Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

George W. Bush tonight delivered his sixth State of the Union address to Congress. While most of the speech was the usual empty blather, there were a few surprises. For example, in naming tyrannical régimes, Bush mentioned Zimbabwe along with Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Burma. Zimbabwe has no oil reserves, nor any military bases useful in securing oil fields in nearby countries.

Here are a few more quotes, interspersed with my reactions.

Today, our nation lost a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who called America to its founding ideals and carried on a noble dream. Tonight we are comforted by the hope of a glad reunion with the husband who was taken so long ago, and we are grateful for the good life of Coretta Scott King.
Mrs. King and her husband shared a noble dream that America could become a land in which all men and women are created equal. Mr. Bush works to realize a dream of an America in which entrenched divisions of class and wealth become permanent barriers to the aspirations of the majority.
On September 11, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state, 7000 miles [11,000 km] away, could bring murder and destruction to our country.
The "failed and oppressive state," of course, is Afghanistan, but the attack of 2001-09-11 did not originate in Afghanistan, nor did al Qaeda. Viewing the attack in such terms is disastrously pre-9/11 thinking.
One of the main sources of reaction and opposition [to freedom] is radical Islam, the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death. Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder, and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously. They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder. Their aim is to seize power in Iraq and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world. Lacking the military strength to challenge us directly, the terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. ... If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat, and there is no honor in retreat. By allowing radical Islam to work its will, by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself, we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage. ... A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison, would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country and show that a pledge from America means little.
America pledged to disarm Saddam Hussein, and we kept that pledge. Men like bin Laden and Zarqawi will be in charge of Iraq only if the Iraqi people allow that to happen. Which is it, Mr. Bush? Are the Iraqi people committed to their own freedom or not? As for our ideals and our courage, neither is served by sending our soldiers to be blown apart by roadside bombs nor by rounding up great masses of Iraqi citizens in Abu Ghraib.
Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay was killed last month fighting in Fabiani. He left behind a letter to his family, but his words could just as well be addressed to every American. Here is what Dan wrote: "I know what honor is. It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to. Never falter. Don't hesitate to honor and support those of us who had the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting."
Unfortunately, Sgt. Clay was mistaken in his "secure knowledge" that those of us here in America would not have to face death. Al Qaeda's determination to attack on U.S. soil has not in the least diminished because of our occupation of Iraq. Indeed, the presence of U.S. soldiers in Iraq has made America a more dangerous place, not safer, just as the presence of Spanish soldiers in Iraq made the Madrid subway a more dangerous place.
Our offensive against terror involves more than military action. Ultimately, the only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change.
Our use of torture and our indiscriminate detention of innocent civilians serves only to feed that dark vision of hatred and fear, again making us less safe.
So the United States of America supports democratic reform across the broader Middle East. Elections are vital, but they are only the beginning. Raising up a democracy requires the rule of law, and protection of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote. The great people of Egypt have voted in a multiparty presidential election, and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism. The Palestinian people have voted in elections. And now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace. Saudi Arabia has taken the first steps of reform. Now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts.
Calling Egypt's election "multiparty" is giving it a bit too much credit, but the comment about Hamas and the Palestinians is a bullseye. Saudi Arabia's "first steps of reform," however, are anemic and noncommittal, although having Bush publicly call them to press forward with real reform is a hopeful sign.

Most of all, though, I am struck by the hypocrisy of Bush's actions at home in contrast to his stated vision for other nations. Where are the accountable institutions responsible for misleading the American people into the war in Iraq? Where is the rule of law in abrogating more treaties than the first 42 Presidents combined? Where is the protection of minorities in a Congressional practice of systematically stonewalling 46% of the members of Congress in conference committees?
So to prevent another [9/11] attack — based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute — I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same Constitutional authority I have and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
Neither the Constitution nor any federal statute gives the President the power to override the Fourth Amendment, which this program of surveillance unambiguously violates. Appropriate members of Congress were not kept informed by any remote stretch of the imagination. To begin with, the "appropriate members of Congress" would include at the very least the entire membership of the intelligence committees, not merely the four ranking members. Further, it is clear that those four members of Congress were given an incomplete picture of the program. As for previous Presidents and federal courts, I would like to see something specific, because nothing comes to mind.

The bottom line is that the federal government must monitor communications to and from al Qaeda operatives, but it must do so within the Constitution's clear mandate that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." My e-mails and my telephone calls unquestionably fall into the category of "papers and effects," no matter whether I'm calling the speaking clock or Osama bin Laden. If you want to search or seize my communications, then get a warrant from a judge, period.

Bush goes on to make empty promises about affordable health care, economic expansion, deficit reduction (Never forget, there was no deficit when Bush took office.), Social Security, and energy independence. In all of those areas, I agree with the solid majority of the American people that Bush is leading us down the wrong track.
Our greatest [economic] advantage in the world has always been our educated, hardworking, ambitious people, and we are going to keep that edge. Tonight I announce the American Competitiveness Initiative to encourage innovation throughout our economy and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science.
"Science" includes Biology, Mr. Bush, and the science of biology includes Evolution. You cannot simultaneously give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science and discount the validity of science and the scientific method.
Drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001.
If you believe that, I want to know what you've been smoking. From 1994 to 2004, marijuana use among 12th graders increased by 62%. Their use of cocaine almost doubled.
There are fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades.
There are fewer young women than at any point in the last three decades. That "Baby Boom" thing ran its course and was followed by a lull.
[Many Americans] are concerned about unethical conduct by public officials and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage.
Many Americans are concerned about unethical conduct by Republican officials and discouraged by reactionaries who try to perpetuate the subjugation of minorities. I'm also discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine "particularly describing the persons or things to be seized" and unethical public officials who try to redefine "commander in chief of the Army and Navy" to mean "supreme leader whose dictates must not be questioned."
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms; creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.
What about creating human-machine hybrids to travel through time and exterminate us all? Don't we need a law against that — at least until we amend the Constitution to let him become President? And what if I want to create a hybrid between a human and a tomato? What if I create a way to fuel our automobiles with human embryos? Those are at least as realistic as human-animal hybrids.

Happily for the rest of us, Mr. Bush will have at most two more State of the Union addresses.