Saturday, May 15, 2004

Hersh: Rumsfeld Is Directly Responsible for Torture

He should be sacked immediately. As should the men who proclaimed that he's the best Secretary of Defense ever and that he is doing a superb job.

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Everything else aside, why the hell does this administration seem to consider it a good idea to turn the CIA against them?


A Stirring Campaign Theme

The Democrats have officially lost all hope, because Bush has hit upon a campaign theme that captures the essence of the American Spirit: "We won't torture any more people."

Truly, I am proud to be an American.

President Bush said on Saturday he was determined that Iraqi prison abuses will never happen again, as public doubts over his Iraq policy sent his job approval rating to a record low.

Bush is truly a great leader. It is a great risk to go out on a limb and oppose this:

'I was in extreme pain and so weak that I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking like a washing machine. They questioned me at gunpoint and told me that if I confessed I could go home.
'They had already searched me and my cell twice that day, gone through my stuff, touched my Koran, felt my body around my private parts. And now they wanted to do it again, just to provoke me, but I said no, because if you submit to everything you turn into a zombie.

'I heard a guard talking into his radio, "ERF, ERF, ERF," and I knew what was coming - the Extreme Reaction Force. The five cowards, I called them - five guys running in with riot gear. They pepper-sprayed me in the face and I started vomiting; in all I must have brought up five cupfuls. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed. They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching. Finally they dragged me out of the cell in chains, into the rec yard, and shaved my beard, my hair, my eyebrows.'

Tarek Dergoul, a British citizen born and brought up in east London and released without charge after almost two years at Guantanamo Bay, was describing one of many alleged assaults he says he suffered in American custody.


Must Restrain Myself from an Outburst of Profanity

I was raised Catholic. I had First Communion at age seven and Confirmation at age fourteen. Pretty soon thereafter, I began to realize that I lack the tendency toward guilt that seems requisite for the faith and drifted off, eventually winding up happily atheist.

But as all those raised Catholic know, it's both a culture and a religion; in a sense it is like a family. And when someone in your family misbehaves, sometimes you just want to smack them hard upside the head. And this is misbehavior:

A Colorado Bishop, in one of strongest stands yet taken by a U.S. Roman Catholic church leader, says communion should be denied to people who vote for candidates supporting such issues as abortion rights, gay marriage, euthanasia and stem cell research.

In a pastoral letter to the 125,000 parishioners in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Bishop Michael Sheridan also warned that politicians opposed to church teachings on such issues and those who vote for them jeopardize their salvation.

"Any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or for any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the church and so jeopardize their salvation," the bishop wrote in a letter published this week in the diocesan monthly newspaper, the Herald.

"Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences," he added.

Fuck that. I will abandon my resolve to avoid profanity and just say it. This sort of thing should result in the immediate revocation of tax-exempt status for at least this diocese. And I would hope it would also result in the mass exodus of sensible Catholics (often derisively called "cafeteria Catholics") from the Church. Or at least, energize them to make changes, starting with this jackass bishop...


Florida, Nationwide

Still haven't gotten over your outrage over the stolen election, you absurd, resentful liberal? Still think that the thousands of African Americans wrongfully purged from the voter roles got a raw deal?

Well, you may be next, by law:

On October 29, 2002, George W. Bush signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Hidden behind its apple-pie-and-motherhood name lies a nasty civil rights time bomb.

First, the purges. In the months leading up to the November 2000 presidential election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in coordination with Governor Jeb Bush, ordered local election supervisors to purge 57,700 voters from the registries, supposedly ex-cons not allowed to vote in Florida. At least 90.2 percent of those on this "scrub" list, targeted to lose their civil rights, are innocent. Notably, more than half--about 54 percent--are black or Hispanic. You can argue all night about the number ultimately purged, but there's no argument that this electoral racial pogrom ordered by Jeb Bush's operatives gave the White House to his older brother. HAVA not only blesses such purges, it requires all fifty states to implement a similar search-and-destroy mission against vulnerable voters. Specifically, every state must, by the 2004 election, imitate Florida's system of computerizing voter files. The law then empowers fifty secretaries of state--fifty Katherine Harrises--to purge these lists of "suspect" voters.

That's right. Every state now MUST deprive huge swaths of unwelcome folk from our democratic process. The right wing, saving us once again from ourselves.


Learning the Lessons of the Conservative Movement

The next generation has already opted out of "big government" solutions to such problems as education:

A testing system created more than half a century ago to help World War II veterans earn the equivalent of a high school diploma has increasingly become a way for teenagers to short-circuit high school.

Roughly one of every seven high school diplomas granted in the United States in recent years has gone to someone who has passed the tests, known as the G.E.D. And the proportion of school-age students taking that route has risen sharply.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law and state efforts to hold schools more accountable, schools have more incentive to discourage weak students from staying. Students who transfer to G.E.D. programs are usually off school rolls, but in many states are not counted as dropouts.


Bad PR

The US Army knew what they were doing when moving into Najaf; even this invasion isn't so fubar-ed that they were unaware that they were getting near to one of the holiest of places to some Muslims.

And I doubt there was much they could do beyond what they did to avoid this, given that they "had" to try to take the city. But:

Blaming U.S. forces for gunfire that slightly damaged the Imam Ali mosque, one of Shiite Muslims' holiest shrines, anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr last night called for revenge and even suicide attacks.

"We will fight and defend the holy shrines until our last breath," al-Sadr said in an interview broadcast by Al-Arabiya television. "We are not controlling any holy shrine — we are defending these shrines."

One more sign of the war's unwinnability for the US. Even if we had clear goals (which would seem rather important when it comes to figuring out whether or not we have finished the job, as Bush is so fond of saying we need to do), they would likely necessitate stomping on Muslim sensibilities.

Conservatives have often harped on Vietnam being lost due to political considerations, an argument that is pretty much a load of crap. But here, we have no clear goal, soldiers under constant fear of attack, and targets that the generals are (wisely) loathe to hit because to do so only sets back whatever objectives they have.

I've grown tired of asking for an exit strategy. Do they have ANY strategy at all?


Thursday, May 13, 2004

More Unseriousness

Although Bush always professes respect for the troops and all that, the way that medals of honor are being handled doesn't show it. This administration is even politicizing and bungling these symbols of respect for soldiers:

In a public relations move that cheapens the heroism of soldiers, the Pentagon merged the medals for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, giving the G.W.O.T. medal, for Global War on Terrorism, in both wars to reinforce the idea that we had to invade Iraq to quell terrorism. The truth is that our invasion of Iraq spurred terrorism there and around the world.


While on missions in Iraq last year, 35-year-old Todd Drobnick was attacked by small-arms fire, grenades and makeshift bombs. Yet he continued to go out day after day, until he died in a vehicle crash on his way from one U.S. military base to another. For his loyalty and dedication, he was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Thousands of Americans in Iraq have received such honors, but Drobnick's case was unusual: He wasn't a soldier. He was a private contractor working with a translation company.


Ungrateful Troops

Spoiling Rumsfeld's "fun" after he enjoyed a lovely tour of our torture chambers:

Moments after Donald H. Rumsfeld said how much more "fun" it was be questioned by the troops in Baghdad than the critics in Washington, the troops in the Iraqi capital hit the defense secretary with a barrage of serious, probing and sometimes personal inquiries, some of which, he confessed, he just could not answer.

One soldier asked when they were going to get improved vests and better armor for the Humvees. It's those roadside bombs, he said. "We lost some soldiers due to them."

Another asked whether it was true that the military would not pay their full air fare back home.

Yet another wanted to know why his military medical coverage wouldn't handle physical therapy for his handicapped child.

Much more. Read the whole thing.


Enjoy the Weekend, Fundamentalists

Because you aren't going to like Monday!

On Monday, Massachusetts will become the first state where it will be legal for a man to marry a man, or a woman to marry a woman. And the rush to marry is evident in this longtime vacation haven for gay men and lesbians.

This Cape Cod town has bloomed in the past six months with two new florists, a videographer and wedding planners. Caterers are expanding their businesses. The guesthouses along Commercial Street are getting fresh paint. Even the staid, gray Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum up the hill is marketing itself as a spot for wedding receptions.

More than 100 same-sex couples have made reservations to apply for marriage licenses Monday, the first day they will be legal. More are expected to just show up. That's compared with 30 licenses issued here all last year. "It's almost like we're the gay Niagara Falls," says Patricia Fitzpatrick, the town's director of tourism.



A federal judge cleared the way for same-sex marriages to begin in Massachusetts on Monday by refusing a request for a restraining order by a group including state legislators.

``The Supreme Judicial Court has the authority to interpret and reinterpret if necessary the term marriage as it appears in the Massachusetts constitution,'' U.S. Federal District Court Judge Joseph Tauro wrote in his opinion. ``It was a legitimate exercise of that court's authority and responsibility to decide with finality all issues arising under the Massachusetts constitution.''

Liberty Counsel, a traditional-values group in Orlando, Florida, and 11 Massachusetts legislators asked the federal court to stop the marriages, arguing the state court violated the separation of powers between the branches of government.


Foreign Policy Koan

From Maureen Dowd:

Testifying before the Senate yesterday, General Richard Myers admitted that we're checkmated in Iraq.

"There is no way to militarily lose in Iraq," he said, describing the generals' consensus. "There is also no way to militarily win in Iraq."

Talk about the sound of one hand clapping.


A Victory for Secularism

No, not in the United States, silly. In India. I have long suspected and feared that the next nuclear war would involve India and Pakistan, and this election has made that scenario a bit less likely:

India's ruling Hindu nationalist party conceded defeat today, opening the way for Sonia Gandhi to become the country's first foreign-born leader and to restore her family's dynasty to power.
The unexpected change of power in the world's largest democracy was also a sign that voters rejected the BJP's pro-Hindu message in favour of the secularism of Ms Gandhi's Congress party.


Moral and Legal Ambiguity?

As though to prove Kerry exactly right, there is this:

The Central Intelligence Agency has used a secret set of rules for the interrogation of high level al-Qaida detainees that has fuelled concerns within the agency about the abuse of prisoners, the New York Times reported on Thursday, citing current and former counterterrorism officials.

Although none of the chief leaders and operatives are known to be housed in Iraq, the rules first adopted by the Bush administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks may have established a new understanding that officials are permitted increased freedoms in dealing harshly with prisoners, the paper said.

The interrogation tactics are intended to simulate torture, but officials told the New York Times that they are supposed to stop short of serious injury.

Well, as long as they stop short of "serious injury" (and that's certainly unambiguous), then why the hell not?


Speaking the Truth

Rather surprising, really. And heartening, both for its forthrightness and its accuracy in identifying the heart of the problem.

Sen. John F. Kerry, breaking momentarily from his cautious approach to turmoil in Iraq, blasted President Bush on Wednesday for running an "extraordinarily mismanaged and ineptly prosecuted war" and strongly suggested Bush is partly to blame for abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

"They dismiss the Geneva Conventions, starting in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, so that the status of prisoners both legal and moral becomes ambiguous at best," the senator from Massachusetts told radio host Don Imus.

In his most expansive comments on U.S. mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, the presumptive Democratic nominee said this amounts to "major failures in command."

Asked if Kerry is assessing partial blame to Bush in the prison scandal, Rand Beers, a Kerry foreign policy adviser, said in an interview, "Undoubtedly, that kind of ambiguity, yes, is a failure of leadership."


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Spreading Democracy?

Not for Iraqi women. The United States invasion has led to a huge leap backwards for them:

A year ago, Amal al-Rawi, a 21-year-old communications student at the University of Basra, could happily meet her friends for coffee on campus wearing western-style jeans and a T-shirt.

Today, if Amal wants to attend her classes, she is forced to cover her head with a hijab or risk the wrath of Shia extremists, backed by armed militias, who are intimidating students across the campus.
The chancellor of UoB regularly receives death threats from radical Islamists wanting male and female students separated. Male students are being targeted as potential recruits.

"I used to be able to come here and study or see my friends. Now my dignity and freedom have been taken away and it is much worse than before Saddam," Amal, one of 23,000 students at the UoB, says.


American Prison Society, Going Global

We're spreading something, but it isn't democracy:

Almost 10,000 prisoners from President George W. Bush's so-called war on terror are being held around the world in secretive American-run jails and interrogation centres similar to the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison.

Some of these detention centres are so sensitive that even the most senior members of the United States Congress have no idea where they are.
The US military is keeping prisoners at 10 centres, most of which were used by Saddam Hussein's regime. The total in January was 8968, and is thought to have increased.

Prisoners are being held from, among other countries, Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Yemen.


There was little long-term planning. The agency initially had few interrogators and no facilities to house the top detainees. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency began to search for remote sites in friendly countries around the world where Qaeda operatives could be kept quietly and securely.

"There was a debate after 9/11 about how to make people disappear," a former intelligence official said.

The result was a series of secret agreements allowing the C.I.A. to use sites overseas without outside scrutiny.


Compare and Contrast

William Safire, white man sitting in his office in America:

But won't the Iraqi people be driven crazy by pictures from Abu Ghraib prison and embrace the pro-Saddam terrorists? My Kurdish friends say that's nonsense. They remember the 5,000 innocents Saddam gassed to death in Halabja — nor have the Shiites forgotten his mass graves. Many Iraqis may be resentful of the current American protection, but most are not sore enough to wish us gone yet, or to submit again to Sunni rule.

Riverbendblog, published by a woman in Iraq:

People are so angry. There’s no way to explain the reactions- even pro-occupation Iraqis find themselves silenced by this latest horror. I can’t explain how people feel- or even how I personally feel. Somehow, pictures of dead Iraqis are easier to bear than this grotesque show of American military technique. People would rather be dead than sexually abused and degraded by the animals running Abu Ghraib prison.

There was a time when people here felt sorry for the troops. No matter what one's attitude was towards the occupation, there were moments of pity towards the troops, regardless of their nationality. We would see them suffering the Iraqi sun, obviously wishing they were somewhere else and somehow, that vulnerability made them seem less monstrous and more human. That time has passed. People look at troops now and see the pictures of Abu Ghraib… and we burn with shame and anger and frustration at not being able to do something.
Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

Two points here. First of all, I nearly laughed out loud when I saw that Safire's gauge of how Iraqis would react to the photos of torture and sexual abuse is the opinion of his "Kurdish friends." Second of all, Riverbendblog explodes the false dichotomy Safire so comfortably establishes wherein the choices are 1) being "driven crazy" by the pictures and therefore becoming "pro-Saddam" or 2) remembering Saddam's atrocities and therefore remaining sanely pro-America.

If one person beats you half to death, and then someone else comes along and nearly finishes the job, do you have to choose just one of them to hate?


This Is Going to Get Worse

Or, rather, it always has been worse, and now we are finding out just how bad it has long been:

MEMBERS of the US congress viewed fresh photos and videos of Iraqi prisoner abuse today and said they included disturbing images of torture and humiliation.

"The whole thing is disgusting and it's hard to believe that this actually is taking place in a military facility," Senator Dianne Feinstein.

"I expected that these pictures would be very hard on the stomach lining and it was significantly worse than anything that I had anticipated," Senator Ron Wyden said.

"Take the worse case and multiply it several times over."

Several senators, speaking on condition of anonymity, said photos of sexual intercourse were among the images that Defence Department officials screened for lawmakers in a top-secret room in the Capitol building.


This Is Not What Democracy Looks Like

Who would accept "liberation" from such people?

For Huda Shaker, the humiliation began at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Baghdad. The American soldiers demanded to search her handbag. When she refused one of the soldiers pointed his gun towards her chest.

"He pointed the laser sight directly in the middle of my chest," said Professor Shaker, a political scientist at Baghdad University. "Then he pointed to his penis. He told me, 'Come here, bitch, I'm going to f--- you'."

The incident is one of a number in which US soldiers are alleged to have abused, intimidated or sexually humiliated Iraqi women.

Professor Shaker said several women held in Abu Ghraib jail were sexually abused, including one raped by an American military policeman who became pregnant. She has disappeared.
Human rights campaigners say the US military often arrests wives and daughters during raids if the male suspect is not at home. US officials have acknowledged detaining women in the hope of persuading male relatives to provide information, a strategy that violates international law.

US military officers at Abu Ghraib admitted on Monday that rape had taken place in the cellblock where 19 "high-value" male detainees are also held.
Journalists were forbidden from talking to the women, who are kept upstairs in windowless 2.5-metre-by-1.5-metre cells. The women wailed and shouted.


A Rich Kid's Toys

Kurt Vonnegut, veteran, POW, and survivor of the firebombing of Dresden, speaks out about this war:

Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.

Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?

Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.

And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.


Rumsfeld Sums It Up

During hearings where he claimed that the US is not violating the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, Rumsfeld stated also that members of al Qaeda do not qualify for Geneva Convention protections, because

"Terrorists don't comply with the laws of war. They go around killing innocent civilians."


Bad news for captured coalition members:

An Amnesty International report has alleged British forces in Iraq have shot and killed civilians, including an eight-year-old girl, in situations in which they were under no apparent threat.

And no, I am not saying something simplistic like "we're as bad as them!" I am merely pointing out that those opposing the coalition in Iraq could make the very same argument Rumsfeld is making for the withholding of Geneva Convention protections.



I am rather fed up with the idea that keeps showing up on various leftish blogs (I recall seeing it floated by Kevin Drum and Hesiod, among others) that Kerry should pick John McCain as his running mate. The notion that Kerry cannot find a worthwhile person in, say, his own party, shows just how demoralized the "opposition" is.

Kerry's pronouncement today, however, is intriguing. Suggesting McCain as Defense Secretary plays into McCain's present fury over the Iraq atrocities--his impatience with Rumsfeld was clear, and he recently stormed out of a hearing while Inhofe was speaking--and signals bipartisanship, and undermines Republican lockstep loyalty.

Democratic challenger John Kerry said on Wednesday his first choice as defense secretary would be Republican Sen. John McCain as he criticized the Bush administration for failed policies in Iraq.

Kerry slammed President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, their failure to build an international coalition and other "miscalculations surrounding this war."

"This thing has been so extraordinarily mismanaged and ineptly prosecuted," the Massachusetts senator told the "Imus in the Morning" radio program one day after Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the mistreatment at the Abu Ghraib prison, told Congress the abuse reflected a failure of leadership in the U.S. armed forces.

On the other hand, of course, I would rather not have the hawkish, pro-life John McCain in the White House at all. But as strategy, and given that Kerry is far to the right of what I would like anyway, I find it clever and intriguing.


News Flash: Old White Republican Declares Other Cultures "Crap"

Ehrlich's original remarks about multiculturalism came in defense of a political ally, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D). Schaefer had been criticized for his announcement a day earlier that he would no longer eat at McDonald's because of an uncomfortable encounter with a cashier struggling with English.

On the radio, Ehrlich said his views are "very similar to the comptroller's" and added, "I reject the idea of multiculturalism. Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, you run into a problem. With respect to this culture, English is the language."

Ehrlich, by the way, is the governor of Maryland. And the effect of the chief executive of the state saying such things?

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), who spoke out against Ehrlich's comments last week, said she has received five "nasty messages," including some telling her and her "people to go back home."

CASA de Maryland, a Latino advocacy group, received two similar voice-mail messages, including one that insisted Schaefer "had it right" and they should "ship us to Iraq so we can be bombed on the front lines," CASA's Kimberly Propeack said.

So, let's see. A white man is "uncomfortable" because the minimum wage worker at McDonald's doesn't speak English well. Which means that other cultures are "crap." Which means that if you are not white and if you dare to suggest that other cultures might not be "crap," then you should leave the country and/or be killed in Iraq.

You have to love the elegance of right-wing logic.


The MBA President

Given Bush's record in business, I have no idea how they managed to pitch the whole "MBA President" message successfully. But, as Steven Pearlstein writes, the label is accurate in many ways--and not in good ones:

Over the years I've noticed that companies that get into trouble, or lose their edge, have many of the same characteristics at the top: an overemphasis on hierarchy and orderliness; a penchant for secrecy and keeping decisions closely held; an instinct to discount information or dismiss views that don't comport with the company line; a habit of pronouncing rather than engaging intellectually with those outside the inner circle; an unhealthy arrogance and sense of entitlement.

When something goes wrong, the all-too-typical corporate response is to downplay its importance or bury it in bureaucratic processes. And if that doesn't work, the next line of defense is to pin it all on a few "bad apples" and move aggressively to "put the issue behind us," without ever really admitting serious error.

That should sound familiar to anyone who has watched Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and John Snow on C-SPAN, or read Paul O'Neill's account of his ill-fated attempts to warn of the budgetary fallout from a second tax cut, or heard what Richard Clarke told the 9/11 commission about warnings of terrorist attacks that fell on deaf ears. It also describes to a T the process by which the administration has dealt with Iraq, from the original decision to go to war to the handling of the prison scandal.

Here's a little test: You are president of the United States and revelations about abuse of Iraqi prisoners has created the biggest crisis since Sept. 11, inflaming the Arab world, undercutting support at home and undermining our moral authority in the world. How do you spend the weekend?

If you answered "spend it at Camp David as planned, then drop in at the Pentagon on Monday to praise the defense secretary for doing a superb job," you just flunked, along with George W. Bush.

George Bush, failure. Hopefully, the media will stop giving him the "gentleman's C."


Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Who could have foreseen that the enactment of mandatory minimum sentences and "three-strikes" life imprisonment, curtailing the ability of judges to respond to the individual circumstances of each case, would lead to this?

The number of prisoners serving life sentences has increased 83 percent in the past 10 years as tough-on-crime initiatives have led to harsher penalties, a study says.

Nearly 128,000 people, or one of every 11 offenders in state and federal prisons, are serving life sentences, according to the study released Tuesday by The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that promotes alternatives to prison. In 1992, 70,000 people had life sentences.

The figures, compiled from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and state correctional agencies, also show the amount of time served by criminals given life sentences increased from an average of 21 years to 29 years between 1991 and 1997.

The report said the increases are not the result of more crime, since violent crime fell significantly during the period covered by the study. Rather, longer mandatory sentences and more restrictive parole and commutation policies are most responsible.

Who could have foreseen that? Well, just about anyone, really.


Maybe This Will Get Their Attention

Nothing else has made much of a dent in Bush's cast-iron determination to continue this pointless war.

But this might:

Declining respect for American cultural values exacerbated by the crisis in Iraq is having a potentially disastrous effect on the image of US brands such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Nike and Microsoft, a new worldwide study of consumer attitudes has found.
The number of people who like and use US branded products has fallen significantly over the past year, while brands perceived to be non-American have remained relatively stable.

According to NOP World, which carried out the survey, a mixture of America's controversial involvement in Iraq, its handling of the "war against terrorism", corporate scandals such as WorldCom and its failure to sign up to the Kyoto environmental agreement, have all had a profoundly negative affect on the perception of US culture and its major brands.


Torturous Thought

David Brooks's latest column provides insight into just what sort of logical knots the neocons are having tie themselves these days.

First of all comes the admission that "we" got it all wrong about Iraq:

We were so sure we were using our might for noble purposes, we assumed that sooner or later, everybody else would see that as well. Far from being blinded by greed, we were blinded by idealism.
We went into Iraq with what, in retrospect, seems like a childish fantasy. We were going to topple Saddam, establish democracy and hand the country back to grateful Iraqis. We expected to be universally admired when it was all over.

Speak for yourself, there, buddy. Millions of people took to the streets because this "fantasy" was a pretty-damn-transpartent lie.

But, since "we" screwed up and invaded, what now? Are we doomed to defeat? Perhaps, but it's okay because defeat is now victory!

To earn their own freedom, the Iraqis need a victory. And since it is too late for the Iraqis to have a victory over Saddam, it is imperative that they have a victory over us. If the future textbooks of a free Iraq get written, the toppling of Saddam will be vaguely mentioned in one clause in one sentence. But the heroic Iraqi resistance against the American occupation will be lavishly described, page after page. For us to succeed in Iraq, we have to lose.


It Begins

The Geneva Convention is far more serious than this administration would like to pretend. It's not a set of suggestions or guidelines; they are rules to be followed, unless you want to put your own people in even more danger than combat always entails:

Militant Islamic Web Site Shows Video Of Beheading Of American

The beheading shown on the Islamic militant Web site was carried out in revenge for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, according to the Web site.

The video showed five men wearing headscarves and black ski
masks, standing over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit. He
identified himself as Nick Berg, a 26 year old self-employed civilian contractor from suburban Philadelphia.


Battlefield: Massachusetts

Romney recently eased up a bit, stating that clerks can simply take people's word for it that they are Massachusetts residents rather than demand proof.

In Provincetown, they are not quite satisfied with that:

Officials in Cape Cod's gay tourism mecca of Provincetown voted to offer marriage licenses to out-of-state same-sex couples, potentially setting the stage for another legal battle over gay marriage.

Thumbing their nose at Republican Gov. Mitt Romney's stance, the town's selectmen unanimously decided Monday to issue marriage certificates to all couples as long as they attest that they know of no legal impediment to their union.

Romney immediately issued a statement Monday threatening legal action against city and town clerks statewide who defy his interpretation of the law.


Monsanto Backs Down

Those aren't words one gets to type very often. This is the corporation that routinely sues and blacklists farmers who get in their way.

So, not a weak-willed or overly-ethical corporation. But now this:

Monsanto Co. yesterday scrapped plans to commercialize genetically engineered wheat, the biggest defeat yet for advocates of agricultural biotechnology -- and a victory for skeptics who said the company was trying to foist on the world a crop it did not want or need.

Monsanto said it would indefinitely delay plans to commercialize Roundup Ready wheat, a product that three years ago seemed headed for quick approval in the United States and Canada.
Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, called Monsanto's decision "a worldwide victory for consumers." Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, said it was "a watershed event to have a product rejected in North America because of consumer and farmer desires. It will embolden farmers to say when we see a product we don't want on the market, we can stop it."


President Bubble Boy

We've all heard about it multiple times, but every time it comes up, I find myself amazed and appalled that such a man is the leader of the United States:

President Bush doesn't spend much time poring over news coverage because it would just muddle his thinking and bring him down, he told the author of a new, admiring book about his presidency.

In the second of three reports based on his new book, "Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters," Bill Sammon of the Washington Times writes that Bush gets four newspapers -- and reads the sports pages. As for the front pages? He scans and skims.

"Mr. Bush thinks that immersing himself in voluminous, mostly liberal-leaning news coverage might cloud his thinking and even hinder his efforts to remain an optimistic leader," Sammon writes.

"I like to have a clear outlook," Bush told Sammon, who is also a political analyst for Fox News. "It can be a frustrating experience to pay attention to somebody's false opinion or somebody's characterization, which simply isn't true."


Monday, May 10, 2004


The report says some coalition military intelligence officers estimated "between 70 percent and 90 percent" of the detainees in Iraq "had been arrested by mistake. They also attributed the brutality of some arrests to the lack of proper supervision of battle group units."

The agency said arrests tended to follow a pattern.

"Authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property," the report says.

"Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped or sick people," it says. "Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles."


This Needs to Be on the Front Page of Every Newspaper

But don't hold your breath.

Some of the world's poorest people are paying for the "war on terror" as governments cut aid budgets or switch their priorities to address security issues, a leading charity said today.

The Christian Aid report, entitled The Politics of Poverty, said that aid was being politicised as it had been during the cold war. It accused the US of leading the trend.

"We seem to be drifting back to the darkest days of the cold war, to a time when aid was just as liable to prop up dictators and their regimes as it was to build hospitals or drill wells," the report said.

If only fundamentalist Bush were truly Christian, perhaps he would heed this warning and do something. Assuming Cheney read it to him, of course.


Cognitive Dissonance

Of course, anyone who views any news source outside of the United States is fully used to the schizophrenic sensation of existing in two mutually exclusive realities at once.

But today I watched a report on BBC News about the desecration of graves of British soldiers killed in WWI and WWII and buried in the Gaza Strip. The gravestones were smashed and adorned with copies of that now-infamous photo of the prisoner standing on a crate.

And checking the news here, I just hear all about Bush praising Rumsfeld, and praising our troops.

President Bush vigorously reiterated his support for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today while promising a "full accounting" of the abuses of prison detainees by American personnel in Iraq.

"You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror," Mr. Bush said after meeting at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld, who stood by his side during the president's remarks. "You're doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."

What world do they live in? Because it is not yours and mine.