Saturday, May 22, 2004

Plunging Right In

This is exactly the reason why gay marriage is such an important civil rights issue. Without it, loving partners lose a vast array of rights, such as the right to sue for loss of consortium:

One day after getting married, a lesbian couple filed a medical malpractice lawsuit asking that one of the women receive damages because doctors failed to detect breast cancer in her spouse.

The lawsuit filed Friday claims "loss of consortium" for Michelle Charron, 44, because of the advanced breast cancer in new wife Cindy Kalish, 39.

Loss of consortium is a legal claim long available to spouses, but only newly available to gay and lesbian couples since the state began allowing same-sex marriage Monday. The lawsuit provides a glimpse into the kinds of legal battles involving gay and lesbian unions that Massachusetts courts can now expect.

Although such a rapid move will likely cause the right to decry opportunism or some such thing, this lawsuit is but the first of many, each of which will demonstrate the myriad ways gays and lesbians have been and largely are second-class citizens.

Oh, and if the court weasels out of this case by saying that the negligence predated the marriage, I will be righteously pissed off. Fortunately, that doesn't look likely:

Schreckinger said the lawsuit's timing could be challenged, because the alleged negligence was before the couple was married. But the couple's lawyer, Ann Maguire, said the court will view the case differently because marriage was not an option before Monday. The couple had a commitment ceremony in 1992.



Or dupes, or suckers, or however you want to put it. I wouldn't trust them to hold my wallet, much less run the country. Especially after all this:

We ransacked the house of the con man whom we paid millions to feed us fake intelligence on W.M.D. that would make the case for ransacking the country that the con man assured us would be a cinch to take over because he wanted to run it.

And now we're shocked, shocked and awed to discover that a crook is a crook and we have nobody to turn over Iraq to, and the Jordanian embezzler-turned-American puppet-turned-accused Iranian spy is trying to foment even more anger against us and the U.N. officials we've crawled back to for help, anger that may lead to civil war.
A half-dozen dunderheads who thought they knew everything assumed they could control Mr. Chalabi and use him as the instrument of their utopian fantasies. But one week after getting cut off from the $335,000-a-month Pentagon allowance arranged by his neo-con buddies, he glibly accepts the street cred that goes with bashing America. And he still won't give us all of Saddam's secret files, which he confiscated and is using to discredit his enemies.

Going from Spartacus to Moses, he proclaims to America, "Let my people go" — even as he plays footsie with the country that once denounced the U.S. as the Great Satan.


Another Lie about the Iraq Torture

More contradictions from the Bush maladministration:

Presented last fall with a detailed catalog of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, the American military responded on Dec. 24 with a confidential letter to a Red Cross official asserting that many Iraqi prisoners were not entitled to the full protections of the Geneva Conventions.

The letter, drafted by military lawyers and signed by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, emphasized the "military necessity" of isolating some inmates at the prison for interrogation because of their "significant intelligence value," and said prisoners held as security risks could legally be treated differently from prisoners of war or ordinary criminals.

But the military insisted that there were "clear procedures governing interrogation to ensure approaches do not amount to inhumane treatment."

In recent public statements, Bush administration officials have said that the Geneva Conventions were "fully applicable" in Iraq. That has put American-run prisons in Iraq in a different category from those in Afghanistan and in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been declared unlawful combatants not eligible for protection. However, the Dec. 24 letter appears to undermine administration assertions of the conventions' broad application in Iraq.

They are just like kids exposed in deceit, just saying one thing after another, hoping one lie will work.


Friday, May 21, 2004

Three Cheers for Pelosi

We need more people willing to speak the truth in clear, straightforward terms, like this:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday sharply questioned President Bush's competence as a leader, suggesting his policy in Iraq is to blame for the loss of U.S. lives. That assessment drew a furious response by Republicans who called on the Democratic leader to apologize.

"The emperor has no clothes," Pelosi, D-California, told reporters on Thursday. "When are people going to face the reality? Pull this curtain back."

Pelosi first delivered her comments to a California newspaper. She repeated them during an exchange with reporters Thursday -- the same day Bush was on Capitol Hill meeting in private with GOP lawmakers in a sort of pep rally for the party faithful.

Republicans effused praise for the president as they left the meeting, but Democrats were having none of it.

"The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader," Pelosi said. "These policies are not working. But speaking specifically to Iraq, we have a situation where -- without adequate evidence -- we put our young people in harm's way."

Asked specifically if she was calling Bush incompetent, Pelosi replied:

"I believe that the president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers."

The Republican response is predictably ridiculous:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay blasted Pelosi, casting her comments as detrimental to U.S. troops.

"Nancy Pelosi should apologize for her irresponsible, dangerous rhetoric," DeLay, R-Texas, said. "She apparently is so caught up in partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk."

The Republican National Committee also released a written statement, saying Pelosi and other Democrats were putting more blame for the deaths of U.S. service members on Bush than on terrorists. And the statement tied Pelosi to Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

"The San Francisco/Boston Democrats led by John Kerry have now adopted 'Blame America First' as their official policy," RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie said in the statement.

As usual, there is so much wrong with what DeLay and the RNC claim that it is hard to know where to start. First, the notion that Pelosi's rhetoric is putting anyone at risk is absurd on its face. Second, to apply the term "terrorists" to those attacking an invading army is to drain that term of any real meaning. Third, blaming Bush does not equal blaming America, however often right wingers claim it. Bush is no god-king; he does not embody the nation within his person, despite his fervent wishes that it were so.


I Wait with Bated Breath

I shall resist being a wet blanket and pointing out that it would have been nice if he'd done this before we invaded:

President Bush will share a "clear strategy" for guiding the future of Iraq in a Monday night speech intended to convince a world television audience that he is in command of the situation there, the White House said on Friday.


If Republicans Are Whining about Fairness, It's Probably a Good Idea

Funny when Republicans complain about campaign finance maneuverings:

A Republican Party spokesman says Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry [related, bio] would be using a ``bait and switch'' tactic on taxpayers if he delays accepting the nomination to avoid having to stretch campaign money.

Kerry is considering the move to raise and spend private contributions longer, which would lessen President Bush's multi-million-dollar advantage.

The Democratic convention takes place in Boston in July. The Republicans gather five weeks later. If Kerry delays acceptance, he and Bush will each get the $75 million legally allowed at the same time.

Once each is nominated, he will be limited to spending the government money and can no longer raise or spend private contributions on the campaign.

Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt says throwing a Democratic convention with government money, then nominating Kerry later could amount to a ``bait-and-switch tactic on the American taxpayer.''

Holt says it's a case of Kerry ``thinking the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to him.''


Telling Word Choice

Bush talks of faith; a Republican aide invokes terrorist threats when describing Bush's low popularity:

President Bush asked fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday to "keep the faith" as he sought to ease their jitters about Iraq and his lowest approval ratings ever.
"He asked us to keep the faith," Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, a member of the Republican leadership, said as she emerged from the meeting. "We're all behind him."

Bush's approval ratings have slipped to the mid-to-low 40 percent range, the lowest of his presidency. No recent president has been re-elected with such numbers this close to the November elections.

"The color code alert level has moved from yellow to orange," a senior Republican aide said. "There isn't panic, but there is considerable concern."


Wedding Massacre

It would have been bad enough if Americans had once again dropped bombs on a wedding celebration, but this latest incident appears to be much worse than that.

The testimony of the sister-in-law of the groom:

"The bombing started at 3am," she said yesterday from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one," she said. She ran with her youngest child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her, fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground.

She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. "I left them because they were dead," she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell.

"I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me. I pretended to be dead so he wouldn't kill me. My youngest child was alive next to me."

The American take on all this:

"We took ground fire and we returned fire," said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US military in Iraq. "We estimate that around 40 were killed. But we operated within our rules of engagement."

Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, was scathing of those who suggested a wedding party had been hit. "How many people go to the middle of the desert ... to hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilisation? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive."

But this much is beyond dispute:

From the mosques of Ramadi volunteers had been called to dig at the graveyard of the tribe, on the southern outskirts of the city.

There lay 27 graves: mounds of dirt each marked with a single square of crudely cut marble, a name scribbled in black paint. Some gave more than one name, and one, belonging to a woman Hamda Suleman, the briefest of explanations: "The American bombing."


Thursday, May 20, 2004

Once More, for Emphasis

Our government is spending our tax money to produce and disseminate illegal propaganda. The fact that this isn't generating massive outrage just shows that A) Bill Clinton isn't the one doing it and B) this White House has done so many illegal things we're all desensitized.

But the fact remains, and it is worthy of outrage:

THE Bush administration was guilty of spreading "covert propaganda" through a series of ready-made television "news" packages it sent to broadcasters, a US government watchdog has concluded.

The General Accounting Office (GAO), an arm of Congress, also declared that the adverts breached federal law.

The ready-made news items praised a new law, signed by the president, George Bush, in December, which the White House has said will make it easier for elderly citizens to obtain prescribed medicines.

Some of the features contain pictures of Mr Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd as he signed the Medicare law.

The packages were produced by the department of health and human services, but news viewers would have no way of knowing they were watching a government-produced story rather than an independent news report.

They were screened by at least 40 television stations in several states, including Oklahoma and Louisiana. Two of the videos end with the voice of a woman who says: "In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting."

The GAO said the adverts broke laws forbidding public money being used for propaganda purposes.

Emphasis added. This is blatant, willful, obvious disinformation for the purpose of affecting public opinion and thus governmental policy.


The Religious Lunatic in Charge of the Asylum

Blumenthal writes about General Boykin in The Guardian today:

Boykin...lost 18 men in Somalia trying to capture a warlord in the notorious Black Hawk Down fiasco of 1993.

Boykin told an evangelical gathering last year how this fostered his spiritual crisis. "There is no God," he said. "If there was a God, he would have been here to protect my soldiers." But he was thunderstruck by the insight that his battle with the warlord was between good and evil, between the true God and the false one. "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
Just before Boykin was put in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and then inserted into Iraqi prison reform, he was a circuit rider for the religious right. He allied himself with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier that advocates applying military principles to evangelism. Its manifesto - Warrior Message - summons "warriors in this spiritual war for souls of this nation and the world ... "

Boykin staged a travelling slide show around the country where he displayed pictures of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. "Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army," he preached. They "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus".
There can be little doubt that he envisages the global war on terror as a crusade. With the Geneva conventions apparently suspended, international law is supplanted by biblical law. Boykin is in God's chain of command. President Bush, he told an Oregon congregation last June, is "a man who prays in the Oval Office". And the president, too, is on a divine mission. "George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the US. He was appointed by God."

Boykin is not unique in his belief that Bush is God's anointed against evildoers. Before his 2000 campaign, Bush confided to a leader of the religious right: "I feel like God wants me to run for president ... I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen."

Theocracy is in ascendance.


Wrestling Coach Lectures POW about Wartime Sacrifice

That's how weird things have gotten:

House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert lectured Arizona Sen. John McCain on Wednesday over war sacrifices after McCain attacked both Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday for refusing to give up tax cuts and spending agendas in wartime.
Hastert, of Illinois, is a former wrestling coach. McCain was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War and spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp.


Quip of the Day

Once again, Maureen Dowd provides a laugh, discussing the backlash against the Republicans who whine that the prison torture stories are just not a big deal and, after all, this is WAR!

Among the Republicans who aren't buying that particular line of crap are Senators John Warner and John McCain:

Maybe anyone who was once married to Liz Taylor — at a time when she favored tiger-striped pantsuits and Clyde's chicken wings — would not flinch at wrangling with another aging sex symbol and demanding diva: Rummy.

Or maybe, at 77, Senator John Warner is at a stage in life where he can't be intimidated into putting a higher value on Republican re-election prospects than on what he sees as the common good.

In a bracing display of old-fashioned public spiritedness, the courtly Virginian joined up with the crusty Arizonan, John McCain, to brush back Rummy and the partisan whippersnappers in Congress who are yelping that the Senate Armed Services Committee's public hearings into prison abuse by American soldiers are distracting our warriors from taking care of business in Iraq.


I'd Hate to Be Him

Chalabi is out. Whether the searching of his house and offices is directly on the orders of the United States, or was instigated by the Iraqis, the fact that it happened just after the announcement that he's no longer on our payroll shows that he has been abandoned.

One more person learns that working for Bush is hazardous to your health.

U.S. troops and Iraqi police raided the home and party offices of Washington's former top Iraq ally Ahmad Chalabi on Thursday, whipping up fresh turbulence in the run-up to a U.S. handover of power.
Chalabi, once touted by some in the Bush administration as a potential national leader in Iraq, angrily accused Washington after the raid of being out to get him because he wanted more power for Iraqis than was on offer in the planned U.S. handover.

An Iraqi judge, Hassan Muathin, said the raid was carried out under an arrest warrant for several men wanted for stealing state-owned vehicles. U.S. officials said it was an Iraqi issue.

Chalabi said U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police sealed off the neighborhood around the headquarters of his Iraqi National Congress (INC) and a nearby house he uses, removing computers, files, a copy of the Koran and other personal items.

"I was asleep, I opened the door and police came into my home carrying pistols," Chalabi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, told reporters.

At least we won't have to keep watching as millions of dollars of our money are spent on bad intelligence.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Laura Bush: My Husband Is a Petulant Brat

This candor is astonishing:

U.S. First lady Laura Bush was warned by her mother-in-law never to criticize George W. Bush's speeches, and the one time she did, he drove the car into the garage wall, she said on Wednesday.
In 1978 when George W. Bush was in an ultimately futile race for a congressional seat in Texas, the elder Mrs. Bush warned her daughter-in-law to "never criticize George's speeches."

She took the advice "until one night we were driving into our driveway and he said, 'Tell me the truth. How was my speech?' And I said, 'Well, it wasn't that good.' And with that he drove into ... the garage wall," she said.

I think now we see the basis for Bush's foreign policies, and why they have worked out so very well.

But, I mean, this is amazing. My jaw dropped when I first read it. This man controls our armed forces. He controls our nuclear arsenal, for god's sake.

I am afraid.


Propaganda, Bought and Paid for by Us

The right-wingers all castigate Michael Moore as a propagandist, but at least they have the option of not giving him their money to fund his anti-Bush agit-prop.

If you don't want to pay for pro-Bush propaganda, however, you'd better move out of the country:

Federal health officials violated a ban on the use of taxpayer money for propaganda when it released video news releases early this year touting the new Medicare law, according to a General Accounting Office report released Wednesday.

The GAO said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services made it appear that the releases, sent to 40 television stations earlier this year, were made by news reporters rather than people hired by a Health and Human Services subcontractor.

The scripts did not identify the federal government as the source of the material, according to the GAO.

While the use of video news releases has become popular, the GAO said Medicare Services was not given "authority to produce and disseminate unattributed news stories."

In question is a portion of the agency's release touting Medicare by a woman who signs off as a reporter from Washington. She says, "It's the same Medicare you've always counted on, plus more benefits." The woman was not a reporter, but was hired by the HHS subcontractor.

This sort of behavior is utterly Orwellian and needs to be punished. Not that I truly believe that it will be. I doubt it'll be all that widely reported, even.


Update: Cherokee Setback


TAHLEQUAH -- A lesbian couple married Tuesday in Tulsa are in limbo after the Cherokee Nation court clerk refused to record their marriage certificate the court issued Thursday.

"We're good enough to be on your roll, but not good enough to be married in the eyes of the tribe -- and where does that leave us?" said Dawn L. McKinley.

McKinley, 32, had married Kathy E. Reynolds, 27, at 9:30 a.m. on Cherokee Drive in Mohawk Park in Tulsa.

Her statement came after the Cherokee Nation Court refused to register the couple's marriage certificate two hours after the wedding.

However, this last-minute balking on the part of the court clerk is utterly unfounded, as far as the laws of the Cherokee Nation are concerned:

As written, Cherokee law specifically states "every person" who has attained the age of 18 shall be capable of contracting marriage. It also states the only people who may not be married under Cherokee law are parties having a husband or wife living, parties who are nearer of kin than first cousins, either of the half or of the whole blood, and parties who are insane or idiotic.
Principal Chief Chad Smith's general counsel, Julian Fite, issued an opinion Monday that tribal law recognizes and authorizes marriages only between a man and a woman -- although the subject is not even broached in tribal law. Smith, tribal attorney general in 1993 when he was responsible for writing Cherokee law, said Tuesday that the marriage act was existing law that goes back to 1894.

Last week, Smith agreed the law, as written, is genderless.

"The leadership of the Cherokee Nation is supposed to represent all the Cherokees, and they are not the sovereignty of the tribe -- the people are," Cherokee citizen David Cornsilk said. "Their hatred and bigotry is not going to survive."
At first, Muskogee attorney Mark Bonney said Fite's opinion was not worth the paper it is written on and that "Julian Fite knows it. I know Julian Fite and I know he knows it. I'm going to be picking up the phone to tell him that.

"Chad Smith is an attorney, and he knows the law is genderless -- he also knows Cherokee history and tradition."


Today's Most Laughable Headline

Bush: Won't 'play politics' with oil

Oh, Lord, they're killing me with this stuff.


Bin Laden Continues to Chuckle

His plan continues to succeed:

Tens of thousands of Iranians poured into streets in Tehran on Wednesday to parade against the attacks on Iraqi Shiite holy cities by the US-led coalition forces, which they regard as a profanation.

The parading groups shouted anti-US and anti-Britain slogans, aswell as burning national flags of the United States, Britain and Israel and converging into Central Revolution Square of Tehran.

The Iranian authority and religious leaders have been calling for such demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities since the US-led coalition forces launched attacks on the Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

Attacks on Iraqi holy cities have touched off a storm of condemnation among top Iranian officials. Student groups staged protest rally in front of British Embassy in Tehran.

Iran, as a Shiite-dominated Islamic country, has been keeping a close eye on the turbulence in the Iraqi Shiite holy cities.

And remember, Iran is a lot closer to having nuclear weapons than Iraq ever was.


More Incompetence

Don't you think it was a massive blunder not to keep Giuliani in the loop on this?

Giuliani told commissioners New York City was not advised of the August 2001 intelligence briefing for President Bush that outlined al Qaeda plans to strike within the United States, prompting commissioner Tim Roemer to say, "I would like to know why the CIA and FBI were not sharing more of this with you."

The document mentioned the World Trade Center three times, Roemer said.


If This Had Happened to Bush...

Then the secret service would have killed the thrower and Bush would have snorted the powder.


On Humiliation and "Arab Culture"

Yoshie at Critical Montages makes a very good point about the media coverage of the torture:

Andrew Marshall of Reuters writes of three Iraqis working for Reuters who were subjected to torture by the US military: "Two of the three said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anus and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture" ("Reuters Staff Abused by U.S. Troops in Iraq," May 18, 2004)! People of any culture in the world would consider being forced to "insert a finger into their anus and then lick it" and to "put shoes in their mouths" no less degrading than people in "Arab culture" do!!!

The subtext of many reports on torture of Iraqi prisoners is a bizarre mixture of sexism, homophobia, and orientalism. Even as they express sympathy for the tortured prisoners and criticize the US military, they suggest implicitly that such torture is more intolerable to men than to women; that, if Arab men find such torture humiliating, it is in part because they are more sexually conservative than American men; and that gay American men would not feel the same torture to be as humiliating as it is to Arab men (all of whom the media assume to be straight), because, after all, they enjoy getting naked with other men. Such sexist, homophobic, and orientalist rhetoric obscures and trivializes the central issue: violation of human rights.


Backlash Against Arrogant Bishop

From Colorado Luis, via Atrios, we are reminded that there are Catholics, and then there are Catholics who have common sense:

Even though the bishop's letter does not apply to Denver itself, which is not in his diocese, Catholics up here have a lot to say about it. And it isn't positive.

In Arvada, a priest denounced the edict from the pulpit and got a round of applause from his parishoners. In Denver, a Catholic attorney says the church leadership has "gone Taliban" on him while others predict the edict will cause defections from the church.


Hypocrisy, Cont'd

Repugnant. Unsurprising.

Like many of its predecessors, the Bush White House has used the machinery of government to promote the re-election of the president by awarding federal grants to strategically important states. But in a twist this election season, many administration officials are taking credit for spreading largess through programs that President Bush tried to eliminate or to cut sharply.

For example, Justice Department officials recently announced that they were awarding $47 million to scores of local law enforcement agencies for the hiring of police officers. Mr. Bush had just proposed cutting the budget for the program, known as Community Oriented Policing Services, by 87 percent, to $97 million next year, from $756 million.

The administration has been particularly energetic in publicizing health programs, even ones that had been scheduled for cuts or elimination.

Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, announced recently that the administration was awarding $11.7 million in grants to help 30 states plan and provide coverage for people without health insurance. Mr. Bush had proposed ending the program in each of the last three years.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Real Reason They Don't Want More Photos of Torture Getting Out

Could be:

Showing children realistic and graphic images of the consequences of violence appears to quell some of their aggressive tendencies, new research reports.

After seeing pictures of people treated for gunshot wounds, including a man whose stomach was ripped apart by a bullet and a woman who lost her 8-month old fetus when she was shot in the abdomen, children and teens demonstrated an improvement in their attitudes toward conflict and aggression.

After looking at those pictures, participants showed signs that they would be "less likely to solve interpersonal conflict in a violent way," study author Dr. Edward E. Cornwell, III told Reuters Health.


Oversight? Over Expenditures?

Clearly a notion from the radical left-wing Bush-haters who want to bring down America.

Democratic lawmakers complained on Tuesday some companies given deals to manage billions of dollars of Iraqi contracts had a conflict of interest and urged the Pentagon to do its own oversight work.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, four lawmakers asked him not to "abdicate" oversight responsibilities for U.S.-funded contracts in Iraq via seven program management contracts issued in March.

"The defense department is contracting out the oversight of the hen house to the foxes," said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. "Watching out for taxpayer dollars is a government function," he told a news conference.

Maybe if they quit handing Bush blank check after blank check they'd have less to complain about.


Communism: It's Good for You!

But this might be just a slight exaggeration:

Fidel Castro's doctor denied rumours that the president's health was ailing, saying today the 77-year-old leader is in excellent health and claiming he can live at least 140 years.

Dr Eugenio Selman Housein said Mr Castro continues to run and swim and pointed to the president's participation in a massive protest march on Friday.
But Mr Castro is healthy enough to live at least 140 years, said Mr Selman, who heads a "120-years Club" that promotes wholesome habits for the elderly.

"I am not exaggerating," said Mr Selman


A Cornucopia for Conspiracy Theorists

Just creepy:

According to the 5/14/04 New York Times, Federal regulators fined the Riggs National Corporation, the parent company of Riggs Bank, $25 million yesterday for "failing to report suspicious activity, the largest penalty ever assessed against a domestic bank in connection with money laundering. The fine stems from Riggs's failure over at least the last two years to actively monitor suspect financial transfers through Saudi Arabian accounts held by the bank." The 5/14/04 Wall Street Journal reported that of particular concern, Riggs failed to monitor "tens of millions of dollars in cash withdrawals from accounts related to the Saudi Arabian embassy," including "suspicious incidents involving dozens of sequentially numbered cashier's checks and international drafts written by Saudi officials, including Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan." According to the 4/18/04 Washington Post, Saudi Prince Bandar's wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, "may have used a Riggs account to donate money to a charity that then gave some of it to the Sept. 11 terrorists."
According to the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, Jonathan Bush is the President and CEO of Riggs Investment Management - a major arm of Riggs Bank. He is also the uncle of President George W. Bush. The President "credits the investors sent his way by this banker uncle as a key to his 'success' in the Texas oil industry in the early '80s." According to Public Citizen, the uncle Jonathan was a Bush Pioneer, having raised more than $100,000 for his nephew in 2000.


Gulf War Syndrome

Remember all the stories of mysterious illness after the first Gulf War, which was a very brief engagement to drive Saddam out of Kuwait? Remember the extreme reluctance of the US Government even to admit that the problem existed, even as veterans continued to suffer?

One has to wonder what the fallout will be from this much greater exposure of American soldiers to similar conditions, to say nothing of the citizens of Iraq.

Consider the testimony of a Marine who has left the corps because he grew tired of killing unarmed civilians:

Q: You mention machine guns. What can you tell me about cluster bombs, or depleted uranium?
A: Depleted uranium. I know what it does. It's basically like leaving plutonium rods around. I'm 32 years old. I have 80 percent of my lung capacity. I ache all the time. I don't feel like a healthy 32-year-old.

Q: Were you in the vicinity of of depleted uranium?

A: Oh, yeah. It's everywhere. DU is everywhere on the battlefield. If you hit a tank, there's dust.

Q: Did you breath any dust?

A: Yeah.

Q: And if DU is affecting you or our troops, it's impacting Iraqi civilians.

A: Oh, yeah. They got a big wasteland problem.

Q: Do Marines have any precautions about dealing with DU?

A: Not that I know of. Well, if a tank gets hit, crews are detained for a little while to make sure there are no signs or symptoms. American tanks have depleted uranium on the sides, and the projectiles have DU in them. If an enemy vehicle gets hit, the area gets contaminated. Dead rounds are in the ground. The civilian populace is just now starting to learn about it. Hell, I didn't even know about DU until two years ago. You know how I found out about it? I read an article in Rolling Stone magazine. I just started inquiring about it, and I said "Holy s---!"


Creative History

Sometimes it is embarrassing to see the desperation with which Americans just want to feel good about themselves, to tell themselves stories in which they are always the enduring hero. Take David Brooks, for example:

There's something about our venture into Iraq that is inspiringly, painfully, embarrassingly and quintessentially American.

No other nation would have been hopeful enough to try to evangelize for democracy across the Middle East. No other nation would have been naïve enough to do it this badly. No other nation would be adaptable enough to recover from its own innocence and muddle its way to success, as I suspect we are about to do.

American history sometimes seems to be the same story repeated over and over again. Some group of big-dreaming but foolhardy adventurers head out to eradicate some evil and to realize some golden future. They get halfway along their journey and find they are unprepared for the harsh reality they suddenly face. It's too late to turn back, so they reinvent their mission. They toss out illusions and adopt an almost desperate pragmatism. They never do realize the utopia they initially dreamed about, but they do build something better than what came before.

And if that is not self-serving enough for you, see if you can discern what is omitted from the following passage:

This basic pattern has marked our national style from the moment British colonists landed on North American shores. Overly optimistic about the conditions they would find, the colonists were woefully undercapitalized, underequipped and underskilled. At Jamestown, there were three gentlemen and gentlemen's servants for every skilled laborer. They didn't bother to plant enough grain to see them through the winter.

But they learned and adapted. Settlement companies were compelled to send more workers, along with axes, chisels, scythes, millstones and seeds. Eventually the colonies thrived.

You guessed it! All the multitudes of Native Americans, without whom the first colonists would have died quickly off.

There is something quintessentially American about Brooks's deep-seated need to efface certain historical realities in order to portray Americans as do-it-yourselfers. The thing is, it is this vision that Americans can and do go it alone in the world that has contributed so much to the present disaster. America wasn't empty before whites got here; the Middle East isn't a tabula rasa on which we can inscribe whatever we see fit.


Monday, May 17, 2004

Tax and Spend Republicans

You heard me:

When Virginia's legislature voted last month to raise taxes by $1.5 billion to fund spending on education, roads and other needs, Republicans who see tax cutting as the party's binding issue were dismayed. The tax hike had been approved by a Republican-controlled legislature with a tradition of fiscal conservatism. More remarkable: It was $360 million more than Democratic Gov. Mark Warner had requested.

Virginia reflects a nationwide trend. The Republican Party, long the champion of less government and low taxes, has backed large boosts in spending and taxes in many states where the GOP controls the legislature, the governor's mansion or both. On average, the largest spending increases from 1997 through 2002 occurred in states where Republicans controlled both branches, according to a 2003 analysis by USA TODAY.


The Wrong Side of History, Again

As same-sex couples began exchanging wedding vows in Massachusetts, President Bush on Monday reiterated his call for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning such marriages.

Silly little man.

And it most definitely is the wrong side of history, as can be seen by looking at how polls on the subject break down by age; the younger groups tend to have little if any problem with the idea. The simple fact is, the homophobes will die off and will not be replaced.


Do We Have a Plan B?

A month and a half remaining, and the opposition has killed off the Governing Council President, the man to whom we would likely have given whatever power we manage to give away on June 30.

The president of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed early Monday in a huge explosion set off by a suicide bomber outside the headquarters of the U.S.-led occupation authority here.

At least 10 Iraqis were killed and six were wounded, and two U.S. soldiers were slightly injured, in a devastating attack on Iraq's political leaders six weeks before the scheduled handover of limited political power to a new Iraqi government.

The explosion killed Izzedine Salim, who had held the rotating presidency of the Governing Council since May 1 and was a leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, one of the most influential Shiite Muslim political factions in Iraq.

Can anyone still believe that we are moving towards anything resembling a smooth transition to democracy?



I just cannot celebrate this enough.

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts Against a backdrop of whoops and cheers and a party that spilled onto the streets, gay and lesbian couples here began filling out applications for marriage licenses at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, when Massachusetts became the first state in the country to allow them to marry.

The couples were led down a series of wooden staircases at Cambridge City Hall that were decorated with white bridal organza.

"I feel overwhelmed," said Marcia Hams, 57, of Cambridge, who along with her partner, Susan Shepherd, was the first to complete the application. "I feel ready to collapse."

Shepherd, 52, choked up and said, "There's some kid somewhere that's watching this and it's going to change his whole life."


Sunday, May 16, 2004

Another Front Opens in the Culture War

Common sense sometimes just begins springing forth. And it is, after all, springtime, the perfect time for such breaking down of barriers to love. I doubt that Massachusetts and the Cherokee Nation have just a whole lot in common, but now they have this, which they should embrace and celebrate.

The Cherokee Nation issued its first marriage license for a gay couple, prompting a Friday moratorium on issuing any more marriage licenses pending a review of tribal marriage law.

"It (the law) is not very clear," said Judicial Appeals Tribunal Chief Justice Darell Dowty, who said he issued the moratorium.

When asked the status of the license issued Thursday for the marriage of two lesbians, both tribal members, Dowty said: "It was issued."
Smith confirmed that in the Cherokee language the words for husband and wife are genderless. The word for husband means "my companion and the one I live with." The word for wife means "my cooker."

And let us leave the whole wife as cooker discussion aside for another time, shall we? Tonight, we celebrate!


T Minus 50 Minutes

A few more thoughts on gay marriage soon to commence in Massachusetts. My position has been made clear in numerous posts, but I thought I also might mention a personal connection I have to this.

I am engaged to be married next year. Our minister (a Unitarian--my partner and I are both atheists) took a pledge last year not to perform the legal end of the ceremony for anyone at all, whether gay or straight, until such time as everyone, gay or straight, could be wed legally. As far as she was concerned, it was committment ceremonies for all until social justice be attained.

This state of events, of course, would have meant a minor inconvenience for us, as we would have had to traipse on down to be married by the county clerk at some later date. But whatever.

Then, last year, our minister moved to (of all places) Massachusetts! And so now, here she is, free to marry us all the way, come next spring.

Most fortunate, really. Synchronicity getting involved, perhaps?

At any rate. Lesson to be learned here? Our minor inconvenience of having to do the big ceremony and then take care of the legal details later, as a result of our minister's principled stand in favor of equal rights, is at worst just that, a minor inconvenience. Contrast that with having the ceremony and then NOT being able to traipse on downtown to make it legal, so that you can visit your spouse in the hospital without inane hassle or so that you have legal standing in regard to the child you've risen together for years or so that you know who might have the final say when it comes to taking you off life support?

That is no inconvenience. That is a nightmare. One nobody should have to face.


Good News: Korea Is More Secure!

We learn from Counterspin that the US Army, having so wisely diverted resources from the assault on al Qaeda to invade and occupy Iraq for no apparent reason, is now planning to bolster the Iraq forces by pulling them from Korea, which is as we all know, all hunky-dory.

The United States plans to withdraw an army brigade based in South Korea and deploy the 4,000 troops in Iraq,
the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reports.

Washington had recently notified Seoul of the plan, which left open the possibility that the brigade would not return to South Korea
after its mission in Iraq, Monday's paper quoted a South Korean government official as saying.


I Cannot Believe This

What sort of temporal distortion are we caught in here at the start of the new millenium, that such pronouncements are being made by the Catholic Church:

In an official church document released Friday, Vatican officials discouraged marriage between Catholics and Muslims -- especially Catholic women and Muslim men.
It says marriage between Catholics and all non-Christians "should be discouraged," mainly for the sake of children.

Always the same story, we must maintain the status quo to "protect the children." Anyone who actually knows kids know that they can be extraordinarily resilient, thank you very much.

And the patterns invoked here are simply disturbing, especially as the fiftieth anniversity of Brown v. Board of Education approaches. The Church is espousing its own sort of anti-miscegenation movement. If we cast back not too far into our own history, we will recall a certain anti-miscegenation tendency in this country as well. And didn't that also tend to be phrased in terms of saving "our" women from "those" dark men?


Bush's Global Legacy

Bush may actually be doing something positive in the long term, and, yes, of course, without intending to. By reminding everyone around the world (well, we are a little slower here in the US, but hopefully we'll come around) of the dangers that come from having leaders who tend towards religious fanaticism (crusade, anyone?), Bush and his cohort may be driving everyone else to the left.

Certainly it happened in Spain and France. And now, in India, where the latest Gandhi speaks words I long to hear in America:

Sonia Gandhi was poised last night to be the fourth member of the dynasty to lead India after the Congress party chose her unanimously as its parliamentary head.
Standing under life-sized portraits of former Prime Ministers, including her assassinated husband Rajiv, her mother-in-law Indira and Indira's father, Jawaharlal Nehru, she told party workers: 'Very shortly, a Congress-led coalition will be in place.'

Her party said it would be the pivot of the new government and that her coalition would be 'inclusive, secular and united' - a dig at the rival Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).

Inclusive, secular, united...

Sounds nice, doesn't it?



How does Bush keep getting credit for having clarity and straightforwardness and all that, when his administration's position on the future of Iraq is utterly incoherent?

Powell's recent pronouncements are impossible to decipher:

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that US-led forces would remain in Iraq "for a considerable period," while insisting that the new Iraqi government would have real authority after the June 30 handover of power.
In a spate of television interviews, Powell defended the planned handover and said the United States would respect the wishes of the new Iraqi government.

"We will have to accept what the Iraqi people decide upon," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" program.

Powell, who was in Jordan for World Economic Forum, said that US-led forces would have to remain in Iraq over the long term.

"They need our troops there for some considerable period of time in the future ... so they can have free and open and fair elections."

"There will be a period of time, some considerable period of time, before we can see conditions of security that can be placed totally into the hands of Iraqi security forces," Powell told Fox television.

So, we have to accept what the Iraqis decide upon, but we will have to remain in Iraq for some considerable period of time in the future. And if the Iraqis don't want us there?

Logic 101, anyone?


Eight Hours, Fifteen Minutes

Until Massachusetts sinks into the sea or descends into sexual anarchy or something, if conservatives are to be believed.

On the eve of legalized gay marriages in Massachusetts, supporters and detractors converged on the Capitol to get in the last word.

Around 115 people stood on the Capitol's north side Sunday listening to speakers denounce gay marriage. They were occasionally disrupted by gay marriage supporters, on the way to their own rally nearby.

At midnight Monday, Massachusetts becomes the first state in the country to legalize gay marriages.

My own personal suspicion is that the primary effect of this change in law will be a sudden increase in the number of happily married couples in the state. Heaven forbid!