Saturday, September 09, 2006


Odds and ends

Let's talk about a little bit of this and that today.

Liar in Chief

We see splashed on this morning's paper news that Saddam Hussein not only had no ties to al-Qaeda, but saw the group as a threat and sought to eradicate it. Not only that, but President Bush knew this to be true the whole time. That's the news released Friday from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"Iraq and al-Qaeda had high-level contacts that go back a decade," President Bush said in October 2002 as he attempted to drum up support for war.

In fact, Saddam opposed al-Qaeda, and at one point Iraqi security forces attempted unsuccessfully to capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as he sought medical treatment in Baghdad under an alias. If you'll recall, war supporters have attempted to use this appearance in Baghdad by al-Zarqawi as proof of al-Qaeda ties to Saddam's regime.

Much of the committee's report is based on U.S. intelligence reports, illustrating the degree to which the Bush administration knew damn well that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. Many of us have strongly suspected this to be true, and now we all know damn well. It appears more and more that Bush merely wanted to go after Saddam - not an entirely bad idea- and simply used 9/11 as an excuse to do so. This extraordinary diversion from the real war on terror has no doubt put our nation in greater danger than it already faced.

Although Iraq was not a base for terrorists when we invaded in 2003, it certainly has become one since then, turning Bush's lies into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Abominable News Anchor

Last night, I finally tuned into Katie Couric's attempt to remake the network news division that once gave us Edward R. Murrow. What an abysmal excuse for a newscast! Frankly, I've always actively disliked Couric. Lacking more eloquent words, I'll simply describe her as a shrewish bitch. Still I expected her newscast to be better than the trainwreck I viewed last night.

For years, I've clung stubbornly to a sentimental and grossly outdated view of CBS as the Tiffany Network. I long for Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America; "60 Minutes" in its glory days before it became a tired collection of geriatric farts; Charles Kuralt making us feel good about our coutnry, as troubled as it might be; and even its attempt to turn entertainment into something intelligent and witty with the likes of "Mary Tyler Moore" and "All in the Family."

Granted that view has been tarnished greatly, what with "Survivor" and Dan Rather's oversized ego. Still, trustworthy and solid Bob Shieffer brought us hope with a return a couple of years ago to a serious no-nonsense newscast, featuring real news and not the O.J./Jon Benet/Lacy Peterson foolishness that characterizes the cable news axis.

Well, that's all over, apparently. Now, instead of news, we have a more lighthearted, breezy newsmagazine show. I strongly suspect we're seeing news geared toward the thirty- to fiftysomething woman. It's news for the Oprah crowd, which doesn't like to hear all that bad stuff about war and killing and shrinking prospects for the next generation of Americans.

Last night's broadcast started with news of the manhunt for that cop-killer in New York state, featuring an in-studio interview with a U.S. marshal. We also had a humorous essay on summer by some wild and crazy guy I've never seen before. Katie herself presented a fun rundown of some wacky websites we might wish to check out in our spare time, including a high-speed montage of some guy who photographs himself everyday. And we ended with Steve Hartman wringing his hands over how sad 9/11 was for folks in Shanksville, Pa.

Somewhere in there, the folks at CBS forgot to throw in the actual news, so I turned the TV off without a clue of what actually happened in our world on Friday. What a waste of America's time. If this goes over as well as CBS hopes, expect the other two networks to follow with their own newscast-looking lifestyle show.

Thank God for Jim Lehrer. We need him more than ever.


If you're a Netflix subscriber as we are, you know how it keeps you from ever actually visiting the cinema, and you wind up watching movies months and months after they premiered in their first run. That's how it is with us and Steven Spielberg's "Munich." We finally saw it nine months after it first arrived at the movie theater.

I've been fascinated and admittedly admiring of Israel's take-no-prisoners response to terrorism ever since I was a kid viewing '70s-era TV movies reenacting the Munich Olympics attack and the hostage crisis in Entebbe. We Americans tend to view Israel in a far more favorable light than we do her enemies, certainly with great justification. And of course, testosterone dictates that I always like to see the bad guys get theirs.

The movie has been criticized by many as historically inaccurate. For example, in "Munich," the Mossaud employs a secret commando outift to assassinate a list of 11 plotters in the Munich attacking. By the end of the movie, the outfit's head succumbs to paranoia and disillusionment. Whether he actually feels remorse or moral misgivings is left to the viewer to misinterpret. I'm always troubled by movies that don't wish to portray history accurately. I can easily see viewers of "Munich" literally interpreting the story as fact and forming opinions based on events that didn't actually happen, or at least not in the way they were portrayed.

At the same time, the overall message is something we should all consider. Spielberg illustrates us in "Munich," that exacting revenge and seeking to crush are enemies are ultimately unsatisfying. Something therein leaves us a little more hollow and a little less human. Something in revenge sets forth what I've heard described as a perpetual-motion machine of retribution and violence. In the end, Spielberg says, each assassination by Israel was met be an even larger, more hideous act of terrorism by Arab groups. What we see in "Munich" is the genesis of the mess that eminates from the Middle East and now envelopes the entire world. A mess that Israelis and Palestinians attempted to further perpetuate last month, culminating in widespread destruction throughout Lebanon.

These are dangerous times for the world. No doubt, the terrorists are evil and wish to destroy us. We cannot sit idly by, and no doubt violent tactics will and must be used. Yet, are we excused and absolved from any moral considerations ever in our efforts to make our country safer? Sadly, I suspect most Americans feel such absolution to be perfect and easy. Also, looking at this failed war in Iraq and Israel's failed attempt to bomb Hezbollah into submission, is it possible that we are facing the limits of violence. I know that we Americans decided a long time ago that peaceful means of seeking accord is for suckers, the ridiculously naive and the limp-wristed. Yet, look at the war and destruction we've committed ourself to as the only alternative. Is that getting us what we want?

Monday, September 04, 2006


The rhetorical labyrinth of abortion

Ramesh Ponnuru, resident National Review geek, has a new book out, "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life." Essentially, it's a "pro-life" treatise. I put the term pro-life in quotes because I fail to see how conservatives can call themselves that with their worldview of war as solution to all world conflicts, their sense of bloodlust satisfied via capital punishment, their belief that America would be more peaceful if all her citizens packed heat, their unwavering support of the tobacco lobby and their seeming lack of concern that 1/4 of the American children who weren't aborted live in poverty. But I digress once again into territory covered a million times before.

I must say, I'm a little disappointed by the bombastic title and premise of Ponnuru's book. He's been filling in recently on PBS' "NewsHour" as a foil to liberal Mark Shields while conservative David Brooks is off following the kinds of eggheaded pursuits that make Brooks a lovable nerd. Ponnuru, on the "NewsHour," comes off as reasonable and thoughtful, the kind of guy that actually makes guys like me reconsider and re-evaluate our liberal ways. In spite of this ridiculous book title, worthy of an Anne Coulter screed, I hold out hope that I'm still right about him.

And the New York Times Book Review suggests that I am indeed right to assume that Ponnuru shows himself in this book to be several cuts above, say, Michael Savage. Essentially, he skewers the twisted logic of those who support abortion rights. For example: I think abortion is horrible and tantamount to murder, but I don't believe I should impose my beliefs on others. How crazy is that?

For as long as I've had political and social opinions, I've steadfastly held to the view that abortion is a terrible wrong and that it should be illegal, that Roe v. Wade should be reversed. I've lambasted the Democratic party and fellow liberals for their equally unwavering view that choice trumps life. Furthermore, I've been a strong supporter of the consistent pro-life creed, largely promoted by the Catholic church, not the cheap right-wing, evangelical creed of bleeding hearts for the unborn but indifferent hearts toward everyone else.

So it may surprise some of you to learn that my views on abortion have been evolving somewhat over the past several months. I can thank South Dakota legislators for spurring my reconsideration. You may recall that earlier this year, they passed a law in open defiance of Roe that banned abortion in their state. In essence they forced us all up to the precipice that divides reality from theory. Until now, I found my hard-line beliefs quite tenable in the comfortable knowledge that Roe probably wouldn't be overturned anytime soon. Now that a ban on abortion might be a real deal, I've been forced to consider how that might really affect our society.

In response to South Dakota's new law, The New York Times Magazine examined life in El Salvador, where abortion is illegal and law enforcement works aggressively to stamp it out. In El Salvador, doctors are legally obligated to report evidence of past abortions that turns up during an annual exam to authorities. Once evidence is reported, authorities can obtain a court order insisting that a woman show up at a certain time and place for a pelvic exam. Further evidence can be used to prosecute and imprison women and their doctors. Is this the kind of society we want? I don't see any other way to enforce anti-abortion laws other than what goes on in El Salvador.

Ponnuru is right in his questioning of the pro-choice crowd. But now I have questions of him, and of other pro-lifers, myself included:

1) Isn't it hypocritical to stand up for the sanctity of life for the unborn, then draw numerous exceptions under which abortion is permissable? Is life less valuable when conceived under rape or incest? Obviously, not to allow these exceptions would show true heartlessness, but still doesn't it point out a huge trap in our pro-life rhetoric?

2) Do we really want a return to unsafe, clandestine "back-alley" abortions? This stands as the cornerstone of most pro-choicers' arguments. Isn't there validity to this argument? Do we really think all abortion will stop? Do women who seek an abortion get what they deserve if they bleed to death or are otherwise butchered in unsafe unregulated procedures?

3) If abortion really is murder, then should women who seek abortions and doctors who provide them be prosecuted as murderers? In most states, killing a baby constitutes a capital offense. Should we execute these folks? If we truly believe our own rhetoric, then the answer is yes.

4) Don't we pro-lifers often look a little foolish in our rhetoric? Are doctors who provide abortions really greedy and sinister, or do they sincerely think they're taking great risks to do the right thing? Do most folks who favor legalized abortion really do so as a celebration of liberating choice? Do most of them see abortion as a legitimate form of birth control? I doubt it. Does any thoughtful pro-choicer really think a fetus is a neutral piece of tissue? I think not.

Unable to answer these questions in a satisfactory manner, I regretfully find myself retreating from my hardline stance. Increasingly, I stand in the safe-legal-but-extremely-rare camp, which itself has many logical and moral problems. I can never really be OK with a stance that permits taking an unborn life. Yet, this is exactly where I find myself standing. I'm afraid that once we opened the Pandora's box of Roe, we put ourselves past the point of no return, and ultimately any stance on abortion these days is unsatisfactory and frankly tragic.

Still, the best we can do is ensure that as few women as possible desire abortions, that they're not terribly convenient to those who want them, that other pro-life options are made more desirable, but in the end, that they remain safe and available for the undaunted. I really see no other way. So does this stand forever banish me from the ranks of the pro-life? Many would say yes. On the other hand, perhaps I now join the ranks of most Americans who see this as a nuanced, truly difficult issue.

On the one side of this issue are the Gloria Steinems and Molly Yards of the world. On the other are the Randall Terrys and Phyllis Schlaflys. In between lies a vast spectrum for the truly thoughtful, reflective souls of this world.

The religious Right speaks on public education

If you'll recall, I blogged several weeks ago on the hositility to public education shown by many extremists on the Right. Yesterday's Post-Dispatch carried an Associated Press story on how fundamentalists are increasingly pulling kids out of public schools based on their perceptions of what goes on at the school down the street. Here are some quotes:

"Humanism and evolution are taught, but everything I believe is disallowed."
- Roger Moran, member of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee

"Home-schoolers avoid harmful school environments where God is mocked, where destructive peer influence is the norm, where drugs, alcohol, promiscuity and homosexuality are promoted."
- from the California-based Considering Home-schooling Ministry

"The infusion of an atheistic, amoral, evolutionary, socialistic, one-world, anti-American system of education in our public schools has indeed become such that if it had been done by an enemy, it would be considered an act of war."
- Florida-based evangelist D. James Kennedy

How many of you out there truly believe that we public school teachers spend our time indoctrinating children to hate America, God and all that's good? Promoting drugs and alcohol? That's news to the thousands of schools, mine included, that spend a great deal of instructional time educatingagainst these dangers. Promoting promiscuity and homosexuality? We teachers aren't going near those issues. Amoral? Humanistic? That's a big surprise to schools like mine that actively teach character education. Anti-American? Is the Pledge of Allegiance, recited every morning in schools across America, anti-American? God is mocked? That's a true shocker to the millions of American schoolteachers who happen to be church-going Christians.

I believe that people should provide their children with the kind of education they believe is best, whether it be at a public, private, charter or home school. I also believe that parents should have a solid command of the facts before they make such decisions. Self-serving and ignorant demogogues such as the ones quoted above do nothing to enlighten parents and help them make the best choices for their children.

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