Monthly Archives: April 2009

In Dick We Trust

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Former Vice President Cheney, in reaction to the recent declassification of the torture memos, has defended the previous administration’s actions by claiming that the CIA interrogations provided the government and the Vice President with essential information. Because that information has not been revealed to the public, for obvious national security reasons, we’re just going to have to take Dick’s word for it.

That must be the Cheney Doctrine. We’re just going to have to trust the government. From everything from WMDs to domestic surveillance, Dick thinks we should just believe him. Sorry, but the truth has to remain classified.

But what we have learned since 9/11 is that prior to the attacks, we already had all of the actionable intelligence needed to stop the attacks. It was institutional inefficiency, not the absence of torture or the Patriot Act, that kept us from being safe. Thanks to Dick, though, each and any of my communications (phone calls, emails, letters), as a U.S. citizen living abroad, are subject to warrantless searches by the government.

And if I were a non-citizen, according to the Dick Doctrine, the U.S. government should be able to kidnap me from anywhere in the world, hold me incommunicado indefinitely, and interrogate me as harshly as his lawyers deem necessary. The information, fruit of the interrogations, will be invaluable to our national security, in Dick we trust. How do we know that the non-citizen isn’t some ordinary Joe? We can’t tell you that either, but in Dick we trust.

All I know is that there were no WMDs in Iraq, the great majority of those held in Guantanamo were released without being charged of anything, and Exxon Mobile is now the most profitable company in the country.

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The State of the Discontented

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Over the past few days, throughout the news, I have heard a series of arguments and complaints about the U.S. government. While I agree in principle that there are many areas in which we need to voice our concerns, so far most of the criticisms towards the Obama Administration from the Right – on taxes and spending, the environment, torture, and piracy — have been either hypocritical or downright silly. Instead of writing an individual post on each subject, I’ll summarize them here: Continue reading

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The Gathering Dumbfolk

I had not seen the ant-same sex marriage “Gathering Storm” ad until I read about “The Bigots’ Last Hurrah” by Frank Rich in Sunday’s New York Times. The ad, produced by the Nation for Marriage, is so very bizarre that it’s almost an immediate parody of itself. And of course there are many parody videos already out there, including one by Stephen Colbert. But my favorite is the one above.

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Pakistan and Palin

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I was just listening to the NewsHour podcast about how Pakistan has approved Islamic law in its northwestern Swat Valley as part of a deal with the Taliban. While such a move may seem controversial for some, it reminded me a lot of the Republicans in general and Sarah Palin in particular.

Think about it. There’s Sarah Palin in her northwestern region (Alaska) of the U.S. campaigning to impose Christian Law on her state and the nation. Of course, no one calls it Christian Shariah, but essentially Palin and her Republican pals want to legislate from the Bible. At times they call it “states’ rights”, like when they say that the states should have the right to prohibit abortion or allow prayer in school. On gay rights, such as same sex marriage, though, Republicans are suspiciously very much against states’ rights. Rather, it’s about good old down home, cornfed values, backed-up by Bible-verse.

With a purely states’ rights argument, there is nothing the Republicans can find fault with the Swat Valley’s own right to be free from the repressive confines of centralized regulation. On everything from abortion, education, science, marriage, censorship and local values, its religious-based legislation that the Taliban and Palin crowd pray for.

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Our Self-Destructive Fanaticism

Early this month, I wrote about America’s own suicide bombers, and how we are in total denial of our own brand of fanaticism. Instead of confronting our own problems at home, we’d rather preach to world — often times with military force or the threat of force — of the superiority of American-style democracy while we denounce the entirety of their religion and culture because of a handful of fanatics (comparable to blaming Christianity for the Nazis).

Today in the New York Times, Bob Herbert echoed my sentiments in his piece entitled “The American Way“:

This is the American way. Since Sept. 11, 2001, when the country’s attention understandably turned to terrorism, nearly 120,000 Americans have been killed in nonterror homicides, most of them committed with guns. Think about it — 120,000 dead. That’s nearly 25 times the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the most part, we pay no attention to this relentless carnage. The idea of doing something meaningful about the insane number of guns in circulation is a nonstarter. So what if eight kids are shot to death every day in America. So what if someone is killed by a gun every 17 minutes.

. . . Murderous gunfire claims many more victims than those who are actually felled by the bullets. But all the expressions of horror at the violence and pity for the dead and those who loved them ring hollow in a society that is neither mature nor civilized enough to do anything about it.

When I tell people from Europe, Asia or the Middle East that I am from the Washington, DC area, they almost always respond by commenting on how dangerous it must be to live in the nation’s capital. We’ve earned the reputation as a place of dangerous and rogue murderers. Just as we feel superior enough to critique and place value judgments on every aspect of other cultures, doesn’t the blind eye we turn on our own domestic carnage say something about the values we keep? Our complacency is a fanaticism all its own.

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Love Them Pirates

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Come on, you gotta love them Somali pirates. As if cavemen in Afghanistan weren’t enough of a threat to the U.S., now we have the U.S. Navy and even the FBI intervening off the coast of Somalia. Do these guys look like much of a threat? Unfortunately, the U.S. has yet to evolve from the Cold War. We may have won (even though American capitalism is unsustainable without a little help from our communist friends in China), but our national defense still thinks the battle is on and it’s all or nothing for or against us. In the meantime, certain countries have fallen in between the geo-political cracks, states have failed, and we get these Somali pirates asking for their tiny share of globalization. Somalia might not exist as a country, but you still have to pay the piper to get your goodies.

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The Road

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After an excellent run followed by a real funk, I temporarily abandoned 2666 and switched to Los Detectives Salvajes (as recommended by Sanjeev), but was still in the rut. Finally, I picked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy (thanks, Waya) and practically read the entire story in less than 24 hours. Although it is science fiction — in the sense that is post-apocalyptic — its minimalism gives the novel and its characters a haunting here-and-now realism.

Furthermore, there is something in The Road‘s story about a father and son trying to survive on the run after the general destruction of society that is probably not too unlike the realities of those displaced by war and war-induced famines in recent times in places like Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cambodia, and China. It doesn’t have to be science fiction.

While reading the book, I kept thinking about how it could be made into a film (as were McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men) and what that film would look and feel like. For some reason, Fellini’s La Strada immediately came to mind when I then realized that both McCarthy’s novel and Fellini’s film share the same name. Interestingly enough, The Road has already been adapted in a film of the same name to be released this year, yet it’s hard to believe that anything other than La Strada could capture the mood of McCarty’s book, even if the two stories are very different. Continue reading

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