A Cautious Man
December 31, 2008
 
New Year's Eve Springsteen
Gonna wait till the midnight hour?


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Resolved
Type up more random thoughts here in the coming year.

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Taking My Own Advice
I read and commented on a post by Steven Hart at The Opinion Mill which was about, among other things, how difficult it is to have a dialogue in this country about Israel's response right now to the Hamas rocket fire. It's not a situation which simply started within the last few days, and I think that a response which ignores that fact is neither useful nor wise. And by something that is "useful" and "wise" I mean, "Which will secure a peaceful future for Israel and her people." It's difficult to be heard among the shouting, to say that an argument for peace is an argument for Israel, but that's just the way it is. Some peace-loving folks in my little corner of New Jersey work with Americans for Peace Now to keep trying, though.

Mr. Hart is running a Palestinian flag on his post, as his gesture of protest. In my comment, I suggested that he run with the flags of Palestine and Israel side-by-side, because the only possible way that the cycle of violence will end is by having a majority of the Palestinians and Israelis accept the fact that the two nations have to exist side-by-side. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis can bomb their way to peace. Unfortunately, when some extremists with rockets can provoke the kind of response which we are seeing, the day of peaceful coexistence seems further away.

So, to take my own advice, this is my response:


[Flag image found courtesy of the Louisville Committee for Israeli/Palestinian States(Two States Committee).]

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December 24, 2008
 
Christmas Eve Springsteen
From this past weekend, Mr. Springsteen made a surprise stop at an annual charity concert in Red Bank, New Jersey, the Hope Concert. As reported by Backstreets.com, he came out to back up Jon Bon Jovi on guitar, and then closed the show with a number of songs, including "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", joined by Southside Johnny, with "La Bamba" jumping in on vocals.

The whole thing sounds like some sort of Christmas Dream for someone like me, who has been listening to Bruce, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and their musician friends since he was a "yoot".


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What Christmas Is All About
I managed to manage the run-up to Christmas (the going out to get stuff part), so that it won't interfere with Christmas itself. In the last week, I could have posted about things that bothered me, such as people who get their knickers in a twist because not every store clerk is going to say "Merry Christmas" to everyone, or the fact that for some inexplicable reason Mr. Springsteen allowed the sale of a "Wal-Mart Exclusive" CD with "greatest hits" of the E Street Band (which I consider to be a sign of the End of Days, if you must know).

However, I decided that I wasn't going to let all that commercialism ruin my Christmas, in the words of our favorite philosopher, Charlie Brown.



Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

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December 14, 2008
 
Sunday Night (Not)Springsteen
I couldn't think of anything from Mr. Springsteen's oeuvre that was appropriate for this ...



... so we are going with the Beatles, and "Revolution"

So you say you want a revolution, shoe-be-do-be ...


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December 11, 2008
 
Blame It On The Truth
So imagine our surprise, to read the following in the New York Times -

A report released Thursday by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said top Bush administration officials, including Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, bore major responsibility for the abuses committed by American troops in interrogations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and other military detention centers.

The report was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican. It represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.

The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.

The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the report says, “was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own” but grew out of interrogation policies approved by Mr. Rumsfeld and other top officials, who “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees.”

Please note that Senator John McCain has joined as an issuer of the Senator report - thank goodness he is there, letting his conscience be his guide.

Now, if I may, we're not terribly surpised about the report's conclusions, because this was obvious in the case of the unlawful detention and humiliation in 2003 of Captain James Yee, the Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo. This is what seemed to be up, four years ago, with respect to Captain Yee's case and allegations (at the time) of torture at Guantanamo and in Iraq:

General Miller's visit to Iraq in August of 2003 resulted in some changes there:
So Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the Coalition commander in Iraq, and his top intel officer, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, asked for a fixer. They got one in Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commandant at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military had held more than 600 detainees for more than two years without charges. A Texan with a jutting jaw and thinning hair, Miller was nothing if not self-assured, much like his ultimate superior, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. According to a subsequent inquiry by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, Miller's task was "to review current Iraqi Theater ability to rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence." Translated into English, that meant to beef up interrogation techniques so as to break prisoners more quickly. Or as Karpinski puts it, Miller's plan was to "Gitmo-ize" the place, to teach the soldiers manning Abu Ghraib his best psychological and physical techniques for squeezing information out of detainees. That included using Karpinski's MPs to "enhance the intelligence effort." At a meeting of top military-intelligence and MP commanders last September, Miller bluntly told Karpinski: "You're going to see. We have control, and [the prisoners] know it."
(Emphasis added) We now know more about the techniques which were authorized at Guantanamo, under the "Torture, what torture?" approach:
United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally approved four special interrogation techniques used on two al-Qaeda operatives held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who then talked about the terrorist network and its plans, the commander of US forces in Latin America said today.

Army General James Hill, who heads the US Southern Command, declined to describe the techniques. He said other detainees might "figure out a way to resist those techniques" if they were disclosed.

But Hill specifically denied that police dogs have been used to intimidate detainees during interrogations at Guantanamo, contrary to a sworn statement by an Army intelligence officer under investigation in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

In the statement, as reported May 26 by The Washington Post, Col. Thomas Pappas, commander at Abu Ghraib when abuses of detainees occurred, said the use of dogs was urged by Major General Geoffrey Miller in a 2003 visit to Iraq.
We are also learning now that other new "techniques" were approved, for use at Guantanamo - which General Miller could also have brought over to Iraq on his 2003 visit:
According to people who have seen the interrogation matrix, according to the official statements of the Pentagon spokesman, the 24 or so techniques that Secretary Rumsfeld approved fall far short of anything that they would consider to be torture. Now of course we have to take their word for it because they haven't revealed what those techniques are. But according to the Pentagon spokesman, 17 of those techniques are ones that already are used in the army. They're part of the army's field manual on interrogation that's been in place for years. Seven of them are not... four of them require Rumsfeld's personal authorization before they can be used.
There are more details of the Rumsfeld approval issue, in a PBS NewsHour interview at this link (along with some enlightening transcripts of Attorney General Ashcroft's grilling in the Senate yesterday).

So, where are we? It seems that General Miller was authorized, directly by the Secretary of Defense, to use additional "techniques" on the Guantanamo prisoners. He is then dispatched to Iraq in August of 2003; we have seen what they did at Abu Ghraib, after General Miller's "visitation". That would warrant a further investigation at Guantanamo. As for Chaplain Yee, when he was arrested in September of 2003 it was reported that "the 'highest levels' of government made the decision to arrest Capt. Yee, who had counseled suspected al-Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo for a lengthy period." He was detained for carrying out "classified material", but his case was dismissed when the government could not state what that classified material was.

Maybe Chaplain Yee was carrying sensitive information out of Guantanamo - in his head, based on what he saw, and was told by the detainees. Maybe Chaplain Yee has been silenced (for now) as a result of the Army's prosecution (including allegations of adultery and having pornography). Maybe other people know what was going on, and have seen what they did to Chaplain Yee. Maybe someone with some authority should look into this.

And now, it seems, someone with authority will be looking into this. Good.

(Further background on Captain Yee's case can be found here, from the posts on this blog. Scroll past the top one, which is the one you're now reading.)

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"A Change Is Gonna Come"
In the wake of the release of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission report, which concluded that (surprise!) a "civil union" is just not "as good as" a marriage, here in the Great State of New Jersey we have a governor who wants to move ahead, based on the recommendations -

Gov. Jon Corzine said today New Jersey's civil unions law "hasn't done enough to narrow the gap" and same-sex marriage should be established in New Jersey "sooner rather than later."

He urged the Legislature to "seriously review" a report released today by the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission that said civil unions have failed to grant full rights to same-sex couples and urged the state to quickly enact same-sex marriage.

- but legislative leaders who, while both supportive and expecting equal marriage to arrive eventually, have not shown an interest in moving as fast –

But while Corzine pledged to sign a gay marriage bill if it reaches his desk, it's unclear whether the Legislature will take up the issue, with Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) saying equality must come in "incremental steps."

"I believe that society's view of this issue is coming around in favor of same-sex marriage and this report, underscoring the many inequalities that still exist, will further advance that belief," Codey said.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said the report "should spark a renewed sense of purpose and urgency to overcoming one of society's last remaining barriers to full equality for all residents. As I have said many times before, same-sex marriage in New Jersey is only a matter of 'when,' not 'if.'"

The key fact which might lead some of these guys to hold off for now, is in this sentence from the article –

Corzine faces re-election in 2009, as do all 80 members of the Assembly.

I think that it would be an error to wait, for next year's "lame duck" session or otherwise. Following are five suggested reasons for addressing the issue "sooner rather than later".

First, those who disagree know that it's coming. Waiting for a "lame duck" session after the 2009 gubernatorial and legislative election will not keep the issue from being discussed in that election. So, you don't gain anything there.

Second, as a corollary to the first, I don't buy the "they'll support us after the election" theory, if anyone is arguing that. If there are any legislators who need to "keep quiet" about their eventual support, until they get through the election, why should we assume that they'd get a free pass from opponents? If the issue is going to be raised during the 2009 election anyway, why put the fence-sitters in a position where they decide to state their opposition to any "lame duck" passage, if not any change in the law at all? And if they decide to state their support anyway, the delay hasn't really helped (and possibly has hurt, for reason Number Three).

Third, if it has to be part of the 2009 election, let it be as passed and implemented legislation, and not as some not-yet-there, it-may-happen hypothetical. Thanks to the failure of the opposition to Proposition 8 in California, people inclined to support equal marriage now know that it is possible that legal rights could be reversed. I'm not so naive as to think that this alone could make a difference, between supporters coming out to defend passed legislation vs. supporters of possible legislation, but it couldn't hurt. Besides, if the New Jersey election is seen as a forum to defend legislatively-approved marriage equality, one would hope that some of the after-the-fact enthusiasm that California inspired could be used to support legislation that could be a national model.

Fourth, a purely partisan reason is that Democrats shouldn't let presumptive Republican frontrunner Chris Christie get a free ride on the issue. As the recently-former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, he's going to run on a "good government" (can't argue against that), lower-taxes and pro-business platform. Classic Republican, in other words. If there's an undercurrent of opposition to the considering of marriage equality legislation as part of a "lame duck" session, he can waive it off with some platitudes like, "I want to look at the civil unions issue a little more", or "I agree with those who say that we're not at that stage, yet." He would get the votes of the opponents of marriage equality, anyway, and be less likely to lose the votes of those who favor it, but who are focused on other issues in the election. If the Democrats push the issue to after the election, in other words, he gets the best of both worlds.

Now, before we get to Reason Number Five, follow along with me for a moment, and assume what may happen if the issue is addressed by the Legislature at the start of the New Year. Will it be a political issue going into the 2009 election? Certainly, but that's unavoidable. Would some legislators balk at committing before the election? Sure, but as noted above there's no guarantee of their support post-election; better to "smoke 'em out" now, before the primaries in June. And speaking of the primaries, just imagine if marriage equality was passed and scheduled for implementation by the time the June primaries roll around? Presumptive Republican front-runner Chris Christie may not be able to hide from the issue, but he may have to address it head-on. I have no idea where he comes down on this issue, but consider the choices. If he says he opposes the legislation, and would support repeal, that gets him on record and potentially reduces his support (from centrists inclined towards him because of his "good government" and fiscal arguments). If, on the other hand, he says that he also supports marriage equality, then he either wins in the primary (and the legislation is saved), or he loses in the primary (in which case the top of the Republican ticket is an extreme, less popular right-winger). So, on balance, there are a lot of good reasons for "sooner rather than later".

There's a fifth and final reason, in my humble opinion. The design and drafting of this legislation should take place away from, and not as part of, a partisan political fight, either during or just after a contentious election. In a calmer atmosphere, the fact that the world has not come to an end in Massachusetts and Connecticut can be pointed out. Just as important, the legislation can make it clear that this is a legal change to civil marriage – not a mandate to any religious or other group regarding the performing of any marriage ceremony that is not consistent with their tenets. Although some proponents may not like hearing it put this way, the fact is that there may not be a majority which is completely for marriage equality; so it might be best to use the fact that there's also not a majority that is completely against it, either. So, don't make it something to choose sides on, during election season.

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December 10, 2008
 
Live In Peace Some Day
From reading today, I realized that this is the 40th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, certainly one of the best-known cloistered monks of all time. A Catholic convert who eventually became a Trappist Monk, the writings he issued from his monastery made him world-famous. As part of his output, he was a strong commentator on issues of social justice. As a sketch of his life published today in National Catholic Reporter puts it -

Throughout the 1960s, he wrote about the hot issues: social justice, civil rights, nuclear arms, the war in Vietnam. “I am on the side of the people who are being burned, cut to pieces, tortured, held as hostages, gassed, ruined, destroyed. They are the victims of both sides. To take sides with massive power is to take sides against the innocent.”

Ironically enough, he died accidentally while on a rare trip away from his monastery, to Asia to pursue his interests in the study of other religions and of peace.

Some words of his, on what real peace is, versus what our leaders sometimes tell us it is:

I have learned that an age in which politicians talk about peace is an age in which everybody expects war: the great men of the earth would not talk of peace so much if they did not secretly believe it possible, with one more war, to annihilate their enemies forever. Always, "after just one more war" it will dawn, the new era of love: but first everybody who is hated must be eliminated. For hate, you see, is the mother of their kind of love.

Unfortunately the love that is to be born out of hate will never be born. Hatred is sterile; it breeds nothing but the image of its own empty fury, its own nothingness. Love cannot come of emptiness. It is full of reality. Hatred destroys the real being of man in fighting the fiction which it calls "the enemy." For man is concrete and alive, but "the enemy" is a subjective abstraction. A society that kills real men in order to deliver itself from the phantasm of a paranoid delusion is already possessed by the demon of destructiveness because it has made itself incapable of love. It refuses, a priori, to love. It is dedicated not to concrete relations of man with man, but only to abstractions about politics, economics, psychology, and even, sometimes, religion.

One can only hope that our new administration could strive for a real peace, and not for what has been our nation's agenda these last few years.

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Two Kids Get Married, Same Old Thing ...
... or, not.

Here in the Great State of New Jersey, we have had a "civil unions" law which was intended to provide a "just as good as marriage" status for same-sex couples. Since there was, and is, some disagreement about whether "just as good as" is good enough, that law also provided for something called the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission. The Commission was to examine whether, in fact, a civil union was "just as good as ...", etc.

Well the report came out today (link here is a PDF), and as you may have guessed - "just as good as" is really, "not so much":

We, the thirteen members of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission, unanimously issue this final report, containing a set of recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature of the State of New Jersey. After eighteen public meetings, 26 hours of oral testimony and hundreds of pages of written submission from more than 150 witnesses, this Commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children. In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples.



As a result of the overwhelming evidence presented to the Commission,
we unanimously recommend that:

The Legislature and Governor amend the law to allow same-sex couples to marry;

The law be enacted expeditiously because any delay in marriage equality will harm all the people of New Jersey ...

See the link for details.

I only hope that the discussion going forward, on equal marriage in New Jersey, is conducted in a respectful, reasonable and above-all honest fashion - on all sides. No bashing of religious people, which only alienates lots of people who could be persuaded to support equal marriage. And, on the other hand, definitely no arguments such as were raised in favor of Proposition 8 in California, that "they're going to teach your children to be gay".

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December 01, 2008
 
Blame It On The Lies
President Bush was interviewed by "What respect Charlie" Gibson, and that was broadcast/released today. The whole thing is somewhat infuriating, in my humble opinion, because President Bush remains deceptive right to the end. Or, maybe he's deceived even himself, and convinced himself that Iraq never let the U.N. weapons inspectors in, as he continues to claim -

GIBSON: You've always said there's no do-overs as President. If you had one?

BUSH: I don't know -- the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.

BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate.

"A do-over I can't do"? Why doesn't he just say, "Whoops, my bad!", because what he is saying is just as insulting.

As we've pointed out here before, it was President Bush who told the weapons inspectors to leave Iraq, not Saddam Hussein -

U.N. weapons inspectors climbed aboard a plane and pulled out of Iraq on Tuesday after President Bush issued a final ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to step down or face war. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday ordered all U.N. inspectors and support staff, humanitarian workers and U.N. observers along the Iraq-Kuwait border to evacuate Iraq after U.S. threats to launch war.

After failing to secure U.N. authorization to use force to disarm Iraq, Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to step down or face war in a speech Monday night.


U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad for the first time in four years on Nov. 27, 2002, and resumed inspections two days later. During four months of inspections, arms experts traveled the length of the country hunting for banned weapons of mass destruction.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix has said that during those inspections, inspectors never found any "smoking gun."

Of course, Mr. Bush was deceiving us shortly after that, as he "reinvented" the past in his interview with Tim Russert almost one year after the war was started -
You remember U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 clearly stated “show us your arms and destroy them, or your programs and destroy them.” And we said, “There are serious consequences if you don't” and that was a unanimous verdict. In other words, the worlds of the U.N. Security Council said we're unanimous and you're a danger. So, it wasn't just me and the United States. The world thought he was dangerous and needed to be disarmed.
And, of course, he defied the world once again.

So that's how this dangerous, damaging, and derelict Presidency is ending, with more and more lies being piled up in a pitiful attempt to rehabilitate his record. Or, maybe just to tell himself that he couldn't have been that wrong, could he?

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Monday Night Springsteen
Okay, so we missed Sunday. But, it's all good - Mr. S dropped off a new video today, with "My Lucky Day" from the new album. It starts with some shots of the band in the studio, working through the arrangement of the song, and then the song itself illustrated with more views of them recording it. Enjoy!



In the room where fortune falls
On a day when chance is all
In the dark of fierce exile
I felt the grace of your smile

Honey, you're my lucky day
Baby, you're my lucky day
Well I lost all the other bets I made
Honey, you're my lucky day

When I see strong hearts give way
To the burdens of the day
To the weary hands of time
Where fortune is not kind

Honey, you're my lucky day
Baby, you're my lucky day
Well I lost all the other bets I made
Honey, you're my lucky day

Whoa!

[guitar solo]
[sax solo]

I've waited at your side
I've carried the tears you've cried
But to win, darlin' we must play
So don't hide your heart away

Honey, you're my lucky day
Baby, you're my lucky day
Well I lost all the other bets I made
Honey, you're my lucky day

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