Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hating the crimes

Over at Lean Left, Tgirsch links to a post at another site where a discussion was going on
about whether or not it’s justifiable to classify “hate crimes” as a separate class of crimes over and above just ordinary assault/murder/vandalism/whatever.
I left a couple of comments there (i.e., at Lean Left) on the topic, which I thought could bear repeating here. This is a re-edited and somewhat expanded version of those comments.

The usual (flawed) understanding of "hate crimes" legislation is that it would make the hate itself, rather than any actions based on the hate, the crime. It's that misunderstanding that leads people to fear that "hate crimes" will lead inexorably to "thought crimes," to people being prosecuted strictly for their opinions.

The thing is, I don't know of anyone who's proposed anything approaching that, i.e., proposed a law to make hate itself illegal. "It's now illegal to be a bigot." Besides the Constitutional issues, it's absurd on its face to seriously entertain the notion of being able to simply outlaw racism or ban sexist or homophobic remarks or whatever - or at least it's absurd to think any such law would actually achieve any of those ends or even be enforceable. So let's drop that particular misconception and focus on the real argument, one which, as is explicit in the very phrase "hate crimes," refers to "crimes motivated by hate."

First, it needs to be noted that 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have some version of hate crimes laws, as do a number of other countries. So the idea of such laws is neither outlandish nor even unusual. It's their scope and application that are at issue, not their existence.

The argument for hate crimes as a separate category of crimes is, in a nutshell, that hate crimes are different from "ordinary" crimes both because the motivation is more insidious, more destructive to community and society, and because the victim of the crime is not the only victim: A message is being sent to every other member of the same group as the victim that "You could be next. You are not welcome here." As some have expressed it, the individual is the victim but the group is the target.

While I understand and even basically agree with the logic, still, I must confess that I have never been moved to favor hate crimes being a separate category. But I have favored and do favor having "hate" be an aggravating factor in other crimes, that is, a factor that would result in a stiffer sentence upon conviction. And just to be absolutely clear to a degree quite beyond what should be necessary, this would not just apply to obvious cases such as that of Matthew Shepard. (Or Nekedia Cato. Or Lawrence King.) Get into an argument in a bar and slug someone who later turns out to be gay, you've committed assault. Get into an argument in a bar and slug someone because they're gay, you've committed assault aggravated by hatred, which results in a tougher punishment.

That, frankly, seems very straightforward to me, a way of stiffening society's stand against bigotry, and one that I can't imagine any decent person opposing. Because yes, slugging someone in a bar because they are gay (or black, or Jewish, or a woman, or whatever) is worse than slugging someone in a bar because you had a few too many beers and an argument about who was the greatest left-hander of all time got out of hand. It is more harmful to the community as a whole and it does deserve a harsher penalty, even if the crime is not of the overtly cruel "I'm gonna go out and kill me a fill in the blank" type to which it's too easy to limit ourselves when we think of bias or hate crimes.

The trickier part, and for that same reason the more controversial part, comes in when we move away from the immediate crime against an individual to the area of "promoting hatred," the creation of an intimidating atmosphere such that certain people or groups are hindered in their ability to participate in the community. Some argue that by their very nature, hate crimes against individuals reveal an intent to intimidate - remember the idea that "the group is the target." While the impact of one such attack may be arguable, it would be easy to agree - and I think most would - that the occasion of a string of incidents would demonstrate an active effort at intimidation.

But what if there are no such incidents? What if, instead, it becomes clear that the intent is to use calumny and condemnation to drive "them" out of the community or at least underground, invisible, by making it too uncomfortable, too threatening, for "them" to do otherwise, even in the absence of direct violence?

Claims are made that no Constitutionally-valid law can touch this because in that absence of specific acts or specific incitement to such acts that would be "punishment of opinion," the creation of a "thought crime." But that simply won't fly. After all, we regard economic coercion, e.g., a Mafia protection racket, as illegal not only if there is no actual damage but even if there are no actual threats, merely implied ones. Why should emotional coercion, psychological intimidation, based on prejudice be different? Why should intimidation be beyond the reach of social regulation, i.e., law, because the driving force is bigotry rather than greed?

Now, as a matter of practicality, establishing proof of an intent to intimidate a group in such a way as to drive its members away or underground is clearly harder than in the case of doing it to an individual, especially if there are no "overt acts" to which a prosecutor or a plaintiff's lawyer could point - but as a matter of the principle involved, I simply do not see a difference. Which means, I say, that "active promotion of hatred" legitimately can be criminalized in precisely the same way that other forms of intimidation can be. Yes, again, it might be harder to prove, but frankly that's not the point here.

Taking another step back, though, is where things start to get sticky for me. What if you can't say the intent is to drive "them" out but it is clear that that is the effect? Intent clearly matters in criminal law, but not always in civil law.

(Sidebar: Another spurious objection to hate crimes legislation is that it would of necessity involve determining intent, and that would be "mind reading." But that's silly: Determining intent is routine in criminal law. Just consider the obvious case of [deliberate] murder versus [accidental] manslaughter. What's more, "lack of criminal intent" can be a defense against some charges.)

Would it be possible to craft Constitutionally-valid legislation that could penalize such an effect even lacking a showing of intent? I have to admit I'm not at all sure. Certainly, we're done something similar before in the "disparate impact" standard applied to discrimination cases under civil rights laws, but still I have my doubts: Those sorts of disparate impacts could be demonstrated by looking to numbers, to quantities. If you're running a business that uses un- or semi-skilled labor in an area which is 50% black but only 5% of your employees are black, you'd better have a damn good reason, especially if it develops that 35% of your applicants were black. (Yes, I know I'm oversimplifying for the sake of illustration but the point that disparate impact can be based on actual data remains valid.) But when we look to the effect, the impact, of "promoting hatred," what are the standards? What measures do you apply? And if you do find such measures, where is the line to be drawn? The principle remains the same, that of opposition to bigotry in all its forms and of opposition to the effects of bigotry in all their forms. But we may have reached the point here where the competing principle of free speech and the practicalities of enforceable law may overwhelm the other.

Which brings up the last point I wanted to cover here, and I think it's an important one: What if that calumny and condemnation come not from Joe Blow or Jane Doe but from a person or persons in a position of authority or influence? Does that matter? I say it most certainly does. Should a minister who repeatedly castigates homosexuals as "abominations" and worse truly and reasonably be able to claim to have zero responsibility if one of their parishioners acts on that teaching? Can those who for years on end have denounced abortion providers as "murderers of unborn children" really properly blink their eyes in (possibly feigned) innocent confusion and claim it has nothing to do with them when a bomb goes off in a clinic? Put more generally, is there a point at which "I'm only expressing my opinion/belief" is no longer a justification, no longer a protected expression, but becomes like the classic of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater? On an ethical and moral level, I say yes, absolutely, and our condemnation of those who use their pulpits, whether religious or bully, to spread bigotry should be denounced unreservedly. But on a legal level I have to say that I don't know how you define that point or determine where it is, decide how and when you can actually assign responsibility. Which is unfortunate, because there are some hides I would very much like to see nailed to a courthouse wall on exactly this basis.

Part of the difficulty - or perhaps just my difficulty - here is the adage "hard cases make bad law," which, though often misunderstood, means that a close case, where the decision is a struggle, is a bad basis for establishing a rigid standard. So while I'm clear on the principle that the mere expression of hatred must be, even if unhappily, regarded as protected speech, I'm also clear on the principle that the active promotion of hatred is not, especially if it has some discernible effect. What I'm not at all clear on is just where the line between them is drawn or just how to locate it.

That, however, does not mean we shouldn't try.

Footnote: It seems to me that there are two kinds of people who object to hate crimes legislation, and while they advance generally the same arguments, their, um, intent is different. On the one hand are the civil liberties absolutists, who can be from the right but are more usually from the left, and on the other hand are those, exclusively from the right, who just want to make sure no one interferes with their God-given right to be bigoted scum. The former group I will gladly engage in conversation; the latter group, whose members can usually be identified by their harping on claims that whites and Christians are victimized groups and their repeated references to being oppressed by "political correctness," can kiss my fat ass.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some questions answer themselves

Why is it we never read about some lefty nutso going into some church or meeting and shooting up the place because they "hate conservatives?"

(And no, it's not because the biased left-wing socialist media wouldn't report it.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Footnote to the preceding, Lest We Forget Div.

(Cross-posted to the Out of Iraq Bloggers Caucus.)

Turkish officials stated that their warplanes bombed 13 "rebel targets" in northern Iraq on Wednesday, AP reported.
Turkey has conducted frequent air raids on suspected positions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq. Earlier this year, it also launched a weeklong ground offensive there. ...

The PKK has been fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984. The violence has killed tens of thousands of people since then.

The rebels use bases in Iraq as a staging ground for cross-border attacks on Turkish targets.

The military said it was determined to press ahead with anti-rebel operations both inside Turkey and across the border in Iraq "according to military needs."
It needs to be mentioned here that Turkey's battle with the PKK is largely of its own making, having viciously repressed the Kurds, who make up nearly 20% of Turkey's population, in the wake of the 1980 military coup - even for eight years banning the use of the Kurdish language in an effort to deny their cultural identity, an effort which continues today.

The result, almost a predictable one, has been to create a new, more radicalized generation, "the children of serhildan," (intifada, uprising) in the words of anthropologist Hisyar Ozsoy. It's a generation raised in poverty and schooled on
endless tales of family and friends burnt out of their villages in the hills and decanted into the slums of [the eastern city of] Diyarbakir
as part of a deliberate scorched earth policy undertaken by the Turkish military during an intense period of fighting in the early 1990s. A generation more prepared for more violence than their elders. A generation created by war whose existence promises more of it.

This is by no means to say the PKK is innocent; it has in years past been willing to kill those it regarded as "traitors" and has attacked civilians. Still, beyond a few examples such as a suspected PKK bombing in Ankara in May 2007, actual cases of attacks on civilians as opposed to military targets and armed police have proved hard to come by, and most of the sources for those were Turkish, which necessarily raises issues of possible bias.

But again, this is not to say the PKK is innocent. It is, however, to say that if Turkey really wants to solve its "Kurdish problem" rather than, as it has in the past, temporarily suppress it, it will need to learn, as governments over history have learned, that dropping bombs in not the way to do it because "what goes around, comes around." A. J. Muste was much closer to the mark:

"There is no way to peace - peace is the way."

Footnote to the Footnote: The US, among others, regards the PKK as a terrorist organization. According to Seymour Hersh, however, that has not kept the US and Israel from
working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran, I was told by a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership, as “part of an effort to explore alternative means of applying pressure on Iran.”
The Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PEJAK,
emerged this decade as an Iranian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK....

Former members say PEJAK was meant to circumvent Western restrictions on contacts with the PKK, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union.
Both the US and Israel deny any support for PEJAK, but given the choice between the US government, the Israeli government, and Seymour Hersh, I damn well know which one I trust.

Reality check

(Cross-posted to the Out of Iraq Bloggers Caucus.)

Okay, kiddies, it's time to set the Wayback Machine for January 2007. What was the purpose of The Surge(reg.)(c)(pat.pend.)?

While you're thinking about that, check out this from ABC News for Wednesday:
Iraq's presidential council on Wednesday rejected a draft provincial elections law and sent it back to parliament for reworking - a major blow to U.S. hopes that the vote can be held this year.

The decision was likely to delay the elections until next year because there would not be sufficient time to make the necessary preparations.
The law was pushed through Parliament the day before in the face of a walkout by Kurdish members angered over the imposition of a secret ballot on a provision for ethnic power-sharing in the disputed city of Kirkuk.

The rejection of the method was echoed by Deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah, a Shiite, who called the secret ballot unconstitutional and accused lawmakers of "arm-twisting," saying it is "foolish and absurd to pass a law that has been rejected by an entire bloc."

Iraqi laws must be ratified by the presidential council, which by Iraq's constitution consists of one Shiite, one Sunni, and one Kurd. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, rejected the election plan. Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was out of the country.

The issue of Kirkuk is a very sensitive one for the Kurds. It is now a multi-ethnic city but Kurds have long considered it part of their historical land - and as a center of Iraq's oil industry, control of it carries economic and political clout as well. Article 140 of the Constitution says the status of the city is to be decided by a referendum which was supposed to have taken place by the end of 2007. So I suppose it's easy to understand the Kurds' frustration at not only not having a referendum but by the attempt to have the matter decided by what amounts to unconstitutional parliamentary fiat, frustration which they made clear:
"We declare that the Kurdistan region is not bound by the results of this unconstitutional process," the Kurdish Regional Government, which oversees the three provinces in its semiautonomous territory, said in a statement.
I've discussed on more than one occasion how the area could be a flashpoint for ethnic conflict. Clearly, it remains such.

So in sum, the status of Kirkuk remains unresolved, the Kurds are walking out of parliamentary sessions, the process for regional elections is still deadlocked, and the Sunnis remain pretty much on the outside.

Now that you've had time to think about it, let's go back to the original question: What were we told was the purpose of The Surge(reg.)(c)(pat.pend.)? What's that? Did you say "to provide an opening for political reconciliation?" You are correct! Now for your bonus question: On its own terms, then, has The Surge(reg.)(c)(pat.pend.) worked? (Tick-tock, tick-tock....)

Footnote, Here's to Reconciliation Div.: The Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party, has
denounced the shooting deaths of two relatives of a provincial governor Sunday during a U.S. raid north of Baghdad.

The U.S. military said two armed relatives of Salahuddin governor Hamad Hammoud were killed during a raid aimed at al-Qaida in Iraq elements in the city of Beiji. It said the slain men showed "hostile intent" and American troops fired in self-defense.
As they always do. But the IIP called the shootings unjustified and a "heinous crime" while denouncing what the group called "continued violations of the legal and judicial authority of the Iraqi government" by US forces.

Meanwhile, Middle East Online reports that in a separate incident, Iraqi police and US soldiers have given conflicting accounts of the shooting death of the son of the editor of a US-financed weekly paper.
"He lost control near the Bahrain bakery in southern Kirkuk... then they fired on him, killing him instantly," the police official said, adding that a friend riding next to [Arkan Ali al-]Nuaimi survived.

A US military spokesman, however, provided a different account of what appeared to be the same incident.

Major John Hall told AFP in an emailed response that a group of dismounted US soldiers was attacked with small arms fire from an approaching purple sedan.
And the soldiers fired, as they always do, in self-defense. As always.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Humpty-Dumpty visits the Middle East

Last year, when negotiations re-opened between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel pledged it would neither establish new settlements in the West Bank nor expand existing ones, in apparent recognition of what a sore spot they are for Palestinians and that they represent a real roadblock to a settlement.

However, "apparent" means not only "readily seen" but also "ostensible rather than actual." The latter definition now is more applicable. From ABC News for Thursday:
A key committee has approved construction of the first new Jewish settlement in the West Bank in a decade, an Israeli official said Thursday. ...

The only hurdle that remains is Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who plans to approve the Maskiot settlement within weeks, the official said. Barak had signaled to the national planning committee that it should authorize the plan, the official said.
The announcement comes just days after Gordon Brown, on his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories as Prime Minister, demanded that Israel cease construction of settlements.
"I think the whole European Union is very clear on this matter: We want to see a freeze on settlements."

"Settlement expansion has made peace harder to achieve. It erodes trust, it heightens Palestinian suffering, it makes the compromises Israel needs to make for peace more difficult," Brown said at a news conference....
The Jersusalem Post (Israel) says that the new approval is for a 20-home building project at the settlement, which lies in the Jordan Rift Valley. That number is in addition to the
six modular homes illegally placed there in November 2007 by families evacuated from the former Gaza settlement of Shirat Hayam.

Jordan Valley Regional Council head Dubi Tal said the modular homes were still unauthorized but that he would work now on getting them permits,
permits which would essentially give retroactive approval to the illegal settlement. Settlers there now - radical Orthodox Jews who believe God gave all of Biblical Israel, Judea, and Samaria (the latter two encompassing the West Bank) to the Jewish people - claim there are two dozen families waiting for the houses to be built in order to move there.

Despite the official go-ahead, pending only the final paperwork, Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's mouthpiece Mark Regev are claiming with straight faces and day-glo smiles that "Israel will abide by all our commitments and there will be no new settlements and no outward expansion of existing ones." Because, y'see, Maskiot had been established a while back as a military base and there was a school there - so even though there were no residents before the recent admittedly illegal ones, they say that Maskiot therefore is not a new settlement. And expansion? Well, that doesn't apply to building new facilities, oh no, no way, only to physical expansion of a settlement's boundaries.

In fact, when the Israeli group Peace Now said that Maskiot's claimed prior existence as a settlement was based on a technicality and the construction amounted to creating a new settlement, government officials replied that
it had been a settlement with buildings since the 1980s and the only thing that was happening was that more buildings were being added.
So there's nothing to see here, move along, go back to your homes. Because when they use a word (such as "settlement," "new," or "expand"), it means just what they choose it to mean - neither more nor less.

Footnote: The Jordan Rift Valley runs along the Jordan River from Lake Hula, through the Sea of Galilee, to the Dead Sea. It's a section of the Great Rift Valley, which runs from Lebanon to Mozambique. Why Maskiot is particularly important is that
[a] number of Israeli politicians ... have said Israel needs to retain control of the Jordan Valley as a buffer between a future Palestinian state and Jordan.
In fact, a settlers' group calls the area "the eastern border of Israel." Which means that the intention of these politicians and settlers is at minimum to have any Palestinian state in the West Bank be quite literally surrounded by Israeli territory - which also means, as a practical matter, surrounded by Israeli guns.

Just wondering

Congress had previously approved $300 million in military aid to Pakistan for equipment and training related to "anti-terrorism programs." Now, it seems the State Department, the foreign affairs bureau of the WHS*, wants to take $226 million - more than two-thirds - of that money and use it instead to pay for Pakistan to upgrade its fleet of US-made F-16 fighters.
The planes traditionally have not been used in anti-terrorism operations, and Pakistan sees the planes as a chit in its arms race against rival India. Congress must approve the switch, which was requested days before Pakistan's new prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, is due to meet President Bush at the White House. ...

The prime minister's government has struck proposed partnerships with tribal leaders in the volatile terror-breeding ground along the Afghan border that make U.S. officials nervous.

In addition to other aid such as the $300 million, the US now pays Pakistan nearly $1 billion a year to "reimburse" it for expenses incurred in what's supposed to be counter-terrorism. At the same time, that government makes deals with people who are, we say, shielding and protecting the very people we're supposedly paying Pakistan to fight. We respond by downgrading funding for the supposed purpose of the whole enterprise, i.e., counter-terrorism, and increasing the amount for fighter jets. (The number of "supposed"s in that paragraph is deliberate.)

So, basically, we're trying to buy the allegiance of the new government by de-emphasizing the very goals for which we supposedly, that word again, wanted their allegiance in the first place.

Which, ya know, kinda makes me wonder: Is the Grand and Glorious Most Noble Great War on Terrorism really about terrorism? Or is it just a different approach to geopolitical dominance?

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Giant Begeekmoth

Speaking of Mars-sized objects, the most Mars-sized of them all is Mars. And speaking of water, the evidence that Mars once had plenty of it continues to grow, as do tantalizing possibilities of the at least past existence of what can go along with water.
Minerals in the soil of Mars show it was covered once by lakes, rivers and other bodies of water that could have supported life, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday. ...

Last month the Mars Phoenix Lander found ice on the surface of the planet, but it is frozen hard and covered by red dust. Writing in the journal Nature, a team of scientists shows that the ice is left over from warmer, wetter times.

"This is really exciting because we're finding dozens of sites where future missions can land to understand if Mars was ever habitable and if so, to look for signs of past life," said John Mustard of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who worked on the study. ...

"What does this mean for habitability? It's very strong," Mustard said. "It wasn't this hot, boiling cauldron. It was a benign, water-rich environment for a long period of time."
And as you check out more info on the Phoenix Lander, don't forget that Spirit and Opportunity are still out there, at Day #1619 and Day #1598, respectively, of their "90-day missions," perhaps better called their "three hour tours."

The Geekinator

There are all kinds of shlocky sci-fi movies involving space travelers finding creatures (who, amazingly enough, often looked just like us! except for the gold/green/red/whatever skin) living on or, usually, in the Moon. While that remains the fantasy is always was, the thought of people in the future being able to colonize the Moon has become slightly more realistic.
In a study published today in Nature, researchers led by Brown University geologist Alberto Saal found evidence of water molecules in pebbles retrieved by NASA's Apollo missions.

The findings point to the existence of water deep beneath the moon's surface, transforming scientific understanding of our nearest neighbor's formation and, perhaps, our own. There may also be a more immediately practical application.

"Is there water there? That's important for lunar missions. People could get the water. They could use the hydrogen for energy," said Saal. ...

[A] high-powered imaging technique known as secondary ion mass spectrometry revealed a wealth of so-called volatile compounds, among them fluorine, chlorine, sulfur, carbon dioxide - and water.

Critically, telltale hydrogen molecules were concentrated at the center of samples rather than their surfaces, assuring Saal's team that water was present in an infant moon rather than added by recent bombardment. ...

"Could a colony use the water? That's like asking the final score of a football game in the first five minutes of the first quarter," said Saal. "But at least we know there's a game on."
The leading hypothesis of the formation of the Moon is that a Mars-sized asteroid struck the Earth during the early period of the formation of the solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago. The impact blasted off a mass of debris that coalesced into the Moon. Saal noted that the discovery about water opens up several different lines of study, including effects on surface mineralogy and the source of the water: If it came from Earth, it means there was already water here when the Moon was formed, which could change ideas about the Earth's development. If it didn't come from Earth, from where did it come?

The Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, both scheduled for launch late this year, should provide valuable additional data.

Rocketship X-Geek

The universe is looking more crowded all the time. As astronomers' ability to look closer at further distances improves, the number of our planetary cousins grows.
European astronomers have found a trio of "super-Earths" closely circling a star that astronomers once figured had nothing orbiting it.

The discovery demonstrates that planets keep popping up in unexpected places around the universe.

The announcement is the first time three planets close to Earth's size were found orbiting a single star, said Swiss astronomer Didier Queloz.
While these new planets are too hot to support life, they do serve to re-emphasize the point that there are a heckuva lot more planets out there than we used to think. In fact, the team found planets only a little bigger than Earth around a full one-third of stars previously thought to have no planets. And, as I have said before, the more planets, the better the chance of life on one or more of them.

The Last Geekfighter

Continuing the stream of consciousness topic choices, some sciency stuff. This one about the on-again-off-again romance of early modern humans and Neanderthals, which, latest information says, never happened.
Did the first modern humans in Europe share a bed with nearby Neanderthals? Almost certainly not, according to a new analysis of 28,000 year old Cro-Magnon DNA.

The Cro-Magnons were the first modern Homo sapiens in Europe, living there between 45,000 and 10,000 years ago. Their DNA sequences match those of today's Europeans, says Guido Barbujani, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Ferrera, Italy, suggesting that "Neanderthal hybridisation" did not occur.

His team published similar findings in 2003, but that study left open the possibility that the Cro-Magnon DNA had been contaminated by the researchers' own genes.

Now, Barbujani's team has sequenced a section of DNA from everyone who handled the sample and found no trace of contamination. ...

Tom Gilbert, an expert on ancient DNA at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, says the new tests convinced him of the Cro-Magnon DNA authenticity. "I was one of the guys who criticised it heavily the first time," he says.
In addition to the the DNA evidence, there is the fact that no "hybrid" skeletons have been found in Europe where the two species coexisted: All are either Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal. Although it remains hypothetically possible, it is increasingly doubtful that early modern humans and Neanderthals interbred.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And related to the related

The BBC reports that scientists in Australia have made what could be a major breakthrough in the treatment of malaria.
The malaria parasite - Plasmodium falciparum - effectively hijacks the red blood cells it invades, changing their shape and physical properties dramatically.

Among the changes it triggers is the production of the glue-like substance, which enables the infected cells to stick to the walls of the blood vessels.

This stops them being passed through the spleen, where the parasites would usually be destroyed by the immune system.
A team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne has determined that particular proteins in the parasite's DNA are responsible for the production of the gluey substance. Removing any one of them prevented the parasites from being able to stick to blood vessels, stripping away their main defense against the host body.

While malaria is both preventable and curable, it can be fatal - especially among children - if not treated promptly. More than 500 million people are infected every year and more than a million die, many of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. But with this new discovery comes the possibility of a new, more effective treatment - or even a vaccine.

On a related note

The Senate has passed legislation lifting the 20-year old ban on HIV-positive people from visiting or emigrating to the US. The measure, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry and Gordon Smith, was part of a bill providing $50 billion over the next five years to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in poor areas of the world.
Presently, the United States remains one of a dozen countries that also include Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Russia, which banned travel and immigration for HIV-positive people.
As a sign of the strength of the opinion on the matter, right-winger Jeff Sessions had brought up an amendment to strip out the Kerry-Smith language, but faced such opposition that he dropped it without a vote. The final bill passed 80-16.

There are some differences between this bill and a previously-passed House version, but House leaders have indicated they will accept the Senate version and Bush is expected to sign it.

But in some struggles, there's actually a little progress

Not that it's over by any means, but yes, there are signs of progress.
In June, Norway became the latest country to legislate in favour of allowing same-sex marriages,
says the Inter Press news service, adding that three EU countries - Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain - also provide for the right to same-sex marriage. (Although Norway cooperates closely with the EU, technically it is not a member.)
Theo Sandfort, a science professor at New York's Columbia University, said it is "reassuring to know that worldwide acceptance of homosexuality is increasing," judging by the results of various opinion polls that have been undertaken since the early 1980s.

These surveys indicate that the societies of the Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark are the most tolerant towards homosexuality and that Bangladesh, Pakistan and Jordan the least tolerant.
Closer to home, a week ago the Massachusetts state Senate voted
to repeal a 1913 law used to bar out-of-state gay couples from marrying here. The law prohibits couples from obtaining marriage licenses if they could not legally wed in their home states.

After Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriages in 2004, then-Gov. Mitt Romney ordered town clerks to enforce the little-known law and deny licenses to out of state couples.
The House has yet to vote on the bill, with some "disgruntled" members pissed off at having to vote on a "hot-button" bill in an election year. One member who opposes equal marriage rights tut-tutted that
he isn’t sure the House will have time to take up the vote considering the heavy backlog of bills lawmakers will face in the next two weeks.

“We have so many things going on, I don’t know whether the Speaker is prepared to bring it up,” [Rep. Paul] Donato said, adding he hasn’t made a decision on how he will vote on the repeal.
Oh, yeah, we'd love to do this, but we're just so busy. Clearly, the decision he has made is to try to avoid having to take a stand at all - which itself is a sign of how things have changed: Not that long ago, someone like Donato would have bragged about his intention to vote against repeal.

Despite the grousing, the bill is expected to come up sometime in the next two weeks, perhaps sooner, and will very likely pass. Gov. Deval Patrick has already said he will sign it. According to an analysis by the state's Office of Housing and Economic Development, repeal will bring thousands of couples to Massachusetts,
boosting the economy by $111 million, creating 330 jobs and generating $5 million in taxes and fees over three years.
Plus the added benefit of making a number of right-wing heads explode.

Across the country, there is also some encouraging news: The California ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage looks to be in trouble. John Aravosis at Americablog says that a new Field poll has the measure trailing in public support by 51-48. Polls this far out don't mean a lot, of course, but Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo points out that ballot questions usually have their highest level of support at the beginning of a campaign and become less popular over time. "Over 90 percent of propositions that start out behind get taken down," he said.

Not all of the news is good, of course: The IPS also reported that in May,
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh issued homosexuals with a 24-ultimatum to leave the West African country, threatening to decapitate those who remained,
and that the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency recently said that 11 of the EU's 27 member nations "appear hostile" to the recognition of gay marriages. And yet - and yet almost all the motion is in the right direction. It was, again, not that long ago that it would have seemed surprising to find that 11 of 27 European nations were not hostile to same-sex marriage. The time of justice is not yet but it is coming.

Footnote, My Grandma Coulda Told 'Em That Div.: The IPS said that a 2007 article published by the Psychological Society of South Africa indicated that homophobia is closely linked to sexism. Duh.

Some struggles never end, it seems

The Washington Post reports that this past Friday, a law went into effect in South Dakota requiring doctors to tell women seeking abortions that having one "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being." That is, to require them to tell those women "YOU'RE MURDERING YOUR BABY!"

They are also required to say - required, remember, meaning they must use these words - that
the woman has "an existing relationship" with the fetus that is protected by the U.S. Constitution and that "her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated." Also, the doctor is required to say that "abortion increases the risk of suicide ideation and suicide."
The requirement had been blocked by federal court since 2005 under a suit filed by Planned Parenthood, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the stay, claiming against all logic and rationality that the law was not "ideological" because it made claims about biology. And I suppose then, that a law that required employers to favor whites over blacks on the grounds that "whites are smarter" would be found equally acceptable because it made claims about psychology.

South Dakotans also will be voting on a ballot measure in November that would ban abortion except for narrow exceptions for rape, incest and the woman's health, a measure regarded as a frontal challenge to Roe v. Wade in hopes of getting it overturned.

(Parenthetically, I wonder how abortion opponents, the anti-choicers, justify such exceptions. I mean, if "life begins at conception," so what if the "whole, separate, unique living human being" is the result of rape? Are you going to punish this "innocent baby," are you going to murder this sweet, precious child because of a crime committed against its mother? What kind of sense is that? Incest? Again, are you going to murder a baby because of the actions of its parents? The patent hypocrisy shows that what's at issue here is not "innocent life" but enforcement of ancient and stereotyped sex roles.)

South Dakota isn't the only state with such a measure; Colorado voters will be faced with a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have the words "person" or "persons" in any provision of the state constitution "relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law" be read to "include any human being from the moment of fertilization." It's the first such measure in the country to directly address the "when does life begin" question.

(Another parenthetical note to say that "when does life begin" seems to me an utterly irrelevant question. Life began on this planet something between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago, with scientists still debating just how that came about. Human life, defined as the emergence of modern humans, has been around 200,000-250,000 years. The only possibly relevant question is when does an independent human life begin. Since according to an anti-choice site the youngest fetus ever to have survived outside the womb was a day short of 23 weeks, meaning the fetus cannot be said by anyone to have an existence independent of the mother prior to that time, there is no rational way at all that anyone can claim "human life" begins as conception. And don't give me any of that "potential human life" crap unless you routinely refer to an apple blossom as "a potential apple," a caterpillar as "a potential butterfly," and a tadpole as "a potential frog.")

Because of the way it's written, giving fertilized eggs that same legal rights as a living person, the measure could affect a far wider range of laws than those applying to abortion. It could, for a start, ban the use of morning-after contraceptives and IUDs. A pregnant woman could be charged with neglect or even murder if she miscarries and is blamed for causing it. Smoking or drinking during pregnancy, or any other behavior believed to have a potential impact on the fetus, could be regarded as assault. It's not even clear if she could have medical treatment for some unrelated condition if that treatment might harm the fetus.

All that is in addition to putting a virtual halt to embryonic research and putting fertility clinics at risk of murder charges for disposing of unused fertilized eggs.

(Another note: Please don't tell me "oh, don't be silly, that won't happen." In addition to the fact that some of those behind this move most definitely would like to see that happen, it is insanely bad public policy to give power to people under the assumption that they will never use it.)
Supporters of the initiative, including the group Colorado for Equal Rights, submitted 130,000 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot, well in excess of the 76,000 required under the law.
Attempts to block the initiative, which is seen as another attempt to mount a challenge to Roe, failed and the state Supreme Court said the measure could go on the ballot. The upside is that it's "unclear" how much support there is.

Ya know, I remember that in the wake of the 2004 election, there was a lot of hand-wringing about how the Democrats had to "re-think" the party's stands, to drop "social issues" like abortion rights and gun control from the agenda. One well-known twit actually suggested it'd be a good thing if Roe got overturned because that would rouse people from their lethargy. In addition to finding it outrageous that someone would seriously suggest abandoning an established right for partisan political advantage, I said at the time that I'm old enough to remember the symbolism of a wire coat hanger and I have no desire whatsoever to see it return.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Noted in passing

I'm sure you're aware that a few days ago, Congress overrode Bush's veto of legislation that would have imposed a 10.6% cut in reimbursements paid to physicians who treat Medicare patients. Revealingly, Bush said he opposed the bill because of the way it's financed,
which would be largely by reducing spending on private health plans serving the elderly and disabled.

"I support the primary objective of this legislation, to forestall reductions in physician payments," Bush said in a statement. "Yet taking choices away from seniors to pay physicians is wrong."
In other words, he wanted to protect the private plans at the expense of the public one.

The bill had been stalled in the Senate until Ted Kennedy came back to the Senate a couple of weeks early in order to be the 60th vote in favor of cloture, enabling the bill to come to a final vote. When it did, nine GOPpers who had voted against cloture switched sides and voted for the bill.

Which means one of two things: Either those nine were, in accordance with party orders, voting to kill a bill they actually supported, or, once it was clear it would pass, they voted in favor of a bill they opposed in order to cover their asses at election time. Either way, it's a demonstration of the slimy nature of the way politics is practiced.

There's a whole world out there, Part Four

On Monday, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, requested an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

It was a fitting way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, which was on Thursday.
"Our hope is that, by punishing the guilty, the International Criminal Court will bring some comfort to the surviving victims and to the communities that have been targeted," then Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said on the historic day in 1998. "More important, we hope it will deter future war criminals, and bring nearer the day when no ruler, no state, no junta and no army anywhere will be able to abuse human rights with impunity."
The Court has no police force and depends on international cooperation to work, which of course drastically limits its effectiveness. Still, if nothing else it carries great moral force, sufficiently great that the Shrub gang had to offer some words of praise for Moreno-Ocampo, even though they're loath to give any legitimacy to the Court and Bush refuses to sign the relevant treaty - because, it would appear, they fear the Court might turn its sights on them, as they certainly are legitimate targets.

But no good deed goes unpunished or at least uncriticized, and the Very Serious People among the international diplomatic corps immediately started tut-tutting and harrumphing about how this would interfere with the Very Serious Work of negotiating progress toward an end to the violence in Darfur. At such a moment, it can legitimately be asked, what negotiations? What progress? This has just dragged on for years. After all, the charges against Bashir are hardly new:

In 2004, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan accused Sudan of a "scorched earth policy" and "repeated crimes against humanity." In 2005, the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbor, described "a climate of impunity" for Sudanese police and soldiers in Darfur. In March 2007, a team headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams reported to the UN Human Rights Council that
millions are displaced, at least 200,000 are dead, and conflict and abuse are spilling over the border into Chad. ... Killing of civilians remains widespread, including in large-scale attacks. Rape and sexual violence are widespread and systematic. Torture continues. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common
as were other human rights crimes. What's more, disarmament of government-supported militias, promised nearly three years earlier, had yet to occur.

And last September, I noted that Bashir's record of keeping his promises - including abiding by ceasefires - does not inspire confidence. So forgive me if I'm not too moved by the suggestions of the Very Serious People that Moreno-Ocampo should keep out of their way.

If you want another reason, consider that Moreno-Ocampo knows how to play the prosecutor's game: Bashir
might escape war-crimes charges if he brings to justice two men suspected of mass killings, Western envoys said on Wednesday. ...

Western diplomats say it is too early to discuss a [UN Security C]ouncil suspension of any ICC indictment but added that Moreno-Ocampo made it clear a messy situation can be avoided if Khartoum were to change its behaviour on earlier ICC charges.

They say Bashir could escape indictment if he ended what they see as impunity for two men the ICC charged last year over Darfur. Khartoum has not handed them to the court or started legal proceedings in Sudan to investigate the allegations.
The two are Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun and former Janjaweed militia commander Ali Kushayb.
"[Bashir's] refusal to cooperate in bringing to justice those that the ICC thought were responsible for the actual killings on the ground adds force, adds evidence to the allegation of [his] command responsibility for those killings," [one senior] diplomat said.

"Now, were the situation to change, the prosecutor's attitude might change." Other envoys confirmed this view.
In other words, this might be an attempt to turn Bashir to get him to give up the other two. "I'm willing to deal," Moreno-Ocampo could be saying. "Make me an offer."

Fortunately, despite the tsk-tsking, diplomats also acknowledged that the ICC is independent and its work should not be hindered by diplomatic pressure. Which is also fortunate for the diplomats' egos, as Moreno-Ocampo shows no signs of backing down, saying on Thursday that he intends to proceed with charges against Bashir, bluntly rejecting the notion that he should be confined by political considerations.

His request for an arrest warrant now goes to a three-judge panel, which is not expected to rule before the fall. The text of his application for the warrant, including the background of the charges, is in .pdf format at this link.

Footnote: The mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur expires the end of the month. Britain has circulated a draft resolution calling for it to be continued another 12 months and for the rapid deployment of the full contingent: Only 9,500 of a planned 26,000 are there due to interference and foot-dragging by Khartoum.

There's a whole world out there, Part Three

The very first peace thing I ever organized was a showing of some short antiwar films. One was a cartoon called "The Hat." It featured two soldiers patrolling opposite sides of a border marked only by a dotted line on the ground. They chat amiably - until one of them accidentally drops his hat and it falls on the other side of the border. When he goes to pick it up, the other guard stops him, saying he can't cross the border - it's not allowed. The first protests that it's just his hat, it's right there, he can just reach and pick it up, but the other is adamant. The first becomes angry, things escalate to pointed guns, and as I'm sure you all realize, head right on up to war. (I can't remember the ending, but I have a vague image of a devastated countryside with the hat still sitting on the ground where it fell - until a breeze comes up and blows it back across the border.)

I also remember reading an historical analysis of the origins of World War I which concluded that in at least a certain sense, the war wasn't anyone's fault. Everyone felt either that they were the victims, not the aggressors, or that they got dragged in due to prior commitments they had made in overlapping alliances.

The point, of course, is that given the right conditions, wars can appear as if by spontaneous generation and contrary to the preferences of the parties involved.
On wooded hillsides where Georgian and separatist troops eye each other through the sights of their guns, the smallest spark could set off a war.

Last week the detention of four Georgian soldiers in the breakaway South Ossetia region quickly escalated into a crisis. Georgia threatened an attack on the Russian-backed separatists and in response Moscow sent fighter jets into Georgian airspace "to cool hot heads in Tbilisi". ...

"It's like somebody said: a couple of guys with guns could start a war in these places if they were intent on doing so," said Svante Cornell, an expert on Georgia at the Institute for Security and Development Policy, a Stockholm-based think tank.
Of course, in the modern age no such conflict remains completely local, and tensions are increased by the involvement of both Russia and the US, competing for influence in Georgia, which has the only oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea area that do not pass through Russia. The government is generally pro-Western while the separatists look to Russia.
On the ground in [the breakaway regions of] South Ossetia and Abkhazia, huge amounts of weaponry, deep-seated mistrust, unclear chains of command and the lack of any clear front line combine to create a tinderbox. ...

Weapons are everywhere, and not just in the hands of formal security forces. ...

[In addition to the separatists, i]rregular armed groups that fought on the Georgian side in the 1990s war, known under names such as the Forest Brothers and White Legions, have become active again since the start of this year, some observers say.

South Ossetia is even more volatile. It is an untidy patchwork of Georgian and separatist enclaves with shifting boundaries and often just a few metres from each other. ...

"With the dispute between Georgia and Russia in a new, dangerously confrontational phase, the risk of war in the South Caucasus is growing," the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said in a report this year. "A localised provocation or an accident could cut across the calculations of all sides."
The best way to avoid a war - assuming you really want to - is to refuse to respond to provocations, to refuse to overreact to incidents, to refuse to escalate - to, to take it to the far end, let the other fella pick up his damn hat. But doing that can require rejecting the "we can't look weak" argument, can require setting aside the ego of a nation (or a movement). And that is all too rare. Something else I remember reading years ago was the statement that "faced with the choice between humiliation and war, nations have shown a depressingly persistent preference for the latter." Let's all hope that's not the way in this case.

There's a whole world out there, Part Two

Political violence and economic disaster continue to swamp Zimbabwe. Even as the European Union prepares to toughen sanctions against Robert Mugabe's brutalizing regime by looking to freeze the overseas assets of businesspeople propping him up, other reports claim
Mugabe is beginning to breathe more easily as a Western diplomatic campaign against his re-election falters....

With neither the United Nations nor the African Union showing much appetite for getting involved in the country's post-election crisis, the opposition's hope that the South African president could be sidelined is fading fast.
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) came in first in the March 29 presidential election, but, lacking a clear majority, faced a run-off with Mugabe in June. However, MDC withdrew from and boycotted the run-off after a wave of election-related violence which it blamed on Mugabe's group, Zanu PF. The BBC says that
[t]he MDC says 113 of its supporters have been killed, some 5,000 are missing and more than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes since the first round of voting in March.
With the result, naturally, that Mugabe won a "landslide" victory, which is pretty easy when you're the only one running - and when, as shown in a dramatic video taken by a Zimbabwean prison guard who risked his life to record it, government officials literally stand over you and watch who you are voting for. But even the end of the election campaign did not bring an end to the violence, the Beeb also says.
Fear still exists in the Zimbabwean countryside....

Many villagers are still hiding in the bush and mountains, their hopes of a return to peace fading with reports of continuing intimidation.

Over the last few months, many suspected opposition supporters have had their homes torched.

Goats, chickens and cows - symbols of wealth in the rural areas - were taken away to feed ruling party militia at their party bases.

Villagers say the youth militia wearing ruly party T-shirts and bandanas showing President Robert Mugabe's face, are still roaming free and attacking with impunity. ...

"The militia are telling us that during the elections they 'chopped tree branches', now they say 'it's time to uproot them'," says Muchadei (not his real name) an electoral officer in Mashonaland Central, an area hit hard by the electoral violence.
There is supposed to be a mediation process starting up, but there are snags. One big one is that prime mediator is South African President Thabo Mbeki, described as an "old ally" of Mugabe who the MDC regards as biased. But attempts to involve the African Union as mediators were rebuffed. A "memorandum of understanding" was supposed to have been signed on Wednesday, but that failed to happen when Tsvangirai declined to sign, saying he wanted to wait until after Jean Ping of the African Union Commission met with Mbeki on Friday.

Ping was scheduled to meet with Mbeki, but that didn't keep Zimbabwe's government media from charging that Tsvangirai had pulled out of the talks, in what I think to have been an effort to brand the MDC as intransigent and pressure Tsvangirai to sign immediately, which would essentially ice the AU out of any role. Despite that, the Ping-Mbeki meeting was held and the result was
the creation of a "reference group" consisting of AU head Jean Ping, the UN's Zimbabwe envoy Haile Menkerios, and Sadc [Southern African Development Community] official George Chikoti.

"[The group] will get briefings on a regular basis," [Sydney Mufamadi, a close aide of Mr Mbeki,] said.

"If a member of the reference group... wants to make a strategic input, they are welcome."
Although not having the AU directly involved, as MDC wanted, it does go some way toward meeting Tsvangirai's concerns on that front and so just maybe something will happen - even though, as Tsvangirai told the Beeb, such mediation efforts have been going on for eight years and have produced zilch.

And still, through it all, the people suffer. Inter Press Service reports that things like milk, bread, and meat have become luxuries, so much so that the World Food Programme estimates that half the population will need food assistance this year. Unemployment is estimated at 80%. The official inflation rate is 2,200,000% - that's not a typo, inflation is 2.2 million percent. It's estimated that manufacturing has shrunk by about 60% and the overall economy by 70%.

Some blame all the troubles on the seizure of white-owned commercial farms that began in 2000, but a better explanation of the connection to that would be that Mugabe took what could have been a valuable, productive program - expropriation of large estates and their division into smaller farms cultivating produce for local markers - and used it as a means to cement his power by unleashing his supporters in a paroxysm of take-what-you-can-get-no-questions-asked violence, fracturing the estate economy but replacing it with nothing but - well, with nothing.

Laughably but unsurprisingly, Very Serious Economic Commentators have declared that economic sanctions against Mugabe's regime are a bad idea because they hurt "ordinary people" and the solution is "purely political." In addition to wondering just how much more those "ordinary people" can be hurt, when business and business people are serving to shore up a regime that by all reasonable accounts is in power only through oppression, intimidation, and murder, those economic matters are political and neither "business is business" nor "business as usual" can be justified.

Footnote, Unintentional Humor Div.: Jonathan Moyo, described as "an outspoken independent lawmaker" who for five years was Mugabe's information minister (going from critic to supporter to critic in just seven years), said the failure of a UN Security Council resolution on sanctions against Zimbabwe (it was vetoed by Russia and China) "has put pressure on the MDC to take the negotiations more seriously."

So let's see. Mugabe has been in power since 1980. The last presidential election before this year was in 2002, when he won only after having his leading opponent arrested for treason. After coming in second in the first round this year, his party violently intimidated the opposition into not even contesting the run-off. The opposition continues to be suppressed and even terrorized. But it's the MDC that has to "take the negotiations seriously."

Well, of course: Right now, it seems they're the only affected party who will.

Friday, July 18, 2008

There's a whole world out there, Part One

Recently, my wife and I were discussing some of our financial concerns. We're concerned about the cost of food and gasoline, we're worried about affording health insurance, there are stories floating around my wife's workplace about cuts in hours, my job doesn't pay squat and other opportunities in my field are few and far between, every month we expect to be told of a significant rent increase (which hasn't come yet, happily, but we don't see how that can continue much longer), the list goes on as I'm sure many others' do as well.

It's not just individuals, either. It's institutions. Earlier in the week, the dollar sank to a new low against the Euro while Asian and European stock markets fell sharply as investor confidence in the US financial system dropped. Some investors are even questioning the value of US Treasury bonds.

Meanwhile, the FDIC has a secret list of 90 "troubled" banks, ones that are at risk of failing. We are, of course, told not to worry, the list means nothing, in fact it's a good thing because it proves the FDIC is on top of the situation. Told that, that is, by investment advisors and the banking industry, people who have a vested interest in seeing the system maintain an aura of stability - much like the classic Monty Python routine about the building maintained by hypnosis, which only remained standing because its tenants believed it would. What those Very Informed and Important People don't mention, of course, is that the reason for the secrecy is not to protect depositors (who are for the most part federally insured) but the banks. So I'm not all that reassured.

But then sometimes, such as after reading this from Reuters, I think: Just what the fuck are we complaining about?
Record growth in the world's poorest countries has failed to prevent an increase in their total numbers of poor people, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said on Thursday.

Recent rising food costs threaten to undercut what modest progress has been achieved, while three quarters of people living in least developed countries (LDCs) still survive on less than $2 a day, it said in a report.
That is nearly 600 million people living on an income which does not allow for meeting basic needs for food, water, shelter, health or education.
The 49 LDCs experienced record growth of 7.9 percent in 2005, followed by 7.5 percent in 2006 and a projected 6.7 percent in 2007, the report said.
However, that growth was apparently generated by rising prices for exported energy and mineral resources, not by growth in production in the underlying economy.
In fact, as compared with 10 years earlier, half of the LDCs have experienced deindustrialization, reflected in a declining share of manufacturing in GDP,
the report said.

Which means the growth was the result of inflation rather than economic expansion, and the underlying economy in half of those nations is worse that it was before. That means the growth is also very likely unsustainable, especially in light of this:
Sharp rises in food prices in 2007 and early 2008 have led the prices of staples such as maize, wheat and rice to double in some countries over the past year and a half, a severe blow to poor people spending a large share of their income on food.

"The bigger food import bills will widen further the already high trade deficits of the LDCs. This will affect all food-importing LDCs, and the balance-of-payment impact will be accentuated as countries also have to deal with rising energy prices," [the report] said.
Reuters quotes the report as citing "rapid population growth and other factors" for the failure to gain on poverty, and while population growth can matter (although the best way to reduce population growth is achieving economic security), it's those "other factors" that deserve more attention, "other factors" such as being trapped in a cycle of debt because of pressure to produce for export rather than consumption (the better to raise the capital to pay the banks) and economies built on serving elites rather than the people.

The report can be found at this link.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I mean it - shoot me now

From Fox News for Thursday:
Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich said Thursday he's pleased that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to consider his impeachment resolution against President Bush. ...

Kucinich was offering his second impeachment resolution, which unlike last month's with its more than 30 articles, has just a single article of impeachment. Kucinich said he boiled it down to focus on the main issues he has with the president's decision to go to war in Iraq.

It centers on the U.S. not finding any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Kucinich's suggestion that Iraq was not involved with Al Qaeda and played no role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. [Emphasis added.]
Yes, that's just his "suggestion." I know it's Fox, but oh me, oh my.

Footnote: CBS said that
Pelosi has said previously that impeachment "was off the table," so her comments this morning were surprising, and clearly signaled a new willingness to entertain the idea of ousting Bush, although no one in the Democratic leadership believes that is likely since the president has only six months left in this term.
That is, they'll "entertain the idea" now that it's so damn late in the day that there's no chance in hell they'll have to actually do anything about it. But just in case, she also said this wouldn't necessarily mean taking up articles of impeachment, but just "to have some hearings on the subject."

Ah. More of that "oversight" that has been so effective to date.

Talk to me. Really. I'll even consider paying for the bullets.

Friday, July 11, 2008

So why did we even bother with the '60s?

The picture is the front cover of the current issue of Vanity Fair.

In case you can't make it out, the main headline reads

"Hollywood's NEW WAVE - Gossip Girls and Superbad Boys!"

Terrific. The "new wave" consists of re-establishing and reinforcing old sexist stereotypes.

Just shoot me now.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Update to the preceding

Literally within hours of Shrub's signing of the FISA bill, the ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charging that
the new spying law violates Americans' rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution
and is an abuse of government power. The Nation magazine joined the suit on behalf of itself, its staff, and two of its contributing writers.

As Julian Sanchez at Ars Technica points out, the hard part of this is proving you have "standing" to sue, that is, you have been affected by whatever it is you're suing about. One of the approaches is the chilling effect the very existence of the law has on people, particularly the suing journalists who are losing sources.
The ACLU has tried this approach before, however, and has been rebuffed by the court. The group won an initial victory in a 2006 suit over warrantless NSA surveillance, but that ruling was overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the purported chiling effect was too inchoate to ground a claim of standing.
But, he says, the ACLU thinks this time will be different because it involves a law rather than secret spying, making it harder for the administration to wriggle loose by claiming the "state secrets privilege."

In a separate filing with the FISA Court, the ACLU asked the court
to ensure that any proceedings relating to the scope, meaning or constitutionality of the new law be open to the public to the extent possible. The ACLU also asked the secret court to allow it to file a brief and participate in oral arguments, to order the government to file a public version of its briefs addressing the law's constitutionality, and to publish any judicial decision that is ultimately issued.
That strikes me as a clever move as the government would be hard-put to make a coherent argument that discussions of the constitutionality of the law need to be kept secret or involve national security secrets - not that such will keep the Shrub gang from making any lame-ass argument that pops into their undersized brain pans to say that they do nor will it keep the lap dogs on the FISC from agreeing. Still even that raises an opening to say the administration won't have an open discussion - or perhaps even better, to say the White House regards the Constitution's protections as state secrets.

For more background on the suit, Glenn Greenwald has an interview with ACLU National Security Project Director Jameel Jaffer about it. More information about the ACLU's efforts against the bill can be found here and links to the filings can be found here.

On the impact of all this, Greenwald writes that
[b]y all rights ... this bill should have passed quietly and seamlessly back last December. That's normally how the Washington Establishment functions.

It really was a true spontaneous outburst of citizen activism that prevented that from happening. As a result, new coalitions formed. There will now be lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of this travesty of a law. The activism that arose over this bill ... force[d] these issues into the public discourse, and will serve as a foundation, a launching pad, for far more potent and effective efforts against future assaults of this type from the political class on the rule of law and core Constitutional protections.
"[I]t is," he said, "hardly the end of anything, but the beginning." I'm not nearly so hopeful; in fact I feel like throwing a party, remembering Cesar Chavez's comment about the United Farm Workers union that "We have so few victories we need to celebrate our losses."

Still, while I'm not willing to "suck it up" to justify or excuse Barack Obama and the rest of the scummy Democraps who voted for oppression either out of thumb-sucking political cowardice or a genuine disdain for Constitutional rights (I'm still not sure which is worse), I certainly think I should suck it up on continued opposition. So I will do my best.

Yeah, they did it

So they did it. The no good, scum-sucking, motherfucking, snot-licking, shit-eating, stinking masses of fetid putrefaction did it. Not that it was a surprise, it was exactly as expected, but even so the actual fact of it still makes my soul ache.
Bowing to President Bush's demands, the Senate approved and sent the White House a bill Wednesday to overhaul bitterly disputed rules on secret government eavesdropping and shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits complaining they helped the U.S. spy on Americans.
The final vote was 69-28 with the current focus of lefty adoration, He Who Must Be Obeyed, voting in favor. Well, obey this, bozo.

Three amendments attempting to soften the blow all failed. The one that would have stripped telcom immunity from the bill lost 32-66; one that would have required a court finding that the spying program was constitutional before immunity could be granted went down 37-61; and one that merely would have had the Senate wait on immunity until after the Inspector General's audit of NSA's domestic spying was in failed by 42-56. Cloture was then invoked 72-26 and it went to the final vote. (Thanks for Glenn Greenwald for the numbers.)

Let it be noted clearly that Barack Obama, who previously pledged to join in a filibuster of any bill that contained telcom immunity, not only didn't join any filibuster attempt, not only voted for the damn bill, he voted in favor of cloture. It would be hard to imagine a clearer reversal of position; this is the kind of thing for which the phrase "flip-flop" was truly destined.

But what made it even worse than the bald, cruel fact of the bill's passage was the way the media treated the story. Both AP and Reuters covered the vote as simply another question of political games, of a "legislative victory" for Bush, just another version of the horse-race coverage, who's up, who's down, without any consideration of the meaning of the vote. Worse, where they did consider the bill, they got it maddeningly, grossly, infuriatingly wrong.

AP, with mind-boggling naiveté, incompetence, or deception, it has to be one of those, called the bill
very much a political compromise, brought about by a deadline: Wiretapping orders authorized last year will begin to expire in August. Without a new bill, the government would go back to old FISA rules, requiring multiple new orders and potential delays to continue those intercepts. [Emphasis added.]
This came after referring to
a lengthy and heated debate [in the Senate] that pitted privacy and civil liberties concerns against the desire to prevent terrorist attacks,
as if those are mutually exclusive considerations and those concerned about the former are not concerned about the latter. (I am, however, willing to concede that the reverse is true.)

Reuters, for its part, says this monstrosity
modernizes the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to keep pace with technology.

It will also bolster judicial and congressional oversight of U.S. surveillance of foreign targets and increase protection of civil liberties of law-abiding Americans swept up in such spy efforts - but not as much as critics wanted.
That is, Reuters is reporting with a straight face that this bill actually "bolsters oversight" and the only controversy is that the improvement isn't "as much as critics wanted." In other words, it's a routine political compromise.

Bilge. Just bilge. It does no such thing and it is no such thing. If it's such a damn compromise, why can't anyone in the media find a single goddam right-winger who is unhappy with it? (Other, that is, than people like Ron Paul, those who are so far to the right on individual liberty that they wind up on the left.) All you hear from that side is cheering and chuckling. If it's such a damn compromise, why is it only the civil libertarians and privacy advocates who are objecting?

As Russ Feingold said, "This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation." It vastly expands the power to engage in warrantless spying and it allows the obtaining of warrants without a need for any criminal activity or suspicion, or even that the target be of intelligence interest. Put more bluntly, it not only empowers the feds to do a lot more spying without the need for a warrant, it empowers them to get warrants to spy on pretty much anyone they damn please for any reason they damn please - or for no reason at all. That is, with the exception of American citizens who never arouse any suspicion whatsoever and never telephone, email, or otherwise electronically contact anyone outside the US. (Oh, yes, all right, there is a provision that brings American citizens overseas under the protection of FISA. Frankly, BFD.)

In fact, it's even worse than that, says the ACLU:
The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped....

The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government’s general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime. [Emphasis added.]
The latter point meaning that there is no penalty to the government for engaging in unconstitional spying, not even to the extent of being unable to use what it unconstitutionally obtained.

The bill, in short, rips a gaping hole in the Fourth Amendment. And a lot of Congressional Democrats, including Barack Obama (and another recent target of Democrap drool, Jim Webb, who voted against removing immunity and for the final bill) think either that's just fine or that it's worth it to protect their own ambitions. I'll leave it to you to decide which of those is more contemptible. I don't have the stomach to think that one through; I'm still trying to keep from vomiting over the vacant-eyed, slack-jawed press coverage, so typical of the inside-the-Beltway, circle-jerk, "it's all a game" attitude with which most of the national press is afflicted.

Which means, I suppose, I should have expected no different from the press - but I expected FISA to pass and that doesn't make it hurt any less.

The only light in this coal mine is that the battle is not completely over. While the law looks to force the dismissal of the civil suits against the telcoms, there are four other suits against government officials and they won't be affected. And both the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have declared they will file suit against the law on constitutional grounds. The ACLU charges the law is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections, which it clearly is. The EFF, which is co-counsel on the combined telcom immunity suits, says it will challenge the immunity but doesn't specify on what grounds. In his latest column on the FISA disaster, Glenn Greenwald, himself a Constitutional lawyer, speculates it will be based on the argument that by essentially ordering the courts to find in favor of the telcoms, the immunity provision of the law is an unconstitutional Congressional intrusion into a judicial function.

I have my doubts as to the success of either, since the Supreme Court has over the years proved itself quite adept at carving out exceptions to the Fourth Amendment (see here for one example) and the challenge to immunity seems like a stretch. Still, even the Roberts court may hesitate to take a sledgehammer rather than scissors to the Fourth Amendment and courts have been known to be quite protective of their own Constitutional prerogatives, so who knows. Like the man said, "Keep hope alive."

And vote Green.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

There is no point to this post

I just happened to like this story, and I needed something unserious right now. It's from the Faux News station in Lake Charles, Louisiana:
Three kids from a North Texas family have stumbled upon a mystery from the deep that's puzzling scientists. While on vacation, they discovered the skull and spine of a creature that no one seems to be able to identify.
At the link there's a link to a video which gives a better look at the bones than the photo does. As the mother says in the video, there's very likely a simple explanation - some kind of deep water sea snake, for example - but I just found it fun that no one has found that explanation yet, whatever it is.

Point of personal privilege

There is a long lead-in before I get to what really prompted this. Bear with me. I should repeat at the outset, as it's usually best to do since who knows who may be here for the first time, that I am not an Obama supporter, I never was, I'm not going to vote for him, I never was, but I live in such a safe state that it won't make a damn bit of difference one way or the other.

However, having said that I will add that had I been intending to vote for him, his disgraceful, anti-Constitutional (no, not "un," but "anti," meaning "opposed to"), craven flip-flop on FISA would have changed my mind. That to me is a deal-breaker. Yes, I think it's that important.

Okay, onward. Over at the Mahatma X Files the other day, James asked "Wherefore the 'progressive' blogosphere after November?" He wondered about the possibility of supposedly progressive bloggers turning into lefty versions of Powerline - that is, unquestioning supporters of the administration - should Barack Obama win the presidency.

In comments, I noted that I'd had the same concern for some time. When I had been tagged a year ago to suggest worthwhile blogs, I said one reason for my choices was that
I'm confident that my judgments about their worth will not have to change after January 2009 ... and "Whew! We have a Democrat as a president!" as now seems reasonably likely will not instantly change them from attack dogs into lap dogs, as I'm sure will happen with a number of more or less progressive blogs we could all name.
In my comment to James, I went on to argue that
the shift from harping on to hagiography is already visible in the response to criticisms of Obama's recent attempts to carefully wriggle away from the suggestion that he has ever said anything vaguely progressive.
And oh, yes, he has wriggled and squirmed, trying to shift to the right or to find a way to declare his right wing bona fides while denying he's moving at all. He's done it on abortion, on the death penalty, on NAFTA, on Iran, on separation of church and state, on Social Security, and of course most notoriously on FISA.

(I'm indebted to TalkingPointsMemo and Stephen Suh at Cogitamus for several of the above links.)

He even tried to do it on Iraq: He didn't really change his position, but he shifted the emphasis. In the primaries, it was "We will withdraw over about 16 months (in consultation with the military)." But on Thursday he presented it as "I will consult with the military (to plan for withdrawal)." That is, the focus shifted from the withdrawal to the consultation with the generals. That was an immediate loser and he quickly backed off, declaring himself "puzzled" by the reaction.

The thing is, the lefty blogs have been chock-a-block with justifications and "explanations" - that is, not to put too fine a point on it, lame excuses - for all of this which invariably revolve around the argument that none of this matters, it's just that it's the general election now, not the primaries, and these shifts are either necessary (according to some) or a brilliant campaign strategy (according to others). Besides, they say, how someone campaigns has little to do with how they will govern - in other words, pay no attention to what he's saying now, which makes me wonder why the "moderates" and rightists he's supposedly trying to appeal to should do so. The important thing is to get Obama elected, so shut up!

For an increasing number, it's not even "get Obama elected," it's "beat McCain." The convention hasn't even happened yet and already the Obama supporters are falling back into "god forbid the other guy should win" arguments.

Among the worst of these lick-Obama's-picture sychophants was a poster at TalkingPointsMemo who noisily declared that Obama is being "pragmatic" (defined as "seeing things as they really are") while those who criticize him are "ideological" (defined as "standing on principle ... in order to make a grand point or gesture"), which was linked both to "illogical" (by means of a patently inadequate online thesaurus which didn't know the word "ideological") and to "idealistic" (defined as "not compatible with reality").
In other words, if you are highly idealistic in your politics, your views are most likely not compatible with reality. Synonyms include: "quixotic, romantic, starry-eyed, unrealistic."
The twisting of words was so complete that according to this writer, George Bush is "highly idealistic."

[p]eople who complain that ... they will no longer support Obama because he voted for or against something that, earlier, he had voted against or for, are highly idealistic--make that--illogical....
And believe it or not this all has to do, somehow, with Ralph Nader.

The bottom line is that if you just shut up and support Obama no matter what he says or how he shifts around or changes his stances, no matter how the yes, idealism he consciously strove to symbolize before is dumped on the trash pile now, then you are "pragmatic" and mature and wise. But if you say "Obama is not to be the person I thought he was and I can't accept these new positions," if you change your opinion of him because he has changed his stand on things you care about, you're guilty of "Naderism" and are out of touch with reality.

Yeah, I'd call that very much like a lefty Powerline blogger.

But all that is really just the backdrop for what I actually wanted to talk about, a backdrop of an increasingly-fuzzy Barack Obama turning to his right while on his left sits an adoring throng who claim clarity in the blur, much like those who see the face of Jesus in a potato chip. What really prompted this was another Obama declaration.

A week ago, Obama made a major speech
forcefully defend[ing] his patriotism ... against anyone who would challenge it, declaring he wouldn't stand for persistent rumors questioning his loyalty and aimed at sinking his presidential campaign.
The understanding of patriotism, it needs to be said, is a very personal thing. And Obama is certainly free to express his own conception of it and his rejection of those who would question it. I certainly have tried to state my own notion of patriotism recently, in one case by trying to lay out some of my fundamental beliefs and in the other by addressing it more directly:
In addition to embracing the comment I read some years ago that "it is natural to have an abiding affection for the land of one's birth," I say being a US patriot means being dedicated to the ideals on which the country was supposed to have been founded and which, at its best moments, it strives to uphold to as full a measure as possible: Ideals such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as the right to rebellion against oppression, as "promot[ing] the general welfare," as political freedoms, as representative government "of, by, and for the people" - the ideal of, to sum up in a single phrase, an intent to "establish justice," a justice I say must include the economic and the social as well as the political if it is to have real meaning. ...

[I]f patriotism can be understood as embracing the ideals of our nation, as striving to hold this country to the highest of those ideals instead of the lowest of its prejudices, as committing to a notion of what the US, of what we as a people, can be and have at times approached being, then I submit that I am as patriotic as they come.
So if Obama wants to say "this is what patriotism means to me," he can go for it. What he is not free to do - and what he did in that speech - is to use that discussion as a political weapon to define others out of the term, to use it as a means to engage in the craven "oh no no no, I'm not with them" so typical of Democraps by condemning those to his left and praising those to his right while making it clear that his pledge to never question the patriotism of others in the campaign applies to those directly in the campaign but not the rest of us.

Well, that's not quite right. Some of the rest of us are safe: After covering his ass by praising John McCain's time in the military and essentially declaring that record to be beyond criticism (even though McCain is arguably a war criminal who has given conflicting accounts of his treatment after he was shot down on his 23rd bombing raid over Vietnam), Obama added
[w]e must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period.
So soldiers, veterans, you're safe. You're patriots. No questions allowed.

But for some others, their own understandings of patriotism, of the duties of a free people vis-à-vis their government, do not get the same consideration. Consider this passage from the speech:
[W]hat is striking about today's patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s - in arguments that go back forty years or more. ... [S]ome of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views.... Most Americans understood ... that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America's traditions and institutions. ... All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments - a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when ... a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.
This is such a panoply of ignorance, distortion, insult, and falsehood that it would probably take another forty years to disentangle it.

Glenn Greenwald was appropriately angered, charging that Obama had "defended his own patriotism by impugning the patriotism of others, specifically those in what he described as the 'the so-called counter-culture' of the Sixties" and did it in terms that echoed Jeanne Kirkpatrick's 1984 speech to the GOPper national convention, where those who objected to policies were called "the blame America first crowd."

But take careful note of the fact that - and this made me especially angry - Obama not only slammed the '60s and, he went out of his way to do so. He went out of his way to defame, out of his way to attack. If you read the speech you'll see that this whole passage could easily have been dropped without damage to his argument. This was no "historical context" argument, it was a calculated attempt to declare "I'm no hippie!" by engaging in ritual denunciation of an entire era. That is doubtless part of the reason the Greenwald went on to say that the speech exemplified the "narrative which the media propagated and Democratic institutions embraced," which includes the notion that "the truly pernicious elements are on the 'Far Left', whose values must be rejected, while the Far Right is entitled to profound respect and accommodation."

The blunt fact is, Obama impugned the patriotism of millions among us, the patriotism of those who symbolized and still symbolize the politics of an entire generation, a generation born in civil rights marches and schooled in Vietnam, a generation whose activism was forged in idealism and honed on its deep shock and dismay that the America they grew up hearing about, the America in which they believed, was not the America they saw before them every day, a generation even whose excesses were driven by the conviction that what they saw was wrong and that it did not have to be that way.

A generation who answered "Love It or Leave It" with "Change It or Lose It." A generation whose attitude, I have said before, could best be summed up in the freedom-affirming phrase "Question Authority." A generation that, as again I have said before,
over a several-year span was powerful enough to end the draft, limit and finally stop a war, force one (and maybe two) Presidents from office, shake the foundations of a society’s judgments about half its population, force the nuclear power industry to a virtual halt, and change - perhaps not by much but quite possibly permanently - that society’s sense of its relationship to the environment.
A generation that, as I wrote to a friend some years ago, lived with
the sense that you could make a difference, that your dreams could be lived out, that they really could come true. For all the sexism we came to acknowledge in the counterculture and the peace movement, people were trying to live more egalitarian lives. For all the undercurrents of racism we dug out of white activist’s relations with black groups, people were trying to work it out and live more justly. For all the awareness of our umbilical cord connections to the consumer society, people were trying to live more simply, with greater ecological awareness. There was a sense that you could make it better both in yourself and in others by both your social example and your political actions.
That was the "simplistic world-view" and "cynical disregard" of the "so-called counter-culture of the Sixties" of which you spoke, Senator Obama.

Well, I say to you, Senator Obama, that were it not for that "simplistic world-view" and "cynical disregard," you would not be where you are today. I say to you, Senator Obama, that "change we can believe in" is not driven by the right, it's not driven by "centrists" or moderates or "reasonable" people, it's driven by very unreasonable people, people who are sufficiently "out of touch with reality" to refuse to accept what passes for "realism" - recall that another '60s slogan was "Be realistic: Demand the impossible." I say to you, Senator Obama, that whatever good this denigration of others' convictions may do for your own personal ambitions, if you really believe in the sort of (moderately) progressive policies that during the primaries you lead your supporters to believe that you do, then slicing away your friends and supporters will not help you toward that goal.

And I say to you, Senator Obama, that just as you say you will not stand by while others question your patriotism, I am damn sure I will not stand by while you question mine.

Some Footnotes:

One: There are some fundamental misstatements in the passage from Obama's speech which I quoted. Two stand out. The first is that it shows a profound ignorance of the '60s to dump all oppositional politics into a single box labeled "counterculture." While there was a fair amount of overlap with more traditionally political movements, the counterculture was more about, as should be known from the name, the culture. That is, it was more about day-to-day social and economic relations than elections, demonstrations, and the like. In fact, more politically-oriented activists often accused counterculture folk of just wanting to opt out of "the struggle."

That's not overly important, it's just the infuriatingly routine ignorance found among those who rely on media images and David Broder types to define the period for them. The other is more serious; it's the claim that antiwar activists "failed to honor the veterans" of Vietnam. That is bullshit. It was the antiwar movement (usually in cooperation with Vietnam vets), not the American Legion, not the VFW, not the bloodlust war hawks, who established the coffeehouses, the counseling centers, the job centers. It was the antiwar movement, not the American Legion, not the VFW, who condemned the VA for refusing to consider PTSD a real condition. Indeed, for several years the Legion and the VFW weren't interested in reaching out to or even dealing with the "pot-smoking" Vietnam vets "who lost a war for the first time in US history." Buying into the concocted rightwing meme that "the antiwar movement hated the troops" has had a real political cost over the years and it is a disgrace to see Obama embracing it.

Well, actually there's a third, the idea that Gen. David Petraeus was merely "providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq." But that's just too easy a target.

Two: I was amused reading that Obama said
I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal"
and et cetera. I'm surprised in this day of semantic nit-picking that no one has mentioned that those are not the first lines of the Declaration of Independence, they are the first lines of the second paragraph. Or is it that the pundits and politicians, like, it appears, Obama, just don't know?

Three: The best single line in the whole speech, as far as I'm concerned, was this:
The young soldier who first spoke about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib - he is a patriot.
Indeed he is. His name - it would have been nice had Obama made the minimal effort to find out - is Sergeant (now former Sergeant) Joseph M. Darby. In return for his honesty he was vilified and threatened in his home town to the point where the military wouldn't let him go back there because of concerns for his safety. He and his wife were moved to an undisclosed military base and he was protected by armed bodyguards for six months. In a 2006 interview with 60 Minutes, he indicated he still
doesn't want to share what he does now, where he lives or talk about his family.
Despite that, when asked during that same interview if he had it to do over would he do it again,
Darby says, "Yes. They broke the law and they had to be punished."

"And it's that simple?" [Anderson] Cooper asks.

"It's that simple," he replies.
Had to be punished, he said earlier, because he knew that no matter the reason for the abuse, it was wrong. Just wrong.

Yes, by any truly rational definition of the word he is a patriot.
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