31 January 2006

How to prepare for the State of the Union

George W. Bush's State of the Union address is scheduled to start in one hour. Time to prepare:

The ACLU's "Spin of the Union": In his fifth State of the Union address, President Bush will undoubtedly attempt to justify his illegal NSA domestic spying program. To help you cut through the rhetoric, we've prepared a "Spin of the Union" guide, listing some of the spin tactics the Bush Administration has been using in recent days. Listen closely during his address and check which spin you hear the most.

Veteran's Mother's State of Our Family Address: Just read it.

The State of the Union Address Drinking Game 2006: If all else fails, drown your sorrows. This game will have you passed out under the table 10 minutes into the speech.

Did Gonzales commit perjury at his confirmation hearings?

Remember: This guys is our Attorney General -- charged with ultimate responsibility for enforcing the law of the land.

Read this and feel cheated.

From yesterday's Washington Post:
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing.

In fact, the president did secretly authorize the National Security Agency to begin warrantless monitoring of calls and e-mails between the United States and other nations soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The program, publicly revealed in media reports last month, was unknown to Feingold and his staff at the time Feingold questioned Gonzales, according to a staff member. Feingold's aides developed the 2005 questions based on privacy advocates' concerns about broad interpretations of executive power.
[Read more.]

Go get 'im, Russ.

Farewell, Coretta.

Breaking news: The amazing Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has died. [Read story.]

And, in a few hours, the Senate will be confirming a new Supreme Court Justice who seems to want to undo a lot of the social progress that Dr. King's movement helped to bring about over the past 50 years.

Very sad.

Palace revolt

Newsweek reports: They were loyal conservatives, and Bush appointees. They fought a quiet battle to rein in the president's power in the war on terror. And they paid a price for it.

An excerpt from the February 6 issue:
James Comey, a lanky, 6-foot-8 former prosecutor who looks a little like Jimmy Stewart, resigned as deputy attorney general in the summer of 2005. The press and public hardly noticed. Comey's farewell speech, delivered in the Great Hall of the Justice Department, contained all the predictable, if heartfelt, appreciations. But mixed in among the platitudes was an unusual passage. Comey thanked "people who came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were the people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people," said Comey, "know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to right, but they wouldn't have it any other way."

One of those people —- a former assistant attorney general named Jack Goldsmith —- was absent from the festivities and did not, for many months, hear Comey's grateful praise. In the summer of 2004, Goldsmith, 43, had left his post in George W. Bush's Washington to become a professor at Harvard Law School. Stocky, rumpled, genial, though possessing an enormous intellect, Goldsmith is known for his lack of pretense; he rarely talks about his time in government. In liberal Cambridge, Mass., he was at first snubbed in the community and mocked as an atrocity-abetting war criminal by his more knee-jerk colleagues. ICY WELCOME FOR NEW LAW PROF, headlined The Harvard Crimson.

They had no idea. Goldsmith was actually the opposite of what his detractors imagined. For nine months, from October 2003 to June 2004, he had been the central figure in a secret but intense rebellion of a small coterie of Bush administration lawyers. Their insurrection, described to NEWSWEEK by current and former administration officials who did not wish to be identified discussing confidential deliberations, is one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.

These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president's eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want —- indeed avoided —- publicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.) They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray —- as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story has been obscured behind legalisms and the veil of secrecy over the White House. But it is a quietly dramatic profile in courage. (For its part the White House denies any internal strife. "The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn't based in fact," says Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney. "This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.")
[Read more.]

Bush tried to gag environmental expert

As is his typical mode of operation, if Bush doesn't like the truth, he silences the messenger.

And, of course, cutting greenhouse gas emissions would be inconvenient and costly for Bush's corporate bedpartners.

From The Independent (UK):
One of NASA's leading climate experts has accused the Bush administration of trying to censor him on global warming and the need for immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said agency officials had ordered that public affairs officers review his lectures, papers and postings on the institute's website as well as vetting requests for interviews from reporters.

The clamp-down followed a lecture he gave last month calling for emission reductions, a move the White House refuses to support. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," said Mr. Hansen, who is ignoring the restrictions placed on him.


Mr. Hansen has been issuing warnings about climate change since 1988 and has had confrontations with politicians from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

He has twice briefed the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, and other senior officials of this administration. But he provoked their ire shortly before the 2004 presidential election when he complained that government scientists were being silenced and said he would be voting for the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry.

In an interview with the The New York Times, Mr. Hansen said the pressure had been stepped up considerably since his speech last month in San Francisco when he said 2005 was probably the hottest year on record.
[Read more.]

Marjorie Cohn: Military hides cause of women soldiers' deaths

The list of Bush administration war crimes just keeps on growing.

From truthout:
In a startling revelation, the former commander of Abu Ghraib prison testified that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former senior US military commander in Iraq, gave orders to cover up the cause of death for some female American soldiers serving in Iraq.

Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's latrine after dark.

The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired US Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview. It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.

Karpinski testified that a surgeon for the coalition's joint task force said in a briefing that "women in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the port-a-lets or the latrines were not drinking liquids after 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and in 120 degree heat or warmer, because there was no air-conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep."

"And rather than make everybody aware of that - because that's shocking, and as a leader if that's not shocking to you then you're not much of a leader - what they told the surgeon to do is don't brief those details anymore. And don't say specifically that they're women. You can provide that in a written report but don't brief it in the open anymore."

For example, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Sanchez's top deputy in Iraq, saw "dehydration" listed as the cause of death on the death certificate of a female master sergeant in September 2003. Under orders from Sanchez, he directed that the cause of death no longer be listed, Karpinski stated. The official explanation for this was to protect the women's privacy rights.

Sanchez's attitude was: "The women asked to be here, so now let them take what comes with the territory," Karpinski quoted him as saying. Karpinski told me that Sanchez, who was her boss, was very sensitive to the political ramifications of everything he did. She thinks it likely that when the information about the cause of these women's deaths was passed to the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld ordered that the details not be released. "That's how Rumsfeld works," she said.

"It was out of control," Karpinski told a group of students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law last October. There was an 800 number women could use to report sexual assaults. But no one had a phone, she added. And no one answered that number, which was based in the United States. Any woman who successfully connected to it would get a recording. Even after more than 83 incidents were reported during a six-month period in Iraq and Kuwait, the 24-hour rape hot line was still answered by a machine that told callers to leave a message.

"There were countless such situations all over the theater of operations - Iraq and Kuwait - because female soldiers didn't have a voice, individually or collectively," Karpinski told Hackworth. "Even as a general I didn't have a voice with Sanchez, so I know what the soldiers were facing. Sanchez did not want to hear about female soldier requirements and/or issues."


Sexual assault in the US military has become a hot topic in the last few years, "not just because of the high number of rapes and other assaults, but also because of the tendency to cover up assaults and to harass or retaliate against women who report assaults," according to Kathy Gilberd, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild's Military Law Task Force.


But most shameful is Sanchez's cover-up of the dehydration deaths of women that occurred in Iraq. Sanchez is no stranger to outrageous military orders. He was heavily involved in the torture scandal that surfaced at Abu Ghraib. Sanchez approved the use of unmuzzled dogs and the insertion of prisoners head-first into sleeping bags after which they are tied with an electrical cord and their are mouths covered. At least one person died as the result of the sleeping bag technique. Karpinski charges that Sanchez attempted to hide the torture after the hideous photographs became public.
[Read more.]

U.S. Army detained suspects' daughters, wives as leverage

So now we're kidnapping women and holding them hostage. Even nursing mothers.

God bless America.

From The Seattle Times:
The U.S. Army has been detaining Iraqi women to help track down husbands or fathers who are suspected terrorists, according to documents released Friday and an interview with a female detainee who was released Thursday after four months in prison.

A series of e-mails written by U.S. soldiers and an internal Army memo, all released Friday in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, describe two cases of women who were imprisoned because American officials wanted information about their husbands.

The Iraqi woman said Friday that she and eight other female detainees in her cell had talked often among themselves. She discovered that all were being held because U.S. officials had suspected their male relatives of having ties to terrorism. In some cases, men in their families were killed during U.S. raids, the woman alleged.

The woman, whose voice trembled as she told her story, said she did not want to be named because she feared that she or a member of her family would be arrested.

U.S. officials declined to discuss specific cases, including whether the women were held solely because U.S. forces suspected that male relatives were terrorists. But Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, an Army spokesman in Baghdad, said Friday that the U.S. military held only people who were considered threats.

"We recognize insurgents don't work alone. They work in groups. Questioning certainly focuses on who they are associated with," Johnson said. "If we believe they have information or an association with terrorist activity, we would make a determination about exactly what that role may be."

The woman said she was visiting a relative in southwest Baghdad four months ago when multinational forces raided the home. Her relative's husband was killed, she said, and she and her husband were detained.

She said she was held with eight other women in a small room at Baghdad International Airport.

"We were talking about the charges against each of us," she said. "It turned out to be all the same. We were taken because they suspected our husbands or fathers of being terrorists."

She said she was cut off from her family during her capture and that she didn't see or hear from her husband until he, too, was released Thursday.

She said interrogators questioned her extensively during the first 12 days of her imprisonment but also offered her tea and juice.

"I was treated in a good way, no torture," she said.

The U.S. detention of female prisoners is a sensitive issue for the Iraqi populace, which considers the mistreatment of a woman a dishonor to her family. Iraqis find it particularly offensive that foreign male officers are holding female prisoners, as many Iraqis fear that U.S. soldiers will treat them disrespectfully.

Several terrorist groups that are holding hostages — inducing the one that claims responsibility for kidnapping U.S. journalist Jill Carroll — have demanded the release of female prisoners.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have said the decision to release five women Thursday wasn't related to Carroll's kidnapping but was the result of a routine review of detainee cases.

U.S. officials said that after the release of the five, four of the 14,000 prisoners they were holding were female. The Iraqi Justice Ministry said Friday that six women remain in custody.

In a memo written in June 2004 and released Friday, an officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose name was redacted, described the arrest of a 28-year-old woman from Tamiya, northwest of Baghdad. She had three children, including one who was nursing.

U.S. forces raided her in-laws' home, calling her husband the "primary target." Before the raid, soldiers had decided that if the woman were at the in-laws' home, they would detain her "in order to leverage the primary target's surrender," the memo's author wrote.
[Read more.]

Budget cut will hurt poor people on Medicaid (of course)

But talks about a "culture of life", but he means the lives of the rich. Poor families are on their own. If a poor child gets sick, oh well.

Bush is not "pro-life". He's pro-birth. Once you're born, you're on your own -- unless your family happens to be wealthy.

In tonight's State of the Union address, he'll probably tell us how great this plan is.

From yesterday's New York Times via truthout:
Millions of low-income people would have to pay more for health care under a bill worked out by Congress, and some of them would forgo care or drop out of Medicaid because of the higher co-payments and premiums, the Congressional Budget Office says in a new report.

The Senate has already approved the measure, the first major effort to rein in federal benefit programs in eight years, and the House is expected to vote Wednesday, clearing the bill for President Bush.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr. Bush plans to recommend a variety of steps to help people obtain health insurance and cope with rising health costs. But the bill, the Deficit Reduction Act, written by Congress over the last year with support from the White House, could reduce coverage and increase the number of uninsured, the budget office said.

Over all, the bill is estimated to save $38.8 billion in the next five years and $99.3 billion from 2006 to 2015, with cuts in student loans, crop subsidies and many other programs, the budget office said. Medicaid and Medicare account for half of the savings, 27 percent and 23 percent over 10 years.


Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said the bill was needed because Medicaid had been growing at an unsustainable rate.

But Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, said the budget office report confirmed that the bill would "cut access to care for some of our most vulnerable citizens."

The bill gives states sweeping new authority to charge premiums and co-payments under Medicaid.

"In response to the new premiums, some beneficiaries would not apply for Medicaid, would leave the program or would become ineligible due to nonpayment," the Congressional Budget Office said in its report, completed Friday night. "CBO estimates that about 45,000 enrollees would lose coverage in fiscal year 2010 and that 65,000 would lose coverage in fiscal year 2015 because of the imposition of premiums. About 60 percent of those losing coverage would be children."
[Read more.]

30 January 2006

NOW statement on today's vote to end the Alito debate

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) just released this statement about today's cloture vote on the Alito nomination:
We commend the 25 honorable senators, led by John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, who voted on principle today -- choosing a valiant stand for justice over weak-kneed capitulation to George Bush's stacking of the Supreme Court.

Today's vote is the only Alito vote that really counts. Votes against Alito tomorrow are irrelevant, and no senator who voted "Yes" today can hide behind a "No" vote tomorrow.

Supporters of women's rights, civil rights and the separation of powers lost this pivotal battle because senators who should have been fighting for their constituents chose not to do so. But in the process we exposed the despicable agenda of the right wing, and their unrelenting determination to undermine our rights and liberties.

This is the first of many fights for the soul of our democracy, and we will eventually emerge victorious.

Senate votes for cloture on Alito debate

This is a sad day. And it's looking like it will be an even sadder day tomorrow when they take the final vote.

This country is headed in a very bad direction.

From the New York Times via truthout:
The nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. for the Supreme Court cleared an all-important procedural hurdle in the Senate this afternoon as liberal Democrats failed to muster enough support to block a vote on his confirmation.

The Senate voted, 72 to 25, to shut off debate and hold a vote on confirmation Tuesday morning. Sixty votes are needed to shut off debate, and 41 to keep one going, so opponents of the nominee fell far short this afternoon.

Some Democrats and at least one Republican who voted to end debate are certain to oppose the nominee in the actual confirmation vote on Tuesday. But since only a simple majority is required for confirmation, Samuel Alito could be a member of the Supreme Court by Tuesday afternoon.

The futile attempt to prevent a confirmation vote was led by Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, both of Massachusetts. Mr. Kennedy said Judge Alito's decisions "demonstrate a systematic tilt toward powerful institutions and against individuals attempting to vindicate their rights."

"How can a clear record like that possibly justify a lifetime position on the Supreme Court?" Mr. Kennedy asked.

Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, said the Judge Alito had shown patterns that "demonstrate a hostility to the disadvantaged and the poor."

Judge Alito, who has been on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for 15 years, would replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The nominee's critics say his record as a judge, and his earlier work as a lawyer in the Reagan administration, signal that he would tilt the tribunal further to the right, in favor of presidential power and big business and away from personal freedom and the rights of ordinary Americans.
[Read more.]

State of the Union: What Bush will say, what you should know

Your homework:

The Center for American Progress has put together a rather comprehensive list of talking points that Bush will probably use tomorrow in his State of the Union address, along with the real facts.

[Read and compare.]

Spinning the State of the Union

In a very good column in Saturday's Boston Globe, Robert Kuttner examines various possibilities of how Bush will twist the facts in tomorrow's State of the Union address to paint a rosy picture.

An excerpt:
How do YOU give an upbeat State of the Union address when your major foreign policy, Iraq, is a quagmire; your signature domestic program, Medicare drugs, is a bomb; and nearly two thirds of Americans, according to the latest Gallup Poll, think the country is worse off than five years ago?

Here are a few things to watch for in President Bush's first big election-year speech Tuesday:

Mission Accomplished? On Iraq, look for rhetoric of steady resolve, coupled with promises to limit American exposure. Bush could offer a partial reduction of US combat troops during 2006 (in time for the mid-term election) -- but without any realistic prospect of a stable Iraqi government to fill the vacuum. One idea: a "garrison strategy" of keeping most US forces safely inside bases. This might cut American combat losses, but cede the countryside to guerrilla fighters and anarchy.

The Boy Who Cried Nukes. On Iran, watch for stern saber-rattling without a realistic plan to contain Iran's alarming nuclear ambitions.


Last Refuge of a Scoundrel. Bush will demand that Congress extend the so-called USA Patriot Act, even though he insists that he doesn't need it in order to spy on Americans and conduct searches without warrants. Which is it, Mr. President? Bad law, or bad lawlessness?
[Read more.]

Dennis Kucinich: The truth about the state of our union

Tomorrow evening, George W. Bush will give his annual State of the Union address. He will most likely tell us that the economy is thriving and that he is willing the war on terror.

In anticipation, Congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote a very good article in the Huffington Post about the real state of the union.

An excerpt:
On Tuesday night President Bush will stand before the Congress and the nation to deliver his annual State of the Union address. We are sure to hear a rosy tale of an economy on the rebound, a blossoming democracy in Iraq, a terror network on the run, and a Gulf Coast region rebuilding better and stronger than ever before.

As is most often the case with this Administration, the rhetoric does not match reality.

The facts are clear. Our economy is struggling and leaving tens of millions of Americans behind. According to the non-partisan National Journal, since President Bush first stood before Congress and the nation in 2001, the median income in this country has decreased, the jobless rate has jumped from 3.9% to 4.9% and the number of families living in poverty has increased from 8.7% to 10.2%. Our trade deficit has doubled. Inflation has gone up. Personal bankruptcies have gone up. Consumer debt has gone up. College tuition has gone up. And, the price of gas has gone up. All the while, this Administration has turned a $128 billion federal budget surplus into a $319 billion deficit.

Today, almost 6 million more Americans do not have any health insurance than when President Bush took office. In total, over 45.5 million Americans, or over 15% of our total population, have no health care coverage at all.

During his 2003 address, President Bush told the nation that Saddam Hussein "had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax", "materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin", "as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent" and "upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents".

Today, almost three years after the start of the President's war of choice, we know Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, had no connection to al-Qaeda and posed no threat to our nation. Yet, our armed forces are bogged down in the middle of civil war that our own generals say cannot be won by military force. Our presence in Iraq is counterproductive and has cost the lives of over 2,200 US troops and $250 billion.

President Bush has delivered four State of the Union addresses since the attacks on our nation on 9/11. In four speeches, the President has never once mentioned Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the terror attacks on this nation. The status of the FBI's most wanted man apparently is not important to the state of our union. Yet, in the same four speeches, President Bush has mentioned Saddam Hussein 24 times, and Iraq 78 times.
[Read more.]

29 January 2006

More fun with Sam Alito

Today's Albany Times Union features a pretty good column about Judge Alito, political partisanship, and the frightening prospect of a more conservative Supreme Court.

Will Alito's confirmation be finalized just in time to give Bush one more thing to smirk about when he delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday night?

An excerpt from the Times Union piece:
An ominous cloud hangs over Judge Samuel Alito as the Senate Republican steamroller ushers him into a fitting for a Supreme Court robe.

The problem is that we cannot believe this certifiably right-wing jurist who is about to win a lifetime appointment to our highest court. To judge by his judicial record, he is a political opportunist with a hidden agenda, even though he claims not to have one. At least not one he is brave enough to own up to.

Under oath, he testified he would keep "an open mind" on the question of whether to retain the limited constitutional protection of abortion rights. Yet if his mind is open, it is only by a very small crack. Not even my slim kitten could worm her way through that one.

Abortion was not the only issue at stake but it dominated the debate. A crowd of abortion opponents cheered him this week as their savior -- the justice who would help overturn Roe vs. Wade and toss a woman's privacy rights to the vagaries of state law.

They seemed to know something the senators don't. Likewise, abortion proponents stepped up their futile campaign against him because evidence of his hostility to abortion kept mounting. They, too, instinctively knew something about Alito he wasn't acknowledging. "He has voted to restrict the rights (such as access to abortion) that Americans hold dear," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y, warned.

The first Democrat to come out early for Alito was Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who said he was taking the nominee "for his word." On Thursday he was joined by Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Tim Johnson, S.D.

Nelson is up for re-election this year in a conservative Midwestern state and has his own complex reservations about abortion rights.

Earlier in the week, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats voted unanimously against Alito and their Republican colleagues voted unanimously for him. The Republicans called the Democrats partisan, insisting that Alito be judged on his qualifications alone; the Democrats called the Republicans right-wing robots, insisting that judicial philosophy really does matter.

But nobody was going to judge Alito strictly on his judicial neutrality and temperament. The high court is now as polarized as the rest of government. It was President Bush's pick and he took full advantage of it, after first selecting Harriet Miers, who was dumped for being insufficiently conservative for the right wing.

A highly partisan Supreme Court is not a good thing for the country. The fact is Bush can get away with tilting the court to the right because he has a Senate majority of 55 votes. Traditionally, senators vote in lock-step along party lines when it comes to major issues. And the Democrats have no stomach for a filibuster, which would probably fail anyway.

So with Alito's all-but certain confirmation we will now have to live with an ultra-conservative high court. The scales of justice will tilt against the little guy; it is only a matter of how far.
[Read more.]

28 January 2006

Mark Morford: Here is the big gay agenda

SF Gate's Mark Morford continues to demonstrate why he's one of my favorite columnists.

In his latest masterpiece, he once again goes after the painfully repressed right-wing homophobes, and he speaks the truth in his own inimitable style.

Some excerpts:
I have spoken with my gay friends. I have been to yoga classes and men's health spas and Restoration Hardware, chic rug shops and the Castro Starbucks and really cute restaurants featuring mixed baby greens that cost $12. I have observed. I have taken notes. I have checked the fashions and the cars and the skin-tight T-shirts, the newsletters and the bumper stickers and the secret codes hidden within the rainbow flag.

It is time to come clean. It is time to reveal the truth. After all, the religious right has been hammering at it for years, the pseudo-Christians and the homophobes and the sexually terrified all fully and truly believing that there is a plot, a massive, deep-seated agenda among the gay community not only to decriminalize and demystify homosexuality but to actually coerce and cajole and actively lure the innocent white babies of America into the sordid and well-dressed "gay lifestyle," so much so that, much like aliens living in underground cities in Area 51, well, there must be something to it.


Do you want to know the real gay agenda, what 96.8 percent of all gay couples wish for every single day including Sunday? Here it is:

From what I can glean and above all else, the gay people of America seem to want this simply inexcusable level of boundless, unchecked normalcy. It's true. For some reason, they believe the utterly disgusting idea that they should be able to live their lives in peace and trust and health, with full support and assistance from their schools and hospitals and government, just like everyone else. I know. Shudder.

It is, in fact, remarkably similar to what heteros want. And women. And black people. And immigrants. And dwarves. That is, to be able to fall in love and maybe even get married (or at least have the option) and have decreasing amounts of sex and raise a family and hold down a good job and pay their taxes and argue with their lovers over who the hell spent 200 bucks on long distance to their mother, all while not having to worry about getting the living crap beaten out of them with tire chains by Arkansas and Alabama and most of Texas, or secretly loathed by small-minded pseudo-Christians who wouldn't know Jesus' true message if it bit them on the other cheek.

Ah, the deviousness of it all, the sheer nerve to desire the same sort of lives as everyone else. But do you want to know the kicker? The true aspect of the "gay agenda" that makes the religious right's skin really crawl? Here it is: When all of that normalcy is in place, when these repulsive gay beings who like to walk around in public and eat at restaurants and drink their lattes and laugh out loud and stick things into each other's bodies for sexual pleasure, well, they want the most appalling thing of all: They just want to be left alone.

I know. It's hideous. How dare they! How dare most gays ask not to be harassed and not really care to flaunt their sexuality or convince anyone that homosexuality is cool or righteous or the only way to be, beyond reassuring children that it's OK to be whatever religion or sexual orientation your mind and body and heart and soul guide you to be. Can you imagine? What horror. Ignorant, intolerant schoolteachers should protest that nasty idea right now. Oh wait.

This is, in fact, the most sinister gay agenda of all. Normalcy. Lack of fear. Happiness. The right to be miserably in love just like everyone else and have it recognized by the culture as, well, no big deal. Safe. Healthy. Beautiful, even. What nerve.


[G]ay people do not seem to care in the slightest for converting anyone to homosexuality, which of course would be the equivalent of converting a frying pan into a doorknob. It simply cannot be done. It's bitterly sad that this must be repeated so frequently in terms so simple that even [mindless dittoheads] can comprehend, but gayness is no more a lifestyle choice than is blond hair or blood type or that knowledge, deep down in your skin, that Bush is raping the soul of the nation. It just is.
[Read more.]

27 January 2006

US army changes execution rules

I'm really late in reporting this story. (Sorry. Blame my day job.)

This story hit the news earlier this week. The implications are disturbing.

From BBC News:
New rules covering the death penalty in military courts suggest the US army may be preparing for its first execution since 1961.

The new rules spell out the procedures for carrying out death sentences imposed at courts martial.

There are six men on death row, all held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.


The new rules are acknowledged by senior ranks as a major revision of the existing situation.

The revision also makes it possible for executions to take place at any military prison, not just Fort Leavenworth.

This, according to anti-death penalty protesters, means it would be technically legal for executions to take place at Guantanamo Bay.
[Read more.]

The case against lethal injection goes to the Supreme Court

This past Tuesday, Florida death row inmate Clarence Hill was strapped to a gurney with the IV lines already inserted into his arms when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal.

This particular case is not a question of Hill's guilt or innocence, per se. It is much more complicated. Hill is allegedly mentally retarded. Also, his case has brought into question some technical concerns about lethal injection and the extreme pain it can cause in many cases, constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

I feel a long-winded rant coming on, so stay tuned.

Meantime, here's Hill's story via CNN:
Hours after staying the execution of an inmate who was already strapped to a gurney, the Supreme Court said Wednesday it would hear arguments from the man who claims the drug cocktail used in lethal injections can cause excruciating pain.

Lethal injections are used in most states that have capital punishment, and there's been a growing dispute over the way they are carried out.

The Supreme Court has never found a specific form of execution to be cruel and unusual punishment, and the latest case from Florida does not give court members that opportunity. The justices will, however, spell out what options are available to inmates with last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death.

Florida inmate Clarence Hill, who filed the appeal, had been strapped to a gurney with intravenous lines running into his arms Tuesday night when he won a temporary Supreme Court stay, Hill's lawyer said. The stay was signed by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

The full court announced Wednesday that the stay would be permanent until justices decide whether an appeals court was wrong to prevent Hill from challenging the lethal injection method.

The argument is expected April 26, with a ruling before July.


Hill argues that the doses of three chemicals used in Florida executions -- sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- can cause pain. The first drug is a pain killer. The second one paralyzes the inmate and the third causes a fatal heart attack.

The final drug, potassium chloride, "burns intensely as it courses through the veins toward the heart," Doss wrote in the appeal. He said there is "a foreseeable risk of the gratuitous and unnecessary infliction of pain."


The case is Hill v. Florida, 05-8794.
[Read more.]

Felix G. Rohatyn: "Dead to the world"

Yesterday's New York Times featured an op-ed column by Felix Rohatyn, a former U.S. ambassador to France, in which he talks about how our use of the death penalty affects how we're perceived by our European friends.

An excerpt:
During my four years as the American ambassador to France, I discovered that no single issue was viewed with as much hostility as our support for the death penalty. Outlawed by every member of the European Union, the death penalty was, and is, viewed in Europe as a throwback to the Middle Ages. When we require European support on security issues — Iran's nuclear program; the war in Iraq; North Korea's bomb; relations with China and Russia; the Middle East peace process — our job is made more difficult by the intensity of popular opposition in Europe to our policy.

Several years ago, Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke to the senior staff of our embassy in Paris on this issue to help them explain our position to a very hostile French audience. I was agreeably surprised when he indicated his belief that sooner or later, we would have to take into account the views of Europeans in determining what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment."

Last March, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, abolished capital punishment for juvenile offenders, concluding that the death penalty for minors is indeed cruel and unusual punishment. "Our determination," Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority decision, "finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty."

While, unsurprisingly, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, it is notable that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor agreed with Justice Kennedy that international trends affect the meaning of "cruel and unusual punishment." Justices Scalia and Thomas, on the other hand, took the majority to task for taking "guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislators."

This attitude, reflecting a narrow and parochial view of the issue, is also found in Judge Samuel Alito's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to the Supreme Court: "I don't think it appropriate or useful to look to foreign law in interpreting the provisions of our Constitution. I think the framers would be stunned by the idea that the Bill of Rights is to be interpreted by taking a poll of countries of the world."

To the contrary, globalization has made it not only "appropriate or useful" but vital to look at foreign laws. It is in our interest to be aware of their impact whether they concern antitrust, food safety or the death penalty. Contempt for the laws of our allies is a major factor in our increasing isolation in the world; our present posture in Iraq reflects that reality. That is why is it is deeply troubling that the next member of the Supreme Court will most likely share Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas's point of view.
[Read more.]

26 January 2006

United Nations: U.S. aligned with Iran in anti-gay vote

Hey, wait a minute! Didn't Bush count Iran among his so-called "Axis of Evil"? Yeah, I thought so.

But Bush, Bolton, etc., will side with Iran when it's convenient. They will side with Iran when it comes to denigrating people like Dick Cheney's daughter Mary and advancing their homophobic agenda. They will join with Iran in describing LGBT persons as "worse than dogs and pigs".

But they'll give special favors to Jeff Gannon, won't they?!

Why are they so repressed? And what are they so afraid of?

From a news release from the Human Rights Campaign, et al:
News from the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

For Immediate Release - Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006

United Nations: U.S. Aligned With Iran in Anti-Gay Vote

Rice Must Explain Repressive UN Ban on LGBT Rights Groups

(Washington, D.C., January 25, 2006) - In a reversal of policy, the United States on Monday backed an Iranian initiative to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a coalition of 40 organizations, led by the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called for an explanation of the vote which aligned the United States with governments that have long repressed the rights of sexual minorities.

"This vote is an aggressive assault by the U.S. government on the right of sexual minorities to be heard," said Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. "It is astonishing that the Bush administration would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran and Zimbabwe in a coalition of the homophobic."

In May 2005, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which is based in Brussels, and the Danish gay rights group Landsforeningen for Bosser og Lesbiske (LBL) applied for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Consultative status is the only official means by which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world can influence and participate in discussions among member states at the United Nations. Nearly 3,000 groups enjoy this status.

States opposed to the two groups' applications moved to have them summarily dismissed, an almost unprecedented move at the UN, where organizations are ordinarily allowed to state their cases. The U.S. abstained on a vote which would have allowed the debate to continue and the groups to be heard. It then voted to reject the applications.

"The United States recklessly ignored its own reporting proving the need for international support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "The State Department's 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices' show severe human rights violations based on gender identity and sexual orientation occur around the world."

As the U.S. government acknowledged in its 2004 country report on Iran, Iranian law punishes homosexual conduct between men with the death penalty. Human Rights Watch has documented four cases of arrests, flogging, or execution of gay men in Iran since 2003. In its 2004 country report on Zimbabwe, the U.S. government noted President Robert Mugabe's public denouncement of homosexuals, blaming them for "Africa's ills." In the past, Mugabe has called gays and lesbians "people without rights" and "worse than dogs and pigs."

The U.S. has reversed position since 2002, when it voted to support the International Lesbian and Gay Association's request to have its status reviewed. Officials gave no explanation for the change.

"It is deeply disturbing that, at the UN, the United States has shifted gears toward an aggressive stance against human rights for LGBT people," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "Unfortunately, denying LGBT groups a voice and a presence within the United Nations - the world's most important human rights institution - is fully in keeping with the U.S.'s assault on basic human rights principles worldwide."

In voting against the applications to the NGO committee, the U.S. was joined by Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Votes in favor of consultative status came from Chile, France, Germany, Peru, and Romania. Colombia, India, and Turkey abstained, while Cote d'Ivoire was absent.

"It is an absolute outrage that the United States has chosen to align itself with oppressive governments - all in an effort to smother the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It is deeply disturbing that the self-proclaimed 'leader of the free world' will ally with bigots at the drop of a hat to advance the right wing's anti-gay agenda."

In addition to the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the organizations signing the letter are:

Advocates for Youth

Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBT Muslims

Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School

Amnesty International USA

Catholics for a Free Choice

Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

Center for Women's Global Leadership

Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA)

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah

Equality Now

Family Care International

Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

Gay Men's Health Crisis

Global Rights

Immigration Equality

International Women's Human Rights Clinic, City University of New York School of Law


Jan Hus Church

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund

Latino Commission on AIDS

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

Legal Momentum

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (New York City)


Mano a Mano

Metropolitan Community Churches

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Coalition Building Institute Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Caucus

National Center for Lesbian Rights

New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition

Open Society Institute

Queer Progressive Agenda

Queers for Economic Justice

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.

Women's Environment and Development Organization


For further information, please contact:

In Washington, D.C., Jay Smith Brown (Human Rights Campaign):
+1-202-216-1580, or +1-202-716-1650 (cell)

In New York, Scott Long (Human Rights Watch): +1-212-216-1297, or
+1-646-641-5655 (cell)

In New York, Geoffrey Knox (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission): +1-212-229-0540, or +1-917-414-1749 (cell)

In New York, Roberta Sklar (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force):



January 25, 2006

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice,

On behalf of forty U.S.-based organizations advocating for human rights, including the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, we write to express deep disappointment at the United States' actions this week in the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

As you may be aware, both the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), and the Danish national gay and lesbian organization Landsforeningen for Bosser og Lesbiske (LBL) had applied for consultative status with ECOSOC. The United States abstained on a virtually unprecedented motion to deny these organizations a fair hearing on their application. Still more disturbingly, the United States supported a separate motion to summarily dismiss their applications. The motion to dismiss passed by a vote of 10 to 5 with three abstentions.

Monday's vote represents a reversal of U.S. policy. When ECOSOC voted on ILGA's previous application for consultative status in 2002, the United States joined sixteen other nations in supporting ILGA's application for consultative status.

We hope you will provide the reasons for this reversal. Is it now the policy of the U.S. government to oppose consultative status for all organizations working to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?

As the State Department's own reporting demonstrates, severe human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression take place in many countries around the world. Arbitrary arrest, torture, and extrajudicial killing are common. We are grateful for the State Department's effort to include these incidents in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. We find it incomprehensible that the U.S. government would recognize these human rights abuses-while denying the people subject to them the right to make their case, alongside other respected human rights organizations, before the U.N. It is, moreover, widely recognized that persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression drives populations vulnerable to HIV/AIDS underground, and contributes substantially to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

As long as human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people occur, it is vital that NGOs working on their behalf are given a place and voice at the United Nations. Applications of three other such organizations are pending before ECOSOC: the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe), Coalition Gaie et Lesbienne du Quebec (CGLQ) from Canada, and Lesben-und Schwulenverband in Deutschland (LSVD) from Germany. We urge you to support these applications. In this week's vote, the U.S. ranged itself on the side of severely repressive governments. As U.S.-based organizations working in the fields of human rights and sexual rights, we are dismayed-and we expect better.

Please reply to Scott Long, Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program, Human Rights Watch, 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor, New York, NY 10018-3299 (tel: 212-216-1297).


Advocates for Youth

Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBT Muslims

Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School

Amnesty International USA

Catholics for a Free Choice

Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

Center for Women's Global Leadership

Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA)

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah

Equality Now

Family Care International

Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

Gay Men's Health Crisis

Global Rights

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights Watch

Immigration Equality

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

International Women's Human Rights Clinic, City University of New York School of Law


Jan Hus Church

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund

Latino Commission on AIDS

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

Legal Momentum

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (New York City)


Mano a Mano

Metropolitan Community Churches

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Coalition Building Institute Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Caucus

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

National Center for Lesbian Rights

New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition

Open Society Institute

Queer Progressive Agenda

Queers for Economic Justice

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.

Women's Environment and Development Organization

Cc: The Honorable John Bolton, United Nations Ambassador for the United States

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar, Chair, United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Ranking Member, United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The Honorable Henry J. Hyde, Chair, United States House of Representatives International Relations Committee

The Honorable Tom Lantos, Ranking Member, United States House of Representatives International Relations Committee

The Honorable Mitch McConnell, Chair, United States Senate Appropriations Committee

The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, United States Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs

The Honorable Frank Wolf, Chair, United States House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies

The Honorable Alan B. Mollohan, Ranking Member, United States House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies

25 January 2006

Students upstage Gonzales

Yesterday, Attorney General Alberto ("Torture Boy") Gonzales went to Georgetown University to promote the Bush administration's really creepy warrantless domestic spying program.

With cameras rolling, several students stood with their backs to Gonzales and held up a banner containing the great Benjamin Franklin quote: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

Bravo to those kids. Young people like them give me hope for the future of this country.

(Photo courtesy of Air America Radio.)

Conservatives rap Bush for spying on Americans

Contrary to what some right-wing pundits might tell you, Bush's domestic spying is not a partisan issue. Some key conservatives are speaking out against it.

From McClatchy Newspapers via Capitol Hill Blue:
When Al Gore accused President Bush of breaking the law by authorizing domestic wiretapping, Bush's defenders had a ready response.

"Al Gore's hypocrisy knows no bounds," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. "If he is going to be the voice of the Democratic Party on national security matters, we welcome it."

Bush's aides, though, might have more difficulty countering the rising tide of criticism from some senior Republicans and influential conservative leaders who are also troubled by the electronic eavesdropping he authorized soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, branded the wiretapping "clearly and categorically wrong" and set a Feb. 6 hearing on "wartime executive power."

Beyond Capitol Hill, prominent conservative groups formed alliances with established liberal organizations to present an unusual united front against the eavesdropping.

For his Martin Luther King Day address at historic Constitution Hall in Washington, Gore was introduced by Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman who earned a reputation as a right-wing pit bull for his fierce attacks on President Clinton and his relentless championing of conservative causes.

Barr and other leading conservatives have formed a group, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, to press for "substantive oversight hearings" in Congress on Bush's directive - which was revealed last month - authorizing warrantless monitoring of phone calls and emails by the National Security Agency.

"When the Patriot Act was passed shortly after 9/11, the federal government was granted expanded access to Americans' private information," Barr said. "However, federal law still clearly states that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. Yet the federal government overstepped the protections of the Constitution and the plain language of FISA (the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) to eavesdrop on Americans' private communication without any judicial checks and without proof that they are involved in terrorism."

"This is not a partisan issue," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "It is an issue of safeguarding the fundamental freedoms of all Americans so that future administrations do not interpret our laws in ways that pose constitutional concerns."

Among other members of the new group are Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and the man who coined the phrase "moral majority," and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Since the controversy over the wiretapping erupted a month ago, some Bush supporters have tried to frame it as just one in a long string of partisan political fights.

In a column headlined "The Paranoid Style in American Liberalism," influential neoconservative William Kristol ridiculed Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Joe Biden of Delaware for criticizing Bush.

And indeed there has been plenty of partisan outcry. In addition to Gore's speech, scores of Democrats have excoriated Bush, while two liberal organizations - the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights - filed lawsuits in federal court Tuesday in a bid to end the eavesdropping.

But a host of well-known Republican politicians and conservative commentators have also criticized the president, from Sens. Specter, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dick Lugar of Indiana to columnists George Will and William Safire.

"The president's decision to authorize the NSA's surveillance without the complicity of a court or Congress was a mistake," Will wrote.
[Read more.]

A torturer-murderer gets slap on the wrist, but no prison time

A military jury ordered reprimand, but no jail time, for a soldier who tortured an Iraqi general to death.

And the decision drew applause.

From the Associated Press:
A military jury has recommended that an officer once facing up to life in prison for the interrogation death of an Iraqi general be given only a reprimand, a decision that drew applause from soldiers.

Initially charged with murder, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. now faces no jail time, the forfeiture of $6,000 in salary and what amounts largely to a barracks restriction for 60 days.

"I deeply apologize if my actions tarnished the soldiers serving in Iraq," Welshofer said during his sentencing hearing. "It was never my intent to cast aspersions on their tremendous accomplishments."

Welshofer was convicted Saturday of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty for stuffing the Iraqi general headfirst into a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest.

The sentence will be reviewed by Fort Carson's commander, Maj. Gen. Robert W. Mixon. He cannot order a harsher sentence, said Welshofer's defense attorney Frank Spinner.

Prosecutors had described Welshofer as a rogue interrogator who became frustrated with Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush's refusal to answer questions and escalated his techniques from simple interviews to beatings to simulating drowning, and finally, to death.
[Read more.]

Doug Thompson: Grounded along with other fellow terrorists

Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue is apparently on the "no-fly" list.

I haven't tried to board a plane in a while, and I wonder what will happen the next time I do. Of course, if the feds have been monitoring my phone calls and e-mail, they know that I'm just a disgruntled advocate for freedom, and that my only weapons are my pen, my keyboard, and my brain. But I don't think that matters, really.

An excerpt from Thompson's recent column on the subject:
When my wife's favorite aunt died last November we immediately made plans to head for St. Louis for the funeral.

We drove the 700 miles to St. Louis. I am not allowed to fly on an airplane within the United States because the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration consider me a threat to the security of the United States.

Yep. I'm on the official "no-fly" list, along with some 80,000 others Americans.

Most people don't learn they are on the list until they get to the airport and attempt to get a boarding pass. I'm lucky. A longtime friend who works for an airline tipped me several months ago that I'm on the list. So I don't even bother trying to fly.

Those who don't know in advance are allowed to buy an airline ticket and make the often long trek to the airport only to be told that they are not allowed to board a plane and must call an "800" number to see if they can be cleared to board the plane. Some are, some aren't but the process takes so much time that many who are cleared end up missing their flights anyway.

As a known enemy of Uncle Sam, I've got a lot of co-conspirators: U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., U.S. Rep. John Lewis D-Ga., and even actor David Nelson from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Each found themselves having to prove they are not terrorists before getting on a plane.

But my favorite partner in crime is Edward Allen of Houston, Texas. Edward is a really dangerous man...er...boy. Edward is four years old and was stopped along with his mother when they tried to board of plane over the holidays.

You guessed. Little Eddie is on the list, another threat to the peace and security of the good old US of A.

"Is this a joke?" Eddie’s mom, Sijollie Allen, told Continental Airlines agents at, of all places, Bush Intercontinental Airport. "You can tell he's not a terrorist."

But Continental’s agents weren't laughing and told young Eddie he would have to be cleared by TSA before getting on the plane. They allowed him to fly but he and his mom went through the same process when they tried to fly back home to Houston.

"I know the government is trying to protect because of the terrorist attacks, but common sense should play a role in it," Ms. Allen said. "I don't think he should go through the trouble of being harassed and hindered."

Senator Edward Kennedy understands what little Edward had to go through. He had to make multiple phone calls to get his name off the list. So did Congressman Lewis.

If it takes a powerful U.S. Senator that much trouble to get off the list, an ordinary person is doomed says John Soma, professor of computer and technology law at the University of Denver and executive director of its Privacy Foundation.


The TSA won't tell anyone why they are on the no-fly list. That, they claim, is "classified." Yet the list seems to carry a lot of names of people whose only crime is being critical of the Bush administration or the Iraq war. People like Democratic senators or congressmen or James Moore, co-author of Bush's Brain, the best-selling book about Bush and Karl Rove.
[Read more.]

The Pentagon is spying on us too

Don't say anything you don't want Rumsfeld to hear.

Newsweek reports that the Pentagon has its own domestic spying program. The article's subtitle indicates that "even its leaders say the outfit may have gone too far."

An excerpt:
The demonstration seemed harmless enough. Late on a June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. They were there to protest the corporation's supposed "war profiteering." The demonstrators wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. "It was tongue-in-street political theater," Parkin says.

But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.

A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. It's not clear why the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention — although organizer Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations. A Pentagon memo obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that the deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that some TALON reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that never should have been retained. The number of reports with names of U.S. persons could be in the thousands, says a senior Pentagon official who asked not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
[Read more.]

Senate Judiciary Committee approves Alito nomination

Yesterday, in a strict party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nomination now goes to the full Senate for a final vote. A filibuster would be nice, but I won't hold my breath.

The transcripts of yesterday's committee session are worth reading. Senator Pat Leahy was wonderful.

An excerpt:
LEAHY: Mr. Chairman, I may take more than five minutes.

But first off, on the question of party-line votes, considering the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is there for nearly 300 million Americans, I wish we could have somebody who would have the support of all Americans.

As you know in discussions that you and I had with the president on this, the president spoke of his campaign promises. I reminded him several times of his biggest campaign promise, to be a uniter and not a divider, and urged him to be a uniter and not a divider when it came to a Supreme Court nomination.

There are many, many, many people in this country who would have had from 90 to 100 votes in the Senate. Democrats and Republicans would have joined eagerly to support them.

We have nine members on the Supreme Court today. Seven of those nine members were nominated by Republican presidents; two by a Democrat.

I voted for eight of those nine members. I try very hard not to have partisan votes on Supreme Court nominees.

Think how much better it would have been if, in this case, President Bush had sought any one of dozens upon dozens of highly qualified people -- highly qualified people, men and women, various ethnic backgrounds, all of whom would have gotten an overwhelmingly -- overwhelmingly, if not unanimous, vote from the Senate. And think of the signal that would have sent to the country and think how that would have allowed the president to fulfill his campaign promise of being a uniter and not a divider.

But this nomination raises the fundamental question of whether the Senate will serve its constitutional role as a check on the president by preserving the Supreme Court as a constitutional check on the expansion of presidential power.

I'd urge senators, and particularly Republican senators, to approach this discussion with open ears and open minds.

This is a nomination that I fear threatens the fundamental rights and liberties of all Americans now and in generations to come.

The president is in the midst of a radical realignment of the powers of the government and its intrusiveness into the private lives of Americans.

And I believe this nomination is part of that plan. I am concerned that if we confirm this nominee we will further erode the checks and balances that have protected our constitutional rights for more than 200 years.

It's a critical nomination. It's one that can tip the balance in the Supreme Court radically away from the constitutional checks and balances and the protection of Americans' fundamental rights.

This past week, I introduced a resolution to clarify what we all know: that congressional authorization for the use of military force against Osama bin Laden did not authorize warrantless spying on Americans, as the Bush administration is now claiming.

As Justice O'Connor underscored recently, even war, quote, "is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens," close quote. Who could disagree with that?

But now that the illegal spying on Americans has become public and the president has acknowledged the four-year-old program, the Bush administration's lawyers are now contending the Congress authorized it.

The September 2001 authorization to use military force did no such thing. Democratic and Republican senators know it. A few Republicans have said so publicly. We all know it.

The liberties and rights that define us as Americans, and the system of checks and balances that serve to preserve them, should not be sacrificed to threats of terrorism or the expanding power of the government.

Our authorization was to go after Osama bin Laden. How much I wished the administration had continued to go after Osama bin Laden instead of pulling our best forces out of Afghanistan when we had a chance to catch him.

How much safer we would be if they had continued what we asked them to do.

In the days immediately following those attacks of September 11th, I said, and I continue to believe, that the terrorists win if they frighten us into sacrificing our freedoms and what defines us as Americans.

The Bush administration's after-the-fact claims about the breath of the authorization to use military force are the latest in a long line of manipulations, is another affront to the rule of law, of American values and traditions.

We've also seen the same type of overreaching and that same Justice Department's twisted interpretation of the torture statute, with the detention of suspects without charges and denial of access to counsel, and with the misapplication of the material witness statute as a, sort of, general preventative detention law.

Throughout the Alito hearing, from my opening statement on Monday afternoon to my first questions on Tuesday morning to my last written question, which received a response last Friday, I asked Judge Alito about these matters, and I am not reassured by his answers.

A central question during the hearings on this nomination was whether Judge Alito would serve as an effective constitutional check on the presidency.

We have a president who is prone to unilateralism and assertions of executive power that extend all the way to illegal spying on Americans. Preventing government intrusion into the privacy and freedoms of Americans is one of the hallmarks of the Supreme Court.

There is no assurance that Judge Alito will serve as an effective check and balance on government intrusion into the lives of Americans. Indeed, his record suggests otherwise.

We know that Samuel Alito sought to justify absolute immunity for President Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, from lawsuits for wiretapping Americans, among other violations of our privacy.

We know that as a judge Samuel Alito was willing to go further than even Michael Chertoff, the current secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in excusing government agents for searches not authorized by judicial warrants.

We know Judge Alito would have excused the strip search of a 10- year-old girl that was not authorized -- in fact, expressly not authorized by a search warrant.

We know he was part of an effort within the Meese Justice Department to expand the use of presidential signing statements to increase the president's role in construing what a law passed by Congress means. That is a practice that the Bush administration is taking to new heights.

This president has made some of the most expansive claims of power since American patriots fought the War of Independence to rid themselves of the oppressive rule of King George III.

This president is claiming power to illegally spy on Americans, to allow actions that violate our values and laws protecting human rights, and to detain U.S. citizens and others on his say so -- on his say so, without judicial review, without any due process.

This is something I have not seen in my lifetime.

This is a time in our history when the protection of Americans' liberties are at risk, as are the very checks and balances that have served to constrain abuses of power for more than two centuries.

I've said before and I'll say again the Supreme Court is the ultimate check and balance in our system.

The independence of the court and its members is crucial to our democracy and our way of life.

The United States Senate should never be allowed to become a rubber stamp. We should be the conscience of the nation. But neither should the Supreme Court be allowed to be a rubber stamp for any president, Democratic of Republican.

I asked Judge Alito to demonstrate his independence from the interests of the president. He failed that test.

And I suspect that the answer to the question Judge Alito posed at the hearing regarding how he got the nomination can be answered in large measure with regard to his demonstrated deference to government power, his adherence to the unitary executive, his rulings in favor of government intrusions, and whatever he said in his job interviews at the White House that convinced those advising this president that he'll be a reliable vote against challenges to presidential power.

No president should be allowed to pack the courts, especially the Supreme Court. An overwhelmingly Democratic-controlled Senate stood up to the most popular Democrat ever elected president, Franklin Roosevelt, and we Democrats protected the independence of the Supreme Court by saying that even someone as popular as Franklin Roosevelt could not pack the Supreme Court.

Well, even today, with a Republican Senate, I would say that no president should be allow to pack the courts, and especially the Supreme Court when nominees are selected to enshrine presidential claims of government powers.

Our system was designed to ensure balance and to protect against overreaching by any branch. The Senate should not be a rubber stamp to this president's effort to move the law dramatically to the right and to give him unfettered leeway.

So I will not lend my support to an effort by this president to move the Supreme Court and the law radically to the right and to remove the final check within our democracy.

As I said, I voted for eight of the nine members of the Supreme Court. I voted for President Reagan's nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor, for President Reagan's nomination of Justice Anthony Kennedy, for President Bush's nomination of Justice Souter and for this president's recent nomination of Chief Justice Roberts.

But this is a bridge too far. I cannot vote for this nomination.

At a time when the president is seizing unprecedented power, the Supreme Court needs to act as check and to provide balance. Based on the hearing and his record, I have no confidence that Judge Alito would provide that check and balance.
[Read more.]

24 January 2006

Bush plans to test pesticides on pregnant women and children

Bush calls himself a "Christian". What would Jesus say about this plan?

From a press release issued yesterday by truthout:
Today, Senator Barbara Boxer, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, and Rep. Hilda L. Solis criticized a Bush Administration plan to promote pesticide experimentation upon humans. The plan, contained in a final draft rule, was leaked to the legislators by a concerned Administration official who requested that the original copy of the plan not be duplicated in its entirety and widely distributed out of concern for anonymity. According to the EPA's communications plan, the Administration will officially announce the pesticide experimentation plan later this week as a final regulation.

In August 2005, Congress enacted a moratorium upon EPA using human pesticide experiments until strict ethical standards were established. Senator Boxer championed the moratorium in the US Senate. Representative Solis pushed the moratorium through the US House of Representatives.

"The Administration plan is inconsistent with the law passed by Congress with bipartisan support. The loopholes which allow continued testing on pregnant women, infants and children are contrary to law and widely accepted ethical guidelines, including the Nuremberg code. The fact that EPA allows pesticide testing of any kind on the most vulnerable, including abused and neglected children, is simply astonishing," said Senator Boxer.

"The regulation is an open invitation to test pesticides on humans, which is the exact opposite of what Congress intended," said Rep. Waxman. "The Administration predicts that over 30 pesticide experiments will be submitted to EPA each year under the new rule. That's an enormous step in the wrong direction."

"This is yet another example of the Bush Administration choosing to ignore the letter of the law and going its own way. Congress passed legislation to curb the practice of unethical pesticide testing on humans, but with this rule the Bush Administration is authorizing systematic testing of pesticides on humans which not only fails to meet its congressional mandate but which will increase the number of unethical studies," said Congresswoman Solis. "Americans should be concerned about just how far the Bush Administration will go to allow pesticide testing on pregnant women and children and, the ease at which it chooses to ignore the law. The Bush Administration must revise this rule to meet its Congressional mandate and give Americans a policy which is moral, ethical, and safe."

"This rule has not been signed by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson yet. It's within his power to fix this regulation, and we are calling on him to do so," said Senator Boxer.

If the rule is finalized as currently drafted, it would apply to studies in which humans are intentionally dosed with pesticides, as well as "observational" studies.
[Read more.]

US troops given contaminated water by Halliburton

This is how Dick Cheney's company supports our troops in Iraq -- and the civilians we went there to "liberate".

They were knowingly given water that was known to contain two times more contamination than untreated water from the Euphrates River (which has dead bodies and other war debris floating in it).


From the Associated Press via The Boston Globe:
Troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in Iraq were exposed to contaminated water last year and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton, couldn't get their company to inform camp residents, according to interviews and internal company documents.

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, disputes the allegations about water problems at Camp Junction City, in Ramadi, even though they were made by its own employees and documented in company e-mails.

"We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated," said a July 15, 2005, memo written by William Granger, the official for Halliburton's KBR subsidiary who was in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait.

"The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River," Granger wrote in one of several documents. The Associated Press obtained the documents from Senate Democrats who are holding a public inquiry into the allegations Monday.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who will chair the session, held a number of similar inquiries last year on contracting abuses in Iraq. He said Democrats were acting on their own because they had not been able to persuade Republican committee chairmen to investigate.

The company's former water treatment expert at Camp Junction City said that he discovered the problem last March, a statement confirmed by his e-mail the day after he tested the water.


Halliburton's performance in Iraq has been criticized in a number of military audits, and congressional Democrats have contended that the Bush administration has favored the company with noncompetitive contracts.
[Read more.]

Destruction easier than reconstruction

I stumbled upon a very disturbing piece from the Inter Press Service about how bad things are right now for the Iraqi people, due to our destroying their country and not bothering to rebuild it.

This is what Bush calls "liberation".

An excerpt:
While politicians deliberate over Iraq's future, Iraqis are dealing with the reality of the present. They are looking at the debris of a country where reconstruction has come to a standstill.

They are also looking at a situation in which the capital of the oil-rich country has been stricken recently by a dire shortage of gas and kerosene.

Iraqis in Baghdad had been receiving 12 to 13 hours of electricity a day on average over recent months. Over the past few weeks they say supply has fallen to just a few hours a day.

"We have no services at all," Usama Asa'ad, a 31 year-old mechanic told IPS. "Our electricity is on only one or two hours a day."

Many Iraqis thought the United States would improve their situation when the occupation began in April 2003, but those expectations are long over. Iraqis complain that the situation in Baghdad now is worse than it ever was under Saddam.

Electricity supply is inconsistent, and sometimes there is no water for a week or more at a time. After the recent increase in petroleum prices mandated by the International Monetary Fund, the situation has become far more difficult for Iraqis.

"The petrol price became three times more than before, and this makes everything in the market more expensive," said Abdul Sattar, waiting in a queue at one of the petrol stations in Baghdad. "I've been waiting for six hours in this queue and I'm not even sure whether I will get petrol. Yesterday I waited for seven hours but I didn't get anything. The petrol station isn't open at night because there is no security."

Iraqis continue to blame the United States and the occupation for the petrol shortages and the lack of security. President George W. Bush has declared that he would seek no more money for Iraq's reconstruction, further angering Iraqis.

"The water is not clean enough, there is no petrol for our cars, and the occupation forces intend this," said Usama Asa'ad. "They want to make all of Iraq's services for private companies, so that United States companies will take as much money from Iraq as they can."
[Read more.]

23 January 2006

The New York Times: "Judge Alito's Radical Views"

I gave Judge Sam Alito every benefit of the doubt. But the evidence strongly suggests that this country could be in big trouble if he is confirmed to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

An editorial in today's New York Times sums up the issues pretty well.

An excerpt via truthout:
If Judge Samuel Alito Jr.'s confirmation hearings lacked drama, apart from his wife's bizarrely over-covered crying jag, it is because they confirmed the obvious. Judge Alito is exactly the kind of legal thinker President Bush wants on the Supreme Court. He has a radically broad view of the president's power, and a radically narrow view of Congress's power. He has long argued that the Constitution does not protect abortion rights. He wants to reduce the rights and liberties of ordinary Americans, and has a history of tilting the scales of justice against the little guy.

As senators prepare to vote on the nomination, they should ask themselves only one question: will replacing Sandra Day O'Connor with Judge Alito be a step forward for the nation, or a step backward? Instead of Justice O'Connor's pragmatic centrism, which has kept American law on a steady and well-respected path, Judge Alito is likely to bring a movement conservative's approach to his role and to the Constitution.

Judge Alito may be a fine man, but he is not the kind of justice the country needs right now. Senators from both parties should oppose his nomination.

It is likely that Judge Alito was chosen for his extreme views on presidential power. The Supreme Court, with Justice O'Connor's support, has played a key role in standing up to the Bush administration's radical view of its power, notably that it can hold, indefinitely and without trial, anyone the president declares an "unlawful enemy combatant."

Judge Alito would no doubt try to change the court's approach. He has supported the fringe "unitary executive" theory, which would give the president greater power to detain Americans and would throw off the checks and balances built into the Constitution. He has also put forth the outlandish idea that if the president makes a statement when he signs a bill into law, a court interpreting the law should give his intent the same weight it gives to Congress's intent in writing and approving the law.

Judge Alito would also work to reduce Congress's power in other ways. In a troubling dissent, he argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed a law banning machine guns, and as a government lawyer he insisted Congress did not have the power to protect car buyers from falsified odometers.

There is every reason to believe, based on his long paper trail and the evasive answers he gave at his hearings, that Judge Alito would quickly vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. So it is hard to see how Senators Lincoln Chaffee, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, all Republicans, could square support for Judge Alito with their commitment to abortion rights.

Judge Alito has consistently shown a bias in favor of those in power over those who need the law to protect them. Women, racial minorities, the elderly and workers who come to court seeking justice should expect little sympathy. In the same flat bureaucratic tones he used at the hearings, he is likely to insist that the law can do nothing for them.
[Read more.]

Mark Fiore: "Georgelandia"

"Greater Georgelandia", the latest animation from political cartoonist Mark Fiore, examines the implications of George W. Bush's quest for unchecked unitary executive power. And Fiore outdoes himself yet again.

[Check it out.]

The meat of the matter: The Fourth Amendment

When he took the U.S. presidential oath of office, George W. Bush did solemnly swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

So let's read the Fourth Amendment to that Constitution, which he swore to defend:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


Congressional agency questions legality of wiretaps

Last week, the Congressional Research Service released a memo stting its opinion that Bush appears to have violated the National Security Act via technicalities related to his wild, uncontrolled eavesdropping on the American public.

From last Thursday's The Washington Post (I'm catching up):
The Bush administration appears to have violated the National Security Act by limiting its briefings about a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program to congressional leaders, according to a memo from Congress's research arm released yesterday.

The Congressional Research Service opinion said that the amended 1947 law requires President Bush to keep all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" of such intelligence activities as the domestic surveillance effort.

The memo from national security specialist Alfred Cumming is the second report this month from CRS to question the legality of aspects of Bush's domestic spying program. A Jan. 6 report concluded that the administration's justifications for the program conflicted with current law.

Yesterday's analysis was requested by Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, who wrote in a letter to Bush earlier this month that limiting information about the eavesdropping program violated the law and provided for poor oversight.
[Read more.]

Ominous sign: The president's growing disregard for the law

An editorial in last Friday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out that there is no Constitutional provision for Bush's supposed "signing statement" loophole around the law.

An exerpt:
President Bush's latest tool for disrespecting the Constitution, Congress and the American people, used more than a hundred times so far, is the presidential signing statement.

That statement is normally a few words that a president says when he signs a bill passed by Congress. In the past it was an occasion for the president to congratulate legislators who had been particularly active in passing the bill and to praise the new legislation generously, even if he himself had been unsympathetic to it.

There is no mention of the statement in the Constitution, nor does it have any role in how laws are passed and put into effect.

Yet Mr. Bush has taken the presidential signing statement as another means of asserting his will over and above the country's laws, whatever they may say. In effect, he is trying to establish that whatever he says when he signs the bill overrides whatever the legislation itself may stipulate. Historians and presidential scholars, among others, find it alarming.

This is nothing new for Mr. Bush. He began disregarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 in 2002 when he authorized wiretapping of foreigners and Americans' telephone calls and e-mails by the National Security Agency without first obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The practice continues today.

His new use of the presidential signing statement turned up egregiously when after signing the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain to ban the torture of prisoners in American custody, Mr. Bush issued a statement Dec. 30 that in effect said he would enforce the new law only as he saw fit.

We repeat - there is nothing in the Constitution that says he can do that. To the degree that the American system functions, Congress passes laws that put into effect the will of the people.


Everyone loses when a president chooses to carry out only the laws that he wants to, as he wants to.
[Read more.]