3/31/2005

"Abortion prevention"

From Armando at Daily Kos:
Matt Yglesias has a good post at TAPPED on how the issue of "abortion prevention" can play well for Democrats:
In case you were wondering whether the Prevention First Amendment gambit is a good political strategy, you really ought to take a look at the other Democracy Corps polling analysis (pdf), which sort of buries the lede on this one. It's all about white Catholic public opinion and it reveals, inter alia, that if a candidate "Believes in a woman's right to choose but believes all sides should come together around common goal of preventing and reducing # of abortions, with more sex ed, including abstinence, access to contraception and more adoption," an overwhelming 74 percent of white Catholics will be more likely to vote for him.

Armando says: I agree with Matt that the choice issue can be a WINNING issue for Democrats, not an issue to be neutralized. The Prevention First Initiative coupled with a position on prohibiting late term abortions except when required by the health of the mother neutralizes GOP attack lines and thus opens up lines of offense for Dems to forward their mainstream position of protecting Roe while the GOP has to defend its extreme, out of the mainstream position seeking to overturn Roe and deny women's right to choose.
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Suggested new rules for the "culture of life"

Excellent post from the BlondeSense blog:
NEW RULES: The culture of life applies to all life. If you claim to be christian then act like it. Especially in public.
No more hypocrisy. You cannot be selective about whose life you want to defend. All life is sacred in a culture of life.
The culture of life also covers lives of those who are not Americans. That includes the lives of innocent people being killed and tortured by American and coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The culture of life also includes the genocide in Darfur.
The culture of life means no wars. Only in the event that our country was literally invaded by another country should we resort to using combat and weapons.
The culture of life also includes birth mothers and children who are already born just as much, if not more so, than embryos. This means that birth moms and already born children need healthcare, affordable housing, a living wage, decent schools and a life free from poverty. No one should be poor in a democracy. No one should be forced to be born and then live in abject poverty. It makes baby Jesus cry.
A culture of life does not tolerate the death penalty. Thou shall not kill. (If you are a christian, then you believe in divine justice.)
The culture of life includes proper education. Well educated people take better care of themselves and others. Consolidating school districts will see to it that those in poor communities have greater opportunities and a better chance to rise up from their poverty. Those who will rise out of poverty have less chance of becoming involved in criminal activities. Less criminals equals less jails and less tax money spent on judges, guards, etc.( Jesus would have wanted us to help those who live on the fringes of society plus we have the added bonus of being less likely to be mugged.)
The culture of life means feeding the poor. Poor kids should get free breakfast and lunch in the schools. Hungry kids can't learn. Hungry kids do not always seek to better themselves. Hungry kids may turn to a life of crime. Everyone pays for crime. A culture of life does not tolerate an obese nation where some people are going to bed hungry!
The culture of life also includes the after life. End tax cuts to the wealthy to save their souls. Their camels won't fit through the eye of the needle if we keep enabling them to amass more wealth. Baby Jesus cries every time a rich person takes another tax cut or finds another loop hole therefore not pulling his weight in society and furthering himself from everlasting life.
The culture of life means if you are going to pull out all the stops and drag out your Christ on the Cross statue then you had better know what it means to be christian or shut the hell up:
Matthew: 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
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Sieg Heil, Washington Post

From John at AmericaBlog:
Apparently it is now unhealthy in our democracy to criticize our leaders, so says the Washington Post, our new Minister of Propaganda. A horrifying editorial from the Washington Post about those who criticize the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz to head up the World Bank. "People who care about this institution and its mission -- as many of Mr. Wolfowitz's detractors do -- should think carefully before they damage it by attacking its new boss," the Post opines. Think carefully? What is that, a threat? You gonna send George Will after us with a poison-tipped umbrella in the middle of the night and smash all our storefront windows? What kind of absurdly unAmerican, McCarthyite kind of comment is that coming from a newspaper, let alone a major paper? That kind of language is dangerous from a government - and we've gotten plenty of it from the Bush administration trying to silence critics, lest they be giving aid and comfort to our enemies - but coming from a newspaper, that is downright pathetic. Has the mainstream media gotten this bad? This only goes to prove, yet again, how far to the right - fascist right, literally - the Washington Post editorial board has gone. Someone at that paper needs to be fired, or sent to Gitmo where he can fulfill his dreams abusing some dark people.
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Tom DeLay goes "nukular"

Via Atrios' blog:
DeLay just released this statement: "Mrs. Schiavo’s death is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy. This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change. The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers and with Terri Schiavo’s friends in this time of deep sorrow." Make no mistake about it: Tom DeLay, our Majority Leader, is now threatening judges, doctors and Terri Schiavo’s husband.
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Sy Hersh interview: Bush in his own world

I'm going to post this entire piece because I think it's an outstanding summary of current events from someone who knows his stuff. It's comprehensive and blunt. If you need a thumbnail sketch of the "back story" with regard to Iraq, the neo-cons, the state of our democracy and our military, how we got from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib...this is it.
From BuzzFlash:
Seymour Hersh visited New Mexico State University (Las Cruces) on Tuesday, March 29 as part of his speaking tour for his newest book, “Chain of Command: the Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.” He opened his presentation by announcing that he intended to discuss “what’s on my mind” and “where we think we are.” The first thing on his mind was a chilling assessment of George W. Bush. “The President,” Hersh sighed. “Bush is as absolutely convinced he’s doing the right thing,” just as journalists are who think of themselves as white knights think they are doing the right thing. “Even if we have another thousand body bags, it won’t deter him. This is where he is. He believes he won’t be measured by today, but in 5 or 10 years” in terms of the Mideast. With regard to Iraq, “he thinks it’s going well.” Iran, according to Hersh’s contacts, is “teed up.” “This is his mission,” he continued. “What does it mean?” And then he delivered the most chilling comments of the evening. “Nothing I write” is likely to influence Bush, he said. “He is unreachable. I can’t reach him. He’s got his own world. This is really unusual and frankly, it scares the hell out of me.”
From this point on, Hersh offered a compendium of the Bush policy failures, misjudgments, and out-of-touch convictions that have fueled his fears.

Iraq
First, Hersh brought the audience of nearly 2,000 up to date on conditions in Iraq. He torpedoed Bush’s rosy assessment of the recent elections. “Everything came to a stop for this election. Satellites were moved over the country. All assets were dragged over. In Afghanistan, where we really have a war going on…those guys stood down for three weeks because the drones which pick up signals were all dragged to Iraq. Nobody knew who they were voting for. If this had happened in Russia during the Cold War, it would have been laughed at.” Assessing the current situation, Hersh remarked that the Iraqis “can’t agree on what language to speak--it’s zoo time. We’re nowhere, we’re probably not going to win the war; probably, it will be a Balkanized country. The Turks want Kirkuk, the city with oil, and they may invade, they may not. Here it’s spin city. In the European and Mideastern press, there’s a reality that you don’t get over here.” Hersh described how he thought Bush treats Americans by retelling an old Richard Pryor story in which a man comes home to find his wife in bed with another man. “What you’re seeing isn’t happening,” the husband is told. “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?” Hersh charged that the American people are not getting a true picture of the status of the war. He reflected on the fact that “there are no embedded reporters now and the bombing continues” even though there are no air defenses. “We don’t know how many sorties are being flown or the tonnage involved because there are no reporters. We do know that Navy pilots are doing most of the flying.” Hersh made a point of saying that many in the military, FBI, and CIA have as much integrity as most academics, and within these institutions “there are people who respect the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights as much as anybody.” The Marine Corps personnel are the most skeptical even as they continue to do most of the heavy lifting. Hersh reports that many are very bitter, but they are loyal to the principle of civilian control and are continuing to do their job, but “they are going through hard times now.” The bombing of Fallujah, according to Hersh, marked a major escalation of the “very careful urban bombing” campaign. Fallujah is “an incredibly important city in Iraq. It led the resistance against the British, it has mosques, it is a fabled place.” When Fallujah was bombed, an urban bombing planner told Hersh, “Welcome to Stalingrad, we took it block by block.” Hersh said that it was amazing that Fallujah was largely not on the table in America for discussion.”

“The Thinness of the Fabric of Democracy”
How have we as a nation gotten to where we are today? Since the ‘80’s Wolfowitz, Feith, Gingrich and others have been pushing the neo-con idea that by spreading democracy, we can make the world safer for US interests. “It’s as if we’ve been taken over by a cult of 8 or 9 people who decided the road to stop international terrorism led to Baghdad,” according to Hersh. Hersh recalled how General Shinseki, who testified in February 2003 that we would need upwards of 250,000 troops to control Iraq, was denounced by Wolfowitz, because Shinseki’s answers didn’t conform to the neo-con mantra. “That 8 or 9 people can change so much...Where was the military, the Congress, the press? What has happened raises the question about the thinness of the fabric of democracy.” These days, said Hersh, we hear about the “insurgency” when in truth, “we’re fighting the Ba’athists, the Sunni, the tribal people. They decided to let us have Baghdad and fight the war on their terms. It’s not an insurgency—that implies that we’ve put in a government and they’re fighting against that government. We haven’t accomplished our objective on that score,” according to Hersh. The US is fighting cells of 10-15 people and can’t find them because it has no intelligence. So the goal now is to make the people who protect the resistance more afraid of US/Iraqi forces than they are of the resistance so they will turn and provide information. Fallujah had too much press coverage, so now everything is being done “off camera.” Hersh describes the situation once one leaves Baghdad as “cowboys and Indians” since “we control very little.” Hersh noted that Shia cleric Sistani did nothing as Shia Iraqi Guards and Americans took down the Sunni in Fallujah. The same thing is now going on in Ramadi. This long-standing enmity between Shia and Sunni is why, Hersh believes, civil war is probably in Iraq’s future.

“The Chronology”
Hersh then launched into his chronology of how we went from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. Post-9/11, there were voices in the U.S. government that were not pushing the policy of “payback” since some Taliban had been dealing with U.S. oil companies, were largely mercantile and many were not happy with bin Laden. These voices in the government wanted a more nuanced approach. There was also disagreement with Bush’s plans to go into Iraq, but these people were deemed “traitors.” He described how the Bush Administration pressured people to come around to their view. Basically, they exploited human nature. People with experience who disagreed noticed that junior officials supporting the White House got the face time with the President, the meetings, and the big end of the year bonuses. So it was only a matter of time before those who did not favor Bush’s policies, people with kids and mortgages, decided they had to “join the team” to survive. (See the section on the Q & A below for more insights on what people in the government and military have been thinking.) Bush elected to rout the Taliban, but pulled out the most elite units in early 2002 for redeployment to the Mideast for the coming war in Iraq. Although Bush says we’ve “won” in Afghanistan, “the ‘bad guys’ are still there, the elections have been delayed for a second time, crime is up, they are the largest producers of heroin in the world, and at one point, 700 kids were dying of hypothermia and malnutrition every day” during the hard winter. Following Bush’s victory show on the carrier in May 2003, the reality of Iraq became clearer. During the invasion, “6,000-12,000 people disappeared overnight. Most elite units had been ready to fight; sandbags and armed soldiers were on every corner.” All the people who ran the bureaucracy of running the country were gone...the people who ran the water, oil ministry and hospitals. Some of the looting was done randomly by Shiites, but most of the government records—real estate, marriage licenses, etc.—were looted and burned systematically. Saddam’s plan was to dismantle the operating units of government and to fight later. To this day, according to Hersh, the “people who didn’t fight are now fighting.” The August 2003 bombing of the U.N. headquarters and the subsequent attack on the Jordanian Embassy, which Hersh describes as the psyops center for CIA and other espionage, sent a key message: “that the resistance was hitting facilities that would take out other facilities”—in other words, the hitting of key facilities would create a ripple effect, undermining other functions down the line. At this point, about a year before the Presidential election, Karl Rove got involved. With a desperate need for intelligence, the push was on to squeeze prisoners for information. Hersh said that most of the prisoners “had nothing to do with anything.” Most were caught at roadblocks or any male under 30 was grabbed if he was in the area after an ambush. At Abu Ghraib, many of the guards were simply traffic police who had been give two weeks of training before being sent to the prison. In September 2003 the abuse of prisoners had begun. The attempts to gain intelligence were based on what Hersh called a “most acute form of torture,” the shaming of prisoners by using pictures of frontal nudity of males and posing prisoners as if they were performing homosexual acts, knowing that if photographs were shown in their communities, this would be death for them. This threat of distribution didn’t get very far because the situation we have today is that we still have no intelligence from inside the resistance or as Hersh puts it, “We don’t know jack.” From September to December 2003, torture was going on at night and all the top generals were coming in and out of Abu Ghraib. With the release of the Darby CD in January 2004, Rumsfeld appeared before Congress admitting things were “bad” but the extent of the abuse was still secret until Hersh and CBS broke the story open.

“How does Abu Ghraib play out in the real world?”
For the first and only time during his talk, Hersh raised his voice and boomed this question into the mike: “The President, what did he do between January and May? They prosecuted a few low-level kids when these pictures came out. These pictures were a shock to their (Arab) culture, they viewed America as being sexually perverse. When it hits the paper, Bush says ‘I’m against torture.’” But instead of a real investigation, Hersh says all we got were hearings and inquiries about “rules and regulations.” Hersh, in talking to a lot of GIs involved in the abuse, has concluded that soldiers were told “Just don’t kill ‘em, do what you want.” Hersh recalled how after the My Lai incident in Viet Nam, the mother of a soldier who took part in the massacre told him that “I gave them a good boy, they sent me back a murderer.” Hersh believes the military has a responsibility to the young people they send off to war. He is concerned about the psychic damage of our troops and told one story about a woman back from Iraq who is getting big black tattoos everywhere on her body. Her mother believes that she wants to be in someone else’s skin. Hersh believes that when this is all over, we’ll be hearing things about the war that we won’t want to hear. Touching on the situation at Guantanamo Bay, Hersh said that of the 600 people there, about half have had nothing to do with terrorism. But, he warns, if they aren’t Al-Qaeda already, they will be. And the government now faces the difficulty that many detainees can’t even be released because they’ve now become more of a threat as a result of their imprisonment than they were before they were sent to Gitmo. According to his contacts in military/intelligence circles, the debate over whether 9/11 was part of a deep-seated Al-Qaeda presence in the US or was the equivalent of a “pick-up team” has been largely resolved. Most experts have come down on the side of the latter. So, the US will have to come to terms with what we’ve done eventually, and in Hersh’s view, “there’s no good news in this, folks.”

Q & A: Oil and How Our Military/Government Feels about Bush’s Policies
Most of the Q & A was spent on oil and what people in our military and government are thinking about Bush’s policies.
1) A question about oil as Bush’s real reason for the Iraq war was raised:
Hersh said that his best guess is that oil was not “the real thing he wanted to do.” The neo-con mantra, ‘all roads lead to Baghdad’ and ‘democratization,’ the latter concept which goes all the way back to Jean Kirkpatrick, were the major ideas behind the war. Bush couldn’t have sold “democratization” on it’s own, so WMD’s were used as the reason. “If we had known there was no WMD, there would have been no vote.” Hersh warned that when the price of oil reaches $68-$69 a barrel, this will be the crunch point in terms of real economic decline. If Bush wants to move against Iran, which is pumping about 3.9 barrels a day, he’s heading for trouble. According to Hersh, Iran will scuttle every ship in the Straights of Hormuz and the Malaca Straits in Indonesia. It will take months of dredging and salvaging to approach normalcy. If oil is Bush’s top priority, “Bush is just not behaving as someone who is managing an oil crisis” and has already been “mismanaging oil in Iraq.” Hersh passed along a comment he had picked up that illustrates the level of Bush’s awareness. “You could call Wolfowitz a ‘Trotskyite,’ a permanent revolutionary. Wolfowitz would know what you are talking about. But Bush wouldn’t.”
2) A couple of questions touched on opinions in the military/government toward Bush’s policies:
According to Hersh, elite intel groups are troubled by the missions they are being ordered to carry out and they are questioning what they are doing. Hersh said that he is not a “pacifist” because there are people want to hurt us and we need to be able to protect ourselves. But, in Afghanistan, things could have been done differently. Hersh said he wants us to know that those who know the Constitution are very concerned. In particular, Navy Seals are suffering “massive resignations over disillusionment” over Bush’s policies. “Our President chose not to do things in ways that could have avoided this...he had other options available.” Hersh concluded by reiterating that “vast parts of government didn’t believe there were WMD’s” and that Bush’s neo-con policies are “a product of paranoid thinking and the Cold War.”
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"Can someone explain to me how this substantially differs from the vast mainstream of the Democratic party?"

This post totally kicks ass. Digby writes on his blog:
From Andrew Sullivan, EMAIL OF THE DAY: "As I read through yesterday's emails, I am struck by the possible fruitfulness of moderate Republican conservatives joining forces with similar folks in the Democratic Party. Perhaps if we leave the extremists of both parties out on their respective limbs and offer a strong ideology of fiscal responsibility, "gentle" hawks only responding in war when clear need is identified, protecting our own public financially from being sold out abroad, protecting our borders (even at the expense of some very wealthy businesspeople) -- promising personal rights of privacy in the pew and the bedroom and on the deathbed -- I think a strong, pragmatic, sensible, workable "party" could emerge. We MUST ditch religious zealotry ASAP -- it is killing real moral values!!"
Can someone explain to me how this substantially differs from the vast mainstream of the Democratic party? This illustrates how successful the Republicans have been in mischaracterizing themselves as reasonable and the Democrats as a bunch of flaky left wing weirdoes. The last Democratic president was so fiscally responsible he left office with a large surplus for the explicit purpose of funding the social security shortfall in 2040 or so. We all know what happened to that. It i the mainstream Democratic view that we should only use force when "clear need is identified." We are not pacifists and never have been. We are the party that protests outsourcing and off shore tax evasion and our "public being sold out abroad." We have never been for open borders, but we do think that if wealthy businessmen want to import cheap,illegal labor they ought to be required to pay a minimum wage and adhere to basic human rights. And clearly, the mainstream of the Democratic party have no interest in legislating what people do in their bedrooms, pews and deathbeds. None. Your "strong, pragmatic, sensible, workable" party already exists, guys. If you like effective, fiscally responsible government that respects inbdividual rights, including a right to privacy, then come on over. We are not the party that impeaches presidents over private sexual matters. We may drink latte's and read the New York Times, but that doesn't actually make us communists. That's Rush talk. You know that. And while we have our share of crazies, they aren't running the party. In fact the more extreme on the left have their own Party and cost us the election in 2000. You know that too. And a sad day for this country it was. All we needed was 60,000 votes in Ohio this time and we could have stopped these guys from doing their worst. Help us out next time. Your country needs you.
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Good news of the day

From the AP:
Maine state lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday night to a bill to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. It was expected to be signed Thursday by Gov. John Baldacci. The bill would amend the Maine Human Rights Act by making it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
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Conservative blogger smackdown of GOP politicians

Glenn Reynolds, aka "Instapundit," has one of the most popular conservative blogs. Today he writes in Salon:
The Terri Schiavo story is a tragedy in the truest sense. It is a case in which there are no happy endings and in which the mighty fall. One thing that has fallen is the notion of the Republican Party as a bastion of federalism and limited government. Some might argue that this notion was already in doubt, in light of the Bush administration's less-than-parsimonious budgeting, but pork is part of politics, and you have to expect a certain amount of give in that department. Widespread Republican support for legislation taking an individual case away from state judges and placing it in front of the federal judiciary is another thing. The "if it saves just one life, it's worth it" argument has more typically been associated with gun-control activists, and other groups that are generally looked down upon by Republicans, but now many in the GOP seem to have picked it up as a slogan. Indeed, the entire notion of the "rule of law" -- itself once a favored slogan of conservatives -- seems to have fallen into disrepute. Quite a few conservatives are unhappy about that state of affairs, and I wonder if it doesn't presage a realignment within the Republican Party, and the fracturing of some alliances on the right...The judge bashing has gone on, and Congress' rush to pass legislation intervening in the case was unprecedented. This is too much for some conservatives, and quite a few libertarian fellow-travelers such as myself. As Nashville Christian-conservative blogger Bill Hobbs wrote, "I have not written about the Terri Schiavo case because it is too complex, too multi-layered, and too steeped in unknown or unknowable facts for me -- indeed for most people -- to have a fully informed opinion ... I do know that the Congress did the wrong thing, intervened where it had no Constitutional right, and solved nothing."...What's surprising isn't that some people on the right are making these arguments, but that so many are not. One of the defining characteristics of conservatism, I thought, was a belief that one didn't know all the answers. And what about all that talk of federalism and limited government?...The dissent on the right -- and most of the critics quoted above have been vocal supporters of President Bush, and the war -- has led some people (including me) to wonder if the Republican coalition is going to split in the face of this abandonment of principle, especially as the national-security glue that has held the coalition together weakens in the face of success in Iraq. Some are even agitating for that result. I think it just might happen. Republicans like to point out that you have to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything. The leadership, at least, of the Republican Party has abandoned the principles of small government and federalism that it used to stand for. Trampling traditional limits on governmental power in an earnest desire to do good in high-profile cases has been a hallmark of a certain sort of liberalism, and it's the sort of thing that I thought conservatives eschewed. If I were in charge of making the decision, I might well put the tube back and turn Terri Schiavo over to her family. But I'm not, and the Florida courts are, and they seem to have done a conscientious job. Maybe they came to the right decision, and maybe they didn't; this is a hard case. But respecting the courts' role in the system, and not rushing to overturn all the rules because we don't like the outcome, seems to me to be part of being a member of civilized society rather than a mob. I thought conservatives knew this. Before things are over, they may wish they hadn't forgotten. Some activists -- like Bill Quick -- want to set up a MoveOn-type organization, only with the goal of dragging the Republican Party in a small-government direction. Others are threatening to vote Democratic next time. More, I suspect, will remain Republicans, but less committed ones: less likely to donate, volunteer, or turn out to vote. A Republican Party that was winning elections by landslide margins might not mind that. But I don't think that today's Republican Party has that luxury. The Schiavo legislation looks like that classic political misstep, a move that's dramatic enough to upset people, but not dramatic enough to satisfy the hard core. (Bush is now being savaged by pro-lifers for not doing enough.) In the end, I suspect it would have been better to stick to principle. It usually is.

Glenn Reynolds, John Danforth, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page...Keep it coming. It's people like you who can do the most to keep this country from turning into the Theocratic Christo-Fascist Zombie Brigade Nation (thanks to Marc Maron of Morning Sedition for that terminology).
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Court smackdown of GOP politicians

From Knight-Ridder:
The latest rejection of the Terri Schiavo case by a federal court was accompanied by a stinging rebuke of Congress and President Bush from a seemingly unlikely source: Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr., one of the most conservative jurists on the federal bench. Birch authored opinions upholding Alabama's right to ban the sale of sex toys and Florida's ability to prohibit adoptions by gay couples. Both rulings drew the ire of liberal activists and the elation of traditional and social conservatives. Yet, in Wednesday's 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to deny a rehearing to Schiavo's parents, Birch went out of his way to castigate Bush and congressional Republicans for acting "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for governance of a free people - our Constitution." Birch said he couldn't countenance Congress' attempt to "rob" federal courts of the discretion they're given in the Constitution. Noting that it had become popular among "some members of society, including some members of Congress," to denounce "activist judges," or those who substitute their personal opinions for constitutional imperatives, Birch said lawmakers embarked on their own form of unconstitutional activism. "This is a judge who, through a political or policy lens, falls pretty squarely in the Scalia/Thomas camp," said law professor and constitutional expert David Garrow, referring to the two most conservative Supreme Court justices. "I think it's a sad commentary that there wasn't a voice like his present in the Congress, because he's saying what a Republican constitutional conservative should be saying."
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W, the scared little man

From Will Pitt of TruthOut:
When I went to New York City this past summer to cover the GOP convention, I remember being awed by the degree of security surrounding Madison Square Garden...I saw the same thing when I went to DC to cover the Inauguration. The capitol was an armed camp, a sea of Bush supporters surrounded by tens of thousands of protesters...All those fences. All those guns. All those cops. At first, it seemed like an arguably necessary precaution; these were, after all, the two cities to take the hit on 9/11. But the longer I stayed, the longer I looked around, and the closer I observed the behavior of Bush and his people, I came to a sad conclusion: This security was not about keeping us all safe from terrorists, but was about keeping Bush safe from his own people. The President of the United States is flatly terrified of the citizens he would supposedly lead to some supply-side promised land. He is scared to death of us. Some positive proof of this came down the wires on Tuesday, when a report surfaced about three people who were removed from a supposedly 'public' town hall meeting with Bush. According to the report, the Secret Service hustled them out because their car had a "No Blood for Oil" bumper sticker on it. The three said they had obtained tickets to the event through the office of Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO), had passed through security and were preparing to take their seats when they were approached by a Secret Service agent who asked them to leave. Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for Americans United, described the incident accurately: "They're screening the people who are allowed to come and then they're profiling them in the parking lot," he said. "It's quite extraordinary, and disappointing." 'Disappointing' is a mild word. 'Disgusting' would be a better one. George W. Bush is petrified of his own people, and his security goes to extraordinary and wildly expensive pains to make sure that only a hand-picked few, the elect, can get near him to shower him with love and affection. Where is all this heading? This isolation of the President from the world, from his own people, from any information that does not jibe with his pre-formed opinions?...It is not terrorism that motivates George, or patriotism, or even profiteering. It is fear, pure and simple: Fear of the truth, fear of the world, fear of any data that collides with his faith-based bubble-encapsuled worldview, and fear most of all of the people he would represent. You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you. Now we know, and the knowledge is deeply and profoundly disturbing.
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Small state, big politics...

...or how to cope with the Bush regime. Salon's Mark Follman reports:
Since the 2004 presidential election, Vermont has been making its slender presence known on the national political map. First it was plans to consider secession, then a statewide effort to bring the troops home. Now, as the hysteria over Terri Schiavo rages on, there's a movement afoot in the Green Mountain State to follow in Oregon's footsteps and legalize physician-assisted suicide. In the prolonged era of George W. Bush, it's not just about maple syrup and organic dairy products anymore.
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Shhhhh! It's a secret!

From Mark A.R. Kleiman's blog:
There's a story Khruschev used to tell, back when he was General Secretary of the CP-USSR (i.e., dictator). In the story, an Old Bolshevik goes crazy, and runs through the halls of the Kremlin shouting "Khruschev is a fool! Khruschev is a fool!" Naturally, he's promptly arrested, charged, tried, convicted and sentenced, to twenty-three years' corrective labor: three years for insulting the Party Secretary, and twenty for revealing a state secret.
An enormous amount of classified information consists of state secrets of the Khruschev-is-a-fool variety. And the incumbent adminisration is completely free to decide that revealing any given bit of information would be consistent with our foreign policy, and reveal it. As Henry Kissinger used to say, "I never leak. I de-classify." This is a huge problem, and an excellent reason not to have anything resembling an Official Secrets Act.
Excessive secrecy is a profound threat to national security, because secrecy helps cover up malfeasance, incompetence, and bureaucratic fumbling, e.g. with respect to the risk of terrorism at nuclear power plants.
Until the Democrats have candidates who can make that argument with a straight face, they’ll keep losing elections.
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3/30/2005

Heads up on "liberal bias of professors" study

The Gainesville Sun has an article today (http://www.gainesville.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/
20050330/WIRE/203300322/1117/news) on a study that claims to find an overwhelming "liberal bias" among professors. The fact that corporate media shill Howard Kurtz of the WaPo wrote the piece, as well as an alert from an intrepid blog reader, prompted me to do some digging about this study. I found the following via the Crooks & Liars and Rising Hegemon blogs:
Barely mentioned is that the study appears in the March issue of the Forum, an online political science journal. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women's Forum and Americans for Tax Reform. "Right-Leaning" doesn't really state it strongly enough. IWF is Phyllis Schaffly's "tea-time" crony group, and ATR is pretty much Posse Comitatus with better offices.
And the leading researcher of the study, Robert Lichter of George Mason University?
His full name is S. Robert Lichter. Say, this S. Robert Lichter used to work for AEI and has a long history of calling things "liberally biased". However, it fails to mention that between 1986 and 1988 Dr Lichter held the DeWitt Wallace Chair in Mass Communications at the American Enterprise Institute. Back in 1993, Dr Lichter appears to have been less shy about his connection with the AEI, as it features in a biography of him used to advertise a speaking engagement at the Ashbrook Center (http://www.ashbrook.org/events/lecture/1993/lichter.html) (http://www.fair.org/reports/lichter-memo.html).
And according to FAIR (http://www.fair.org/reports/lichter-memo.html), at a conference sponsored by Accuracy In Media after the first Gulf War, Lichter was reported by the AP (4/27/91) to have said "...he was disappointed in statements by [Peter] Arnett upon his return from Baghdad that he was in the enemy capital on behalf of all CNN viewers, not just Americans. 'I see a trend toward journalists seeing themselves as citizens of the world' rather than patriotic Americans," Lichter said. Lichter had another go at Arnett in the second Gulf War, during the media feeding frenzy following Arnett's remarks in an interview with Iraqi state television. An April 1, 2004 Washington Post article quoted Lichter saying: "If ever there was a poster boy for bias, it is now Peter Arnett." (http://www.carma.com/news/prweek/030414.asp)
And none of this information was mentioned by Howie Kurtz.
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Living will is the best revenge

Brilliant essay by Robert Friedman of the St. Pete Times:
Like many of you, I have been compelled by recent events to prepare a more detailed advance directive dealing with end-of-life issues. Here's what mine says:
* In the event I lapse into a persistent vegetative state, I want medical authorities to resort to extraordinary means to prolong my hellish semiexistence. Fifteen years wouldn't be long enough for me.
* I want my wife and my parents to compound their misery by engaging in a bitter and protracted feud that depletes their emotions and their bank accounts.
* I want my wife to ruin the rest of her life by maintaining an interminable vigil at my bedside. I'd be really jealous if she waited less than a decade to start dating again or otherwise rebuilding a semblance of a normal life.
* I want my case to be turned into a circus by losers and crackpots from around the country who hope to bring meaning to their empty lives by investing the same transient emotion in me that they once reserved for Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy and that little girl who got stuck in a well.
* I want those crackpots to spread vicious lies about my wife.
* I want to be placed in a hospice where protesters can gather to bring further grief and disruption to the lives of dozens of dying patients and families whose stories are sadder than my own.
* I want the people who attach themselves to my case because of their deep devotion to the sanctity of life to make death threats against any judges, elected officials or health care professionals who disagree with them.
* I want the medical geniuses and philosopher kings who populate the Florida Legislature to ignore me for more than a decade and then turn my case into a forum for weeks of politically calculated bloviation.
* I want total strangers - oily politicians, maudlin news anchors, ersatz friars and all other hangers-on - to start calling me "Bobby," as if they had known me since childhood.
* I'm not insisting on this as part of my directive, but it would be nice if Congress passed a "Bobby's Law" that applied only to me and ignored the medical needs of tens of millions of other Americans without adequate health coverage.
* Even if the "Bobby's Law" idea doesn't work out, I want Congress - especially all those self-described conservatives who claim to believe in "less government and more freedom" - to trample on the decisions of doctors, judges and other experts who actually know something about my case. And I want members of Congress to launch into an extended debate that gives them another excuse to avoid pesky issues such as national security and the economy.
* In particular, I want House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to use my case as an opportunity to divert the country's attention from the mounting political and legal troubles stemming from his slimy misbehavior.
* And I want Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to make a mockery of his Harvard medical degree by misrepresenting the details of my case in ways that might give a boost to his 2008 presidential campaign.
* I want Frist and the rest of the world to judge my medical condition on the basis of a snippet of dated and demeaning videotape that should have remained private.
* Because I think I would retain my sense of humor even in a persistent vegetative state, I'd want President Bush - the same guy who publicly mocked Karla Faye Tucker when signing off on her death warrant as governor of Texas - to claim he was intervening in my case because it is always best "to err on the side of life."
* I want the state Department of Children and Families to step in at the last moment to take responsibility for my well-being, because nothing bad could ever happen to anyone under DCF's care.
* And because Gov. Jeb Bush is the smartest and most righteous human being on the face of the Earth, I want any and all of the aforementioned directives to be disregarded if the governor happens to disagree with them. If he says he knows what's best for me, I won't be in any position to argue.
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Exposing pro-life zealotry

From Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect:
Terri Schiavo's legacy could be the opposite of what the right intended. Americans are being reminded that the religious right and its politician-allies are zealots not just about abortion; they also want dogma to overrule science when it comes to stem cell research, contraception, and high school biology; they'd intrude on the most painful and intimate of family decisions -- all in the name of their own unchallengeable definition of God's will. Religious upsurge or not, this is not the country most Americans want.
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A global war that doesn't sell

From TomDispatch.com:
"I have to infer from that (statement) that you would be happier if Saddam Hussein were still in power" - Paul Wolfowitz.

It's the classic retort given by neocons and other war supporters when anyone questions the wisdom of the Iraq War. But let's say I get disturbed by a spider crawling the garage wall. I slam the car into it at 50 miles an hour, destroying the car and causing a few thousand dollars in damage to the garage. When my wife objects, I say: 'I have to infer from that statement that you would be happier if that spider were still crawling up the wall.' No, schmuck, she says, I'd be happier if we still had a car and didn't have to fork out ten thousand dollars to fix the garage."
The World War IV metaphor of the neocons seems to be losing its immediacy among supporters of the administration's policies. It just doesn't sell well among ordinary Americans (not to speak of foreign audiences)...Hence, the sudden arrival of "democracy" with a Middle Eastern twist on the Presidential agenda (and all those columns by press pundits wondering agonizingly whether the President hadn't been right after all).
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Federal judge bars "extraordinary rendition"

From the WaPo:
A federal judge yesterday barred the Bush administration from transferring a group of detainees from the U.S. military prison in Cuba to the custody of foreign governments without first giving the prisoners a chance to challenge the move in court. U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. said he was preventing transfers without advance notice to bar the government from "unilaterally and silently taking actions" to move detainees outside the reach of U.S. courts. The government must give detainees' lawyers 30 days' notice of any proposed transfer, the judge ruled, so their lawyers have time to object. The judge also chided the Justice Department for arguing it was giving detainees what they had originally requested: freedom from U.S. control at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. About 540 men are held at the prison based on the government's claim that they are enemy combatants or have ties to terrorists. Some have been there for three years.
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A moderate Republican on the warpath

John Danforth (former Missouri senator on the short list to be Bush's VP back in 2000 and an ordained Episcopalian priest) tees off in the NY Times:
...By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube...In my state, Missouri, Republicans in the General Assembly have advanced legislation to criminalize even stem cell research in which the cells are artificially produced in petri dishes and will never be transplanted into the human uterus. They argue that such cells are human life that must be protected, by threat of criminal prosecution, from promising research on diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes. It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law...When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another. But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.
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Krugman: What's going on

In the NY Times:
One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose...Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right...And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law. The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom. But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism...What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism...America isn't yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren't sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.
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Musharraf's con job on Bush

By Robert Scheer of the LA Times:
Trying to follow the U.S. policy on the proliferation of nuclear weapons is like watching a three-card monte game on a city street corner. Except the stakes are higher. The announcement Friday that the United States is authorizing the sale to Pakistan of F-16 fighter jets capable of delivering nuclear warheads, and thereby escalating the region's nuclear arms race, is the latest example of how the most important issue on the planet is being bungled by the Bush administration. Consider this dizzying series of Bush II-era actions:
We have thrown away thousands of Iraqi and American lives and billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars after crying wolf on Iraq's long-defunct nuclear weapons program and now expect the world to believe similar scary stories about neighboring Iran.
We have cozied up to Pakistan for more than three years as it freely allowed the operation of the most extravagantly irresponsible nuclear arms bazaar the world has ever seen.
We sabotaged negotiations with North Korea by telling allies that Pyongyang had supplied nuclear material to Libya, even though the Bush administration knew that the country of origin of those shipments was our "ally," Pakistan.
Now, Lockheed Martin has been saved from closing its F-16 production line by the White House decision to lift the arms embargo on Pakistan and allow the sale. The decision, which ends a 1990 embargo put in place by the president's father in reprisal for Pakistan's development of a nuclear arsenal, is especially odd at a time when we are berating European nations for considering lifting their arms embargo on China. The White House says the F-16s are a reward to Islamabad for its help in disrupting terrorism networks, despite a decade of Pakistan's strong support of Al Qaeda and the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Yet Pakistan's ruling generals could be excused for believing that Washington is not seriously concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons. How else to explain invading a country - Iraq - that didn't possess nukes, didn't sell nuclear technology to unstable nations and didn't maintain an unholy alliance with Al Qaeda - and then turning around and giving the plum prizes of U.S. military ingenuity to the country that did? Even as the Bush administration continues to confront Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program, Islamabad has admitted that Pakistani nuclear weapons trafficker Abdul Qadeer Khan - the father of his nation's nuclear bomb - provided Iran with the centrifuges essential to such a program. Further, new evidence reveals that Khan marketed to Iran and Libya not only the materials needed for a nuclear bomb but the engineering competence to actually make one. Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf insists Khan was running his nuclear smuggling operation under the radar of the military government that brought Musharraf to power. And although this is a highly implausible claim given the reach of the military's power and the scope of the operation, the White House has found it convenient to buy it hook, line and sinker - all the better to remarket Pakistan to the American people as a war-on-terrorism ally. While Pakistan was receiving such heaping helpings of benefit of the doubt, North Korea became the Bush administration's scapegoat for the rapid nuclear proliferation happening on its watch, according to the Washington Post. "In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya," wrote the Post. "But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction." Sources told the paper that "Pakistan's role as both the buyer and the seller [of uranium hexafluoride] was concealed to cover up the part played by Washington's partner." One result of the United States shortsightedly pulling this fast one has been the collapse of multilateral nonproliferation talks with Pyongyang. Yet in the long term, the cost is much greater: a dramatic erosion of trust in U.S. statements on nuclear proliferation. From Iraq to Iran, North Korea to Pakistan, the Bush administration has pulled so many con jobs that it is difficult for anybody to take it seriously. Unfortunately, though, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is as serious as it gets.
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Cesar Chavez: "Si, se puede"

An eloquent tribute to him on the anniversary of his birth.
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Brazil's bold move

From Alternet (via TruthOut):
Bolstering its reputation as a world leader in price wars over AIDS medications, Brazil is threatening to break antiretroviral drug patents unless drug companies allow it to manufacture generic versions of four major AIDS drugs.
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Payoff for the Dems on their cowardice?

David Corn of The Nation and TomPaine.com argues:
The public’s revulsion at the GOP intervention in a private family issue exposes a strategy Democrats can exploit: accusing Republicans of misusing their power for partisan purposes. With tough fights ahead on judicial nominations and stem cells, this strategy could prove useful...It's possible that by not creating a big political fuss, the Democrats unintentionally helped shape the Schiavo affair into a one-party controversy. This was a Republican deal, and a large majority of the public—including many Republican citizens—came to believe that crass politics, not values, were motivating Bush, DeLay, Denny Hastert, Bill Frist and the others. And if the Republican campaign was indeed values-driven, then why did DeLay and the rest not seek further action (even Supreme Court intervention) when the federal courts refused to revisit the Schiavo case? Was it because that by this point the first wave of polls had hit? It's true, as many pundits have stated in recent days, that those most likely to mutter "Remember Terri" when they enter a voting booth in 2006 will be people who fervently looked for the DeLay crowd to intervene. (They'll probably be appreciative of the GOP efforts, though the more extreme advocates of Schiavo's parents might resent the Republicans for having not done enough, such as sending in the National Guard.) But perhaps the DeLay maneuver will also shift the terrain in Washington in a favorable direction for Democrats concerning at least two high-profile battles to come: judicial nominations and stem cells.
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Not intelligent, not science

The LA Time has a great editorial on "Intelligent Design" by Michael Schermer of Skeptic magazine. It says in part:
...Let's be clear: Intelligent-design theory is not science. The proof is in the pudding. Scientists, including scientists who are Christians, do not use IDT when they do science because it offers nothing in the way of testable hypotheses. Lee Anne Chaney, professor of biology at Whitworth College, a Christian institution, wrote in a 1995 article: "As a Christian, part of my belief system is that God is ultimately responsible. But as a biologist, I need to look at the evidence…. I don't think intelligent design is very helpful because it does not provide things that are refutable — there is no way in the world you can show it's not true. Drawing inferences about the deity does not seem to me to be the function of science because it's very subjective." Intelligent-design theory lacks, for instance, a hypothesis of the mechanics of the design, something akin to natural selection in evolution. Natural selection can and has been observed and tested, and Charles Darwin's theory has been refined...If intelligent design is not science, then what is it? One of its originators, Phillip Johnson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, wrote in a 1999 article: "The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism versus evolution to the existence of God versus the nonexistence of God. From there people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.'"...The term "intelligent design" is nothing more than a linguistic place-filler for something unexplained by science. It is saying, in essence, that if there is no natural explanation for X, then the explanation must be a supernatural one...In fact, invoking intelligent design as God's place-filler can only result in the naturalization of the deity. God becomes just another part of the natural world, and thereby loses the transcendent mystery and divinity that define the boundary between religion and science.
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Bill Bradley explains it all for you

This is good. He has an essay in the NYT that explains what an effective "pyramid" political structure the Republicans have built over the last 30 years - and what's wrong with the Democrats' pyramid and with some of their basic assumptions. I quote:
If Democrats are serious about preparing for the next election or the next election after that, some influential Democrats will have to resist entrusting their dreams to individual candidates and instead make a commitment to build a stable pyramid from the base up. It will take at least a decade's commitment, and it won't come cheap. But there really is no other choice.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
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Abu Ghraib torture was approved by top US commander

Agence France-Press reports: A newly released memo shows the top US commander in Iraq authorized prisoner interrogation techniques that violated Geneva Conventions, the American Civil Liberties Union said. The September 2003 memo signed by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez has been discussed previously in testimony and official reports on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal but had not been made public previously.
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Bush critics blocked from presidential events

This story from Knight-Ridder describes the efforts of overzealous Repubs who try to keep dissenters out of W's Social Security roadshow. And unlike his campaign events, these are being funded by taxpayer dollars.
Daily Kos has a great post on the Denver incident, sent to him by the dissenters involved in it. He explains:
So to emphasize -- the White House uses taxpayer dollars to finance these propaganda events. THEN, in order to keep out anyone who might be critical, they "outsource" ticketing and security. That way they can label the events "private" and kick out anyone they want in violation of the First Amendment.
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3/29/2005

Not your father's America anymore

From Hubert Locke in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
This country is becoming more unrecognizable with each passing day. The government, we've learned recently, now packages the news. It provides television stations with hundreds of video news releases made up to resemble actual news reports that give us predigested, Orwellian information designed to convince the public that everything in the nation is being well-managed. Alongside this propaganda circus comes the added revelation that the presidential hops George W. Bush is taking around the country to peddle his case for dismantling Social Security are not conversations with local citizens -- as they are billed -- but carefully arranged events before prescreened audiences who hear presentations from panelists who've been, by the recent admission of one of them, repeatedly rehearsed on what to say. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security issues a doomsday scenario that details the anticipated consequences of a dozen possible terrorist attacks -- complete with body counts and economic damage estimates. The department insists it is not trying to scare the public, although how a report that one would hope would receive the most limited and controlled circulation gets "leaked" to the public is anybody's guess. It just happens, also, to fit well -- and not surprisingly -- with the antics of an administration that has turned promoting and exploiting public fear into an art form that Joseph Goebbels would envy. The only thing worse than the government these days -- if such is possible -- are those portions of the populace to whom this government owes its allegiance. These are people for whom the country got off on the wrong track a half-century ago when hippies and flower children became symbols of a new, permissive culture and "race relations" -- a euphemism in an era when "colored people" knew their place -- exploded in a civil rights struggle that upset a settled and long-accepted way of life. Fifty years ago, this aggrieved sector of the nation's populace switched its political allegiance from the Democratic to the Republican Party. This new voting bloc brought with it a set of sentiments and values on matters of personal belief or private opinion that both political parties have long believed ought to remain in the personal, private realm. Mainstream Republicans tried for several decades to ignore these private-agenda matters. But championed by fire-eating evangelists, what are personal and private matters for many of us are now being turned into issues for public regulation and enforcement. What were -- a generation ago -- matters at the margin of public discussion and debate are now contentions that are being forced to the center of Republican politics and, because it is the party in power, onto the front burner of American public policy. In the past several weeks, for example, some science museums, mainly in the South, have announced they will no longer show films that discuss evolution, the geology of the Earth or the Big Bang theory for fear of offending people who think such topics contradict the Bible. Topping this enlightening development is the spectacle of the U.S. Congress leaping into the midst of a tragedy confronting a family in Florida faced with deciding whether to end the tube feeding of a 41-year-old woman whom doctors describe as existing in a vegetative state for the past 15 years. Several of the biggest crooks in Congress who face multiple wrongdoing inquiries have managed to deflect attention from their misdeeds by turning this tragedy into a "cause du jour" for the religious right. We could probably endure all of this if it were only another of the outbursts of cultural passion that Americans periodically undergo in an attempt to assert why we think we're God's gift to the civilized world. The problem is that the people currently in political power in the United States and the people who support them really think we are -- and that's why this country is becoming more unrecognizable with each passing day.
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Media panders to the right wing...again

By Jeff Cohen of FAIR:
Putting aside your view of the Schiavo story, it's clear that right-wing "pro-life" protesters scored a media coup in terms of attention and coverage. On television, their voices and leaders have been front and center in the story and their acts of civil disobedience have been widely broadcast. Their presence has been used as a backdrop for the TV theater. Segments have often opened with on-the-scene reporters assessing the mood of the protesters, whether "hopeful" or "agitated" or "angry." At times, TV correspondents have seemed to be embedded with the protesters. The good news is: Despite polls showing that the American people are overwhelmingly on the side of Terri Schiavo's husband, TV has nevertheless given sympathetic (and unprecedented) attention to the views of street demonstrators, even civil disobedients, representing a distinct minority of the public. The bad news is: For decades, such coverage has not been afforded to progressive demonstrators. In years of media monitoring, for example, I have never seen such major attention paid to the views of protesters holding vigil outside a prison where an execution was to occur. To cite a more massive example: When hundreds of thousands of protesters took to America's streets to avert a war with Iraq (at a time that most Americans and some powerful voices in Congress also opposed the rush to war), they were largely ridiculed or ignored by these same TV networks. In fact, showing a commitment to airing the views of antiwar protesters could get you fired in TV news. I found that out when I worked at MSNBC in 2002-2003. On the eve of the war, MSNBC terminated Phil Donahue's primetime show, the most-watched program on the channel. That day we learned of an NBC internal memo expressing alarm that Donahue would become "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors will be waving the flag at every opportunity." MSNBC's solution: Lose Donahue and the voices of antiwar protesters. Pick up the flag.(At the time, not all protesters were having trouble getting inside MSNBC studios. Once I was asked to interview a self-appointed Free Martha Stewart leader on-air at length because he'd staged a protest outside a Manhattan courtroom. When I asked him how big his protest had been, he said about a half-dozen people had joined him. On the strength of that, he'd made the rounds of TV studios. Meanwhile, leaders of the mass antiwar movement were deemed unfit for airtime.) TV coverage of the protesters outside Terri Schiavo's hospice has tended toward the softball. Many viewers weren't told that the "proud father" repeatedly interviewed about his 10-year-old son arrested at the scene is a convicted sex offender. And many viewers may not realize that Randolph Terry, identified as a "family spokesman" for Schiavo's parents, is an extremist who advocated death for physicians who've performed abortions. I wish I could say that mainstream TV's newfound interest in the views of street protesters signifies a fresh understanding that protest, dissidence and minority viewpoints enrich our media debate. More likely, it's a continuation of TV's old habit in recent years of haplessly catering to the Right. As I learned inside the timid world of TV news, pandering to the Religious Right, Republicans and corporate power is good for one's career. Not so good is doing solid journalism that could get you or your network accused of being "liberal."
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3/28/2005

A "devil's dictionary" of the Bush era

Terrific piece from TomDispatch:
For the last few years we have been ruled by lexicographers. Never has an administration spent so much time creating, defining, or redefining terms, perhaps because no one (since George Orwell) has grasped the power and possibility that lay hidden in plain sight in the naming and renaming of words. In a sense, our post-9/11 moment began with two definitions: The Bush administration named our global enemy "terrorism" and called the acts that followed a "war," which was soon given the moniker "the global war on terror" (later reduced to the acronym GWOT, also known as World War IV), which was then given an instant future -- being defined as a "generational struggle" that was still to come. All this, along with "war" itself, was simply announced rather than officially "declared."

You can click on the link to read the whole article.
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A fair and balanced view of democracy in the Middle East

This is also what's going on...
From Knight-Ridder:
While American officials point to the bargaining among Shiite Muslim and Kurdish politicians over an interim Iraqi government as evidence that democracy is taking hold in Iraq, some Iraqi analysts and politicians are increasingly worried about the group that's missing from the equation: Sunni Muslims. Almost two months after national elections, Iraq's Sunni minority remains fragmented and largely alienated from the horse-trading. If that continues, the group that's long dominated Iraq could find itself shut out of December's prime ministerial election as it was on Jan. 30, when Sunnis won only a few seats in Iraq's new parliament. Lawmakers had planned to meet this weekend to form a coalition government that's expected to be dominated by Shiites and Kurds, but the session was postponed at least until Tuesday. On Sunday, Shiite and Kurdish leaders said that many of the key decisions about the new government had been made. Both groups stand to receive most of the key positions - prime minister, president and the major cabinet posts - leaving the Sunnis further estranged.

And from the LA Times:
With political tensions rising, the Egyptian government jailed about 100 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and on Sunday sealed off part of the capital to prevent the popular group from staging a scheduled demonstration. The crackdown began Saturday night, when Egyptian agents swept through Cairo and outlying provinces to arrest about 60 people in predawn raids. The detainees were accused of disturbing public order and possessing anti-government literature, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Badr Mohamed Badr said. The large Islamist party had called upon its followers to convene in front of the Egyptian parliament Sunday to protest the slow pace of election reforms introduced by President Hosni Mubarak. But the demonstration was blocked when thousands of police in riot gear formed a tight ring around downtown, sealing off all traffic toward parliament.
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GOP governors fighting taxation limits

From the WaPo, a good article on Republican governors, such as Bill Owens of Colorado, Nevada's Kenny Guinn, Idaho's Dirk Kempthorne, Georgia's Sonny Perdue, Indiana's Mitch Daniels, and Ohio's Bob Taft, who have dumped no-new-taxes pledges to push for major new revenue and increased state spending, thus joining the ranks of low-tax, limited-government advocates who have found those principles hard to hold onto amid a sluggish economy and a sharply diminished flow of federal money to the states. Reframing, anyone?
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"Peak oil" makes its way into the mainstream media

From Marvin Gregory in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Matthew Simmons, a highly respected investment banker and adviser to the Bush administration, is quoted in Al-Jazeera (Feb. 22) as saying that "we may have passed peak oil." This is significant in that peak oil represents the dividing line between cheap oil and expensive oil, or, put another way, between a supply of oil we don't have to worry about and a supply of oil that may lapse into shortages and place our economy and the world economy in jeopardy. Simmons recently investigated Saudi Arabia's ability to continue producing large quantities of oil and has a book scheduled to appear at the end of May titled "Twilight In The Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock And The World Economy." Peak oil goes back to a concept introduced by M. King Hubbert that oil production follows a bell-shaped curve, reaching a peak in production similar to a rollercoaster slowing as it reaches the top of the curve and picking up speed again as it plunges off the other side. Much debate has been spent on this point recently between those who believe that we will have an adequate amount of petroleum extending into the future and those who believe that the peak in production is nearly upon us or, in fact, may have already occurred. The downside of this debate is that once the peak occurs, the price of oil will no longer be controlled from the production side, by the oil producers and the market, but instead will be controlled ruthlessly by the law of supply and demand. Oil will skyrocket in price and instead of selling for $35, $40 or even $50 a barrel, will quickly go to $100 or more a barrel. Such prices will injure economies the world over but will especially harm ours in that we consume a prodigious amount of oil each day, some 20 million barrels a day, or one-quarter of the world's supply. We have not made any preparation for this coming shortfall. President Carter, as one example, ordered the placement of solar hot-water panels on the White House roof to save energy. President Reagan, upon taking office, ordered that the panels be taken down and junked. One might say we have a difficult time ahead of us, but in my view this understates the case: We will have a monstrously difficult time ahead of us. We are terribly in debt and a crippled economy will only make this problem much harder to manage. We have continued our high level of immigration and population growth. We are choosing to make China our enemy at a time when China has bought Boeing airliners and holds a considerable amount of our debt and promises to buy more of our debt into the future. We have made no effort to curtail our use of petroleum or the size of our vehicles yet everything, including the dollar, is balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff. We have chosen force and belligerency to maintain our place in the world and our access to oil when cooperation and the rule of law are the only real options open to us. Peak oil means that we are entering into a reality far different and much more threatening than the one to which we are accustomed.
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Big government conservatives

From John Brummett of the Arkansas News Bureau:
We must amend the American political lexicon. No longer may we refer to "small-government conservatives." No longer may we refer to conservative Republicans defending states' rights and resisting a large and centralized federal government. Now we must refer to big-government conservatives. Now we must refer to conservative advocacy of activist federal judges. Now we must refer to federally centralized conservative government and to conservative intrusions into states' rights and private lives. The prototypical modern big-government conservative? It's the snarling and ethically impaired House Republican leader, Tom DeLay. One day he's dictating Texas congressional districting from Washington. Another day he's pursuing theocratic initiatives such as calling the House back into session to wrest from the state courts and assign to the federal courts an individual family health matter in Florida, and to do so on a purely personal moral basis, and a thoroughly unconstitutional one. But there are countless other examples, albeit far less dramatic. I could cite the Arkansas Legislature, which has filed more than 3,000 bills to be dealt with by April 15, most of them seeking to impose evangelical religion on law, provide corporate tax breaks and spend recklessly for self-serving pork back home from a little surplus that arose from tight budgeting and better-than-expected tax receipts. Big-spending conservatives - I forgot to mention those. It's quite fair to call some Democrats "tax-and-spend liberals." But it's just as fair to refer to many Republicans as "cut-and-spend conservatives" or "borrow-and-spend" ones. The heavy hand of this new big-government conservatism got its most vivid and powerful display last Sunday. That was with the emergency congressional vote and presidential signature to wrest from Florida courts and assign to the federal judiciary the horribly tragic case of Terri Schiavo. She's been brain-damaged for years. Her husband has wanted to disconnect her feeding tube. Her parents have wanted to keep her alive. Big-government conservatives have rallied in support of the parents, based on their right-to-life views. It all came to a head last weekend when the parents exhausted their nearly two-dozen court appeals, and Terri's feeding tube was disconnected in keeping with her husband's wishes and what he believes hers would be. Congress passed a bill that George W. Bush signed to give the parents new options in federal courts. DeLay gave a news conference to say Terri's husband was no kind of man. The arm of the federal government had seldom been so long or targeted with such precision. Simply, there is no constitutional basis for Congress to wrest such a matter from state courts or for Congress to assert a right to life or usurp a husband's authority and responsibility. Our new and embedded Republican majority is threatened by nothing except the Republicans themselves, through arrogance and overplayed hands. Americans are recoiling. A poll for ABC News showed that Americans, by 63 percent to 28 percent, supported the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposed any law mandating federal review of her case. A full 70 percent called it inappropriate for Congress to get involved. By 67-19, those polled thought Republicans were trying to keep Schiavo alive more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved. If the cynicism of that last finding is accurate, then Republicans have misjudged prevailing public opinion for the first time in a long while. It may be that Americans don't like big-government conservatives any more than they liked big-government liberals.
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Illiberal Conservative Media (ICM)...

is the name of an excellent new blog whose premise forms a call to action on media issues:
When Eric Alterman wrote What Liberal Media, there may have been good reasons for him to use the term "so-called liberal media" (SCLM) - to emphasize the inappropriateness of the phrase "liberal media" given the wealth of evidence suggesting the opposite. I suggest the time has come to retire that term (SCLM). Over the past few decades, and certainly since the Nixon era, prominent conservative spokesmen and Republican leaders (and their staunch foot-soldiers in the media) invented the notion of a "liberal media" in the United States, as a means of deceiving the public and gaining political power. Quite a few excellent books have studied and chronicled this phenomenon, and among the most compelling are: David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine and Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media. Although not specifically written as a media bias research book, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' The Hunting of the President, was clearly an indictment of the media for their inexcusably egregious "news" coverage in the Clinton era. The basic strategy of the Republican party leadership and its spokespersons has always been to try and label facts uncomfortable to them as being "partisan" (or "liberal") and then claim to provide "balance" using misleading or false information passed off as "fact". This is a simple strategy that became successful due to the enormous complacency of Democratic leaders and the willing cooperation of the media itself (so-much for a "liberal media"). Put another way, media-bashers on the Right have long peddled the "liberal bias" story even though the facts were not on their side. On the other hand, liberals and progressives have had the facts on their side and yet been disturbingly indifferent about fighting back - until recent times. Even today, it is astonishing that the only ones fighting back the myth are grassroots liberals and progressives and not the parties on the Left (especially the Democratic party). Some Democrats go even farther in continuing to believe fake GOP and media talking points about themselves! (It is not unreasonable to ask whether a party that cannot fight for itself, is really capable of fighting for the people. I don't know the answer to that, but this is something Democrats should ask themselves. After all, Republican leaders did not win the media wars through hand-wringing. They won by attacking the media, falsely and consistently, for "liberal bias", and by forcing the media through an enormously well-funded disinformation campaign, to acknowledge their *opinions* and fake facts. Democrats on the other hand, have no reason to stoop to the same level of fakery; all they have to do is wake up and use the facts.) I set up this website because I got tired of the nonsensical "liberal media" label and wanted to do something about it. I suggest it's time to fight back against this myth energetically and seriously and stop borrowing the lexicon of the Right. I say, out with SCLM and in with ICM (illiberal, conservative media). Now, I fully expect some people on the Right to wail at the mention of the ICM and send me article after article showing "liberal bias". Setting aside the comical notion of what often constitutes "liberal bias" to the Right, finding some or even many articles that ostensibly display such bias does not change the fact that there is far more conservative bias than liberal in the media - and has been for a long time. As I have stated clearly on this website, my point is not that one cannot find *any* examples of liberal bias. My point is that when you consider the overall behavior of the media, it does not tilt liberal; rather, it tilts conservative. I show that in multiple ways on this new website - Illiberal Conservative Media. Let me say that again. The media in the U.S. is no liberal media. If I were to put it overly kindly, I would argue that a major fraction of the media in the United States (and here I am excluding the overtly fraudulent conservative media outlets) is a "he-said she-said" media that devotes little effort to calling a spade a spade or to an independent evaluation of supposed "facts". With such a journalistically compromised mode of operation, when inept "he-said, she-said" reporting meets generous amounts of fiction and disinformation - more from Republican or Conservative leaders or media outlets, than from Democratic or Progressive leaders or media outlets - the result is a media that overall tilts conservative. It is no surprise then that vast swaths of the American electorate remain deeply misinformed about the most important things of consequence to their lives. I ask you to move this battle of words forward - against the "liberal media" myth - on our terms. This website was created to provide a useful single-point resource to help in the battle. The pen is still mightier than the sword and I suggest people use their pens wisely and effectively. In the coming weeks I will offer additional resources on this website to help in fighting disinformation in the media. For now, take some time to get yourself familiarized with the facts and let your friends and family know what the truth is. Every day.
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The media and "balance"

From an excellent post on the blog of journalist David Neiwart:
A lot of people see the Schiavo case as a kind of tipping point in the Culture War, though exactly what kind depends on the perspective. My old friend Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times sees it as the demise of the conservative movement. Tristero goes even farther, declaring it the point at which we jumped the shark into full-fledged fascism. Even the normally reserved editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times (which called it a "constitutional coup d'etat") and the New York Times were alarmed by the behavior of Republicans in this matter:
President Bush and his Congressional allies have begun to enunciate a new principle: the rules of government are worth respecting only if they produce the result we want. It may be a formula for short-term political success, but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic.

Most of the well-earned opprobrium has been directed at the politicians in this fiasco. But just as worthy for its behavior has been the nation's supposedly "mainstream" media -- because its handling of the Schiavo case has revealed, irrevocably, the utter bankruptcy of what it nowadays calls "balance." As much as right-wing politicians have leapt into the breach to exploit Terri Schiavo for their own purposes, it's the media who have driven the story incessantly. Feeding frenzies are typically the product of two common traits of editors and producers: a pack mentality, and a craven impulse to provide the public with stories they think will drive up their respective shares of the audience. The former often leads them to misjudge the latter, as in the Schiavo case: It's clear that the public's disgust with the politicians' behavior is primarily over their grotesque invasion of an agonizing private family matter, and on that score, the media's behavior is even more reprehensible. What is especially appalling about the media treatment of the Schiavo case is how ardently, and unmistakably, it has adopted the supposedly "pro life" side of the argument. This ranges from outrageous bomb-throwing like that from Fox's John Gibson, to fingerpointing from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, and Rush Limbaugh, to subtler bias like the omnipresent "Fight For Terri" label that is being used by half the networks to accompany their coverage logos. We're seeing reporters credulously refer to highly dubious medical claims waved by Schiavo's parents -- including the recent claim that she indicated to them she did not want her tube removed -- as though they had anything other than the thinnest veneer of truth to them. We're watching news anchors openly accuse Michael Schiavo of being a bad husband. If there's a propaganda line out there that isn't being parroted in the mainstream media as fact, it might only be Bo Gritz's buffoonery. And they're working on that. They're wallowing in it. Cheering it on. Even if it is only the viewpoint of about 20 percent of the country, at best, that politicians and reporters have any business, as Knute Berger put it, poking their ugly noses inside the dying room. This is the way "balance" manifests itself in journalism nowadays. Now, there is such a thing as real balance. Real balance is a genuine striving for truth: a willingness to both recognize and honestly explore the multiplicity of viewpoints as well as facts that are part of the naturally complex nature of truth. It is complicated and hard work. Of course, real, hard truth is elusive and rare; but the striving is what brings us closer to it. However, a genuine balance does not countenance obvious falsehoods where it encounters them. It does not treat misinformation as a legitimate "counter" to reasonably established facts, as though a falsehood were just another opinion. It does not put lies on an even footing with facts. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we have gotten, in increasing doses, as standard practice from the nation's press for the past decade. As I argued previously regarding the growth of "intelligent design" as a right-wing religious stratagem:
The key piece of illogic is one that has especially lodged itself in the media in recent years: The notion that a demonstrably true fact can be properly countered by a demonstrably false one -- and that the two, placed side by side, represent a kind of "balance" in the national discourse. This is the Foxcist model of Newspeak, in which "fair and balanced" comes to mean its exact opposite.

This kind of "balance" is a direct product of the right-wing myth of the "liberal media". Having worked in the media for many years, I can attest that it may often exhibit a bias, but it is not a liberal one; it is a self-interested one. And having dealt with many ideologues of all stripes in my various media capacities over the years, one of the distinguishing characteristics of movement conservatives that I observed is their knee-jerk and oft-shouted belief that any position contrary to or critical of their official party line is, by definition, "liberal." What "balance" has become, in essence, is a fig leaf for broadcasting falsehoods on behalf of right-wing propaganda efforts. In the process, it has become a major means for transmitting extremist beliefs into the mainstream. The Schiavo matter is only the most prominent recent example of this.
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Bob Herbert: Is no one accountable?

Great NYT column by Herbert today:
The Bush administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging. But there is no longer any doubt that prisoners seized by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been killed, tortured, sexually humiliated and otherwise grotesquely abused. These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law, and thus accountable to no one. People have been rounded up, stripped, shackled, beaten, incarcerated and in some cases killed, without being offered even the semblance of due process. No charges. No lawyers. No appeals. Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi who was detained by the U.S. military for nearly a year at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to a lawsuit filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Ali was at times beaten into unconsciousness during interrogations. He was stabbed, shocked with an electrical device, urinated on and kept locked - hooded and naked - in a wooden, coffinlike box. He said he was told by his captors that soldiers could kill detainees with impunity.(This was not a boast from the blue. On Saturday, for example, The Times reported that the Army would not prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.) Mr. Ali's story is depressingly similar to other accounts pouring in from detainees, human rights groups, intelligence sources and U.S. government investigators. If you pay close attention to what is already known about the sadistic and barbaric treatment of prisoners by the U.S., you can begin to wonder how far we've come from the Middle Ages. The alleged heretics hauled before the Inquisition were not permitted to face their accusers or mount a defense. Innocence was irrelevant. Torture was the preferred method of obtaining confessions. No charges were ever filed against Mr. Ali, and he was eventually released. But what should be of paramount concern to Americans is this country's precipitous and frightening descent into the hellish zone of lawlessness that the Bush administration, on the one hand, is trying to conceal and, on the other, is defending as absolutely essential to its fight against terror. The lawsuit against Mr. Rumsfeld was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First, a New York-based group, on behalf of Mr. Ali and seven other former detainees from Iraq and Afghanistan who claim to have been tortured by U.S. personnel. The suit charges that Mr. Rumsfeld personally authorized unlawful interrogation techniques and abdicated his responsibility to stop the torture and other abuses of prisoners in U.S. custody. It contends that the abuse of detainees was widespread and that Mr. Rumsfeld and other top administration officials were well aware of it. According to the suit, it is unreasonable to believe that Mr. Rumsfeld could have remained in the dark about the rampant mistreatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. It cites a wealth of evidence readily available to the secretary, including the scandalous eruptions at Abu Ghraib prison, the reports of detainee abuse at Guantánamo Bay, myriad newspaper and magazine articles, internal U.S. government reports, and concerns expressed by such reputable groups as the International Committee of the Red Cross. (The committee has noted, among other things, that military intelligence estimates suggest that 70 percent to 90 percent of the people detained in Iraq had been seized by mistake.) Whether this suit will ultimately be successful in holding Mr. Rumsfeld personally accountable is questionable. But if it is thoroughly argued in the courts, it will raise yet another curtain on the stomach-turning practices that have shamed the United States in the eyes of the world. The primary aim of the lawsuit is quite simply to re-establish the rule of law. "It's that fundamental idea that nobody is above the law," said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First. "The violations here were created by policies that deliberately undermined the rule of law. That needs to be challenged." Lawlessness should never be an option for the United States. Once the rule of law has been extinguished, you're left with an environment in which moral degeneracy can flourish and a great nation can lose its soul.
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I'm not a real doctor; I just play one in the Senate

From Chris Mooney of The American Prospect:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist -- or "Bill Frist, M.D.," as his Senate Web site proudly proclaims -- is on the defensive lately. In recent days, Frist has been skewered for delivering a Senate floor speech in which he challenged Florida doctors' careful diagnosis of Terri Schiavo's "persistent vegetative state," a reinterpretation that Frist apparently based on little more than "an hour or so" of video footage. "As a physician, I was astounded" by Frist's display, Howard Markel recently wrote in The New Republic. "Long-distance doctoring is problematic on many levels but especially for a doctor who has not practiced much medicine for more than a decade." Indeed, Frist's politicized "diagnosis" in the Schiavo incident follows closely a flap in which the physician-senator plainly distorted biomedical information, this time with the apparent objective of humoring conservative devotees of abstinence education. Last December on ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos pressed Frist to comment on a report by Representative Henry Waxman exposing the factually misleading nature of many federally funded abstinence programs. Put on the spot, Frist repeatedly refused to debunk the nonsensical notion that HIV can be transmitted through "sweat and tears," as one such program claims. Only after Stephanopoulos refused to relent did Frist finally admit that such transmissions would be "very hard." In each of these cases, we observe essentially the same phenomenon. Although he certainly knows better, being by all accounts an extremely intelligent man and a pioneering heart-transplant surgeon, Frist is clearly willing to sacrifice medical integrity to appease the religious right. In so doing, Frist has left himself open to the very serious accusation that he routinely exploits his medical credentials for political gain. From saving lives within the Capitol to his advocacy on the issue of AIDS in Africa, Frist has gained immense goodwill for being a doctor-politician. Simultaneously, he has repeatedly acted as the GOP's self-appointed political brawler on biomedical issues. Consider Frist's attacks in relation to the issue of embryonic stem-cell research during last year's presidential campaign. "John Kerry claims the president has put a 'sweeping ban' on stem-cell research," Frist declared in his speech at the Republican national convention. "What ban? Shame on you, Mr. Kerry." Frist also lit into John Edwards when the former senator claimed, on the stem-cell issue, "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again." In both cases, Frist's attacks were particularly devastating because they came from an MD. It didn't hurt, of course, that Frist was basically in the right. The Kerry campaign, either incautious or uninformed, did indeed claim that Bush had "banned" embryonic stem-cell research; in actuality Bush had merely blocked federal funding of research on new lines (an action that placed a severe stranglehold on science but that nevertheless did not amount to a "ban"). Similarly, Edwards had no business making such a specific promise about future cures from a still youthful and even turbulent field of biomedical research. But while Frist may have scored political points in the past by acting as the voice of sweet medical reason, his recent exploits throw into question any claim to the high ground that he may have had in such debates. Indeed, disturbed by Frist's recent pandering, I surveyed some of his past statements on the issues of stem-cell research and cloning. Once again, I found him guilty of distorting science to favor the president's, and the religious right's, favored policies. Most troubling were some of Frist's statements in opposition to the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of deriving stem cells, work the good doctor opposed not merely on moral grounds but also by claiming that it wasn't medically necessary. "The promise and success of human embryonic stem-cell research does not depend on experimental research cloning," Frist boldly declared in June of 2002. It's extremely hard to see how Frist could possibly have known this at the time. Indeed, in the very same speech, he cautioned that this "uncharted new science" was in a very "early state" -- yet he was basically willing to slam the door on an entire avenue of inquiry. In fact, contrary to Frist's statement, it now seems clear that research cloning will be essential for a very basic form of embryonic stem-cell work. This procedure will allow scientists to obtain certain disease-specific embryonic stem-cell lines whose precise characteristics cannot be obtained simply by prescreening embryos left over from in vitro fertilization clinics. Similarly, in Frist's attack on Edwards, the doctor touted adult stem-cell research as an alternative to embryonic work, describing it as a field "where the president has absolutely no restrictions, no limitations, and there are about 140 treatments." Religious conservatives love to hype adult stem-cell research to make embryonic research seem less necessary, but the claim that more than a hundred treatments currently arise from this work is misleading. First, while it's true that blood-forming stem cells found in bone marrow have led to treatments, scientists have also had much longer to work with them than with embryonic stem cells. As for other types of "adult" stem cells, many experimental treatments may exist, but that hardly means that they meet the current standard of medical care for a particular condition, or that they've been proven effective in major clinical trials. As these incident suggests, the political distortion of biomedical science isn't exactly new for Frist. Instead, the recent Schiavo and "sweat and tears" incidents stand out more because of their flagrancy than because they're out of character for the "Senate's only physician" -- a man who has in fact repeatedly cashed in on his white-coat status to score political points. Shame on you, Dr. Frist.
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3/27/2005

Republicans' mixed messages

From an editorial by Michael Kinsley in the WaPo:
Based on the two big domestic stories of last week -- Terri Schiavo and Social Security personoramification (or whatever they want us to call it instead of privatization) -- the Republican philosophy seems to be that people need more control over their own retirements but less control over their own deaths. Based on recent polls, most people feel the exact opposite. They prefer the modest but certain Social Security check they get every month over the opportunity to spend their twilight years nursing their portfolios and worrying every time Alan Greenspan's successors open their mouths. On the other hand, they want to set for themselves the rules about their own final departure. Specifically, people are terrified of being kept joylessly alive, active minds trapped in shut-down bodies or lost minds mocking the dignity of a lifetime, just to prove somebody's political point. The Schiavo case is not exactly about anyone's right to die, since we don't know whether Schiavo would want to die in her current circumstances. But concern about being able to choose death over pain and/or extreme degradation is what has riveted people to the Schiavo story. This is far from illogical. A Congress that has diddled for decades while a growing fraction of the populace has no health insurance, and a president who lectures us constantly about the evils of big government, managed to pass and sign a law within a day trying to keep Terri Schiavo on life support for another 15 or 30 or 45 years. Why have they done this? There is a reflexive habit in Washington of assuming that everything Bush does is the result of opportunism. If he were to cure cancer in his spare time, people would ask, "What is Karl Rove up to?" In fact, George W. Bush is probably more motivated by principled belief than any other recent president. He enjoys the stubborn conviction of the unreflective mind. Unfortunately -- or fortunately for the Democrats -- his principled convictions are often wrong and sometimes unpopular. This leaves an opening for rival principled convictions, if only the Democrats had some to spare. In the Schiavo case, Bush and de facto House Speaker Tom DeLay earnestly believe that human life is a gift from God that no one has the right to extinguish. "No one" includes the person whose life it is. The president and Congress probably would not swoop down and prevent a family from pulling the plug if everyone involved agreed that this was the unambiguous wish of the patient herself. But the situation is rarely so clear. Even when there are living wills, people's wishes are often thwarted. The right to die on your own terms -- and, more important, the ability to take comfort in knowing, long before you need to, that you will have that right if you wish to exercise it -- is barely alive. Clearly, if Bush and DeLay had their way, they would pull the plug on that notion. Bush's motive for pushing so hard on Social Security reform is more mysterious. But the possibility of idealism must be entertained, because any cynical motive for threatening Social Security seems so far-fetched. The explanation can't be Bush's official one, that the system will be in crisis by 2042. Anyone worried about financial crises in 2042 should be sobbing inconsolably about a half-dozen big issues likely to explode sooner. Further, Bush has as good as admitted that privatization won't solve the trust fund crisis. Well, he has admitted that privatization "alone" won't solve the crisis, when in fact it won't solve the crisis at all, except by fiat. His "plan" -- still no details -- assumes that the trust fund will be made actuarially sound as a prerequisite for privatization. It's not much of a magic trick to pull a rabbit out of your hat if you start by demanding a rabbit to put in the hat. People say Bush's real motive for privatizing Social Security is to turn millions of Americans into Republicans over the next half-century by giving them a stake in the stock market. You could call this idealism or Rovism, but it would be Rovism on a stick so long that it almost doesn't count. Something similar did work politically for Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. She allowed millions of Britons living in public housing to buy their apartments, thereby creating a whole class of homeowners. But this technique appeals to a very different kind of conservatism than the one Bush is offering. It is the conservatism of order and security, not of uncertainty and risk. As people grow older, plan for retirement and think about death, they become hungry for reassurance and more resistant to it at the same time. Fear of the unknown looms larger. What Bush's tinkering with Social Security and his meddling in the right to die have in common is that both make life's last couple of chapters seem less predictable and secure. That may not matter to Bush, since he enjoys the ultimate security of knowing -- or thinking he knows -- what happens in the chapter that follows these two. And it looks pretty good. Others are not so sure -- about themselves or about him.
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