Saturday, July 10, 2004

Some Good News about the Elections

First of all, the choice of Edwards may have Bush trailing by 15 percent by next month:

Republican strategists expect George Bush to be trailing in the polls by at least 15 per cent by next month following the announcement of John Edwards as running mate of Democrat challenger John Kerry. The Democrats are also expected to win a large polls 'bounce' from their Boston convention at the end of July.

Matthew Dowd, Bush's chief strategist, last week sent an internal memo seen by The Observer to campaign advisers, warning: 'John Kerry should have a lead of more than 15 points coming out of his convention. We should expect the race to swing wildly to his favour by early August.'

Meanwhile, some traditionally Republican Senate seats are more in play than has been the case in a while:

As the four candidates competing for an open Senate seat gathered here recently for a forum on business issues, the two Republicans on stage found themselves looking at something rare in recent Colorado politics - a clear Democratic front-runner.
In Alaska, former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, is vying for the seat now held by Lisa Murkowski, a Republican appointed by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, to fill his unexpired term in a move that has prompted some fallout. The Oklahoma vacancy has touched off a tough Republican primary. Democrats are rallying around Brad Carson, a two-term congressman who is running as a centrist.

But there are similarities as well. In Colorado, Oklahoma and Alaska, the leading Democratic candidate is an experienced politician with an ability to attract votes in a conservative, Republican-leaning state.


Bush Administation Promoting Polygamy?

If their plan for promoting marriage among poor women makes any sense at all, then yes:

Commitment isn't easy for guys — we all know that — but the Bush administration is taking the traditional male ambivalence about marriage to giddy new heights. On the one hand, it wants to ban gays from marrying, through a constitutional amendment that the Senate will vote on this week. On the other hand, it's been avidly promoting marriage among poor women — the straight ones anyway.

Opponents of gay marriage claim that there is some consistency here, in that gay marriages must be stopped before they undermine the straight ones. How the married gays will go about wrecking heterosexual marriages is not entirely clear: by moving in next door, inviting themselves over and doing a devastating critique of the interior decorating?

It is equally unclear how marriage will cure poor women's No. 1 problem, which is poverty — unless, of course, the plan is to draft C.E.O.'s to marry recipients of T.A.N.F. (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). Left to themselves, most women end up marrying men of the same social class as their own, meaning — in the case of poverty-stricken women — blue-collar men. But that demographic group has seen a tragic decline in earnings in the last couple of decades. So I have been endeavoring to calculate just how many blue-collar men a T.A.N.F. recipient needs to marry to lift her family out of poverty.

The answer turns out to be approximately 2.3, which is, strangely enough, illegal.


Restraining Myself from Profanity

But only in my headline. God damn them for this. Damn them for the pointless deaths their spreading because they don't want people to have sex:

The US faces condemnation this week from leaders of the worldwide struggle against Aids over the Bush administration's reliance on sexual abstinence as a response to the intensifying epidemic.
With a major international conference on Aids being opened by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan today in Bangkok, there are fears that lives are at risk in some of the world's poorest countries because of American objections to a 'safe sex' approach to combating Aids.

Hillary Benn, the UK's International Development Secretary, who spearheads Britain's fight against Aids overseas, told The Observer that an abstinence-only approach would not work. 'We need to have all the means at our disposal to fight the epidemic,' he said. 'People should have access to condoms.'

In Brussels, Poul Nielson, the EU's outspoken Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, criticised America for 'preaching one line only and denying people's rights by trying to push them into abstinence. It will weaken the battle against Aids, and the unfortunate reality is that it will directly endanger the lives of millions of women.'

Under the influence of the Christian right, Bush has adopted the so-called ABC approach to Aids prevention - A for abstinence, B for being faithful and C for condoms. But condoms are to be promoted only for use by 'high risk groups' such as prostitutes and drug abusers, with sexual abstinence the objective for all unmarried young people.

Fortunately, the Thais are flagrantly ignoring American idiocy:

Waiters wearing condoms on their heads greet diners at the 'Cabbages and Condoms' restaurant in Bangkok and volunteers dole out condoms of all shapes, colors and sizes at cash machines, metro stations and the airport.

Visitors might be forgiven for thinking that Bangkok, infamous as the flesh-pot of southeast Asia, has gone condom crazy on the eve of the 15th International AIDS conference.


Bush Administration Violating Rights of American Children

Hardly surprising. If anyone or anything gets in the way of their extremist agenda, then too bad:

Though many professionals in the sexuality field are reluctant to speak out for fear their government financing will be affected, some have started denouncing what they regard as attacks on science and public health.

In May, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists called the Bush administration's increased financing of abstinence-only programs at the expense of comprehensive sex education a violation of children's human rights.

"Over 40 percent of 15-year-olds are sexually active and they're not getting information on how to protect themselves from pregnancy and diseases," Barnaby B. Barratt, the association's president, said in an interview.

In June, Nils Daulaire, the president of the Global Health Council, an international group of health care professionals, denounced the Bush administration's decision this year to drop $367,000 in financing for the council's annual conference, which he said was the first time the federal government had withheld sponsorship in more than 30 years.

Mr. Daulaire said in a recent speech in Washington, "It's time to say to those who would stifle debate and dialogue, and to those in power who would allow them to prevail, Have you no shame?"


Drug Prevents Mother-to-Child AIDS Transmission

It seems the AIDS breakthroughs are coming fast and furious these days, even as implementation of global prgrams to fight AIDS are failing miserably.

But, the good news:

Just one dose of a generic AIDS drug can help prevent the spread of the disease from mother to baby in four out of five cases, doctors said yesterday.

A research team led by Marc Lallemant of the Program for HIV Treatment and Prevention in Chiang Mai, Thailand, found the drug nevirapine was "highly effective" in reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the AIDS virus.

An editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine, which will publish the study next week, called the reduction "astonishing."


Success in Oregon!

Well, it is of course still contested, but this is a happy turn of events:

A state court on Friday ordered Oregon to register 3,000 controversial gay marriages conducted last spring, though their ultimate fate rests with the state supreme court, officials said.

"We will not appeal" the court's decision, Attorney General Hardy Myers said in a statement. "Our primary goal is to get a final ruling from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Oregon's marriage statues as expeditiously as possible."

Portland's Multnomah County on March 3 began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, one of several U.S. municipalities to do so.


Friday, July 09, 2004

Has This Happened Before?

Perhaps I just haven't been paying attention, but I cannot recall when a vice-presidential candidate has been the immediate and overt target of a sitting president's attacks.

But that is the situation:

President Bush on Friday called Democrat John Edwards a pessimist on the economy and suggested his experience as a trial lawyer would tilt him toward policies that would hurt small businesses.

At a raucous rally in York, Pennsylvania, the president launched his most aggressive broadside against Edwards since John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, named the North Carolina senator as his running mate on Tuesday.

Bush told the crowd of more than 10,000 that the U.S. economy was "moving into high gear" but he said Kerry and Edwards were ignoring the good news while insisting that "the sky is falling."

He alluded to Edwards' sunny demeanor as he criticized his and Kerry's emphasis on difficulties facing workers such as rising health-care costs and the outsourcing of jobs overseas.

"Whether the message is delivered with a frown or a smile, it's the same old pessimism," Bush said.

While the Bush administration has been cheered by a string of hefty job-growth figures this spring, job creation slowed in June, coming in at 112,000 -- about half the 235,000 pace of increase in May.

I'm sure I needn't add the obvious: Realism in times of trouble can often sound like pessimism. And we so desperately need realists in the White House right now...


Four Thousand Scientists Can't Be Wrong

And they say what we all know: The Bush administration lies about scientific facts for political reasons:

More than 4000 scientists - including 48 Nobel Prize winners and 127 members of the US National Academy of Sciences - have accused the Bush Administration of distorting and suppressing science to suit its political goals.

"Across a broad range of policy areas, the Administration has undermined the quality and independence of the scientific advisory system and the morale of the Government's outstanding scientific personnel," the scientists said in a letter on Thursday.

The Administration has often been accused of misusing science to further its policy aims.


Bloody Milestone

Over 1,000 coalition forces killed as of today.

Over ten thousand Iraqi civilians.



It turns out that there was no "scheduling conflict" preventing Bush from speaking at the NAACP convention. Rather, he is once again unable to face any criticism whatsoever:

President Bush has decided not to speak to the country's largest civil rights group, the White House said on Friday, citing openly hostile comments by its leaders about the president.
The White House initially attributed Bush's decision not to accept the invitation to speak at the NAACP annual convention to a scheduling conflict. The convention opens on Saturday in Philadelphia.

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with Bush on a campaign bus trip through Pennsylvania cited "hostile political rhetoric about the president" from the group's leaders.

"It's disappointing to hear," McClellan said.

The Bush campaign has said it has made it a priority to reach out to African-Americans who traditionally favor Democratic candidates by a large margin.

Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush's outreach to the black community would continue and would not be hurt by the NAACP flap.

McClellan said that "the president is going to reach out to everyone in the African-American community and ask for their vote based on his record and his vision for the country."



An administration that really wanted to work to secure greater international stability would at least attempt to address this, which is only going to get worse:

A new mass of wandering people are escaping their homelands in search of better lives. They are not driven by political persecution, but by deforestation, global warming, natural catastrophes, and nuclear and industrial disasters. These are the environmental refugees.

"There are about 30 million such refugees," said Essam El-Hinnawi of the Natural Resources and Environment Institute in Cairo. "This number will increase with deteriorating environmental and economic conditions in parts of the developing world."

The World Disasters Report published annually by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says there are 5,000 new environmental refugees every day.

I'm not holding my breath for Bush to even think about this, though given his "Clean Skies" legislation I wish I could.


International Gun Destruction Day

Why is this the first I've heard of it, I wonder:

By the time the steamroller came to halt it had crushed 300 replica rifles in a symbolic event organised by the Control Arms Campaign - Oxfam, Amnesty and the International Action Network Against Small Arms (IANSA) - as part of the UN-sponsored worldwide gun destruction day.

The international arms campaigners were joined, for the first time, by domestic groups Mothers against Guns and the Gun Control Network in an effort to encourage the government to sign an international arms trade treaty, control the sale of surplus weapons and close loopholes in British gun laws.

In London, the guns destroyed were all plastic, but in some of the 40-odd countries taking part in the day of action, it was real weaponry that was taken out of circulation.

In Rio de Janeiro, the city government, the army and local campaign groups were due to come together to destroy 6,500 illegal firearms. Oscar Niemeyer, the famous Brazilian architect, will use the crushed guns to make a monument to peace. . In Phnom Penh, a flame of peace ceremony was to be held to accompany the destruction of 4,000 weapons, and in South Africa, gun control groups were to publicly destroy a cache of illegal arms.


Court Actually Considers the Future in Ruling

The Yucca Mountain plan, which is wrong on so many levels, has been put on hold once again:

The government's 17-year effort to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada suffered a significant setback today when a federal appeals court said that the rules on radiation leaks could not be limited to the site's first 10,000 years, as the Environmental Protection Agency had decided.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruling in a case brought by the State of Nevada and environmental groups, did not say what the planning period should be, but it quoted a National Academy of Sciences report that said a million years was possible. A 1992 law that committed the country to burying the waste required the government to follow the advice of the National Academy, the court ruled.

The government has predicted that Yucca Mountain, which is 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, could contain nearly all the radioactivity for the first 100,000 years, but it has also said that by about 300,000 years, the dose to people at the site's boundary would be many times higher than the legal maximum.


A Terrorist Sent to Jail

Not for as long as I'd like:

A man charged with plotting to blow up gay bars, abortion clinics and "liberal" churches was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison.

Stephen John Jordi, described as a religious fundamentalist, was arrested last November after buying gasoline cans, flares, starter fluid and propane tanks with a government informant.

Jordi, a former Army Ranger also was charged with terrorism.

Police said that he had planned to bomb gay bars in the Fort Lauderdale area and was targeting abortion clinics and churches which he felt were soft on homosexuality.


New Jersey Partner Registry Opening Saturday

Another step in the long journey:

It isn't marriage, but hundreds of same-sex couples in New Jersey are eagerly awaiting the opening of domestic partner registries in communities across the state.

New Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act takes effect Saturday, although most communities will not open their offices until Monday.

The act was signed into law by Gov. James E. McGreevey in January, making the Garden State one of a handful of states which recognize same-sex relationships. Only Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry.

The new law will give same-sex partners many of the rights accorded only to married couples.


Bush's Records Are No More

But it was purely accidental, of course:

Military records that could help establish President Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago have been inadvertently destroyed, according to the Pentagon.

It said the payroll records of "numerous service members," including former First Lt. Bush, had been ruined in 1996 and 1997 by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service during a project to salvage deteriorating microfilm. No back-up paper copies could be found, it added in notices dated June 25.

Seems I recall hearing some other news a few months back:

A former officer in the Texas National Guard said Thursday he once overheard a conversation in which there was a request to sanitize President Bush's Guard records during Bush's tenure as Texas governor.

Soon afterward, he said, he saw Bush's Guard performance review in a trash can. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War era.

Retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, who was then an adviser to the Texas adjutant general, who in that capacity serves as the commander of the state's National Guard, made the allegations.

He said that in 1997 he overheard Joe Allbaugh -- who was Bush's chief of staff at the time -- ask Guard commander Maj. Gen. Daniel James to gather Bush's files and "make sure there wasn't anything there that would embarrass the governor."

Shouldn't all reports of the accidental destruction also include some reference to this story, reported in February, 2004?


Thursday, July 08, 2004

Federal Marriage Amendment

The right wingers are going ahead with this clearly doomed attempt to write discrimination into the United States Constitution:

The Senate prepared to plunge Friday into an election-year fight over a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, with intense political and procedural gamesmanship surrounding a proposal that few expect to pass.

The political tension is spilling over into the presidential campaign. President Bush is a strong supporter of the amendment, but Senators John Kerry and John Edwards both oppose it, saying they are against same-sex marriage but the issue should be left to individual states to decide.

Whether the main showdown on the bill comes on a procedural motion or on the amendment itself, activists pledged to take careful note of where each member of the Senate stands. "Social conservatives are looking at this issue so we know who needs to be educated on this issue or removed if that is possible," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group.

I'd like to spend a little time educating Mr. Perkins on the subject, personally.


Parting Shot

Tenet, on his way out, once again points out that one of Cheney's favorite pet lies is just that:

George J. Tenet, the departing director of central intelligence, has told Congress that the C.I.A. is "increasingly skeptical" that a Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta, met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001, an assessment very different in tone from continuing assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that such a meeting might have taken place.

In a letter, sent to Congress on July 1, Mr. Tenet said Mr. Atta "would have been unlikely to undertake the substantial risk of contacting any Iraqi official" at such a date, when the Sept. 11 plot was well under way.

The statement, the most complete public assessment by the agency on the issue, was sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a question posed by the committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, at a hearing on March 9. It was made public by Senator Levin on Thursday, as Mr. Tenet bid farewell to his colleagues at a ceremony at the agency's headquarters. He leaves his post this weekend.

Within the Bush administration, Mr. Cheney has been the most vigorous proponent of the theory that Iraq and Al Qaeda had a cooperative relationship before the Sept. 11 attacks. He has cited the assertion that Mr. Atta met with Ahmed al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence officer, just five months before the attacks as possible evidence of such cooperation.



Previous estimate of the number of insurgents were off by, oh, a factor of four or so:

The Iraq insurgency is far larger than the 5,000 guerrillas previously thought to be at its core, U.S. military officials say, and it's being led by well-armed Iraqi Sunnis angry at being pushed from power alongside Saddam Hussein.

Although U.S. military analysts disagree over the exact size, dozens of regional cells, often led by tribal sheiks and inspired by Sunni Muslim imams, can call upon part-time fighters to boost forces to as high as 20,000 — an estimate reflected in the insurgency's continued strength after U.S. forces killed as many as 4,000 in April alone.

And some insurgents are highly specialized — one Baghdad cell, for instance, has two leaders, one assassin, and two groups of bomb-makers.

The developing intelligence picture of the insurgency contrasts with the commonly stated view in the Bush administration that the fighting is fueled by foreign warriors intent on creating an Islamic state.

"We're not at the forefront of a jihadist war here," said a U.S. military official in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official and others told The Associated Press the guerrillas have enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence of U.S. troops that they cannot be militarily defeated.

Just to repeat that last point: "They cannot be militarily defeated."


Tear It Down

The West Bank barrier breaks international law:

The World Court will rule on Friday that Israel's West Bank barrier contravenes international law and must be dismantled, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.
The paper, quoting documents it had obtained, said the barrier infringed Palestinian rights.

"The construction of such a wall accordingly constitutes breaches by Israel of its various obligations under the applicable international humanitarian law and human rights instruments," Haaretz quoted the documents as saying.

The paper said on its Web site that 14 out of the 15 judges voted in favor of the ruling, with only American Thomas Buerghenthal dissenting.


First Since Hoover

No, this is not a post about Bush being the first president to lose jobs during his presidency.

It's about his snubbing of the NAACP:

President Bush declined an invitation to speak at the NAACP's annual convention, the group said.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People expects more than 8,000 people to attend the convention, which opens on Saturday.

Democratic challenger John Kerry accepted an invitation to speak next Thursday on the final day of the convention, the NAACP said.

Bush spoke at the 2000 NAACP convention in Baltimore when he was running for president.

NAACP spokesman John White said Wednesday that Bush has declined invitations in each year of his presidency -- becoming the first president since Herbert Hoover not to attend an NAACP convention.

He knows who his base is, and they ain't it.


Slip, Sliding Away

Every time the Bush campaign seeks cynically to appeal to women for their votes in the fall, keep the following in mind:

The National Women's Law Center released a study in April, called "Slip Sliding Away," on the erosion of women's rights. It found, under Bush:

The Labor Department has refused to use tools at its disposal to identify violations of equal pay laws.

Labor repealed regulations that allowed paid family leave to be made available through state unemployment funds. Now it's unpaid leave only.

Labor has proposed new regulations that deprive millions of workers of the right to overtime pay – and even gives tips to employers on how to avoid paying overtime when the law still requires it.

The Department of Justice has weakened the enforcement of laws against job discrimination and abandoned pending sex discrimination cases.

Among the Bush budget cuts affecting the lives of millions of women are cuts in Head Start and other early childhood education programs, after-school programs, K-12 education, housing subsidies, child care, career education, services for victims of domestic violence, the nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC) and Pell grants to help pay for college.


Pakistan Now in the Employ of the Bush Campaign

It just gets worse and worse:

The Bush administration has ordered the Pakistani government to capture Osama bin Laden and other terrorists before the November election. Like a demanding patron at a classy restaurant, they'd like their politically expeditious capture on a particular date, "it would be best if the arrest or killing of HVT [high value targets] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"-- the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

According to The New Republic's report, "The Bush administration has matched this public and private pressure with enticements and implicit threats." Including, but not limited to, designating Pakistan a non-NATO ally, zipping their lips when they pardoned a nuclear scientist who exported nuclear secrets to 66.6% of the axis of evil (Iran and N. Korea) -- in addition the trusty nation of Libya, plus a $3 billion "aid package." The only thing the Bush administration has held back are war planes, which, TNR reports, will tilt the regional balance of power away from India. Democratic India. Pakistan is essentially a dictatorship. Could there be a more apt display of the Bush administration's duplicitousness?

And what is likely to happen if Pakistan's Musharraf follows orders? "A Pakistani offensive in that region, aided by American high-tech weaponry and perhaps Special Forces, could unite tribal chieftains against the central government and precipitate a border war without actually capturing any of the HVTs." Or: more regional instability.


Breaking Point

So, how does this situation demonstrate U.S. military might to the world, thereby serving the neoconservative dreams of world domination?

The Pentagon is planning for the worst in Iraq over the next year, preparing to send in more armoured units to fight an unrelenting insurgency, an army official has told the US Congress.

Defence officials detailed how they planned to deploy the forces, replacing 140,000 troops now in Iraq with 135,000 sent from bases in the US and Europe.

The proportion of reservists in Iraq will rise, from 39 per cent to 42 per cent, as commanders try to bolster critical specialties where they are short and where civilian contractors can no longer be used. Other gaps will be plugged by calling-up 5600 recent military retirees.

Up to 55 per cent of troops going to Iraq later this year will be serving a second time.

Overall, the plans presented to members of the House of Representatives armed services committee on Wednesday portrayed a military scrambling to meet future troop needs and confronting criticism that it is trying to do too much with too little.

The army's deputy chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Richard Cody, admitted that US forces had been stretched to breaking point as a result of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Interesting Timing

How many times can the "Look over there! Terrorists!" tactic work?

In the news today:

The indictment of President Bush's one-time friend and financial backer Kenneth Lay put the spotlight back on Bush's ties to big corporate donors as he heads into the final months of the U.S. presidential campaign.

Democrats seized on the indictment of the man nicknamed "Kenny Boy" by Bush to attack the president's personal and financial ties to Enron, including suggesting the criminal action had been delayed.

And, as noted earlier:

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Thursday warned Americans that al Qaeda may try to carry out a large-scale attack to disrupt upcoming elections but offered no details and had no plans to raise the terror threat level.


Terrorist Attack in Florida

Not the kind that gets much media play, but a terrorist attack nonetheless:

A suspicious fire Friday night gutted the inside of a Lake Worth abortion clinic, the site of regular peaceful protests, police and activists said.

The WomanCare Centers of Florida Birth Control Center, 1622 N. Federal Highway, sustained extensive smoke and water damage during the 11:09 p.m. blaze.

Lake Worth police and fire departments, State Fire Marshal's Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating.

The blaze may have been caused by a firebomb, police said.

This happens far too often in the U.S.


Philip Morris, Good Corporate Citizen

No one ever accused tobacco executives of lacking nerve:

After fairtrade coffee and chocolate, what about cigarettes? The idea may sound preposterous, but hearing the vice president of Philip Morris International claim this week that the tobacco giant is a good corporate citizen, anything is possible.

Asked how a company manufacturing products that kill can ever be responsible, David Davies responded: "The product can't be the determinant of whether your company is socially responsible. It is whether your behaviour is responsible which is key."

In other words, it's about whether Philip Morris uses fewer pesticides to grow its tobacco, ensures no child labour is employed on tobacco farms and does "everything possible" to keep cigarettes away from children that determines its social responsibility credentials, Davies argued.

"It's about how you grow tobacco, sell it and market it," he said.


AIDS Corps

The need to get this underway as soon as possible. Unfortunately, given who's in the White House, any American support for such an organization would require that corps members spend half their time preaching abstinence:

The mobilisation of a Peace Corps-like "HIV/AIDS corps" of technical specialists has been urged by a US-based health advisory panel to tackle HIV/AIDS in developing nations.

In its new report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), said international aid organisations and governments should proceed immediately with the rollout of several major new programmes to deliver AIDS care on a major scale in the developing world.

"While we should proceed with caution and care given the many challenges that lie ahead, we should not delay; we must act now to rein in the global AIDS catastrophe," IOM co-chair James Curran said in a statement.

The IOM report comes just a day after the UN reported that the world was losing the race against the pandemic.


The Lesson: Don't Screw Thousands of Your Neighbors for Profit

My heart bleeds for Ken Lay:

Former Enron Chairman Ken Lay, who pleaded innocent Thursday to fraud charges, will have difficulty finding 12 Texas jurors to acquit him, says former federal prosecutor Christopher Caldwell.
Caldwell is one of five former federal prosecutors who say Lay's defense begins with the disadvantage of a jury pool poisoned by the collapse of Enron, many of whose shareholders lived in Texas. The company dropped $68 billion in market value from its high in August 2000 until its filing for bankruptcy protection in December 2001. Enron's collapse, triggered by misstatements, forced it to fire 5,600.

"Houston is a terrible place to be with anyone who has to do with Enron," says Caldwell, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles. "Everyone was touched and will likely know someone who was touched." Lay's lawyer Mike Ramsey is likely to request a change of location for Lay's trial, Caldwell says.


Be Afraid; Continue to Be Very Afraid

They aren't taking a break from keeping that panic level high, are they?

A steady stream of intelligence, including nuggets from militant-linked Web sites, indicates al-Qaida wants to attack the United States to disrupt the upcoming elections, federal officials said Thursday.


Tim Curry Is King Arthur

I am not making that up. And if you think it's absurd, you are absolutely correct:

David Hyde Pierce, Tim Curry and Hank Azaria were named Wednesday as the leading trio for next year's Broadway-bound production of Monty Python's "Spamalot."

"Spamalot," to be directed by Oscar and Tony Award winner Mike Nichols, is billed as "the musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture, 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail,"' the 1975 comedy directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones.

It tells the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail. A chorus line of dancing divas and knights, flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and one legless knight are featured.

Pierce, who was Dr. Niles Crane in the long-running U.S. sitcom "Frasier," will play Sir Robin. Curry, known for his star turn in the cult film, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," will play King Arthur. Azaria, best known as the voice of Moe the bartender on the animated series "The Simpsons," will portray Sir Lancelot.

There is hope for the theatre after all.


Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Supreme Court Says Guantanamo Detainees Have Rights

But no one has bothered to tell the prisoners that:

The Pentagon said last night it would create military review panels to weigh the legality of detentions at Guantánamo, in a measure that critics said falls far short of a supreme court ruling that entitles prisoners to challenge their detentions in US courts.

In the Bush administration's first response to last week's sweeping court verdict, senior military and justice department officials told reporters yesterday that the Pentagon would establish military pan els to review the detention of each of the 595 prisoners.

The four Britons in Guantánamo Bay have not been told of a ruling, the Guardian has learned.

They are among prisoners held at the prison camp without charge, trial or access to lawyers for up to 2 years.


Minister to Bush and Blair: "Shame on You"

I have nothing to add to the words of Dr. Mann, spoken at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq:

And in a message directed at the prime minister and the US president, Dr Mann said: "Shame on you."

The American reverend told about 800 people who gathered to pay their final respects that Fusilier Gentle was killed fighting an unjust war.

Speaking during the service, Dr Mann said: "I want to believe that if there is a God in heaven then there will be justice because I want someone to pay for Gordon's death.

"And only God may judge who is ultimately responsible. I can only admonish. I am just a preacher.

"If I were to point them out I would say to President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair I have only three words of admonishment.

"And I pray that they may someday be inscribed on the tablets of your hearts. And those three words are 'shame on you'."


A Difficult Trial

Somehow, it seems that this sort of thing might be grounds for a change of venue:

Saddam's Hussein's defense lawyers based in Jordan said Wednesday that death threats had forced them to abandon a planned visit to Baghdad to support the ousted Iraqi leader.

Mohammad Rashdan, coordinator of a 21-strong defense team, said "the threats we are getting from Iraqi officials who say they will tear us to pieces" are the reason preventing a trip to Baghdad.


Mentally Ill Children Jailed in America

A national disgrace:

Thousands of mentally ill American children, some as young as seven, are locked up in juvenile detention centres because there is nowhere else for them to go, a congressional report has found.

The report on Wednesday painted a disturbing picture of children with mental illness and/or substance abuse warehoused in jail-like conditions where their mental health often deteriorates.

More than 160 of the 524 centres surveyed reported suicide attempts by youths held unnecessarily.

"The last place some of these kids need to be is in detention," the study quoted a Tennessee juvenile centre administrator as saying. "Those with depression are locked up alone to contemplate suicide. I guess you get the picture."


Lay Indicted

Commenter Nora over at Atrios just let me know that the indictment predicted last week has happened, at long last:

Former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay has been indicted, financial television channel CNBC reported on Wednesday, citing a sealed indictment.


ACLU Suing Maryland over Gay Marriage


The American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) on Wednesday sued the city of Baltimore and four Maryland counties for the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The lawsuit was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court on behalf of nine couples and a man whose partner recently died. The couples had sought marriage licenses and were denied, said Ken Choe of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, based in New York.

Maryland law specifically defines marriage as between a man and a woman. In February, Attorney General Joseph Curran sent a memo to state legislators and the 24 clerks of the court reminding them that clerks are not authorized to issue licenses to gay couples.

The ACLU has pending legal challenges in Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, Washington state, California and Nebraska.

Other groups have filed lawsuits in New Jersey and Florida to legalize gay marriage.


D'Amato Says Dump Him

I don't think it'll really happen, but for D'Amato to come out and assert that Cheney is a liability is rather astonishing:

President Bush should consider dumping Vice President Dick Cheney from the Republican ticket this year, an influential former GOP senator said Wednesday.

Alfonse D'Amato said Bush should consider putting Secretary of State Colin Powell or Sen. John McCain of Arizona on the GOP ticket.

Is the right starting to unravel?


Florida Election Shenanigans Already Underway

They have a rule on the books that prohibits manual recounts?!


Voting rights groups sued Florida election administrators on Wednesday to overturn a rule that prohibits manual recounting of ballots cast with touch-screen machines, a lawsuit with echoes of the state's disputed 2000 presidential election voting.

The lawsuit said the rule was "illogical" and rested on the questionable assumption that electronic voting machines perform flawlessly 100 percent of the time. It also said the rule violated a Florida law that expressly requires manual recounts of certain ballots if the margin in an election is less than 0.25 percent of the votes cast.


DeLay Is Feeling the Heat

As Holden says, he's lawyering up:

Facing legal challenges in Washington and Austin, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has retained lawyers to defend him in both a Congressional ethics probe and an ongoing investigation into Texas’ 2002 legislative races.


A Bit More on F911

Critical Montages has a lengthy post on her reaction to the film, including an interesting graphic on Recent Top Documentaries.

Check it out.


About Bloody Time, So to Speak

The Food and Drug Administration later this week will publish details on long-delayed safeguards aimed at protecting the U.S. food and animal feed supply from mad cow disease, the agency's top official said on Wednesday.

"There's going to be a suite of them (rules) out this week," said acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford.

The FDA said on Jan. 26 it would ban animal blood in cattle feed, as well as ensure that dietary supplements and cosmetics are kept free of materials from "downer cattle" -- animals too sick or hurt too walk.



Oh, the Irony

How can he say this with a straight face?

President Bush criticized Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards in his own home state on Wednesday by questioning whether Edwards has sufficient experience to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.


By the Way

It shouldn't need to be said, but given the bizarre fantasies presently being spun out of thin air, I'll say it:

Kerry was never so stupid as to ask McCain to be his running mate!



It's Called the Equal Protection Clause

How can such a simple concept elude so many intelligent people? The latest: NM Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

New Mexico's Attorney General has told the state Supreme Court there is no legal justification to permit same-sex marriage.

Patricia Madrid Tuesday called on the court to dismiss a case brought by Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap who wants to resume issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

County Clerk Victoria Dunlap who made headlines earlier this year when she began issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples is under a temporary restraining order by a lower court preventing her from issuing any more.

Dunlap went to court last month to have the ban lifted but the judge refused. Her lawyer, Paul Livingston, then appealed to the state Supreme Court.


High Time for a Reagan Moment

As in: "Tear down this wall!"

Every time Nisreen Hurub needs kidney dialysis, she has to take a long and painful detour to hospital around Israel's West Bank barrier.

Every day that passes without another bombing or shooting near his shop in northern Israel, Michael Nachmass is thankful for fences and walls that let him breathe a little easier.

In one of the highest-profile decisions of its 58-year history, the World Court rules this Friday on the legality of a barrier that Palestinians decry as a land grab that multiplies misery, but which Israelis call a life-saver.

Palestinians hope the court will say it is illegal for the Jewish state to build on land captured in the 1967 war, increasing international pressure on Israel and possibly triggering a call for sanctions.

But the advisory opinion of the Hague-based International Court of Justice is non-binding and Israel, with U.S.-backing, does not accept the court's right to rule.

The impact of the completed 200 km (125 mile) stretch of fence, ditch and concrete wall is already huge. Eventually it should stretch for 730 km.

"I cry from frustration," complains Hurub of her journey from the West Bank village of Habla to hospital in nearby Qalqilya. A once simple trip now takes hours.

Thousands more Palestinians have been cut off from farms, schools, relatives and cities they used to rely on.


The Bush Way: Lie or You're Fired

We have to get these people out. They are quite simply not to be trusted, with Medicare, or with anything at all of importance:

An internal investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the top Medicare official threatened to fire the program's chief actuary if he told Congress that drug benefits would probably cost much more than the White House acknowledged.

A report on the investigation, issued Tuesday, says the administrator of Medicare, Thomas A. Scully, issued the threat to Richard S. Foster while lawmakers were considering huge changes in the program last year. As a result, Mr. Foster's cost estimate did not become known until after the legislation was enacted.

I'd say demote them all to dogcatcher, but then I expect we'd see a sharp spike in cases of rabies.


Safire: Nattering Nabob

I find it rather amusing that, while the vast majority of commentators I have read interpret Kerry's veep choice as a sign of strength and daring (as opposed to, say, falling back on fellow insider Gephardt), Safire sees only black:

Graham is properly partisan, but offers an insight about a "pick of confidence." When Bush chose Cheney in 2000, that expressed confidence in victory: Cheney was seen not primarily as a campaigner, but as an active participant in the coming administration, which even his fervent detractors admit he has been.

Bush was then filling in a gap, too — his foreign policy inexperience — but his pick was directed at governing, not campaigning.

Consider Kerry's choices for a running mate. John McCain turned it down both privately and publicly, and Joe Biden didn't want the job enough. Bob Graham might have helped in Florida, but his diary obsession would have generated sustained media derision. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack would have triggered a nationwide "Who?"

The serious alternative was Representative Dick Gephardt. The Missourian abandoned by union labor in the primaries is solid and experienced in both domestic and foreign affairs, and might even have delivered Missouri, but he is the Man from Dullsville. He would have been Kerry's Cheney — the pick of confidence.

I always knew that Gephardt would have been a disastrous choice. That Safire says otherwise confirms my suspicions.


Damage Control

I don't buy this new story for a minute.

Yesterday, it was this:

"The pot of gold is pretty much empty right now," Archbishop John Vlazny said.

And today, it's all about ensuring future compensation? Right.

The Archdiocese of Portland owns nearly $2 million in Jackson County property, assessment records show, but the archbishop promised local Catholic church leaders on Tuesday he wouldn’t touch it to pay bankruptcy debts.

The Rev. Liam Carey, a priest at Medford’s Sacred Heart Church, said he was reassured by a letter from Archbishop John Vlazny.

"Under canon law, parish assets belong to the parish," Carey said. "The archbishop never does and cannot take those funds."

County assessment records show a combined real market value of about $1.97 million for local properties owned by the archdiocese. That includes three local Catholic churches, a Gold Hill retreat center, the Walsh Memorial Newman Center near Southern Oregon University in Ashland and the tiny Joseph Mission in Jacksonville.

Civil law may be different than canon law, acknowledged Carey. He speculated that the groundbreaking case could wind up in state or federal Supreme Court.

Sacred Heart and other local churches are free to go about their business, holding Masses and other services, without fear of financial uncertainty, Liam said.

In his letter to local church leaders, Vlazny said the archdiocese’s decision to file for bankruptcy, the first in the nation, was not aimed at depriving sexual abuse victims of restitution, Carey noted.

Rather, the archbishop indicated the move was aimed at ensuring just settlements to more future claimants.

"This is not an attempt to avoid paying damages," Carey said. "It is an attempt to provide just compensation to all victims."

Looks pretty cynical to me.


Yet Another Reason

I just like the title of this Guardian article:

When spliff gets in your eyes...


Martial Law in Iraq

A limited form of martial law is now an option for the Iraqi government. Amnesty for insurgents remains on hold:

Iraq's interim government intends to enact a national security law as early as today that would give Prime Minister Iyad Allawi broad powers of martial rule in troubled areas, including direct command of army, police and intelligence units, a senior Iraqi government official said Tuesday.

Although the law will give Allawi new latitude to combat insurgents, the prime minister had sought even tougher measures, some of which were stripped out of early drafts because of objections from other members of the interim government and from foreign governments, said the senior official. The new law will restrict the prime minister's power by requiring any declaration of emergency rule to have the consent of the country's president and its two vice presidents, as well as a majority of the 32-member cabinet. Iraq's highest court also will be able to overturn Allawi's martial-law declarations.

Even so, the new law will allow Allawi to deploy Iraq's army to fight insurgents. When the country's old army was disbanded and a new army created, the former U.S. administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, issued a decree preventing the army from being used for domestic security purposes. But Bremer lifted that restriction in a final order issued before he departed Iraq on June 28.

The interim government also is preparing an amnesty offer to insurgents that it hopes to announce today, but terms of the deal have not been finalized, the senior official said. Preliminary drafts of the offer, which would have allowed Iraqis who attacked U.S. troops to avail of the amnesty, have been revised to exclude anybody who was directly involved in serious acts of violence, the senior official said.

As opposed to "light-hearted" acts of violence, I am assuming?


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Wrong Way

I'm all in favor of steering away from oil and other fossil fuels as the bases for our economy, but this just seems rather odd:

Tony Blair yesterday signalled that Britain may have to build a new generation of nuclear power stations to meet the challenge of climate change.

Appearing before a committee of senior MPs, he disclosed that America was pressing Britain to look again at the nuclear option, including a new generation of stations that some claim will be safer and cheaper. Britain would have to take "some very difficult decisions", the prime minister said.

America pressing for the nuclear option over oil? First I've heard of it.


Republican Clear-Visioned Decisiveness

Do we not need an effective CIA director? I thought we were at war against terror and such:

President Bush said yesterday he has not decided whether he will nominate a new CIA director before the November election.



I know it is repetitive, but I believe the insight of the essay on Bush's indifference to the next generation, and the beauty of the photos, warrant this:

Go check out No Aura.


Kucinich Is Still Working for a Better America

Go sign his petitions to the Democratic Party. Let them know that they need to move left.


Norquist's Nose Rubbed in His Own Lies

Thanks to an impromptu encounter between Bill Clinton and David Corn, with Norquist standing right there, having just been on air making multiple fallacious claims about "the previous administration":

While I was tussling with rightwing activist Grover Norquist this morning on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show," Norquist did what many conservatives do when confronted by the charge that George W. Bush dishonestly hyped the WMD threat in Iraq. He referred to Bill Clinton. The 42nd president, Norquist maintained, supported Bush's invasion of Iraq because he (Clinton, that is) also believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
When we were just on, I said to Clinton, Norquist claimed that you supported Bush's invasion because you were concerned about Saddam Hussein's WMDs. Is that true?

The moment was reminiscent of that scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall when Allen is standing on line inside a movie theater lobby and listening to some blowhard in front of him expounding on the theories of real-life media critic Marhsall McLuhan. Allen then produces McLuhan from behind a movie poster, and McLuhan tells the man on line, "You know nothing of my work." After that Allen says to the camera, "Boy, if life were only like this!"

With Norquist squeezed next to him, Clinton said that had not been his position. He acknowledged that he had endorsed the congressional resolution granting Bush the authority to wage war. But, he explained, that was because he had figured Hussein would not have permitted weapons inspectors to return to Iraq without the threat of force. "Hans Blix [the chief weapons inspector] was tough," Clinton said, adding that he had wanted to see inspections continue.

Clinton, who later told Diane Rehm that he had indeed been concerned about the possibility of unaccounted-for WMDs in Iraq after inspections ended in 1998, dismissed WMDs as a reason to go to war. "Paul Wolfowitz tried to get me to invade Iraq," he recalled. In the 1990s, he said, Wolfowitz considered Iraq to be "the biggest problem"--greater than terrorism or the absence of peace in the Middle East.

Being kind to an ideological foe, Clinton noted that Wolfowitz had developed a whole theory about how a US invasion of Iraq would lead to a democratic Iraq and that the existence of this new Iraq would remake the region. Clinton indicated he never accepted this point of view, but it was, he said, a theory worth debating. Referring to the Bush administration's rationale for war, he remarked, "They should have just said that, without the pretext [of WMDs]." It was a polite way of saying the Bushies had been untruthful. After all, who is Clinton to call another president a liar?



It's Official (Again): Cheney Is a Liar

And the determination of this administration to stick to the same old tired lies inspires a certain awe:

The Sept. 11 commission, which reported no evidence of collaborative links between Iraq and al Qaeda, said on Tuesday that Vice President Dick Cheney had no more information than commission investigators to support his later assertions to the contrary.

The 10-member bipartisan panel investigating the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington said it reached its conclusion after reviewing available transcripts of Cheney's public remarks on the subject.

The vice president has asserted long-standing links between the former Iraqi president and Osama Bin Laden's Islamist militant network.

"The 9-11 Commission believes it has access to the same information the vice president has seen regarding contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the 9-11 attacks," the commission said in a statement.


Sharon's Term to End a Year Early

Some Supreme Courts, it would seem, are not quite as friendly to the executive as is ours:

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday shortened Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s term by a year in an election ruling that could further weaken his minority government and complicate a planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The court said that elections must be held by November 2006 and that the original November 2007 date was based on a mistaken interpretation of the electoral law.

Meanwhile, things are just hot all around for Sharon:

Israel’s police minister, meanwhile, delivered the starkest warning yet about violence over the pullback from Gaza, saying he believed Jewish extremists were plotting to assassinate leading politicians to stop the dismantling of settlements.

“They [extremists] will assassinate the prime minister, a minister, an army official or a police official,” Police Minister Tsahi Hanegbi said on Israel TV’s Channel Two. “They don’t always succeed, and they don’t always have the means to carry out the acts. But we are not lacking extremists.”


This Is Bringing Stability to the Middle East?

It's getting hard to keep up with all the pieces in this game:

A previously unknown militant group in Iraq is threatening to kill the most-wanted terror suspect in that country: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya said it received a taped statement from an organization that calls itself the Rescue Group warning al-Zarqawi and his followers to leave Iraq or face the consequences.

One masked militant read a stamen denouncing the actions by al-Zarqawi and his followers as hurtful to Iraq, particularly the kidnapping of foreigners.

The group has called for the killing of the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi if he doesn't leave Iraq.

At this point, I imagine that a trip through today's Iraq would be strongly reminiscent of the later parts of Apocalypse Now, or perhaps of Slothrop's journey to Yalta to recover a large stash of drugs in Gravity's Rainbow. Or maybe the passage when he crawls into the toilet to get his harmonica.


Microsoft Owns Your Skin

Okay, that may be a bit of dramatic overstatement. However, this latest patent move by Microsoft reminds me of pharmaceutical corporations patenting genes that are peculiar to certain isolated tribes or exotic plants, without the knowledge or consent of the people involved.

Call it the ultimate wireless network. From the ends of your fingers to the tips of your toes, the human body is a moving, throbbing collection of tubes and tunnels, filled with salty water and all capable of transmitting the lifeblood of the 21st century: information.

In what may seem a move too far to some, the computer software giant Microsoft has been granted exclusive rights to this ability of the body to act as a computer network. Two weeks ago the company was awarded US Patent 6,754,472, which bears the title: Method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body.

Microsoft envisages using the human skin's conductive properties to link a host of electronic devices around the body, from pagers and personal data assistants (PDA) to mobile phones and microphones, although the company is uncharacteristically coy about exactly what it may have in mind.
Some civil liberties groups have expressed concern over Microsoft's move. "Body parts, in this case skin, should not be in any way patentable," said Jim Thomas of the ETC group, which monitors developments in technology. "There are big questions here about whether individuals will be able to refuse this technology if it is used in, for example, tracking devices."

I am by no means a Luddite, and I think on the one hand that the progressive cyberneticization of humankind is at this point inevitable, and on the other that technologies that can enhance human life are all for the good.

What stirs my anxieties, in this as in so many cases, is having the corporation driving the development of new technologies. This leads to profit-driven progress, which may or may not have any real social value. Which I suppose makes me something of an "after the Revolution" technophile.


He's Going to Get a Chilly Reception

The prime minister of Malaysia, soon to visit Washington, is blasting the invasion of Iraq:

Malaysia's prime minister criticised the United States ahead of his scheduled visit to Washington, saying the invasion of Iraq "shattered the confidence" of the world by showing that no country's sovereignty was safe from the most powerful nation.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also said military force had proved inadequate in destroying terrorist networks, and instead may be fuelling their growth.
"This episode shattered the confidence of the world's people in the inviolability of national sovereignty."

Abdullah said the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States showed that groups and individuals could gain destructive capabilities previously restricted to governments, and described the empowerment of terrorists through modern technology and communications as "without doubt an unanticipated byproduct of globalisation".

"The experiences since September 11 brought to the fore another realisation, and that is the inadequacy of military action alone as a means of destroying the terrorist networks," Abdullah said.

"The fight against terrorism is also a battle for the minds of the perpetrators," he said. "Terrorism will not disappear if the methods used to hunt down terrorists lead to the breeding of new recruits."

Restore international sanity. Respect national sovereignty. Get Bush and Cheney out of the White House.


What Was That, That Edwards Said...

about two Americas?

While American companies are enjoying their best profits in decades, workers have seen scant gains in wages and if that doesn't change soon, economists worry consumer spending could falter, hurting the economy.

Workers have played a vital role in reviving the economy by spending through thick and thin during the recent downturn. But they have yet to reap the benefits of the recovery.

The latest employment report released on Friday showed U.S. wage growth slowed sharply in June after a recent pick-up, and analysts say the benefits of solid economic growth have flowed more to corporate profits than to workers.

"I'm very surprised that reasonable people are worrying about the rise in wages and unit labor costs," said Jim Glassman, senior economist at J.P. Morgan.

"To me, the news that we're watching tells us that labor is not getting its fair share yet," he said.

Indeed, wage increases are falling far short of inflation, suggesting workers may have trouble keeping up with the economic recovery.

They have yet to benefit from the surge in productivity as they crank out more goods and services. Instead, all that increased productivity is boosting corporate profits, which hit a record in the first quarter.

Who's up for a little class warfare?


Terrorists Prefer Democrats to Republicans

At least, that's the impression you get from The New York Times, based on this utterly unattributed assertion:

Almost half the budgets in each convention city will be spent on security, local officials said. The Democratic National Convention will be held in Boston at the Fleet Center from July 26 to 29. The Republican National Convention will be held in New York at Madison Square Garden from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.

New York is regarded as a higher risk than Boston by counterterrorism officials because President Bush is a Republican and because of consistent intelligence.

About as fair and balanced as Fox, I'd say.


Has Limbaugh Gone Hillbilly?

All signs point to yes:

Carrie Cinnamond realized just how much times have changed when she had a steel vault hauled into her pharmacy in eastern Kentucky.

Two break-ins in two weeks by burglars in search of painkillers forced her to adopt many of the same security measures that are used at the bank down the street.

Ever since prescription painkillers such as OxyContin became the drugs of choice among dealers and addicts in Appalachia, the days of small-town pharmacists dispensing medicines from behind an ordinary counter have become a quaint memory.


Homophobia on the Rise

Globally, persecution of gays and lesbians is getting worse, not better:

Gay Pride marches are mainstream in some countries and gay politicians, actors and pop stars are out and proud -- but homophobia is growing across the world with increasing numbers of countries making it punishable by death.

A new book published by human rights group Amnesty International says despite widespread acceptance of gays and lesbians in some countries, violent persecution of homosexuals is on the rise and has reached "epidemic" levels in others.

"Lesbian and gay people who form or join organizations, be they political or social, are being violently persecuted in many parts of the world where before they might have been unnoticed," writes the book's British author Vanessa Baird.

She singles out Uganda, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, El Salvador and Latin America in particular, where she says "the targeting and killing of transgender people has become an epidemic on streets."

Here in the United States, we have an opportunity to stand up against this intolerance in the fall:

John Kerry's pick for this running mate, North Carolina senator and former presidential hopeful John Edwards, has a record of strong support for key issues important to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

The Task Force analyzed Sen. Edwards' positions on 13 key issues important to LGBT people and found that he was supportive in nine categories, his positions were unclear in three others. However, while Edwards is against a Federal Marriage Amendment, he does not support extending equal marriage rights to same sex couples.

"John Kerry and John Edwards make up the most gay-supportive national ticket in American history." said Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman. "But, in order for them to win the enthusiastic support of the gay community, a critical part of their base, they will have to take a strong and bold stand on supporting our civil rights."



Moral, and now financial:

The Portland Archdiocese said Tuesday that it will file for bankruptcy, becoming the first Roman Catholic diocese in the nation to seek bankruptcy court relief in the face of accusations of sexual abuse.
The Chapter 11 bankruptcy action, planned for Tuesday afternoon, puts an immediate halt to a priest abuse case scheduled to begin in Portland on Tuesday. It involves the Rev. Maurice Grammond, who was accused of molesting more than 50 boys in the 1980s.

Plaintiffs in two lawsuits involving Grammond have sought a total of more than $160 million.

The archdiocese and its insurers already have paid more than $53 million to settle more than 130 claims by people who say they were abused by priests.

Dozens of other claims are pending, and at Tuesday's news conference, church officials said they "could not afford what the plaintiffs are asking."

Adding insult to injury:

"The pot of gold is pretty much empty right now," Archbishop John Vlazny said.

That's right, archbishop, I sure wish I had been molested by a priest, so I could jump on the gravy train.


The Worst Year Yet

There were more new HIV infections last year than any year since it was discovered in 1981. Keep in mind that Bush's $15 billion plan to fight AIDS involved huge amounts spent on so-called "abstinence education," and huge amounts that had to go to certain pharamaceutical corporations or be lost. Also keep in mind that only a fraction of that money has been spent. And keep in mind that, within the U.S., the right-wing is having its way with crucial CDC guidelines.

We have to get rid of him, or the United States will do nothing of consequence to fight this:

AIDS is gaining ground, and Asia, with 60 percent of the world's population, has some of the sharpest rises in HIV infections, according to a report released on Tuesday.

"We are not doing well, at all," said Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

"More people than ever are newly infected with HIV, more people than ever are dying and there is a globalization of the epidemic outside Africa," he told Reuters.

About 38 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, including five million who were infected last year, according to the report. Sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 25 million cases, remains the worst affected region with women and young people the most vulnerable to infection.

"Globally half of all people living with HIV are women," said Piot.

The epidemic has killed 20 million people in just over two decades, but only about 440,000 of the estimated six million people in developing countries who need treatments are getting them.


Sharon "at Risk"

It's a bad situation when someone as generally hawkish as Sharon feels that his life is in danger because Israelis even more militant than he don't like his policies.

And this is happening even as watchdog groups are pointing out that his plans to dismantle West Bank settlements are less-than-honest in their assessments:

Israel's parliament called a special debate Tuesday on the threat posed by Jewish extremists opposed to settlement evacuation, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the first time acknowledged publicly that he feels at risk.
Sharon's plan to uproot all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza as well as four isolated enclaves in the West Bank has met resistance from hard-liners in Israel. Many settlers are religious Jews who believe the West Bank is theirs by divine promise.

While most settler leaders have said they will use only non-violent resistance, some rabbis and settler representatives have warned that violence could break out.

"The leadership of the rabbis and the settlement residents' leaders are not interested in a civil war. But it won't be possible to stop the train right at the edge of the abyss," Rabbi Shlomo Breen, head of a Jewish seminary in the West Bank, told Israel Radio on Tuesday.


An End to the Cuba Embargo

Common sense hasn't brought it. Appeals to humanity haven't brought it.

But this might bring the end, finally, to the United States's embargo of Cuba:

Recent announcements from Repsol YPF, the big Spanish oil and gas company, indicate an ambitious expansion program, with projects planned for countries like Libya and Equatorial Guinea that are not for the risk-averse. But none has attracted as much attention as its gamble on Cuba.

Last month, Repsol hired a Norwegian drilling platform, the Eirik Raude, at a cost around $200,000 a day to search for oil in Cuban waters, in a narrow sector of the Gulf of Mexico off the northwestern coast. The venture, established with Cubapetróleo, the government-owned oil company, is being watched about as closely in Houston's executive suites as any in the energy industry.

A significant find by Repsol would, of course, be a boon for Cuba, which imports most of its fuel, mainly from Venezuela, and often struggles to find the hard currency to pay the bills. More broadly, it could shake up the dynamics of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, dominated for decades by the United States and Mexico.

And a big oil discovery could change the political debate in the United States over the decades-old sanctions against Cuba, which now prohibit most commerce with the country.

The last thing that American energy companies want is to be trapped on the sidelines by sanctions while European, Canadian and Latin American rivals are free to develop new oil resources on the doorstep of the United States.

Halliburton, the nation's largest oil services company, is among the wary watchers. John Gibson, president of Halliburton's energy services group, recently said in a speech to employees that he favored lifting economic sanctions against Cuba, as well as Libya and Iran.


Spreading Democracy

It appears that some Representatives truly are committed to spreading democracy, and are requesting that the United Nations get involved in the next elections of a nation whose previous record is, shall we say, rather suspect:

Several members of the House of Representatives have requested the United Nations to send observers to monitor the November 2 US presidential election to avoid a contentious vote like in 2000, when the outcome was decided by Florida.

Recalling the long, drawn out process in the southern state, nine lawmakers, including four blacks and one Hispanic, sent a letter Thursday to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asking that the international body "ensure free and fair elections in America," according to a statement issued by Texas representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, who spearheaded the effort.

"As lawmakers, we must assure the people of America that our nation will not experience the nightmare of the 2000 presidential election," she said in the letter.

"This is the first step in making sure that history does not repeat itself," she added after requesting that the UN "deploy election observers across the United States" to monitor the November, 2004 election.

The lawmakers said in the letter that in a report released in June 2001, the US Commission on Civil Rights "found that the electoral process in Florida resulted in the denial of the right to vote for countless persons."


No Freedom of Choice for Servicewomen

Absolutely horrific. Even in cases of rape, military women cannot choose to have abortions--even if they can pay:

Thanks to the Bush Administration, tens of thousands of women serving abroad in the US military are being denied their freedoms, even as they are asked to fight to defend ours.

As NARAL points out on its very useful website, American servicewomen and female military dependents are currently banned from accessing abortion services--even when using their own money--at US military medical facilities overseas. They don't even have the same right Medicaid recipients do to public support in cases of rape or incest.

Senators Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe have proposed a provision in the Defense Authorization Act that seeks to rectify at least part of these deplorable, and probably unconstitutional, conditions by allowing servicewomen who are victims of rape to receive abortion care. Given recent reports that sexual-assault cases are on the rise in the military, this is a particularly important time to demand that all women in the military be granted the same reproductive rights as their civilian counterparts.


Eternal Optimists

Unfortunately, hoping for the best does not make for the best wartime planning:

[O]verworked soldiers get orders for extended and multiple tours, even as new evidence shows that one in six soldiers who returned home from earlier tours in Iraq is showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or other severe emotional difficulties. If the Army persists in these extended tours and rapid-fire redeployments, the cost could be a drop in morale and in recruitment and re-enlistment rates. In general, Americans are made more vulnerable as soldiers are pulled out of the nuclear-armed Korean peninsula to serve in Iraq and are diverted from a real war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

The military argues that while the need for more soldiers is immediate, staffing and equipping new permanent divisions would take nearly two years — and that by then, they might not be needed. That is the same type of hope-for-the-best planning that caused this disaster.


It's John/John '04

Kerry avoided the colossal blunder of sticking with fellow insider Gephardt, and is going with Edwards:

Youthful good looks, a self-assured manner and an optimistic style.

Those are some of the attributes credited with making John Edwards a favorite second choice of Democratic voters during the party's primaries. The North Carolina senator emerged to be the last major candidate standing against John Kerry.

Today, Kerry picked his former rival as a running mate.


Monday, July 05, 2004

Iraqization Deferred

The Iraqi government is pausing before granting amnesty to insurgents who've killed Americans or granting itself the ability to impose martial law:

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has delayed unveiling an amnesty offer to insurgents and another measure paving the way for martial law in parts of Iraq because of U.S. concerns, according to Iraqi officials.

American officials are worried about the extensive powers granted to Allawi under the state-of-emergency law. Allawi also is trying to negotiate with tribal leaders, religious figures and former members of Saddam Hussein's regime in Fallujah to ensure that a large number of insurgents there would be willing to accept the offer of a full pardon in exchange for laying down their arms, officials say.

Meanwhile, Syria and Iran are calling for the invaders to get out of Iraq:

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad yesterday ended a two-day surprise visit to Iran, after the two sides gave a show of unity against the presence of American troops in their common neighbour Iraq.


Food Deserts in the U.S.

The suburbanization of America, ongoing for over fifty years now and fueled by the oil industry and massive government subsidies to develop an interstate highway system, has had many negative societal effects.

One that has rarely been marked is the creation of "food deserts," rural and urban areas where it is impossible to find decent food at reasonable prices:

Experts say the grocery landscape in the United States hasn’t always been this way. Not so long ago, most communities had mom-and-pop grocers. That was before the suburbanization of shopping.

Americans want bargains, and they want them in big stores. But big stores don’t fit in crowded inner cities and small towns can’t support them. So supercenters grew up in the suburbs, where land is cheaper and shoppers are plentiful.

While making food and other products cheaper than ever before for millions of people, those massive stores siphon shoppers away from smaller markets in surrounding communities and city centers, forcing many to close.

During the 1950s, more than half of all grocery stores were mom-and-pop operations. Today, just 17 percent are, according to Walter Heller, research director for Progressive Grocer magazine.

For 17 years, Jerry and Dot Nering have run a small shop in Weld, Maine, a remote town of 400 people. In its heyday the shop was stocked with meats, cheeses and produce, and shoppers swapped gossip around a wood stove.

Today, many of the Weld General Store’s shelves are bare and customers only trickle in. The Nerings blame the two Wal-Mart Supercenters that have opened within 20 miles of their shop.

Business is so bad the couple even struggles to get suppliers to deliver to their western corner of the state.

“Our cost is higher than Wal-Mart sells for, so you can’t compete,” Jerry Nering said.

Such a broad problem has no easy solution, but it needs to be addressed. As this article points out, such uneven development means that lower-class people get stuck with substandard food, leading to health problems that they are the least able to afford, given the health care crisis in this country.


They Don't Miss a Beat with the Panic Drums

All of us having miraculously survived a rash of beer-cooler bombings over the 4th of July weekend, we can breathe easy and relax.

Wrong. With these people, there's always cause to stir up a new round of anxiety:

The federal authorities, concerned about a terror attack during this summer's national political conventions, have begun a new effort to identify potential extremists inside the United States, including conducting interviews in communities where terrorists might seek refuge, government officials said.

The fears about an incident during the conventions or later in the year have also led state and local officials to impose extraordinary security precautions. Persistent if indistinct intelligence reports, based on electronic intercepts and live sources, indicate that Al Qaeda is determined to strike in the United States some time this year, the officials said in interviews last week.

I mean, of course the conventions are likely targets, and of course we're going to take strong security precautions. What is the point of splashing this all over the news?


Battlefield Michigan

Anti-gay activists are pushing to get an anti-gay marriage amendment on their November ballot:

Supporters of a ban on gay marriage submitted nearly 500,000 signatures Monday in an effort to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

If adopted, the amendment would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Gay marriage is banned in Michigan, but opponents want stronger language to protect against potential future judicial decisions or legislative initiatives.

The group, Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, had submitted more than 475,000 signatures to state election officials. If 317,757 of the signatures are valid, the issue could be on the Nov. 2 ballot.


Generational Warfare

No Aura examines how the right-wingers' desire for an anti-gay marriage amendment fits into a larger pattern of absolute unconcern with the needs and values of the next generation.

Given the fact that the younger generations are so heavily in favor of gay marriage, conservatives are doing whatever they can to preserve their own vision of America, ignoring the voice and the interests of the younger generation - and breaking the generational contract as they do so.

The generational contract - the notion that those in power should be acting in the interest of those yet to come - has, of course, been out of whack for quite some time now. Nowhere is that more clear than in the current administration. Tax cuts? Sure - for quickie payoffs now and huge debts later. War? Sure - who cares if we need to spends years rebuilding our international relations, or if this war spawns the threat of increased terrorism further down the road. Not to mention the problems that returning soldiers will have, both with their reintegration into society and health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (1 in 5 Iraq veterans already suffer from this) or Gulf War Syndrome (linked to the use of depleted uranium, currently in heavy use in U.S. artillery shells), and the problems that soldiers' families face with their prolonged absence. But hey - who cares? Someone else will have to deal with that. And there's the environment - the so-called Clean Air Act which allows more pollution, and the cavalier attitude toward increased arsenic levels in the water (to pick merely two of many). These have serious health repercussions, among them increased asthma and cancer rates - but again, it's not the Bush administration's problem. The problems won't be clear until much further down the road, when Bush is safely back in the private sector and the younger generation, stuck with the consequences, will have to clean up his mess.

Hence the push for not merely a law banning gay marriage, but a constitutional amendment.

Read the whole thing.


And just in case you happen to be contemplating departure for greener pastures should Bush steal another election, No Aura makes a fine photographic case for New Zealand.


Sunday, July 04, 2004

Thinking. It Ain't Illegal, Yet

The Left End of the Dial directs us to a timely editorial by Michael Moore. Here's part of it:

If you are one of those who love what President Bush has done for this country and believe you must blindly follow the president to deserve to fly the flag, you should ask yourself some difficult questions about just how proud you are of the America we now inhabit:

Are you proud that one in six children lives in poverty in America?

Are you proud that 40 million adult Americans are functional illiterates?

Are you proud that the bulk of the jobs being created these days are low- and minimum-wage jobs?

Are you proud of asking your fellow Americans to live on $5.15 an hour?

Are you proud that, according to a National Geographic Society survey, 85% of young adult Americans cannot find Iraq on the map (and 11% cannot find the United States!)?

Are you proud that the rest of the world, which poured out its heart to us after Sept. 11, now looks at us with disdain and disgust?

Are you proud that nearly 3 billion people on this planet do not have access to clean drinking water when we have the resources and technology to remedy this immediately?

Are you proud of the fact that our president sent our soldiers off to a war that had nothing to do with the self-defense of this country?

If these things represent what it means to be an American these days — and I am an American — should I hang my head in shame? No. Instead, I intend to perform what I believe is my patriotic duty. I can't think of a more American thing to do than raise questions — and demand truthful answers — when our leader wants to send our sons and daughters off to die in a war.


More Militant Extremists

Just what the Middle East needs:

The head of Israel's Shin Bet security service on Sunday warned that Jewish extremists are becoming more militant, as some prominent rabbis encouraged settlers to resist evacuation from their homes.
Some settler leaders have said they would resist. Many settlers are religious Jews who believe the West Bank is theirs by divine promise.