Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Gist: Boots on Our Necks

Whenever our Lord and Savior President is desperate for a boost in his public image, he dons fatigues and makes a speech, usually to a military audience (the only audience he can truly control, being its commander). But the speeches aren’t working anymore. Read the rest...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Throwing the Books at Them: Kakutani Does Bush

If there’s ever been any doubt that we’re being led by a junta of amateurs who confuse rashness with courage and hubris with gutsiness, the books written over the last four years by administration insiders and outsiders, by reporters, by ideologues and by reclining analysts, by detractors and supporters of the administration, should have been putting those doubts to rest. If it’s not Fred Barnes, an administration courtesan, admiring in Rebel-in-Chief how Bush “operates in Washington like the head of a small occupying army of insurgents” (is that really a wise simile when we’re mired in Iraqi time as it is?) or as a visionary who loves to “overturn major policies with scarcely a second thought,” it’s his former speechwriter David Frum boasting that Bush “discarded thirty-five years of American policy in the Middle East and repudiated the foreign policies of at least six of the previous seven U.S. presidents.” No argument about the facts. But look at the results. The world is in shambles, the Middle East is either in flames or enflamed with hatred for all things American—draining the attention of Arab and Muslim populations from the repressive and backward regimes, where it ought to be, and redirecting it westward. It’s the mark of a good leader to detect a region’s latent energies, at least those that don’t have to do with fossil fuels, and direct them toward the right, hopefully progressive goal. Bush claimed to be doing just that by aiming, as he said in his second inaugural, for a sweep of Arab and Muslim regression in favor of liberty and democracy. Words. Just words. His method achieved the opposite result—in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Saudi Arabia, it’s the same old faces, the same old games. In Iraq and Iran, new faces, to be sure, but also more, not less lethally devoted to conflict, revenge, old-style repression. That’s what you get when you get a bunch of gut-worshipping amateurs dismissing anything deliberate, any constructive debate or dissent, ridiculing the slow-moving analyses that prepare such a thing as, say, an invasion, the occupation of a California-size nation, the re-acculturation of an entire people to less tyrannical modes. Read the rest...

Bush's NSA: Spying. Domestic. Illegal

Daytona Beach News-Journal/May 11, 2006

On Dec. 16, The New York Times broke the story about a secret government program that "monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants." President Bush said the program's scope was limited to terrorism suspects, and that he had the legal authority to conduct it based on his own interpretation of the Constitution.

A week later, the paper reported that "the volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged," and that the government had "gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications."

At the time, it was unclear whether the call patterns being monitored included domestic calls. What's always been clearer, as the follow-up story pointed out, is that monitoring calls within the United States "would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom." In other words, it isn't just the content of phone and e-mail conversations that is private, but also the connections between one account and another. Why would an American not feel as if his privacy were being violated if a government agency was tabulating his life patterns based on phone calls and e-mail contacts -- even if it were deemed legal? Read the full editorial...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Militarizing the CIA

Daytona Beach News-Journal/May 10, 2006

The majority of the nation's $44 billion intelligence and spying operations are controlled by the Pentagon, which numbers about a dozen intelligence agencies. The biggest and most secretive is the National Security Agency, ordered by President Bush to spy on Americans -- through phone and Internet taps -- since 2001.

The CIA is independent of the military's intelligence structure. Its $1 billion budget makes it seem like a bit player in intelligence. In fact, and until recently, the CIA director was in charge of the joint meetings of all intelligence agencies and of briefing the president about all intelligence matters every morning. The CIA's independence from other agencies was regarded as a necessity: Its role was to check and challenge information on its way to the president's ears to prevent politics from tainting judgments.

The 9/11 commission and reporting about Iraq intelligence on weapons of mass destruction revealed that CIA analysts lived up to their mission, providing quite precise warnings about 9/11 (such as the Aug. 6, 2001, memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US") and analysis discrediting reports of WMDs in Iraq before the 2003 invasion. It's their superiors, up to and including Bush, who redacted the analysts' information to fit political and military agendas. It was not a failure of intelligence in the ranks. It was a failure, at the top, of reacting to the intelligence intelligently. Read the full editorial...

Never a Farewell, Taylor

An obituary page isn’t the sort of place where the Rev. Dr. Taylor Scott IV’s name should be appearing. Not now. Not, if any of us could have helped it, ever: His name, his borderless mind, his humanitarian’s generosity prolifically filled the pages and hearts of life at its most vibrant — at the pulpit, in academic journals, in protest marches, around the dinner table, at his friends’ and family’s side. He was life. His death the morning of May 5, 2006, at age 74, with his beloved wife, Carol, his daughter, Carter, and his son, Taylor, at his side, at his home in Palm Coast, was — like the cancer it rode in — an intrusion, rude and not soon forgiven, though weak and passing compared to his memory: Taylor left his mark. This isn’t his last word.

Born on Dec. 27, 1931, in Richmond, Va., Taylor (who was reading Malone’s biography of Thomas Jefferson at the time of his death), attended the University of Virginia, the Virginia Theological seminary, and Duke University, where he earned his master’s in theology (Magna Cum Laude) in 1965, and his doctorate in 1971. His life from then on was a discoverer’s log-book — priest, professor, parent, philosopher, he held teaching and administrative positions at Duke, North Carolina State, St. Christopher School for Boys in Virginia, UNC-Greensboro, D.C.’s National Cathedral, Francis Marion University, the University of Florida and Stetson University. His ecclesiastical experience would impress St. Peter. His honors and awards would make Peter envious. His engaged activism, for civil rights, against the Vietnam War, and more recently against the Iraq war, might have inspired even a saint.

Taylor and I met less than four years ago. He’d been reading my columns, writing me — almost always longhand — and inviting me to his home. My mistake was not to accept immediately: it was time lost. But when we finally met, it was a debate from word one — not from disagreements, but from a spiral of ideas neither of us could control, and all of us, Carol and the friends we’d have around our mutual tables included, abetted. The rest...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gated Communities: Gifted Education as Resegregation

Gifted education is based on the idea that a very small, very smart proportion of students needs more challenging attention to flourish intellectually and otherwise. That's about as much agreement as you'll get from any two people discussing the matter. What criteria decide who's gifted, where the cut-off should be (the top 2 percent of a given group? the top 5 percent?), what to do with the gifted once they qualify, who to mingle or not mingle them with, what to feed them at breakfast and what thread-count linen they should sleep in -- those questions can be more divisive than all the debates about the transubstantiation of Christ and fat-versus-thin Elvis put together. And beware if you're caught in the middle: Parents of the gifted can have a paradoxically tedious gift for the dogmatic. Maybe that's what it takes to raise a gifted child: more of a tunnel than a vision.

I raise the issue because one of those weird debates is going on at the moment where I live in Florida, in Flagler County schools. The district superintendent wants to expand the gifted program to make it available at every elementary and middle school, which sounds like a logical, desirable idea. Right now it's available full-time at just one elementary school and one middle school. Just 2 percent of students are enrolled. To make the expansion financially possible, the superintendent wants to include high achievers in the pool. Parents of the gifted are unhappy. They're worried that their children's education is being watered down. I can understand the issue of standards not being high enough. As Flagler school parents, my wife and I deal with that issue constantly. But hearing and reading about complaints by parents of the gifted, I was struck by a larger question that neither the district nor the parents are asking, but that seems to me more important than either side's immediate concerns. What message are we sending our children, and society at large, when segregation is held up not only as a defining factor of an educational program, but as a desirable, even admirable one as well? Read the rest of the column...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Eternity Interrupted: When Trees Fall

They were two perfectly healthy, lush, high-rising maples that pre-dated our insignificant subdivision by forty or fifty years. They were two high-rises of habitats for the birds and bugs, moths and lizards, spiders, squirrels, beetles, bees, planthoppers, grasshoppers, zorapterans and moth-gazers that made them their home or their lay-over, their rest stop, their tourist dives, their summer rentals. Like all trees they only gave of themselves and took nothing in return unless it was a good rain, a bracing wind, a sheltering sky. They rose there for seventy, eighty, maybe ninety years, the first half of their life encumbered only by the pine-heavy forest around them, the second half by the flattening of developers, the asphalt of the cul-de-sac, the walls and roofs of the houses around it, ours included, and the comings and goings of owners and renters by the dozen every decade, this being Florida, land of transience and exploits: People come, take advantage, then either die or move on to bigger square footage after remaking their surroundings in their Sears-comforts’ image which, more often than not, deploys and destroys more than it preserves. There are generous exceptions. William Bartram’s disciples live here, too. But even two million exceptions would be overwhelmed by the other thirteen (and the seven thousand who move in every day), to whom environmental scruples have the sympathy of roadkill. Read the rest...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Goss Putsch: Bush's War on Intelligence

Peter Goss’s resignation at the CIA can always be held up as the one bright spot in his disastrous year-long tenure: at least he had the dignity to quit before entirely destroying the agency, though he was well on his way to doing to Langley what Bush has done to Baghdad (reshape in a carcass’ image). And his resignation isn’t nearly as telling as the realignment taking place beyond the CIA’s control. What Richard Nixon couldn’t do (control the CIA and the FBI), Bush appears to be accomplishing pretty effectively and out of sight, until today, of the national press, hung over though it still is from its whoring approval of Bush’s little comedy routine at the Correspondents dinner and its Peter Lorre-like excoriation of Stephen Colbert’s routine. (Missed in all the clammy reporting about Colbert’s performance was any sense of irony that the president could devote so much attention to his comedy routine by preparing it since last January, yet couldn’t be bothered with reading a one-page policy brief or, what was certainly no joke, except perhaps for the president, his President’s Daily Briefings). Leave it to the likes of War and Piece or our earthy Micromegas to do what the press is once again too dyspeptic with deference to do responsibly. So to return to the Goss flush: The whole story smells of scandal, but it should not fog up the deeper scandal: Bush is diminishing the CIA to a vassal second-rate agency, because his real interest in intelligence is with Rumsfeld’s remaking of Pentagon spying into an international and domestic multinational enterprise (to hell with Posse Comitatus). Read the rest...