Tuesday, August 30, 2005

We Are Poorer

As if the news coming out of Iraq and the Gulf Coast isn't bad enough, we have just been served another helping from the karmic can of whoop-ass with the latest report on poverty in America from the Census Bureau.

WASHINGTON — Even with a robust economy that was adding jobs last year, the number of Americans who fell into poverty rose to 37 million — up 1.1 million from 2003 — according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.

It marks the fourth straight increase in the government's annual poverty measure.

The Census Bureau also said household income remained flat, and that the number of people without health insurance edged up by about 800,000 to 45.8 million people.

Overall, the nation's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year. Of the 37 million living below the poverty level, close to a third were children.

The last decline in overall poverty was in 2000, during the Clinton administration
, when 31.1 million people lived under the threshold.

Since then, the number of people in poverty has increased steadily from 32.9 million in 2001, when the economy slipped into recession, to 35.8 million in 2003.
[Emphasis added]

Although I'm not an economist (nor do I play one on tv; I haven't even stayed recently in a Holiday Inn), I suspect that even with the increase in jobs, the fact that wages haven't increased is a key factor, as is the fact that there has been a rise in the number of people without health insurance.

What haunts me is that figure indicating nearly 12 million children are considered to among the officially-defined poor category. Here. In America, the land of opportunity and dreams.

And these figures are reflective of a four year trend, with the last evidence of the decline in poverty coming in 2000, the last year of Clinton's presidency.

Odd that.

This maladministration has provided us with yet another bit of proof that it cannot, and willfully so, do anything right.

Death Dealing

Each year, a report "considered by academic experts to be the most thorough compilation of facts and figures on global weapons sales available in the public domain" is made available to Congress, and this year's report contains some interesting statistics.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 - The value of military weapons sales worldwide jumped in 2004 to the highest level since 2000, driven by arms deals with developing nations, especially India, Saudi Arabia and China, according to a new Congressional study.

The United States once again dominated global weapons sales, signing deals worth $12.4 billion in 2004, or 33.5 percent of all contracts worldwide. But that was down from $15.1 billion in 2003.

"Relationships between arms suppliers and recipients continue to evolve in response to changing political, military and economic circumstances," [Richard F. Grimmett] said. "Nonetheless, the developing world continues to be the primary focus of foreign arms sales activity by conventional weapons suppliers."

"Presently, there appear to be fewer large weapons purchases being made by developing nations in the Near East," Mr. Grimmett wrote, while relatively larger purchases are being made by developing nations in Asia, "led principally by China and India."

In the parts of the world wracked by AIDS, polio, malaria, TB, starvation, and the other ravages of Global Warming, billions are being spent on more direct ways to kill people. Those billions are being sent to the more comfortable 'developed' nations such as the US and Europe.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Lowering Expectations Even Further

The drafting and implementation of a new constitution in Iraq has frequently been touted as a major milestonse by this administration. The goal was to have the document drafted and submitted to the National Assembly for its approval by August 1. That deadline had to be extended several times because the Sunni Arabs and the Shiite Arabs disagreed on the shape of the future government. The Shiites wanted a loose federation (to which the Kurds readily agreed once the US made it clear that there would be no total independence for them), but the Sunnis (a minority in Iraq) feared even further loss of power and wanted a strong central government.

After several delays and a last minute personal intervention by President Bush, the parties to the talks gave up. The Shiite majority refused any further concessions and the draft will be submitted to the National Assembly today. There is little doubt that the Sunnis will campaign vigorously against the current document when it is submitted to the Iraqi electorate for approval, and they may very well succeed in blocking its approval by having three of the districts vote against it. In other words, this major milestone may not be reached.

Our administration's response to the impasse was, sadly, predictable. Once again, they've lowered the bar, adding typical Rovian spin to what is a significant set-back.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 - As Iraq's draft constitution was presented to its National Assembly and honored at a brief ceremony largely boycotted by Sunnis, President Bush joined with others in his administration on Sunday in praising the charter as a milestone in the transition to democracy and the battle against insurgents.

But in the disarray in Baghdad that was becoming evident, with Sunnis and some Shiites vowing to defeat the constitution and others angrily predicting a surge in anti-government violence, statements by the president and others in his administration had the air of making a case that the situation was not as bad as it looked.

Lowering their sights, administration officials said Sunday that their task now was to keep the political process alive, even if the constitution was rejected in October, and thereby keep the disaffected Sunnis from helping to stoke more violence.

What the administration emphasized this weekend was that, for all the focus on disagreements over semi-autonomous states for Kurds and Shiites, the draft contains protections for human rights and legal processes that received broad support among Iraqis. These provisions are likely to survive whatever happens, American officials argued. ...

But it was notable that on a day when many Iraqis expressed concern that the document could limit women's rights by empowering Shiite clerics, the administration made little or no reference to that issue.

With public support for the administration's handling of the Iraqi Invasion dropping like a stone, this is hardly good news for the President. When Congress returns to work in a week, the President will have a hard time making the case that things are going well in Iraq, that we are about to turn yet another corner, that democracy will soon be in place and therefore our military can soon come home. I hope that Congress will press hard on something akin to a time table, if not an outright time table.

I'm not optimistic, but I am hopeful.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Our Man at the UN

John Bolton has begun his new job at the United Nations in just the fashion predicted: with controversy and ill feelings. With just a few weeks until a major UN summit, Mr. Bolton has savaged the 36 page working document for that summit. In the process, he has seriously upset our closest ally, Great Britain.

The Guardian reports on the coming confrontation.

Britain will join an international alliance to confront George Bush and salvage as much as possible of an ambitious plan to reshape the United Nations and tackle world poverty next week .The head-to-head in New York on Monday comes after the revelation that the US administration is proposing wholesale changes to crucial parts of the biggest overhaul of the UN since it was founded more than 50 years ago.

...it was revealed this week that Mr Bush's new ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was seeking 750 changes to the 36-page draft plan to be presented to a special summit in New York on September 14 to 16. Mr Bolton's amendments, if successful, would leave the plan in tatters.

The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that Britain was standing behind the original plan, putting it at odds with Mr Bush.

The concern in British and other international circles is that the American objections, if adopted, would severely undermine the UN summit, the biggest-ever gathering of world leaders.

A source close to the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan said it was too early to declare the UN plan dead. "Bolton wants to knock down the plan and start from scratch," the source said. "He will find that his opinions are not shared by most of the rest of the world."

The nature of the changes demanded by Mr. Bolton certainly come as no surprise, given the bent of the current administration. Neither is the response from the rest of the world:

The U.S. draft significantly reduces a section on poverty in favor of bolstered sections on strengthening free-market values and spreading democracy. It deletes mention of institutions and treaties the United States opposes, such as the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto treaty on global warming. The draft also deletes a proposal that nuclear powers dismantle their arsenals but strengthens passages on fighting terrorism.

U.S. officials say that the 11th-hour introduction of their many amendments was not an act of sabotage but simply a result of a lengthy interagency consultation in Washington. But others criticize the U.S. for being nearly silent during the months of negotiations this year.

In short, said Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, the U.S. revision takes the conflict between U.S. interests and those of developing nations and rival powers straight into the spotlight of the UN stage, yet asks other nations to work together to protect the U.S. agenda. The question is, how much is the United States willing to give?

I think it clear that the administration intends for the upcoming summit to fail. Mr. Bolton is not noted for his negotiating skills, merely his bullying tactics. The US is clearly not "willing to give" one bit. The result in the short term will be the failed summit and none of the needed changes to the United Nations. The result in the long term will be to isolate the US from not only contenders to our superpower status (China), but also from our most faithful allies (Great Britain and Europe).

Once again, this maladministration has squandered an opportunity for improving the world. The political capital the President claimed after the 2004 elections looks to have been completely depleted on the world stage.

Once again: this Administration can't do anything right.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lowering Expectations

We have turned so many corners in Iraq that I'm more than a little nauseated. It's now clear that we (to use the last Secretary of State's phrase) "broke it." What's also clear is that we certainly do not own it.

Public support in America for this dreadful misadventure has plummeted, along with the competence rating of the President. The problem is that the man who sometimes actually resides in the Oval Office and his administration apparently refuse to acknowledge any of the mistakes made in the invasion and instead prefer to rely on the magical language of "staying the course," and "remaining resolute."

Still, many among our allies see the growing disconnect with reality represented by that approach and are beginning to realize that the Emperor is in fact naked.

First, from Australia (August 24, 2005):

THE fissures over the unfolding failures in Iraq have permeated the Bush administration, the US military and the Republican establishment - and the Howard Government cannot defy a reckoning on its Iraq policy.
George W. Bush has no credible story to offer the American public about Iraq. Divisions are opening within his administration and there is now an unspeakable reality - on balance, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was less a threat to US strategic interests than is Iraq today.

Bush and Howard say they will remain in Iraq "until the job is done". This statement demands to be unpacked. What does it mean? Does it mean staying until the insurgency is beaten or only until a new government is formed under a new constitution?

The evidence is that US objectives are changing. The invasion was about creating a secular democracy -- but that cause is lost. It won't happen. If Iraq stays together it will become a form of Islamic republic with serious security problems and a fractured economy. Meanwhile, antagonism is growing between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds with each group operating its own militias. ...

Bush is trapped by his own folly. Bush wanted to do Iraq on the cheap. He never had enough troops or a proper plan or a sense of the risks. Now he is trapped between the commitment needed to beat the insurgency and the pressures for an exit strategy. Howard is trapped with him.
[Emphasis added]

Second, and perhaps more telling, is this editorial from Iraq's Azzaman (August 18, 2005):

It took U.S. President George W. Bush more than two years to understand that the ostrich, though a bird, is too big to fly.

That is the way many Iraqis interpret the report in the Washington Post in which senior Whitehouse officials are quoted as saying that Bush has lowered his expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq.

Mr. Bush needs to be made to understand that his “ostrich” in Iraq was grounded the same day his troops landed here and has even lost the ability to run, the characteristic the African bird is famous for.

Therefore, lowering expectations is not enough. The U.S. administration needs to comprehensively revise its Iraq policy which has cost both Iraqis and Americans a great deal.

That Mr. Bush has realized the ostrich cannot fly it is time for him to sit down and acknowledge that his Iraq project has been total fiasco.

The reasons hindering the fulfillment of Mr. Bush’s dream of spreading “democracy” in the Middle East are still there despite the death of more than 1,800 U.S. troops, according to the official tally, and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
[Emphasis added]

It's time for the current maladministration to pull its head out of the sand and to start realistically assessing what has been done and then to try to fix things. It's also time for the US Congress to confront the administration and this issue head on.

Odd, but I frankly am not that optimistic right now. Perhaps as we get closer to the 2006 election, simple politics will cause the job to finally get done.

More Problems With Polio

Back in April, I blogged on the problems UNICEF and WHO were having in their polio vaccination drive in Nigeria. Some Islamic fundamentalists claimed that the program was an anti-Islamic plot by Western Imperialists, and thousands of mothers refused to have their children vaccinated against this terrible childhood disease. This misunderstanding has had, sadly, consequences that range beyond Africa.

In today's Washington Post I learned about the same kind of difficulty arising in Indonesia. This time, however, the misinformation came not from the Muslim clergy but from the Indonesian press.

DEPOK, Indonesia -- As a longtime health volunteer in the narrow alleys of her hillside neighborhood, Ebon Sunarti has focused on corralling other women into the local clinic so their toddlers could be vaccinated against a range of childhood diseases.

But when polio broke out in her province this year and the government launched a regional campaign to immunize all children under 5, this tough-minded mother held her own 3-year-old daughter back after seeing spurious television reports that the vaccine had made many youngsters sick, even killing a few.

Health officials believe that the current epidemic was caused by a single case which arrived from Nigeria (the country that was the locale of my earlier post). Because the disease is so communicable, the current campaign was undertaken. Unfortunately, the national press went crazy with a story that by all accounts was simply inaccurate.

...accounts of four children who died shortly afterward were reported at length in the national media. Though the World Health Organization determined that the deaths were unrelated to the vaccine, Indonesian health officials initially did little to debunk the rumors. So in a second round of vaccinations in June, intended to give the same children another crucial dose, many parents turned the health workers away, and about 725,000 fewer children got the vaccine. [Emphasis added]

Fortunately, the Muslim clergy in Indonesia were very cooperative with WHO and UNICEF in the aftermath:

...the country's most popular Muslim televangelist, Abdullah Gymnastiar, has been enlisted to publicize next week's drive. The Indonesian Council of Ulemas, or Muslim scholars, has issued a fatwa , or edict, endorsing the vaccine.

Unfortunately, the Indonesian press and many public health officials haven't been so cooperative, and, as a result, many Indonesian mothers are so frightened that the vaccine itself causes death that they are still hesitant about getting their children vaccinated.

The result may very well cause an expansion of the disease into Asia, and that qualified as another huge tragedy in the making.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A Plan

Republicans always chide Democrats for never having "a plan," only criticism of whatever the Republicans propose. When you're not the party that controls the White House and Congress, putting forth a plan is rather difficult. Still, there are times when Democrats really should put forth ideas on issues facing the nation. The current situation in Iraq is one of those times, especially with the 2006 elections nearing and the President's poll ratings dropping.

Wesley Clark, who presumably is planning to run again for President in 2008, has put forward some rather interesting suggestions in an op-ed column in today's Washington Post.

In the old, familiar fashion, mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq have mobilized increasing public doubts about the war. More than half the American people now believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. They're right. But it would also be a mistake to pull out now, or to start pulling out or to set a date certain for pulling out. Instead we need a strategy to create a stable, democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq -- a strategy the administration has failed to develop and articulate.

While "setting a date certain for pulling out" may not be the wisest of courses, certainly laying out some milestones on that route is an appropriate measure. To be fair to General Clark, however, he does articulate some pretty sensible approaches for getting us out.

From the outset of the U.S. post-invasion efforts, we needed a three-pronged strategy: diplomatic, political and military. Iraq sits geographically on the fault line between Shiite and Sunni Islam; for the mission to succeed we will have to be the catalyst for regional cooperation, not regional conflict.

Unfortunately, the administration didn't see the need for a diplomatic track, and its scattershot diplomacy in the region -- threats, grandiose pronouncements and truncated communications -- has been ill-advised and counterproductive. The U.S. diplomatic failure has magnified the difficulties facing the political and military elements of strategy by contributing to the increasing infiltration of jihadists and the surprising resiliency of the insurgency.

Adding a diplomatic track to the strategy is a must. ...The United States should tone down its raw rhetoric and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. In addition, a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would be a helpful step in engaging both regional and Iraqi support as we implement our plans.

On the political side, the timeline for the agreements on the Constitution is less important than the substance of the document. It is up to American leadership to help engineer, implement and sustain a compromise that will avoid the "red lines" of the respective factions and leave in place a state that both we and Iraq's neighbors can support. So no Kurdish vote on independence, a restricted role for Islam and limited autonomy in the south. And no private militias.

On the military side, the vast effort underway to train an army must be matched by efforts to train police and local justices. Canada, France and Germany should be engaged to assist. Neighboring states should also provide observers and technical assistance. In military terms, striking at insurgents and terrorists is necessary but insufficient. Military and security operations must return primarily to the tried-and-true methods of counterinsurgency: winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small-scale economic development and positive daily interactions.

The growing chorus of voices demanding a pullout should seriously alarm the Bush administration, because President Bush and his team are repeating the failure of Vietnam: failing to craft a realistic and effective policy and instead simply demanding that the American people show resolve. Resolve isn't enough to mend a flawed approach -- or to save the lives of our troops. If the administration won't adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that it bring our troops home.
[Emphasis added]

I disagree with General Clark's assertion that the US must "help engineer" the Iraqi consitution and help craft it so that the Kurds feel (once again) left out and the Shia feel nervous about a backdoor Sunni coup financed by the southern oil fields. The important thing is that the good general has in fact put forth some very interesting points and strategies that make much more sense than anything put out by the current administration from the very start.

General Clark has started the conversation. I hope other Democrats will continue with it.

Friday Cat Blogging

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Lunch time!

Friday Critter Blogging

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Mia and Homie settling in for another nap

Thursday, August 25, 2005

WTF? Anybody at Fox Ever Hear Of...

...fact checking?

I've been sadly negligent in my review of blogs I think worth visiting regularly, you know, that series I do because I can't figure out how to do a blog roll. Well, consider this part of that on-going series, but also consider the implications of the information itself.

Elaine Supkis, an Eschaton regular, has her own blog, which is actually a series of blogs, all well-integrated. Tonight, thanks to her suggestion, I checked out a recent post on this brilliant blog.

Time for the mass media to yell about blogger ethics! Remember, they accuse us of using Google to learn stuff and then we talk about them! That is a no no. But they can talk about us and they don't use Google, it seems. In this case, Fox was, as usual, totally irresponsible and of course, enough holes in their story you could sieve spagetti in it!

Elaine then proceeds to give us the skinny, via Yahoo:

LA HABRA, Calif. - A couple whose home was wrongly identified on national television as belonging to an Islamic radical has faced harassment, and police are providing special protection.

After the report ran on Fox News on Aug. 7, people have shouted profanities at Randy and Ronnell Vorick and spray-painted terrorist" (spelling it "terrist") on their property.

"I'm scared to go to work and leave my kids home. I call them every 30 minutes to make sure they're OK," Randy Vorick said.

John Loftus, a former federal prosecutor who appears on the Fox News segment "Inside Scoop with John Loftus," gave out the house address during the broadcast.

He said the home belonged to Iyad Hilal, whose group, Loftus said, has ties to those responsible for the July 7 bombings in London. But Hilal moved out of the house about three years ago.
[Emphasis added]

Clearly, Fox News got it wrong, really wrong. This is not the kind of situation in which a correction buried on page 34 is going to take care of things. The Voricks are targets because some idiot couldn't take the time to see if the fricking address he was so pleased to present to the public still represented property owned and occupied by an alleged terrorist.

Elaine has suggested a law suit is in order, and I'm sure she's right. The problem is that there will have to be someone alive to make the claim. Given the violent response so far, that is not assured.

Has the press in this country sunk so low that this is considered acceptable behavior?

That is a question I'm not so sure I want an answer to.

Through the Looking Glass

I hear plenty of stories from friends, including those who are police officers, that a lot of people get busted for DWB (driving while black). Officials at various levels of government usually claim such a charge is simply an urban myth, but I'm not so sure, especially given the news that came out this week.

Bob Herbert's column in today's NY Times references this police tactic, along with what happens to someone who documents its use nationwide.

The Bush administration has punished a Justice Department official who dared to tell even a mild truth about racial profiling by law enforcement officers in this country.

In 2001 President Bush selected Lawrence Greenfeld to head the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which tracks crime patterns and police tactics, among other things. But as Eric Lichtblau of The Times reported in a front-page article yesterday, Mr. Greenfeld is being demoted because he complained that senior political officials were seeking to play down newly compiled data about the aggressive treatment of black and Hispanic drivers by police officers.

My first thought when I read the story was that burying the messenger who tells uncomfortable truths has always been a favorite tactic of this administration, which seems to exist largely in a world of fantasy. (Grown-ups don't do well in the Bush playtime environment. Remember Gen. Eric Shinseki? And former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill?)...

The beginning of the end of Lawrence Greenfeld's tenure as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics came a few months ago, as his agency was completing a major study showing that black and Hispanic drivers were treated more aggressively than whites when stopped by the police.

Mr. Greenfeld was overruled when he tried to include references to these disparities in a news release announcing the findings of the study. The study was then buried in the bowels of the Bush bureaucracy.

Mr. Greenfeld obviously failed to understand that the preferred methods of dealing with uncomfortable facts in the fantasyland of the Bush administration are to ignore them, or simply wish them away.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I understand that much of what we call reality is consensual, but that consensus is based on experience. Take gravity, for example: most of us agree that we fall down, not up.

Apparently the Bush administration is unaware of this version of reality. It prefers to be more creative. Months ago, the insurgency in Iraq was in its last throes. The fact that scores of US soldiers (and hundreds of Iraqi civilians) have died since then doesn't seem to dent the Bush world-view. Anyone within the administration, no matter at what level, who disputes that world-view becomes a non-person. Like Mr. Greenfield.

If it weren't for the fact that I am actually living in this rather trashy dystopian world, I might be amused at the simplistic constructs invented by our dear leaders. Instead, I find myself more and given to stockpiling canned goods.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Different Rules for Differing People

Yesterday, I posted on Reverend Pat Robertson's incredible recommendation that the US assassinate Hugo Chavez, the elected President of Venezuela. I, like people all across the political spectrum, was outraged by an alleged 'man of God' calling for the murder of anyone.

Optimist that I am, I expected the White House to immediately condemn such a suggestion. Then I read today's news. I need to get new tints for my spectacles, obviously.

Complicating the story, of course, is the fact that the good reverend tried to cover his tracks by lying (or, for those Biblically inclined, "bearing false witness") about what he actually said. From The Star Tribune we find this:

On Wednesday, he initially denied having called for Chavez to be killed and said The Associated Press had misinterpreted his remarks.

"I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out,''' Robertson said on his show. "'Take him out' could be a number of things including kidnapping."

When he discovered that most folks who have access to the internet had already heard the entire rant, he backed down and issued both an apology and an excuse.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson apologized Wednesday for calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, only hours after he denied saying Chavez should be killed.

"Is it right to call for assassination?'' Robertson said. "No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

But back to the main story: what did the Administration have to say? Well, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, said this:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference that assassinating foreign leaders is "against the law."

"Our department doesn't do that kind of thing," he said, adding that Robertson is "a private citizen" and that "private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."
[Emphasis added]

Keep the highlighted portion in mind. It's important.

The State Department, that part of the government that is charged with trying to tone down these indelicate moments, especially with a government that is currently providing a goodly portion of this country's energy needs, also weighed in :

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Robertson's remarks about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "inappropriate," but stopped short of condemning them.[Emphasis added]

Again, keep the highlighted text in mind, because the White House itself is capable of making some stern comments about people who take strong positions, like this, for example:

BOISE, Idaho, Aug. 23 -- President Bush, confronted by antiwar protesters on his travels, Tuesday renewed his refusal to meet with high-profile activist Cindy Sheehan, asserting that she does not speak for the majority of families who have lost relatives in combat.

Bush dismissed demands from Sheehan and others to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. "I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake," he said. "I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq but the Middle East are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States."
[Emphasis added]

See the difference?

Reverend Robertson is a private citizen with an opinion. Period.

Cindy Sheehan is a private citizen with an opinion that would weaken the United States.

Can there be any doubt about the double standard? Or the implications?


Another Hackett?

On August 3, 2005, I posted the following after learning that Paul Hackett had lost the special election in Ohio by a narrow version:

First, Howard Dean was right: we need to contest every election at every level. No more campaigning in just "battleground states. ..."

Second, the Democratic's national organization has to kick into gear earlier so that the candidate doesn't have to worry about finances when it comes to such things as polling. ...

We may have a chance to see whether Democrats have learned anything from the exciting Hackett race come October (and hopefully December) when a special election in California's 48th Congressional District is held. Christopher Cox, the incumbent in this very conservative Orange County district, has resigned to accept a federal appointment. The LA Times had a fairly brief story on it August 23.

Five parties are represented for the Oct. 4 vote for the 48th Congressional District. If no one gets a majority, a runoff will be Dec. 6.
The district includes Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest, Newport Beach and Tustin.

Of interest in the rest of the article is that there are two Republicans vying for the seat, one of whom has received support from Senator John McCain, the other of whom has been endorsed by the California Govinator, Arnold Schwartzenegger. That means it is entirely possible that a run-off will have to be held because these two will split the vote.

There are a couple of Democrats running, as well as a Libertarian and some 'Independents.' The article didn't give much information on the candidates beyond their current occupations.

Only one of the Democrats has a web site that I could locate, John Graham. Bea Foster may have one up soon, but it is early in the campaign.

In any event, Mr. Graham's web site is pretty well done, and has a list of issues he intends to campaign on. He is concentrating at this point on one issue:

This election is more an opportunity for the people of Orange County to voice directly their displeasure with George Bush’s “bring ‘em on” foreign policy and particularly his blunder in attacking Iraq based on false intelligence reports and his personal vendettas.

The theme of my campaign can be summed up in three words: “Stop the bleeding.”

We are currently spending $7 billion dollars a month in Iraq. On average the lives of 60 American soldiers and Marines are sacrificed, and some 500 are wounded every month. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have also been killed. It’s time to bring our troops home.

That kind of direct talk, besides being refreshing, is very reminiscent of the kind of approach Paul Hackett used. Mr. Graham is not a veteran of the Iraq War, but he does have a service record.

This race may very well play out the same way Ohio 02 did, so I hope the DCCC and other Democratic leaders are paying attention. I know I will.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

You Will Know They Are Christians...

by their love.

In recent years, the Religious Reich has moved from attempting to legislate sexual matters to attempting to control the court system. Now, one of their leaders has entered the arena of foreign policy.

Pat Robertson, televangelist and former presidential candidate, spoke on such an issue on his program "The 700 Club" on August 22, 2005. Media Matters broke the story early.

Robertson, host of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club and founder of the Christian Coalition of America, called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Robertson: He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
[Emphasis added]

I am not suggesting that Rev. Robertson does not have the right under the First Amendment to formulate such an opinion, for surely he does. I am suggesting, however, that such an opinion is hardly consistent with the Christian values he is supposed to promote.

As I recall, the Old Testament contains some crucial language on this: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Some biblical scholars have suggested that what is meant by that is "Thou shalt not murder." It seems to me that whether under a literal reading (which many of the Religious Reich insist on) or under the gloss provided by scholars, Rev. Robertson has broken that commandment, at least 'in his heart.'

In the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth asked his followers to go even further when he said "Love your enemies." I don't see much love in Rev. Robertson's comments. In fact, his suggestion drips with the hatred and chauvinism that led Jesus to cry out against the priestly class of Jerusalem, calling them "Whited Sepulchres," and worse.

I am reminded of something that I ran across on the web while surfing away a spare hour about a month ago. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I saw it, so I can't provide a link. A paraphrase of what struck me so is the following:

No, I don't mind that you're a Christian, but if you are, I just want you to act like one in public.

Rev. Robertson, you might consider abiding by that wise suggestion.

Monday, August 22, 2005


President Bush's standing in the polls have hovered in the low-40% range for most of the summer, primarily due to his handling of the Iraq War and the concomitant rise in oil prices. The public support for the Iraq War has likewise plummeted as the knowledge that we were lied into this folly sinks in and more American soldiers come home in flag-draped coffins. And what are Democratic officials doing during this opportune moment? According to the Washington Post, they are fighting amongst themselves.

Democrats say a long-standing rift in the party over the Iraq war has grown increasingly raw in recent days, as stay-the-course elected leaders who voted for the war three years ago confront rising impatience from activists and strategists who want to challenge President Bush aggressively to withdraw troops.

The wariness, congressional aides and outside strategists said in interviews last week, reflects a belief among some in the opposition that proposals to force troop drawdowns or otherwise limit Bush's options would be perceived by many voters as defeatist. Some operatives fear such moves would exacerbate the party's traditional vulnerability on national security issues.

So far, the only elected Democratic official with visibility who is standing up and demanding a time table for pulling the American troops out of Iraq is Senator Russ Feingold. I'm sure Republicans are delighted by Senator Feingold's impetuous demand, primarily because they won't have to do anything. The other Democrats will slap the rebel down for them, as indeed they have.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who rose to public prominence on an antiwar presidential campaign, said on television a week ago that it was the responsibility of the president, not the opposition, to come up with a plan for Iraq.

Republican strategists chortle at the Democrats' inability to fashion a coherent message on the war. The Republican National Committee on Friday released a series of contrasting Democratic statements on troop withdrawals. "Instead of attacking our president's resolve," RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said in a statement, "Democrats might want to focus on the debate within their own party."

While Governor Dean may be right in taking the position that ultimately it is the responsibility of the maladministration who got us into this mess to fix it, that should not stop the Democrats in office from debating the issue loudly when the next military appropriations bill comes to the floor.

While it may be embarrassing for those in Congress who voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war in the first place, that should not stop the Democrats from pointing out that they were lied to and misled by the administration so determined to invade Iraq that it fixed the facts to get that vote.

People continue to die in Iraq every day we occupy the country, and I think it clear that will continue until we leave. Most Americans feel the same way.

"The American people are much farther ahead in their thinking about the war than the White House or the Republican Congress," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "They understand we can't continue down this same failed course in Iraq."

The Democrats should finally realize that what the American public wants is for their elected officials to do the right thing, the moral thing, and, yes, at this point, the courageous thing. The symbolic handwringing by the Democrats surely does more to enforce the view of weakness in matters of national security than would a bold and forthright statement on what must be done. Senator Feingold's plan is a wonderful start at just the right time.

The Democrats in office need to grow some ovaries on the issue, or in 2006 the American public will throw them out as well.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

It's All About the Oil

Clearly one of the unstated reasons for the invasion of Iraq was a cheap and reliable source of oil for the US. After all, Iraq apparently has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world.

The current administration assumed it would be a cake walk: Iraq never really recovered from its wars with Iran and the allied forces in Gulf War I. It was further weakened by years of UN sanctions. Shock and Awe would remove Saddam and open the access to Iraq's oil for the US. Permanent bases in Iraq would ensure the oil kept flowing from Iraq and would stabilize the Middle East so that all oil producers could keep pumping and shipping the black gold.

Unfortunately for the US, this invasion was not a cake walk, and the mismanagement attendant to the 'pre-emptive war' has resulted in thousands of US deaths, Iraqi deaths, and some real problems in getting the oil out of Iraq. Our military is dangerously close to being 'broke' because of the long repetitive tours of duty for not only the regular army, but also the National Guard and Reserves.

But, wait: there's more. As China Daily points out, by invading and getting bogged down in Iraq, we've allowed ourselves to be hamstrung in our diplomatic efforts in the region. The US is seriously concerned about Iran's insistence on nuclear development, as is the European Union. The EU has been working hard to work out the problem diplomatically, but the US has hardly been helpful (especially with President Bush announcing that the military option is still on the table with respect to this issue).

Any sanctions or military action against Iran would not be welcomed. Teheran has cleverly played the oil card, pulling all of the big powers, save Washington, into its oil and gas market. Iran is also in control of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, with the military power to cut off the oil supply. With this kind of power and oil prices rising on the international market, no one wants to see chaos in Iran.

Among the nations that have entered the Iranian energy market is China, perhaps our biggest competitor for oil. Even assuming the US had the military strength to take on Iran (which it surely does not), the conflict could very well result in the complete shutdown of the flow of oil from the Middle East.

Complicating matters even further is the complete disarray in our relations with Venezuela, another major source for US oil. La Hora, a Venezuelan newspaper, gives us the perspective of President Hugo Chavez on the behavior of the current US administration.

Hugo Chavez, the president of the Republic, has assured people that the American market is not essential to Venezuela, and he declared that if the aggression against his government continued to increase, diplomatic ties between the two countries would be at risk.

He said that President Bush cannot seem to take an accurate measure of the situation, and that either he has bad advisers or there is something wrong with his head.

The chief executive said that if he stopped sending petroleum to United States, the Americans must know that the price of a gallon of gasoline would rise to $10. Nevertheless, he was careful to explain that he doesn’t want to cause harm to the Americans ...

Chavez asserted that there has never been an empire more brutal, more cruel, more cynical, more savage, more hypocritical, and more dangerous than the one led by his counterpart, George Bush.
[Emphasis added]

The ineptitude of the current maladministration in international relations has become more than laughable. It's now dangerous in all sorts of ways. One is left with the conclusion that this group of yahoos are simply incapable of doing anything right, and it's going to take years, perhaps decades, to undo the damage.

It's About Damn Times

Finally, the NY Times has decided to admit that President Bush and his administration lied us into a war. Of course, they do it obliquely in this editorial, which is as much a slam on the Washington Post (which, by the way, is never mentioned) as the Pentagon (which is mentioned). The putative subject of this editorial is the misguided "We Support You Walk for Freedom" planned for 9/11/05 as a sort of memorial to those who died in that terrorist attack and a sort of showing of support for those serving in Iraq. The Times is right to show the speciousness of the linkage.

The Bush administration has announced plans for a Freedom Walk on Sept. 11, which will start at the Pentagon and end at the National Mall, and include a country music concert. The event is an ill-considered attempt to link the Iraq war to the terrorist attacks of 2001, and misguided in almost every conceivable way. It also badly misreads the public's mood. The American people are becoming increasingly skeptical about the war. They want answers to hard questions, not pageantry.

What is fascinating is that the editorialist manages later in the piece to thrash the White House for its mendacity in building support for the war in Iraq to begin with.

Having failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the administration has been eager to repackage the war as a response to Sept. 11. The Freedom Walk appears to be devised to impress this false connection on the popular imagination.

The Bush administration took the nation to war on the basis of a bundle of ever-changing arguments, few of which stood up once the fighting began. Ever since, the White House has tried to shore up its positions by discounting all bad news and shielding the civilian public from any war-connected inconvenience. But that strategy has very clearly stopped working. It is time for a somber acceptance of the war's costs, and some specific talk about what the nation's goals and strategy are in Iraq.
[Emphasis added]

The NY Times is late to the dance. It would have been far more helpful if they had not been part of the media cheerleading squad back in 2002 and 2003 for the A-team's push for this ill-conceived and ill-managed invasion. The Times, like most other media outlets bear part of the responsibility for this debacle. While I don't expect an apology, I am somewhat cheered that the Times is beginning to remove its journalistic head from its nether parts.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Patriot Act Report

One of the provisions of the original Patriot Act (Section 1001) requires reporting from the Department of Justice (DOJ) every six months with respect to complaints of violations by the DOJ of civil rights and civil liberties. The latest report to Congress issued August 15, 2005. It's relatively short (by government standards), but it still makes for some interesting reading. Almost from the start, the DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) issues some caveats.

Section 1001 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act), Public Law 107-56, directs the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ or Department) to undertake a series of actions related to claims of civil rights or civil liberties violations allegedly committed by DOJ employees.

It also requires the OIG to provide semiannual reports to Congress on the implementation of the OIG’s responsibilities under Section 1001. This report – the seventh since enactment of the legislation in October 2001 – summarizes the OIG’s Section 1001-related activities from January 1, 2005, through June 30, 2005.

Given the number of complaints received compared to its limited resources, the OIG does not investigate all allegations of misconduct against DOJ employees. The OIG refers many complaints involving DOJ employees to internal affairs offices in DOJ components such as the FBI Inspection Division, the DEA Office of Professional Responsibility, and the BOP [Bureau of Prisons]Office of Internal Affairs (OIA) for appropriate handling. In certain referrals, the OIG requires the components to report the results of their investigations to the OIG. In most cases, the OIG notifies the complainant of the referral.

Many complaints received by the OIG involve matters outside our jurisdiction. The ones that identify a specific issue for investigation are forwarded to the appropriate investigative entity. For example, complaints of mistreatment by airport security staff are sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) OIG. We also have forwarded complaints to the OIGs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of State, United States Postal Service, Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In addition, we have referred complainants to a variety of police department internal affairs offices that have jurisdiction over the subject of the complaints.

The caveat actually is important, given the numbers cited in the report:

Complaints processed: 834
Unrelated complaints: 624
Complaints within OIG’s jurisdiction warranting review: 210

Non-Section 1001 matters
Management issues: 186
Referred to DOJ components for investigation: 7
OIG unsuccessfully sought further details: 4

Section 1001 matters warranting review: 13

My first impression on reading the numbers was that for six months they seemed awfully high. It got worse when I recalled that there are provisions within the Patriot Act that allow the FBI to obtain records on citizens without the citizens being aware of that action. In other words, if Americans knew that their reading habits were being monitored by the government, there might have been even more complaints.

The report is fairly detailed on the cases that the DOJ-OIG actually investigated. Here is just a sample of one of them.

The OIG continues an investigation of the FBI’s conduct in connection with the erroneous identification of a latent fingerprint found on evidence from the March 2004 Madrid train bombing as belonging to Brandon Mayfield, an attorney in Portland, Oregon. As a result of the identification, the FBI initiated an investigation of Mayfield that resulted in his arrest as a “material witness” and his detention for approximately 2 weeks. Mayfield was released when Spanish National Police matched the fingerprints on the evidence to an Algerian national. The OIG is examining the cause of the erroneous identification and the FBI’s handling of the matter. The Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is reviewing the conduct of the prosecutors in the case.

Because most Americans don't know if their civil rights or liberties have been abused under the Patriot Act, most of the cases involve those who are currently detained. Here is another section of the report dealing with that:

1. Review of FBI Conduct Relating to Detainees in Military Facilities in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq:

In December 2004, the OIG initiated a review of FBI employees’ observations and actions regarding alleged abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib prison, and other venues controlled by the U.S. military. The OIG is examining whether FBI employees participated in any incident of detainee abuse, whether FBI employees witnessed incidents of abuse, whether FBI employees reported any abuse, and how those reports were handled by the FBI. In addition, our review will investigate whether the FBI took inappropriate action or inappropriately retaliated against any FBI employee who reported any incident of abuse.

2. Supplemental Report on September 11 Detainees’ Allegations of Abuse at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York:

We concluded that certain MDC staff members abused some of the detainees, and we found systemic problems in the way detainees were treated at the MDC. In December 2003, we provided the results of our investigation to the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) for its review and appropriate disciplinary action.

Unfortunately, because this report is only from the DOH-OIG, there is no information as to what results there actually were for those cases referred to other federal agencies (e.g., the BOP). As a result, the report looks in many respects as very tame, nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, given this Congress, that is exactly the conclusion that will be reached.

Me? I'm worried. Very worried.

Patriot Act: Version 2005

All that remains for Congress to do to pass the Patriot Act in its 2005 version is to go to Conference to reconcile the House and Senate versions. Little was changed in the original Patriot Act and Patriot Act II, and the sunset clauses which necessitated this year's review have been made pretty much perpetual.

The Star Tribune noted the more egregious portions of the bill in an editorial earlier this week:

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. society has crept closer to Orwell's eerie world in too many ways. Its own Big Brother has been keeping a close eye on Americans -- and most have grown accustomed to his gaze.

Such watchfulness seemed only wise in the weeks after the twin towers toppled. That's when Congress passed the Patriot Act, approving in a panic all sorts of emergency surveillance tactics meant to nab terrorists in their tracks. The measure gave government power to search a private home without informing its owner, wiretap a phone without naming a suspect, secretly survey a citizen's e-mails and private records and indefinitely jail noncitizens.

These days, the Patriot Act empowers the FBI to scoop up any citizen's psychiatric or other medical records pretty much whenever it wants -- even when the citizen in question isn't suspected of a crime. Worst of all, the law forbids doctors, therapists and all other record-keepers from telling the patient that the records have been seized.

This is the sort of privacy invasion this nation was created to prevent. Yet Americans have mustered barely a yawn in response to the news that lawmakers have extended the Patriot Act's most intrusive provisions for years to come. The extension authorized official spying not just on Americans' medical records, but also on their financial dealings and their reading habits at local libraries.

Do lawmakers really believe that the best way to safeguard American liberty is to sabotage it? Instead of mastering the Orwellian art of doublethink, lawmakers assigned to reconcile the two versions of Patriot Act II should seek to banish its most un-American features.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that any such banishment is likely to happen. The President, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security are going to get everything that they wanted. I had thought the only chance for removing some of the most obnoxious intrusions into our civil liberties was in the Senate, but I was being overly-optimistic.

I found a pretty good timeline on all the major Congressional actions taken on the bill. [Warning: if you don't really want to know how sausage and laws are made, I suggest you not click on the link.] Here is the most outrageous of the many outrageous entries on that timeline:

"Late on Friday, July 29, the final day before its summer recess, the Senate passed S. 1389 (the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005) on unanimous consent (no debate, no amendments, no roll call vote). The bill adds to the USA PATRIOT Act many of the safeguards for library and reader privacy that have been sought by the library community since the passage of the law in 2001, including tougher requirements for searching library records under Section 215. The vote was a surprise, coming just one week after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the S. 1389 and the House passed H.R. 3199 and just when everyone thought the Senate was rushing out the door for its summer recess. The two bills will now need to be reconciled by a Conference Committee." [Emphasis added]

I guess the Senate (all members of the Senate) thought their summer vacation was more important than our civil liberties. I think we should add this to our list of grievances when 2006 rolls around, assuming that elections will actually be held.

Friday, August 19, 2005

More Friday Critter Blogging

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"Heh...I've got the bed now, and you'll never make it again, fool."

Friday Cat Blogging

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Awwww...don't make the bed. I just got it right.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

More Fuel For The Democrats

The Senate, currently on Summer Recess, will soon be returning to Washington DC and high on the agenda awaiting them is the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John Roberts. At least a couple of Democratic Senators are trying to grow a spine (Kennedy and Schumer), and it appears that some ammunition is being uncovered and provided to them.

First of all, today I received an email from Joe Sandler, General Counsel to the DNC. The email states (in part):

Senators who will vote on his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court have requested documents pertaining to 16 of those cases. These were cases Roberts worked on as a senior political appointee in the first Bush administration. The cases (which are listed in the FOIA request linked below) deal with important legal issues like civil rights, equal opportunity for all, women's rights, our right to privacy, and access to justice.

The Senators' request for these documents has gone unanswered, despite the fact that the Justice Department has previously released similar records on other nominees.

So on Monday we will submit a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act from Governor Howard Dean and anyone else who wishes to be a part of it. You can read the formal request and add your name to it here .

The second, and more interesting, piece of information on Judge Roberts came out today:

WASHINGTON -- The White House broke the law when it interviewed D.C. Circuit Judge John G. Roberts last spring for the Supreme Court as he heard a challenge to the president's military tribunals, three legal ethicists said yesterday.

Roberts, nominated by President George W. Bush on July 19, should have recused himself from Hamdan v. Rumsfeld to avoid an "appearance of partiality," the professors said in the online magazine Slate.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales interviewed him April 1, six days before oral arguments in the Salim Ahmed Hamdan case....

During his deliberations on Hamdan, White House officials interviewed Roberts in person twice and on the telephone several times. On May 3, Roberts met with Vice President Dick Cheney, top Bush adviser Karl Rove, Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Gonzales and other senior aides.

It is important to note that the decision in the Hamdan case issued July 15, 2005. That means that Judge Roberts, a member of a three-judge panel, was simultaneously interviewing for a job on the Supreme Court with members of the Administration and deliberating on a case in which the Administration was a named party.

That kind of ethical violation by a judge is taught in law school, usually close to the time that students take the bar exam. Judge Roberts may be an intellectual powerhouse, but it appears that he either has forgotten Ethics 101, or he just doesn't care. In either case, the situation casts some serious doubts as to his suitability for the Supreme Court.

Democratic Senators, here is a chair. Kindly use it vigorously.

(Thanks to Prior Aelred for the tip on the ethics story.)

No Surprises Here

None, really. At a time when the anti-war movement is finally getting press attention because of a Gold Star mother who simply wants to meet with the President to find out why her son died, and even Republican senators question the viability of the current administration policy in Iraq, you'd think the President would come up with at least a new vocabulary in discussing the war. You know, something other than "staying the course" or being "resolute." Sadly, that does not appear to be the case.

Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, had this to say in Nebraska:

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, acknowledged the U.S. military presence was becoming harder and harder to justify. He believes Iraq faces a serious danger of civil war that would threaten Middle East stability, and said there is little Washington can do to avert this.

"We are seen as occupiers, we are targets. We have got to get out. I don't think we can sustain our current policy, nor do I think we should," he said at one stop.
[Emphasis added]

What is especially maddening to those of us who opposed the war with Iraq right from the start is how badly botched the US invasion was right from the start. Here is the latest revelation, although it, again, is certainly no surprise.

One month before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, three State Department bureau chiefs warned of "serious planning gaps for post-conflict public security and humanitarian assistance" in a secret memorandum prepared for a superior.

The State Department officials, who had been discussing the issues with top military officers at the Central Command, noted that the military was reluctant "to take on 'policing' roles" in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The three officials warned that "a failure to address short-term public security and humanitarian assistance concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally."
[Emphasis added]

That reluctance by the military resulted in the looting of weapons that are now being used agains US forces. That reluctance also resulted in the compromising of the infrastructure, which was fragile (at best) before the invasion and now is so bad that most Iraqis have less reliable electricity, water, and sewage treatment than they had before the war, there by fueling more frustration in an already beleaguered populace.

Perhaps the saddest (or most laughable, depending on your level of cynicism) comment came from a State Department official:

A senior State Department official said yesterday that the memo provided no new information. "This isn't a new story," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of department rules. "There's been no shortage of revisiting of decisions made and actions taken."

Apparently this maladministration really can't do anything right.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Waking the Dems Up

The Washington Post has two (count 'em, two) articles on the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court, both dealing with the Democratic response to date on the confirmation process. It may be August, and the Congress may be in recess (and the president on a month long vacation), but that nomination is still hanging fire while the White House stonewalls the multiple requests from Democrats for some of Judge Roberts' papers from back in the days he was a Justice Department official.

The first article has to do with the marked dissatisfaction of the more progressive Democrats to the apparent folding of the Senate Democrats on the issue:

Major liberal groups accused Democratic senators yesterday of showing too little stomach for opposing John G. Roberts Jr.'s Supreme Court nomination, saying newly released documents indicate he is much more conservative than many people first thought.

The response was quick and pointed, as two key senators unleashed their sharpest criticisms yet of Roberts and sought to assure activists that the battle is far from over. ...

Some activists would prefer that liberal organizations withhold judgment until the Senate Judiciary Committee holds its hearings to avoid being labeled as knee-jerk obstructionists. But others worry that the nomination process is starting to look like a coronation just as records from the 1980s are beginning to provide grounds for the tough questioning of Roberts and possibly for votes against his confirmation.

What set off the liberal groups was a Washington Post article published August 15,2005 which neatly summarized the rather lackadaisical approach the Democratic members of the Senate Judicial Committee's approach:

"No one's planning all-out warfare," said a Senate Democratic aide closely involved in caucus strategy on Roberts. For now, the aide said, Democratic strategy is to make it clear Roberts is subject to fair scrutiny while avoiding a pointless conflagration that could backfire on the party. "We're going to come out of this looking dignified and will show we took the constitutional process seriously," the aide said. [Emphasis added]

I find it galling that our elected representatives find it more important to look 'dignified' than to do their job. It's clear that at this point our so-called liberal senators don't have a clue as to what their role in this government is, and obviously don't have a clue as to what they should be doing in this situation.

Fortunately, the second Washington Post article offers a quarter to buy that clue. This Op-Ed piece was written by a lawyer and law school professor involved in an important pro-choice Supreme Court case:

The furor over the recent NARAL Pro-Choice America ad about John Roberts and abortion clinics is unfortunate in that it obscures an important issue that raises serious questions: John Roberts's role as deputy solicitor general in the court case Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic. In that case, Roberts argued on the side of Operation Rescue for a narrow interpretation of one of our nation's civil rights laws. ...

The case was not about clinic bombings, lawful protest outside abortion clinics or even abortion rights. As Justice John Paul Stevens said in his 1993 dissenting opinion, the case was "about the exercise of Federal power to control an interstate conspiracy to commit illegal acts." ...

We used a Reconstruction-era civil rights law to obtain protection from federal marshals so women could safely enter abortion clinics. The 1871 law was enacted for exactly this purpose: to prevent mobs from conspiring to take away the civil rights of newly freed slaves.

Roberts argued that women should be left to whatever protection the states could provide, however inadequate.

To be fair, in Roberts's Supreme Court argument he pointed out that the Justice Department was defending the proper interpretation of the 1871 law, not Operation Rescue's unlawful conduct. But no courtroom caveat can erase the impact of the federal government's lending its weight on the side of the mob intent on stopping women from exercising a constitutional right. It was a devastating blow.

As with other controversial positions he took as a government lawyer, Roberts should be questioned about whether his particular arguments in Bray represent his own beliefs. More fundamentally, however, he should be asked what role he believes the federal government has in protecting civil rights and women's rights, particularly in the face of state recalcitrance or inadequate resources.

OK, gentlemen got it? Please, do your job, or we'll find someone else who will.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

2008: The First Casualty?

Senator Bill Frisk was the featured speaker at Justice Sunday I, and he used that platform to argue against filibustering judicial nominees. Then, on July 29, 2005, he spoke from the Senate well in favor of lifting some of the restrictions on stem cell research. Howls of outrage immediately issued from some of the leaders of the Religious Reich, and Senator Frisk was not asked to appear at Justice Sunday II, held this past weekend.

ASHVILLE, Aug. 15 -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was not present at Justice Sunday II, a televised gathering of major religious leaders in his home state to promote the Supreme Court nomination of John G. Roberts Jr., but he was on everyone's mind.

Just over two weeks ago, the prospective presidential candidate alarmed some leaders of the Christian right when he broke ranks with President Bush to announce support of expanded embryonic stem cell research, a stand viewed in many quarters of the antiabortion movement as permitting the taking of a human life.

Some religious leaders who spoke here were prepared to forgive Frist or to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Others, however, warned that he had crossed an important moral boundary and would face political consequences.
[Emphasis added]

Political consequences? Yes, the same political consequences that Senator John McCain faced in 2000, consequences that cost him the Republican nomination.
The irony is that Senator Frist has made it clear that he is pro-life, and that he believes life begins at conception. His support for the stem cell research bill currently before the Senate is contingent on restricting the cells so used to be from 'fetuses' that would otherwise be discarded by the fertility clinic. That apparently does not appease the rabid anti-abortionist faction.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and the leading organizer of Justice Sunday II, said: "I have a lot of respect for Senator Frist. We disagree with him on one issue, but it's a big issue. . . . I would not write him off; I would just say it will be very difficult to get support from the pro-life community. ..."

Perkins said Frist was not invited to Justice Sunday II because House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was chosen for star billing, not because of Frist's stand on stem cell research. Other religious leaders here, speaking not for attribution, said they viewed the decision not to invite Frist to a major event in his home state as a pointed snub.
[Emphasis added]

It appears that Senator Frist, who had previously indicated that he would not run for re-election when his current senate term ends, will be back practicing medicine sooner than he expected.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Another War?

Even though support for the war in Iraq is dropping on a daily basis and the once unthinkable idea of pulling out our troops at once is gaining some credibility, some in this nation are apparently considering another armed action, this time in Iran.

Over the weekend, the President spoke to an Israeli news outlet and said that all options, including the military option, were still on the table with respect to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. This not so subtle sabre rattling comes as various European nations are engaging Iran in serious diplomatic efforts on the issue.

Iran, of course, keeps insisting that it is not interested in developing nuclear weapons. It does want, however, to use nuclear technology for power. Given Iran's oil and natural gas reserves, and given its continuing hostility to the west (primarily the US), most people, including the EU aren't buying the Iranian argument. Still, the EU believes (as do I), that diplomatic negotiations are a far better way to handle the problem than war.

A reliable gauge of this administration's intentions are usually discernable by watching the Sunday talk shows, and this week was no exception. Senator John McCain hit the talk show trail and on Fox News Sunday provided the following:

WALLACE: I want to switch to another subject: Iran.

The president, in an interview on Israeli television, says that if Iran refuses to end its nuclear program, that all options, including the military option, is on the table. Given how stretched we are around the world, do we have a credible military option against Iran?

MCCAIN: I'm sure that we have a credible military option, but I think it's important to recognize the president said we wouldn't take it off the table. He also emphasized that we will try every other avenue that we can, and I would say one of them is: Go to the United Nations, and if the Chinese or the Russians want to veto what is a clear and blatant violation on the part of the Iranians of treaties that they are signatories to, then let's see how that plays out. But I...

WALLACE: At this point, we don't have a problem just with them, we seem to have a problem once again with the French and the Germans.

MCCAIN: Yes, I noticed that the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany came out with a very soft statement after our European friends have said, "Let us try our way, and then we'll join you in your way." It's - life isn't fair. But...

WALLACE: You say, "Life isn't fair." Are they double-crossing us?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think -- I don't know if the word is "double- cross," but it certainly shakes one and gives one very little confidence in the commitments that they clearly made if we went along with their approach.

So I guess my point is, for us to say that the Iranians can do whatever they want to do, and we won't under any circumstances exercise the military option would be the -- would be for them to have a license to do whatever they want to do.
So I think the president's comments that we wouldn't take the option off the table was entirely appropriate.

Two things come to mind with the good senator's pronouncement. The first is that the US doesn't entirely approve of the approach taken by the French and Germans and the US doesn't intend to be bound by the committments made by the European countries using diplomacy. This certainly hamstrings those nations' use of the diplomatic avenue, which earlier in the statement Senator McCain seemed to imply was the first avenue which should be tried.

The second thing is that the US intends once again to use the UN to punish a country the US doesn't like and has already labeled part of the 'axis of evil.' The last time the US used the UN it was against Iraq, and all stops were pulled out for the sole purpose of justifying the military option. Small wonder that the president used a recess appointment to get the aggressive John Bolton to the UN. It looks remarkably like a replay of the last go round.

Here we go again.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Without Our 'Help'

The multiparty talks with North Korea over their nuclear plans have taken a recess because of an impasse over a nuclear power plant that North Korea insists it must have as part of any agreement. The US is taking the hardline position that North Korea must not have any nuclear program of any type, peaceful or no. The US delegation also implied that the other member nations to the talks, especially South Korea, were in agreement with this stance.

Apparently the US negotiators misread the South Korean position. Just a day or so later, a South Korean official suggested a different stance has been taken by his nation.

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young's statement Wednesday that there are differences between Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s right to a peaceful nuclear program was no gaffe, pundits say, but a well informed comment by one familiar with diplomatic considerations.

Chung, after all, mentioned differences between South Korea and the U.S. twice during the interview. His statement came just one day after U.S. President George W. Bush said he would never permit North Korea a civilian nuclear program. ...

The question of whether the North would be permitted to possess a peaceful nuclear program was the main stumbling block during the 13 day six-party talks in Beijing, now in recess. It was the failure to achieve a consensus on this point that forced the three-week adjournment.

Many therefore read Chung's statement as a form of media-diplomacy to persuade Washington to yield on the issue.

A [South Korean] government official says that a small number of Washington officials agree - if the Stalinist country returns to the Non Proliferation Treaty and welcomes IAEA inspections - the U.S. will have no choice but to permit the North to use nuclear technology peacefully. “There's sufficient room for compromise," the official said.

Chung himself told an interviewer on Friday, "The right to use nuclear energy peacefully, something North Korea claims it must have, is an issue over which agreement is possible - through discussion and dialogue."

Others believe Chung was sending an encouraging message to Pyongyang: return to the talks after the recess, and South Korea will try and convince the U.S. on this point.
[Emphasis added]

Although the highlighted section above is a big 'if,' agreement to those terms by North Korea would certainly ramp down the heated rhetoric which has been escalating since Mr. Bush took office. What is interesting, however, is the mediation being put into play by South Korea, a strong US ally since the Korean War, and the nation most affected by any agreement that North Korea is willing to make.

That South Korea is continuing in this role is evidenced by the following story :

SEOUL (Reuters) - A North Korean delegation arrived in the South on Sunday for joint celebrations of the 60th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule despite an unresolved crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear plans.

The four-day event highlights renewed exchanges between the two Koreas and comes during a recess in inconclusive six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The North Korean officials and some civilian delegates made an unprecedented visit to the South's national cemetery and paid respects at a memorial for soldiers killed in the Korean War.

"The memorial (visit) decision was a difficult one to make, but a mark we had to make some day," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a North Korean communist party official Rim Tong-ok as saying.

The visit to the national cemetery is seen by Seoul as a new turn in the two Koreas' relations.

"There is a great historic significance in this since it marks the beginning of a process of healing the pain of an unfortunate past of division and national struggle," South Korean Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo said on Friday.

It is clear that South Korea is serious about trying to calm things down on the Korean peninsula. It is also clear that North Korea is listening to South Korea and is actually willing to make some rather bold moves. The visit to the South Korean memorial was a highly-charged and very unexpected symbolic gesture.

The US should take serious note of how serious diplomacy can work to bring about agreements and how such diplomacy is a far better route to take than sabre rattling. If the administration is unwilling to learn from this, one can only hope that South Korea continues to work towards bringing peace to that area, even without US help.

[Note: Thanks to Tom Legg for the tip. Tom is an American ex-patriot living in Hong Kong. His blog provides an interesting perspective on the news coming from both Asia and the US and is well worth regular visits.]

Saturday, August 13, 2005

NARAL's Commercial

I actually never saw it, just heard about it. And heard about it. And continue to hear about it. My attitude has settled into, "So what?" I mean, really, an organization with an agenda put out a strong ad against a Supreme Court nominee. Big deal. Unfortunately, all of the heat generated by the NARAL commercial and its pulling by the group has had an unfortunate side-effect, which the Star Tribune quite properly pointed out.

But as this firestorm burns, it unfortunately draws attention away from a more important issue: an outrageous effort by the White House to keep from the U.S. Senate documents written by Roberts that might shed light on how he thinks about a constitutional right to privacy, affirmative action and other important, general legal principles.

In 1978, fearful that former President Richard Nixon would never allow public access to his papers, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act. It says that a former president's papers belong to the American people and will be managed by the archivist of the United States, who shall make them available to the public. The law allows former presidents to prevent access to some records for up to 12 years. After that, almost all documents, except those bearing on national security, must be made public.

As he was about to leave office in January 1989, President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order establishing policies and procedures for administering the act. Reagan also claimed the entire 12 years for many of his papers. The 12 years expired in January 2001, but President Bush ordered the archivist to delay release of the first batch of Reagan papers -- an authority not authorized by the 1978 law. Then in November 2001, Bush issued an executive order rescinding Reagan's and giving the sitting president the right to review all records before their release and the right to block release of some. Using that executive order as justification, the Bush White House now is vetting thousands of pages of Roberts' papers archived at the Reagan Library before deciding which ones it will provide the Senate in anticipation of Roberts' confirmation hearings.

In addition, the White House is withholding thousands of pages of Roberts' writings from his time in the solicitor general's office from 1989 to 1993, claiming executive privilege. That claim is spurious, as the courts found when prosecutor Kenneth Start sought similar documents from the Clinton administration.
[Emphasis added]

The White House is in clear violation of the White Records Act, and no one on either side of the aisle in the Senate is doing much about it. The White House is also claiming a privilege that the Federal Courts have already ruled a White House does not have, and no one on either side of the aisle in the Senate is doing much about it. Yet people on both sides of the aisle in the Senate are screaming loudly about that vicious NARAL ad. Does anyone besides me see the ridiculousness of all of this? I mean, besides the Star Tribune, whose editorial concludes with the following advice:

This should outrage both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. The easiest solution would be for Congress to pass a bill, introduced in 2003, rescinding Bush's 2001 executive order and restoring Reagan's from 1989, or pass a bill, introduced with bipartisan support in 2002, amending the Presidential Records Act to put limits on the powers Bush claims.

Since the Republican majorities in Congress are unlikely now to do either, it seems time to revive a lawsuit against Bush's 2001 executive order by historians, archivists and others that claimed it violated the 1978 law. That lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds; the issue has never been decided on its merits. It would certainly seem ripe now for judicial review.

I think we've had enough of this arrogantly imperial and secretive White House. It's time to call in the accounts.

Finally, Some Rationality

Flying used to be a relatively simple way to get to a distant location. Buy a ticket, show up early enough to check luggage, pass through a metal detector, and wait for the announcement to board. That changed after 9/11. What used to take an hour at most, now requires several hours just to make it to the boarding ramp, and even there, additional 'checks' could waste another 45 minutes.

It's nice to see that the Transportation Security Administration is finally realizing that a lot of the security checks are unnecessary, inane, and stupidly intrusive.

The Washington Post reports that proposals are afoot which would eliminate a lot of the unnecessary and time-wasting 'security' checks.

The new head of the Transportation Security Administration has called for a broad review of the nation's air security system to update the agency's approach to threats and reduce checkpoint hassles for passengers. ...

The memo also calls for a new formula to replace the set of computer-screening rules that select passengers for more scrutiny. Currently, the system commonly flags passengers who book one-way tickets or modify travel plans at the last minute.

Obviously, part of the common sense now being shown by the TSA has to do with finances: Congress has cut funds for screeners. Still, many of the guidelines given to screeners were actually nonsensical. Any business traveler (and this class of travelers provide the bulk of ticket holders) will tell you that plans frequently change at the last minute and that buying a one-way ticket is one way to work around meetings that run late or last minute additions to the trip.

For the rest of us occasional flyers, however, the really annoying, and often humiliating, part of the trip comes at the last major security checkpoint where we are asked to remove our shoes, subject ourselves to a pat-down, and perhaps receive a lecture for being thoughtless enough to have a nail clipper in our carry-on.

Some security analysts praised the agency's proposal, saying that security screeners spend too much time trying to find nail scissors and not enough time focused on today's biggest threat: a suicide bomber boarding an airplane. The TSA has very limited capability to detect explosives under a person's clothing, for example, and is trying to roll out more high-tech machines that can protect against such threats.

K. Jack Riley, a homeland security expert at Rand Corp., said hardened cockpit doors, air marshals and stronger public vigilance will prevent another 9/11-style hijacking. "Frankly, the preeminent security challenge at this point is keeping explosives off the airplane," Riley said. The TSA's ideas, he said, "recognize the reality that we know that air transportation security has changed post-9/11. Most of these rules don't contribute to security."
[Emphasis added]

Finally somebody noticed that the goal is keep explosives off the airplane, not nail clippers. It's a start.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Return of Water Wars

Much of the history of the western US played out against the backdrop of water rights. Range wars were often ignited by disputes as to the placement of wells and the channeling of rivers and streams. Water compacts in the west still hit the news as the populations grow and sprawl out over wider and wider areas. Los Angeles, for example, pipes water in from Northern California, Mono Lake, and, to a lesser extent, the Colorado River. The city and county has had to play hardball politics with the ranchers and corporate agriculturists of various valleys in order to get enough water to support its burgeoning population.

What those of us living in the western part of the nation forget is that water is a precious commodity all over the nation (and the continent, for that matter), and supplies are beginning to get scarce in many areas. I was forcefully reminded of this fact by an article in this morning's NY Times.

As I've mentioned previously, I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I went to college at a small liberal arts school (Carroll College) in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which is about 15 miles west of Milwaukee. The NY Times article deals with both cities.

Time was when Waukesha's mineral-rich water was coveted by Milwaukeeans and Chicagoans, who scorned the Lake Michigan water lapping at their shores. In 1892, one speculator even tried to pipe the city's water to Chicago for the coming World's Columbia Exposition, until aroused Waukeshans trained pistols, pitchforks and fire hoses on the pipe layers, who retreated.

What a difference a century makes. Waukesha has sucked so much water from its deep aquifer that it is now looking to the vast blue expanse of Lake Michigan, just as Chicagoans once eyed its water.

But the authorities who control some of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world are not sure that any of it should go to communities like Waukesha, which is 15 miles from the lake's shore but outside of its watershed.

Several things need to be kept in mind about Wisconsin. First, agricultural (including dairy farming) makes up a sizeable portion of Wisconsin's economy. Second, there are two primary sources for water in the state. In the western part of the state, it is the Mississippi River. In the eastern part of the state, it is the Great Lakes, primarily Lake Michigan.

Because of several years of drought, the water level of Lake Michigan has been lowered precipitously, and is just now beginning to rebound. During those drought years (and for at least a decade before), Waukesha County has grown by leaps and bounds as people moved from Milwaukee to the west, making Waukesha a kind of exurb of Milwaukee. The expansion has caused a serious drop in the Waukesha water table (which is, of course, just barely outside the technical Lake Michigan watershed), and one of the results is that the water at the current level of the table is higher in naturally occuring radium than allowed by the EPA, which only complicates matters for Waukesha County. Needless to say, the people of Milwaukee County are not being terribly sympathetic.

If the city does not get access to Lake Michigan water, it will face bills of perhaps tens of millions of dollars to lower the radium levels by either cleaning up the existing water or finding a new, uncontaminated source. But some politicians in Milwaukee, where the population fell by 8.9 percent in the 1990's, are loath to sell the city's Lake Michigan water to suburbs that have been draining away their businesses and wealthier residents, and their tax base.

Waukesha County "supports widening roads to allow for more transportation on the roadways to get more access out to that community, rather than try to limit the sprawl out there," said Michael Murphy, a Milwaukee alderman. "Their solution to the problem is not the conservation of their limited resources, but looking to Lake Michigan."

For critics like Emily Green, who oversees Great Lakes issues for the Sierra Club, Mr. Duchniak's arguments are a dodge. Her complaint, like that of Mr. Murphy, the Milwaukee alderman, is the absence of conservation as the growth spurt of the western exurbs, in towns like Oconomowoc, has accelerated.

"Yes, people need a place to live," Ms. Green said. "But do they need McMansions on five-acre lots?"

And therein lies the real source of the problems: unplanned and unsustainable growth linked to the automobile. There will obviously be no easy solution to this problem, as people in the western part of the country know. Hopefully, the MidWest will learn to manage their resources with more sense.