Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Paul Krugman: What is going on?

The New York Times The New York Times Opinion

What's Going On?

Published: March 29, 2005

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous.

But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence.

Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through "Terri's law." But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice - a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge's order that she remain there.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law.

The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom.

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism.

Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

And it won't stop there. There is a nationwide trend toward "conscience" or "refusal" legislation. Laws in Illinois and Mississippi already allow doctors and other health providers to deny virtually any procedure to any patient. Again, think of how such laws expose doctors to pressure and intimidation.

But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law than Mr. Greer.

We can't count on restraint from people like Mr. DeLay, who believes that he's on a mission to bring a "biblical worldview" to American politics, and that God brought him a brain-damaged patient to help him with that mission.

What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism. Some people ask, with justification, Where are the Democrats? But an even better question is, Where are the doctors fiercely defending their professional integrity? I think the American Medical Association disapproves of politicians who second-guess medical diagnoses based on video images - but the association's statement on the Schiavo case is so timid that it's hard to be sure.

The closest parallel I can think of to current American politics is Israel. There was a time, not that long ago, when moderate Israelis downplayed the rise of religious extremists. But no more: extremists have already killed one prime minister, and everyone realizes that Ariel Sharon is at risk.

America isn't yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren't sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.


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The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: In the Name of Politics

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: In the Name of Politics

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Calvin Trillin, in The Nation

You know the things I miss so much it hurts?
Those orange alerts.
Routines, our leaders said--and this was strange--
Should not be changed:
If we stayed home, or stopped what we'd begun,
The bad guys won.
No, we were only told to be prepared
For being scared.
And when will it return--this orange protection?
The next election.

The Nation | Comment | It's Easter: He Is Recut | Richard Goldstein

The Nation | Comment | It's Easter: He Is Recut | Richard Goldstein

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Nation | Column | Life, Death and Cynical Grandstanding | Robert Scheer

The Nation | Column | Life, Death and Cynical Grandstanding | Robert Scheer

The Nation | Blog | The Daily Outrage | Outrageous Outtakes | Ari Berman

The Nation | Blog | The Daily Outrage | Outrageous Outtakes | Ari Berman

The Nation | Editorial | Democrats: MIA | The Editors

In the next few months the Democratic Party will have to define where it wants to be. It must decide whether it is going to be a (belittled and derided) partner in George W. Bush'e neo-fascist legislature, or it must fulfill its commitment to be a credible opposition. And the Democrats better be more that credible; they must become the scourge, the conscience of this nation, to have any hope of ever again have access to the perquisites of power. And it has to be more than credible as the prospective party of reason, enlightenment, social justice and people-power. I believe that The Nation's analysis of the shameful surrender of elected Democrats to Republican bullying is right on the money.
I only started reading the Nation a few weeks back, but I am finding myself nodding my head every week as I read their (maybe a bit condescending) take on current issues. Go, read this and peruse the rest of the Nation. You will find more of that stuff here anyway.
The Nation | Editorial | Democrats: MIA | The Editors

The New York Times > Arts > Frank Rich: The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay

The New York Times > Arts > Frank Rich: The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay

Friday, March 25, 2005

Spain's Zapatero's first year

I am not going to hold up Spain as a model for anything. However I believe that what is happening there shows what is possible, and makes clear that the Bush's Administration course is not the only one practicable.
For instance, the Spanish Government has the same problem plaguing all Social Security systems (which, in Spain, includes universal health care): too few workers paying into the treasury. So, since the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero came to power, it has sought to find more participants by legalizing all immigrants working in the black economy. If they prove that they have a job, and have held it for at least six months, they can apply for status recognition, and even, at a later date, for citizenship. They will begin to pay taxes into the system and improve the ratio of workers to retirees(and incidentally, improve the very low birth rate). On the other hand the Government is moving to police borders more energetically, and to impose hefty fines on entrepreneurs who are found to hire illegals and do not withhold or pay employment taxes on them.
Read on for other developments.

Legalized gay marriage -- in Spain? That hardly begins to describe the new prime minister’s dramatic first year in office.

By Geoff Pingree and Lisa Abend
Issue Date: 04.08.05

“Aim well, miliciano, for you defend the Republic.” On a barren hill in Asturias, Spain, near the border with León, José Fernández, a Loyalist soldier, etched this phrase into wet cement in September 1936, adding, “The Trench of Captain Lozano.” Written to commemorate a friend who’d been shot weeks before by Nationalist troops for refusing to desert the army of Spain’s democratically elected government, Fernández’s words remain visible in the rough stone 70 years later. They are a potent tribute to Lozano, a soldier who gave his life for the republic’s ideals. But in today’s Spain, there is a memorial even more powerful: the man named José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who, in addition to being prime minister, is Lozano’s grandson.

Zapatero’s heritage is not insignificant. The man whom some Americans consider this generation’s Neville Chamberlain is, for the people who elected him, more activist than appeaser. In his first year in office, Zapatero has pulled Spain’s troops out of Iraq, dismantled the obstacles to the European constitution that his predecessor, José María Aznar, erected, and led a crackdown on Islamist terrorism that has yielded hundreds of arrests. But even more striking are the social changes that his government has initiated within a remarkably brief period of time: gay marriage and adoption are now legal, domestic violence laws are tougher, and long-standing subsidies to the Catholic Church are being eradicated in an attempt to create a genuinely secular state. Some read these changes as little more than leftist interventionism, but others see them as the first serious attempt to honor the promise of civil rights in Spain’s 1978 constitution and a long overdue effort to eradicate the lingering effects of the regime that killed Zapatero’s grandfather, along with hundreds of thousands of other Spaniards.

This April marks the anniversary of Zapatero’s first year in office, and to say that the year has been a remarkable one would be an understatement. For a man once known as Bambi (both for his doe-like eyes and gentle -- some would say bland -- personality), it has been a year of striking accomplishments. But more extraordinary is the depth of change that has occurred in Spain itself, a once firmly Catholic and staunchly traditional country. Consider the plight of women. Under Francisco Franco -- and remember, his rule lasted until his death in 1975 -- they had no independent legal status. They could neither work outside the home nor open a bank account without permission from their husbands or fathers. Divorce and contraception were illegal, and domestic violence was not a crime. Once the dictator died, the harsher elements of his gender policies slowly disappeared: Equality before the law was guaranteed in the 1978 constitution; divorce became legal in 1981; abortions for women who had been raped or whose pregnancies endangered their health were permitted after 1985; and, in time, increasing numbers of women entered universities and the workplace. Still, Spain lagged behind other Western countries on many important gender issues. The 1981 divorce law, for example, paternalistically required that a couple be separated for a full year before they could begin marriage dissolution proceedings. In 2003, twice as many Spanish women as men were unemployed. And in 2004, Amnesty International criticized the failure of the Aznar government to stem domestic violence.

Then came Zapatero. As a candidate for prime minister, he promised that he would appoint equal numbers of men and women to his cabinet -- no small guarantee in this historically machista country, and a vow that Marta Ortíz, president of the Spanish chapter of the European Women’s Lobby, says she had heard before. Ortíz, who has worked in the women’s rights movement since Franco’s death, says, “Experience had taught me that campaign promises are made to be broken. But as soon as he took office, Zapatero did what he said he would do.” Indeed, eight of the 16 ministers sworn in before King Juan Carlos in April 2004 were women. And then, as María Teresa Fernández de la Vega recounts, “He went even further than he had promised; he named me the first female vice president.” With these appointments, Spain became one of just two countries in Europe to achieve gender parity at the highest level of government.

Zapatero followed those selections with another advance for women’s rights. The first piece of legislation his government proposed was the Comprehensive Law against Gender Violence -- necessary, according to Fernández de la Vega, for eradicating “one of the core impediments to gender equality.” The bill -- which requires harsher punishments for perpetrators, augments the number of police and judicial officers assigned to domestic-violence cases, and substantially increases financial and social aid for victims -- provoked criticism from conservative parties, which maintained that the legislation unconstitutionally favored female victims of domestic violence. But in a country where in the past five years nearly 350 women have died at the hands of their domestic partners, those complaints had little influence; the law went into effect on February 7. And a new law that allows for no-fault divorce and eliminates the separation period during which many incidents of domestic violence typically occur goes into effect later this year.

Women have not been the only social group to benefit from Socialist Party activism. Under Franco, homosexuality was considered a crime and a mental disease, and those accused of practicing it were prosecuted and either imprisoned or institutionalized. When the regime ended, both the movida -- that famous, late-1970s cultural movement embodied in many of Pedro Almodóvar’s films -- and a growing social tolerance gradually eroded public hostility toward homosexuality. But it took Zapatero to translate that tolerance into government action. Last October, Spain became only the third European country to legalize gay marriage, and only the second to allow gay married couples to adopt children (Holland was the first nation to permit marriage between persons of the same sex, in 2000; Belgium followed in 2003). The Spanish version of the law is sweeping: It grants gays and lesbians all the rights affiliated with marriage, including rights of inheritance, pensions, and nationality.

The opposition Popular Party, which has declared support for legal changes that would permit gay marriages but opposes allowing gay couples to adopt children, characterizes the Socialists’ initiative as a precipitate and self-serving political gesture that exceeds good judgment. But Pedro Zerolo, a member of the Socialist Party’s executive body and a prominent gay-rights activist, contends that the new law signals a wider acknowledgement. “Spain is finally accepting its own diversity and liberating itself from singular notions of what it should be,” he says. Zapatero says the initiative is intended to finally put into practice the civil rights that the 1978 charter had promised.

The same commitment to delivering in practice what the law promises in theory characterizes Zapatero’s recent attempts to remake the relationship between church and state in Spain. Just days after the Socialists won the election, several of the autonomous regions announced a moratorium on one of the previous government’s most controversial measures: a law that required religious education in public schools. This widespread gesture was clearly a sign of things to come. Within months, the Zapatero administration had announced plans for a “road map” to divest the Catholic Church of the disproportionate economic and social privileges it has enjoyed for centuries.

In a country whose constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression and forbids state sponsorship of any particular faith, such a change might seem unremarkable. But Spain’s constitutional history is unusual, fraught with political risks and peculiar compromises. The Catholic Church has played a central role in Spain throughout its history. It was especially powerful during the Franco regime, at once legitimizing the dictatorship (indeed, the Nationalists rose up against the Republican government in the 1930s in part because of that government’s attempts to reduce the Catholic Church’s wealth and power) and propagating a “National Catholicism” that would enforce the dictator’s social and political codes, sometimes quite literally, as in the case of the political prisons run by priests and nuns. So great was the Church’s influence under Franco, in fact, that three years after the dictator’s regime had ended, the authors of the Spanish constitution -- moderates all -- wrote into the charter not a wall between church and state but a mere handshake.

In October of last year, the Zapatero government made clear that it intended to go further in fulfilling the promise of the constitution by establishing Spain as a genuinely secular state. A draft of the statute, which reiterates the importance of treating all religions equally under the law, calls for removing religious symbols from public spaces such as classrooms, eradicates religious instruction from the regular public-school curriculum, and, most controversially, eliminates the preferential funding that the Catholic Church has long received from the state -- roughly 3.5 billion euros last year in direct aid to support the church’s ecclesiastical, educational, social, and cultural endeavors. These measures, along with efforts in support of women’s rights and gay marriage, have met with fierce opposition from Church leaders. Before he fell ill, the pope went out of his way to reprimand the Spanish government. But as Victorino Mayoral, a Socialist deputy in the Spanish parliament, explains, the new legislation is intended to resolve the fundamental paradox that has long made Spain both a secular society and a Catholic state. “In a democratic society,” he says, “the kinds of political advantages [that the Church enjoys] are unacceptable, because they impede the development of all other kinds of liberties.”

On the broader international stage as well, Zapatero has explicitly rejected the old ways of doing things. It would be stretching the truth to claim that his sudden withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq was a rejection of the Francoist embrace of militarism (Spain currently has the highest number of foreign troops in Afghanistan). But in fulfilling his campaign promise to the Spanish people -- a full 90 percent of whom opposed the war in Iraq -- he demonstrated that, unlike his predecessor, he does see himself operating above public opinion.

Just weeks after Zapatero took office, the European Union became the arena for another of his minor revolutions. By agreeing to a voting system that gave slightly less power to the “second-tier” states like Spain and Poland, he single-handedly dissolved the barriers to the European constitution that his predecessor, Aznar, had raised. On February 20, Spain was the first country to hold a referendum on the constitution, which passed overwhelmingly with 77 percent approving. A week earlier, the prime minister published an editorial in El País in which he noted that the dictatorship had kept Spain out of the initial efforts to develop the European Community. Urging a vote in favor of the constitution, Zapatero wrote, “I am convinced that the Spanish people -- as on so many other occasions in our recent history -- will prove the maturity of its democracy.”

* * *

It is this maturing of Spanish democracy, more than anything else, that helps make sense of Zapatero’s decisions and actions. Zapatero rose to prominence as memories of Franco began to recede. Born to a middle-class family in 1960, he became politicized the year after Franco’s death, and rose through the ranks of the Socialist Party during the 1990s. Óscar Campillo, one of Zapatero’s biographers and the editor of the newspaper El Mundo de Castilla y León, has known the prime minister for a long time, and he is not surprised by the recent turns of events. “Zapatero belongs to the first generation that didn’t really experience Franquismo; he only knew it as a child,” says Campillo. “So he’s not mortgaged by the past. He can simply fulfill the principles he has always held.”

Polls show that a significant number of Spanish citizens share Zapatero’s beliefs. In March 2004, before he took office, nearly 83 percent of Spaniards said they believed the government should do more to combat domestic violence. Later surveys showed that 66 percent support gay marriage and that 61 percent hope the European constitution will be approved.

Whether Zapatero owes his election victory to the March 11, 2004, Madrid bombings is a question kept alive by his opponents, including many in the U.S. government. Traces of bitterness filled the American press following the Spanish elections: Spaniards were accused of “appeasing” terrorists; Zapatero was compared to Chamberlain; the Spanish vote, warned Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times, taught al-Qaeda that it had the power to “disrupt” a national election. That bitterness remains in the still frosty relationship between Spain and the United States. But Zapatero himself has calmly maintained that he has no doubts about his victory. It was not the bombings themselves, the prime minister says, that swayed voters, but rather the secretive and duplicitous way in which the Aznar government handled the tragedy.

This, then, is the Socialists’ explanation for their victory: The Spanish turned out their incumbent government because it continued, long after finding contradictory evidence, to insist that the Basque separatist group ETA was responsible for the bombings; to insist -- as it had many times before -- that it was simply, and exclusively, right. What Spain’s voters rejected, according to this argument, was their government’s inability to acknowledge error, its unwillingness to engage in dialogue.

Certainly throughout their eight years in power, Aznar and the Popular Party exploited the divisions within Spanish society, cranking up again and again the old “two Spains” trope. Much in the way that red and blue states have come to signify opposed, apparently irreconcilable cultural attitudes within the United States, so, too, has the notion of two Spains characterized the chasm that supposedly divides a secular, Eurocentric, and pluralistic Spain on the one hand from a conservative, Catholic, nationalistic homeland on the other. Since the 19th century, observers have employed this two-sided model to make sense of everything, from Spain’s failure to develop a middle class to its outbreak of civil war in the 1930s to its long dictatorship. In the years since, as the country has embraced democracy and become more culturally diverse, the trope has provided fewer and fewer easy answers. Yet Aznar and his Popular Party clung to it ferociously, using this polarized vision to isolate regional nationalist movements, to promote Catholic education in public schools, and to sink attempts to forge a European constitution. In a telling, embittered move that came early in Zapatero’s administration, the Popular Party -- although it had won a majority in the house -- refused to allocate, as convention dictated, some of its seats on the governing congressional boards to the minority parties, and was thus forced to relinquish the presidency of the senate. “The Spanish people have told us they want us in the opposition,” said Popular Party spokesman Eduardo Zaplana at the time, “and so we will be the opposition.”

There is a feeling in Spain these days that perhaps the time for such reductive thinking has passed. The prominent Spanish historian Paul Preston recalls watching Aznar’s last state of the nation address to the parliament. “I was astounded,” he says, “at the vehemence and the nastiness of Aznar. The viciousness reminded me of the debates in the Cortes in the summer of 1936, and I kept asking, why does he have to do this? He’s a successful politician, they’re in power with a majority, and they’re winning all the polls. And then later, in talking to people, I got the sense that what Spaniards call ‘crispación’ [hostility] was being wound up unnecessarily by the Popular Party, and that they gave the Socialist Party a mandate against that.”

But perhaps the clearest evidence of Spain’s democratic maturity can be seen in the disintegration of the so-called pact of silence, the implicit agreement, deemed necessary at the time for a peaceful transition to democracy, that there would be no recriminations against -- indeed, no discussion of -- the Franco regime’s crimes. In the past few years, that silence has crumbled, giving way to a multipronged movement that seeks to recover the nation’s memory of both the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. From museum exhibitions that document the realities of Franco’s concentration camps, to volunteer organizations that exhume the mass graves of those executed during the wars, to the myriad books and documentaries that expose the atrocities of Spain’s recent past, this recuperation of collective memory -- and the willingness to confront the painful facts it brings to light and endure the awkward controversies it engenders -- has demonstrated Spanish democracy’s stability.

Both before and during his presidency, Zapatero has played a leading role in the process of dismantling the pact of silence. As a deputy from León, he spearheaded parliamentary efforts in 1999 to restore pensions to veterans who fought in the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War. At the Socialist Party Congress last summer, he called upon the mayors of Socialist-led cities to rid their public spaces of the names that still celebrate the regime -- the Avenidas del Generalísimo and Plazas de José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Most significantly, he recently appointed a commission to explore how best to pay homage and make reparations to the victims of Franco’s repression. The commission’s findings are expected in March.

In these many public actions, Zapatero pays homage to Captain Lozano. But there are other, more private ways in which he reflects the influence of the grandfather he never knew. In his biography of the prime minister, Campillo recounts the moment when Zapatero’s father read him the hastily written will that Lozano, realizing he would be executed, penned from his cell. After dividing his property and books among his family, Lozano wrote of his impending death. He requested a civil rather than religious funeral, but he also confessed his belief in God. And he wrote that he forgave his executioners, asking his wife and children to forgive them as well. Then he finished: “When the moment is right, may my name be vindicated, and may it be known that I was not a traitor to my country; that my credo consisted always in an infinite desire for peace.”

From that will, according to his biographer, Zapatero learned the lesson most important in his life. “From it he gets his famous attitude,” Campillo says, “the aspect of his personality that his enemies love to mock. From his grandfather he gets his tolerance, his eagerness to pursue dialogue” rather than drawing hard lines. That emphasis on dialogue was one of the themes of his campaign, and it has proven to be the defining feature of his administration thus far. Says Marta Ortíz: “During the previous eight years, there was no civil dialogue. The government never consulted with organizations like ours -- not only women’s groups but social groups in general. Now, we’ve recuperated dialogue. We feel like we form part of a new state.”

The greatest challenge to that dialogue came at the end of last year when the regional Basque Parliament unexpectedly approved the Ibarretxe Plan, which would allow the Basque territories to decide for themselves in a referendum whether they wished to remain a part of Spain. This turn of events momentarily threw the Spanish government into a state of crisis. Politicians from many of the national parties called the plan a threat to the integrity of Spain, and editorials in all the major newspapers speculated on whether the Basque country could survive as an independent state. In the midst of this mood of national anxiety, Zapatero condemned the Ibarretxe Plan as unconstitutional and forged a pact with the opposition Popular Party to block it. But in a historic gesture, he also engaged voluntarily in debate with the Basque president and author of the plan, Juan José Ibarretxe, on the floor of the Congress of Deputies. And whereas his predecessor, Aznar, had refused to meet with Ibarretxe at all, Zapatero not only invited the Basque president to Moncloa, the presidential palace in Madrid, for discussions, but also, in the wake of the Ibarretxe Plan’s defeat, offered to negotiate a new statute of autonomous rights for the Basque country.

The convivencia -- literally, “living together” -- to which Zapatero makes frequent reference, then, is more than an empty rhetorical tool. “He is determined,” says Campillo, “that we never return to the era when some Spaniards imposed their will on others.” He is determined to lay to rest the two-Spains model, that us-versus-them vision of society that supported 40 years of civil war and dictatorship. He is determined, we might say, to venerate -- and to carry on -- his grandfather’s legacy.

Geoff Pingree and Lisa Abend report from Spain for The Christian Science Monitor. Their work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.
Copyright © 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Geoff Pingree and Lisa Abend, "Zapatero Steps Up", The American Prospect Online, Mar 20, 2005. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Laura Flanders and the Florida story, from Buzzflash

I am so ashamed of the behavior of our Congress, that I will not even comment on it. Laura Flanders, of Air America Radio's Buzzflash, however sums it up. My feelings entirely.

It's Not About Terri Schiavo
by Laura Flanders
From The Laura Flanders Show (March 20th, 2005):
About that posturing in Congress on Palm Sunday, I've got just one thing to say: it's not about Terri Schiavo.
Accidentally in uttering the words "she's my life," in her conversation with the media Terri Schiavo's mother revealed what's at the very heart of this whole dismal story. None of this is about poor brain-destroyed Terri Schiavo. It's all about someone else's life, or various someone-elses.
Tom DeLay knows nothing about morality or ethics. He dragged congress back to Washington for a special session so he could put his fellow members through a loyalty test on Palm Sunday. According to Robert Novak (who, as we know, knows these folks) analysts at the RNC sent out a warning this week to the House of Representatives that the GOP's in danger of losing 25 seats in the 2006 election. The Schiavo case "is a great political issue" for Republicans, anonymous advisors told party senators in an unsigned memo this weekend. It isn't about Terri Schiavo's life; it's about the life of this GOP-ruled congress.
It isn't about Terri Schiavo, it's about tossing a bone to poor Christian voters who voted Republican this November but haven't gotten a thing for those votes so far, except a slap around the face with another brass knuckle budget and tougher treatment for poor folks who go bankrupt. It's about performing compassion when this congress is really only-and-all about profits. And it's about obscuring the corruption and fraud on which Delay's power is built, and hoping poor voters will forget that once they've cast their votes, the GOP doesn't care about them anymore. Their first order of business is well, business.
It isn't about what DeLay calls "a culture life." When he was governor of Texas, George Bush signed into effect a law that grants hospitals the right to cut off life support in cases that are even more controversial than Schiavo's. Under Texas law, hospitals can cease to feed a patient whose prognosis is so poor that further care would be futile if that patient has no way to pay his or her medical expenses. A baby was pulled of life support under that legislation this past week, against his mother's wishes. It was okay with the National Right to Life committee in 1999 and it was okay with Governor George W. Bush. What changed? Only political expediency.
What do you think this is really about? Terri Schiavo? I don't think so. I think it's about distracting from lawlessness and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's about changing the subject from a cruel and killing budget, and just possibly, about obscuring the news that according to a new National Defense Strategy, the Pentagon has made "first strike" attacks like those used in Iraq a permanent piece of the nation's military policy.
Talk about a culture of life. If the Bush crew really believed human life was sacred, they would never have okayed the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives because of the off-chance that the future might bring another terror attack, somewhere, sometime, that might kill Americans. Forget the WMD threat which did not exist. Bush made the argument again this past week that it's better to fight terrorism abroad (and kill innocent people there now,) than tolerate the possibility that more US lives might be lost here at some unspecified time in the future.
Bush's criminal congress isn't about a culture of life any more than Bush's unilateral war against world majority opinion was about democracy or global security.
Besides, when was the last time you think that any one of Bush's criminal congress took a moment to imagine what it would actually be like to be Terri Schiavo? We can all understand where Schiavo's mother is coming from, but it's not actually her mother's suffering that's at stake here, or Tom Delay's or the Congress's. It's Schiavo's, and I'd say it was a long time since the people in this picture actually put themselves in Schiavo's shoes because as far as I can see, this nation's out of the habit of practicing empathy.
Plastic pathos, sure, and for-profit compassion, there's plenty -- but, actual honest-to-your-god empathy? You tell me. I think "do unto others as you'd have others do unto you" is on life support in George W. Bush's America. Don't believe me? Ask the Afghans. Ask the Iraqis. And maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but if you could, I'd say you could ask Terri Schiavo.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The New York Times > Washington > Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News

Not only secretive, but also mendacious. The Bush Administration wants Government to get out of providing economic security for the citizens and instead move into the news business. It is no longer the MacLuhanesque "the medium is the message" but "the message is not the message if it is not my message" sung with Ethel Merman's lungs across the proscenium.
That is why it is essential that we all mobilize to shout our message back, to keep the Government's disinformation at bay. I never thought that I would have to confront this kind of Francoist manipulation in the "home of the free". Talk of a letdown!
The New York Times > Washington > Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Harbingers of Harder Times

One more reason to take to the streets: defeat the "Baby Tax", all that debt that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will have to pay back. Or is the Government thinking of using the new bankruptcy law to go into default?. The Republicans motto is: "The rich get richer, and damn the hindmost"
The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Harbingers of Harder Times

Friday, March 11, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: W.'s Stiletto Democracy

Maureen Dowd is so beloved and widely read that it hardly seemed necessary to perpetuate any of her columns (which she will no doubt will do in book form at some point), but this one seems particularly stylish and sharp.
The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: W.'s Stiletto Democracy

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The New York Review of Books: Welcome to Doomsday

Bill Moyers looks with dismay at the rise of the Evangelicals and their influence on politics and the social debate. The New York Review of Books: Welcome to Doomsday

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Putting Last Things First

The New York Times editorializes sternly about the Bush priorities: strange appointees to make nice with the other side. This is the most ideological Administration in history, and it will do everything for its political goals and as little as possible for the American people. Which brings us to another question: are the "rich" people too?. They do not seem to want to be.
The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Putting Last Things First

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Neocons unbridled, by Robert Parry

Accounting for Torture

"Democracy dies behind closed doors". The secrecy, the absolute secrecy that the Bush Administration would like to impose on any of its judicial and prosecutorial actions in matters relating to terrorism suspects can be compared to an iron curtain and all its connotations. We do not seem to care because, paraphrasing Berthod Brecht, "they came to arrest my neighbor, but, because I am not a terrorist, I said nothing. When they came in the night to arrest me, there was nobody left to to speak out."
It seems as if both ancient and modern citizens harbor the lingering feeling that when the police arrest our neighbor "he must be guilty of something." Which is why the first right of a citizen is the right to a fair and open trial. This cannot be denied to anybody, under any circumstances, for any reason, least of all "national security", that favorite and comfortable retreat of bureaucrats.
As many have been pointing out, the treatment being meted out at Guantanamo, at Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere may be so much beyond American legal principles and custom that the subjects will be, in effect, unsuitable to be tried in open court. Are they going to be held "in undisclosed locations", without a chance to prove whether the charges against them, if they get even to know them, have any substance, for the rest of their lives.? And the cost to taxpayers of such confinement? We are quibbling over the cost of basic services to the citizen, health care, medicine, good transportation, but sinking millions into secret detentions.
Think about it.
Accounting for Torture

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | George Monbiot: Fraud and corruption in Iraq

It seems as if the US government was playing both ends against the middle. To the astronomical costs of the Iraq war and occiupation (5 billion dollars a week) we have to add the huge sums that from Iraq disappeared while the Coalition Provisional Authority, under Paul Bremer, was in charge. George Monbiot of The Guardian of London tells how money was handed on pallets to the US generals running the occupation "without counting and without even weighing it." The oil that was being pumped, and remember it is not our oil but Iraq's, was sent unmetered through the pipelines, and the US Administration made the choice of knowingly ignoring the diversions from the UN's oil for food program. That is all in the Paul Volcker report about alleged corruption in the UN. The most vocal Republican UN bashers in Congress had to mute their comments and let their ire slowly leak away. Not a pretty picture.
Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | George Monbiot: Fraud and corruption

Democracy For The Southern Adirondack/Tricounty Area: Dubya Explains His Social Security Plan

This cristalline paragraph lays out in full the present and the future of President Bush's Social Security system, and his towering vision on how to ensure American's well being well into the next century. His powerful, determined, enlightened vision is expressed in his own words for the world to understand and follow.
Democracy For The Southern Adirondack/Tricounty Area: Dubya Explains His Social Security Plan: "WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: I don't really understand. How is it the new [Social Security] plan is going to fix that problem?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table. Whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red. -- Dubya explains the virtues of his Social Security plan, Tampa, Florida, Feb. 4, 2005


Friday, March 04, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: The Red (White and Blue) Guide

In a season of bile and unrelieved gloom, for change in pace, let us talk cooking. So, there is going to be a Guide Michelin for the Americans. Good, we will go beyond the referendums of the Zagats, towards a pontifical style. In times of a fake-populist President who shades the truth when he talks to "you folks", let us have some ponderous lying from gallic dyspeptics. They are more fun, to be sure.
The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: The Red (White and Blue) Guide

The New York Times > Opinion > Paul Krugman: Deficits and Deceit

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Deficits and Deceit

Thursday, March 03, 2005

American Witness, By Nicholas Kristof, from the NYT

March 2, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST The American Witness

American soldiers are trained to shoot at the enemy. They're prepared to be shot at. But what young men like Brian Steidle are not equipped for is witnessing a genocide but being unable to protect the civilians pleading for help.
If President Bush wants to figure out whether the U.S. should stand more firmly against the genocide in Darfur, I suggest that he invite Mr. Steidle to the White House to give a briefing. Mr. Steidle, a 28-year-old former Marine captain, was one of just three American military advisers for the African Union monitoring team in Darfur - and he is bursting with frustration.
"Every single day you go out to see another burned village, and more dead bodies," he said. "And the children - you see 6-month-old babies that have been shot, and 3-year-old kids with their faces smashed in with rifle butts. And you just have to stand there and write your reports."
While journalists and aid workers are sharply limited in their movements in Darfur, Mr. Steidle and the monitors traveled around by truck and helicopter to investigate massacres by the Sudanese government and the janjaweed militia it sponsors. They have sometimes been shot at, and once his group was held hostage, but they have persisted and become witnesses to systematic crimes against humanity.
So is it really genocide?
"I have no doubt about that," Mr. Steidle said. "It's a systematic cleansing of peoples by the Arab chiefs there. And when you talk to them, that's what they tell you. They're very blunt about it. One day we met a janjaweed leader and he said, 'Unless you get back four camels that were stolen in 2003, then we're going to go to these four villages and burn the villages, rape the women, kill everyone.' And they did."
The African Union doesn't have the troops, firepower or mandate to actually stop the slaughter, just to monitor it. Mr. Steidle said his single most frustrating moment came in December when the Sudanese government and the janjaweed attacked the village of Labado, which had 25,000 inhabitants. Mr. Steidle and his unit flew to the area in helicopters, but a Sudanese general refused to let them enter the village - and also refused to stop the attack.
"It was extremely frustrating - seeing the village burn, hearing gunshots, not being able to do anything," Mr. Steidle said. "The entire village is now gone. It's a big black spot on the earth."
When Sudan's government is preparing to send bombers or helicopter gunships to attack an African village, it shuts down the cellphone system so no one can send out warnings. Thus the international monitors know when a massacre is about to unfold. But there's usually nothing they can do.
The West, led by the Bush administration, is providing food and medical care that is keeping hundreds of thousands of people alive. But we're managing the genocide, not halting it.
"The world is failing Darfur," said Jan Egeland, the U.N. under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. "We're only playing the humanitarian card, and we're just witnessing the massacres."
President Bush is pushing for sanctions, but European countries like France are disgracefully cool to the idea - and China is downright hostile, playing the same supportive role for the Darfur genocide that it did for the Khmer Rouge genocide.
Mr. Steidle has just quit his job with the African Union, but he plans to continue working in Darfur to do his part to stand up to the killers. Most of us don't have to go to that extreme of risking our lives in Darfur - we just need to get off the fence and push our government off, too.
At one level, I blame President Bush - and, even more, the leaders of European, Arab and African nations - for their passivity. But if our leaders are acquiescing in genocide, that's because we citizens are passive, too. If American voters cared about Darfur's genocide as much as about, say, the Michael Jackson trial, then our political system would respond. One useful step would be the passage of the Darfur Accountability Act, to be introduced today by Senators Jon Corzine and Sam Brownback. The legislation calls for such desperately needed actions as expanding the African Union force and establishing a military no-fly zone to stop Sudan from bombing civilians.
As Martin Luther King Jr. put it: "Man's inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good." | Articles by Subject | Higher Education | Articles by Subject | Higher Education Gays and the military- Much ado about not very much | Articles by Subject | Gays and the military

Bush's budget disaster for New Yorkers.

This budget is a huge disaster for New York. Here are just a few of the cuts New York faces under Bush's 2006 budget:

Homeland Security

• The Bush 2006 budget cuts $420 million to state and local funding for homeland security, including a $49.4 million cut for New York. These cuts will take police and firefighters off your streets.
• The Bush budget cuts the COPS program, which has put 11,927 officers on New York streets, by 96 percent.

Health Care

• The Bush budget cuts $45 billion from Medicaid, enough to provide health care to 1.8 million children. New York's share of these cuts is $6.1 billion.
• Bush's budget cuts the very same community and rural health care programs he touted during the campaign.


• Bush underfunds his own No Child Left Behind Act by $13.1 billion in his budget. In New York, that means a shortfall of $1 billion, leaving behind 296,648 New York children.
• Bush promised to fund Pell Grants in his State of the Union address, but his budget is $6.6 billion short. That's $508.8 million less than what's needed in New York, a real burden for the 358,375 students in New York who receive the grants.

Other Priorities

• Bush cuts $9.3 million from New York job training programs in his 2006 budget.
• The Bush budget would require many veterans to pay a new $250 annual "user fee" to use the Veterans Administration health care system, and would double the prescription drug co-payment for the 1,361,164 New York veterans.
• Bush cuts New York clean water programs by $42.7 million.
• Bush's 2006 budget also cuts the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program -- which helps low-income families afford heating fuel in the winter -- by $234.4 million, including $29.3 million cut for New York residents.

And Bush's irresponsible budget is a record $427 billion in the red, increasing each New York family's share of the federal debt by $37,870.

Take Action

Take action today to help stop Bush's disastrous budget in its tracks. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper explaining why Bush's budget is such a disaster for America.

We will post a breakdown of budget cuts in smaller segments, to make it more intelligible. Please keep coming back.

A Morality Tale (thanks to Eric Weller)

A Morality Tale that may or may not be apochryphal.
An old Indian chief sat in his hut on the reservation, smoking and eyeing two U.S. government officials sent to interview him. 
"Chief Two Eagles," asked one official, "you have observed the white man for 90 years.  You've seen his wars and his technological advances.  You have seen his progress, and the damage he's done." The chief nodded in agreement.
"Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?"
The chief stared at the government officials for over a minute and then calmly replied:  "When white man found the land, Indians were running it.  No taxes.  No debt.  Plenty buffalo. Plenty beaver.  Medicine man free.  Women do all work.  Indian man spend all day fishing and hunting and all night with wife."
Then the chief leaned back and smiled, "Only white man dumb enough to think he can improve system like that!"
                                                    Gerhard Opel