas, a Republican I might add, I take no comfort in the unapologetic statements, almost every time they are released, whenever something seems to go opposite of the way the Bush administration likes. Cheney shoots a guy, and the nation is kept in the dark for a day. Is there an honest and frank apology for keeping the information that the Vice President of the world’s only superpower shot a guy while hunting quail secret? Yes – but from the guy that got shot, not the White House!

A deal goes down that sells operations at six U.S. ports to a country in the Middle East (and as conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote this past week, there are about 3,000 reasons an Arab company shouldn’t be approved for such a deal, and they died on 9/11) , and Bush wants America to believe that he didn’t know about it until the middle of last week, especially when a former Dubai Ports World executive was named by the White House last month to be the new administrator of the Maritime Administration of the Transportation Department? You’re telling me that Bush, who appoints Cabinet secretaries and has weekly or daily meetings, didn’t know about what his own administration was up to?

You’re telling me that just like Cheney’s connections to Halliburton had nothing to do with that company getting Iraq contracts, David Sanborn’s being a former Dubai Ports World director of operations for Europe and Latin America had nothing to do with Dubai Ports getting eased through the approval process – with the help of members of the Bush administration – for the U.S. portion of a worldwide buyout of a British company?

To be honest, I’m proud of the bi-partisan efforts of Congress to step in and finally tell the Executive Branch that there is more to the American governmental process than White House decisions and dictates. If the Dubai Ports World deal is going to go through, it’s going to go through – as bad and stupid as it is (if Bush can’t see why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a British company, well, he should let someone else give the 9/11 anniversary speeches while he holds the hand of the Saudi king). The White House seems to expect Congress and the American people to simply take their word for it, while at the same time the White House just doesn’t seem to understand the way things work.

This isn’t Russia we’re talking about, where people are clamoring to join President Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” party with an eye on future advancement, a Russia where a former KGB-man turned president appoints regional governors and where the Russian parliament, the Duma, is basically a rubber-stamp body. This isn’t Iran we’re talking about either, where genocidal crazies like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are “elected” by the people to make decisions that, really, only the Ayatollah is authorized to make.

America isn’t a sham democracy. And Americans should not accept even the most subtle efforts of unelected bureaucrats to make it into one. Note, Bush was elected. Most of the people working for him were not. It is these people who I speak of.

Still, I said before I’m worried, and I am. I worry about the precedent being set by the Bush White House at a very sensitive time in U.S. history. I’ve supported the fight against terrorism, I supported and continue to support the war in Iraq despite the political bungling by the administration that seems to be happening every so often.

I think that terrorists should be listened to in the United States, their phone calls tracked and such surveillance advertised to let them know “hey, you don’t have a free hand and you are being watched”. But rather than acting like a White House that should be setting an example, the Bush administration is providing future American presidents with lessons on what can be gotten away with in the erosion of Constitutional protections. Just like with the flu or common cold in a person, a sickness can infect and incubate within a country for some time before taking hold and disabling it for a time.

Instead of taking cues from other democracies that haven’t cut down on freedoms in the fight against terrorism – such as Israel – the Bush Executive Branch is doing exactly the sort of thing that our enemies in the Islamic world would like us to do: Erode our protections. Change our societies. Of course, our freedoms are – thank God – still intact for the moment. I can still type this and talk and say what I want. I do not think that President George W. Bush is trying to do this. But I do feel many of the people he’s got working for him are – for whatever reasons they may have. Money? Maybe.


"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." - The Declaration of Independence, 1776


When I get a phone call from my Grandma Sis
in Tucson and she tells me that she doesn’t want to discuss politics on the phone because people are listening in to international calls (this has happened a couple of times), I can’t help but make a political jab in response and say “This isn’t the USSR.” She might have been overreacting (probably was), but you know what? Hearing that over here from her was jarring all the same. When people who have lived through the Second World War and Cold War – times when, with little doubt, German and Soviet spies roamed the American countryside and “loose lips” could “sink ships” – are suddenly afraid of their current government (no matter if they are not fans of the present head of the administration in the first place) listening into phone calls to loved ones…something isn’t right. My grandmother, whatever her political opinions, should be able to talk politics with me, her grandson, in Israel just like she used to when I was in Tucson.

The American Republic is not the same sort of government that the ancient Roman Republic was. The Constitution is there for a reason. The Separation of Powers, the Checks and Balances…they are all there for a reason. If our man in the White House truly cares about American security and America’s future, and I think he does despite what the haters say, then he might want to show those protections the respect due to them and get a reign on the people working for him who seem, with cavalier attitudes, to have gotten the idea that they are working for the most powerful person on the planet.

Well, they are, but they are confused as to who that most powerful person on the planet is. They seem to think it is the head of the Executive Branch – whoever it is, be it Bush or some future president they await. But it is really the American voter, corny as it sounds, who is the most powerful person on the planet.

Or does the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and I daresay the Declaration of Independence all stand for something else other than what we have been led, all these years, to believe? I love America, and I don’t want to see our Republic go the way of the Roman Republic. Both Democrats and Republicans have the potential to drag it down such a path. The Bush administration shouldn’t make it easier – or make it appear easy – for a president from either party or any political party to do so. It seems that what is lacking in much of White House operations and decisions these days can be summed up in two words: common sense.

And this lack of common sense is dangerous, you ask me. I felt off-balance a bit earlier this week. From way over here, America seems off-balance too. And I don't like the implications for the future if such a situation continues for too long.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More Words on Flag Burnings and Offensive Cartoons

I thank my friend Mike Hantler here in Israel for bringing to my attention yesterday a very, very, interesting question: “Why do Christians not burn South Park flags?”

Let me explain.

The airing of a somewhat recent South Park episode in New Zealand that depicts a “menstruating” Virgin Mary statue in a church in that small Colorado mountain town has sparked a protest from NZ’s prime minister.

The airing of the same episode on Comedy Central sparked protests from Catholic groups, and Comedy Central has taken that episode out of circulation. After I sent Mike an article on the New Zealand PM’s comments, (which can be viewed here at, he asked me “Why do Christians not burn South Park flags? Interesting isn't it? I mean there is no way the Muhammad cartoon competes with the bleeding Virgin Mary.”

I’ve seen the controversial scenes in the episode, and quite frankly I’ve got to say I agree – the imagery is offensive …which is par for the course, of course, for “South Park”. We fans expect nothing less. The show lampoons many and offends the sensibilities of Jews and Christians with regularity. It has done the same to Scientology, Canada, Osama bin Laden, Hollywood stars and many, many other subjects. Jesus himself hasn’t escaped Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s wit and animation, and if I recall correctly in one episode God was once shown as some sort of weird creature only allowing Mormons into Heaven.

Heck, it is just as valid to ask "Why don't Jews burn South Park flags?"

In one episode, “The Passion of the Jew”, intolerant fat-boy character Eric Cartman leads an effort to exterminate the Jews after seeing “The Passion of the Christ”.

The main Jewish character, Kyle Broflovski, in the same episode is moved to find penance after seeing "The Passion" and considers converting. Not exactly designed to win Jews over, I think.

This episode also shows Mel Gibson running around in underwear, basically molesting himself. Later he is shown with his face painted “Braveheart”-style, driving like Mad Max while chasing down a bus and screaming “Give me back my eighteen dollars!” after two of the main characters – Stan and Kenny – see “The Passion”, don’t like it, and take back the amount of their tickets from the actor’s wallet when, during a visit to his house to demand their money back, he refuses.

In another episode, “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow”, something bad happens that some of the kids are responsible for, and Cartman exhorts another character to not tell Kyle, the Jewish character, whodunit because Kyle has his “Jew ethics” and will tattle.

Cartman: “Ah ah ah, ah, I know what you're thinking, Stan. You're thinking, you're gonna go tell Kyle. Look, I know you think he's your best friend, but Kyle is a Jew rat! He has his Jew ethics while he hoards his greedy Jew gold, and he will Jew you out if you tell him about this!”

Toward the end of the episode, Cartman blocks the path of Kyle and charges that all Jews carry little bags of gold around their necks, holds out a gun, and demands Kyle hand it over. Kyle denies Cartman’s accusation several times before he reveals that little bag of gold which, apparently, we do have strapped around our necks. I laughed my butt off during this scene, by the way – blatantly anti-Semitic in tone as it was.

Eric Cartman: Not so fast, Kyle.
Kyle Broflovski: What are you doing?
Cartman: Hand over the gold!
Kyle: What gold??
Cartman: You know what I'm talkng about!
Kyle: No, Cartman, I have no idea what you're talking about!
Cartman: All Jews carry gold in a little bag around their necks! Hand it over!
Stan: (going up stairs, drops down a few steps and calls out) Guys, come on! (Stan goes back up the stairs)
Kyle: Jews do NOT carry gold in a little bag around their necks, Cartman! Stop playing around!
Cartman: (pulls out a handgun) I'm not playing around, Kyle! If we survive this, I don't intend to live in poverty! Give me your Jew gold now!
Kyle: Dude, we don't have time for your stupid jokes! We're gonna die!
Cartman: Yes, but you can live if you give me your Jew gold! The decision is yours, Kyle!
Kyle: Goddamnit, you know I don't carry gold in a little bag around my neck, Cartman! Whaddaya want from me?!
Cartman: I want...your Jew gold! (Kyle stands there. Cartman glowers at him, ready to fire the gun if Kyle moves)
Kyle: Okay, fine! Here! (Opens his coat and pulls out a small black bag, and hands it to Cartman) Now, let's go!
Cartman: (moves the bag around in hand checking weight) Do you think I'm stupid?! I know that all Jews carry fake bags of gold around their necks to keep the real bags of gold around their necks safe! Hand over the real Jew gold, Kyle!!

Amazingly in response to this, you don’t really see Jews burning effigies of Cartman or throwing stones at Matt Parker and Trey Stone (Jewish by birth, agnostic) in response to stuff like this. As Mike pointed out, neither do we see symbolic, quickly-home-made South Park flags being burned by Christians in “spontaneous” riots – we don’t even see TV stations or Comedy Central offices going up in flames. The most I’ve heard in response to material offensive to Christians on the show is occasional letters of complaint from Christian groups to Comedy Central, as well as criticism from New Zealand’s head of government.

As far as I know, Mel Gibson did not dress up like William Wallace and smash to pieces the offices of Comedy Central while screaming “Freedom!” when “The Passion of the Jew” came out almost two years ago and depicted him as a raving lunatic. I don’t think he even sued.

Go figure. When a popular TV show truly offends Jews and Christians, we write letters to the network or simply turn off the TV. Harsh, huh? But us fans still watch it. It pushes the limits, after all, and it is damn funny. But when the news media in Denmark offends narrow-minded, hypocritical Muslims, their much narrower-minded, much more hypocritical governments in this region of the world manipulate public sentiment towards insane riots – granted, that the majority of the populations are not involved in – complete with flag burnings, often resulting in deaths of innocent people and destruction of Danish governmental private property.


Monday, February 20, 2006

The Sum of Our Fears

Ever read the Tom Clancy book Debt of Honor? In it, at the very end, an angry Japanese airline pilot (I’ll leave it to you to read the book and find out why Japanese) flies his 747 passenger jet into the Capitol in Washington, D.C. as the President gives an address to a Joint Session of Congress. Hundreds die, including the President. This book was published in 1994. Seven years before two passenger jets were flown into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one that crashed in a Pennsylvania field that was either bound for the White House or, get this, the Capitol.

Hmm. Fiction became, in a way, reality with the terrorist atrocities of 9/11/01.

Onto a different subject: Ever see the movie version of the book The Sum of All Fears? I’d spell out the book version, but the movie version follows the same general story, as adaptations usually do (with varying levels of faithfulness to the original storyline). The movie starts out with an Israeli jet getting shot down over Syria during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (the book starts out the same way). This jet was armed with a nuclear bomb.

Flash forward almost thirty years: You have a Syrian peasant discovering the bomb, who not really knowing what it is sells it to a South African neo-Nazi allied with other neo-Nazis in Europe. Their plan is to detonate a nuclear bomb in the United States, leave it unknown as to who the actual culprit is, have the U.S. assume that the bomb came from Russia and thus force a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russian Federation. Stated more simply, their goal is get the two biggest nuke players in the world to do what Hitler wanted them to do…fight each other to exhaustion so that he could pick up the spoils.

Well, the Bad Guys manage to get the fissile material from the bomb, smuggle it out (how they accomplish this I don’t exactly get, and by this I mean transferring the bomb remains out of Syria into Israel) via the Port of Haifa, Israel. It is used to make a new bomb at a hidden camp in Ukraine - disguised as a snack machine – and then shipped overseas. With the help of one man on the inside, an employee at the Port of Baltimore, upon arrival in the U.S. it is transferred to a stadium where a football game is to be played with the President of the United States in attendance.

Bye bye stadium, thousands of spectators, much of the Baltimore city center and very nearly both the President of the United States and Ben Affleck too.

That’s a movie.

This is real life: An Arab company, Dubai Ports World, owned by the government of a country – the United Arab Emirates – that served as both a financial and operational base for the bastards who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks has been approved by His Excellency President George W. Bush as well as the Director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, to take over port operations at six locations in the Union: New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia and New York City.

Handing over any operations at any port, big or small, to Muslim Arabs in this day and age is akin to Superman gifting Lex Luthor a vast, vast supply of kryptonite and just standing there afterwards watching the clouds. It’s just stupid. What’s even dumber is the attempt to justify such a decision: because the previous company – British – was bought out by Dubai Ports World it’s okay, and oh yeah: "We make sure there are assurances in place, in general, sufficient to satisfy us that the deal is appropriate from a national security standpoint.” This from the head of the Department of Homeland Security.

Remind me again why the DHS was created in the first place? My memory could be wrong on this, but I thought one of the mandates of the DHS was protecting the borders of our Republic and making it harder for terrorists to attack us. Not easier. Is the motto of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security now "Let's just erase any of the minimal progress that was made since 2001"?

The creators of Independence Day in 1996 and Armageddon in 1998 were unable to contemplate the possibility that even powerful alien death rays or direct hits by meteors could bring down the Twin Towers. Then along came 9/11 and less than twenty Arab hijackers armed with box cutters took over four passenger jets and used two of them to, indirectly, shatter a Hollywood myth about the strength of those towers on live TV.

Do we really want to hand over any U.S. port operations to a Muslim Arab company? In 2006? With riots around the world over cartoons, embassies burned to the ground in the Arab world, and the majority of Islamic terrorists trying to kill us being...well...Muslim Arabs?

The Sum of All Fears may be just a book and movie, but the fact remains that if one man or just a few sympathizers can somehow facilitate the smuggling of a dirty bomb or, God-forbid, a fully-operational nuclear device into the United States via any vulnerable port – and a port owned and operated by an Arab company in our current world climate unfortunately fits the bill, and I don’t mean to sound intolerant – then we face the prospect of , once again, a novel’s story and Hollywood thrills translating into a newspaper stories and real-life kills…possibly in the thousands or millions.

You know, many years before The Sum of All Fears became a movie, it also like Debt of Honor was a book written by Tom Clancy. And while in the movie version the terrorists were neo-Nazis, in the novel they were Muslims.

Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmm...

By handing over port operations to an Arab company - tied to an Arab country that in one way or another provided the Muslim terrorists who carried out 9/11 with comfortable shelter - at this point in our history, do we really want to help increase the chances that a fictional Tom Clancy story involving a terrorist attack on America will become in any way, shape or form an unfortunate and tragic reality once again?

I think not. I certainly hope not.

Then why, Dubya? Why, if you claim to be committed to protecting America, would you approve and want to go through with something like this?