Monday, October 31, 2005

More on Alito

Via Shakespeare's Sister, People for the American Way has a detailed fact sheet on Alito's written views on abortion, racial and gender discrimination, police power, family values, and more.

ACSBlog links to an article at that examines how well Alito's nickname -- "Scalito" -- fits him.

John Aravosis is ready to rumble:

If you're a woman, you better get permission from your husband before you take off your burka.
...after 40 years, the game is finally on. Miers wasn't Conservative enough, so they pick a guy who wants to bring Taliban-style rulings to our Supreme Court. This is the big fight folks and this one, we're going to win. Bully Bush is weak, and it's time we gang up and take him on.

Ready for hand-to-hand combat? It's time to take these bullies on "big time"!

Steve Soto at The Left Coaster tells us why the nomination of Alia may actually be a good thing for the Democrats: it gives them the chance to remind voters how truly spineless Bush is when it comes to pleasing his "American Taliban" (I love that metaphor; it's so apt) fan base:

...Democrats will need to have the right framing in fighting this battle. ... Such framing includes reminding voters that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were more enlightened with their high court judicial selections than Bush, who has shown that he was quick to jettison Harriet Miers due to evangelical pressure in favor of a conservative male who supports positions that Miers would abhor. After all, it was just last week that Bush was touting how much of a groundbreaking woman Miers was in her profession. Bush told us that the Miers pick would be great for the court because she didn't have a judicial resume, but instead had real life experiences as a woman breaking down barriers. Yet this week, Bush has forgotten all those words in touting the long conservative judicial track record of Alito, who seemingly takes the position that women have their place, as second-class citizens, barefoot and pregnant.

How much courage does it take, after all, to vote against confirming a Supreme Court nominee who upheld the unauthorized strip search of a 10-year-old girl?

There is a profile of Alito and more info on his track record at the Supreme Court Nomination blog.

Kash at Angry Bear has a cogent analysis of Alito's written opinion attacking the Family and Medical Leave Act:

In 2000, Alito authored an opinion in which he ruled that the FMLA was an instance of unconstitutional congressional overreach. In particular, he said that the FMLA was unconstitutional because there was no evidence for the notion that women are disadvantaged in the workplace when they are not allowed to take family leave. Furthermore, he argued, the requirement that everyone be guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid family leave was a disproportionately strong remedy. ...

Kash notes that even William Rehnquist disagreed with Alito's reasoning, in his 2003 written opinion for the majority overturning Alito's ruling on the FMLA.

Kash argues that Alito's attempt to overturn legislation that helps families spend more time together is not at all in keeping with the conservative idea that supporting the family is an important role for government.

Not to mention that it totally undercuts Powerline's explanation for Alito's dissenting opinion in Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania:

...Judge Alito's dissent in Casey does not evince any reflexive hostility to restrictions on abortion, and does reflect what most conservatives would regard as an appropriate deference to the legislature's role as arbiter of public policy.

Not bloody likely, given Alito's lack of deference to the legislature's role as arbiter of public policy in the instance of the FMLA. The more credible explanation is that Alito defers to the legislature's role as the arbiter of public policy when the legislature supports policy dear to the hearts of conservatives. It's a whole 'nother story when the legislation is sponsored and supported by liberals.


Bush Nominates Samuel Alito

Pres. Bush has named Antonin Scalia's ideological twin, Samuel Alito, as Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement on the Supreme Court:

Legal experts consider the 55-year-old Alito so ideologically similar to Justice Antonin Scalia that he has earned the nickname "Scalito."

In 1991, in one of his more well-known decisions, he was the only dissenting voice in a 3rd Circuit ruling striking down a Pennsylvania law that required women to notify their husbands if they planned to get an abortion.

He also wrote the opinion in 1999 in a case that said a Christmas display on city property did not violate separation of church and state doctrines because it included a large plastic Santa Claus as well as religious symbols.

Think Progress has more:

ALITO WOULD ALLOW DISABILITY-BASED DISCRIMINATION: In Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, the majority said the standard for proving disability-based discrimination articulated in Alito's dissent was so restrictive that "few if any...cases would survive summary judgment." [Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1991]

ALITO WOULD STRIKE DOWN THE FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) "guarantees most workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one." The 2003 Supreme Court ruling upholding FMLA [Nevada v. Hibbs, 2003] essentially reversed a 2000 decision by Alito which found that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law. [Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, 2000]

ALITO SUPPORTS UNAUTHORIZED STRIP SEARCHES: In Doe v. Groody, Alito agued that police officers had not violated constitutional rights when they strip searched a mother and her ten-year-old daughter while carrying out a search warrant that authorized only the search of a man and his home. [Doe v. Groody, 2004]

ALITO HOSTILE TOWARD IMMIGRANTS: In two cases involving the deportation of immigrants, the majority twice noted Alito's disregard of settled law. In Dia v. Ashcroft, the majority opinion states that Alito's dissent "guts the statutory standard" and "ignores our precedent." In Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, the majority stated Alito's opinion contradicted "well-recognized rules of statutory construction." [Dia v. Ashcroft, 2003; Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, 2004]

In other words, Alito is a judicial activist extraordinaire. He completely ignores legal precedent if settled law does not fit his ideological worldview.

Prepare for a knock down drag out on this one, if Senate Democrats mean what they say.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Tale of Two Presidents

The Australian has an interesting article about the striking similarities between the political careers of Pres. Bush and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

...Although there could scarcely be two more different political capitals than Washington and Tehran, experts have found remarkable parallels in the careers of the Iranian and American presidents. Were it not for their different languages and family backgrounds, Bush and Ahmadinejad might be political "soul-mates", according to Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan.

Both men relied on right-wing religious forces for their recent election success. Both campaigned as comparative "outsiders", denouncing their respective political establishments. Bush first ran for president as governor of Texas and frequently criticised Washington insiders; Ahmadinejad ran as mayor of Tehran denouncing central government corruption.

Both men have exploited their personal piety -- Bush with evangelical Christians and Ahmadinejad with fundamentalist Muslims. And both see themselves not as intellectual policy-makers but as down-to-earth problem-solvers.

Bush, a former businessman, runs his administration on a corporate model; Ahmadinejad, who has a doctorate in engineering, made his political reputation as a manager of Tehran's sprawling municipality.

The similarities may also extend to an unswerving belief in their nations' rectitude and a refusal to admit to mistakes. In the case of Iran's nuclear ambitions, the two men are set on a collision course that neither seems interested in avoiding.

Yet just as Bush is struggling to placate his right-wing supporters after a series of embarrassing setbacks, so Ahmadinejad may soon find it hard to keep up his belligerent approach. The Iranian President has already suffered the Bush-like indignity of having one of his nominees rejected for a government post -- the parliament recently vetoed his choice for the key post of oil minister.

The same article also notes that the global reaction to Ahmadinejad's recent public statement that Israel "should be wiped off the map" demonstrates that world opinion can sometimes work more effectively to isolate dangerous regimes when the U.S. takes a less belligerent approach.
The situation was tailor-made for an undiplomatic outburst by John Bolton, the blunt-spoken US ambassador to the UN. Iran's new President had just called for the destruction of Israel and Bolton has rarely minced his words when assailing the enemies of the US and its allies.

Yet the ambassador last week restricted himself to a brief declaration of comparatively modest dismay and conspicuously failed to support Israel's call for Iran to be expelled from the UN.

Behind the scenes, US officials could barely contain their glee. For once, President George W. Bush's administration did not need to unleash its rhetorical artillery against the ayatollahs of Iran -- the rest of the world, led by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was doing it for them.

The rash public statement by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel "must be wiped off the map" aroused international condemnation and left Iran looking isolated.
As Russia, China and other non-aligned nations joined a chorus of complaints at Mr Ahmadinejad's posturing, US and British officials saw an unexpected chance for an international consensus on the need to curb Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program.

"It's a fair guess that these remarks will alienate a lot of people," a British Foreign Office spokesman said. "Before this, (countries like Russia and China) were inclined to give the Iranians the benefit of the doubt."

In Washington, a senior US official claimed that countries that had previously been prepared to side with Iran were now "running for the doors".
[The strong international reaction to Ahmadinejad's comments help to explain why] Bolton limited himself to saying that Ahmadinejad's remarks about Israel were "pernicious and unacceptable". The US is beginning to learn that the less it says about Iran, the more pressure is generated on the regime from elsewhere.


Post-Libby Bush Approval Rating: 39%

Results from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, conducted last night and today:

  • Fifty-five (55) percent think Libby's indictment is a sign of wider problems with "ethical wrongdoing" in the White House.
  • Forty-six (46) percent think the level of honesty and integrity has gone down rather than up in the Bush administration.
  • The percentage of Americans who believe Bush has been successful at holding government to a high standard of ethics is only 34 percent. Clinton got better marks on this shortly before he left office than Bush did (not by much, but they were better).
  • Bush's overall job approval rating is an anemic 39% -- the lowest of his presidency.

Unlike conservative bloggers, who have been calling the perjury charge "a mouse," and declaring that no crime was committed, 70 percent of the U.S. public think the charges are serious. A solid majority (55%) believe the indictment was based on facts, as opposed to 30% who think it was based on partisan politics. And here's the best paragraph in the entire article:

One thing you can't ever, ever do even if you're a regular person is lie to a grand jury," said Brad Morris, 48, a registered independent and a field representative for a lumber company who lives in Nashua, N.H. "But multiply that by a thousand times if you have power like [Libby had]. And if anybody wants to know why, ask Scooter. He's financially ruined; he'll be paying lawyers for the rest of his life."


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Alaska Makes It an Even Dozen

The Alaska Supreme Court yesterday ruled that employers in the public sector cannot deny benefits to same-sex partners. This raises to 12 the number of states in which gay and lesbian couples have the same right to employee benefits as married heterosexual couples.

Ironically, yesterday's decision came as a direct result of the law prohibiting gay marriage, which Alaska voters passed in 1996. The following year, same-sex partners Jay Brause and Gene Dugan filed a lawsuit challenging that statute. Brause and Dugan have been together for almost 20 years. They won that legal challenge; the Superior Court ordered the state to issue them a marriage license, unless it could demonstrate that doing so would be "against the best interest of the people of Alaska."

In response, Alaskans in 1998 passed an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages, and giving the state legislature authority to pass any law it wished concerning marriage. Gay rights advocates sued the state of Alaska and the municipality of Anchorage to have that amendment overturned. It was that lawsuit that, having made its way to the state's High Court on appeal, resulted in Friday's ruling requiring government employers to pay benefits to same-sex partners.

The Court's decision stated that denying benefits to same-sex partners violated the equal protection clause in Alaska's constitution. The reasoning here is interesting. The lower court judge had found no violation of equal protection, arguing that unmarried heterosexual couples are also ineligible for benefits under state law. In other words, the previous ruling hinged on a finding that marital status was the qualifying condition for benefits, not sexual orientation -- and since both homosexual and heterosexual unmarried couples were ineligible, there was no discrimination.

The Supreme Court rejected that interpretation, arguing that heterosexual couples can choose to marry -- an option specifically barred to same-sex couples; i.e., it is fundamentally unfair to say that two classes (heterosexuals and homosexuals) are being treated equally with regard to a qualifying status to which only one of those classes has access.

Elegant reasoning.

A big thank you to Chief, who told me about this ruling.


The Third Amendment

It's the one protecting citizens against being forced to play involuntary host to soldiers:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Quartering and the presence of standing armies was one of the biggest grievances the colonists had against the British. They didn't like it at all. Thus, when they were writing the Constitution and thinking about rights, the right not to be forced to give over your home and possessions to soldiers was considered essential. Thus, the Third Amendment:

It prevents the quartering of soldiers in homes without the owner's consent in time of peace. In time of war, quartering may occur, but only in accordance with law. The Founding Fathers' intention in writing this amendment was to prevent the recurrence of soldiers living in citizens' houses as British soldiers did under the Quartering Act before the American Revolution.

The Third Amendment is almost never cited, and is largely forgotten today, for obvious reasons: No standing armies anymore. Not since 1789. For the past 200 years, Americans have not had to worry about quartering soldiers in their homes. We've forgotten what it feels like.

The Marines call it a necessary evil -- taking over houses and buildings for military use. For the Iraqis who become unwilling hosts, it can be anything from a mild inconvenience to a disruption that tears apart lives.

In a recent offensive in Haditha, the headmaster of one school where Marines were based pressed them for a departure date so he could resume classes. At another school, Marines fortified the building with blast walls and sandbags for long-term use.

A trembling woman wept when Marines tried to requisition her home to set up an observation post with a view of a nearby road where a bomb had been planted. The Marines quickly left, using her neighbor's rooftop instead.

"We try to be respectful and not destroy anything in their homes," said Cpl. Joseph Dudley of Los Gatos, Calif., with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. "We just borrow their house and try to complete our missions."

Well, that's nice. But the owners of those homes still have no choice about quartering the soldiers.

So here's the question: Is freedom compatible with being forced to surrender your home to soldiers of a foreign occupying army? Can a country be called "liberated" or "free" if it doesn't have a Third Amendment?


Libby Indictment

The full text of the indictment handed down today is at Think Progress.

The Washington Post has the text of Dick Cheney's response to Libby's indictment. Shakespeare's Sister translates the statement from Cheynese to English.

The complete transcript of Patrick Fitzgerald's news conference announcing the indictments is at the New York Times.

Laura Rozen points to a cryptic paragraph about Karl Rove in the Post's article about today's indictment:

Rove provided new information to Fitzgerald during eleventh-hour negotiations that "gave Fitzgerald pause" about charging Bush's senior strategist, said a source close to Rove. "The prosecutor has to resolve those issues before he decides what to do."

Later in the same Post article, Fitzgerald addresses a reporter's question about Republican attempts to characterize today's indictment as much ado about nothing:

Asked about what a reporter described as "Republican talking points" minimizing the significance of today's charges, the prosecutor said lying under oath "is a very, very serious matter" and a "serious breach of the public trust."

Well, at least it was when Bill Clinton was the one lying under oath. Guess the seriousness of perjury is relative to the party affiliation of the one who perjures himself.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Harriet Miers Show

Shawn at Liquid List writes exactly what I've been thinking about Harriet Miers' withdrawal from the Supreme Court nomination: What a shame.

The news of Miers defeat is interesting, but we know not yet what it means for the sane wing of America. Harriet was clearly uninspiring and unqualified for a seat on the Court. However, the bits of propaganda we news junkies consumed did carry with them a faint scent of centrism. Might Miers have been dumber but more moderate than , or at least as moderate as Sandra Day O'Connor? We'll never know.

What we can now bet on, unless the White House becomes totally crippled by St. Fitzmas, is that the next person nominated by Bush will be a Christian fundamentalist nutjob ready to reign Old Testament fury down upon the American legal system. Indeed, while Democrats are smiling over Harriet Miers's defeat, Republicans will be too, recalling their powerful majority in the Senate and the ample supply of right-wing jurists.

In full swing GOP Senators and their massive noise machine certainly could ram a fundamentalist judge through the confirmation process, regardless of what the "Gang of 14" thinks and certainly heedless of the electoral cost their party may later pay. In that situation, where Republicans have succesfully put another lunatic on the court--even perhaps at the cost of being knocked from power by a fed-up citizenry--are we better off with a Scalia swing-vote on the Court for the next 40 years? I don't think so. We'd all be dreaming of a court that, maybe, could have been anchored at the center by a vacant-eyed sycophant, a mediocre but moderate Harriet Miers.

Over at The Washington Note, Steve Clemons suggests that liberals remember Sam Brownback's take on why so many Republican senators were queasy about Miers: no paper trail.

...Brownback said on NPR's "Morning Edition" ... that the "hill to get to the Supreme Court is already pretty big -- and her hill was just getting bigger." He also said that much of the Senate (read, Republican Senate) opposition to her was the difficulty in accessing her record and documentation of her views from the Executive Branch.

File that one away for future use.

Whether Miers' White House records were the real reason she withdrew her nomination, or just the face-saving excuse, the democratic wing of Congress (small "d" intentional) should be prepared to remind Senate Republicans of their desire to clarify Miers' views should they cry foul when the shoe is on the other foot.

Now that Harriet Miers is history, ACSblog has info about the history, experience, and possible judicial philosophies of the leading candidates for Bush's next nominee.

The Heretik is thinking about the film version of the Miers saga; it'll be called "Titanic Failure." Or maybe "After the Fall." Depends on whether we're going for the commercial hit or the critical success.

And Shakespeare's Sister gives Pres. Bush a tip about how to forestall congressional requests for White House records about the legal advice his SCOTUS nominees give him:

Memo to Shrub: If you don't want people finding out about the couns[e]l you receive, then don't nominate your own goddamn personal lawyer for a spot on the nation's highest bench.


MIKE LUCKOVICH spent about 13 hours creating the question "WHY?" for his editorial cartoon in yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That's because the word is formed from the names of the 2,000 American men and women who have died in Iraq -- and Luckovich hand-wrote every one of them.

"I was trying to think of a way to make the point that this whole war is such a waste," said Luckovich, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Creators Syndicate. "But I also wanted to honor the troops I believe our government wrongly sent to Iraq."

Luckovich told E&P that he spent 12 or 13 hours this past weekend writing in most of the names -- roughly in the order of when the soldiers died. The Journal-Constitution's publisher and various editors were also involved in the effort -- checking that all 2,000 names were there, looking for spelling errors, doing a test printing to see if the names would be readable in the paper, and, when it looked like the names might not be readable, giving permission for the cartoon to be published much larger than Luckovich's drawings usually appear in the Journal-Constitution.

Reader reaction was much heavier than normal, and most of it was positive: 70 percent approving versus 30 percent disapproving.

One fan was "a woman who told me she opened the paper and began to cry when she saw the cartoon," said Luckovich, who got the deceased soldiers' names from One critic, added Luckovich, was a man who said the sacrifice of the soldiers helped "keep me free to do the cartoon."

Luckovich's new blog (launched about two weeks ago) has hundreds more reader comments about the cartoon.


Two Thousand Americans Dead

This editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is easily the most powerful commentary on the 2,000 Americans killed in Iraq that I have seen.


Miers Nomination Withdrawn

Harriet Miers just withdrew her nomination for the Supreme Court.

Here is the letter she sent to Pres. Bush.

Here is Pres. Bush's letter "reluctantly" accepting her decision to withdraw.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

SOMETIMES I WISH that when Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, and -- god help me -- even George Herbert Walker Bush, were in the White House, I had worried less about the damage I thought they were doing to the United States, and the illegal, unconstitutional policies I thought were being carried out during their administrations. I wish that instead I had appreciated the moderate, balanced, principled ways in which those presidents conducted themselves.

If I had had any inkling back then of the evil that would insinuate itself into my country's leadership; if I could have imagined that one day I would look back at Ronald Reagan with longing for a president who supported an international treaty that banned cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners -- instead of aggressively working to persuade Congress to allow cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment -- then maybe I would have been thankful for what I and other Americans had in those years, and savored them while I still could.

But those days are long gone; and now we have a president who tells the world the United States will no longer respect or follow the Geneva Conventions, or the U.N. Convention Against Torture, or even our own laws against torture.

Now we have a vice-president who publicly supports torture and aggressively works to persuade Congress to allow the United States to practice torture and be exempt from legislation that bans torture.

VICE PRESIDENT Cheney is aggressively pursuing an initiative that may be unprecedented for an elected official of the executive branch: He is proposing that Congress legally authorize human rights abuses by Americans. "Cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners is banned by an international treaty negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified by the United States. The State Department annually issues a report criticizing other governments for violating it. Now Mr. Cheney is asking Congress to approve legal language that would allow the CIA to commit such abuses against foreign prisoners it is holding abroad. In other words, this vice president has become an open advocate of torture.

For those who are not aware of the legislation that triggered Cheney's crusade (and I used that word intentionally), here is a brief history.

Three weeks ago, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the McCain amendment, which is attached to a $440 billion defense appropriations bill. The amendment bars "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" against any foreign detainee in U.S. custody.

Cheney opposed this amendment because it would probably make a number of current CIA interrogation practices -- such as waterboarding (simulated drownings) and mock executions -- illegal. Having failed to prevent the passage of the defense spending bill that included the amendment, Cheney is now trying to get Congress to insert language explictly exempting CIA operatives from any ban on torture.

So far, McCain has said no to the exemption:

Mr. McCain rejected the proposed exemption, which stated that the measure "shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defense and are consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party, if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack."

The WaPo editorial writers say that [Cheney's] position is not just some abstract defense of presidential power."

The CIA is holding an unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers abroad. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, it has refused to register those detainees with the International Red Cross or to allow visits by its inspectors. Its prisoners have "disappeared," like the victims of some dictatorships. The Justice Department and the White House are known to have approved harsh interrogation techniques for some of these people, including "waterboarding," or simulated drowning; mock execution; and the deliberate withholding of pain medication. CIA personnel have been implicated in the deaths during interrogation of at least four Afghan and Iraqi detainees. Official investigations have indicated that some aberrant practices by Army personnel in Iraq originated with the CIA. Yet no CIA personnel have been held accountable for this record, and there has never been a public report on the agency's performance.

It's not surprising that Mr. Cheney would be at the forefront of an attempt to ratify and legalize this shameful record. The vice president has been a prime mover behind the Bush administration's decision to violate the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and to break with decades of past practice by the U.S. military. These decisions at the top have led to hundreds of documented cases of abuse, torture and homicide in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Cheney's counsel, David S. Addington, was reportedly one of the principal authors of a legal memo justifying the torture of suspects.

The White House has stated categorically that it will veto any defense spending bill that contains McCain's amendment, or any other language preventing the CIA from torturing detainees in other countries, "contending that it would bind the president's hands in wartime."

If leaving the president's hands unbound means that he will be allowed to violate domestic law and international conventions that prohibit torture, while insisting that other countries be bound by those prohibitions, then bring on the rope, because his hands should be tied.


Newspapers Ignore Pentagon Request to Ignore 2,000th U.S. Death

Today, the U.S. media did not act like lapdogs, and did not fall for the line of crap pushed by the Pentagon, that the fact 2,000 Americans have now died in Iraq has no special significance. Editor & Publisher writes that several papers defied government pressure and treated the 2,000th U.S. death as a very important milestone in the Iraq war.

Going against the expressed wishes of the Pentagon, several top U.S. newspapers treated the tragic arrival of the 2,000th American military death in Iraq as a major milestone Wednesday. The New York Times even used that officially disapproved phrase in a headline at the top of a page. USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post all carried special features.
I have to note the depravity of the right in attacking any attempt to note that 2,000 Americans are dead and to question the morality and purpose of the war that has taken those lives. And that is the point, really. Taking particular note of the fact that 2,000 Americans have died in Iraq and calling it a milestone is an implicit criticism of the war that caused their deaths. Lt. Col. Boylan's request that the press not treat the 2,000th death as a milestone was, in turn, an implicit attempt to cut off any venue for the war to be questioned in this way. Don't say that the 2,000th death is a milestone; don't point it out in any public way; say it doesn't mean anything special. Better yet, say nothing at all. That way, the war that killed those 2,000 men can continue unopposed and unobstructed.

That's why, when bloggers like Michelle Malkin say that 2,000 is a "bogus number," they are actually saying that opposition to the war is bogus. They are saying that the best way to mark the ending of 2,000 lives in the Iraq war is to support the war and allow our leaders to continue it without protest.

Peace activists have been gearing up for protests, vigils, and other events this week to mark the completely bogus milestone. Why 2,000? Was the 2nd or 555th or 1,678th death not as worth mourning as any other death with nice round numbers?

When Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice and their right-wing cohorts wanted to drum up support for the invasion of Afghanistan and, after that, the invasion of Iraq, I remember hearing one particular nice round number over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: 3,000.

When the number of Americans who have died in Iraq reaches 3,000, will the drummers for war repeat this number as loudly as they can, in as many public forums as they can, and say we have to remember this number and never forget it? Or will we be told not to treat that number as a milestone, because it's no different from the number 1, or the number 555, or the number 1,678?


Bush Reinstates Davis-Bacon Wage Rules

I don't understand what persuaded Pres. Bush to back down on this, but it's great news that he did.

The Bush administration will reinstate rules requiring that companies awarded federal contracts for Hurricane Katrina pay prevailing wages, usually an amount close to the pay scales in local union contracts.

The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans.

Like I said, I can't imagine what would have been different this time to make Bush listen to Democrats or pro-labor Republicans. Maybe somebody else has some insight on this.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

2,000 Americans Dead; Don't Pass It On

The chief spokesman for the coalition forces in Iraq instructed the news media today not to report the 2,000th American death in Iraq as a milestone.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the force's combined press center, wrote in an e-mail to reporters, "I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq. The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."

Of course, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan and the military organization he represents have no specific agenda or ulterior motive for not wanting the press to focus on the number 2,000 when writing about how many Americans have died in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Boylan went on to suggest that instead of being so negative about the fact that 2,000 Americans have died in Iraq, the media should treat it as a festive occasion:

"Celebrate the daily milestones, the accomplishments they have secured and look to the future of a free and democratic Iraq and to the day that all of our troops return home to the heroes welcome they deserve," Boylan wrote.

Russ over at Pam's House Blend has a lot more to say about this:

See there? If you even notice that one-hundred score American servicemembers have perished in Iraq, you have an agenda and an ulterior motive. Your agenda, of course, is to purposefully mock the sacrifice of brave soldiers and demean their families by noticing that 2,000 of them are no longer living. Your ulterior motive is to provide aid and comfort to the enemy by pointing out that they are succeeding in killing our soldiers, and by highlighting the 2,000 American deaths you'll make people second-guess the war and pull out before we finish the job. If it weren't for America-haters like you, no one would have even noticed that the 2,000th soldier died today.
I have a suggestion, too. Read Russ's entire post. It rocks.


FRED KAPLAN AT SLATE takes Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Wilkerson to task for waiting so long to go public with their criticisms of the war in Iraq and with the Bush administration's disastrous foreign policy in general.

Both of these men are Washington insiders with decades of experience in government. They are both extremely knowledgeable about military and intelligence issues. They are politically savvy. They are well-connected and have the Rolodexes to prove it. One of them (Scowcroft) is the senior Bush's closest friend and served as his national security adviser. Wilkerson used to be Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, and is also in Bush Sr.'s circle of friends and admirers.

And both of them have recently come out with devastating critiques of George W. Bush's handling of the war on terror: Scowcroft in a profile by Jeffrey Goldberg that appears in the current issue of The New Yorker, and Wilkerson in an October 19 speech at the New America Foundation.

Scowcroft, besides voicing dismay over the invasion of Baghdad, slashes the administration -- especially his old friend Dick Cheney and his own former underling Condoleezza Rice -- for their "evangelical" notion that they can export democracy at the point of a gun.

Wilkerson goes further, charging Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with running foreign policy like a "cabal" -- worse still, an "incompetent" cabal that has "courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran." He says they've gotten away with it because the president is "not versed in international relations and not much interested in them either."

As to why these two didn't say these things a year ago, when it could have made a difference in the election results, Kaplan really answers his own question. Scowcroft actually did publicly oppose the impending invasion of Iraq, in an August 2002 Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he urged Pres. Bush not to invade Iraq or overthrow Saddam -- and look what happened.

[In the WSJ piece Scowcroft] argued that Iraq posed no immediate threat and that an invasion would detract from the more urgent war on terrorism. Given his relationship with the Bush family, it was a brave piece to write -- and it had consequences. As The New Yorker piece points out, Bush did not renew Scowcroft's appointment as chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board when his term expired in 2004; and his old friends in high office -- Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, and so forth -- stopped speaking to him.

If this is the way GWB and his cronies treat the best friend of and former national security adviser to someone GWB presumably loves -- his father -- what could Wilkerson expect, given that he was chief of staff to someone Bush hated and didn't trust?

Kaplan tongue-lashes Wilkerson for not giving that New America Foundation speech before the election.

During the question-and-answer period at the New America Foundation, he was asked where someone in his position should draw the line between loyalty and disclosure. He replied, "I feel like, as a citizen and as a person very concerned with the military ... I need to speak out. ... I think when you feel like what you might say has even a remote opportunity to affect some change for the good."

Sorry, colonel. You had far more than a merely "remote opportunity" to "affect some change" last November. As Bush put it shortly before his second-term inauguration, "We have an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election." That was Wilkerson's "accountability moment," too, and he skipped it.

Which leads to a larger question: Why do so few U.S. government officials do what Wilkerson might now wish he had done -- resign in protest and announce their reasons publicly? Dozens of officials and probably hundreds of military officers will speak privately, to their families and friends, about their fundamental disagreements with this administration's foreign and military policy. But none has spoken publicly.

But in the very next paragraph, Kaplan reminds us what happened to Gen. Eric Shinseki. Just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq began, Shinseki, who was the Army chief of staff, told Donald Rumsfeld he thought too few troops were being sent to Iraq for the postwar occupation. He recommended that the number be increased to 300,000 or so. Rumsfeld ignored Shinseki's suggestion, but by no means were he or Pres. Bush content to leave it at that. Shinseki was publicly humiliated and kicked out of his job a year before his term was up.

Well, gee, stuff like that might help to explain why more government officials don't resign in protest against Bush's policies!

There is probably only one person who can criticize George W. Bush's policies in public and not be ostracized, humiliated, fired, or never hired again -- and even he has to parse his words very carefully:

There is another critic lurking in the background of The New Yorker article, and if he were ever to step into the light, it would be one of the most sensational protests in history. That third man is the sitting president's father, George H.W. Bush himself.

Bush [senior] answered Goldberg's queries via e-mail. Read carefully what he says about the ostensible subject of the profile, Scowcroft:

He has a great propensity for friendship. By that, I mean someone I can depend on to tell me what I need to know and not just what I want to hear. ... [He] was very good about making sure that we did not solely consider the "best case," but instead considered what it would mean if things went our way, and also if they did not.

Isn't the patriarch talking, implicitly, about the son? Isn't he saying that W. is in deep trouble because he's surrounded himself with people who tell him only what he wants to hear and paint only rosy pictures of best-case scenarios? Isn't he telling his boy to get some real friends?

It sure sounds like he is. But if so, the advice misses the essential point about Bush the son. You are only going to surround yourself with people who tell you what you need to hear and not just what you want to hear if you actually are willing to be confronted with unpleasant truths. It sounds like Bush the father, whatever his other presidential shortcomings, was. Bush the son is not.



Across Iraq the constitution was ratified by over 78%.

But the vote was much closer than it appears - if three provinces had rejected the draft constitution by a two-thirds margin, it would have constituted a veto and sent the entire process back to the drawing board.

Two Sunni Arab provinces, Anbar and Salahuddin, did solidly reject the draft constitution.

The vote then came down to the wire in the ethnically mixed province of Nineveh.

In the final tally today, Nineveh did vote against the constitution, but only by about 55% - short of the two-thirds margin for a veto.

By contrast, there's an article at Knight-Ridder that shows how little a new constitution changes anything about life in Iraq. Daily life has been getting more and more difficult for Iraqis over the past months; and even when it seems conditions are as awful as they can get, they get worse. In Baghdad, as Knight-Ridder reporters Matthew Schofield and Mohammed Alawsy tell us, people have become prisoners in their own homes, unable to step outside their door for anything but the most dire emergencies, for fear of being killed or kidnapped.

Samira Kubba wakes early each day, though she's not sure why. A year ago, she would have been busy helping her husband prepare for work, shopping for her family, meeting friends, planning the celebration for breaking the daily fast after sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Today, she knows she won't leave the house, except in case of emergency: a child in danger, the food supply running low. Even then, the excursion will be carried out with military precision: a timed route, covered by machine guns. She won't stop to chat with friends, she won't look in the eyes of anyone she passes, she won't stop for tea at a favorite cafe - all parts of daily life for her as little as months ago.

"We do not think about how we live our days in Baghdad these days. We wonder whether we will survive them," she said. "No place outside this house is safe."

Two and a half years after the city fell during the U.S.-led invasion, the world is shrinking for many residents, if not most of them. First they felt confined to their region, then their city, then their neighborhoods, then their blocks. Now, it's down to their houses, and, once inside, rich and poor are quick to point out the safest rooms, the places where their entire families now sleep at night.
Resident fear insurgents and their car bombs and random gunfire. They fear Iraqi police, who are famously corrupt. They fear criminals, who've turned kidnapping - especially of children - into a prime business. They fear soldiers - both U.S. and Iraqi - who shoot innocent civilians every day, fearing they might be insurgents. Even their own guards have to be feared: Desperation destroys loyalties, and the price of release for a bodyguard's child can be the deliverance of a rich man's son.

"I cannot sleep at night," Falah Kubba said, his eyelids sagging and bruised from rubbing. "In bed, my wife rests on one side, and my new second wife - a pump-action shotgun - stays in my arms on the other side. I am up all night, aiming at the doors every time there is a bump. This is no way to live. It is a way to die."

After the fifth child on their block was kidnapped this summer, he cleared out an old office connected to his house as a play area for neighborhood children. The doors and windows are covered by iron gates, chains and padlocks. A family member with a locked and loaded AK-47 automatic kneels in front of the only entrance. While the children play - the youngest with a collection of push toys, the older ones with bicycles or balls, the teenagers sitting and chatting on the steps to the second floor - Falah keeps his second wife at hand.

"I'm a businessman," he explained. In fact, his brother was executed under Saddam Hussein and he was arrested, for insisting that the international business currency should be American dollars, not Iraqi dinar. "These days I eat my money, and my business is to keep my family together, and alive."

The Kubbas lives in Mansur, an area of large homes with marble entryways and exterior walls decorated with statues. Across town, in the middle-class and extremely dangerous Amariyah neighborhood, Huda al Zubaydi walks her children to school each morning. Afterward, she grabs a spot among other parents sitting or leaning against the school's security wall. They do this every day, and they wait until the final bell, waiting to walk their kids back home.

"The shootings, the bombings, the kidnappings: It's all too dangerous to leave my children alone," she said recently from her modest home. "The school cannot protect them. We can't trust anyone to protect them. I breathe again once I get them back inside the house. Maybe we're not safe in the house, either, but where else is there?"

Her husband, Abass, has to leave each day, to go to work. The bullets are a constant, so constant that he doesn't recognize them anymore, as are the mortar rounds that rain down on his neighborhood daily. The car bombs and the military checkpoints still shake him up, however.

"We don't know who our enemy is now," he said. "But we know it could be anyone outside our doors. We do not go outside if we can help it."

What good is a constitution when you have to live like this?


American Deaths in Iraq Pass 2,000

We knew it would happen soon, and now it has, as reported by Agence France Presse. What a milestone. Congratulations, GWB. Great job.

The US network CNN, quoting Pentagon sources, reported Tuesday that the number of soldiers killed since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq had reached 2,000 with the deaths of two more soldiers, a toll likely to add pressure on the US administration over its role in the violence-wracked country.

For the first time, a majority of Americans believe the Iraq war was the "wrong thing to do", according to a poll published in The Wall Street Journal.

Expect Bush to put together some pious words about how we are all so sad about the deaths in Iraq, and how we all support their bravery and courage in making the greatest sacrifice, and how their sacrifice is necessary to keep America safe and strong and free. And then he will return to hobnobbing with his rich and powerful friends, and his totally, completely sacrifice-free life.


Goodbye to a Freedom Fighter

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others." -- Frederick Douglass, 1857

Yesterday, Rosa Parks died at the age of 92. In an ordinary moment, by deciding to take one small, seemingly insignificant action, she helped to spark a civil rights movement that eventually ended Jim Crow segregation, that got historic civil rights legislation passed, and that went a long way toward ending an era when physical and psychological terrorism against black people was accepted and taken for granted by white Southerners.

One small action: In 1955, going home at the end of a long day of work, she refused to stand up so that a white passenger could take her seat on the bus.

Parks was sitting in the colored section of the bus, and was asked to stand by the driver when there were no more seats in the white section, and a white person was left standing. She refused. When the bus driver told her he would have her arrested if she continued to sit, she replied, "You may do that."

"I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to the segregation laws in the South," she wrote in her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story (1992). "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Parks was not the first to do this, but for whatever reason, this time it triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Segregation and racial oppression made all Americans less free. So Rosa Parks freed me, too, when she helped start a movement that freed me to sit anywhere I want on a bus, in the back or the front, by myself or next to a black person or a white person. No longer will I be ostracized or worse if I have black friends or if I eat a meal with a black person in a public place.

Before Rosa Parks, and countless others like her, there was no freedom for African-Americans. They were not free. They lived, unfree, in a land where freedom had been fought for, mostly overseas, in war after war. None of those wars freed Rosa Parks or white Americans from the tyranny of legal racial apartheid. Rosa Parks, and the movement she inspired, freed Rosa Parks, and all Americans.

Thank you, Rosa Parks. You paid your rent and then some. Rest in peace.


Monday, October 24, 2005

A BUNCH OF BLOGGERS have commented on yesterday's Washington Post article by Mark Reutter about the growing use of Chapter 11 bankruptcy by corporations as a strategy to shed financial obligations to employees.

Once shunned by respectable companies and ignored by Wall Street, federal bankruptcy court has become the venue of choice for sophisticated financiers and corporate managers seeking to pull apart labor contracts and roll back health and welfare programs at troubled companies.

Unlike individuals filing under Chapter 7, corporate (Chapter 11) bankruptcies will not be affected by the new bankruptcy law that went into effect this month. You and I will have to jump through legal hoops if we want to start over with a blank slate by liquidating high-interest credit card and other consumer debt. But multibillion-dollar corporations like Bethlehem Steel, General Motors, and Ford, will be able to restructure their debt while getting the bankruptcy judge to wipe clean millions of dollars in employee benefits, pension plans, and salaries.

The law allows corporations to do this even when financial necessity is really not an issue, and in many cases even if the company is showing handsome profits.

Take Delphi Corp, for example -- a Michigan company that manufactures automobile parts:

The Delphi chief often cites reality -- and the bottom line -- in answering his critics. "They [have to] understand that I haven't got any more money," Miller told the Financial Times.

But the reality, to use Miller's word, isn't so simple. Delphi does have money -- specifically, it has $1.6 billion in cash on hand. Even more significantly, it secured $2 billion in loans and revolving credit from Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase bank just before it filed for bankruptcy. Which raises a question that the common explanation for Chapter 11 filings doesn't answer: If Delphi is so broke, with unsustainable wage costs and skyrocketing pension obligations, why are two of the nation's major banks offering to lend it money on excellent credit terms?

The answer: For the same reason that Bank of America, General Electric Capital Group, UBS Securities and distressed property, or "vulture," capitalists have invested billions of dollars in supposedly tattered companies entering or exiting Chapter 11 since 2001. Investors can profit richly from the meltdown of established companies -- at least in the short run. Chapter 11 protects a company from creditors as management develops a reorganization plan and restructures its liabilities in the hope of becoming profitable again. Older companies may have high legacy costs, but they have long-term customer contracts and plenty of cash flow.

Now here's the best part: Going through Chapter 11 doesn't even help companies get better. Turns out, in many instances, bankruptcy saps their drive and initiative and keeps them coming back to the trough for more!

There is little evidence that court-supervised reorganization produces a superior company. In fact, quite a few companies that come out of bankruptcy make a return trip, and there is growing evidence that the process diverts capital away from needed investments into the pockets of the restructurers.

"Moral hazard" warns us against letting poorly run companies undercut the practices of strong companies. It would be a pity, says [Harley] Shaiken [a labor issues specialist], to encourage responsible companies to follow in the Chapter 11 footsteps of weak ones, rending the social and economic fabric of years of comparative labor peace.

So we're rewarding failure and creating a generational welfare problem.

Sounds hauntingly familiar....


JAMES TAYLOR has been named by the Musicares Foundation as an outstanding humanitarian, and will be recognized for that honor at a special gala dinner on February 6, two nights before the Grammy Awards.

Taylor is being honored "as an extraordinary human being, musician and humanitarian who has made a global impact on music and culture," according to Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy and its MusiCares Foundation. "As the quintessential singer/songwriter, he embodies the creative spirit that is the hallmark of our finest and most enduring musical icons. His impact on the music and culture of our era has been enormous."


Here's an interesting statistic. The United States has more prisoners both in actual numbers and as a percentage of population than China. The population of the U.S. is 296 million; the population of China is 1.3 billion. The total number of people behind bars in the U.S. was 2.3 million at the end of 2004; in China that figure was 1.5 million. In fact, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country in the world.

But here's the clincher: The U.S. prison population increased by almost 2 percent last year. So not only do we have more prisoners behind bars than any other country in the world; but the gap is getting bigger. This jump left already overcrowded prisons at 40 percent over capacity, according to the Justice Department.

The Justice Department said the U.S. incarceration rate hit 486 sentenced inmates per 100,000 last year, up 18 percent from 411 a decade ago.

The five states with the highest incarceration rates last year were all in the South, led by Louisiana with 816 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 state residents. The five states with the lowest rates were all in the North, with Maine experiencing 148 sentenced inmates per 100,000 state residents in 2004, according to the Justice Department figures.

The U.S. prison population continued to grow last year even though reports of violent crime during 2004 were at the lowest level since the government began compiling statistics 32 years ago, according to a government report released in September.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT POST over at Shakespeare's Sister, by Patrick -- a crosspost from Yelladog.

It's about the Ku Klux Klan, and how mainstream it was in the South for much of the last century. It was not a fringe movement at all.

The average Klansman was a real pillar of the community. Make no mistake -- the Klan was made up of the men who sat on the Chamber of Commerce by day -- bank presidents and business owners, like *ahem* exterminators and car lot owners -- and who rode around at night enforcing their concept of Civil Order. They also cloaked their daytime "respectable" quest for Order with various euphemistic aliases.

In case that one went over your head, or you don't know about the House Majority Leader's job history, Patrick is talking about Tom DeLay there. And that's the hook that makes this piece so strikingly good. Patrick is not just remembering the bad old days in the South here. He's making an analogy; and it's one that had not occurred to me.

How dare Tom DeLay complain that he can't get a fair trial because the prosecutor and the judge gave money to the Democratic Party?

...I think it's important to note that the concept of a "fair trial" for a significant portion of the population of America was a meaningless abstraction until, oh, well, in some places it probably still is. For most of the last century, when an African-American defendant stood in the dock anywhere in the South, especially Texas, he or she knew that the man in the black robe in front of them had another colored robe in [t]he closet at home.

If thousands of black defendants in the United States can sit for trials in courtrooms in this country where the judge was a member of the Klan, then Tom DeLay can be tried in a courtroom where the judge might have given some money to one of the two official political parties of the United States, doncha think? I think it's time Tom DeLay got a taste of Texas-style justice. If he's so goddamned innocent, then that bright, shining fact should outweigh any mild bias that is alleged to exist in Travis County.

I think that's a damn good point.


INNOCENT CHILDREN, being taught to hate:

Thirteen-year-old twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede have one album out, another on the way, a music video, and lots of fans.

They may remind you [of] another famous pair of singers, the Olsen Twins, and the girls say they like that. But unlike the Olsens, who built a media empire on their fun-loving, squeaky-clean image, Lamb and Lynx are cultivating a much darker personna. They are white nationalists and use their talents to preach a message of hate.

Known as "Prussian Blue" -- a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes -- the girls from Bakersfield, Calif., have been performing songs about white nationalism before all-white crowds since they were nine.

"We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white," said Lynx. "We want our people to stay white ... we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."

Lynx and Lamb have been nurtured on racist beliefs since birth by their mother April. "They need to have the background to understand why certain things are happening," said April, a stay-at-home mom who no longer lives with the twins' father. "I'm going to give them, give them my opinion just like any, any parent would."

April home-schools the girls, teaching them her own unique perspective on everything from current to historical events. In addition, April's father surrounds the family with symbols of his beliefs -- specifically the Nazi swastika. It appears on his belt buckle, on the side of his pick-up truck and he's even registered it as his cattle brand with the Bureau of Livestock Identification.

This is why we need the First Amendment. Even though we know people like this would be the first to ban free speech if they ever got into power. All the more reason they should have the right to freely speak their vile ideas.

Pam Spaulding says:

This sorry story reminds me of the horror of seeing children parading around at Westboro Baptist Church protests. This is what happens when children are infused with hate from day one. And they worry about gays having a negative impact on kids? Parents like the Gaedes and the Phelps clan are the real threat.


HAS ANYONE NOTICED that Pres. Bush has stopped comparing the "war on terror" to World War II? He's used up that milk cow. Now he's comparing the U.S. conquest of Afghanistan and Iraq to the Cold War, and trying to catch Reagan's starglow.



U.S. intelligence officials say Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has expanded his terrorism campaign in Iraq to extremists in two dozen terror groups scattered across almost 40 countries, creating a network that rivals Osama bin Laden's.

In interviews, U.S. government officials said the threat to U.S. interests from al-Zarqawi compared with that from bin Laden, whom al-Zarqawi pledged his loyalty to one year ago.

The director of the National Counterterrorism Center considers bin Laden a strategic plotter who is deep in hiding and out of regular contact with his followers, while al-Zarqawi is involved broadly in planning of scores of brutal attacks in Iraq.

"He is very much a daily, operational threat," said Scott Redd, who is in charge of the government's counterterrorism strategy and analysis.

In figures not made public before, counterterrorism officials say that Zarqawi's network of contacts has grown dramatically since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now includes associates in nearly 40 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. [Emphasis mine.]

So reassuring to know that the Bush administration's "war on terrorism" is working the way it should. So encouraging.


Friday, October 21, 2005

THE EARTHQUAKE in Pakistan and India is another story that is starting to fade out of the news, although the number of confirmed deaths in Pakistan alone is almost 80,000. Some officials are predicting that figure could go up to 100,000.

Wikipedia has continuing coverage of the earthquake here.


TODAY'S SLATE has a raft of articles about Harriet Miers.

Emily Bazelon writes about Miers' fruitless efforts to convince right-wingers that she's one of them.

Henry Blodget examines her financial profile and tells us there, too, she is no John Roberts.

John Dickerson thinks that Bush's insistence on pushing this nomination is cruel to Miers; and Dahlia Lithwick gives us the graphic details on why.

And Julia Turner says that what Miers lacks in legal writing ability, she more than makes up for in her talent for the polite thank-you note.


THE NEWS MEDIA has pretty much abandoned the Katrina story, and the official search for bodies in New Orleans has stopped. But that does not mean all the bodies have been found.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Katrina struck and more than two weeks after the official quest for bodies was abandoned, corpses of Ninth Ward residents are being found every day.

The discovery of new remains shows no sign of slowing down: Workers hired by the state remove several ossified bodies each day, many of them discovered by residents returning home.

As of Wednesday, the death count from the hurricane was 1,053. That includes 20 more bodies than the total counted five days earlier, and 80 more than were discovered by Oct. 4, when the search was officially called off.

Lingering floodwater prevented search teams from accessing many homes for weeks after the storm. A city policy preventing workers from entering homes without residents' permission - or strong evidence of bodies inside - also left many homes unsearched, said Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Workers for Kenyon, the Houston-based independent contractor conducting searches, now enter homes in the barricaded northern half of the Lower Ninth Ward whenever a cadaver dog picks up a scent.

Surviving residents of the poverty-stricken Ninth Ward are outraged that the search is taking so long.

"In all this time, they should have found everybody they have down there," said Chandra McCormick, a photographer who lives in the Lower Ninth Ward's Holy Cross neighborhood.

Efforts to collect the dead in the city's flood-tossed homes have garnered criticism from the start. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco wrested control of Kenyon from the federal government more than a month ago, saying she was frustrated with its slow progress.

The state Department of Health and Hospitals now oversees the contractor.

"I directed that Kenyon ramp up beyond their previous maximum operations," Blanco said in a Sept. 13 statement. "In death, as in life, our people deserve more respect than they have received."


THE AMAZON RAINFOREST is being logged out of existence at the rate of 6,000 square miles per year -- twice as fast as previously estimated.

The 33-year-old Baghdad bureau chief for the British newspaper, The Guardian, is released, apparently unharmed, after having been kidnapped and held in a dark basement for about 24 hours -- in a country where political kidnappings are routine and most abductees are killed.

A woman who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia lives in a homeless shelter with her three children. She does not like to take her medication, and there is no one to see that she does. One day she tells her family she is going to feed her children to the sharks in San Francisco Bay. Later that same day, she takes her children to a pier near Fisherman's Wharf, and drops them into the bay. When she was living in the homeless shelter, throwing her medication away, and telling her family about the voices that spoke to her inside her head, no one but her family and the shelter staff knew about her condition; no one even knew she existed. Now the whole planet knows she exists; the fact that she drowned her children by dropping them into San Francisco Bay has been reported all over the world; strangers are leaving flowers on the pier to memorialize the children; and lots of people feel that Lashaun T. Harris should be punished for what she did.

The majority leader in the House of Representatives -- one of the most powerful individuals in the United States and a lawmaker in the most influential country in the world -- is booked on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In the mugshot taken of this congressional leader at the time of his booking for a felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, he is grinning broadly.

Sometimes, when I read the news, I feel I am in a short story by Kafka or a play by Godot.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

CHINA HAS TOLD the U.S. that it will not initiate use of nuclear weapons. The U.S., which recently revised its guidelines for nuclear weapons use to sanction preemptive first strikes, has been seeking reassurance from China that a U.S. invasion of Taiwan would not trigger a nuclear first strike from China.


HURRICANE WILMA is now "the most intense storm the Americas have ever seen," and it's headed for the Florida Keys.

It's a Category 5, with winds of 175 mph.

Wilma's barometric pressure is the lowest ever recorded for an Atlantic Ocean storm.

Wilma has astonished meteorologists with its rapid intensification. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wilma was a minimal hurricane with winds of 80 miles an hour (130 kilometers an hour). But only 18 hours later it had mushroomed into the Atlantic's most powerful storm.

James Franklin, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Wilma "obliterated … by a wide margin" the previous record for rapid intensification set in 1967.

This storm is so powerful it evokes nuclear metaphors:

Hurricane Wilma exploded this morning into the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, a Category 5 monster with 175 mph winds. It adopted a curving path likely to carry it to South Florida this weekend -- as a major hurricane.
Incredibly, the storm grew from a Category 2 hurricane at 11 p.m. Tuesday into a top-scale Category 5 by 5 a.m. A hurricane hunter plane measured its barometric pressure at 884 millibars, the lowest minimum pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

This sure seems to be happening a lot lately.

Hurricane Wilma became only the latest unusual event in a season full of anomalies.

Two hurricanes that formed in July -- Dennis and Emily -- were the most intense on record for that month.

In August, Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Less than a month later Hurricane Rita became the third most powerful hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic before weakening and making landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border.

"There are so many astounding things about this season," Blackwell said.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

THE DAILY NEWS writes about the White House Iraq Group, which had two mandates: to promote the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and to take out anyone who interfered with that mandate -- like Joseph Wilson.

His punishment was the media outing of his wife, CIA spy Valerie Plame, an affair that became a "side show" for the White House Iraq Group, the sources said.

The Plame leak is now the subject of a criminal probe that has seen presidential political guru Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, hauled before a grand jury.

Both men were members of the group, also known as WHIG. From late 2002 through mid 2003, it was locked in a feud with officials inside the CIA and State Department over claims Saddam tried to buy "yellow cake" uranium in Niger to build nukes, a former Bush administration and intelligence sources told The News.

"There were a number of occasions when White House officials or Vice President [Cheney's] staffers, or others, wanted to push the envelope on things," an ex-intelligence official said. "The agency would say, 'We just don't have the intelligence to substantiate that.'" When Wilson was sent by his wife to Africa to research the claims, he showed the documents claiming Saddam tried to buy the uranium were forgeries.

"People in the Iraq group then got very frustrated. It was a side show," said a source familiar with WHIG.

Besides Rove and Libby, the group included senior White House aides Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James Wilkinson, Nicholas Calio, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley. WHIG also was doing more than just public relations, said a second former intel officer.

"They were funneling information to [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller. Judy was a charter member," the source said.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A PHARMACIST AT A TARGET in Fenton, Missouri, refused to fill a prescription for emergency contraception. The story is at AMERICAblog.

You can bet I will not be shopping at Target anymore until they unequivocally disavow their policy of allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill legal prescriptions. Until I am certain that any woman anywhere in this country can walk into any Target store and get a prescription filled for birth control pills or any other medication her doctor has written for her, Target will not get my money.

This country is becoming more and more like Afghanistan every day. The Christian mullahs in this country are destroying everyone's freedom. Gives a whole new meaning to radical Islamists taking over the West and converting everyone to Islam, doesn't it?


THERE'S NO QUESTION in my mind that Noam Chomsky has earned and richly deserves the honor of being selected as the world's top public intellectual. If you've heard him speak, or read his books, or know about his seminal work in linguistics, there's no doubt that he is one of the most innovative, knowledgeable, curious, and original thinkers of our time.

And he's a hell of a sight better as an intellectual than Christopher Hitchens. Good grief. How can someone who can't tell the difference between liberation and occupation be an intellectual?


I FOUND OUT TODAY that I got accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellows program. I applied and had my interview back in September, and have been waiting over a month to find out if I got in. Today I got that wonderful e-mail.

For anyone who doesn't know, the New York City Teaching Fellows program is an alternate certification route to teaching for people who do not have certification or teaching experience, and are willing to make a two- to three-year commitment to teaching specific subjects in high-needs school districts in New York City. I am going to be teaching English. I have to take subject-knowledge and certification tests, and then there is a seven-week training program, which starts in June 2006. If all goes well, I will begin teaching the following September.

These words fall flat, and don't begin to convey how excited and happy I am that I got into this program. It's a dream I've had for a long time.


TODAY'S WaPo PICKS UP the news, published in the (UK) Guardian yesterday, of the American airstrikes on two villages near Ramadi, in Iraq, which killed 70 people. Family members of those killed, eyewitnesses on the ground, and local hospital officials all say that at least 39 of the bombing victims were civilians, and 18 were children. U.S. military authorities refuse to budge from their insistence that all of the deaths (about 70 total over a day of airstrikes in the vicinity of Ramadi) were armed insurgents who were planting explosives in the crater left by a burned Humvee destroyed by a roadside bomb on Saturday.

The U.S. military said it killed a total of 70 insurgents in Sunday's airstrikes and, in a statement, said it knew of no civilian deaths.

At Ramadi hospital, distraught and grieving families fought over body parts severed by the airstrikes, staking rival claims to what they believed to be pieces of their loved ones.

In Albu Fahad, a community on the east edge of Ramadi, family members gathered Monday in a black funeral tent. A black banner listed the names of the 18 children and seven adults allegedly killed by the F-15 strike.

Residents and the U.S. military gave sharply different accounts of the air raid.

Both agreed that the incident occurred near a crater left in a road by a bomb that killed five U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi soldiers on Saturday.

Residents said that a second Humvee was attacked at the site Sunday and that its burned wreckage remained at the scene. U.S. forces cordoned it off for one or two hours, then departed with the wreckage still there, residents said.

Children and other local people gathered around the Humvee, said Ahmed Fuad, a resident.

Some of the children were idly pelting the vehicle with rocks when the bomb hit, Fuad said.

Fuad was one of the fathers and brothers gathered under the funeral tent on Monday, as mothers and other female family members mourned in the privacy of their homes, in accordance with Islamic tradition. Fuad said the dead included his 4-year-old son, Saad Ahmed Fuad, and his 8-year-old daughter, Haifa Ahmed Fuad.

Fuad said he was unable to find one of the 8-year-old's legs and had to bury her without it.

Imagine that. Four-year-olds and eight-year-olds planting bombs. And I thought Americans were the most technologically savvy people in the world.

UPDATE: Jeanne at Body and Soul writes about the U.S. airstrikes also, and notes the skeptical tone taken in the WaPo and LA Times toward the Bush administration's official account of the attacks.


Monday, October 17, 2005

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGERS are really, really upset with ABC News for their headline implying that white supremacists rioted in Toledo, Ohio.

NewsBusters opens with a screen capture of the ABC article and the banner headline: "The Title ABC Only Wishes Were True: 'White Supremacists Riot.' "

Jason at Generation Why? scolds the black community of north Toledo: "When You're Protesting Racists' Stereotypes, Be Sure Not to CONFIRM THEM."

Funny, I don't recall white conservatives saying that if police officers don't like being stereotyped as brutal and racist, they should be sure not to confirm those stereotypes by:

  • Fatally shooting an unarmed Haitian security guard (Patrick Dorismond, 2000) for the crime of getting angry when the (undercover) officer attempted to buy marijuana from him.
  • Beating an unarmed radio journalist who was covering Patrick Dorismond's funeral and then shackling him to his bed in the coronary care unit of the hospital he had to be taken to as a result of the beating (Errol Maitland, reporter for WBAI-Pacifica Radio).
  • Beating and torturing an unarmed, handcuffed Haitian immigrant in a police car and in the bathroom of a police station (Abner Louima, 1997, four police officers involved).
  • Beating and strangling a young black graffiti artist for doing graffiti on a subway wall (Michael Stewart, 1983, 11 police officers involved; all were acquitted of murder).
  • Fatally shooting (41 bullets) a 22-year-old West African immigrant in his apartment doorway, after he reached inside his jacket for what turned out to be his wallet (Amadou Diallo, 1999).
  • Fatally shooting an elderly, mentally disturbed grandmother after forcing their way into her apartment to evict her for being five months behind on her rent (Eleanor Bumpers, 1984, six police officers involved).
  • Beating and choking to death a 29-year-old man who was playing football with his brothers, after the football hit the police officer's car (Anthony Baez, 1994, one officer involved, who was sentenced to seven years in prison only after a massive grassroots campaign by Iris Baez, Anthony's mother.)

In a few of these cases, some measure of justice was served; in many others, the officers involved were acquitted or never even indicted. And none of them were viewed by conservative whites as confirming the worst stereotypes about police brutality. Instead, these killer police were seen as bad individuals, not representative of all or even most police officers -- if they were even seen as having done anything wrong at all.

Generation Why? goes on to quote, uncritically, the reason the neo-Nazis gave for wanting to march: the neighborhood has been "beset with gang violence that threatens white residents." But not black residents, presumably.

Back at Newsbusters, "John" notes that the reason the Toldeo police cancelled the white supremacists' march was because there were only "two dozen" of them, and their "safety" could not be "guaranteed."

And to make absolutely sure his point is clear, "John" adds:

So, contrary to the lede, the event was not "allowed." And contrary to the head and subhead, the riot was entirely conducted by black protestors, not white supremecists.

Actually, anyone who even glanced at the AP article would have known the rioters were black protesters. It's right there, in the very first few words, so right at the top that it's caught in "John"'s screen capture:

Protesters at a white supremacists' march threw rocks at police, vandalized vehicles and stores and cursed the mayor for allowing the event.

I guess that people like "John," Jason, and Michelle are so overwhelmed by the horror they feel on behalf of the white supremacists, who were so unfairly depicted, that they haven't figured out the "White Supremacists Riot in Toledo, Ohio" headline WAS A TYPO. Or maybe they're just such a bunch of "morons," to use Michelle Malkin's term, that they cannot spot the obvious.

Why on earth would AP announce in a headline that white supremacists rioted, and then in the very first sentence of the article, say it was the protesters who were violent?

But hey, let's not bring common sense into this. Why do that, when you can have multiple orgasms writing sentences like this:

Who is going to get fired for this gross and public dishonesty which polluted the American press this morning? In the immortal words of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "Anyone, anyone?"

I can hear the cries of pleasure from here.


VIA JUAN COLE'S POST TODAY, I came across this article by Massoud A. Derhally, in ITP Business, an Arabian English-language business magazine. Derhally quotes a number of sources (Prof. Cole among them) to support the conclusion that Saturday's referendum is not likely to end the insurgency or bring democracy to Iraq unless and until a number of other significant issues are addressed.

Federalism, in particular, has emerged as the key issue, because it permits Kurds to effectively run a secular system and allows the Shiites to discuss how issues of religious law will apply to civil life within their areas.

"Federalism is the key issue because it is the one that most concerns the Sunnis. That is not necessarily the primary concern of Shiites and Kurds. But it is the concern of those who thought the constitution might be a way of tying in the Sunnis and taking some of the heat out of the insurgency," explains [Neil] Partrick [of the Economist Intelligence Unit].
To some extent, Sunnis have accepted that there will be a highly independent entity called Kurdistan, but the idea that the Shiites are inclined to break away from Iraq themselves has caused real worries. "The constitution allows that as a possibility and it's aggravated the fears that the Sunnis have about whether this constitution can be another step on the road towards weakening the entity formally known as Iraq," explains Partrick.
If "the constitution is adopted on 15 October and a government is elected by 15 December without a strong political agreement underpinning its legitimacy, descent into civil war and disintegration, with mass expulsions in areas of mixed population, could well become a reality," the ICG [International Crisis Group] report said.

As was the case in the run up to drafting of the constitution in August, Washington's ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad and other US officials have tried to shore up support for the referendum in Iraq, by pressuring or coercing the country's neighbouring countries into supporting the political process.

Arab support has largely been lacking and it remains to be seen whether Washington's pressure will have an impact on the country's future political landscape -- given that the majority view in the region is that Iraq is a country in a state of disintegration and there will be a weak central government.

"The United States has a strong interest in seeing the constitution -- any constitution -- ratified, and will do anything within its power to see that happen," says William Beeman, a professor at Brown University. "This has nothing to do with the welfare of the Iraqi people -- it is for the benefit of [US president] George W. Bush, who is in trouble at home."

Gregory Gause of the University of Vermont agrees. "I think that American diplomacy is all about getting the constitution approved. I think that the constitution, as it is written, will bring about a very decentralised, weak Iraqi regime with de facto Kurdish independence and, perhaps, a similar regional government in the south. But right now, Washington is focused on getting it approved," he says.


A DAY AFTER IRAQIS VOTED to either pass or reject a new constitution, U.S. airstrikes killed 70 Iraqis in two villages west of Baghdad. Two days earlier, five U.S. soldiers had been killed by a roadside bomb. The American bombing raids were, the U.S. military reports, a response to a crowd of Iraqis gathered at the wreckage site of the roadside bombing. When the U.S. pilots saw the Iraqis, they guessed that they were insurgents trying to plant another bomb. Their evidence for this conclusion is, of course, classified information; suffice it to say that they knew there could not be any other explanation for a large group of Iraqis gathered around the wreckage of a U.S. military vehicle. So -- in accordance with the Bush administration's efforts to create a culture of life, and Pres. Bush's strongly held belief that we must respect the dignity of all human lives because each human life is the image of God, even if they're not frozen embryos -- the U.S. warplanes and helicopters bombed a crowd of Iraqi civilians who were looking at the wreckage of a U.S. military vehicle.

All of the Iraqis killed were Sunnis, since the villages bombed are in the area of Ramadi, where the population is almost all Sunni.

According to the (UK) Guardian:

Yesterday's violence came a day after Iraq voted in a referendum on whether to accept the country's draft constitution, which many Sunnis oppose.

Sunnis turned out in large numbers to vote against the constitution, although they did not have enough votes to defeat it. The U.S. is hoping that this airstrike on two Sunni villages will encourage those Sunnis who still oppose the charter (which as of Saturday's vote, was most of them), to change their minds and give the constitution their support.

The US and British governments see the adoption of a constitution as a key stage in creating a sovereign Iraq and in helping to bring about the withdrawal of troops.

However, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, admitted yesterday that violence will continue in Iraq, even if the new constitution is adopted.

She said support for the insurgency would eventually wane as the country moves toward democracy.

The bombing raids against the Sunni villagers are a key part of the U.S. strategy to move Iraq toward democracy and hence decrease support for the insurgency.