Thursday, December 30, 2004

And Still Counting

Fears Remain:
“Everybody gets into a panic situation,” said Shantha Sheela Nair, an official coordinating relief work in the district. “If we get a warning of tsunami again, we are hampered at every step.” The warning, from the Ministry of Home Affairs, was sent out by loudspeaker in coastal villages, where the search for bodies is still under way.
In Gharamganbadi, gloved men searching for the remains of their wives and children in the rubble of their homes just steps from the sea began arguing over whether to abandon their work and move away from the water whose swell suddenly seemed to take on an ominous cast when the warning arrived.
Reluctantly, they finally left.- excerpt from the NY Times article linked below. Tsunami warning hindered efforts to provide relief in the Nagappattinam district.

Surival Stories from The Washington Post

"There were stories of hope and survival. A 13-year-old girl survived drifting at sea for two days off the Indian island of Car Nicobar, clinging to a door, a tree and a sack. In Sri Lanka, Dayalan Sanders, a Sri Lankan-born U.S. citizen, rescued the 28 orphans in his care by reacting quickly. Spotting the tsunami, he and his wife corralled the children onto a motorboat and outran the waves, seconds before their orphanage was crushed by a 30-foot wall of water."

Update
The Washington Post reports the count over 116,000 with new discoveries in Indonesia, by far the worst hit from the tsunami while the New York Times has it at 114,000.



Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Excerpts from two murder stories in the NY Times

"I don't know if it's someone pulling someone's hair or someone stole someone's doll, but it's an ongoing problem between these children," the official said.

Authorities believe that Mr. Wade stabbed his mother in the head several times with a dagger and strangled his bedridden grandmother, Edna Wade, 73, before plunging the dagger into his chest and killing himself, according to Captain Rowan

Another Deadly Bombing in Iraq

The New York Times has it here.

Working Hard

I am amazed that, within the span of a few hours or a day, the count could increase by 20,000. Those recovering these bodies are putting a lot of work into this. I feel for them. They are finding bodies of dead children and pregnant mothers for sure. Each facial expression tells a story.

Orbach

I always found it hard to watch the new Law And Order episodes that aired on Tuesday because of my job but occasionally I'd get to watch one of the re-runs on TNT. More often than not I get to watch one of the Law And Order: Special Victims Unit on USA and the new Law And Order: Criminal Intent episodes on NBC on Sunday but I always had a thing or two about Jerry Orbach as the cynical, experienced wiseass detective and Sam Wasterston as the hardworking, charismatic, and tough, prosecutor who always put the law and justice first.

Jerry Orbach outlasted many Law And Order regulars. He put 12 years into the show while doing some movies and several appearances on "Murder She Wrote." Benjamin Bratt and Chris Noth, two who played his junior partner, have moved on as had those who played Jack McCoy's assistant D.A. - Jill Hennesy, Carey Lowell (who also played a defense lawyer after her character grew cynical of the prosecutor's office), and Angie Harmon.

Mr. Orbach's 12-year career at Law And Order and his life have prematurely come to an end when most men live into their later seventies and some into their eighties but I guess it was his time to go.

Law And Order will not be the same without him. I guess it was his time to go. May he rest in peace.

"Get His A** Back To Work"

Who'd ever think their boss could raise them from the dead.

Toll Count at 60,000 for now

Just thought I'd give you all an update on the latest count, at least as reported in Wednesday's LA Times. The new casaualty reports do not include of course, the potential deaths brought by disease and contaminated food and water supplies associated with the tsunami.

I am sure we will be hearing of this disaster within a year or so when either the made-for-TV or box-office movie comes out.

Good Editorial on DNA Testing

The Washington Post editorial board calls on Virginia Governor Mark Warner to order new DNA testing for the now deceased Roger Keith Coleman. Mr. Coleman was sentenced to die by a jury of his peers after they convicted him of first degree murder and rape and the state executed him in 1992. Mr. Warner has, for a long time now, done nothing to speed the DNA testing up using modern techniques.

The Post believes there would be no harm (aside from the financial costs) if the new DNA testing confirms his guilt but would certainly help if it exonerates him and leads police to re-start the investigations for the real killer.

As I stated in my entry on Scott Peterson's conviction, I am against the death penalty because it is murder. One person or group of people intentionally kills another human being. The state makes no distinction between good and bad victims when prosecuting criminals and it should therefore make no such distinctions when choosing whether or not to end another person's life. Those convicted of first degree murder should be locked in prison for life and either given solitary confinement with no television or hard labor.

However, as long as juries are allowed to sentence murderers to death the state must, at a minimum, do everything to ensure the protection of the innocent. Death is irreversible, so the state must entitle each defendant to the most updated and most accurate DNA testing. No innocent person should be put to death when the technology exists to exonerate him or her.

Virginia might not have used these new testing methods in part because it was not available for Mr. Coleman at the time. It is unfortunate he and others were put to death based on questionably-obtained evidence. It is too late for Mr. Coleman, but justice demands closure and, if Mr. Coleman is guilty, a new investigation for the real killer. However, no such investigation would begin until Governor Warner pushes for the new testing.

Phew!

Some good news for a change. The Washington Post that terrorists will focus on using chemical and biological weapons for their terrorist attacks but will hold off on their goals to obtain nuclear weapons since the technological difficulties associated with their use make it less feasible.

Biological and chemical weapons are deadly no doubt and if used in a major city, we could expect high casualties but that would pale in comparison to the sheer destruction and casualty reports associated with a nuclear.

Nevertheless, countries that sponsor terrorist activities might decide to sell these weapons to the terrorists who would use them against their common enemy or use our fear of these weapons to offer them a deal - say, the dismantling of their weapons program in return for a very large financial aid package. The Euro-Iranian weapons deal is therefore incomplete because it only relies on Iran's nuclear weapon and does not address its chemical and biological weapons programs. The Europeans, Russians, and Americans must get together and pressure the Iranians to dismantle this program as well and allow for unhindered weapons inspections to verify the state's compliance.

Filibuster the Filibuster Changes

Well, the war over the president's judicial nominees will start once the new Congressional session is convened. President George W. Bush has promised to bring back for reconsideration several already-rejected nominees now that Republicans have gained a few more seats. Senator Alen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania expressed his disappointment that the president has not consulted with him or the judiciary committee before making this move and Senator Harry M. Reid of Nevada, the Democrats' Minority Leader, has promised to fight parliamentary procedures designed to end the filibuster.

To his credit, the senator from Nevada said he may support the president should he nominate Justice Antonin Scalia to the Chief Justice seat if its current occupant, William Rehnquist, were to retire. He was less supportive when it was leaked (purposely I bet) that Bush was considering Clarence Thomas as a replacement.

President Bush and several Republican senators have not replied in turn. Senator Frist is reportedly supporting parliamentary maneuvers to end the filibuster, giving their members less incentives to work with their Democratic colleagues.

Justices are appointed to serve during good behavior, which means they are usually on the bench until they retire or die. They are not removed unless impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the full Senate for "high crimes and misdemeanors." The Constitution provides for their appointment by the president with the advice and consent from the Senate. Our Constitution's authors intentionally made the Supreme Court and lower federal courts the least democratic of the branches so that the justices would not be swayed by public opinion and partisanship. They are, after all, charged with the preservation of our Constitution.

Republicans and Democrats should not turn the judicial appointment process, and consequently, the Constitutional interpretation prerogatives, hostage to partisan bickering or an ideological power grab. Americans should not lose their confidence in their justices' ability to think for themselves and rule on the merits of each constitutional question.

Both sides must work to build support for the judicial nominees. If the Democrats agree to appoint somewhat more conservative nominees and the Republicans agree to somewhat more centrist or liberal nominees, we can expect less bickering and more confidence in the judicial process.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Samir S.M. Sumaidaie's Hopeful Words

Statesmanship coming from Mr. Samir S.M. Sumaidaie's pen (or keyboard) in a Washington Post op-ed. The Iraqi ambassador suggests that Iraq hold its elections on schedule but allow for a number of vacant seats for provinces experiencing low voter turnout, thereby offsetting any Shi'ite victories in Sunni-dominated provinces. I'm glad to see the Iraqis thinking about their minority problem even if I believe their approach to be wrongheaded. I'll offer my rebuttal either later or sometime tomorrow. In the meantime, you should read the article.

Interesting Tidbit Elaborated

This morning I said a few, very general words on Aceh and its relationship with Indonesia's central government. Well, I did some research and found this 1999 background piece from the U.S. Committee for Refugees. It's old, don't get me wrong but I remembered hearing about Aceh's struggle back when Bill Clinton was in the White House.

More information can be found here and here.

I'm surprised the newspapers haven't said anything about it yet. I guess they are stil too busy counting up the death toll which is still rising.

If anyone has any more recent developments on this struggle, feel free to e-mail me or post it in the comment section. It would be interesting to hear what has gone on since and what, if anything, this tsunami disaster and Indonesia's response to it might do to that movement.


Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger

, two foreign policy statesmen and diplomats I admire, were on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer this Sunday. Read the transcripts. I don't know if there is any need to comment any further but if there is I'll do so at a later time. For now, just note the areas of agreement and disagreement. Both raise some interesting points but I think Mr. Kissinger offered the more balanced and cautious choice of words (as is usual).

"And You Lost None of Your Brain Power?"

"KING: Want to touch a lot of bases tonight. How old are you now?

HINCKLEY: How old? I'm old. I am exactly six months into my 95th year.

KING: And you've lost none of your brain power? None of your - how do you feel?

HINCKLEY: Well, I feel pretty well, except I have to use a cane to get around.

This end of me seems to work all right, but this end doesn't."


No Larry, but you may have lost some of yours.

The Banana Republic of Washington

"The system begins to lose credibility," said Ms. Golant, who lives in Shoreline and works in an optometry office. "Because when it has to be recounted and recounted and then it's challenged and has to be recounted again, really, is it a popularity contest or is it an actual system that works?"

The elections were held on November 4 and yet here Washington State voters are still waiting to see who will be their next governor. It is absolutely ridiculous. The Republicans challenge Democratic votes adn the Democrats challenge Republican votes. Judges then decide whose ballots will be thrown out. This process really weakens the electoral process. Sooner or later, the voters from both sides will get fed up and begin to wonder if these challenges really are designed to ensure fairness or if they are a part of both sides' power grab.

Washington voters could not decide who they wanted in the governors' mansion. The election was very close and the questioned ballots may exceed the vote margin. Why not hold new elections and let the Democrats and Republican state voters settle this once and for all.

Interesting Tidbit

I wonder if the Indonesians are having any second thoughts about Aceh. Many Aceh residents called for its secession from Indonesia with the hopes of creating their own sovereign nation. The Indonesians naturally refused to cooperate and rejected the residents' request for a referendum on the matter.

Another Call for a Delay

I am sorry but it should now be self-evident that any Iraqi election that takes place now will be tarnished by the now predicted low voter turnout from the Sunnis and the Sunnis make up 20% of the eligible voters. The new government will draft and vote on Iraq's new constitution, making the need for high voter turnout from the principle identity groups (the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shi'ites) extremely important. If one group feels unrepresented, civil war may ensue and terrorists will be able to hide in Iraq without a strong central government pursuing them.

The leading moderate Sunnig parties have previously asked for a delay in the upcoming elections, citinng what has been up to now an unsuccessful attempt to get their people registered to vote. They blame security fears for these failures.
Our forces have yet to suppress the insurrection within the Sunni triagle. If they had started this campaign as soon as Saddam Hussein wss toppled (as opposed to after the presidential elections when they started their offensive), these security problems may have been addressed and a January vote would have been okay.

However, we are not in that position. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and company decided against launching a military offensive until after the general elections giving our troops almost no time in suppressing the terrorists who are out to ruin Iraq's experiment in democracy. The Iraqis should postpone the elections and give our troops more time to crush the terrorist uprising.

Yushchenko it is!

Still a close race and, according to the New York Times editorial board at least, the vote was split just as it was in the first run-off. The east voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovich and the western part overwhelmingly for Yushchenko. I rarely agree with their editorial board on foreign policy but in this case I think they have a point. Yuschenko should not make any changes that will split his country into two independent nations. He would do well to develop closer ties with both, the Western countries (the United States, European Union, and NATO) and Russia. The president-elect should not push for entry into NATO, and the European Union, nor should he push his country into Russia's economic sphere of interest. We should not pressure him to move to the West and the Russians should not pressure him to enter into a political union with the Russians.

"People Had Blood All Over Them And They Screamed"

The Cinematic Quote On the Tsunami
'People had blood all over them and they screamed and screamed. The Thai people came again and shouted, "The waves are coming, the waves are coming," and we threw down our food and ran into the hills.' - Swede Ann Sophie Spetz, quoted in the Dec. 27 edition of USA Today.

The Aftermath
"To backdrops of screams and shouts, people were shown clinging to buildings, being swept away by the current, running for their lives, weeping, carrying the injured and cradling dead children. ..."
"... As the water receded, almost as quickly as it had arrived, bodies were seen in the branches of trees, and broken cars and houses littered the shores as if a tornado had struck. Some of the bodies and debris were sucked back out to sea." - excerpt from Seth Myden's news report in the New York Times.

The Understatement Quote On the Tsunami
"So much can be lost in such a short time. You can't control nature, but a warning" -- of earthquakes in the Indian Ocean, she clarified -- "would help." - Clare Wolfowitz, ex-wife to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, quoted in The Washington Post story.



The death toll keeps rising - now put at 25,000 but I fear the worst is yet to come.
More will be found.

Monday, December 27, 2004

100 feet to the Southwest

Just to let you know the power behind this earthquake, it moved a 183,000 square-mile island 100 feet southwest of its now old postion. Wow.

Now He Gets It

The Bush administration is now worried about the upcoming Iraqi elections in January and is suggesting a way to guarantee the Sunnis stronger representation even if they lose in the elections. It fears a crisis in the incoming government's legitimacy should the Sunni Iraqis fail to participate in the elections and they be left with 5% representation in the legislative branch and that is not god when it will draft and ratify Iraq's constitution.

Mr. Bush's concerns are well justified but his remedy faulty. Democratic elections cannot and should not be overturned if we are to suggest to the Iraqi people that the political process for reaching a conclusion is just as, if not more important than, the political outcome. The Iraqi government must neither add new members to the Parliament nor overturn the election results in the voting districts.

The president and the Iraqi government should call for a postponement in the elections and push for more Sunni participation or it should pressure the incoming government into appointing a nonpartisan, all-inclusive committee to help write the constitution that is agreeable to all cultural identity groups in Iraq.

19,000 and still counting

I'm sure almost everybody who reads this blog heard about this but just in case I thought I'd post the New York Times article on the Indonesian earthquake that caused the devastating tsanamis in the Indian Ocean, from Somalia (eastern Africa) in the west to Singapore and Malaysia (Southeast Asia) in the east and parts of central and northern India and Bangladesh in the north. A deadly, but thankfully rare occurrence.

It's actually getting closer

Well, there you have it. With 98% of the vote counted, it looks like Mr. Yushchenko will win a slim 52% of the vote while Yanukovich wins approximately 43% of the vote. Obviously Mr. Yanukovich lost some ground when he at first refused to call for new elections and when election monitors reported no voting irregularities, something that clearly helped Mr. Yanukovich in the previous election run-off. Mr. Yushchenko will have his work cut out for him as he tries to reunite his country behind a positive reform agenda and closer ties with the West.

Election Results

The Ukrainian elections are over and the more Western-oriented candidate, Victor Yushchenko apparently won the run-off though election results are not yet official. With 74% of the vote counted so far, Mr. Yuschenko maintains a 15% margin with 55% of the vote and the pro-Russian candidate, Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich winning 40% of the vote. Yanukovich said he might challenge the results, but the good news is that so far no major election irregularities have been reported.

I'm glad that Mr. Yushchenko won the election because he promised a Ukraine that would reach out to the west and the Russians without compromising his country's independence. The Ukrainians rejected Mr. Yanukovich's vision of a Russian client state but the incoming president should not get the vodka bottles out yet though.

He will need to unite the country after this bitter election campaign. Both candidates offered strikingly different visions for the Ukrainian people and the voters are divided. The majority, but by no means an overwhelming majority, supported Mr. Yushchenko's plans for political reform and closer ties to the European Union and NATO. A significant minority, however, supported Mr. Yanukovich's vision for closer economic and political ties with the Russians. Moreover, Mr. Yushchenko will have to enlist the Parliament's support now that election reforms strengthened it at the president's expense.

Let's hope he will succeed in this precarious balancing act.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Holidays

I wish all of you a Happy Holiday season as I go off to celebrate Christmas with my family and you go off to celebrate whatever you go and celebrate with your own families. May it be fun and safe. I'll "see" you on Sunday evening sometime I hope if all goes well.

Why not a Second Run-Off

The election was so close in Washington and it appears the Democratic candidate has just pulled ahead by a mere 10 votes. Republicans are of course outraged and claiming that the Democrats stole the elections. More votes in King County have yet to be counted, which, it is suggested, will probably help the Democrat get more votes but who knows. It might go the other way, given the 10-vote margin.

Before Washington State is declared the next Banana Republic it might behoove its court to authorize a second election and let everyone battle it out one more time.

International War Crimes

I am not sure if we should or should not join an international war crimes tribunal which would have the authority to prosecute American (as well as other countries') troops for war crimes. Some modicum of respect should be given towards prisoners' human rights and I don't see the problem with American troops being held to that standard, particularly since we pride ourselves for our respect of human rights here in this country. On the other hand, we may not want to concede sovereignty on issues that may revolve around national security and allow counties which may have malign interests use this court to hurt us.

I do know this much. If we do not join in this endeavor we should at the very least demonstrate our commitment to its ideals by holding our own troops accountable when they do violate prisoners' rights. Someone (or groupo of people really) must be held accountable for the now well-known abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay if we are ever to proclaim our respect for human rights with a straight face again. Let the prosecutions begin and may Defense Secretary Rumsfeld resign.

Post-Script: The Washington Post editorial board is not taking cheap shots against the president or hawks. Like the New Republic and New York Daily News editorial boards, it endorsed the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. (I supported the latter but not the former, for different reasons, and while that may seem strange for many I did so based on the relative difficulty in nation-building endeavors in both situations). Anyway, that's besides the point since we invaded both countries.

Bush May Know Putin's Heart

but Putin doesn't know Bush's heart. The Russian president said we are trying to isolate Russia by pushing the Ukraine, as well as other former Soviet republics into the Western camp. The Polish government, Putin asserts, are acting as our proxies in this quest to Europeanize the Ukraine. He also suggests that our military presence in Iraq will make it very difficult for the Iraqis to exercise democratic rights this January.

Let me say a word or two about these accusations. First, the Polish would have every reason to support an independent Ukraine even without our insistence on it. In the not-so-distant past, the Soviet Union (Russia's short-lived successor and now predecessor), occupied and ruled Poland. The Soviet Union let its Eastern satellites go in the late 1980s and then it itself fell apart in the early 1990s. However, the Russians re-acquired the former Soviet Republic of Belarus as a client state and anyone who is interested in political geography should know that Belarus is one of Poland's eastern neighbors (the Ukraine and NATO-state Lithuania being the others. Mr. Putin knows that.

I could attack Mr. Putin's Iraqi assertion by referring to his own democratic practices (or lack thereof) but that would be too easy and would avoid the obvious democratic problems in Iraq. One could say that the troops are necessary in order to protect the polling places in what is obviously a politically sensitive and unstable Iraq. The Iraqis are starting what is for them an experiment in democratic governance. Their country was formed after the British and French divided the spoils from vanquished Ottoman Empire after World War I.

The Iraqis gained their independence shortly after World War II and since then have been ruled by tyrants. Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds do not see eye to eye and many view themselves first by these identities and second as Iraqis. The victors may very well choose to abuse those rights and deprive the losers of any political or cultural rights for all we know. The Iraqis might set up a theocratic government. They might deny Kurds autonomy. No one knows, but whatever the case our military presence might put a stop to that and force the victor to act in a responsible and considerate manner towards the losing factions.

Mr. Putin obviously does not believe what he is saying. He is merely attempting to get our administration to in some way demonstrate its commitment to a Russo-American partnership of some sort because our interests in many ways conflicted and led us in different directions. Mr. Bush can and should consult with the Russian president more often. Mr. Bush can and should re-open arms talks and seek a closer working relationship. Both should be concerned with Iran's move towards nuclear weapons and North Korea's moves towards selling them. Both should talk about further economic ties and Bush should caution the Europeans about moving too quickly towards inviting the Ukraine into NATO and the European Union. We may concede that last point if the Russians agree to respect the election results in the Ukraine whether or not their favored candidate wins.

Okay, for any of you

who are not to keen on our own president's agenda but find the Europeans' obsessive criticism toward our foreign policy a wee bit too much, here's a letter to Europe.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Merry fill-in-the-blank: fighting over the December dilemma

Bill O'Reilly had Charles C. Haynes on his Fox TV show this week but as usual he didn't give his guest an opportunity to make an argument on his own behalf. Mr. O'Reilly, of course, is attacking secularlists across the United States because some of their number and the local governing bodies that sympathize with their concerns, have been removing Christmas displays, forbidding christmas caroling and nativity scenes. Bill O'Reilly believes we are a Christian nation and should celebrate the Christmas holiday in its totality.

Mr. Haynes develops his argument against both, the Jesus-pushers and Jesus-silencers in this article. One wonders why this consensus-building problem solver is not on the television airwaves more often. If he went on Larry King or some other prime time slot and was able to at least offer his point of view fully developed, more people might take his advice and there would be less partisanship.

You can't even trust

your local doctor to provide to you or recommend the best medication for your ailment, whatever it is. Whatever his or her intentions, your doctor is relying upon guidelines set by the National Institutes of Health, an organization whose scientists, the LA Times reports, have been working for or accepting stock in the very companies whose products they are testing. The Institute's top blood transfusion expert accepted $240,200 and 76,000 stock options from companies developing blood-related products. Dr. P. Trey Sunderland took a $1/2 million from Pfizer while working with them on alzheimers disease and then endorsed an alzheimer's drug of theirs. I'm sure the $500,000-plus money did not in anyway influence his endorsement of their product. Yeah. Right. Whatever.

And then there is the Institute's own leader, Dr. H. Bryan Brewer Jr. He wrote a favorable review for Crestor, a cholesterol drug, in the American Journal of Cardiology while working as a paid consultant for the very company that made and distributed the product. He downplayed (in fact, he outright denied) any reports of
rhabdomyolysis, a muscular disease even though clinical tests proved the opposite.

The question I guess, is whether Mr. Brewer knew of these results done by the Food and Drug Administration or acknowledged in his article that tests done by him and Crestor's maker would need follow up and further testing. In any case, Mr. Brewer Jr. was involved in several other business/research transactions of a similar nature as well.

This doesn't look good at all. We depend upon our doctors to provide us with the most reliable medication to treat our ailments. We sincerely hope that they are aware of all of the drugs' side effects and can weigh the costs and benefits before giving us these medications. The activities coming from National Institutes of Health scientists severely damages our confidence in our doctors' advice since they often rely upon the NIH data in making their recommendations.

I sincerely hope prosecutors will look into this and see if any scientists crossed the line and did something illegal. Those who took these contributions while performing their duties at the NIH should be removed and stripped of their medical licenses and Congress should do look into legislation that bars anyone who works with the NIH from receiving any gifts, salary, or any other money reward from the companies they do research with. Politics is a corrupt business. There's no doubt about that. Must scientists (and consequently the practice of science) the very people we depend upon to tell us the truth about human biology, be corrupted?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Guantanamo Abuse

How can anyone claim the moral authority to spread democracy and the rule of law to other countries and then allow those under his authority the power to abuse those very same rights. Troops at Guantanamo Bay are torturing the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. They threaten the prisoners with attack dogs and make them defecate on themselves and go without basic food and water, all with the intent to make them confess to something they may or may not know anything about. Due process rights exist so that we do not unfairly punish the innocent with the guilty. A defendant is brought to trial and judged by his or her peers based on the evidence it hears. Nothing even remotely resembling those proceedings are happening at Gauntanamo Bay. The military tortures the prisoners with the hope of obtaining information they may or may not have. Prisoners who fear their own lives may lie and falsely accuse another person just to avoid the attack dogs or win better treatment.

How could we have any confidence in our legal system if the military could do whatever it wants at Guantanamo Bay? Is that not an admission that we blieve our legal system cannot lead us to the truth?

At the very least, the government should allow these prisoners to contest their war combatant status in federal court. (In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said the courts have the authority to hear those cases).The innocent need not suffer along with the guilty.

You know you are losing when

the Iraqi terrorists are more committed to winning the war than the Iraqi civilians you hope will fight for their country. The terrorists will do anything to disrupt the upcoming elections. They will kill any Iraqi that cooperates with the Americans and their allies, scaring them into submission. Iraqi troops have cut and run and the new spin from the White House is that the Iraqi troops get mixed reviews from the field commanders on the ground. We still have not put in the 1/2 million-plus army we need in order to crush the resistance and train Iraqi soldiers. We can thank a previous administration for cutting military expenditures big time and this administration for letting its Defense Secretary send the army in with what they got. We really can't do anything about the former group but the current president must remove Donald Rumsfeld after the Iraqi elections if not sooner.

Make no mistake about this. If we were to withdraw from Iraq at a time in which the conditions are about the same as they are today, we would be in even more trouble now then we did yesterday. The country will collapse as theocrats (and even the moderate Shi'ites) will try to impose their way of life on the Sunnis and the Kurds. Islamic fundamentalists will have a new safe haven, and if the theocrats won, we may deal with a regime that makes Saddam Hussein's anti-American regime pale in comparison.

Duh! A Dog Bites Man Story.

Sorry I haven't blogged for the last two days. I've been doing some last minute Christmas shopping and straigtening around the house for my relatives who celebrate Christmas. I'll take Christmas Even and Christmas Day off to see the relatives and then return to blogging Sunday night.

I couldn't believe this was a front-page (and above the fold news story in Sunday's Washington Post. The article is about studies which suggest that most pregnant mothers die at the hands of someone they knew as opposed to birth-related problems and that these murders are more common than previously thought. Now "duh factor" folks - the ones doing the killing are (more likely than not) boyfriends, husbands, or partners who do not want the baby and do not want to pay towards child support or an abortion. More of the same can be found here. No kidding. It's all very moving but what is the Post writer trying to prove?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Not to Outdo myself

But I like knowing I am not alone on the Christmas wars and education. The extremists on both sides believe one side must cave in. We must either push Christianity in the schools and in the public square or we must push it out of the public square. The multicultural approach I and some others suggest would invite everyone to make a contribution to our culture without making anyone feel the government favors one group or another.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I could care less.

The Associated Press is making a big deal about one drunk Salvation Army bell ringer in Denver who apparently got into a fight with a consumer. Littls is said except that the Salvation Army had not done a background check at that point and that they immediately fired him upon hearing of his arrest.

Maybe it's me but I do not think this is a big story. People who are drunk act obnoxiously and disorderly all of the time. No one is immune so I'm not sure this fits completely into the "man bites dog" theory of journalistic coverage. It might warrant some coverage if this is rare but really don't know. I'm no fan of the Salvation Army or its views on social issues but sometimes I wonder if liberal Associated Press reporters are out to get the Army.

Horror Story

What kind of person would cut up a person they kill to get a baby after killing a pregnant mother? Was there no sense of horror? Did the guilty person for one second think to herself "oh my God I just killed this person?"

And this occurs more often then we think?

More on Iraq and Rumsfeld

Frederick W. Kagan wrote a good op-ed offering why Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign in this Weekly Standard article. Mr. Rumsfeld failed to adquately supply our troops and failed to send in enough troops to maintain the peace once Saddam Hussein was removed. To date, Senators Trent Lott (a conservative with his own verbal gaffes), and Republican Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Chuck Hagel have strongly criticized Mr. Rumsfeld for his incompetent performance and his stunning and callous statement about "going to war with what he have." I hope more Republican senators jump on the bandwagon and call on President Bush to ask Dr. Rumsfeld to resign and return to private life. I'm sure Mr. Rumsfeld could say he was flattered by the president's invitation to stay but declines for personal reasons.

Mr. Kagan believes we must remain in Iraq for a long time and I agree. We cannot withdraw from Iraq after the elections. We must remain and ensure that we crush the Islamic fundamentalists who seek to impose a far more hostile and religiously motivated anti-American government nor can we allow Iraq to break down into political chaos by allowing the Shi'ites to forsake Kurdish and Sunni concerns about the constitution.

Another school lawsuit

At the beginning of the month I commented on one school's attempt to bar a gay student from wearing a pro-gay t-shirt in school and that student's lawsuit challenging that action on free speech grounds. The First Amendment Center reports on a Christian girl's challenge to a school principal forbidding her from distributing leaflets advertising an after-school Christian club and a summer Christian camp.

Superintendent Ken Ladouceur of the Gilpin County RE-1 School District said the principal can choose to ban or not ban such activities to prevent disturbances in school. A disturbance could mean anything. It could be narrowly defined to include the potential ridicule, scorn or fighting that may result among the students or it could broadly include the slightest degree of offense one or several students may have after reviewing the literature. The gay student in Webb City said the administration denied him the right to wear his pro-gay T-shirt because it might offend a few students without considering the fact that he and other gay students may be offended by the anti-homosexual marriage and other more general anti-gay buttons freely posted throughout the school. Clearly, school administrators who favor one view over another may worry about offending those who share their viewpoints over those who oppose them.

Obviously, a school must react forcefully if it feels a student's life is in danger or if the school's class time is disrupted but this is not the case here. The petitioner distributed her materials before school and at lunch time. There was no fighting or no name-calling according No one's life was threatened and no one's personal integrity denigrated. Some parents were troubled to hear of this student's proselytizing efforts and balked. The administration listened to their complaints and caved in.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Viewpoint censorship is wrong and it is unconstitutional. When school administrators censor unpopular speech, they teach their students that the right to free speech doesn't matter and that a private citizen has nothing good to say unless the government tells him or her otherwise.
It would seem redundant for our Founders to limit First Amendment's protections to majoritarian-approved speech because democracy assures us of its existence. Obviously the First Amendment passed to assure every individual the right to express his or her beliefs, however unorthodox or unpopular they may be.

The free exercise claims implicated here are equally troubling. The First Amendment's free exercise clause protects our right to private and public worship. Many religious organizations require its adherents to proselytize and spread the "good news" or spread "the truth." Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons, and Baptists, for example require their believers to go out and proselytize. Other religious organizations are more exclusive or do not hold their adherents up to those standards. School administrators must treat the act of proselytizing as a part of, and not a separate act from, religious free exercise and make some accommodations for those who engage in those activities.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Playing into Sharon's Hands

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed optimism and support for peace between Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors, noting that peace will require major concessions from both sides. He then reiterated his belief that a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank will take place on his terms as planned.

PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Arafat's successor rejected Sharon's statements and reiterated his demands for a return of refugees. Mr. Saeb Erekat said he heard nothing of Jerusalem or the right of refugee return.

I am deeply skeptical about Mr. Sharon's new peace rhetoric. When he came to power, the Israeli prime minister demanded something the Palestinian leaders could never deliver, even if they wanted to. Mr. Sharon conditioned any meetings on the full cessation of hostilities and terrorist attacks, letting the extremists in Hamas and Hezbollah dictate the time for a peace accord. He increased settlement construction for a period of time. He is now withdrawing from the Gaza Strip but building up a wall that will separate his vision of a weaker Palestinian state from his Israel.

In this latest speech, he gave one disappointing reminder that he does not view the Palestinians as his partners for peace. Mr. Sharon thanked the Egyptian government for releasing an Israeli prisoner and said he looked forward to "effective security coordination" before, during, and after the Israeli pull back from the Gaza Strip (and not the Palestinians who are expected to govern that region in Israel's absence). His security deal should be with the Palestinians, not the Egyptians.

If Sharon's own veiled skepticism was couched in optimism, the Palestinian response was blunt and obstinate. Neither Abbas nor Erekat welcomed anything Mr. Sharon had to say, making them appear to be the ones uninterested in re-starting the peace talks. Sharon is their negotiating partner and for now, the one they have to deal with. They should have welcomed Mr. Sharon back to the table as a "convert" to peace talks and "inform" him of some of the topics brought up at Oslo - the return of refugees and Jerusalem being two of those issues.

One has to wonder if Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erekat can match the Prime Minister's shrewd style.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

And here in this country

While some lawyers accuse the Pentagon of playing games with the foreign detainees' rights at Guantanamo Base and the UK law lords strike down their own government's detention policy I thought it would be wise to say a few words about the two major court decisions that came down last year regarding war combatants - Rasul Et Al v. Bush and Hamdi Et Al v. Rumsfeld.

Both rulings offered the detainees important but limited rights that will be tested by future court decisions and appeals, and of course, the future replacement of just one moderate or liberal justice on the Supreme Court may change things drastically in the administration's favor.

In Rasul, the Supreme Court was asked to decide if it and lower courts maintain jurisdiction over detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other territories in which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction but not sovereignty. In a 6-3 decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court held that the courts do have that authority to hear the detainees' writs for habeas corpus (demands for the release of person's detained without due process of law). Left unanswered, however, were the specific rights a detainee would have if he or she made such an appeal.

Pentagon officials believe that after Hamdi (and Justice Kennedy's own concurrence in Rasul) it must guarantee these non-citizens a right to a trial and lawyer and that is probably correct.

Hamdi resolved an issue concerning American citizens who are indefinitely held as war combatants without a trial and legal representation. Once again, the Court sided with the petitioner but in a more lopsided 8-1 vote (Justice Thomas alone taking the government's position) but no majority could agree on the reasoning.

Justice O'Connor wrote a plurality opinion joined by Kennedy, Breyer, and the Chief Justice that balanced the right of a detainee to a hearing with the government's expressed need to indefinitely hold as prisoners those it regards as terrorists or war combatants. The four said that the government could hold American citizens as war combatants but at the very minimum, provide them access to a lawyer and a hearing to offer up evidence challenging their status. However, they also said they might support rules that do not require the government to prove their guilt.

Justice Souter and Ginsburg's opinion did not delve into constitutional issues because they believed Congress did not authorize the detention in the first place. They thought there was no reason to question an act's constitutionality when it wasn't even legal. They nevertheless joined with the plurality and authorized the hearings O'Connor supports in order to bring a resolution of the matter for the defendants.

Justices Stevens and Scalia dissented, but only because they believed that O'Connor and company did not go far enough in protecting American detainees' rights. They believed that the state must either convict Hamdi and other American citizens of treason or release him until Congress suspends habeas corpus rights.

So what does all of this mean? American war combatants seeking a normal trial afforded to every other American defendant would probably lose unless they refute the government's evidence point by point. The four justices would join with Thomas in keeping most of these fact-finding hearings out of the normal courts.

The government may lose if it denies the detainee the evidence needed to prove his or her innocence. Moreover, Justices O'Connor and Kennedy, in separate opinions (Kennedy in Rasul and O'Connor in Hamdi suggest time restraints that may weaken the state's case over time or limit its ability to use this war combatant detentions to a particular situations.

Kennedy said the claim for holding some war combatants may weaken over the course of weeks or months. O'Connor said we are still at war because we still have troops in Afghanistan (and now also Iraq). Suspected war combatants associated with the Taliban or the Afghan occupation may gain a right to a trial after we withdraw our troops, but Iraqi terrorists may not benefit from that withdrawal. War combatants captured in Afghanistan would probably not benefit if we leave Iraq.

For now this is all reasonable speculation. Time and a new Supreme Court justice could change everything. Let's hope that the Supreme Court will maintain these minimum due process rights if not side with Justice Scalia's reasoning. Alberto Gonzalez's own involvement on behalf of the government in these cases is not encouraging.

Blow for Freedom

"Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law. It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford." - Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead

I do not know if this is a big victory for the detainees. The United Kingdom's law Lords ruled in what we in this country refer to as equal protection (or nondiscrmination) grounds because the government's plan only included for the illegal detention of foreigners and immigrants. However, Lord Nicholls Birkenhead's opinion also referred to the right to a jury trial (see the quote above). Whatever the case, the British Lords have struck a blow for freedom. Liberty requires governments to proceed according to a formalized set of rules.

Insignficant Quote of the Day

Everybody knows you can't trust a guy who wears jewelry. - Chicago Times columnist John Kass, in his equally unimportant column.

Moving Quote for the Day

"Either we can cower and shake in fear at what might happen, or we can go forward. Do I sit on my hands and let [opponents] disparage the way I and others who are gay and lesbian love, or do we stand up for ourselves? We're human beings. We love." - California Assemblyman Mark Leno on gay marriage.

Not a very pragmatic approach for now, but still moving. I wholly sympathize with his position and reject that offered by the evanglical Christians, the Catholic Church, and other moral traditionalists.



The Wrong Direction

The Los Angeles Times report on the upcoming elections includes some information that is quite disturbing. According to the report, voters will vote for the slate of candidates and not for the National assembly leaders, effectively giving the person who would be prime minister. The candidate for the prime minister will naturally be the main campaigner and symbolize for the Iraqi people the leader of his slate. Any vote for the slate will be interpreted as a vote for or against the prime minister. When the prime minister candidate of one slate wins, the national assembly candidates for that slate also win. Assemblymen and women will also interpret their victory as the prime minister's mandate, and may rubber stamp the prime minister's agenda. They won't have to answer to the people and they won't have to answer to the minorities in the districts.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"You can't murder and get away with it"

For a while now, I have been questioning whether to write a thing or two on Mr. Scott Peterson's murder trial. I was surprised that the media covered this story in a way it would cover a murder story of a well-known celebrity or a politician. Murders happen everday, and most get at most a 10-second blurb on your local nightly news program unless a politician or a celebrity we look up to is involved.

I do not understand why journalists would would consider Winona Ryder's shoplifting trial or Martha Stewart's insider information scandal more important than the unreported murder trials. If I commented on Mr. Peterson's trial, I would be supporting and feeding off of this poor decision.

However, if I didn't say anything about Mr. Peterson's trial, I would lose a good opportunity to write about two culture war issues of national concern - abortion and the death penalty. Abortion is implicated because Mr. Peterson was convicted of killing his unborn son and the death penalty because this was a capital crime.


As you well know by now, the jury convicted him for the first degree murder of his wife, Laci Peterson, and the second degree murder of their 8-month old unborn son, Conner Peterson. This week, the jury sentenced him to die for those crimes but the judge will ultimately decide whether to uphold that verdict or give him life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Let me first say a word or two about abortion. For some time I believed that the state could not possibly kill Mr. Peterson for the murder of a son it could not and would not protect if his mother had an abortion. It would be hypocritical if the only distinction between what everyone would regard as murder and abortion (which for many, is also murder) is who is doing the killing. However, this is not a perfect abortion case. The baby (or fetus) was 8-months old and California law offers unborna children of that age some protections from third trimester abortions. I will be the first (I hope) to expose this hypocrisy if and when one is convicted for the second degree murder of a 2-month, 3 month and even 5 month-old unborn son or daughter.

I still believe abortion is implicated to the extent that a California offers a cutoff between an unborn child before the third trimester and all of its states of growth afterwords. Did the prosecutor in this case have to establish Conner's viability should he have been removed unnaturally? What distinguishing characterisitc in the growth stage allows us to say it is okay to kill the fetus or embryo at one point and not at another?

Now on to the death penalty. I was reading a "news" article from my opponents at the American Family Association and it of course dutifully reports on one conservative Christian's support for the death penalty. Mr. Randy Thomasson of the Campaign for Children and Families said the jury sent an unmistakable message that you can't murder and get away with it," and that "a society that believes in the sanctity of human life must necessarily support the death penalty in order to protect the innocent." Pardon me if I do not understand. If murder, by which we mean, the act of willfully ending the life of another individual, is wrong, how could we possibly accept the jury's verdict to sentence Scott Peterson to die, and if murder is not what I have described it, what is it? Is it defined by the act or by who commits it? Does Mr. Thommasson assume that murder is the act of willfully ending the life of an innocent person, as opposed to the ending of a murderer? I'm curious why someone would think we must send a message that ending the life of one person is horribly evil by, well, ending the life of another person.

There are three principle victims in this case. Mrs. Laci Peterson and Conner Peterson were murdered by her husband. (The state also wronged Conner Peterson by setting up an arbitrary way of dealing with unborn people like himself, but that's another issue for another time and in no way affects the count in victimhood). And Mr. Peterson doubles as murderer and victim. He killed two people and he will be killed, whether it be next year or 10 years from now. What a spectacle.

Take it off

Judges owe their allegiance to the Constitution they are sworn to uphold and when they are on the bench they are supposed to act as impartial interpreters of that written document. People who see a judge wear such religious displays may get the false (or maybe correct) impression that the judge is basing his decision on some other authority. When they are interpreting the law, they owe their allegiance to the Constitution and the people it is sworn to protect. Not a god.

Thank you.

Kudos to Mr. William Kristol of the Weekly Standard. I'm glad to see a neoconservative all but call on Mr. Rumsfeld to go. The Secretary of Defense said we go to war with the army we have. Yeah. Whatever. Mr. Thompson's remarks on food poisoning were dumb but Mr. Rumsfeld may have won first place with his remarks. Can we get Mr. Ridge to admit to failed security at our airports or get Condoleeza Rice to suggest that Putin's stance on the Ukraine risks all-out nuclear war?

wow

This is one hospital I wouldn't mind going to. I just hope nothing changes.

Like I was saying

Kudos to J. Crohn for doing something I actually suggested to readers of this blog a week (I think) ago. Maplewood's school district unfortunately banned all songs and Mr. Crohn objects to that policy. However, unlike the usual anti-ACLU religious conservatives we generally hear from on television, Mr. Crohn seeks an inclusive musical agenda. Students would be introduced to Jewish music, an Indian Muslim Sufi chant, and other cultural songs.

I wish more people like him would speak out a little more. People like him could bring us all together.

Iraq and elections

I know the president said the Iraqi elections must not be postponed but here are three good commentaries (here, here, and here)from distinguished experts to suggest otherwise. (I third essay provided the links for the other two, which explains why I found them). They don't agree on everything but they certainly believe that an election in which one group is not represented would not be good for the country, particularly since the new government will draft and approve Iraq's new constitution.

New MIddle East Chance

Senator Joe Biden offers a general road map for the Middle East in this op-ed column found in the Los Angeles Times. I think it pretty much sums up what I said in earlier posts but is not as specific.

I'm glad the senator from Delaware has the courage and confidence to speak out on foreign affairs. Most Democrats do not. Mr. Biden is a valuable asset for his party and his colleagues from both parties (but particularly the Democratic Party) would do well to learn from him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I want a Ken doll to go with my Barbie

Here's a long but thought-provoking article out on what could become a new trend - the use of in vitro fertilization and other technological adaptations to select their children's sex. Below are four very good quotes from both sides that I hope my readers pay attention to and focus on. The article is well-written though and thorough so I hope you all read it as well.

1. "The overwhelming number of couples who come in for this are couples who have three, four, five children in one gender and come to us and say, 'Will you guarantee us the opposite?' " - Norbert Gleicher of the Center for Human Reproduction


2. "My job is to help people make healthy babies, not help people design their babies. Gender is not a disease," - Ralph R. Kazer, a Northwestern University fertility doctor.

3. "Our children should not be the result of our desires. We should love them as they are, not as we wanted them to be." Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, a philosophy professor at Georgetown University

4. "We always wanted a boy. We really wanted just one, but we'll be happy with two." Kristen Magill, a mother who selected a male boy through IVF.


Personally, I'm torn on this one. I could see why parents would use in vitro fertilization and other, newer procedures on the horizon to stop a child from developing a serious genetic disease like Sickle Cell, Tay Sachs, or down syndrome. No parent would let their child suffer needlessly when they could stop their child from obtaining those diseases.

If there is any reason to abort a child (aside from a mother's own self-preservation) this would be it. It is entirely child-centered in so far as the parent has the child's needs and concerns put ahead of their own.
The question is where to draw the line. Children who are mentally retarded, for instance, can still live happy (if delusional and purposeless) lives, yet some parents might believe it would be easier on the child if he or she was never born. Ditto with gay people. Even though many gays live very distinguished, productive, and happy lives a parent may not want their child to live in a world that despises them. Doctors must decide where to draw the line. Do they decide it is okay to perform these operations if slow, painful death is inevitable or do they open it up to a whole variety of concerns. And how does a parent separate her emotional and financial needs from that of the child? Do we let the parent decide, in the name of reproductive choice or do we let the doctor make the ultimate decision?

I also see where Mrs. Magill is coming from. She must think it would be unfair to criticize her for using the very same thought-process used by those who adopt their children everyday. How many parents say they want to adopt a baby boy as opposed to a baby girl and how many say they want a girl instead of a boy? It happens at adoption centers around the world every day.

Nevertheless, I think a distinction can and must be made for the sake of the children. Parents in both situations may have the same desires and make the same choices with respect to whether they want a boy or a girl without necessarily having the same effect on them. The adopting couple selects a child of an already pre-determined sex. They select a child whose own destiny is in line with their dreams instead of imposing it on them.

Mrs. Magill and company, in selecting in vitro fertilization or other procedures do not accept the child for who he or she is. They impose their desires on the child by seeking to alter their genetic makeup or by deciding which individual embryo will live or die so they could have their desired boy or girl.

Like Mr. Gomez-Lobo I do believe we are heading towards a consumer-based society where the parents' desires are viewed as more important than the child's. I wonder if the parents who make these decisions can avoid the fashion-store mentality, but I'm not surprised. If parents may kill their fetuses or embryos at will, who would condemn them for attempting molding them into perfect Abercrombie and Fitch babies?.

Monday, December 13, 2004

More Serious Questions for Kerik were to follow

and it involves Mr. Kerik's intervention on behalf of a mob-suspected company, to obtain a license from the city's Trade Waste Commission

Civil vs Sacramental

William Raspberry has a good article distinguishing between the state's interests in marriage and religion's interest in marriage. The former concerns itself with material issues and leave concerns about love, romance and fidelity to the couples while the latter seeks to control those last three goods and does not really concern itself with the material aspects in marriage.

Gay marriage opponents cannot ban gay marriages merely because they believe that gay conduct is immoral or grotesque. In a free country with a Constitutional promise to treat all human beings with equal dignity and respect, the state must accept each human being's right to conduct their own lives according their own set of moral values. Al Sharpton said one thing right in that Meet The Press interview back in November - even God gave us a choice of heaven or hell. (This, of course, assumes that gays and their relationships are immoral, something I assume only for the sake of this argument).

A liberal human rights argument can be made on behalf of the children if there is strong evidence that children need a member of both sexes, but even this is open to criticism. The evidence is still murky for both, those who say children do need one member of the opposite sex and those who say they do not.

Let's take for the sake of argument that it is true and children do need a mother and a father (as opposed to two mothers or two fathers). Okay. The state would have an interest in banning gay adoption or, perhaps, preferring straight adoption, but it would not have an interest in determining whether the gay partner of a dying loved one should be allowed to make the necessary medical decisions on his or her partner's behalf, make funeral arrangements, or inherit property should that partner die.

In every way, the childless homosexual couple and the childless heterosexual couple are equal. The members of both groups share the same financial and emotional needs. The members of both groups want to look out for and be looked after by the other member in their relationship. The members of gay and straight couples want to share a romantic life together, and to stay together in good and in bad times. The members of both groups need a sense of economic security should the unexpected and unfortunate happen.

Since the state recognizes these needs for married childless heterosexual couples and recognizes their marriages, I could not for the life of me see why it does not recognize the childless gay couple. We must move towards a more just America in the near future. Gays may not get marriage today or 20 years from now but the society at large must push in that direction. Readers of this blog know that I believe the wisest and most promising results will come from a gradual cultural and political shift stirred in part by the articulation of gay people's needs from the very gay people themselves. Gay people should push for the more non-controversial provisions first - domestic partnership arrangements or civil unions or, particularly in the South, employment non-discrimination laws for now. Do what is reachable first. Enlist the support of those who are in the middle on gay rights in these endeavors. Then, when the society-at-large sees there was no harm done, go for marriage.

Foreign Ministers Speak Up

Some former foreign ministers wrote a joint op-ed on Iran in today's Washington Post. Nothing specific is called for but they believe the Europeans and Americans must work together towards a firm plan should the Iranians fail to live up to its new obligations and towards a rewards agreement should the Iranians comply and dismantle its nuclear weaponry completely.

stupid comment from last week

Pat Buchanan was hosting Scarborough Country for most of last week. On one day he did a segment on "The Passion of Christ" and its main competitor in the Oscar's "Farenheit 911." Firebrand Bill Donahue of the Catholic League had this to say:

"BUCHANAN: Well, since about tens of millions of Americans saw it, loved it, appreciated it, and honored it, that tells us, Rabbi, I think, what you think of the intelligence and sensitivity of millions of Americans.

Bill Donahue, what do you think about “The Passion of the Christ”? And as a practical matter, even if Hollywood hated the film, it seems to me as an artistic work of art, a smashing triumph, a film of great controversy and interest, it ought to at least be nominated for best picture. It pulled in more money than any other picture all year.

WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: I spoke to Mel a couple of weeks ago about this. And I don‘t think it really matters a whole lot to him. It certainly doesn‘t matter to me. We‘ve already won.

Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It‘s not a secret, OK? And I‘m not afraid to say it. That‘s why they hate this movie. It‘s about Jesus Christ, and it‘s about truth. It‘s about the messiah.

Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost.

You have got secular Jews. You have got embittered ex-Catholics, including a lot of ex-Catholic priests who hate the Catholic Church, wacko Protestants in the same group, and these people are in the margins. Frankly, Michael Moore represents a cult movie. Mel Gibson represents the mainstream of America. "


So what does secular Judaism have to do with this, and who said Hollywood types like abortions, don't like children?

Another Good Interview

Jeff Fleischer of Mother Jones has a very good interview with outgoing U.S. Senator Bob Graham of Florida. The senator, a Democrat, specialized in intelligence while serving in the senate and has now come out with his own book on the subject. He speaks about the failures of 9-11 briefly but pay attention to what he says about Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria and what we should do. He believes we've been too complacent and while he does not advocate war (which is, by the way, not always the best or efficient of solutions) he takes a fairly hard line.

The Nuanced View

Kenneth Pollack on the Administration's Iranian Policy

The administration believes that regime change is the only appropriate policy for Iran, especially in keeping with President Bush's weltanschauung. And I think that they're caught in a loop. Because I think they are realistic enough to recognize that our ability to effect regime change in Iran is extremely limited. So on the one hand, regime change in Iran is the only appropriate policy. But they can't do it -- but they're not willing to go beyond it. Someone else might say, "Well, this is our preferred policy, but it's not possible, so let's move on to things that we can do." But their feeling is that it's better to stand on principle than to make any kind of compromises to get a policy that I don't think they would even regard as second-best.


Matthew Yglesias has the full interview here at The American Prospect. Mr. Pollack supports a nuanced position which includes tougher enforcement mechanisms (the stick) and American-Iranian negotiations (the carrot) down the line. This is the only realistic and sensible strategy. I would also add chemical and biological weapons to the list of banned weapons, however.

If it was important to stop the Iraqis from gaining such weapons (and I believe it was), it certainly is important (perhaps more so given Iran's status as a terrorist state) to demand it here.

These weapons, while not as destructive as nuclear weapons, kill a lot of people and will cause mayhem should a terrorist use them in one of our cities.

Supreme Court war will do us no good

Four justices - Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David H. Souter tend to vote liberal on civil rights, civil liberties, federalism, and religion issues. Three justices - Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas tend to vote conservative on those issues. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor are the swing votes. O'Connor upheld affirmative action programs in part, and Kennedy wrote the opinion striking down sodomy laws.

Both joined their more liberal colleagues in overthrowing an anti-gay referendum barring anti-discrimination protection for gays while upholding the Boy Scout's right to bar gays and atheists from their clubs. Both voted to uphold the central ruling in Roe v. Wade while upholding some restrictions and both voted to ban school-led prayers at graduation ceremonies and sporting events while upholding school vouchers and various aid projects for religious schools.

To be sure the other justices can defy expectations and vote with the other side. Justice Breyer joined O'Connor and the right-wing of the court in upholding some aid program that helped religious and non-religious schools, in upholding restrictions on some pornographic speech, and in permitting the detention of war combatants indefinitely, though with some important caveats and restrictions. Scalia went to the left on flag burning rights and on an American citizen's due process rights to a fair, regular trial, even if they are war combatants. Justice Thomas is the least likely to support restrictions on pornographic speech.

But by far and large they vote in these two blocs and Justices O'Connor and Kennedy decide which side will write the opinion.

Justice Rehnquist has thyroid cancer and that makes him the most likely to step down from the bench first. Republicans and Democrats are gearing for a battle over his replacement. The Republican rhetorical strategy is fairly effective. They will say that his replacement will lead to no re-alignment and that is probably a winning strategy. The president will have to fight for an equally conservative nominee if he will satisfy his base but if Justice Stevens. If one of the more liberal justices were to retire (either Ginsburg for health reasons or Stevens for old age), the Democrats will have to fight for their base lest they lose a member of the liberal coalition and if a moderate were to resign (probably O'Connor) both parties will feel the pressure from the left and right.

This will not be good for the country. These justices are sworn to uphold the Constitution and hold our leaders true to its principles. Both sides disagree on the nature of its principles and the extent of its promise to the American citizens and both sides in part, define those principles and promise by their own moral outlook and how they envision the American promise. By entertaining a power coup, the two sides will forever damage our justices' credibility, leaving no one with the moral authority to protect the Constitution. A conservative Court will seek to undermine if not overturn Court decisions made by liberal justices and push a conservative agenda while liberal Courts will seek to advance the liberal agenda.

The Republicans have won more seats in the last election. They will be tempted to push their moral philosophy and vision for our country on those who vehemently disagree with them. For the good of the nation they must strike a deal with their Democratic counterparts and the Democrats must do likewise.

Here's my suggestion. The Democrats should allow Bush to replace Rehnquist with another equally conservative justice but when a liberal retires Bush should replace him or her with another equally liberal justice and when one of the two moderates retires they should agree on a moderate replacement.

Conservatives should be the first to realize the limits of governmental power and the power of culture. Liberals can stop them from pushing their values on those who disagree with the traditionalist-oriented American society but they cannot impose their own values on the traditionalists either. One need only look at the unfortunate votes against gay marriage and civil unions to see that. Conservatives can afford to give up a little.

Liberals, for their part, can afford to give a little as well since they won the most important Court battles protecting minority rights. The majority could hold to a certain moral code but they cannot impose them on those with liberal moral values (privacy rights, establishment clause).


Both sides should give up a little bit, let the Supreme Court alignment stay where it is, and fight what remains in the culture war.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

I don't know about you but

I would have faired a whole lot better with a course on how to budget your living expenses than one on algebra or calculus anyday. Engineers and computer whizzes may need to learn about those equations but the average citizen does not.

Another Iran story

Here's a story that deals with the complications involved in a military strike.

A Reprieve for Peace

Peace negotiators and supporters could sigh with relief now that Marwan Barghouti withdrew from the race to succeed the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Mr. Barghouthi is serving five life sentences in prison for the planning of several terrorist attacks. He was a very popular figure and tied the establishment favorite, Mahmoud Abbas, in the polls. If he won, the Israelis would have faced a very difficult choice - free a well-known terrorist or deny the Palestinians their chosen leader and self governance. The religious zealots would have pressured Sharon to keep him in prison and forsake the peace process. Palestinian militants would have insisted on his release and use Sharon's refusal as an excuse to legitimize future terrorist attacks.

The moderates on both sides bought some time. Let's hope they pressure Sharon and the future Palestinian leader to push forward with the peace talks while making the very tough choices needed for peace - Israeli withdrawal from the settlements and a Palestinian crackdown on its known terrorists.

Carrots and Sticks

It's no surprise but the Europeans and Americans disagree on how to approach Iran about its nuclear program. The Europeans reached a deal with the Iranians which requires the Iranians to halt their nuclear weapons program in exchange for a talk on economic incentives. They believe Iranians would have a stronger incentive to cooperate if the Americans joined in the negotiations, negotiations that may offer a chance of a better relationship with the United States.

Our administration takes a tougher, more hawkish view. The president's advisors will not rule out a possible strike on Iranian nuclear programs. They are secretly recording talks between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, and they refuse to budge unless the Iranians renounce terrorism and forsake their ties to Hamas and Hezbollah. Since the IAEA does not have unfettered access to Iranian nuclear programs, the president does not believe that the arrangement will work. The White House urges the Europeans, Russians, and Chinese to get behind a unified plan to pressure the Iranians into compliance.

President Bush has every reason to be skeptical towards the Euro-Iranian deal, particularly since the IAEA has limited access to those programs and he rightly insists on Iran's abandonment of terrorism. Nevertheless but his push for a unified approach is unrealistic unless he is willing to change his tone on negotiations. The Chinese, Russians, and Pakistanis - three countries needed to enforce any economic boycott and stop the flow of military weaponry abroad, are developing closer ties with the Iranians. They fear our increasingly active role in the former Soviet Republics and the Middle East. The Europeans are willing to negotiate on their own.

If we are to have any influence over the negotiations we cannot refuse to enter into them and since the Europeans have not negotiated over Iran's chemical and biological weapons program, two things we went to war over Iraq over, we might gain something from talks.

The White House should not rule out participation. It should agree to low-level meetings with the Iranians but then insist that such talks include (1) unfettered IAEA access to Iran's nuclear sites, (2) unfettered access to the country's chemical and biological weapons program - something the Europeans have not discussed yet, (3) the cessation of all terrorism sponsorship and (4) the possible cessation of all hostile actions against Israel and the "great Satan" (what they call us).

Just when I thought I was done...

I added links to the Senate, House of Representatives, White House, Supreme Court and Federal Communications Commission. I also added a link to Project Vote Smart so you could track the senators' and congressmen's voting records and the ratings they get from various interest groups. I know I might be overdoing the linking but I believe it is better to have more links than none and Project Vote Smart is a very good source for those who would like to know what their congressmen and senators are voting on in Washington, D.C. It's easy to use, and they categorize their votes by subject matter so if you find some issue more important than another you could click away.



A word or two about the new features

As you can see I have done a lot to my web site. I have added an e-mail link which can be reached from the profile page and new links. Feel free to e-mail me about my articles or any interesting tidbits you would like to add. Occasionally I may wish to publish a letter but that is at your discretion. I will respect your wishes, whether you want the letter published with your name or link, published anonymously, or not published at all provided that you indicate your wishes in your letter.

The new links include an assortment of news magazines, think tanks, research sites, and political interest groups. These sites are for your use. I do not endorse the particular views on any site. They are there for you to gather information. Some sites I visit often (my pet issues are civil rights/liberties and foreign policy afterall) and some sites I visit occasionally.

To be fair I have included magazines, think tanks and news services from both the right and the left. In closed parentheses you will find a brief description of the sites ideological leanings to the best of my ability. I know they cannot be simply categorized by conservative or liberal but it does help to understand their ideological leanings in general.

The New Republic, National Review, American Prospect, Atlantic Monthly, American Cause, Reason, Mother Jones and Nation are written by partisan intellectuals and elites. Newsweek and Times Magazines are purportedly journalistic magazines. The Russian news stations are largely controlled by the Russian state even when privately owned. Since they are not completely independent, they may provide a clue into Mr. Putin's foreign policy.

Oyez includes the transcripts and audio tapes for Supreme Court oral arguments. The Legal Information Institute and FindLaw include links to Supreme Court rulings as well as rulings from the lower courts. I also included links to organizations that take a liberal to libertarian view on constitutional issues (The First Amendment Center, the ACLU, and the National Rifle Association) as well as assorted think tanks from the liberal, libertarian and conservative perspectives.

More importantly, I re-arranged my template so that you may click on the link and open a new window without losing your spot on my blog. As much as I'd like you to read the news articles or read someone else's opinions on any given issue, I do believe I have something to add to the discussion or topic.

I will add sites when appropriate and perhaps a counter by the end of the year. I'm not sure. In any case I wish you all a good night (or morning) and will continue my blogging sometime today.



Saturday, December 11, 2004

New Features

As promised I have added new links for you to review and have set up an e-mail account solely devoted to this web site. I have added a few Russian news links, a political blog link project, a couple of web blogs, and a few more news links I find important. Feel free to e-mail me by clicking on my profile and looking to the left. Occasionally I may find something that you write intriguing and may wish to publish it (without the name or without the name, depending on your preference) so please, if you wish to keep your thoughts between the two of us note that in the article.

As noted, please keep a respectful tone. Thanks.



Uh. Yeah. Whatever.

Forget the scissors! Let's ban pencils! You could poke your eyes out with them and get led poisoning.

Perhaps these guys and good rev. down below should get together and learn a thing or two about the serious school problems. Honestly. These people are teaching the kids? I feel for the children.

Understatement for the Week

"Boys are all the time doing stupid things." - Principal and Rev. James West of
Lake Dow Christian Academy commenting on one student's attemp to sell a pipe bomb for $35.

From Tomorrow's Paper Today

I know that sounds weird but yes, the Washington Post article is dated for tomorrow even though it is online as of 3:01 pm today (and it was probably up earlier). It's a good column on abstinence-only education. Mrs. Deborah M. Roffman wrote a well-written and reasoned opinion for those who support a more comprehensive sex education approach.

Kerik

You'd think Bush would have learned from his mistakes with Linda Chavez, or from the numerous mistakes Bill Clinton made. Here's a New York Times article, that informs us that many newspapers were going to come out with stories with more embarrassing and potentially legal problems concerning. Mr. Kerik.
Newsday does a story on how Mr. Kerik could have used his inside role in Homeland Security to help his business partners.

So he was poisoned

It is not a new story per se. Some bloggers said that he may have been poisoned but I decided against posting links or directing you to the appropriate web sites until it was confirmed by a newspaper. Well, the New York Times confirmed it. Mr. Yushchenko was poisoned, perhaps in September.

Mr. Yushchenko may have been poisoned by Kuchma aides but that has not bee confirmed yet. In fact, it may never be confirmed as long as Kuchma is in power or should Mr. Yanukovich win the election run-off. For all we know, he may have been poisoned by a disgruntled campaign worker, friend, or family member.

Peter Beinart continued

Before I go to bed at this absurd hour I would like to re-post Peter Beinart's column. The Washington Post op-ed did not publish his full argument and since it was a pretty good one I thought I'd link you to the New Republic version. He edits the magazine so I'm sure it was printed in full there.

The National Review's Jonah Goldberg thinks Beinart is just dreaming. He says the Democratic base won't accept the anti-jihadist crusade. Perhaps, but if the party decided to bring swing voters into the base or go for the centrist Democrats it might re-create itself or at the very least, ensure intense competition between the peacenik/Chomskyite coalition and the liberal hawks during the primaries. Does Senator Biden want to step up?

Remember Democrats. The war against nuclear insanity (the war against nuclear weapons), chemical and biological weapons, religious fundamentalism, genocide, and other human rights abuses is or should be a part of (and obviously does not contradict) your progressive agenda. Gays cannot marry if religious fundamentalists throw them off mountains or behead them. Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace if they are forced to wear burkhas and stay at home without schooling. Economic re-distribution means nothing if the state may kill you at will.

If you could fuse that message with the dream you have for a more perfect America you may win back some liberal patriots and the next presidential election. Will Senator Biden step up?

The Kurdish Federalist Problem

In one of my earlier posts I commented on the election delay requested by the Sunnis and some Kurdish groups. I noted that both groups fear what may happen after the elections. The Shi'ite-dominated government (which is almost assured in a Shi'ite-populated country), will draft and vote on Iraq's new constitution. The Sunnis fear revenge after years of oppression. They also fear the emergence of a theocratic state.

The Kurdish problem is regional, ethnic, and cultural. For years the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey fought off the nationalistic state governments which suppressed their cultural and political identity. Now they seek an autonomous, Kurdish-dominated region that will allow them to keep their way of life. Massoud Barzani's request for the de-Arabization of a key city in northern Iraq is in line with this strategy.

As I said before, the newly-elected Shi'ite government should appoint a commission with equal representation for Shi'ite Iraqi Arabs, Sunni Iraqi Arabs, and Kurds so that everyone feels their government represents them.

A common element

What is it with these nominees. Zoe Baird , Lani Guinier, Kimba Wood, and, though the Chicago Tribune didn't mention it, Linda Chavez.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Patiot II

It shouldn't surprise anyone but the new intelligence reform package that passed both the House and Senate this week includes some provisions that the administration failed to push for in a second "patriot act." According to the Washington Post, these provisions were not recommended by the Tom Kean-Lee Hamilton committee that looked into better security measures after 9-11. From now until at least 2005 (when Congress can re-authorize the legislation or let it expire), terrorist suspects will be automatically denied bail if they are a danger or a flight risk, federal prosecutors could share information obtained by grand juries with foreign governments, and penalties for the possession of smallpox, anti-aircraft weaponry, and dirty bombs will be increased.

These additions are not troubling per se. Judges deny defendants bail when they believe a criminal may not show up in court or if they think the defendant will commit a crime while out on bail. The defendant's confinement is only temporary. If the state decides it does not have enough evidence for a trial, or if he is acquitted by a jury of his or her peers, the state must release the defendant. I do worry, to some extent, given this administration's contempt for the legal process. See also here. In these two cases, one concerning terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay and one even concerning an American citizen, the administration said it did not have to justify its decision to hold these people prisoners for the indefinite future.

The administration's decision to increase the penalties for the listed crimes is of no concern either. Congress has every right to increase penalties for crimes already on the books. Sometimes it may not be wise (though here I believe it probably is) but in either case Congress can make that decision.

The decision to share information with foreign governments is not unconstitutional per se though I would not be surprised if the federal government convenes a grand jury (which merely rubber stamps a prosecutor's decision to bring a defendant to trial) for a terrorist suspect, ask it to "find" some facts (no cross examination from the defense is required mind you), and then ship the prisoner with the new "evidence" to another country like Morocco or Saudi Arabia - two countries that don't conduct fair trials.

I am more concerned with the "lone wolf" provisions briefly mentioned in an earlier post, which would loosen the restrictions on secret surveillance so that the FBI could secretly spy on suspected terrorists without tying him or her to a known terrorist organization. What kind of evidence would they need before they could spy on these people and invade their privacy rights? If the evidence tying them to any terrorist activity is any less, I'm clearly against it, but if the same standard of evidence is required to prove a strong suspicion of terrorist activity, this may not be a great deal. The devil is in the details.

It's too bad the newspapers are just now publishing this story. Congress already voted on it so there was no debate concerning these issues. Were they last minute additions the administration's key allies snuck in so there would be no debate or controversy? Let's hope the newspapers follow up on this provision and the administration's tactics in the very near future.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Canada heading in the right direction.

Canada's Supreme Court said its government could pass a law opening marriage up for gay couples but it was not required to do so. The Prime Minister Paul Martin said he will push for gay marriage legislation in the near future.

I do not know where the Canadian people stand on gay marriage but I sincerely hope they are open-minded about the prospect. Conservatives should realize that gay people are seeking what straight people take for granted - the right to fall in love, the right to date that person, and then ultimately to express that love with all of the rewards and expectations tied to marriage.

In a related matter, American gay rights groups are considering smaller steps leading up to marriage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions are good, realistic (and probably) necessary first steps on the way to marriage and seek out help wherever you can.

The Security Wall

The Europeans are not pressuring Israel to back down on the security fence it is building between Israel and the Palestinian areas. This is an unfortunate decision on their part. The Israelis and Palestinians should be negotiating over the future Israeli-Palestinian borders. The wall represents a unilateral decision on the part of Israel, to divide the two states without any input from the Palestinians. Moreover, it will represent the two states' failures to cooperate on water rights, trade, and peace.

Prime Minister Sharon must push to re-start peace negotiations with the Palestinians now that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is dead. The Palestinians are entitled to a new start. Let's hope they pick wisely. Mr. Sharon must halt settlement construction in the West Bank, withdraw settlements in the Gaza Strip, and not let the terrorists derail peaceful negotiations. He cannot expect the Palestinians to stop every terrorist attack (though, as I say below, he can expect their full cooperation in this respect).

The new Palestinian leader must denounce terrorism and have his police force arrest and interrogate anyone they believe is planning a terrorist attack and he must order his troops to turn over to Israeli security forces any and all information it gets concerning a potential attack from within Israel proper.

Let's hope Mr. Sharon's prospective new partners in Labor will push him to make those changes and let's hope the Palestinians choose a leader who will stand up against the Palestinian extremists.