October 28, 2005

A West Wing Leak

Here I go again. Yeah, I know… I watch too much television, but I’m a political junkie, and I can’t resist these types of shows. I’m referring of course to last Sunday’s episode of ‘The West Wing’. I’m not a producer of the show so I can’t take any credit for the similarities. I just watch TV… and draw the parallels.

The nature of the leak

So let me set the stage for you… A senior White House official leaked classified intelligence information to the press. Sound familiar? Yeah, I’m having déjà vu all over again! But this leak was very different. In this case the leak was about the existence of a secret military satellite. Apparently, no one’s supposed to know that we’re building weapons in space.

On the other side, the leak in the ‘real’ White House was about an ‘alleged’ arsenal of weapons of mass destruction possessed by Iraq, and the intelligence fabrication which built the case for attacking / invading / demolishing / occupying that country. When the White House was called on it, this leak compromised a CIA mission to ferret out that very intelligence.

The Post-Discovery

The leak itself is not what I wanted to concentrate on in this short essay. Instead, my angle is on the actions the ‘West Wing’ White House took upon discovering the source of the leak. In this episode we found out that Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff who plays the White House Director of Communications) was the one who leaked this classified information to the press. He was in C. J. Cregg’s office (Allison Janney who plays the President’s Chief of Staff) when he said, “I did it”. I was fascinated by the ensuing scenes and dialogue.

Cregg immediately telephoned for someone from the White House council. As Toby started to talk, she said they couldn’t speak another word until council arrived. When council did arrive he escorted Ziegler off to a conference room to isolate him as they started the process of going through his office and cataloging every artifact. Ziegler was instructed not to talk to anyone.

When Oliver Babish arrived (Senior White House council played by Oliver Platt), he proceeded to debrief Ziegler with questions of excruciating detail and nuance. “Did anyone tell you to leak this to the press? Did anyone suggest that you leak this to the press? Did anyone use any kind of gesture to cause you to leak this to the press?” I’m paraphrasing this from memory of course, but the point is clear… Babish was probing to make sure he had a full understanding, so as to have absolutely no ambiguity of what transpired.

Several scenes later Babish was following up with Cregg after his debriefing with Ziegler and asked if she had spoken with anyone since learning of Ziegler as the leak. She had made one phone call, and he probed to the nature of that call. After informing the President (Josiah Bartlet played by Martin Sheen), Ziegler was summoned into the Oval Office and immediately terminated. He was escorted right out of the White House.

The point I’m trying to make is that these West Wing characters did everything by the book, and took great pain to make sure there was no cover up and no appearance of a cover up. They immediately isolated the source of the leak, and fired him on the spot.

And then there’s reality

Did the Bush White House handle its leak scandal by the book? Did they take great pain to preclude even the appearance of a cover up? I don’t think so. They schemed and plotted on how they were going to handle it. They denied everything. They changed their story on how they were going to handle the leaker. I believe that all of the senior White House officials were part & parcel to the leak.

I guess the real difference is between a corrupt White House and a White House that isn’t corrupt. Oh Josiah Bartlet, how I wish you were really our President. Or Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits, the Democratic candidate in ‘The West Wing’). Or Makenzie Allen (Geena Davis in ‘Commander in Chief’). Or Andrew Shepard (Michael Douglas in ‘The American President’). Or Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman in ‘Deep Impact’). Or Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman in ‘Independence Day’). Or James Marshall (Harrison Ford in ‘Air Force One’). Or David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert in ‘24’). I would prefer any actor to the jackass we now have in the White House. I would trust any actor over the dipshit we have constantly lying to us from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

My son once asked me, after reading one of my articles, “Dad, would you be a better president than George W. Bush?” I replied without hesitation, “Son, a monkey would be a better president than George W. Bush!” And quite frankly, I wasn’t even joking. If you asked a monkey to repeatedly make choices between two alternatives, chances are he’ll make the right choice upwards of 50% of the time. However, I honestly don’t feel George W. Bush has made the right choice… EVER. Would a monkey have gotten us into this quagmire in Iraq? I don’t think so.

And speaking of choices

Just this week we learned that Bush’s Supreme Court choice of Harriet Miers went down the drain. We also learned that his decision to suspend the Davis-Bacon Act over the Katrina hurricane also bit the dust. In my humble opinion, if anything positive has occurred in the last five years, it’s in spite of the Bush Administration’s incompetence and corruption. The fact that these particular decisions of President Bush’s have been overturned is an indication that there is still some slight semblance of checks-and-balances in Government. Perhaps there is some hope?

Looking forward

Hopefully, now that George W. Bush is a disrespected, distrusted, discredited, lame duck… and the GOP is in scandalous peril… they won’t be easily steamrolling legislation to the advantage of corporate fat cats, and against the best interests of the country, the people, and the environment.

Then again for that to happen, the Democrats would have to get a spine.

October 21, 2005

Perspectives on Religion

Those of you who have followed my column know that I have very strong opinions about religion. In one article I articulated my perspective about God. In another article I expressed how wrong I felt it was for the constitution of Iraq to implement Islam as the country’s official religion. I’m vehemently opposed to ANY religion controlling a government.

So while I’m at it, I figured I would devote an article just to my random thoughts and perspectives on religion. I know most of the people in this world do believe in God (or Gods) in some form or another, so I’m bound to piss off a couple billion people. Please don’t take any of this personally. While the right-wingnuts will be demonizing me as ‘Godless’, keep in mind I’m just trying to put it all into perspective - a 21st century perspective. As you read on, don’t just think of your own religion, think of the many other religions in this world as well.

Religion Divides

As each congregation gathers in their own houses of worship, one thing is abundantly clear to me. Not only does religion bring together people who think alike, it brings together people who think alike. In one sense I have to categorize this as a form of segregation. As the people who think alike exclude those who don’t think as they do, it melds towards bigotry. I realize that the exclusion is voluntary, but it still separates people by how they think, and that separation inevitably builds prejudices against those who don’t think like they do.

What do religions teach their children? Are they teaching them that all men (and women) are created equal? Or, are they teaching them that they are the chosen people? Are they teaching them that we all have a chance to be with God in heaven after we die, or that only they will be with God in the afterlife if they’re absolved of their sins, and those from other religions will be going to Hell?

Sadly, over the centuries, religion has been the impetus for hatred, wars and genocide. As an experiment, go to Google and enter ‘religion’ and ‘war’ in the same search. It’s scary how much violence, bloodshed, and death has been caused over the years from religious conflicts.

Religion Scares

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “God Fearing”. And isn’t the fear of going to Hell in the afterlife what drives billions of people to live moral lives instead of sinful lives? Any why are Christian Fundamentalists afraid of homosexuals? Clearly, religions have used fear to manipulate their followers.

Religion takes time

Of course this could be said of many things, but think of how much of our lives we’ve spent praying. Granted it’s time well spent for those who feel they’ve gotten something out of it. But ‘Imagine’ there were no religion (as John Lennon suggests). Think of the thousands of hours of your life you’d get back.

The Catholic Church

One of the things I pride myself on is my progressiveness. The root of ‘progressiveness’ is PROGRESS. After 2,005 years since we’ve been counting the years forward, we’ve come a long way. We’ve progressed. We’ve made it through the Stone Age, the Dark Age, the Ice Age, and even the Industrial Revolution. In just the past 200+ years we’ve experienced a magnitude of change in technology and society. But, has religion progressed along with the rest of society?

  • In today’s society, at least in our country, women are equal partners. They’ve worked for, and earned respect. They deserve to be treated as equally and as fairly as men. However, in some religions, women are second-class citizens. Why is it that the Catholic Church will not allow women to be priests?

  • In today’s society, birth control is a fact of life. Planned parenthood is a necessity as sexual attraction is an integral part of our culture. So, why does the Catholic Church disallow birth control?

  • In today’s society, in most religions, grown adults are encouraged find their life-partners, marry, and build a family. But in the Catholic Church, those who are most involved in leading the religion (priests & nuns) are not allowed to pursue the destiny that the rest of us enjoy. Because of this ‘vow of celibacy’, a demonizing sex-abuse scandal has threatened the very pillar of the Catholic Church. I wonder if that would’ve happened if priests had been allowed to marry and have children, much like ministers and rabbis?

Intelligent Design

It’s only been in the last few years that the phrase “Intelligent Design” has been a part of our language. Where did it come from? Previously we referred to it as “Creation”. The very first words of the Bible say “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. I guess the “Creation” term wasn’t euphoric enough, so they repackaged it much like the Republican’s schemes. Like “No Child Left Behind”, “Healthy Forests Initiative”, “Clear Skies Initiative”, and “Faith Based Initiative”, it’s all about marketing.

So, let’s be perfectly clear. “Intelligent Design” is Creationism. It’s religion, plain and simple. It’s all fine & good to teach “Intelligent Design” in religious school, but not in public schools as scientific theory. God is the excuse we use to explain that which we can’t, but it’s not an acceptable alternative to science.

Religion’s Upside

I don’t want the reader to walk away with the idea that I’m totally against religion. That certainly is not the case because I do believe that religion has a lot of upside. I believe that most religions are based on righteous principles of love, brotherhood, family, community, mercy, hope and treating people with respect. Religion gives countless people a sense of purpose, comfort and belonging. Religion’s benevolent efforts have done a lot of good in this world.

I’ve always been a firm believer in “The Golden Rule”. It’s the primary value I’ve taught my children – “Treat people the way you would want to be treated”. In the bible the words are “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. Again, a righteous concept… a virtue… and could be attributed to religion. Personally, I would rather attribute it to basic respectful behavior. But if religion causes people to act respectfully, that’s a good thing.


I believe religion has its merits. However, I also believe that religion brainwashes and manipulates. It has its place in this world, but it should be a private place. A place where we can go to if we want, or not go to if we don’t want. Religion should be available and free to join, practice, and participate, but not imposed upon anyone.

October 14, 2005

Commander in Geena

I absolutely love this program! Obviously, I’m intrigued by the fact that the new President is a woman as well as an Independent in affiliation. But, this week’s episode showed me something else. Something special.

After all the heat, criticism, & second guessing she has to put up with as the first female President of the United States, President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) keeps composure and makes the correct decisions (notice I didn’t say the ‘right’ decisions). She polled her leadership team, included her new VP-to-be, weighed her alternatives, and did not flinch. She performed with poise & grace, and clearly commanded respect. She earned that respect because she has integrity. She has integrity because she has their trust. Whose trust? Everyone’s. She’s a true leader.

“First Strike” – Episode #3

In this episode she had to deal with an incident where nine DEA agents were assassinated in Latin America. After intelligence determined conclusively that the corrupt dictator of that country was responsible, her cabinet eventually came up with a plan to bomb the cocoa fields & cocaine refining factories as retaliation. It wasn’t their first option and her cabinet had to scramble for a creative response short of declaring war. There was no need to invade and occupy this country just because she had a beef with the dictator.

She gave an address on national television to explain the plan, which incited a coup to overthrow the corrupt dictator and re-installed the deposed, democratically elected, friendly-to-the-United States president. Upon learning of the coup, she retracted the plan to bomb the cocoa fields, but not the plan to demolish the cocaine refining factories - an earlier scene explained that the cocoa industry is the country’s primary economic anchor and the cocoa crop has many other non-cocaine uses. She had a plan… not to damage/destroy the country, but to overthrow the dictator’s regime and return the country to democracy, and friendly to the United States.

Dare to compare

When I compare this to our current president I almost don’t know where to begin. Here is a president with respect and credibility. A president who acted in the best interests of the people. A president who probed to understand the nuances & ramifications, and persisted to unveil hidden alternatives. A president who communicated with authority, but not arrogance.

Compare this to our current president who has no curiosity or desire to understand the implications of his actions. A president who makes decisions in the best interests of his corporate donors; certainly not in the best interests of the people. A president who has lied at every turn, is immersed in an abundance of scandal, and has absolutely no credibility or integrity. A president who has literally run our country into the ground and jeopardized the future for our children.

And if you think I’M all ‘gloom-&-doom’, I highly encourage you to check out this article from the U.K. Mirror by Dermot Purgavie. This article is both astonishing and frightening, and I have absolutely no doubt that everything in it is 100% true. Please read it – you’ll be shocked!

Where’s the cronyism?

There’s one more facet to this series that I found fascinating. As Geena Davis’ character (President Mackenzie Allen) ascended to the presidency (she was VP when the President died), she naturally had to decide on a new Vice President. The Republican Speaker of the House (‘Nathan Templeton’ played by Donald Sutherland) tried to steer her to nominating one of his own cronies, but she had her heart set on someone else. Someone even her own husband wasn’t too keen on. Someone who wasn’t even in her own party (perhaps not so surprising since she’s an Independent).

Peter Coyote plays ‘Warren Keaton’, a standing General, clearly well versed & experienced in all things international & military. However, he was her Vice-Presidential opponent in the previous election. A political foe (complete with flashbacks from their VP debate where he was of course highly critical of her), yet uniquely qualified, and a pillar of integrity.

She didn’t want a crony who would automatically “Yes” her. She didn’t give one thought to paying back a political favor. She didn’t look for a glamorous candidate who would court the electorate and sail through nomination hearings. She knew exactly who she wanted… the best person who would compliment her weaknesses and help her do her job – making the best possible decisions in the interests of the people of this country (and apparently many others as well).

I know this is just a television show, but I can’t help but make the logical comparisons. I can’t help but be amazed and astonished at this magnificent case study of how our president should behave, and where our president’s interests should be focused. And I can’t help but fantasize that some day our president might be like this. But alas, we’re stuck with 3 more years of this hell known as the Bush Administration.

Sometimes I just hate reality.

October 07, 2005

Activist or Loyalist?

How many times did we hear President Bush say he wanted to nominate judges who would strictly interpret the Constitution and not “… legislate from the bench…”? After all the uproar about ‘activist’ judges over the past year, one would logically assume that ‘activist’ equates to legislating from the bench. So, let’s take a look at the judicial system and what it means to be a judge... and most particularly, the awesome responsibility of being a judge on the United States Supreme Court.

What Makes a Judge an ‘Activist’?

I’m still a little fuzzy as to what exactly constitutes an ‘activist’ judge. What I’ve seen so far is that an ‘activist’ judge is one who allowed Terri Schiavo to die. Oh yes, ‘activist’ judges are murderers! Well… let’s take a little deeper look. The judge’s responsibility is to interpret the United States Constitution and the subsequent laws that have been enacted. Technically, they don’t make laws themselves, but you wouldn’t know that by the whole ‘Roe v. Wade’ issue. Oh yeah, didn’t the Supreme Court legalize abortion?

Judges only make decisions based on the cases before them, and there are several challenges that they face in the process. Firstly, the laws as written are not always clear and distinct. Even ‘the letter of the law’ can be ambiguous. Secondly, on occasion multiple laws conflict with each other, and judges must decipher which one prevails. And as they do, they set precedent for subsequent cases.

In the case of ‘Roe v. Wade’, the Supreme Court didn’t ‘legalize abortion’. Instead, they determined that the Constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy had precedent over the government’s right to interfere, otherwise considered her right to ‘choose’. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the Court ruled once again that the family’s right to privacy was paramount to the government’s right to control what they do. Is that ‘activism’? Or, is that a strict interpretation of the Constitution?

If you really want to talk about activist judges, let’s talk about the 2000 Supreme Court which overruled Florida’s right to recount, and literally handed the presidency over to George W. Bush after the electoral process failed to distinguish a winner. Was that activism? Or, did they strictly interpret the Constitution and guarantee George W. Bush’s right to equal protection?

Loyalist Judgment

As soon as GWB stole the election last November I cringed at the probability that he would have the opportunity to appoint between 2 and 4 new judges to the US Supreme Court. I knew right then and there this country was in for real trouble. Over the last few months George had two vacancies open and he’s come up with two candidates. In each case he’s nominated people who are utterly unqualified for the responsibility.

The latest nomination, Harriet Miers, is a doozey. I loved Jay Leno’s perspective (from memory).. “Let’s see, she’s a Bush loyalist with no experience… and we’ll be relying on HER JUDGMENT?” The only redeeming value to Harriet Miers in my opinion, is that even the right-wingnuts don’t like her. It’s so satisfying watching Republicans eating their own.

When will we stand up and stop putting up with this cronyism? How can we sit back and allow the idiot in the White House to continue to appoint people who are unqualified to critical positions of responsibility? His only qualification is loyalty. Didn’t he learn his lesson with Michael Brown?

Here’s My Theory

George is stacking the Supreme Court deck because he knows that very soon he or any number of his cronies will be before the Court facing the music. How better to ensure success than to have most of the judges on your side. Isn’t that how he won the election in 2000? There are so many scandals and indictments; you need a scorecard to keep track of them all. The only questions are who will burn, and who will get off Scot-free because the Supreme Court has been ‘stacked.’