Dec 052005
 

Reuters has a story saying that the White House has been meeting with Sen. John McCain in an effort to obtain an exemption so that the CIA can torture people.

I continue to find it abhorrent that we are even discussing how this country might use torture. It’s proven to be ineffective, so to what end is Dick Cheney so interested in keeping this option open.

I find it even more surprising that these supposedly evangelical Christians continue to support this administration, despite this continuing desire by the Administration to torture people. There will be a day of reckoning, and I hate to tell these people, but the God I worship is not going to be happy that we enabled torturers. It’s really not part of his plan for humankind, and he was actually pretty clear about it.

Nov 172005
 

Uh?? Didn’t we invade Iraq because Hussein did this very sort of thing?

Reversing numerous prior denials, Pentagon officials said yesterday that white phosphorous was in fact "used as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November." After first categorically denying any use of phosphorous, the Pentagon said months ago that the chemical was "fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night," but "not at enemy fighters." But in the March 2005 edition of the Army’s official Field Artillery Magazine, three Army artillerymen describe using phosphorous in Fallujah "for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosives].  We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP [white phosphorous] to flush them out and HE to take them out." The use of phosphorous was uncovered in part by a new Italian documentary which depicts "a series of photographs from Fallujah of corpses with the flesh burnt off but clothes still intact," which is reportedly "consistent with the effects of white phosphorus on humans." Washington Post defense analyst William Arkin said yesterday, "What I’m sure of is that the use of white phosphorous is not just some insensitive act. It is not just bad P.R.  It is the ill thought out and panicked use of a weapon in an illegitimate way. It is a representation of a losing strategy."

Nov 102005
 

For some time, the conservative "position" on health care has been a stalwart commitment to the status quo, resisting any proposals for sweeping reform. Two new studies comparing global health data — one by American Progress distinguished senior fellow Tom Daschle, another by the Commonwealth Fund — spell out what this position entails: conservatives apparently are content with a health care system that ranks #37 in the world (behind both developed and developing countries); a system that has the highest rate of medical mistakes, medication errors, and inaccurate or delayed lab results of any of the six nations surveyed by Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, German, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom); and a system that forces fully half of sick adults to report cost-related barriers to needed care. This disparity is not simply about health practices or economics; it is about our most basic values as Americans: our current health care system violates our core commitment to the common good, and betrays the simple notion (articulated by Sen. Daschle) that the "world’s wealthiest country should be its healthiest." (The Center for American Progress, unlike the Bush administration, has developed a real plan for making America healthier. Read all about it, or watch the flash video.)

THE MORAL COST OF THE STATUS QUO: The most substandard element of our health care system is arguably also the most morally troubling. As Paul Krugman explains, "Americans are far more likely than others to forgo treatment because they can’t afford it. Forty percent of the Americans surveyed failed to fill a prescription because of cost. A third were deterred by cost from seeing a doctor when sick or from getting recommended tests or follow-up." That citizens must regularly deny themselves and their families medical care is bad enough; that it happens in the wealthiest country in human history is almost unbelievable.

THE ECONOMIC COST OF THE STATUS QUO: Employment-based health insurance "is the only serious source of coverage for Americans too young to receive Medicare and insufficiently destitute to receive Medicaid," yet it’s becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. The reason? The strain of health care costs for employers is growing, "possibly to a breaking point." The average total premium for an employer-based family plan was $9,979 in 2005, representing nearly the entire annual income of a full-time, minimum-wage worker. The cost of premiums for employer-based plans has outpaced wage growth by nearly fivefold since 2000. According to one report, by 2008, health costs will exceed profits at Fortune 500 companies. Comparing the U.S. system to countries with universal coverage, Sen. Daschle found that "in general, their predictable and broadly-financed costs along with their outcomes — improved health and productivity of workers — tend to benefit their businesses, and give them a competitive advantage over ours."

Continue reading »

Nov 102005
 

Tomorrow, America will observe Veteran’s Day in honor of the sacrifice and contributions of the more than 25 million men and women who donned the uniform to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. The occasion will surely be marked with remembrance of, and respect for, a future generation of veterans — the 160,000 soldiers fighting in Iraq and another 18,000 soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan. Regardless of the respectable differences that exist regarding the Iraq war, the nation is united in honoring a current generation of soldiers who continue to showcase the courage, bravery, and skill worthy of the honor bestowed upon previous generations of American soldiers. There is increasing widespread concern, however, that as soldiers return from their overseas assignments with physical and mental impairments, the Department of Veterans Affairs may not have the capacity to properly serve them. Because "soldiers in Iraq are surviving wounds that in earlier wars would have been fatal," there will continue to be an increasing need for the Bush administration to provide the necessary resources to "care for those who shall have borne the battle," a mission the administration has not yet properly prepared itself to fulfill.

A NEED THAT HAS NOT BEEN MET: National Adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans, Arthur Wilson, recently wrote, "[I]nstead of honoring its commitment to those whose service and sacrifice have kept us free and safe, our government has launched a devastating assault on benefits for America’s veterans." The frustration results from watching an administration incompetently deal with the need to fund veterans health care and disability services. When President Bush released his annual budget in February 2005, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) said, "If this budget — and its misguided proposals — were enacted, it would devastate VA health care." The American Legion offered similar criticism. A few months later, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) warned, "There is a train wreck coming in veterans’ health care." Rather than address the issue, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson claimed, "I can assure you that VA does not need" additional funds. But then in June, Nicholson came back to Congress and admitted the department didn’t have the sufficient resources to deal with the incoming number of wounded soldiers. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) called it an "embarrassment." The Senate then voted to approve an extra $1.5 billion for veterans’ health care. Yet, given the increasing demand for VA services, the need still has not been fully met.

UNPREPARED FOR PTSD: As soldiers return from the battlefront, many are reporting that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. "PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after life-threatening events such as combat. Victims often suffer with nightmares, flashbacks, sleeplessness and anger and feel detached or estranged." As one soldier described his experience, "My nightmares are so intense I woke up one night with my hands round my fiancee’s throat." Studies show 20 to 30 percent of combat vets will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and a recent Army study of veterans returning from Iraq suggests that as many as 240,000 could suffer from some degree of PTSD. USA Today reported that more than "one in four U.S. troops have come home from the Iraq war with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment." Veterans receiving disability checks for PTSD jumped 80 percent from 1999 through 2004, from 120,000 to 216,000. That increase alone cost the VA an additional $2.6 billion in benefits." Secretary Nicholson seems to recognize the problem, recently stating that many of the wounded "will be in the VA system for the rest of their lives." But whether the VA is ready to make a lifetime commitment to these veterans remains to be seen.

Continue reading »

Oct 312005
 

I might as well get a post about Bush’s Supreme Court Nominee out of the way. In bowing to the religious fanatics on the right, he’s pretty much sealed the fate of our Constitutional rights to be left alone by the government.

The right wing demanded the withdrawal of Harriet Miers so she could be replaced with a judge who met their rigid, ideological litmus test. This morning, the conservatives got what they wanted. President Bush will nominate Third Circuite Appeal Court Judge Samuel Alito as the replacement for swing-voter Sandra Day O’Connor. (In contrast, John Roberts replaced the very conservative William Rehnquist.) On NBC’s Today Show, law professor Jonathan Turley said there "will be no one to the right of Sam Alito" on the Supreme Court. Alito’s record supports Turley’s view. His history of right-wing judicial activism will be a key issue during his hearings.

ALITO WOULD OVERTURN ROE V. WADE: In his dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito concurred with the majority in supporting the restrictive abortion-related measures passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in the late 1980s. Alito went further, however, saying the majority was wrong to strike down a requirement that women notify their spouses before having an abortion. The Supreme Court later rejected Alito’s view and also voted to reaffirm Roe v. Wade. [Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1991]

ALITO WOULD ALLOW RACE-BASED DISCRIMINATION: Alito dissented from a decision in favor of a Marriott Hotel manager who said she had been discriminated against on the basis of race. The majority explained that Alito would have protected racist employers by “immuniz[ing] an employer from the reach of Title VII if the employer’s belief that it had selected the ‘best’ candidate was the result of conscious racial bias.” [Bray v. Marriott Hotels, 1997]

ALITO WOULD ALLOW DISABILITY-BASED DISCRIMINATION: In Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, the majority said the standard for proving disability-based discrimination articulated in Alito’s dissent was so restrictive that “few if any…cases would survive summary judgment.” Summary judgment allows a case to be dismissed before it goes to trial. [Nathanson v.Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1991]

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

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

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

Sep 262005
 

You will be happy to know that the President’s appeal for private contributions to help Iraq has been met with a grand total of about $600.

You won’t find anything about it in the American press, but Britian’s The Observer International says:

An extraordinary appeal to Americans from the Bush administration for money to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq has raised only $600 (£337), The Observer has learnt. Yet since the appeal was launched earlier this month, donations to rebuild New Orleans have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars.

The public’s reluctance to contribute much more than the cost of two iPods to the administration’s attempt to offer citizens ‘a further stake in building a free and prosperous Iraq’ has been seized on by critics as evidence of growing ambivalence over that country.

This is the first time our government has ever made an appeal to taxpayers to privately contribute foreign aid money, and it looks like quite the flop. I guess all those war supporters aren’t too keen to pony up, evidently having used up their tax breaks to slather Support the Troops magnets on their bumpers. I mean, those are each a couple of bucks. Not only are the freepers unwilling to put their neck’s on the line, neither are they going to put their money where their mouth is.

Sep 232005
 

The reconstruction of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama provides a fascinating picture of how the Bush administration actually works. His government represents an odd melding of corporatism and cronyism, more in tune with the workings of 1930s Italy or Spain. In fact, if one looks at fascist regimes of the 20th century, it is appears that the Bush administration draws more from these sources than traditional conservatism. Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

  • Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
  • Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  • Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
  • Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  • Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
  • Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  • Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  • Religion and Government are intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
  • Corporate Power is protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  • Labor Power is suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
  • Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
  • Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  • Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  • Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

Perhaps it is unfair to characterise the Bush Presidency in these terms, because it would imply the existence of a coherent governing philosophy.

Sep 212005
 

Not only did Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary serve U.S. troops in Iraq spoiled food (sometimes a year past the expiration date), but also contaminated water from Iraq’s Euphrates River, containing "numerous pathogenic organisms" at nearly two times the normal contamination levels of untreated water. "[R]aw sewage is routinely dumped less than two miles from the water intake location." KBR water quality specialists reported their concerns, but were told by their superiors that their claims were "erroneous" and "corrective measures" had been taken, with no evidence anything had been done. Two whistleblowers resigned because of "unsafe water and pressure to cover it up" (one became sick from the drinking water) and another expects to  be terminated soon.

So now they’re being unleashed on the citizens of the Gulf Coast as well. Ya know, quite frankly, in words of our Vice President, to all of you that voted President Cheney and W into office, "Go fuck yourselves."

Sep 212005
 

David Safavian, who until Friday headed the "obscure but extremely important" federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), was arrested yesterday, accused by federal agents of "lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff‘s dealings with the federal government." In his position at the OMB, Safavian set purchasing policy for the entire government, and "had recently been working on developing contracting policies for the multibillion-dollar relief effort after Hurricane Katrina." His arrest — the "first criminal complaint filed against a government official" in the ongoing Abramoff probe — exposes a thicket of corruption involving Abramoff, leaders of the right-wing movement like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, and public officials at the very highest levels of government, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

The complaint filed by the FBI accuses Safavian of making "repeated false statements to government officials and investigators" about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002, when Safavian was chief of staff at the Bush administration’s General Services Administration. In that position, "ethics rules flatly prohibited the receipt of a gift from any person seeking an official action by the agency," and before the golf trip, Safavian assured GSA ethics officers in writing that Abramoff "has no business before GSA." In truth, Safavian was already actively assisting Abramoff "acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area;" a 40-acre plot that became the campus for a Hebrew school Abramoff founded, and office space that Abramoff was seeking to lease for his Indian tribal clients. Indeed, on the very same day Safavian sent the letter to the GSA ethics office, "he sent an e-mail to Abramoff from his home computer, advising him how to ‘lay out a case for this lease.’" The day before he departed to Scotland, Safavian "arranged a meeting for Abramoff’s wife and business partner with officials at GSA" to tour of one of the properties — a tour that Abramoff suggested after being shown a map of the space in Safavian’s office. And in an email to a colleague, Abramoff himself explained why he’d invited Safavian on the golfing trip: "Total business angle. He is new (chief of staff) of GSA."

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