Archive for May, 2007

Cindy Sheehan: A Portrait of Bravery

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Let’s take a moment to salute a brave woman who endured a “tour of ridicule” that must have been more difficult than many imagine. In an age when a stunning number of intelligent American citizens say that they feel powerless to influence the direction of their own elected government’s foreign policy, Cindy Sheehan’s bold and heartfelt personal protest against our conduct of the Iraq war proved them all wrong. Here’s Cindy’s farewell diary on Daily Kos. I hope she gets some well-deserved rest and perspective, but I also hope we’ll eventually hear from her again.

Good News: US Dialogue With Iran

Monday, May 28th, 2007

I don’t praise the Bush/Cheney administration often in these pages, but I am glad to hear of a meeting that signals a positive new change in USA foreign policy. For the first time in decades, there has been a high-level meeting of US ambassadors and Iranian ambassadors over the future of Iraq.

Some may question why I want my country to begin an open dialogue with a hostile nation that is escalating the world’s nuclear arms race as well as spreading deeply offensive lies about the history of Germany’s genocidal campaign against Jews during World War II. Well, no matter how offensive another nation, organization or person is, I believe the best policy is to keep an open dialogue with that nation, organization or person. Talking doesn’t hurt. And even if the lies flow on all sides, some truths might sneak out as well.

I watched coverage of today’s talks on both CNN (which welcomed the development) and Fox News (which presented one commentator saying that we should not honor Iran with a high-level meeting since they are clearly working to destabilize Iraq). Another commentator correctly pointed out that it is the USA-led coalition in Iraq that Iran is trying to destabilize, not “Iraq” itself — their goal in Iraq is clearly to support a Shiite-dominated government that offers fewer concessions to the Sunni majority than the coalition government offers. It’s a fact that they are arming our enemies. But we should not make the mistake of believing Iran is motivated by a love of “chaos” or violence. Iran’s policy is entirely pragmatic and, for their interests, sensible. Iran is a Shiite nation, and they back Iraq’s Shiite majority for obvious reasons.

Let the talks begin. I hope there is a follow-up session soon, and I’ll be sure to cover it here when there is.

The Gonzales Watch Continues: Bush Wants Us To Be Satisfied With An “Internal Investigation”

Friday, May 25th, 2007

In yesterday’s Rose Garden speech (aptly covered by Crooks and Liars) President Bush answered questions about the incredible Alberto Gonzales scandal by asking America to be satisfied with a closed-door “internal investigation” that the Justice Department is apparently conducting. Why on earth should we be satisfied with an internal investigation when so much evidence has already been revealed in Congress?

I never intended this blog to turn into “the Gonzales watch”, but my instincts tell me this big story is going to keep getting bigger. If the President continues to hold the position that there has been no significant wrongdoing at the Department of Justice despite the absolutely gigantic amount of evidence to the contrary, Congress needs to respond by examining this misstep as grounds for impeachment.

Monica Goodling Didn’t Mean To

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzales’s last loyal holdout, has now testified that she broke the law in asking job applicants political questions and making hiring decisions on that basis, but “I didn’t mean to”.

Ms. Goodling, whose prim and pained demeanor is reminiscent of “Angela” on The Office, also testified that Gonzales has given false testimony about the current scandal, and that he has engaged in conversations with her about the current scandal that seem to cross the line into witness-tampering.

Why is Alberto Gonzales still the United States Attorney General?

George W. Bush: “I Get Criticized A Lot”

Monday, May 21st, 2007

George W. Bush, today:

“I get criticized a lot from different corners, and that’s just part of what happens when you’re President.”

No, it’s really not. Our besieged administration is still trying to pretend that the United States of America still has any confidence in its leadership, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This wall of defense has become so thin that often the personal angle is the Bush administration’s only remaining talking point. For instance, the White House’s official reaction to Jimmy Carter’s blessedly honest statement that this administration’s foreign policy has been the worst in the nation’s history is to attack Carter for committing a social faux pas, as if their biggest concern is how this will affect dinner place seatings at future ex-Presidential gatherings.

I love it that Jimmy Carter is willing to speak the truth, and once again I sincerely appeal to the insiders of the Bush administration to consider the common sense behind an honorable resignation. We are at war, and our country cannot afford another year and a half of confused no-confidence leadership.

The Gonzales Affair: NOT Business As Usual

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

I try to keep it fresh here at the Orchard, but sometimes I have to dredge up a story of my own from a few weeks earlier, just because it is my self-appointed role to ask the more established members of our journalistic community to do a better job at reporting the news, and everybody — EVERYBODY — seems to be missing the obvious subtext of the weird showdown taking place in Washington DC right now between the executive and legislative branches over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

So, Take Two. As I said before. To repeat myself. THE ALBERTO GONZALES AFFAIR IS NOT JUST ANOTHER SCANDAL, and THIS IS NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL. Disgraced government officials come and go, and it’s not shattering news when a key member of any US president’s cabinet gets into trouble. But it is shattering news when:

1) that US president is facing intensive investigations of his conduct in office and is stonewalling key pieces of information relevant to these investigations.

2) the disgraced government official is the Attorney General, with vast power to influence (or impede) the progress of criminal and civil investigations involving the White House.

3) this disgraced government official refuses to resign against an absolute barrage of damning testimony and evidence against him, including (now) a highly unusual congressional vote of “no confidence” against him.

One plus one plus one equals three. And it is as clear as glass that the reason Alberto Gonzales is refusing (against all rational advice from both Republicans and Democrats) to resign is that the Bush administration is terrified of what a less sympathetic Attorney General could investigate.

I said it before, and I cannot be the only American doing the math here. Why do the major news outlets not explain this equation to the American people? I truly don’t understand.

Prince Harry

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

I could not possibly care less about the fact that Prince Harry is not going to join his country’s combat troops in Iraq. The fact that this is getting serious news treatment on all the evening news shows really proves the banality of our public dialogue these days.

We do not like in a land of fairy tale castles, and Prince Harry means nothing to me. There’s a war going on, and global warming, and other real stories to talk about. Journalists: in 2007 there is no such thing as a “slow news day”, so please cut the crap.

As for Prince Harry himself, he can sit on his thumb and spin for all I care.

Giuliani and Other Candidates Embrace Ignorance of the Enemy at Republican Debate

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Probably the most dramatic moment during last night’s Fox News Republican debate: Rudy Giuliani criticizing outlier candidate Ron Paul for suggesting that the 1991 invasion of Iraq was a primary cause for the September 11 attacks. Here’s Fox’s record of the moment:

“That’s really an extraordinary statement,” Giuliani said, interrupting FOX News panelist Wendell Goler. “That’s really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”

All the other candidates then clamored for a chance to echo Giuliani’s strong condemnation of Ron Paul. Here’s the only problem: what Paul said is a simple historical fact. It’s not even a contested fact. Every serious history of the events leading up to the September 11 attacks agrees that Saudi rich kid Osama Bin Laden formed Al Qaeda as a direct response to the arrival of USA troops in Saudi Arabia to reverse Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in 1991. This isn’t something only lefties and Democrats say — it’s something every credible historian is in agreement on. It’s also one of the main points of Lawrence Wright’s bestselling book The Looming Tower, widely considered the most authoritative (and non-partisan) history of Al Qaeda.

So, if Giuliani is standing there with a straight face saying “I don’t think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11″ we must conclude that he has not read Lawrence Wright’s book or any other history of Al Qaeda. And yet he believes he has the ability to lead our country’s absolutely critical battle against this enemy — from a position of ignorance about the history of this enemy, one can only assume.

Fighting an enemy from a position of ignorance about that enemy: I thought that was George Bush and Dick Cheney’s unique style, and I thought our country had at least learned the lesson that we need to understand our enemies better before we engage them in battle.

I guess not. The fact that John McCain and other candidates praised Giuliani’s dramatic criticism of truth-teller Ron Paul is pretty disturbing. My respect for a few of these candidates has just dropped a couple of notches. America cannot afford any more military leadership by politicians too haughty or proud to know the basic facts of their enemy’s history.

Reading Romney’s Lips: The Search for a Republican Frontrunner

Monday, May 14th, 2007

I’ve now had two good televised looks at Mitt Romney, who many consider the frontrunner for the Republican nomination: a televised debate on MSNBC several days ago, and a Mike Wallace profile on 60 Minutes last night.

My immediate reaction: slick, slick, slick. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Romney sure does look presidential, and his background as a successful venture capitalist and turnaround-artist for troubled companies is impressive. The 60 Minutes shots of his large family — five sons, ten grandchildren — was heartening. But the fact that he has now thrown away the old liberal-friendly views on abortion rights that got him elected as governor of Massachusetts in order to appeal to a pro-life national Republican voter base shows a lack of conviction on social issues. I also haven’t heard him say anything that’s not a safe, generic cliche about the Iraq war or the war against Al Queda or about foreign policy in general, so it seems pretty clear that he is a fix-the-economy, all-business type of politician. There could be worse, but we are at war and I am concerned that his convictions about foreign policy go no deeper than his convictions about abortion.

Why is Mitt Romney the frontrunner? John McCain’s strong convictions on the importance of victory in Iraq show strong principled consistency, but America is perceiving a fervid believer in need of a reality check. As for Rudy Giuliani — well, as a New Yorker I find his candidacy strange and surprising. For years, Rudy was our familiar “bad cop” mayor here in Fun City. He was undoubtedly an honest man and a hard worker, and he was also a familiar face. I’ve seen him on the streets or at events several times in New York City, and never for a minute (before September 11) did anybody think of this straight shooter as presidential material. When he was mayor, many of my friends just thought of him as the enforcer who put Gotti in jail and kept robberies down but also turned Times Square into DisneyWorld New York, and made it a lot scarier to smoke weed on the streets. That was his image, the sum total of it, and today six years after the September 11 attacks I still can’t imagine this rough player winning a national Republican nomination for anything.

So it looks like Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, and he seems smart enough to take whatever heat he gets in this difficult role. I’ll be watching closely and calling the shots right here.

Arguments: An Inquiry (Conclusion)

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

In two recent posts, we discovered that the term “argument” cannot be logically defined at all (similarly to “game”, which Ludwig Wittgenstein once famously proved can not be defined by any single essential characteristic or meaning). An argument usually represents a state of conflict, but not always. An argument is usually rooted in a difference of belief, but not always. An argument is usually considered an undesirable thing, but not always. The term “argument” is basically a knot of interconnected meaning, and it’s probably pointless to try to define the word any further.

But that’s not where this inquiry will end; rather, that’s where this inquiry must begin. Here’s a surprising fact the previous case studies turn up: we all spend a hell of a lot of time arguing. We do it more than we’d like to admit. We do it at home, we do it at work, we do it in the car, and we do it in the supermarket, at the bowling alley, in restaurants, at parties … we do it with loved ones, with strangers, with imaginary adversaries, with people in books or on TV. We argue like we breathe. And since we do it so much, maybe we should try to understand it better.

Basically, what I’m planning is a new exploration into the discipline known as “ethics”, the branch of philosophy that tries to find meaning in intuitive human concepts like “morality”, “justice”, “good” and “evil”. This was Plato’s specialty, of course, and my other favorite ethical philosophers include Jean Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, William James and Jean-Paul Sartre. The field of psychology is closely linked to social philosophy, and Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung also addressed these topics with powerful insight.

Sometimes I talk “meta-argument” when I hear friends and family engage in arguments. I like to stop the motion in the middle of a heated controversy and ask everyone to examine what the hell it is we are doing. Usually, people just think I’m crazy and tell me to shut up so they can continue arguing. I don’t particularly want to know what we’re arguing about, but I want to know what we’re arguing for.

So, the inquiry will go on. I’m going to keep covering news and international issues here at the FruitStand, but I’m going to make a point of looking for the 10-mile view, the philosophical angle. The big picture, as they say. Because when I hear people argue … and even when I hear myself argue, I don’t get the feeling anybody’s getting to the heart of the matter anywhere. Let’s see if we can’t do better.