30 June 2007

Hot Air

Why do conservatives want so badly to portray terrorists as stupid and the netroots as paranoid?

From Allahpundit at HotAir:

It’s almost certainly just a coincidence, but this‘ll be good for some primo nutroots conspiracizing tomorrow morning. A nugget within reveals what the plotters might have intended here. I didn’t realize the two cars were so near each other:

One car, a pale green Mercedes, had been left outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in Haymarket. A second, a blue Mercedes, was left a few hundred yards away in Cockspur Street, a busy thoroughfare close to Trafalgar Square. Both contained fuel, gas canisters and nails, but both car bombs failed to detonate. Had either device gone off it would have generated a huge fireball and a shock wave spreading over 400 yards in all directions. If, as suspected, one had been primed to detonate before the other, people fleeing the first blast would have been caught directly in the line of fire of second.

Is it simply too much to ask that we acknowledge that the extremists involved in acts like these are incredibly calculating and penultimately committed? That's a combination we should treat with careful respect, not wild ridicule. We will not defeat terror by underestimating terrorists, plain and simple.

Yeah, I'm All About Benen Again

It's embarrassing to fawn so openly, but the guy makes so much sense you can't escape it. Steve Benen on the deadliest quarter in Iraq, and on NYT reports that low-tech, al-Qaeda linked terrorism appears to be spreading beyond Iraq:

Insurgents are treating Iraq as some kind of Terrorism School, and are applying the lessons they've learned after graduation.

Here's a crazy idea: we could withdraw from Iraq, deny terrorists a "cause celebre" for jihadists, and stop making it harder to combat terrorism.

You got it, Steve. Let met get you a microphone.

Learning to Like Hillary

I am undecided as to whom I'd like to vote for in the Democratic race for the presidency. Obama appeals to me on a gut level, but I'm not sure that's enough. The comparison is unkind, but you get the sneaking suspicion that millions of Americans voted for George W. Bush--twice--simply because he appealed to them on a gut level. I've read Obama's book, and it reads alright, but man, it's all platitudes. I don't doubt the guy has a big brain full of policy in the making, and that he's not only exceptionally bright but politically savvy as well. But vague brush strokes and a tendency to generalize don't cut it when you're the President of the United States.

Hillary Clinton has the opposite effect on me from Barack Obama: she's rough, I don't like the sound of her voice, and I sometimes feel she comes of as shrill. Her grandstanding on the Senate floor appalls me from time to time, but more because of the factors mentioned above then because of what she actually has to say. When I listen to the points Hillary Clinton makes, I often find myself in agreement (although I strongly object to any rhetoric that validates the sabre-rattling coming out of Iran).

So where does that leave me? That's what I wondered this morning when I sat and read this:

"After eight years of the Bush administration, we are going to be shocked by what we find," the New York senator and former first lady said. "Somebody said to me the other day if there was ever a time for a woman president it's now because we're going to have to do a lot of cleaning."

Ha ha. She's a politician's politician, which I distrust simply because she's neither charming nor endearing like her husband. But she's prepared, she's done her homework, and she might just be able to lead the country back to a place in the world that Americans can be proud of.

"If Hillary Clinton thinks women will support her candidacy simply based on her gender she is mistaken," RNC spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson said. "Women, like men, will vote for a candidate because they share their views, and Hillary's consist of higher taxes, bigger government and waving a white flag in the global war on terror."

If this is how Republicans mean to attack Clinton during the upcoming election, then it may not be a bad thing. I'm at the point where, if "higher taxes, bigger government and waving a white flag" means America is willing to invest in schools, families and the environment, provide a level of health care for all Americans that is in keeping with our presumptions about our standing in the world, and return to American citizens and global citizens alike the Constitutional right to habeas corpus, then hey, I could actually vote for her.

Veggie Booty Recall

I hate to post this because Veggie Booty is such a good snack, but it's been recalled. So it goes.

Helen Thomas

Want to know what the White House press corps thinks of the White House press corps? Glenn Greenwald interviews Helen Thomas:

And then they put me in the back row, which didn't matter. What matters is the question. You get one chance at the barrel with the president. You should not let it slide. I mean, they are public servants, presidents are. We pay them. And they should be accountable.

[Other reporters] are nice to me, but I'm not trying to please my peers. I'm trying to get the information that the American people have to know, they have a right to know everything that affects their lives and that is done in their name.

Greenwald does a little cozying up to the grand dame, but who wouldn't? She's been the one, all this time bringing the outrage.

Better Than Selling it on Ebay

I can't say I go in for this, but you've got to admit it's a nice break from your traditional wedding smarm. Salon.com explores "trashing the dress."

Oaxaca, Revisited

So there's a little more on the Oaxaca teachers strike and social uprising of 2006. Click here to review my first post about the subject.

Reports I've read are spotty as to what exactly went on during the months of stalemate that hovered over the besieged city center. I can't tell if the majority of teachers stayed in the city or returned to their homes while the cause was taken up by political activists. Labor Notes reported that the teachers ended their sit-in on July 5, after 44 days, but that doesn't add up with information gleaned in even a cursory Google search on the protests. There was a dispute within the teachers union in October after the head of the union declared the strike over without presenting it to the teachers for a vote. The vote came later, finally, but with mixed results.

Several people were killed over the course of the summer, usually in confrontations with groups of armed men in plain clothes identified by local reporters as police, though I have not been able to confirm that they were indeed police. there appears to be skepticism about the likelihood the men were actually police officers. In only a few instances, people were killed in what appears to be targeted fashion.

From NarcoNews:

Indigenous elementary school teacher Pánfilo Hernández was murdered tonight with three gunshot wounds to the abdomen as he was leaving a neighborhood meeting of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials), in the El Pozo neighborhood of the city’s Jardín section.

I'm not sure how the standoffs progressed during this period, but the landscape changed radically on October 27, 2006 when Bradley Roland Will, an American journalist working with Indymedia, was killed during a clash between protesters and armed groups (sometimes called "paramilitaries"). At this point outgoing president Vicente Fox ordered federal troops to Oaxaca to disperse protesters and put an end to the rebellion.

And that pretty much sums it up what I've learned about the strike. This may be unresolved, as it seems the rebellion was quashed without answering the demands of the people. If teachers' salaries went up I haven't found reference to it, and if classroom conditions are any better I'd be shocked. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is still governor of Oaxaca. One of his secretaries recently issued an apology on behalf of the state government, though Ruiz Ortiz has made no such statements himself.

I should make a note here that Oaxaca is a city know for its cultural pageantry and peaceful mien. While politically charged, it is not unsafe.

29 June 2007

Timing Terrorism

Steve Benen makes an interesting observation about some of the major terror attacks of the past 15 years, in light of today's near miss in London:

. . . I'm also curious about the possible attack coinciding with the announcement of a new British Prime Minister. The '93 attack in NYC happened shortly after Clinton took office; 9/11 occurred shortly after Bush took office; might today after something to do with Brown?

The whole post is here. Seems worth considering.

Steve Benen: Blog Machine

I really like Talking Points Memo and think that Josh Marshall, Paul Kiel, Greg Sargent and the rest of the gang do a hell of a job rounding up information that matters about government and politics and providing analysis on the issues of the day. That said, I really look forward to the weekends, when Steve Benen sits in as a guest blogger at TPM and cranks out post after post cutting through the smoke and mirrors of Washington and the world at large and suggesting what--or who--is really behind so many of the headlines.

So this week I'm thrilled to see Steve sitting in for Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly. (I think Kevin Drum is pretty great, too, by the way.) Since yesterday he has posted on just about everything that's happened in the world since Kevin went on vacation, and he adds a new post almost as soon as I'm done reading the latest.

Talking Points Memo and Washington Monthly are two blogs I check in with every day. I'm pretty sure Steve's blog, The Carpetbagger Report, is about to become another one.

Supreme Court to Hear Guantanamo Case

I heard a blurb about this earlier, but Spencer Ackerman has a little bit more over at TPMmuckraker. In a surprise reversal, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the cases of two Guantanamo detainees this fall. This should be good news for everybody who believes that America does not lock people up, hold them indefinitely, and deny them the right to hear the evidence set against them.

Talking Plain

I think this is language the vast majority of the American public can get behind:

"The veil of secrecy you have attempted to pull over the White House by withholding documents and witnesses is unprecedented and damaging to the tradition of open government by and for the people that has been a hallmark of the republic," Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told Fielding.

Congressional Democrats have asked for an explanation of why the White House has invoked executive privilege relating to requests for documents related to the ongoing DOJ US attorney investigation. Rep. Conyers and Sen. Leahy have indicated before (relating to warrantless wiretapping) that they are not going to allow the White House to avoid Congressional and public oversight by simply issuing blanket statements of executive privilege.

I say keep at it, gentlemen, and don't settle for any meetings without a transcript.

Congress Looking to Rally

Via ThinkProgress, news is out that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi plan to join together in an effort to get America out of Iraq. Seems they had to hear the bad news--disapproval ratings as high as 71%--before they felt convinced that Americans were ready to end the war. We'll wait and see how it all plays out.

28 June 2007

Too Shockingly Stupid Not to Share

Via TPM, Bush declares Iraq will be a success when it looks like Israel. Like Josh said, "That should go over well."

26 June 2007

Gonzo for Gadgetry

Apple's highly anticipated iPhone goes on sale Friday at 6 pm. NPR reports that people are already waiting in line at the Apple Store in Manhattan.

24 June 2007

The Southern Front?

Is this for real? Hugo Chavez is preparing Venezuelans to wage "a guerilla-style war against the United States"? The next thing we know, Dick Cheney will be seriously suggesting force to take out tactical targets. I've got to find out more.

20 June 2007

On Bloomberg

I am not surprised to hear New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement yesterday that he was leaving the GOP and declaring his independent (2008-speak: centrist) status. I did not know, however, that up until 2001--the year he ran for mayor--Bloomberg was a "lifelong Democrat."

19 June 2007

Time Bomb

From The New York Times:

Several hundred people, most of them Fatah supporters, have been camped out at Erez, saying they fear for their lives unless they are allowed to escape through Israel to the West Bank.

. . . Israel, which closed the checkpoint on Thursday, has said it will not allow a crossing by the group, which includes some women and children.

More broadly, Gaza has been cut off for four days now. While aid officials say the situation is not yet dire, Israel will not deal with Hamas, even at the low level of coordinating trucks through checkpoints.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization,” said Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, the Israeli government agency that deals with the Palestinian areas. “They can’t say on the one hand that they want to destroy Israel, and on the other ‘we need your help.’ We won’t help Hamas. From our point of view, let them fail.” [Emphasis mine]

. . . With Gaza almost wholly dependent on the outside world for food, and with 1.1 million of its 1.5 million people receiving some sort of food assistance, the clock is ticking toward crisis.

If Israel can't find a way to get refugees out of Gaza and into the West Bank, then an unwillingness to coordinate with Hamas will translate simply as an unwillingness to deal with Palestinians, period. If Mahmoud Abbas and his new West Bank Fatah government want to isolate Hamas and gain ground among Palestinians then they need to work with Israel to get refugees out of harm's way in the western territory.

Additionally, it seems the US should take an active share of the responsibility for relocating Gazan refugees, since it was the US who pushed for Palestinian elections against Israel's better judgment.

Despite deep Israeli misgivings, the United States encouraged Abbas to hold Palestinian legislative elections -- and Abbas invited Hamas to participate, believing he could beat them at the polls. But Hamas won, giving Hamas control of the cabinet and of the powerful prime minister's post that had been created at the behest of the United States.

The Bush administration, in pushing for democratic elections yet rejecting the outcome, has sold the moral high ground out from under democracy and created a further morass in the Middle East. This will be as difficult to untangle as anything else in the region, and absolutely everybody except Hamas stands to lose in the short term.

"The less we try to intervene and shape Palestinian politics, the better off we will be," said Robert Malley, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the International Crisis Group. "Almost every decision the United States has made to interfere with Palestinian politics has boomeranged."


18 June 2007

Writing Headlines

The headline might as well read "Two-State Solution Dead; Bush's Mid-East Policies All Failures." Glenn Kessler takes a look at the newly redefined Palestinian Territories and what happens next.

White House Emails

Via Atrios: It appears there were White House related emails, lots and lots of 'em, that went through RNC servers instead of appropriate White House channels, and that a lot of people knew about them. The House Oversight Committee released an interim report today, and the findings suggest, that, well, the White House deserves a little more oversight.

UPDATE: ThinkProgress has more. 140,216 more, to be exact.

Teachers' Strike: Oaxaca 2006

So I'm still learning the politics and history that provide context to the teachers' strike that took place in Oaxaca last year. The gist of it, as I understand, goes like this:

Every year Section 22 of the national teachers' union stages a strike to renegotiate pay and address issues hampering education, such as the lack of student uniforms or the downright poverty of the school system in rural areas, resulting in classes being held in cardboard and plastic shanties without appropriate materials or even sanitary facilities. It sounds like the annual teachers' strike results in modest pay raises grudgingly approved by Oaxaca's sitting governor and grudgingly accepted by the teachers, but that little else ever changes.

The L.A. Times reported that when 70,000 teachers went on strike and demonstrated in Oaxaca City's central square in May 2006, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, governor of Oaxaca since 2004, paid little attention. Teachers camped out in the square, prepared to wait and negotiate as they do every year. Ruiz Ortiz was heavily involved in Mexico's presidential election last summer, campaigning for his party's candidate Roberto Madrazo, who failed to win a single state in the election. Ruiz Ortiz approved funds for a modest salary increase for the teachers and, it appears, expected the situation to go away. When it didn't, he retracted the funding offer and ordered teachers back to their classrooms. Teachers responded by staging massive rallies and shutting down throughways in and out of the city center. Protesters also closed the road to the airport in an attempt to disrupt tourist traffic and pressure the government to accede.

This is where the strike began to garner international attention. On June 14 Ruiz Ortiz sent police into the square with tear gas and batons to clear the demonstrators out. Striking teachers and sympathetic protesters reorganized and maintained their positions in the square, restating demands to revitalize Oaxacan schools and calling for Ruiz Ortiz's resignation. The nature of the strike evolved politically, with several opposition groups--some radical--latching onto the high profile nature of the demonstrations and raising the bombast to new levels. Radio stations were commandeered, government services disrupted and buses torched in protest.

Demonstrations continued, with protesters and the state government at an impasse. Ruiz Ortiz, whom many believed gained the governorship illegitimately, called for federal support from then-president Vicente Fox, and this call was echoed by leaders of the teachers union. Fox appeared reluctant to send federal troops to quell a local conflict in an election season and sent negotiators instead. Talks were unproductive and the city of Oaxaca languished under the conflict. The New York Times reported in late August that the strike had escalated into a political crisis and pointed out the deaths of two bystanders as evidence that neither the state nor federal governments was adequately controlling the situation.

(More to come . . . Stay tuned!)

Sir Salman Rushdie

Pakistan's minister of religious affairs thinks it's okay for Pakistani citizens to wage suicide bombings in protest of the recent knighthood of author Salman Rushdie.

16 June 2007

Greenwald on the NYT on Iran

Glenn Greenwald deconstructs today's New York Times article chronicling the administration's internal debate over Iran. I think he gets it right.

But so many of the "facts" here are, at the very least, questionable. While some U.S. officials have accused Iran of arming Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Iran has categorically denied that accusation, and, as that same article reported, even Robert Gates refused to confirm the allegation with anywhere near the level of certainty that the Times bestowed this morning on this claim.

Indeed, the Times itself even reported last week: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that Iranian weapons were being smuggled into Afghanistan and into the hands of Taliban fighters, but that it was unclear whether Iran's government was behind the arms shipments." Contrast that caution from Bush's own Defense Secretary with the unambiguous claim of the Times today that Iran is "inflaming the insurgencies in . . . Afghanistan."

And then there is the claim that Iran is "inflaming the insurgencies in Iraq . . . and in Gaza." It is more or less established that Iran aids the Shiite factions which are close to Iran and close to the Iraqi government, but those are not "insurgents." And it is far from established that Iran aids the actual insurgents in Iraq attacking U.S. troops -- in particular, the ex-Baathist Sunni elements and "Al Qaeda in Iraq." The claim by the Times -- presented as unquestionable fact -- that Iran "is inflaming the insurgency in Iraq" is, at best, quite sloppy, and as presented, is also misleading.

The same is true for the claim that Iran is "inflaming an insurgency" in Gaza. The sole basis for that claim appears to be the aid provided by the Iranians to Hamas. But Hamas is not an "insurgency," but rather, the majority party which was democratically elected by the Palestinians. Theoretically, at least, to aid Hamas is to aid the democratically elected majority party in the Palestinian Authority, not arming an "insurgency."


Of course, questions such as whether we ought to be doing any of that, whether such actions are justified, whether Iran or the U.S. is the more provocative party here, are all questions which can and should be debated. And nobody doubts that Iran -- like large numbers of countries around the world, including some of our most important allies -- is internally repressive. But no account of a potential U.S.-Iran war can possibly be complete -- or even accurate -- without including all of those facts about what we are doing to provoke the Iranians into conflict.

Yet the Times article contains none of that. It presents a view of Iran that adheres almost completely to the administration's depictions -- namely, that "Iran is emerging as an increasing source of trouble for the Bush administration," as though it is unilaterally and without provocation running around waging war against the U.S. In doing so, the article repeatedly asserts as facts propositions which are nothing more than unconfirmed administration claims.

While I'm not convinced that the article goes so far as to make it easier to make a claim for strikes on Iran, Greenwald is right that the article is short on facts, and he reminds us that to swallow the traditional talking points may be to forget, so soon, how easily the American media, and by turn the public, swallowed the traditional talking points in the run-up to Iraq.

Unpimp Your Bride

We're planning our wedding for a figure well below the $28,000 average sticker price of the modern American wedding. So when I see an item about budget wedding gowns in The Wall Street Journal Online, let's just say it's on my radar.

What's the takeaway? I suppose it's that there's a growing trend on the part of sensible Americans not to begin their happily-ever-after in deep deep debt. I mean, if high-end designers are offering bridal fashions at Target, it must mean there's a demand in the American economy that's ready to snap those items up. While we joked about buying her dress at the thrift store, Jenna and I (and her folks!) have been quite pleased to find a number of wedding essentials for below average price.

Does this mean we'll skimp on quality? Hell no. It just means we'll be able to put our money where the real wedding fun happens: the band and the bar.

Another Government in Name Only

I've got a lot more reading to do before I understand what's going on in Gaza, but somebody kick me if this doesn't sound about right. After 15 months of sanctions against the democratically elected (but not US approved) Palestinian government in Gaza, during which time Palestinians have endured the kind of humanitarian crisis which only serves to fuel fundamentalist extremism and a "by-any-means-necessary" sense of virtue through terrorism, the US is now ready to lift the sanctions and let aid flow back into the region because the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas can't stand up to the militant hardliners of Hamas. This on the condition that Abbas, who's been effectively deposed in Gaza, as far as I can see, establish a new Fatah government that will work with American, European and presumably Israeli interests to soothe tensions and return to the jolly old days of the Oslo accords or something along those lines.

Is the US government officially on crack? At what point did our policy makers fail to see that this is exactly what would happen if we deprived the region of the chance to eat, to earn, and to work progressively toward democratic solutions? To deny the authority of a democratically elected Palestinian government was the first indication to Palestinians that the US had no real intention to deliver democracy to the Middle East. Instead, by imposing sanctions and cutting Gaza and the West Bank off from modern standards of free societies, US policy vindicates those who always assumed that the only answer to a troubled region is a one state solution which takes Israel, America's proxy in the Middle East, off the map.

And what will the US do now? It appears our intention is to prop up a wildly diminished government facade by allowing international aid to reach Palestinians only now that the radical threat presented by Hamas has assumed control of Gaza. Perhaps the US hopes to solidify power in the West Bank, allow the Fatah party to regroup and support a military re-acquisition of Gaza. It smacks of desperation, however, and suggests to me that US decision makers truly do not know what to do now. And we all know what we do when we don't know what to do: stay the course, redouble our efforts, and assure the world at large that we know what we're doing even while all evidence points to the contrary.

UPDATE: This article in the New York Times offers a good take on what Gaza looks like now, and on the likelihood of Palestinian reunification anytime soon.

15 June 2007

A Year in Oaxaca

We've purchased our plane tickets and plan to depart for Oaxaca in three short weeks. I sort of wish we could have been there yesterday, however, when demonstrators marched peacefully through the city on the anniversary of the clash that sparked 5 months of discord between teachers, activists, and Oaxacan and federal police.

Check back here over the next few weeks as I learn more about last year's protests, the politics behind them, and the city and state of Oaxaca today as Jenna and I prepare for our trip.

The New Marilyn Musgrave

Marilyn Musgrave is known in Colorado for wanting to write an amendment banning gay marriage into the US Constitution. Today the Denver Post reports that Musgrave is serving coffee to her constituents and posing for photo-ops with those who would traditionally be seen as her political opponents, such as Rep. Mark Udall, the Democrat from Colorado.

It's all part of Musgrave's bid to appear bipartisan in the run-up to 2008 as she fights for the seat in Colorado's 4th district which she only narrowly kept in '06. Will it work? Musgrave is on Karl Rove's short list of vulnerable seats in 2008, so count on the GOP to fight mean and fight hard if Rove still has anything to do with Congressional election strategies next year.

12 June 2007

The Constitution, the Justice Department and The Wall Street Journal (As Three Unrelated Items)

It's getting sort of late, and I'm getting sleepy, and I'm sure there's a rule that you shouldn't blog tired. That said, I just want to toss out a couple things that make me happy tonight.

The first is the decision reached by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Richmond, VA, that the indefinite detention of US citizens without being charged--no matter if an individual is labeled an enemy combatant or not--is unconstitutional.

“To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, “even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and the country.”

Yup. I have little to add, other than to voice my support for Kevin Drum's assertion that the lone dissenting judge, Henry Hudson, should be ashamed of himself for his take on the issue.

Next on the list, I am spirited to learn that yet more emails have been released--only because certain individuals who will testify this week may make mention of said emails, and then the DOJ and White House will have a bigger problem on their hands than the mere manipulation of the Dept of Justice for political gain--showing close handling of DOJ issues by White House personnel. We're not talking about a smoking gun here, where Karl Rove spells it out for his young staff in no uncertain terms, but the letters continue to connect the dots. ThinkProgress links to the emails at the bottom of their post. Thanks to the folks at FireDogLake for keeping a close eye on this tonight.

Finally tonight, I am pleased to read that the Bancroft family, in the face of a (sort of) hostile bid against Dow Jones & Company by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, continues to express their determination to maintain journalistic integrity at The Wall Street Journal. The New York Times reports: "The Bancrofts’ goal is to keep the appointment of The Journal’s top editors out of Mr. Murdoch’s hands." No telling how this all plays out, but I'll be rooting for the reporters and editors at The Journal, and hoping like hell the paper doesn't simply become a mouthpiece for Murdoch's News Corporation.

11 June 2007

US Arms to Sunni Fighters

As if US efforts in Iraq weren't frustrating enough already, news that we're arming both sides of a conflict that didn't exist before we ousted Saddam, dismantled the existing political, military and social structures and specifically picked the side that was politically convenient to American interests in the region (narrowly), comes as little surprise. The problem, however, is that these decisions of convenience don't remain convenient for long.

As the New York Times points out,

Americans officers acknowledge that providing weapons to breakaway rebel groups is not new in counterinsurgency warfare, and that in places where it has been tried before, including the French colonial war in Algeria, the British-led fight against insurgents in Malaya in the early 1950s, and in Vietnam, the effort often backfired, with weapons given to the rebels being turned against the forces providing them.
Not only has our government put US troops between warring factions, but we're now arming both sides of the conflict. How long until Sunni fighters level US-provided weapons against the largely Shiite government our troops are supposedly ensconced in the region to protect? Tell me again how we're supporting the troops?

10 June 2007

No Twinkies

Three cheers for my brother and his wife, who will probably never feed my beautiful niece, or any of their future kids, a Twinkie. Why? Steve Ettlinger tells us why.

08 June 2007

Loosening Restrictions on Embryonic Stem Cells

This is good news. Even though the House cannot override a threatened presidential veto on embryonic stem cell legislation, I strongly believe that more Americans are in favor of loosening restrictions than are opposed. When you consider how many of us have a family member or friend who stands to gain from advancing stem cell research, and quickly, the political/moral rhetoric falls away. And this issue isn't simply a political stress point that Democrats should keep putting before the President, though pundits may frame it that way. This is about quality of life for the living.

Visit PollingReport.com and scroll down to the section on stem cell research. As recently as last month, and dating back to 2001, polls from CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Newsweek, TIME, Associated Press, Gallup, Pew, Wall Street Journal and even Fox News all suggest that Americans are comfortable with embryonic stem cell research, that Americans want the government to support such research with federal funding, and that, by and large, this is a nonpartisan issue.

I had planned to post a whole bunch of samples, but that turned into a big mess (problems importing the text). In addition to PollingReport, Research!America compiles public polls and tracks the trends in the stem cell debate.

07 June 2007

Are You With Fred?

Patrick Ruffini posts* at Townhall.com that the Fred Thompson campaign took in $220k in 18 hours at ImWithFred.com. It seems premature to call this a "powerful shot across the bow," as Ruffini does, but I'd call it noteworthy. Republican candidates have yet to harness the power of the Internet as effectively as Dems, so it'll be interesting to see if a popular face can change that trend.

*I originally wrote that this was unsourced. This is obviously not unsourced, as Ruffini's first words read "Sources close to the Thompson campaign . . . ." Apologies to Patrick and his sources.

The 8-Front War

Juan Cole does some math and delivers a clear estimation of who's fighting whom in Iraq.

How many fronts are there in the Iraq War? The Sunni Arab guerrillas of the center, west and north are themselves fighting a four-front war. They are fighting US troops. They are fighting Shiites. They are fighting Kurds in the Kirkuk region and Ninevah and Diyala provinces. And they are fighting other Sunni Arab forces (Baathists fight Salafi fundamentalists, and both fight tribal levies gravitating to the Americans).

Then there is a muted Shiite front with two dimensions. Radical Shiites attack US forces. And, in Basra, Diwaniya and elsewhere, there is Shiite on Shiite violence as the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (often infiltrated into the Iraqi police) fights the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr.

So that makes 6-- four Sunni Arab fronts and 2 Shiite fronts.

Then there are the Kurds. Of course they are fighting the Sunni Arabs. But they have also given haven to two terrorist groups. One is the PKK, or Kurdish Worker's Party, which operates in Turkey's eastern Anatolia, blowing things up and killing people. Some 5,000 PKK fighters are holed up in Iraqi Kurdistan, to the rage of the Turkish government in Ankara. The other is PEJAK, an Iranian-Kurdish terrorist group that launches attacks in Iran. Both Iran and Turkey have lobbed mortars and artillery shells over the border into villages of Iraqi Kurdistan as a way of lodging a complaint and making a threat against these Kurdish forces.

Cole admits that not all 8 fronts are necessarily engaged in serious fighting simultaneously. Any one of these sites, however, can make bad trouble in the region worse. Flare-ups in fighting also put American troops at risk and make trouble for American war planners as they map strategies and assess the best of bad options.

My favorite part, though?

By the way, why does the Bush administration allow its Kurdistan allies to harbor PKK terrorists? I thought that sort of thing was a no-no in the age of the war on terror? Wasn't it even the casus belli for Bush's two big invasions? Or is it all right to do terrorism to Turkey and Iran, but not to the US and Britain? I'm confused.

When Juan Cole is confused you know it's a real mess.

06 June 2007

From Moscow to Tehran to . . . Moscow?

On Monday I quoted Juan Cole on Iran: "But Tehran is a minor player on the world stage, and trying to build it up to replace the Soviet Union is just the worst sort of fear-mongering . . . ."

Today I read this, and wonder why we need to build Iran up to replace the Soviet Union, when we're doing just fine with Vladimir Putin's Russia.

05 June 2007

Murdoch and the Media

The Wall Street Journal chronicles Rupert Murdoch's history of media involvement.

Like Eric Alterman, I'll give the Journal a nod for being at the head of the pack in reporting on the possible sale.


While I'm making sure I understand today's news, let me pause to get this right as well. Concerned parents in Chapel Hill, NC, come to the local county commissioners and beg for a tax hike to fund public education in their school district.

Karl Knapp, the parent of two children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the budget's priorities were wrong. "The choices that we make in spending define what we consider to be important," he said. "As I look though the budget, I wonder if education continues to be important to our community."
And Mary Katharine Ham sees this as something to deride and ridicule? Heaven help us.

War Crimes and Missteps

Let me see if I get this right. In 2006 the Bush Administration doesn't feel it has the latitude necessary to prosecute detainees of the "Global War on Terror" who are currently held at Guantanamo, and introduces the Military Commissions Act. This act effectively sidesteps questions of human rights and habeus corpus and gives the administration the go-ahead to try detainees outside the framework of the traditional military court-martial.

Yesterday, however, two military judges reviewing the cases of two detainees scheduled to appear on war crimes charges before military commissions dismissed those charges due to linguistic technicalities regarding the terms "enemy combatant" and "unlawful enemy combatant."

So even when the Bush Administration writes the rules it still can't seem to abide by them. Here's hoping there are more Americans who continue to see the failures of the Bush Administration's rhetoric and logic and who will act to restore credibility where much has been lost.

04 June 2007

Juan Cole on Tehran

Juan Cole offers fresh air on Iran:

Polling shows that the percentage of Americans who view Iran as the number one threat to the United States has risen to 27 percent now. I think it was only 20 percent in December 2006. First of all, how in the world can a developing country with about a fourth of the population of the US, about a $2000 per capita income (in real terms, not local purchasing power), with no intercontinental ballistic missiles, with no weapons of mass destruction (and no proof positive it is trying to get them), with a small army and a small military budget-- how is such a country a "threat" to the United States of America? Iranian leaders don't like the US, and they talk dirty about the US, and they do attempt to thwart US interests. The same is true of Venezuela under Chavez. But Tehran is a minor player on the world stage, and trying to build it up to replace the Soviet Union is just the worst sort of fear-mongering, and it is being done on behalf of the US military industrial complex, which wants to do to Iran what it did to Iraq. It is propaganda, and significant numbers of Americans (a 7 percent increase would be like 21 million people!) are buying it. (Emphasis mine)

Cole points out that, whether Iran is a credible threat or not, 21 million more Americans perceive Iran as the cardinal threat to American security than did just six months ago. I don't know how big a threat Iran really presents behind all the bluster. No one wants to see the country with a nuclear weapon, and yet I keep wondering if the country's nuclear pursuit isn't a martyr's game. Ahmadenijad has a great opportunity to gain the appearance of clout when there's a Dick Cheney across the ocean who is endlessly willing to validate the little man's insane posturing. In the meantime, wouldn't it be a kick if Tehran really was interested in nuclear energy (I'm not sure I believe this, but it's worth stopping to consider) and actually wanted Americans to blow our wad in an effort to disprove that peaceful pursuit was the order of the day. We'd go in, raise a bunch of dust, find no evidence of nuclear weapons development, and at the end of the day have nothing but George Bush's word that it was the right thing to do. Sound familiar?

As for Islamic extremists, the best they can hope for is to draw American forces yet further into the Middle East. They don't have to come to us because we're only too eager to come to them. If this is what's driving Iran, then shouldn't America just slow down? By this I mean we don't necessarily need our leaders to respond to sabre rattling with more of the same, and we don't need our media outlets to hard-sell us more hype and fear. As much now as ever before, we need thoughtfulness and cool-headedness, not to mention sound intelligence, as America assesses and approaches the Iranian problem.

02 June 2007

Caleb Jensen

My heart is sick today. I just learned of the May 2 death of a 15-year-old Utah student under the care of Alternative Youth Adventures of Montrose, CO. My old employer.

I suspect Caleb Jensen never should have been recommended for or admitted to the program, but that hardly matters now. The Denver Post reports that he suffered from repeated staph infections since early childhood. Whether this pertinent medical information was lost, ignored or simply overlooked represents one of the core failings of the juvenile justice system. Students often cannot advocate effectively for themselves, parents are too far removed from the student to act as advocate, and case workers and facility staff are far too often overloaded with more students than they can effectively help.

Wilderness programs--also known as wilderness treatment, wilderness therapy, or sometimes just "wilderness"--long stood outside the decaying architecture of the juvenile justice system and showed a degree of promise that has all but vanished from teen detention centers. Students, parents, caseworkers and wilderness staff often talked about the changes seen during and after the course of a 60-day program such as AYA's. Students experienced empowerment based on accomplishments within new skill sets. Learning to "bust" a fire from a spindle and a board, to build a backpack from a tarp, cordage and seatbelt webbing, and to rig a shelter from those same materials, encouraged students to see and believe in the value of their own hard work. This was in many cases a singular experience for students whose successes often lay more in the realm of fighting, "slanging" and stealing, or otherwise deviating from expected norms.

Recent years, however, have brought to light some of the shortcomings of wilderness treatment for adjudicated teens. The complaint I heard the most when I worked at AYA was that student successes were short lived, that without the support and resources made available--and distractions removed--by a group of dedicated and well trained staff, students couldn't sustain the positive decision making skills and hopefulness they learned in the wilderness setting. More often than not my phone calls with caseworkers, as I followed a student's path after graduation from AYA, led at some point or another to a relapse in criminal behavior.

Other complaints about wilderness therapy in general--that wilderness treatment is too militaristic in nature, that staff are ill trained or that the wilderness is simply too volatile and isolated--have been widely observed at and validated by programs across the country. Whether it's terrible judgment (if not abuse) at an Arizona boot camp, neglect at a Utah wilderness program or simply an accident on the trails in Oregon, the image of wilderness therapy for teens has suffered in recent years.

AYA accepts money from the states of Colorado and Utah to work with court-ordered teens as part of a longer term incarceration. AYA used to present a unique opportunity for a small group of carefully screened and selected adjudicated teens. The recent demands of an overburdened juvenile justice system, however, have turned AYA and similar wilderness programs into regular stops for incarcerated youth as overwhelmed caseworkers struggle to find beds for all their clients. At the same time, as state money for wilderness therapy dwindles, programs like AYA find it more and more difficult to turn students down who may not be a good fit for the wilderness.

I don't know whether Caleb Jensen's death can be attributed to neglect or wrongdoing on the part of AYA or the State of Utah. No doubt blame will be assigned, though, as Caleb's family, the public, and the organizations involved struggle to come to terms with the tragedy. AYA's license to practice on the Uncompaghre Plateau in western Colorado has already been pulled and the remaining students relocated to other facilities. What remains now is to wait and see what will happen to AYA, wilderness therapy, the options available to adjudicated teens, and to the juvenile justice system as a whole.

01 June 2007


In my post "Tipping Point," I said:

. . . NYT goes on to cite an anonymous source that Dow Jones is determined to maintain "the editorial independence and integrity of The Wall Street Journal."

I misattributed that quote. The line came directly from the opening paragraph of a statement issued by the Bancroft Family on June 1.

Tipping Point

The New York Times reports today that Dow Jones may be for sale after all, though not to the first but the highest bidder. At the same time, NYT goes on to cite an anonymous source that Dow Jones is determined to maintain "the editorial independence and integrity of The Wall Street Journal."*

Can the Journal, Dow Jones & Company's most valuable asset, emerge independent after a bidding war? I'll wait to see. In the meantime, observe that at least the anonymous source didn't say "editorial integrity."


Free Jack

Dr. Kevorkian earns his freedom today. But why must CNN still refer to "Dr. Death?"