Wednesday, March 30, 2005

PERHAPS RANDALL TERRY, Ralph Nader, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson can wrench their attention away from Terri Schiavo for a few moments to read this article. Perhaps Pres. Bush can see fit to say something about it, too. The people living on the islands of Indonesia who died in the recent earthquake -- an estimated 1,000-plus, according to local officials -- were not in persistent vegetative states, were fully aware, and had just a few months ago been through one of the worst natural disasters in all of human history. People argue over whether Terri Schiavo feels pain. It's doubtful, given that the only part of her brain that's still working is the part that controls breathing and other involuntary functions. But I can assure Randall Terry, Ralph Nader, and Jesse Jackson that the woman lying on the ground in the photograph accompanying this article does feel pain. Can we do something for her?


JESSE JACKSON IS THE SECOND public figure to surprise everyone by announcing his support for Terri Schiavo's parents in their fight to get their daughter's feeding tube reinserted. The first, as everyone knows by now, was Ralph Nader. I am very puzzled about their motivations for doing this, particularly in the instance of Nader. Although I definitely was startled yesterday to read that Jackson had supported the Schindlers on television and that he accepted Mary Schindler's invitation to go down to Florida, I can sort of credit it in his case. He is, after all, a Baptist minister. A desire for the spotlight might be involved, too. Why else would he arrive at the hospice in a white stretch limo, drawing attention to himself when you might think he would want to keep the focus on the Schindlers.

But Ralph Nader? That really is a head-scratcher. He's not religious at all, as far as I know. He's a consumer advocate; that's how he came to fame. He ran for president 3 times, and always supported strong limits on government intrusions into Americans' private lives. He supports separation of church and state. He supports gay rights. He supports abortion rights. (But then, so does Jesse Jackson.)

Having read his article about the issue in Common Dreams, I am still mystified. He says that, since Terri Schiavo has no awareness, she has no preference, and since she does not have a living will, nobody knows what her preference would have been. Therefore, it is better to reinsert the feeding tube and keep her vital organs alive, even though she herself has not been alive, in any meaningful sense of the word, for 15 years.

This is the same justification for ruling in the parents' favor that we have heard from Pres. Bush, from Jeb Bush, from Tom DeLay, from everyone else involved in the federal intervention into this case. We all probably have our opinions about whether Terri Schiavo should be kept alive indefinitely through a feeding tube, or allowed to die. But that is not the most important issue here. In my view, the central issue in this case is the fact that the Bush administration violated the constitutionally mandated separation of powers between the central government and the states; that he used the power of the executive and legislative branches (as did the entire Republican leadership, of course) to undo judicial decisions he did not like. It concerns me deeply that the federal government intervened in a private family matter that had been litigated and ruled on in the Florida courts for years. Nader does not address these issues at all -- not at all. And I would think that someone like him -- with his strong background of support for individual rights, civil liberties, keeping government out of people's private lives, and so on -- would want to address those issues.

I fault both of these men -- Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson -- for coming in at this extraordinarily late stage, when all legal appeals have been exhausted; when Terri Schiavo has been almost two weeks without food and water and has no realistic chance of surviving even if the feeding tube were reinserted right now; and when the Schindlers, after saying they would not file any more appeals, did file another desperate appeal to the same federal court that turned them down 3 times before. (And their request for a new review was turned down again today.) Throughout this legal circus, members of Congress, the president, religious nuts like Randall Terry, David Gibbs, the so-called neurologist William Cheshire, and any number of others, have manipulated the Schindlers and given them false hope and misleading if not downright false information about Terri's medical condition. It appalls me to know that two men who built their careers on values of honesty and not disinformation; on support for empowering individuals rather than giving in to fanaticism and heavy-handed government, should be in that number.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

HERE'S AN INTERESTING TIDBIT for a little change of pace: According to a poll commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation, three-quarters of Americans say their sleep is disturbed by nighttime waking, snoring, or the like. Americans get an average of 6.9 hours of sleep a night; sleep experts say most people need (as opposed to get) 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.

Here's some more cheery findings from the study:

* Six in 10 adult motorists said they have driven while drowsy in the past year; 4 percent reported that they have had an accident or near-accident because they were too tired or actually fell asleep while driving.

* Three-fourths said their partner has a sleep problem, and the most common is snoring.

* Roughly one-fourth of respondents who have partners report that their sexual relationship has been hurt because they have been too sleepy. They had sex less often or lost interest in having sex because they were too tired.

* Seven in 10 people said their doctor has never asked them about their sleep.

I wonder what the results of such a study would be in other countries. I suspect that Europeans get more sleep than we Americans do. Although the Spanish siesta is coming in for a lot of criticism lately. Too bad. Such a civilized habit.


THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR has an article about the Bush administration's renditions policy and the kind of treatment detainees receive in the countries they are sent to. The photograph at the top of the article is heartwrenching. Mamdouh Habib, the Australian who was imprisoned and tortured in Guantanamo for over 3 years, then released without any charges, weeps while a family member comforts him. Maybe some can look at a scene like that without feeling shame, but I am not one of them.

The Bush administrations policy of sending Arab and Muslim detainees to countries that practice torture is well-known by now. But what has been less thoroughly aired (at least as far as I have seen) is the contrast between what the renditions program used to be, and what it has become under Bush.

The policy was started by Reagan in response to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut; Clinton also used it, largely to bring drug traffickers and terrorists into the U.S. for trial. The big difference between the rendition program then and what it has become now is that, after 9/11, Pres. Bush greatly expanded the C.I.A.'s powers under the program. It's important to know that under former presidents the renditions program was used more to bring suspected terrorists into the U.S. to face prosecution on criminal charges. It was not being used, as it is now, to transfer hundreds of prisoners to countries in the Middle East and Asia, for the sole purpose of detention and interrogation. Furthermore, in past administrations, the renditions program was subject to checks and balances via review and oversight requirements. To put it simply, the C.I.A. had to keep Congress and other government agencies informed about what they were doing. Back in early February, Jane Mayer wrote an article for The New Yorker (reprinted in Common Dreams) that explained the extraordinary transformation of what had been a small and highly targeted program, designed to bring charged suspects to trial and subject to meaningful review, into a secret C.I.A. program with unlimited authority to kidnap anyone, really, and ship them overseas to be tortured.

Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition—becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, “an abomination.” What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects—people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants—came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms “illegal enemy combatants.” Many of them have never been publicly charged with any crime. Scott Horton, an expert on international law who helped prepare a report on renditions issued by N.Y.U. Law School and the New York City Bar Association, estimates that a hundred and fifty people have been rendered since 2001. Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, said that a more precise number was impossible to obtain. “I’ve asked people at the C.I.A. for numbers,” he said. “They refuse to answer. All they will say is that they’re in compliance with the law.”

The impenetrable cloak of secrecy around Bush's version of the renditions program means that international mechanisms for insuring compliance with global norms of human rights are useless. So not only is Congress kept in the dark; the detainees have no access to legal hearings, and the C.I.A. refuses to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit and interview the detainees -- a right guaranteed to prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention.

So it seems that U.S. government policy has managed to sink below even the level of the 1970s and 1980s, when Nixon, Carter, and Reagan sent military aid to brutal dictatorships in Latin America, trained paramilitaries in torture techniques, and turned a blind eye to rape, assassination, and genocide. We have gone ourselves one better than training torturers and giving them money and weapons. Now we are the torturers. Now we send private military jets to give the hapless victims a one-way ticket to the torture chamber.


Monday, March 28, 2005

OKAY, CHECK THIS ONE OUT. Bill Tierney is a military intelligence specialist in Iraq. In other words, he's an expert in interrogating detainees. Back in the United States, he hears about Terri Schiavo and camps out in front of the hospice with his children, protesting the removal of her feeding tube. Even now, he's still there, waiting for her to die.

Here's what else Bill Tierney does: he talks to military audiences about the ins and outs of getting information out of prisoners.

''You are the interrogators, you are the ones who have to get the information from the Iraqis. What do you do? That word 'torture'. You immediately think, 'That's not me.' But are we litigating this war or fighting it?'' . . .

Asked about Abu Ghraib, Tierney said that for an interrogator, ''sadism is always right over the hill. You have to admit it. Don't fool yourself – there is a part of you that will say, 'This is fun.' ''
Can you say, "sick in the head"?

Via Daily Kos.


ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES brings up yet another crucial point about proposed conscience laws allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions. I had pointed out that such laws could be used to allow pharmacists to turn down prescriptions for other medications, like antidepressants or steroids. But if the idea of "pharmacists' rights" takes hold, entire classes of people could be refused treatment:

Let's state the obvious: Both the pharmacist conscience clauses and the hullabaloo about dispensing are about birth control pills, in either the usual form or the emergency form, and the conscience reasons that are the focus of legal protection are those of pro-lifers. But for obvious reasons the laws don't just single out this one group of believers for protection, and, in theory, at least, the conscience clause could be used to deny certain types of patients (such as alcoholics and drug-addicts) non-emergency services altogether. It could also be used to protect a provider who refuses to treat, say, gays and lesbians or anyone else the provider dislikes.


JULIE SALTMAN has a piece on the issue of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, and hers comes with a very cool graphic: a map of the United States showing the breakdown of state laws on "pharmacists' rights" (so-called):

  • States that currently have laws allowing pharmacists to refuse prescriptions are outlined in red.
  • States that have no such laws are white with no outline.
  • States that are actively considering laws that require pharmacists to fill all prescriptions are outlined in black.

Three states are outlined in black: California, Missouri, and ... NEW JERSEY!

I knew there was a reason I love this state, and it's not just Bruce Springsteen.


FROM TODAY'S WASHINGTON POST, an article about the growing number of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception or birth control pills. Yes, even birth control pills. An increasing number of pharmacists across the country are turning away teenagers and unmarried women with birth control prescriptions; some will not fill any birth control prescriptions for any woman. Even worse, some of these pharmacists attempt to prevent women from filling their doctors' prescriptions anywhere; they will not give the prescription back to the woman, and they will not refer the woman to another pharmacy.

People who support the right of pharmacists to keep prescriptions in their possession and to refuse to refer women elsewhere say that, since birth control and emergency contraception are murder, allowing someone else to fill the prescription or giving it back to the woman would be tantamount to helping that other pharmacist commit the murder.

"That's like saying, 'I don't kill people myself but let me tell you about the guy down the street who does.' What's that saying? 'I will not off your husband, but I know a buddy who will?' It's the same thing," said Brauer [Karen Brauer, who was fired from a pharmacy in Ohio for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions].

By Brauer's logic, it would be necessary for me, as someone who opposes war and believes war is murder, to block the entrances to recruiting centers and to do everything in my power to prevent men and women from going into the military. It wouldn't be enough to work for peace and try to win others over to my viewpoints by the influence of my example. I would have to actively bar others from doing what I believe is murder, or have to consider myself a murderer as well.

This is more than troubling; it's downright scary. These are the voices of the Taliban and mullahs speaking to us in Western dress. Primitive and narrowly religious ways of viewing women and treating women are making a comeback. When the rights of a pharmacist or a doctor to refuse medical treatment or deny access to needed medications are considered essential; and the rights of women, or anyone, to get medical products or services is considered secondary or of no importance at all, then how long is it before women are considered to be made by God exclusively for childbearing and pleasing their husbands? How long before women start to be pressured to wear clothes that cover their entire bodies? How long before women who go outside in pants or dresses that show arms and legs are hissed, stared at, called names, stoned?

Since when has it become a "right" for a pharmacist to refuse to fill a legal prescription from a licensed physician? Not to mention that refusing to fill a birth control prescription and denying the woman any other means of getting it filled is a violation of the Pharmacists Code of Ethics, which says, in part:

II. A pharmacist promotes the good of every patient in a caring, compassionate, and confidential manner.

A pharmacist places concern for the well-being of the patient at the center of professional practice. In doing so, a pharmacist considers needs stated by the patient as well as those defined by health science. A pharmacist is dedicated to protecting the dignity of the patient. With a caring attitude and a compassionate spirit, a pharmacist focuses on serving the patient in a private and confidential manner.

III. A pharmacist respects the autonomy and dignity of each patient.

A pharmacist promotes the right of self-determination and recognizes individual self-worth by encouraging patients to participate in decisions about their health. A pharmacist communicates with patients in terms that are understandable. In all cases, a pharmacist respects personal and cultural differences among patients.

If pharmacists are now to be given the legal right to pick and choose which prescriptions they will fill, we are taking a giant step on the slippery slope to imposing personal beliefs on patients in any number of other ways. How about pharmacists refusing to fill Zoloft or Paxil prescriptions for teenage patients, because they don't believe in prescribing antidepressants to teenagers? Or how about pharmacists refusing to fill any psychotropic medications at all, because they find such medications morally objectionable? Some pharmacists might find prescriptions for steroids offensive, even if they are being prescribed for medical reasons unrelated to pumping up. Maybe the next "morally objectionable" pharmacy item will be condoms, or prescriptions for i.u.d.'s or diaphragms. Perhaps doctors will begin to refuse to perform tubal ligations because they "stop human life." I'm sure many of us could come up with any number of other possibilities for medications that might be "morally objectionable" or "offensive" to some pharmacists or doctors.

The American Pharmacists Association's policy on all this is to permit pharmacists to turn down prescriptions they find offensive to their beliefs, as long as they give the patient another way to get the prescription filled. If that is going to work, though, pharmacists cannot refuse to refer the patient to another pharmacy. In fact, as far as I am concerned, it is completely unacceptable for a patient to be referred to another pharmacy at all. As the Post article points out, asking a woman to go to a different pharmacy is a major hardship when every moment counts, as it does with emergency contraception. It's also humiliating and intimidating to be told to go somewhere else because the pharmacist thinks your prescription is immoral. Plus, in many parts of the country, going to another pharmacy isn't even a realistic option: There isn't any other pharmacy anywhere near.

The only way such a policy could work would be for every pharmacy to have several other pharmacists on staff at any given time, so that if a prescription were handed to a pharmacist who didn't want to fill it, he could just hand it to one of the other pharmacists.

Even better than that would be if would-be pharmacists or doctors who have personal objections to specific medications or medical procedures simply choose some other line of work. If you think birth control, or antidepressants for teenagers, or steroids, or condoms are immoral, then don't become a pharmacist.


MY DAUGHTER AND I were discussing the Texas law Pres. Bush signed when he was governor there: the one that allows hospitals to end life support for patients against the family's wishes if the patient's doctor decides there is no hope of recovery, and after the doctor has asked an ethics committee for permission, asked a court to review the case (the court can refuse to do so), and given the patient's family 10 days to find another health care facility that will agree to take on a patient that another hospital has decided is a hopeless case.

My daughter said, "I guess you have to pay to be a member of Bush's culture of life."


Sunday, March 27, 2005

FROM "A LITTLE BIT ABOUT LIS," a biographical essay on Riba Rambles:

The other day, I got to thinking about what I would do if I didn't have to worry about money.

If my material needs could be provided for, I'd become a perpetual student for the next ten years or so. There are just so many things I want to learn. I'd start by finishing off my Library Science degree, in part because I see that as learning how to learn (or, at least, learning how to find and evaluate information, which is an important part of learning in general). Then, I'd go on to dabble. I don't think I'd pursue another degree, but just take classes that interest me from nearby colleges (which does include Harvard and MIT, so I'm hardly selling myself short). I'd like to learn a bit of Law, just to gain a grounding, and I'd spend some time studying Talmud. I want to become fluent in Yiddish, Biblical Hebrew and Latin. I'd definitely take more classes in History and American Studies, including in-depth readings of Alexis de Tocqueville and Elizabethan and Jacobean writers (not just Shakespeare and Marlowe, but their lesser-known contemporaries like Nashe and Harrington). And Ian's communication studies raised some interesting ideas that I'd like to explore. Mostly, I'd just flit about like an academic butterfly, exploring whatever whims catch my eye.

I'd also like to travel, across the United States and around Europe. I definitely want to spend some time in Washington, DC, and would try to time a trip so I could attend a Supreme Court session or two. Just for fun, I recently put myself on the mailing lists of several cruise lines. Ian rather likes Cunard's 100+ day Voyage of Six Continents World Cruise, but I think I prefer the itinerary of some of Seabourn's cruises to Scotland and Scandinavia. But those are merely daydreams -- I doubt I'd ever actually blow $40,000+ on something like that. Instead, we'd be more likely to just drive and rail around where the whims take us. I've enjoyed the Rick Steves' Europe series on PBS, so might be tempted to take one of his tours across the Continent. At the very least, I'd never miss a WorldCon again.
Chills are going up and down my spine. Maybe there really is something to this "everybody has a double" idea. Seems there's a clone of me living in Boston. She's even Jewish, too.


JUAN COLE has an interesting new post about the GoogleSmear and how the Right uses it to discredit political opponents.


VIA CHIEF, by way of The Left Coaster, here is an article from the St. Petersburg Times by a very talented reporter named Wes Allison. Allison's piece deals with the larger moral, ethical, religious, scientific, and constitutional questions raised by the Terri Schiavo affair, questions addressed only peripherally by the media in the past 10 days.

Good journalism does not just report what's happening, it asks why it's happening, and attempts to find the experts who will be able to provide some of the answers. Good journalists also turn widely accepted assumptions on their heads, and get us to see perceived truths from a completely different angle.

Wes Allison is an excellent journalist. Throughout this legal battle, supporters of reconnecting Terri Schiavo's feeding tube have used religious faith as the justification for their insistence that Ms. Schiavo should be allowed to keep living. They cite biblical authority and Christian doctrine to claim that God is on the side of life, and that Christians in particular are obligated to stand up for the sanctity of life. Yet, the underpinnings of these people's certainty that Terri Schiavo's condition could improve comes from science, not religion. And religious belief -- Christian religious belief in particular -- does not lead inevitably to the conclusion that keeping Terri Schiavo alive at all costs, regardless of her awareness or her ability to think, feel, or communicate, is the only way to value life.

All of which [makes] the Rev. Frederick Schmidt, an Episcopal priest and theologian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, wonder: Why [i]sn't letting Schiavo die a Christian option, too?

"I think the religious right is captive to a medical, scientific description of life that equates merely to survival," said Schmidt, director of spiritual life and formation at SMU's Perkins Graduate School of Theology.

"But Christians can say no, life is broader than that . . . and to let someone go under these circumstances is perfectly appropriate."

Wes Allison takes an exquisitely nuanced and sophisticated look at these questions and numerous others raised by this case. When the right to life and the right to liberty conflict, which should come first? When does life begin and when does it end? The answer is not as simple as you think. The same Catholic church that now defines life as beginning at conception used to define life as beginning at "quickening" (the point where the woman feels the fetus move), which happens between 16 and 18 weeks into the pregnancy (according to the University of Michigan's medical school website; the St. Pete Times article says 40 days).

The article is fairly long, but it has to be because it raises and tries to answer so many difficult and complex questions. But you will come away from it with entirely new ways of looking at these issues, as well as a renewed appreciation for truly original and superior journalism.


I AM SO EXCITED. Liberty Street is quoted on! The Daou Report on Salon has this daily round-up of commentary from the blogosphere on the day's news. They picked up my post (which they found via another one of my posts that Shakespeare's Sister had linked to (thank you, S.S.!). In turn, The Sideshow found my post via the Daoud Report, and mentioned it on their blog. I found out about it just now when I checked my Technorati links.

Please forgive the shameless self-promotion, everyone, but this feels like my first major recognition. I mean, is up there. Hey, I'm so beside myself that I actually called my ex-husband to tell him!

Okay, I'll get back to the real news now. :)


IT ISN'T ALWAYS EASY doing everything for political gain. Sometimes you miscalculate, and then you cause a rupture. There are two things you do when this happens. Backtrack, and hide. In Pres. Bush's case, these two strategies work out like so:

  • When two issues involving human life come up more or less at the same time, make a federal case out of the one that resonates most with your Christian conservative base. Ignore the issue (a school shooting that involves a demographic group -- 5,000 Chippewa/Ojibwa living on a reservation in Minnesota -- that doesn't vote for your party, has no political importance, and hence is of no concern to you.
  • When, much to your surprise, polls show that the vast majority of Americans (including most evangelical Christians and conservative Christians) strongly disapprove of your administration's intervention in a private family matter, fly back to your ranch vacation (which you left a week earlier to sign that bill authorizing federal review of state court decisions on said private family matter), stop making any statements at all about that brain-dead woman in Florida, and use your weekly radio speech to, one, extend your sincere sympathies to the Native American victims of that school shooting in Minnesota; and two, confirm your strong belief in a "culture that affirms life."


IT SHOULDN'T COME AS A SURPRISE (Tom DeLay's well-known hypocrisy being what it is) that he joined in a family decision to end life support for his own father, Charles DeLay, in 1988, when DeLay was a 41-year-old junior Congressman. DeLay's father was a drilling contractor; a freak accident at his home caused brain damage so severe that the doctors treating him told the family there was no hope for recovery. The accident occurred in the fall of 1988 and was similar in many ways to Terri Schiavo's situation. Both Schiavo and DeLay suffered overwhelming brain damage; both could not have continued living without being hooked up to life support; both were diagnosed by their doctors as being in a permanent vegetative state with no hope of recovery; both lacked a living will; and both had expressed verbally their wish not to be kept alive by artificial means if there was no hope of recovery.

Here are the differences between the two cases:

  • Terri Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state, and on life support, for 15 years. Charles DeLay was in a vegetative state and on life support for 2 or 3 months when his family decided, after being told there was no hope for recovery, to disconnect the ventilator and feeding tubes that were keeping him alive.
  • Terri Schiavo has been the focus of litigation in state courts, and a highly public battle involving Schiavo's parents and husband for 7 years; and, more recently, Congress, the President of the United States, a notorious anti-abortion activist (Randall Terry), and mobs of ordinary people from all over the country massed in front of the hospital where Terri Schiavo resides. The DeLay family tragedy was handled in complete privacy, with only the doctors and Charles DeLay's closest loved ones involved in making medical decisions for him.
  • When his father experienced severe brain damage and it was clear that he would never recover, Tom DeLay along with the rest of his family decided he would not want to live that way even though he did not have a written living will, and they ended all life support after a few months. When Terri Schiavo became a public cause over the issue of whether she should be disconnected from her feeding tube after 15 years of being in a vegetative state, the same Tom DeLay pushed a law through Congress to allow the federal government to intervene to keep her alive; the same Tom DeLay publicly stated that removing Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube was "murder"; and the same Tom DeLay loudly and contemptuously excoriated Ms. Schiavo's husband for fighting in the courts to allow the hospital to disconnect his wife from life support.

Charles DeLay's widow -- Tom DeLay's mother -- said, "There was no way [Charles] wanted to live like that. Tom knew — we all knew — his father wouldn't have wanted to live that way." Which makes me wonder again about that difference some of the bloggers writing about Terri Schiavo have noted about how differently society reacts to severely injured or ill women with no hope of recovery and severely injured or ill men with no hope of recovery. A number of bloggers have noted the fact that most if not all of the highly public battles over ending life support have involved women. Now that we have an actual example of a man in this situation, it seems that it was much clearer to his family that this man would not have wanted to live for the rest of his life in a vegetative state.

Naturally, Tom DeLay and his associates are trying to do damage control by denying any similarity between his father's case and that of Terri Schiavo.

"The situation faced by the congressman's family was entirely different than Terri Schiavo's," said a spokesman for the majority leader, who declined requests for an interview.

"The only thing keeping her alive is the food and water we all need to survive. His father was on a ventilator and other machines to sustain him," said Dan Allen, DeLay's press aide.

And that makes a difference, how? "We all" don't need to be connected to feeding tubes to get the food and water we need to survive. The point is, Terri Schiavo cannot feed herself because she has no conscious awareness, no thoughts, no volition anymore. There's no meaningful difference between being connected to a feeding tube because you cannot live without one and being connected to a ventilator because you cannot live without one.

We all need air to survive, too.


IT'S AFTER ONE A.M. and I'm starting to keel over, but I had to get this one in before I shut down for the night. Big Brass Blog reports, with a nod of thanks to WTF Is It Now? that Pres. Bush's proposed 2006 budget completely eliminates funding (yes, that's ALL funding) for the Federal Traumatic Brain Injuries Act.

You can file this in the Unbelievable, Incredibly Shameless Hypocrisy Department, because:

  1. According to Walter Reed, 60% of the injuries in soldiers returning from Iraq are traumatic brain injuries; and Pres. Bush says he looovvvveees those soldiers. Guess it must be tough love.
  2. Guess who else has a traumatic brain injury? Give up? Okay, I'll tell you. TERRI SCHIAVO!! And, as we all know by now, Pres. Bush feels really strongly that there is hope for Terri Schiavo's recovery, presumably from treatment for traumatic brain injuries!

So why is Pres. Bush killing a program that is designed to help the soldiers he says he supports, and why is he killing a program that treats the same class of injury that Terri Schiavo has?


REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (Democrat, from the Niagara Falls area of New York State) posts in the Friday, March 25 edition of Daily Kos about the announcement by the Air Force that it will not take any action against the U.S. Air Force officers identified in two Pentagon reports as having taken part in sexual assaults against female cadets at the Air Force Academy. Here is her public response to the news:

"It is reprehensible that the rights of sexual assault victims are so easily sidelined by the Pentagon as `too complex' to address. This is the kind of `head in the sand' approach we would have expected from the military in the 1950's; in 2005 it is an abomination. Where is the accountability?"

"What the Pentagon clearly doesn't want to discuss, and what all Americans should know, is that women are being sexually assaulted on an ongoing basis in the military and at our nation's military academies by their colleagues. Action must be taken. Until the Pentagon insists on accountability, there can be no real change and as a result, our women in uniform will continue to suffer. Is this the best we can do for young Americans who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom?"
Shakespeare's Sister has written a truly extraordinary piece on rape and its aftermath. She writes about it with great simplicity and in a very understated way, which has the effect of making her words that much more powerful. What I found most striking about her experience is what she has to say about the years after the rape. The intense loneliness and sense of isolation, her felt inability to convey the truth of her experience to those who knew about it, and her frustrating attempts to have her rapist held accountable, were just as awful, if not worse, than the rape itself, in many important ways.

But I'm not going to say any more about this piece. Read it for yourself.


Saturday, March 26, 2005

A COMMENT AT PANDAGON in response to a piece on single mothers by Amanda Marcotte sparked outrage over at Trish Wilson's Blog -- and with good reason. It's time people got past misusing statistics to tell women that if they are raising children alone, they are setting their kids up for poverty, substance abuse, and a life of violent crime. We should be beyond that, and we should be beyond telling women who are beaten by the men who promised to love them that they "made bad choices."

Trish is clearly well-versed in this issue, and she debunks the "fathers are essential" argument with both passion and skill. Take a look.


NATASHA AT PACIFIC VIEWS found this humorous breakdown of who reads which paper at Suburban Guerrilla. And Susan at SU found it at Riba Rambles (which, by the way, is going onto my blogroll).

Susan says she got the list from DU, but I don't know what DU is, so Susan gets the credit for being first on line.

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand the New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and did a far superior job of it, thank you very much.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country ... or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped minority feminist atheist dwarfs who also happen to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy provided, of course, that they are not Republicans.

11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.

12. None of these are read by the guy who is running the country into the ground.
Natasha says the Los Angeles Times one is her favorite. Mine is the last one.


PUBLIUS IS CLOSING THE DOORS at Legal Fiction. The amount of work involved in getting the legal tender has apparently become too overwhelming to do both that and blogging. I've only known about the blog for a short time, but I've found it consistently impressive. I'm really saddened that it's being shut down. Maybe work will get less hectic and there will be time for reading again. I hope so.


THE LEFT COASTER's Steve Soto has some thoughts on the Bush administration's sale of F16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

On the same day that the Los Angeles Times broke the story that Pakistan has been discovered to be illegally buying nuclear weapon-making equipment from American firms, with the White House preventing law enforcement agencies from stopping it, the Bush Administration announces that it plans to sell President Musharraf F-16 fighter jets. This is the same White House that has already stopped the FBI from investigating Saudi links to terrorism, and this is the same President Musharraf who has prevented the United States from getting access to Pakistani national hero A. Q. Khan, who we know has assisted Iran, North Korea, Libya, and even Al Qaeda in its efforts to go nuclear. It is also the same President Musharraf who has been likely harboring and assisting Mr. Dead or Alive, Osama Bin Laden, whose trail the Pakistanis conveniently told the world had gone cold last week. Yet Mr. Bush is selling Musharraf these advanced fighters as a reward for his cooperation in the war on terror. Does anyone really think outside of the White House that Musharraf has any real intention of capturing Bin Laden, especially after getting the F-16s for doing nothing?
Read the whole piece here.


BACK ON MARCH 11, I posted about a criminal investigation being conducted against American soldiers accused of savagely torturing and beating to death two prisoners at the Bagram interrogation center in Afghanistan.

Jeanne at Body and Soul, in a March 23 post, writes that the investigation is now complete. The results? The Pentagon has initiated "disciplinary proceedings" against a grand total of 2 out of the 28 U.S. soldiers and reservists implicated in the murders. Jeanne also notes the original charges that led to the criminal investigation: Assault, dereliction of duty, and involuntary manslaughter. These charges were filed in response to the following actions:

  • Chaining the prisoners to the ceiling.
  • Kicking and beating the chained prisoners, in the groin and the legs.
  • Repeated unlawful knee strikes over a period of 5 days, destroying the prisoner's leg muscle tissue.
  • Shoving or slamming the prisoners into walls and tables.
  • Forcing the prisoners to contort their bodies into painful positions for long periods of time.
  • Forcing water into prisoners' mouths until they could not breathe.

As Jeanne asked in an earlier post, "Just where is the 'involuntary' in that?"

And what sort of "disciplinary proceeding" would be appropriate for an assault so savage that a man's thigh tissue is "pulpified" and an autopsy reveals that his injuries are comparable to those of a person run over by a bus?


RIVERBEND OF BAGHDAD BURNING has a new post about the second-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and what it was like for her and her family when Shock and Awe began.


TODAY'S WASHINGTON POST has an interview with Condoleezza Rice, in which Rice talks at length about the Bush administration's "desire to see the spread of liberty and freedom as essential to the securing of a better future. ..." Here is some of what she said, with my commentary.

Q: All right let me ask you then, In these two countries [Saudi Arabia and Syria] do you hope that women are voting in any form of elections in Saudi Arabia within four years? Do you hope that Assad is out of power within four years? And Egypt, do you see want to see an election in which Mubarak has legitimate kind of competition as we do or as happens in any western country?

SECRETARY RICE: We've been very clear that we think that competitive presidential elections are to be desired. So yes, on competitive presidential elections. They will not look like American competitive presidential elections. I assume that American presidential elections are sui generis [unique] to this long history that we have.

In truth, the Republican Party leadership has been working very hard since well before the 2004 election to ensure that the United States will effectively have only one party. We should all hope that competitive presidential elections in Egypt or elsewhere will not look like American competitive presidential elections.

Q: How do you assess where we are in a region where we do know something, and where we know the language and we know the people? Here in our own hemisphere, where do you see things with Venezuela, with Haiti, Colombia?

SECRETARY RICE: Well the region has its challenges. It also has its successes. ...

I think part of the problem is that we need a new focus in the hemisphere on how democratic governments deliver better for their people. And in Monterrey, the so-called Monterrey consensus, really was about when you talk about development assistance, is how do you use development assistance to encourage good governance, to get people to deal with corruption.

Corruption is basically a tax on the poor, that's what corruption is. ...

Secretary Rice might want to turn her attention to the corruption inherent in legislators who pass a bill making it much harder for poor, working class, and middle class Americans to get relief from debt largely caused by predatory lending practices on the part of credit card companies who effectively pay said legislators to represent their interests rather than the interests of ordinary Americans.

...And how to deal with the education gap, the health gap, and to build stronger systems which, in a democratic society, can then actually be held accountable. The leaders can be held accountable.

Condi is talking about the education gap and the health gap in Latin America, but the same gaps exist in the United States; and here they are even worse, because the extremes between wealth and poverty are so much further apart.

The education gap starts early in the United States, and is exacerbated in many cases by the same kind of corruption Secretary Rice decries when it's happening in other countries. For example, a report released on March 18 by the General Accounting Office reveals that millions of dollars in Head Start funds are being siphoned off from the children who are supposed to be served by the program and going instead to enrich the people who run the program. The purpose of Head Start, of course, is to prevent the achievement gap between poor and financially secure children before it begins.

An October 7, 2003, study by the Education Commission of the States found that the education gap extends to higher education as well.

At a steady rate, there will be 2.3 million more students enrolled in post-secondary education by 2015. On the other hand, if the nation matches the participation rate of the top-performing states, there will be an additional eight million students enrolled by the same time. This difference is the "gap."

Judged from an international perspective, this raises some concerns for the United States. According to the study, the country is at risk of slipping "further behind the growing number of developed nations that have stepped up their efforts over the last decade to increase educational attainment."

The study is explicit as to why the nation must pay attention to post-secondary education on an international level.

"Human capital is the coin of the realm," it reads. "Educational attainment, measured in terms of the highest degree or level of schooling attained by the adult population, is the international currency used to assess the strength of a country's economy and its standard of living."

Sandra Ruppert, the project's director, emphasized the importance of solving the United States' own problems by recognizing the achievements of other nations.

"I think a lot of lessons will be learned from other countries -- the solutions extend beyond our own borders."

Furthermore, the study points out that higher levels of attainment are correlated with many other socially beneficial factors: higher per-capita earnings, health increases, family income, civic participation and a reduction in crime and child poverty.

That the United States is falling behind other countries in its access and attainment of post-secondary education is only the first warning sign that more attention needs to be paid to providing easier access to higher education, the study explains.

The study also points out that a greater number of people may soon be at risk of not having access to a college education at all based on age, racial and ethnic factors.

As for the health gap that troubles Rice in Latin America, the most obvious response is that when the richest country in the world has 45 million citizens with no way to pay for health care (and growing), that country really is not in the best position to lecture other countries about health gaps.

Q: Tiny follow up. What message does that send when you're giving F-16s to a military government that ousted a democratic regime at a time you're trying to promote democracy?

SECRETARY RICE: Robin, Pakistan is worlds away from where it was three and a half years ago. One has to look not at fixed points in time, you know, international politics is not like a satellite that comes over and takes a snapshot, takes a snapshot, it's a process.

But Condi is a diplomat now, and probably she would think it undiplomatic to say that the U.S. is selling F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan to reward Pakistan for being compliant with the Bush administration's policies on Afghanistan and Iraq. She certainly would not want to acknowledge that the Bush administration was willing to lie about Pakistan's involvement in the sale of nuclear material to Libya so as not to cause embarrassment or political damage to Washington's most important partner in the so-called "war on terror."


Friday, March 25, 2005

NEIL BOORTZ has a stunning commentary on Terri Schiavo at I never thought that I could ever agree with someone who loves Rush Limbaugh "for what he’s done for our radio format, what he’s done for America, and what he’s done to the left," but there is a first time for everything. Boortz answers Rush Limbaugh's question -- "Why do you want Terri Schiavo to die?" -- addressed to the people he called "you liberals."

I want Terri Schiavo to die because I believe she’s earned it.

I don’t view death as the end of the journey of a human soul. I view it as a transition. The God I believe in would not waste the total life experiences of a man or woman made in his image on a total and complete death; a dead end, if you will, with nothing to follow. I cannot believe that it is God’s plan that the life experiences of a man; wisdom gained, lessons learned and love experienced, should, upon death, disappear as if they never were. I believe that there’s something to follow the life we know on this earth; and I believe that most of the people fighting to keep the body of Terri Schiavo alive feel the same way.

So if you do feel that same way, Boortz asks the Schindlers and their supporters, why are you behaving as if the death of the human body is the worst thing that could happen? Why are you allowing Terri Schiavo's soul to remain trapped in a body that has existed in a vegetative state for 15 years? Boortz makes head-on contact with the essential point about the inconsistency of religious people acting in the apparent belief that it is more important to preserve a human body which can no longer function in the world; which can no longer build and learn from life experiences; which can no longer experience either the joys or sorrows of life on earth, than it is to allow that body to die, so the soul can be released and go on to wherever the next part of the journey lies.

Do you believe that the human soul can make the transition to everlasting life while the human body that carried that soul through life clings to life on this earth? If you do, then you must surely believe that Terri Schiavo has earned and is already enjoying her reward in heaven. That being the case, why is it so important to you that the now-unneeded body of Terri Schiavo is kept alive?

But perhaps you believe, as I do, that the human soul is so connected to and integrated with its earthly body that any transition will not be made until that body ceases functioning -- until death occurs.. That being the case, why do you so ardently desire that the soul of Terri Schiavo spend five, ten, perhaps 30 years or more trapped in a useless and non-functioning body, unable to move on to whatever reward awaits her? Isn’t 15 years enough?

Where do your concerns truly lie, with the eternal soul of Terri Schiavo, or with her earthly body?

It's a more original, intelligent, and thoughtful question than I would ever have expected from a Rush Limbaugh admirer. Do any of the people who want Terri Schiavo's feeding tube to be re-inserted have an answer?


FRANCES NEWTON is a 39-year-old black woman in Texas. She used to live in an apartment complex in Houston with her husband, Adrian, and their two young children, Alton and Farah. But since October, 1988, she has been living on Texas's death row, convicted of murdering her family.

In April, 1987, Newton's husband and children were found dead in their apartment. All 3 of them had been shot at close range. The prosecution relied entirely on circumstantial evidence, much of it inconsistent or illogical, to get the guilty verdict against Newton. Newton's lawyer, Ron Mock, has a long record of losing death penalty cases; and in Newton's trial his performance was incompetent. The state's case was based in large part on ballistic evidence gathered by the Houston Police Department's crime lab. In March, 2003, an independent audit of the lab found that its DNA analysis and ballistics testing sections were marked by "serious defects"; in October, 2004, a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge called for a moratorium on all executions in cases where the convictions were based on testing done at the HPD crime lab.

Frances Newton was scheduled to be executed on December 1, 2004. Two hours before the lethal injection was to take place, Gov. Rick Perry granted a 120-day reprieve that had been requested by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Without acknowledging or mentioning the serious problems found at the HPD Crime Lab, Gov. Perry said he was granting the temporary stay of execution only because "new technologies" now existed for conducting ballistic tests. Despite all the other troubling aspects of Newton's original trial, Perry said he "saw no evidence of innocence." But the rarity of the Texas Board's 5-1 vote to recommend this stay of execution is a strong indication of how compromised the evidence was as a result of having come out of the HPD Crime Lab.

The fact that Frances Newton was two hours away from death as a result of tainted evidence, and the possibility that she may still be executed if, after the ballistics tests are redone, Gov. Perry does not credit the changed results, gives one pause when reading the comments of Republicans like Pres. Bush in the case of Terri Schiavo. Pres. Bush pushed Congress to pass a law giving the executive and legislative branches of the federal government control over the judicial branch in a U.S. state; his brother, Florida's Gov. Jeb Bush, tried (in vain, but he did try) to get the courts to authorize transferring custody of Terri Schiavo from her husband to the state of Florida; he even tried to kidnap Ms. Schiavo from the hospice she is in, until Judge Greer issued an injunction stopping him from doing so.

The reason, according to a spokesperson for Pres. Bush, for ignoring the sovereignty of states under the federal system and for stepping over the constitutional provision for separation of powers between the 3 branches of government, is that, "When there is a complex case such as this, where serious questions and doubts have been raised, the president believes we ought to err on the side of life."

So if Pres. Bush truly and sincerely believes that, in the presence of "serious questions and doubts," the federal government can overstep any bounds, whether constitutionally prescribed or not, in order to "err on the side of life," then he should certainly establish federal control over Texas if that state does decide to execute Frances Newton. If anyone would agree, it would be Pres. Bush: It would be wrong to execute Newton when so many serious doubts and questions have been raised about the fairness of her trial and the reliability of the evidence against her. It's better to err on the side of life than to murder an innocent woman.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

THE NEW YORK TIMES has updated information on the background of Dr. William P. Cheshire, the neurologist who decided that Terri Schiavo was "minimally conscious," and not in a persistent vegetative state, after visiting her for one hour without doing a physical examination, and watching some video clips provided by Mary and Robert Schindler.

He's a Christian bioethicist. He's either been quoted in or has written for Physician magazine, which is published by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, of gay Sponge Bob fame. He's had articles published in medical journals, but mostly on headache pain. None of his published work deals with persistent vegetative states. He opposes stem-cell research.

According to one of the real doctors quoted in the New York Times article (Dr. Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota Medical School), Terri Schiavo's CAT scan showed "massive brain shrinkage" (and you can see this when you look at the scan; there's just blackness where the cerebral cortex should be). The EEG done on Terri Schiavo is absolutely flat: no electrical activity coming from the brain at all.

But here is Dr. Cheshire's finding about Terri Schiavo's condition:

"Although Terri did not demonstrate during our 90-minute visit compelling evidence of verbalization, conscious awareness or volitional behavior," he wrote, "yet the visitor has the distinct sense of the presence of a living human being who seems at some level to be aware of some things around her."

That sentence should win first prize for the most qualifiers and the least meaning. Terri did not talk, try to talk, act with intent, or show any conscious awareness, but she did appear to be alive. No shit, sherlock. In other words, Terri Schiavo is not in a coma. She's in a persistent vegetative state.

As for Dr. Cheshire's "renown," the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Arthur Caplan, had never heard of him. When told that Dr. Cheshire had stated that his conclusions about Terri Schiavo were based on bedside observation and a review of her medical records, but no physical examination, Caplan said no one had a right to make statements about Terri Schiavo's medical condition or to dispute the existing medical records without doing a full-scale neurological scan.

Dr. Ronald Cranford, the neurologist and medical ethicist mentioned above, said, "I have no idea who this Cheshire is. ... He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say [Terri Schiavo]'s not vegetative."


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

VIA EMMA AT THE AMERICAN STREET, I discovered Abstract Appeal, a blog started by Matt Conigliaro, a lawyer specializing in appeals cases in the state of Florida. Matt has devoted a large part of his blog to the case of Terri Schiavo, and most of the important documents relating to the case are linked there.

One of those documents is the report of Dr. Jay Wolfson, Terri Schiavo's guardian ad litem. Emma quotes a section from this report that presents the Schindlers as so determined to keep their daughter alive at all costs that they expressed willingness to amputate limbs or agree to open heart surgery if she developed infections or secondary medical conditions (such as diabetes, gangrene, or heart disease) that threatened her survival. The Schindlers later said that they were misunderstood, but they did not deny having made these statements. Another section of the report describes the Schindlers as not only disputing the diagnosis that their daughter is in a persistent vegetative state, but also apparently saying they don't believe such a condition even exists.

If Wolfson's report is accurate about the Schindlers' attitudes, it's hard to feel sympathy for them anymore. It goes without saying that no family should have to go through this kind of tragedy; at this point, however, my sympathy is almost entirely for Terri Schiavo. Her best interests are being sacrificed to political opportunism on one side, and family self-indulgence and fanaticism on the other.

Thanks to Chief for tipping me off to Emma's post.


HOORAY FOR MAHA. She has gone and said what I have been thinking for the past day or so now, but was too chicken to say:

This is going to sound very cold, I realize, but it's the honest truth: I was reading the umpteenth news story quoting poor Mrs. Schindler pleading for somebody to step in and "save" her daughter, and a wave of pure, unadulterated annoyance swept over me. I suspect I am not alone.

The Schindlers have had the Florida governor and legislature at their disposal for the past several years, and now the United States Congress and the President have taken unprecedented steps to intervene in their little family drama. Today the Schindlers are shopping federal courts to find one that will give them what they want. I don't watch much television news, but I bet the Schindlers are on somewhere on cable nearly 24/7.

I don't know what percentage of Americans have watched a hospitalized love one die, or what percentage have dealt with heartbreaking questions about DNR orders, life support, organ transplants, etc. I suspect that a whopping majority of people over the age of 40 have been there and done that. And, nearly always, these decisions are made quietly and privately. It doesn't occur to most people to make a federal case out of their grief.

How many of these Americans are looking at the Schindlers and thinking, who the hell do you think you are? How many are thinking, I loved my baby, my child, my wife, my father just as much, but I could let them go without setting the whole country in an uproar.

I kind of hinted at my feelings when I went on about how I wished Terri Schiavo's parents could let go and see what a travesty this is, but then I backed off. I really do fault the Republican leadership, Tom DeLay and the Bushes more, because they are not emotionally involved; and their actions and behavior in this case have been pure partisan exploitation of a personal tragedy for political purposes. But, that said, I have been having exactly the same thoughts as Maha, in almost the same words. "Do they think they're the only parents in the world who have lost a child?" (or are about to). "Do they think they are more important than other parents who have lost a child?"

I happen to be one of that "whopping majority of people over the age of 40" whom Maha suspects have watched a loved one die. My first child, a girl named Abigail Laura, had Tay-Sachs disease (a rare inherited genetic disorder most common among Jews of Eastern European origin). She was dying from the moment she was conceived, although her dad and I didn't know it until she was almost a year old. From that point until she was 3 years, 9 months old, we knew she was going to die and watched it happen, slowly and painfully.

There was no issue with Abigail of ending life support, because the end was a certainty for her. Tay-Sachs is 100 percent fatal, usually before the age of 5. But she was born as the result of a medical error (my now ex-husband and I were both carriers, but he was tested when I was pregnant and the results came back saying he was not a carrier), and although we did our best to take legal action, we did not involve Congress, the governor, or the President of the United States; and we did not turn our private grief into a federal case (literally).

I really, really do still feel enormous compassion for the Schindlers. I know that this kind of grief can be so overwhelming that it makes you a little crazy. But I still wish, as healthy adults, that they could get a grip and stop being so self-indulgent (at Terri Schiavo's expense, in my view).


THE TERRI SCHIAVO CASE is getting sadder by the hour, and more frightening, too, in the total and complete willingness of the Bush administration (both the federal Bush administration and the one in Florida) to trample all over the Constitution. After a federal judge, a 3-judge panel, and a full appeals court all refused to order the re-insertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, Schiavo's parents are now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is almost certainly going to turn down the case, as it has done in the past. Now Jeb Bush is saying he is going to ask a Florida court to re-insert the feeding tube. Why? Because a neurologist who visited Ms. Schiavo, presumably in the last few days, concluded that she is not in a persistent vegetative state. The neurologist, William Cheshire -- who works at a clinic in Jacksonville -- is, according to Gov. Bush, "renowned" in his field. But this "renowned" medical professional based his opinion that Terri Schiavo is in a "state of minimal consciousness" on watching two videotapes that were made by Ms. Schiavo's parents and other family members, and on a one-hour visit, with no physical examination included.

The moral, ethical, and professional culpability of all the parties involved in this federal review cannot be overstated. Mary and Robert Schindler simply cannot allow themselves to believe their daughter has no thoughts or conscious awareness; they have allowed their desperation and love for their child to convince them that Terri makes eye contact with them, can hear them, and responds, or at least tries to respond. The idea that Terri will never get better, or improve from the condition she is in now, is unthinkable for her parents. The possibility that it might be better for Terri, and ultimately for those who love her, to let go and let her go, is an idea that simply is not possible for her parents to accept.

And although I wish they would see what a travesty this whole situation is, I don't blame them one bit. They are her mother and father; I am not. If I were in that situation, I might be reacting the same way. I hope I wouldn't, but who can know?

The people I do fault are all the people surrounding the Schindlers who should know better but obviously don't. And "fault" is too mild a word when applied to what Jeb Bush, Pres. Bush, Tom DeLay, the entire Republican leadership, and everyone in Congress of whichever party who voted to ignore years of litigation in the Florida courts have done. They have manipulated and exploited the grief and desperation of two parents who cannot bear to lose their daughter, solely for the purpose of scoring points with a Christian conservative base that, as it turns out, is not as solidly supportive as they had counted on. They were and are willing to trash the Constitution, the federalist system, separation of powers, and the independence of state judiciaries so they can look like heroes to people in places like Kansas and Oklahoma and Texas. Their noble words about standing up for life are hollow. Anyone can figure out that when Jeb Bush, or George W. Bush, or Tom DeLay, or any other politician of their ilk says, as they all have in more or less the same words, "I believe that in a case such as this, the legislative branch, the executive branch ought to err on the side of life...," you know they have no concern whatsoever for "the side of life" -- much less for the anguish that Mary and Robert Schindler, and Michael Schiavo, are going through. Because if the presence of "any uncertainty" were a reason, for these villains, to "err on the side of life," then they could not permit the death penalty to be carried out for even one more day; and they could not have invaded Afghanistan or Iraq, if they felt that the presence of "any uncertainty" about the human cost of war required them to "err on the side of life."


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

KATHA POLLITT is guest-blogging over at Kevin Drum's place today, and for the next little while, and just in time, too. Her topic is Women in Opinion Writing, and even more specifically, political opinion writing. This has been a perennial subject in the blogosphere: Every few months, the cry goes up, "Where are all the women political bloggers?" Kevin asked the question most recently, got more than he bargained for by way of response from the women who are writing political blogs, and decided to put his money where his mouth was (to his great credit). He has been linking to more women-written blogs, has added 19 new blogs written by women to his blogroll, and now has invited the aforementioned Katha Pollitt (among other women) to write guest blogs on his site.

Unfortunately, there are still more male political writers like Andrew Sullivan than like Kevin out there. Sullivan spoke at the conference on blogging held at the Brookings Institution today, and there he opined (as paraphrased by Juan Cole) that "the blogosphere will remain primarily male, because the atmosphere of highly charged argumentation is more appealing to males."

That is absolute nonsense. (Another word comes to mind, but I'll restrain myself.) There are thousands of women who write political blogs, at the very least. Morgaine (who, by the way, is not exactly a timid little girl who shrinks from confrontation) lists and reviews 500 of them on her blog alone.

So, as I said, Katha Pollitt's first guest post at Political Animal is right on time. I hope Andrew Sullivan is paying attention.


VIA A READER, here is a Knight-Ridder article about Dr. Jay Wolfson, the man appointed by the Florida court system to be Terri Schiavo's guardian ad litem. It was his job to try to represent Terri, not as her attorney or her doctor, but as an unbiased third party trying to determine, quite literally, what was going on inside her head.

The article makes clear that Dr. Wolfson is a compassionate, sensitive, and intelligent man who wanted very, very much to conclude that Terri Schiavo was aware; that she had wishes she could communicate if only he could figure out a way to elicit a response from her. But after spending many hours with Ms. Schiavo, he was forced to the opposite conclusion: that she was indeed in a persistent vegetative state, with no awareness, no thoughts, no ability to respond to anything.

At first, walking into Schiavo's room, he was struck by her presence, even though he knew in advance that she drifted between wakefulness and sleep.

"She's a person, like you or I, and the first disconcerting part is that she's awake," said Wolfson.

When awake, Schiavo's eyes rolled about the room. She made random noises that sounded like groaning or the start of a laugh or cry.

But court documents said Schiavo's cerebral cortex, where reason and emotions are housed, had degenerated to fluid. So Wolfson set about trying to determine whether Schiavo's noises and jerks were merely reflexive or if they indicated something more.

He played Elton John CDs for her, and Bach and Mozart and music from the late 1980s, when she was in her 20s, prior to her collapse. He held her hands, squeezing them, and stroked her hair and face.

He put his face close to hers and tried to make eye contact, pleading desperately, trying to will her into giving him any kind of sign.

"I would beg her, `Please, Terri, help me,'" he said. "You want to believe there's some connection. You hope she's going to sit up and bed and say, `Hey, I'm really here, but don't tell anybody.' Or, `I'm really here, tell everybody!'"

But Schiavo never made eye contact. When Wolfson visited her when her parents were there, she never made eye contact with them either, he said. And for all of Wolfson's pleadings and coaxing, he never got what he most wanted: a sign.

Wolfson was asked what he thought of Barbara Weller, an attorney for the Schindlers, saying that Terri tried to talk. (Tom DeLay also made this claim, of course.)

"Terri does not speak," he said. "To claim otherwise reduces her to a fiction."


Monday, March 21, 2005

MORE OUTSTANDING COMMENTARY on the Terri Schiavo nightmare at Pacific Views and at Big Brass Blog.


RESPECTFUL OF OTTERS has a post about Terri Schiavo's medical condition by Rivka, a clinical psychologist with additional training in clinical neuropsychology. Her analysis is riveting: She takes apart the information from the video that the Schindlers' 17 medical experts have used to prove that Terri Schiavo responds to external stimuli; and she explains in great detail the realities of Terri Schiavo's condition that make it truly impossible from any rational standpoint to think that Ms. Schiavo could be rehabilitated or recover any awareness.

The first thing you have to know is that the 17 "medical experts" have reached their conclusions about Terri Schiavo's possibilities for improvement almost completely from indirect observation.

None of the 17 affidavits are by providers who examined Schiavo. Only one of the 17 providers claims to have reviewed her medical records. The remaining 16 providers apparently based their statements primarily on six snippets of videotape, totalling 4 minutes and 20 seconds, which have been posted on Schiavo's parents' website and broadcast repeatedly on the news. Several of them explicitly say that they viewed these clips on the net, and the others all refer to the same short samples of behavior (e.g., Schiavo's eyes tracking a balloon). Many of them say they read news stories about Schiavo. One admits to only seeing news stories and photographs. They all reference their experience with "similar patients," but without qualifying what they mean by "similar." For example, one doctor draws comparisons to catatonic patients - but catatonia simply refers to an absence of voluntary motion or interaction, and can be caused by any number of things. Another references stroke patients, and two more talk about patients with Alzheimer's. As Ampersand points out, not one of them mentions the specific degree and type of brain damage that Schiavo has, as documented by her CAT scans. ...

Another crucial point is that the video footage referenced by the 17 affidavits to support their argument that Terri Schiavo was responsive actually were only 4 minutes and 20 seconds out of a videotape that was 4 hours and 30 minutes long. The trial court and appeals court judges who reviewed Ms. Schiavo's case both watched the entire 4 1/2 hour tape, and concluded that Terri Schiavo's apparent responses to stimuli were random and not meaningful.

And then there is the CAT scan. The images of Terri's brain and a healthy brain placed side by side are stunningly clear in what they show: Terri Schiavo's cerebral cortex is not damaged; it's gone. It's not there anymore. Where the cerebral cortex used to be, there is only brain fluid -- the cerebral cortex turned to liquid.

Mary at The Left Coaster, who posted the link to the Respectful of Otters piece, also references Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte, who asks why it always seems to be women -- and young women at that -- who become the focus of highly publicized legal battles when a family decision has to be made about whether to end life support for a loved one who is in a vegetative state. The answer: It might be because society is more comfortable ignoring or overriding a woman's wishes than a man's. It's obviously true that in Terri Schiavo's case, her wishes were not put down in writing; but, still, one has to ask if this were Terence Schiavo instead of Theresa Schiavo, and he had told a family member he did not want to be kept on life support in such a situation, would someone like Tom DeLay be so quick to ignore the preferences of another man?

It's also much easier and more comfortable for society to accept the idea of a woman who is unresponsive, unaware, and in a vegetative state than to accept a man being in such a condition. In some ways, Terri Schiavo, in her not-moving, not-talking, not-walking, totally dependent state is the ideal woman. Amanda quotes a passage from a piece in WorldNetDaily by a Dr. Blumenfeld, who says:

Terri Schiavo is no burden on her husband. She is being cared for by her parents who love her. The word "love" has not been used by the court in this case. As far as the judge is concerned, love is not an issue or even a consideration. Terri's parents accept her disabled state. She smiles at them. She hears them. But she cannot speak to them. And as long as they are able to maintain and support their daughter in her disabled state, why should the court deny them this expression of their love? Is not sacrifice an important manifestation of love?

Apart from what Amanda correctly identifies as a "nauseating" implication that Terri Schiavo is lovable precisely because she is unresponsive, helpless, and "no burden" to her husband (or anyone), I also think the next to last sentence is quite interesting. "And as long as" Terri Schiavo's parents are able (financially, of course) to take care of her, why should we not ignore what she told her husband she would want in precisely this kind of situation? The unmistakable implication is that if Ms. Schiavo's parents were not financially able to "maintain and support their daughter in her disabled state," Congress and the federal government would have no interest or concern in keeping her alive at all.

Which, of course, was exactly the philosophy behind the Texas Futile Care Law that Gov. George W. Bush signed, which authorized hospitals to remove life support from patients with no hope of recovery, if they could not pay for their care -- even if their families wanted them kept alive.


JEREMY WRIGHT, a Canadian who created and writes, a business and technology blog, was arrested at the U.S.-Canadian border by American immigration officials who did not believe that Wright was coming to the United States to discuss business opportunities related to his blog with a well-known media company. According to BoingBoing, Wright was arrested after he was asked what his profession was, and he said, "Blogger." They detained him, grilled him with questions, and subjected him to a strip search. Then, having finished humiliating him for the crime of making a living from his blog, they sent him back to Canada and banned him from the United States.


TEN COMMANDMENTS, ANYONE? Tom DeLay is apparently unfamiliar with the one that says, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." In other words, don't lie.



Answer: "Because in 18 years, America will need those little rugrats to waste us some A-rabs!"


THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES has passed the bill ordering a federal judge to review the case of Terri Schiavo. The vote was 253 to 58, with 5 brave Republicans breaking ranks to vote no, and 47 spineless Democrats voting in the affirmative to rip to shreds this country's 230-year-old principle of an independent judiciary and separation of powers.

There are a number of points that need to be made about this bill, some of which were not clear to me before just now.

  • The Senate and House bills are different. The Senate bill would apply only to Terri Schiavo's case (although how that could stick is unclear). The House bill would allow the federal government to review ALL cases in which state court judges rule to authorize the withholding of food or medical treatment.
  • The news accounts I read yesterday said that the Senate vote was unanimous. It was, but there were only a handful of senators present, and the bill was passed by voice vote.
  • The House bill was passed by a roll call vote, only because a few Democrats refused to agree to a voice vote. That resulted in the Republicans having to hastily call back Republican representatives who had left for the Easter break. Although this delay did not change the ultimate outcome, at least it demonstrated some backbone on the part of House Democrats.
  • The bill that the House passed had been introduced only hours before, had not been scheduled in advance for debate, and was passed after 40 minutes of discussion in an almost empty House chamber. This may seem obvious, but it's important to be fully aware of how profoundly undemocratic and unconstitutional this legislative action was, and is.

I have been trying to find a complete listing of all the House members who voted against H. Res. 182. When I do, I will post their names. If anyone else reading this finds the list, please let me know via a Comment.


Sunday, March 20, 2005


A single senator could have postponed yesterday's action [to give federal courts jurisdiction to review Terri Schiavo's case] but none did so, even though some criticized Congress's actions. "I think it's unwise for Congress to intervene in a very deeply personal matter such as this," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said on CNN's "Late Edition."

So why did you vote to approve yesterday's action, Sen. Levin?


CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS protesting the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube have focused heavily on the cruelty of allowing her to starve to death. An article in today's New York Times quotes experts in palliative medical care to the effect that when a patient who does not have any conscious awareness, like Terri Schiavo, stops receiving food and water, death is not the agonizingly painful process it would be for normally healthy people who are not terminally ill. In fact, many patients who are terminally ill but still conscious choose to stop eating and drinking as a way of dying that involves relatively little discomfort.


VIA ATRIOS, several links to articles about Terri Schiavo. First, a post from Hullabaloo about all the ways in which the Bush administration and the Republican leadership does not care about whether the plug is pulled on patients who are on life support. Also, this link to a Los Angeles Times article in which Michael Schiavo, who is a private citizen and has not committed any illegal act, is condemned in truly vicious fashion for being unworthy of respect -- by Tom DeLay, a leading member of Congress who is under investigation for numerous violations of professional ethics and possibly illegal behavior. See the second to last paragraph in the LA Times article for the quote.

And finally, this reference to a CBS News interview with legal expert Andrew Cohen on the ways in which the Bush administration's intervention in Florida's rulings in the Terri Schiavo case are damaging the state judicial system and the principle of judicial independence.


DAILY KOS REPORTS that the Senate has just passed, unanimously, the bill to have Terri Schiavo's case reviewed by a federal judge. The CNN article on this breaking news was apparently written in such haste that the proofreaders missed a reference to comments on the decision by the lawyer for Terri Schiavo's percents. At any rate, the lawyer for Terri Schiavo's parents said:

"It is still not done but we really believe that the prayers of the people across America, and the leadership of our Congress and our president, has demonstrated how wonderful it is to be part of the United States." ...

... where the federal government can cancel court decisions by the states in cases revolving around private family conflicts, or in any case it wishes to intervene; where no one can make a personal medical decision for a family member unless the President of the United States and the Congress approve it; and where decisions by the judicial branch of the government are subject to nullification by the legislative and executive branches at the will of the ruling party.

As Catnip writes on Daily Kos:

This is the beginning of the descent into the voiding of state's courts rights and the right of all Americans to make personal medical decisions without being sanctioned by congress.


THE LATEST ON TERRI SCHIAVO is that Republicans in the House of Representatives are delaying discussion on the "compromise" bill (which would mandate re-insertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube until a federal judge reviews her case) because they know that some Democrats are objecting to this whole circus. The New York Times article says that this delay is "setting the stage for a vote just after midnight," which I don't get: if the Republicans don't want to bring up the bill today because of Democratic opposition, how is a vote after midnight going to succeed?

There are so many aspects of this story that cry out for comment. It's painful to read about Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo's mother, asking congressional leaders not to use this case for their own personal political purposes -- referring not to the Republicans who want the federal government to intervene on the side of keeping Terri Schiavo alive, but to the relatively few Democrats who want this to remain a private family matter.

"There are some congressmen that are trying to stop this bill," Ms. Schiavo's mother, Mary Schindler, told reporters outside her daughter's hospice. "Please don't use my daughter's suffering for your own personal agenda."

It seems clear to me that it's people like Jeb and Pres. Bush, Mel Martinez, and Tom DeLay, who are using Terri Schiavo's tragedy for their own personal agenda, but of course Mary Schindler doesn't want to lose her daughter, so she doesn't see it that way. It's personally painful to me -- having lost a child myself -- to see Mary Schindler's anguish being exploited and manipulated this way. I certainly can't and could never fault her for grasping at any avenue to avoid having to let go of her daughter or admit to herself that there's no hope for recovery. What parent could do that?

And then there is the issue -- the central issue, in my view -- of the extraordinary political cynicism the Republican leadership is demonstrating. There is nothing more central or fundamental to Republican philosophy than the concept of states' rights. Conservative Republicans are constantly preaching the religion of federalism, the uniquely American system of government in which sovereignty is divided between the central government and the 50 states. The idea behind federalism is that if states retain sovereignty in matters not reserved by the Constitution to the federal government, then it will not be possible for dictatorship to take hold. This is obviously also the philosophical underpinning of the American system of checks and balances between the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.

Yet, when it suits their purposes, conservative Republicans are more than willing to violate the principle of federalism. And nothing could be more antithetical to the principle of federalism, and to separation of powers, than what Republicans in Congress are doing now in the matter of Terri Schiavo. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) put it well when he pointed out that 19 Florida judges had been adjudicating this case for 7 years; and that it is unconscionable for the federal government to step in now, and attempt to use the legislative process to undermine and overrule the authority of the state of Florida and judicial authority in a situation that has nothing to do with any public policy or public safety issue, but is entirely a private family matter.

But, as I said, federalism and states' rights are easily ignored by their most passionate defenders when there is a chance to score big points with the Republican Party's Christian conservative base. Scott McClellan, Pres. Bush's spokesperson, denied that politics was involved, but the Times article noted that Republicans in the Senate had been given "talking points" for discussing this issue with the press; and that "party aides" had declared Terri Schiavo was a " 'great political issue' that resonates with Christian conservatives."


UPDATE ON TERRI SCHIAVO ... I just looked back at the New York Times article I linked to in my previous post, and I saw a paragraph I missed before. Here it is:

The White House announced late Saturday that President Bush, who was vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., would make an unscheduled return on Sunday to Washington, where he would remain until early Monday in anticipation of signing the measure [the so-called "compromise" bill to put Terri Schiavo's case before a federal judge].

I read this, and it felt like a lightning strike through my entire body. So Pres. Bush was willing to cut short a vacation at his precious Crawford, Texas, ranch to sign a bill asking a federal judge to reinsert a feeding tube, over her husband's objections, into a woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years; but he was not willing to cut short his vacation and return to the White House after the most deadly natural disaster in at least a century -- a 9.0 earthquake that generated tsunamis that were reported at the time to have killed tens of thousands of people in Southeast Asia. (As of January 28, the reported death toll was 283,000, with actual numbers being almost certainly much higher.)

What more compelling proof could anyone possibly need that George W. Bush cares more about human beings who are (a) in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery or (b) not born yet, than he does about human beings by the tens of thousands who are born, living, conscious, fully aware of their surroundings, and who have met death in one of the most horrifying ways imaginable?