As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Business Trip

That's it for today, I'm out until Monday. Use the links on the right and use them wisely. Thanks.


Beginning of the End or End of the Beginning?

In ten years, we'll be able to say whether or not the Terri Schiavo debacle was the catalyst to the downfall of the conservative movement in America. Right now, it certainly looks that way. These poll numbers not only show wide-ranging condemnation for Congress intervening in the sensitive case (by 82% to 13%), but a significant drag on Congressional approval ratings (now down to an anemic 34%). Four more sets of courts have agreed with the 19 Florida state courts, buttressing Michael Schiavo's view that the feeding tube should be removed and Terri should be allowed to die with dignity. This has been more adjudicated than practically any medical case in history. We're a nation of laws, and at some point, there has to be an end to the process. And the American people recognize and understand that with far more sophistication than CNN or Fox.

This is an incredibly sensitive case that Republicans have inserted themselves into with nothing but insensitivity, demagoguery, and disrespect for the separation of powers and the rule of law. Democrats have remained largely silent, although Barney Frank and other have been eloquent about the implications for Federalism. But you now what, fine with me. The best way to deal with exploitation and sensationalism is to NOT EXPLOIT. Some of us in the blogosphere who have written so forcefully about this have done so out of shock at the exploitation, the overrun of the Constitution, and the overreach of the Christian right. Americans are seeing the true face of today's Republican Party in all its naked glory.

But it's a long way from any election cycle, and it's important that Democrats don't get the impression that staying out of the business of government is a good policy. It's time to press the advantage and continue to expose the corruption, lying, and exploitation rampant in the GOP. For example:

Fox News host Sean Hannity and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough both promoted Dr. William Hammesfahr's false claim that he is a Nobel Prize nominee.

Hammesfahr, a Florida neurologist disciplined in 2003 by the Florida Board of Medicine who claims he can help Terri Schiavo, testified during an October 2002 court hearing on the Schiavo case that his claim to be a Nobel nominee is based on a letter written by Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-FL) recommending him for the prize. But Bilirakis is not qualified to make a valid nomination under the Nobel rules.

Number two

(Sen. Bill) Frist wrote a book in 1989 called Transplant where he advocated changing the definition of "brain dead" to include anencephalic babies. Anencephalic babies are in the same state as Terri Schiavo except that she suffered a physical trauma that put her into a vegetative state while the anencephalic babies are born that way.

"Near the end of the book, for example, Frist suggests changing the legal definition of 'brain death' to include anencephalic babies, who are born with a fatal neurological disorder but show just the slightest hint of brain-stem activity. Such a change would make it possible to harvest their organs for transplant--something the Catholic Church and pro-life groups oppose. 'Three thousand anencephalic babies were born a year, enough to solve our demand many times over--but we never used them.'" [The New Republic, 1/27/03]

Well, that's enugh for now. David Sirota is claiming that this is a missed opportunity for Democrats. I'm not so sure. By NOT politicizing this, Democrats gave Republicans all the rope they needed to hang themselves. Democrats have ended up caving on bankruptcy, class action, and a host of cabinet nominations, and I agree with Sirota on this. But this political football should not be attempted to be caught.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Sky Isn't Falling!

Today's statement by the Social Security trustees was pretty much expected; you knew that by hook or by crook, they'd gerry-rig so that they could throw out a headline that "The Trust Fund IS Going Broke Faster!" But if you look into the report past the headline (that payouts will outrun revenues by 2017, not 2018, and that the Trust Fund will run out of money by 2041), the way Kevin Drum did, you'll see something striking:

It turns out that although the trustees have fiddled with the numbers to bring in the trust fund exhaustion date from 2042 to 2041 — which makes for good headlines — the long term outlook is actually better than it was last year.

Got that? In only a single year, the projected deficit in 2080 has gone down from 6.0% of taxable payroll to 5.75% of taxable payroll. Another few years of supposed doom and gloom like this and even George Bush won't be able to pretend that Social Security is in crisis.

Here's the chart:

Never mind the fact that the projections assume absurdly low economic growth, the lowest since the Great Depression. By virtue of their own facts and figures, things are getting better. Which, by the way, has always been the case. In 1997, the Trust Fund was only supposed to last until 2029. Now, eight years later, it's pushed out 12 years.

So I remind you to do more than read the crawl under CNN when researching this issue.


Eyes Wide Shut

"We don't have vigilantes in the United States of America." -President Bush, news conference at North American summit, March 23, 2005

"The FBI, American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican government, Latino activists and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang are among groups monitoring or protesting the activities of the "Minuteman Project," an Internet-driven organization planning to converge along the Arizona border beginning April 1.

The group, proclaiming its mission is to guard the U.S.-Mexico border against undocumented immigrants, has attracted nearly 1,000 volunteers representing all 50 states and Canada." -Scripps Howard News Service, March 23, 2005

...UPDATE: I mischaracterized the quote, the President said "I don't support vigilantes in the USA," not "we don't have" vigilantes. My apologies. I'm glad the President came out on the side against armed citizens at the border. I'm not happy that he's let border security go so unfunded that anti-immigrant groups feel like that have to hunting for Mexicans.


Kyrgyzstan: The Freedom March Stops Here

Media types and a few on the right are fully expecting the revolutions that flourished in Georgia and Ukraine to continue to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. Right now opposition protests against the government have persisted for several weeks in the wake of election fraud allegations. In the south of the country, opposition leaders have taken over government buildings. In the capital of Bishkek and the north, very little has been accomplished. The government of President Askar Akayev sent the riot police out yesterday to break up the Bishkek protest, and named a hardliner as the new head of security.

Akayev has already sworn in the Parliament (whose election is being questioned), and they are on the verge of passing emergency-rule legislation, which will allow force to disperse the protestors and restore order. Akayev is believed to be a tyrant by the opposition, through he's a term-limited one (one thing the protestors allege is that he'll get his compliant Parliament to amend the constitution and allow him a third term). What's funny is that Akayev used to be the reformer in Central Asia, though his intolerance of dissent is clearly troubling, particularly the shooting of 6 peaceful protestors in 2002.

This was the money graph for me in the AP article:

Kyrgyz politics is heavily clan-based, and Akayev has strong support in his native north. If the fractured opposition can carry its protests north across the mountain range bisecting the country and toward the capital, Bishkek, tensions could explode in a strategically important country where both the United States and Russia have military bases.

We have a base there? Well, yes.

The United States operates a military base, used for refueling planes in Afghanistan, outside the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, about 200 miles north of Osh.

To me, this seems like where we get off the freedom boat. The US has been pretty silent on this issue, only going so far as to call for calm and negotiations. By the way, this statement came out of the US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, not the State Department. Way to go out on the limb there, guys.

The fact that we have already achieved military basing there seems to me to be a big reason why we're letting this play out and stressing calm. The world of realpolitik dictates that sometimes it's better to have order than democracy. By purportedly putting democracy at the head of foreign policy goals, we come up against ourselves in places like Kyrgyzstan. We're using their airport as a combat operations point of departure. Why do they need freedom now? Maybe this case will make people realize that "freedom" to this foreign policy crew means "the freedom to do what we want."

Russia has a clear interest in keeping the Kyrgys in line, and is definitely moving to do so. Our relative silence merely props up the "don't leave Mother Russia" view.

By the way, Kyrgyzstan is in a prime region for Islamic fundamentalism, and neighbors Uzbekistan, which may have the worst human rights record on the planet. I guess that doesn't mean anything to us. After all, we already have a base!


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Here's a fun story: last year, while the Boston Red Sox were winning the MLB Chmpionship, a minority partner of the team, Phillip H. Morse, chartered his private Gulfstream jet to the CIA, who used it to transport prisoners around the globe as part of the official policy known as "extraordinary rendition," whereby detainees are transferred to their native countries for interrogation, and presumably torture.

Isn't that neat? Go Sox!

Between June 2002 and January of this year, the plane has flown to Afghanistan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, and the Czech Republic, and made 82 visits to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, according to the Chicago Tribune, which cited records from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Chicago Tribune, citing FAA records, reported that the jet was in Cairo on Feb. 18, 2003, shortly after an Islamic cleric disappeared from his home in Milan in a case Italian prosecutors are investigating as a kidnapping.

Here was Morse's reaction, and from it I'm assuming that he's blind:

"It's chartered a lot," Morse said by phone from his winter home in Jupiter, Fla. "It just so happens one of our customers is the CIA.

"I was glad to have the business, actually. I hope it was all for a real good purpose."

Don't cross your fingers. Here's a nice little story about the kind of good purposes the CIA is using:

Witness to a rendition

The only eyewitness account of how rendition targets are prepared for their journey comes from a veteran Swedish police inspector, Paul Forell, who was present when such a team arrived at Stockholm's Bromma airport on the night of Dec. 18, 2001.

Forell told Sweden's Channel 4 last year that those arriving at the airport included eight Americans wearing hoods and two others in business suits who introduced themselves only by their first names and said they were from the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm.

"They were very professional in their way of acting. They acted very deftly, swiftly and silently," Forell said, adding that he had the impression the team had carried out many previous renditions.

The two Egyptian-born suspects, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammed al-Zery, who had been arrested earlier in the evening by Swedish security police, were handcuffed and their clothes cut from their bodies.

Suppositories apparently intended as a sedative were inserted into their anuses, and diapers were put on both men, followed by dark overalls, blindfolds and hoods that completely covered their heads.

The prisoners were put aboard an unmarked Gulfstream that had flown to Stockholm from Washington's Dulles airport.

The Stockholm Gulfstream, a later model 5 that bore the tail number N379P, also has been spotted in Karachi and Gambia during other renditions.

After the plane landed in Cairo at 2:35 a.m. the next day, al-Zery and Agiza were taken to Masra Tora prison. According to Swedish government documents made public by Channel 4, when the two men were visited by the Swedish ambassador five weeks later they told him they were being tortured.

Neither man was found to have any Al Qaeda connection, and al-Zery was released without charges. Agiza, who previously had been convicted in absentia of membership in an Egyptian Islamic radical organization, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Digby, who is hands-down the best blogger out there right now in my opinion, gets to the core of this:

This is another of those juicy stories that just eludes the mainstream media. I know they write a story or two here and there. But, it never gets the kind of attention that these right wing soap operas get.

Let's look at the nut here. The US government appears to be using one of the world series winning Boston Red Sox's jet to kidnap and transport suspected terrorists all over the world to be tortured.

This isn't a big story. Scott Peterson, however, is. Problem #7,556 with the corporate media.

We just had Congressional hearings about baseball last week, right? Did this come up? I'll have to check the transcript.

Susan Hu at Kos gets more in-depth on this story as well. The point is that we have to do whatever we can to push back against the smokescreens (ahem, Schiavo) and noise machines (ahem, Michael Jackson) and fight back against torture. It's how we can keep our country whole.



I didn't know what that word meant either until I read this illuminating Juan Cole post:

The Muslim fundamentalists use a provision of Islamic law called "bringing to account" (hisba). As Al-Ahram weekly notes, "Hisba signifies a case filed by an individual on behalf of society when the plaintiff feels that great harm has been done to religion." Hisba is a medieval idea that had all but lapsed when the fundamentalists brought it back in the 1970s and 1980s.

In other words, with hisba people unconnected to the case can overrule court proceedings and ask for a new trial in the name of their own personal religious code of ethics, in effect using the court to intervene in someone's private life.

Sound familiar? As Cole writes:

But the most frightening thing about the entire affair is that public figures like congressmen inserted themselves into the case in order to uphold religious strictures. The lawyer arguing against the husband let the cat out of the bag, as reported by the NYT: ' The lawyer, David Gibbs, also said Ms. Schiavo's religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic were being infringed because Pope John Paul II has deemed it unacceptable for Catholics to refuse food and water. "We are now in a position where a court has ordered her to disobey her church and even jeopardize her eternal soul," Mr. Gibbs said.

In other words, the United States Congress acted in part on behalf of the Roman Catholic church. Both of these public bodies interfered in the private affairs of the Schiavos... Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah DeLay isn't different from his counterparts in Iran.

Between Eugene Volokh's swooning over Iranian torture techniques, and now this, the Right is finding a lot of common cause with this Axis of Evil member, no?

By the way, maybe the most disgusting part of this charade is the "armchair doctors" that grace our Congress. People like Bill Frist (allegedly an MD) who pronounced a disgnosis on Terri Schiavo based on watching a videotape for one hour. I won't believe Frist is a doctor until I see a videotape of him practicing medicine for an hour, by the way. Dr. Dean says the right thing here.

"This is a deeply personal matter and ought to be left up to physicians," Dean said in a telephone conference call with Tennessee reporters.

"For Sen. Frist to say he could make a diagnosis based on a videotape is certainly not medically sound," said Dean, who, like Frist, is a physician-politician. "I wouldn't want my doctor making any diagnosis of me on videotape."


Monday, March 21, 2005

Some Laws Help

This Reuters story should be welcome news to working Americans. The Sarbanes-Oxley law, passed to ensure that companies' financial reporting is transparent and legitimate, is starting to make some headway. Predictably, corporate leaders fought this law from the get-go, on the flimsy grounds that it would cost too much. Well, they had the chance to provide financial statements legitimately without regulation; we ended up with Enron. And Global Crossing. And WorldCom. And Tyco. And Adelphia. But now, the mess is getting cleaned:

For all the huffing and puffing about the costs of complying with one of the final mandates of Sarbanes-Oxley, introduced in 2002 after a series of huge corporate scandals, there are clear signs that Section 404 of the Act is forcing companies to uncover some deeply buried accounting skeletons.

Regulatory estimates from a few weeks ago put the number of companies that have been forced to come clean at 500 to 600 of more than 10,000 corporations registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Critic have argued the millions of dollars in extra auditing fees to determine if financial controls are adequate is money poorly spent, with no quantifiable return.

Yet Section 404 may be keeping Corporate America honest, or at least focused, say accounting experts, adding that the benefits of raising investor confidence will, over time, substantially outweigh the upfront expenses.

I guess unrestrained capitalists will have to, er, capitulate to the notion that sometimes, regulation has positive benefits for everyone involved. But I'm not holding my breath.


Here We Go Again

This graf in the AP piece about the court proceeding today in the Schiavo case struck me...

But the judge told Gibbs that he was not completely sold on the argument. "I think you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that you have a substantial likelihood" of the parents' lawsuit succeeding, said Whittemore, nominated by former President Clinton in 1999.

I knew this whole thing was Clinton's fault! Wait until Rush tells me tomorrow what this has to do with Monica and Vincent Foster! Maybe Terri Schiavo IS Vincent Foster! Or Webb Hubbell! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!

The effort to demonize the judiciary, fully 1/3 of the federal government, continues. Why are Republicans in the Senate bothering to use the "nuclear option" to break filibusters on judicial nominees if these judges will just stab you in the back anyway? Wasn't that guy who declared California's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional a Republican? How about we use the nuclear option on judges! Like a two-megaton bomb?

(The preceeding paragraph is what I imagine a conversation at the Focus on the Family offices to be like.)


Two Faced

So Progress for America has a new ad up:

President Bush wants to rescue Social Security.

[Image of Bush's State of the Union speech.]

President Bush asked for all ideas to be put on the table.

[Image of a stopwatch, next to the words "Social Security."]

Can you think of any ideas national Democrats offered?

[The stopwatch ticks away seconds as the camera zooms around. Screen goes black.]

Democrats have no solutions for Social Security.

[The stopwatch appears again.]

Social Security is too important for partisan games. Tell Congress. 202-225-3121. PAID FOR BY PROGRESS FOR AMERICA VOTER FUND.

Remember now, the President hasn't put forth a proposal either. And don't you dare criticize his proposal that he hasn't put forward, say conservatives. How can you criticize something that doesn't exist, they say.

So you could basically revoice this spot, change "national Democrats" to "President Bush," and roll with it.

Once again, they try to have it both ways.


McLellan lies to the gaggle.

So here's what happens when reporters have no possession of the facts, and allow the subject they're covering to get away with lying to them. The question:

Q: Scott, you may remember this from your Texas days. A member of Congress in Florida, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, got on the floor yesterday and said that the President, when he was Texas Governor, signed a piece of legislation into law that, she said, would allow -- when there's a dispute, would allow a feeding tube to be removed and that -- she was a little bit murky on exactly what the law was, but, essentially, she was saying that the President signed something into law that's contradictory to what he is doing now.

Whoever asked that question should be forced to wear a dunce cap and sent to the corner of the briefing room. It wasn't that Wasserman Schultz was murky on the law, it's that YOU were! "Um, I was only half-listening to things... it was late at night... but some Congresswoman was saying something about something... care to comment?"

MR. McCLELLAN: That's absolutely incorrect. The legislation he signed is consistent with his views. You know, this is a complex case and I don't think such uninformed accusations offer any constructive ways to address this matter. The legislation that he signed into law actually provided new protections for patients.

Here's an example of those new protections:

Baby born with fatal defect dies after removal from life support

At 2 p.m. today, a medical staffer at Texas Children's Hospital gently removed the breathing tube that had kept Sun Hudson alive since his Sept. 25 birth. Cradled by his mother, he took a few breaths, and died...

Sun's death marks the first time a hospital has been allowed by a U.S. judge to discontinue an infant's life-sustaining care against a parent's wishes, according to bioethical experts...

Texas law allows hospitals can discontinue life sustaining care, even if patient family members disagree. A doctor's recommendation must be approved by a hospital's ethics committee, and the family must be given 10 days from written notice of the decision to try and locate another facility for the patient.

And example number two:

A patient's inability to pay for medical care combined with a prognosis that renders further care futile are two reasons a hospital might suggest cutting off life support, the chief medical officer at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital said Monday.

St. Luke's notified Jannette Nikolouzos in a March 1 letter that it would withdraw life-sustaining care of her husband of 34 years in 10 days, which would be Friday. Mario Caba-llero, the attorney representing the family, said he is seeking a two-week extension, at minimum, to give the man more time to improve and to give his family more time to find an alternative facility.

McClellan mentions the 10-day rule in his preposterous answer.

He had previously vetoed legislation in 1997, when he was Governor, which essentially would have sanctioned current law in Texas that allowed hospitals to stop providing life-sustaining treatment -- because under Texas law, prior to the passage of the '99 legislation that he signed, there were no protections. And so this legislation was supported by many; it enjoyed strong bipartisan support; concerned citizens, various groups came together to support this legislation and put in place new protections for patients.

The legislation was there to help ensure that actions were being taken that were in accordance with the wishes of the patient or the patient's family. And let me give you an example. Prior to that legislation being passed I think there was a 72 hour period where if the hospital notified a patient -- or the family that represented the patient that they were going to deny life-sustaining treatment, then they had just that 72 hour period to find a place to transfer the patient, that would provide the treatment.

This legislation, some of the new protections it put in place were --included, the ethics committee review by the hospital, in working with the families as well, making -- you know, to discuss those decisions, determinations. And it also provided a 10-day period, so they had 10-day notice to be able to transfer the patient to another health care provider. And it also authorized court proceedings to extend that 10-day period in order to extend that transfer, if necessary.

So it's just an uninformed accusation.

In other words, the accusation is uninformed because the legislation gives the family 10 days before the hospital cuts their tube, not 3. How does that have anything to do with the fact that the legislation allows hospitals to cut off feeding tubes if you can't pay for them or if it won't change the eventual outcome of the illness?

Of course, when you have a reporter that doesn't do any homework, that doesn't really know what she's talking about with regard to the question, you allow this kind of doublespeak to go through unchecked. Why even bother to ask this question without having any facts? It's unconscionable.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

We just took a dump on the Constitution

Chalk this one up as most likely "one more Terri Schiavo blog post that probably didn't need to be written." But I have a hard time helping myself in the face of this abomination.

My outrage has nothing to do with the case itself, but the increasing hostility over and attempted concellation of the judiciary, fully one-third of the American system of government that the Right loves to cherish so. This is perhaps the most dangerous law that has yet been rendered under the watch of this Administration, because it strikes at the heart of our democracy itself. The Congress has simultaneously:

-denied state's rights to settle their own judicial proceedings
-reinvented the federal judiciary as a funnel for whatever Congressional whims they require it to investigate
-nullified the Supreme Court, who has already ruled against intervening in the matter
-eliminated the checks and balances that exist in the 216-year contract of American government

And as for "individualizing" the legislation so that it applies to only Schiavo and nobody else, read here the last paragraph of today's LA Times piece on the subject:

"Evangelical leader Cizik predicted that the Schiavo case would be among the first of many to present similar issues."

If you think this is the only time this kind of blatant disregard for the Constitution will be attempted, you're out of your mind. We know that the other side's strategy is that of a shark; to keep moving forward continuously no matter what. Appeasement in the form of "legislation without precedent" (which is ludicrous on its face) does nothing to stop the shark from swimming. It just momentarily stalls them until the next Terri Schiavo... and the next... and the next.

This is the ledge in the rock that the Dominionist Right has been climbing to accede to fundamentalist governmental control. I really don't think I'm putting too fine a point on it.

Never mind the fact that during the last four years, the White House has systematically removed the feeding tubes of poor people nationwide, eliminating their opportunities, lowering their wages, denying their labor protections, worsening their environment, making it impossible for them to climb out of personal debt, doing nothing to improve their crisis of health care, and, as famously noted by many, quite literally throwing people off feeding tubes if they cannot pay for them.

But I digress.

I suspect the judiciary will not brook this challenge to their legitimacy, and act accordingly. But that of course plays right into Republican hands. We've seen the "activist judges" and "blame the lawyers" noise grow louder and louder over the years (save for that speed bump of silence during Bush v. Gore, of course), and the more the judiciary tries to fight back, the more the GOP will say this proves their point. Mass impeachment of lifetime-appointed judges, the "nuclear option" to push the "Right" judges onto the bench, increasing legislation that brushes the judiciary aside; the goal is to remove the supposedly dispassionate arm of our democracy, to move the country closer to a rule by fiat.

If Congress really cared about doing something about this, they a) wouldn't have gotten involved on Friday, and b) could try to put through a bill mandating a living will for all patients admitted into hospital facilities. I'm still wondering about the efficacy (and applicability, particularly as a federal law adopted by hospitals iin the states) of that one, but at the very least there could have been an appropriation of funds for educating the public on the importance of a living will. This does none of that. All it does is take a giant steaming dump on the Constitution.