Thursday, December 22, 2005

Even More Bitchslapping for Mr. Bush

Yesterday, some of us were in despair hearing about the 6 month extension of the Patriot Act brokered by the Senate, when it looked like George Bush's spying revelations would finally bring an end to that unread, un-American law.

Today -- just a few moments ago -- the House of Representatives said "Hell No Bush. If you want this PATRIOT ACT thing extended until we talk about it and tweak it, fine. You got a MONTH."

That's right. ONE month. So right now, there is a conflict between the House and Senate bills that requires a Conference Committee to sort it out. Thus, unless some sort of minor miracle in Dubbya's favor occurs (i.e. folks can be persuaded *not* to go home tonight for Christmas vacation) one of two things will happen:

The mandatory conference committee that has to reconcile the House and Senate bills will stay over the holidays instead of go home, and will present something on New Year's Eve that will be read by almost nobody (AGAIN), most likely a split-the-baby solution that leaves us stuck with USA PATRIOT for 3 more months.


Folks are going to dig in, and the major provisions of the USA PATRIOT ACT will expire at midnight on January 1, 2006.

You know which one I am rooting for.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Nothing But Love 4 Ya, Mr. Bush - From Your Activist Fourth Circuit

OK this is just too much judicial bitchslapping of George Bush and his Right Wing Agenda for me to take in just one week.

First there was the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board, 139 pages of deliciously firm and stern judicial reasoning in the form of Judge Jones' 139 page gutting of the Dover School District's "Intelligent Design" aka CREATIONISM mandate.

But now there is the decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals -- understood by all of us in the practice of law to be the most ideologically conservative circuit in the country -- regarding the poster-child for US citizen enemy combatants, Jose Padilla. This decision, authored by Hon. J. Michael Luttig, a front-runner candidate for elevation in Bush's War on the Supreme CourtTM can be summarized neatly as

Slap. Slap. Slap, Slap, SLAP. (But still got nothing but love for you, Mr. President.)

For those who may not remember the history of the Padilla case, a brief recap. Since 2002 Jose Padilla has been held by in a military brig largely incommunicado. First, he was arrested on a material witness warrant related to 9-11. Then, just before the hearing to determine whether the warrant should be quashed, President Bush designated Padilla as an enemy combatant. In an extremely high profile press conference subsequent to his detention, Mr. Padilla was accused of conspiring with al Qaeda to use radioactive "dirty bombs" in terrorist attacks within the United States, targeting apartment buildings in New York, Washington and Florida. He was then transferred to military custody in South Carolina.

Mr. Padilla challenged his detention through a habeas petition, contending that his indefinite incommunicado detention as an enemy combatant without criminal charges pending, when he was a US citizen arrested on US soil, was unconstituional. Ultimately, his case reached the Supreme Court. The decision that ultimately issued from the Court was one of a triumverate of decisions relating to Bush's War on Terror, 9/11 and the power of the executive in wartime issued by the Court on the same day -- Rumsfeld v. Padilla, Rasul v. Bush and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

(Those three decisions really should have warned someone over at the White House that Emperor George and his minions had crossed a serious constitutional line with their War on TerrorTM methods. But noooo........)

Anyhow, in Padilla's case, a 5-4 majority Supreme Court punted for jurisdictional reasons instead of reaching the merits of Padilla's case. It found that his habeas claim should have been filed in the 4th Circuit -- which includes South Carolina, where Padilla was being held in the brig -- and not the Second Circuit. Despite the eloquence of its language in Hamdi and Rasul about the utter unconstitutionality of the President's refusal to grant due process to folks' being held as terrorist enemy combatants, the Court rightfully did not reach the merits of Mr. Padilla's case. It did note, however, that when Padilla's case returned, the Court was going to review it under the standards it was laying down the same day in the Rasul and Hamdi cases: standards that did NOT favor the idea of indefinite incommunicado detention.

Another government less filled with hubris would have seen the writing on the wall right then and there. But nooooo.......................

So back Mr. Padilla's case went, to the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit District Court agreed with Padilla about his detention and ordered him released, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals -- on which former (after this week, anyhow) Supreme Court hopeful Michael Luttig sits -- did not. Instead, in July, 2005 the appellate Court -- in an opinion authored by Judge J. Michael Luttig -- upheld Mr. Padilla's detention across the board, saying that the Congress' Authorization for Use of Military Force following 9-11 gave the President the authority to detain Padilla because he had returned to the US to carry out the dirty bomb plot. So Mr. Padilla remained incommunicado, without charges, at the military brig in South Carolina. Until last month, when the government finally got around to doing what it should have done from the very beginning: it indicted Jose Padilla.

But that's where DOJ's War on Terror problems began in earnest.

You see, the indictment didn't look anything like the story the country had been told for 3 years. It made no mention of the "dirty bomb plot", the reason that everyone from Ashcroft to Rumsfeld to Bush insisted was the reason that Padilla was being held incommunicado as an enemy combatant. The indictment had no mention of a plot to blow up apartment buildings. No mention of a "dirty bomb".

Mr. Padilla was finally indicted in South Florida for conspiring to (a) travel overseas to train for jihad and (b) finance and otherwise support terrorist organizations believing in jihad. In the 1990's and during the year 2000. There are no factual allegations of any kind for Jose Padilla after July 24, 2000 - the date on which Padilla allegedly filled out a "Mujahideen Data Form" in preparation for "violent jihad training in Afghanistan." - while he himself was apparently still in Egypt.

(WTF is a "Mujahideen Data Form"??? Was our Now Completely Ignored Arch Enemy really so stupid that he was having folks fill out human resources paperwork *and* send it to his training camps in another country before traveling there personally? Somehow, this just doesn't seem consistent with the level of common sense that one expects from the mastermind of the most heinous attack on America. In other words, *before* 9-11.

Judge Luttig - a man whose conservative credentials were so strong that he has regularly been considered to be a top candidate for appointment by Bush to the Supreme Court, ended this week's Padilla decision with the following:

Because of their evident gravity, we must believe that the consequences of the actions that the government has taken in this important case over the past several weeks, not only for the public perception of the war on terror but also for the government’s credibility before the courts in litigation ancillary to that war, have been carefully considered. But at the same time that we must believe this, we cannot help but believe that those consequences have been underestimated. For, as the government surely must understand, although the various facts it has asserted are not necessarily inconsistent or without basis, its actions have left not only the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even if justifiably, by mistake –- an impression we would have thought the government could ill afford to leave extant. They have left the impression that the government may even have come to the belief that the principle in reliance upon which it has detained Padilla for this time, that the President possesses the authority to detain enemy combatants who enter into this country for the purpose of attacking America and its citizens from within, can, in the end, yield to expediency with little or no cost to its conduct of the war against terror –- an impression we would have thought the government likewise could ill afford to leave extant. And these impressions have been left, we fear, at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government’s credibility before the courts, to whom it will one day need to argue again in support of a principle of assertedly like importance and necessity to the one that it seems to abandon today. While there could be an objective that could command such a price as all of this, it is difficult to imagine what that objective would be.

Read that again:

"consequences [on public perception and the government's credibility with the court] have been underestimated"

"Padilla may have been held for these years, even if justifiably, by mistake"

"these impressions have been left at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts".

Judge Luttig, the author of the Padilla slap-down, has been described as "the most conservative judge on the most conservative circuit in the country". He has regularly been groomed and encouraged to dream of the Supreme Court. So I know that he must have been crying into his Jim Beam when he signed onto those words, knowing they would be the death knell of his higher aspirations, given how petty and vengeful Dubbya is with those who he thinks have crossed him politically. Yet Judge Luttig's words come as close to anything that either Judge Luttig or anyone else on the Fourth Circuit will ever write acknowledging that their court did not appreciate one bit being played, and played hard, by the Executive Branch. I would feel sorry for Judge Luttig having to put the smack down on one of his ideological brothers in the Right Wing Theocracy Wars - if his lengthy record as a jurist didn't otherwise make clear he is a hardcore right wing judicial activist who hates laws that protect women who are victims of domestic violence (Brzonkala v. Morrison, striking down VAWA) as much as he loves the death penalty, still vengeance ridden because his father was killed by a carjacker who was later executed.

Despite this, there is increasing hope. Because, with increasing evidence of Bush's imperialistic dismissal on multiple fronts of our basic civil liberties and constitutional rights, this week's Padilla decision suggests that we may have finally found something that members of the most hard-core right and the ultra-left can agree on.

I am in paroxyms of legal joy.

(P.S. This is a great resource center for those following Padilla closely.

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Bush to World: Well, OK So Maybe We Didn't Mean *Always* and *Only*

Just this past Saturday, as he was drawing his dictatorial line in the sand when it came to the right to wiretap in the War on TerrorTM, President Bush gave us this reassurance in his radio address:

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks.

George Bush went even farther trying to reassure us that domestic communications were not at issue just two days ago at his press conference:

So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. . .This program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. . .

And he said this:

I want to make clear to the people listening that this program is limited in nature to those that are known al Qaeda ties and/or affiliates. . . .these calls are not intercepted within the country. They are from outside the country to in the country, or vice versa.

And, just in case it was not clear from President Bush (who continues to struggle with English), General Michael Hayden was sent out as clean up batter to make it crystal clear:

I can assure you, by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States.

Fortunately, the truth did not take long to come out:

A surveillance program approved by President Bush to eavesdrop without court warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.


(Didn't General Hayden's mama tell him that two words you should avoid like the plague most of the time unless you want to get called out as a liar or simply ignorant are "always" and "never"??)

Now, this is all stuff that George Bush or his surrogates said in the past four days that was proven utterly false in the past four days. We all knew that President Bush was both a liar and a manipulator, when it came to telling the straight truth, but calling him out on it is getting to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

To realize that they are now at the point of nakedly rewriting history trying to defend the indefensible and illegal practice of warrantless spying on Americans, all you have to do is remember what some are claiming that the President told us just last year about there always being a court/order or warrant when the government is talking about wiretapping:

. . . any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.

or even what General Hayden told Congress 5 years ago before the War on Terror even started, if I believe one of my least favorite ex-Congressmen on the face of the earth, that bastion of conservatism, Bob Barr:

If that American person is in the United States of America, I must have a court order before I initiate any collection against him or her.

Like I said, fish in a barrel at this point, catching the lies.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

This is What it Has Come To

Three Happy Holidays (or Merry Christmas) stories from the Republicans:

The Village in Pass Christian

ANWR Meets Katrina

The Republican Revolution is Back

If you can't sort the message you need to take from these stories about what type of government we have and what really matters in America despite all our self-praising hype, you've drunk too much of the "America is the Greatest" Koolaid.

As if the national shame we should all feel knowing our President has broken the law by authorizing warrantless spying on Americans wasn't enough, now we have people living in semi-permanent *tents* and help for Katrina's still-suffering victims being linked to a pork barrel project drilling for oil up in Alaska. Months after Katrina came and went and took a lot of the Gulf Coast and people's lives with her.

Are these new "efficiency" homes what the farmers on whose backs the budget is partially being balanced have to look forward to in the new year? How about the sick, who will be SOL when they can't make their Medicaid co-pays? Will the tents be set up in Alaska, since that's where the money seems to be worth spending? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Shades of Tuskegee?


Realizing that everyone (myself included) is still reeling about Bush's "throw down the gauntlet on our democracy" moment yesterday, this one deserves our some of our attention nonetheless.

In today's Chicago Sun Times was printed this rather understated health news:

In an isolation ward of a Baltimore hospital, up to 30 volunteers will participate this April in a bold experiment: A vaccine made with a live version of the most notorious bird flu will be sprayed into their noses.

I think we need to parse this article just a bit.

Step One: The easy part is parsing the phrase "most notorious bird flu"? There is no confusion about this one: the "most notorious" bird flu is H5N1, the avian flu strain that has earned the fear and loathing of not only much of the Asian Peninsula but even landed on American policians' radar because of the fears of a pandemic rivaling the lethal Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920, which is reported to have killed between 20 and 50 million people worldwide, depending on whose numbers you go with.

Step Two: The NIH lead scientist supervising this clinical trial describes this upcoming trial as "high risk, high reward" and says that it has the potential to lead to information that will save tens of thousands of lives.

OK, there are two ways to interpret the "high risk" part (the high reward part seems clearly explained.) The first is that this is a "high risk" experiment because this type of experiment has never been tried before so the hypothesis (i.e. nasal spray delivery of live virii is an effective method of developing anti bird-flu antibodies") is high-risk, i.e. meaning high likelihood that it will be disproven. But that interpretation is debunked by the article itself - the article says that this type of delivery system has had a high success rate in other contexts.

So the most likely meaning is the other one: this experiment is "high risk" for its subjects. As in "the subjects people have a very high risk of problems arising from this experiment, even if we learn lots about HN51 nasal vaccines that can help lots of others".

Given this, why is that same article repeatedly trying to reassure us with the words "It should be safe"? If it's safe, it is a low-risk experiment, right? The use of the words "high risk" make no sense.

Not until you think about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, anyhow.

Finally the article says that this clinical trial is being conducted in "a Baltimore hospital." I admit that this is the part that caught my attention.

Baltimore, as in Baltimore, Maryland. Yes, THAT Baltimore, Maryland. The one that as of the 2000 Census was 64.3% African-American. The one that, as of the 2000 census, had more than 22% of its population under the poverty line. Where 31% of the population has less than high school diploma to its educational name - 39% cannot read at a 6th grade level.

Interestingly, neither the Sun Times article nor the fuller AP article published by the Washington Post yesterday say *which* Baltimore hospital.

In contrast, when discussing the previous moribund-virus trial of the "nose spray" delivery system for last year's H92N bird flu trial, the author readily identifies the research location as having been "Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center" (itself located in Baltimore) as the site. But the writer does not say that the H5N1 experiment is being conducted at either Bayview (the logical place, given its preeminence in medical research) or University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore, the place where volunteers for H5N1 trials (using inactive virii) are being recruited. It just says "a Baltimore hospital".

Why not identify the location of this particular H5N1 human trial? Can it be because both the likelihood of bird-to-human transmission and lethality of H5N1 makes H9N2 look like an extremely rare summer cold?

Why would anyone want to conduct a clinical trial of a potentially lethal virus in such an area? How do you ensure informed, non-coerced consent in a research population in which so many poor and functionally illiterate people exist? How do researchers ethically ensure that their subjects truly understand what they are signing up for, as is required by law?

Or are those serious bioethical concerns precisely the reason that this live-virus study is being done in Baltimore somewhere *other* than the most logical place: the Johns' Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, which is a research and teaching hospital (an expensive to actually be a patient at, as are most teaching hospitals, and therefore likely to be treating a well-insured, well-educated and well-informed clientele?)

Yet, the article does not disclose *which* Baltimore hospital. Even though it would be quite easy, if this experiment was also being done at Johns Hopkins, to simply say "Johns Hopkins." The article does not say that, however.

And so I'm admitting that I wonder who the 30 (actually 60, since assuming it is double-blind research you need 30 people getting placebos to be able to test anything.) are, where they come from - and whether they, like the Tuskegee boys, are truly being informed about the "high risk" side of this "high risk, high reward" experiment. Since informed consent problems continue to challenge the bioethics community -- particularly with low literacy and senior citizen populations --despite the clear requirement that all medical subjects truly understand the nature of what they are being asked to do when they participate in a clinical trial, I admit I worry that the "30" will not truly understand that they are taking, "voluntarily" the live H5N1 virus into their bodies. A virus that has a mortality rate of more than 50% in humans, when transmitted from bird to human. I wonder about whether these subjects will really be truly informed that the "high reward" of this study - possible avoidance of a world-wide pandemic - may come at the "high risk" of themselves.

Given that there is much concern in bioethics circles even today about whether informed consent practices truly result in informed consent when you're dealing with poor, possibly illiterate populations in India, the spectre of Tuskegee and Nazi experiments still fresh in bioethicists' minds, I hope someone takes the same care to assess these issues in connection with NIH's present work. I hope someone remembers, when exposing these people to such a lethal virus, that:

Unless the rights of those who participate in clinical trials and their ability to get the best treatment in case of injury or infection are guaranteed, the trials will not be fair even if they yield useful scientific results.

Let's hope that they understand more than what Ms. Evers' Boys (who were actually Miss Rivers' Boys) understood about what was happening to them. Let's hope they are told something more than just it "should be safe."

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Line in the Sand - Freedom vs. New America

(With thanks to SusanG, whose frontpage use of the words "a line in the sand" at DailyKOS today inspired me to write this).

100 years from now, historians will hopefully say that the day on which the people of the United States shifted their focus from the phantom War on Terror to the real War on American Freedoms was December 16, 2005 - the day on which the New York Times announced the following news:

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

That was yesterday, even though the story was actually reported a year after the Times actually knew, but was persuaded (we don't know how, but if Judy Miller had a hand in it I would not be surprised) to stay silent.

Then, today, after a long day of our President's lying lapdog and evil handmaiden of the Apocalypse trying to pretend that our civil liberties were secure despite their refusal to admit or deny whether it was true that Americans were now at risk of being spied on by their own government, the President came out of the blocks in his weekly radio address, broadcast live from the White House for only the second time in his Presidency. Rather than his usual stick and move -- including his stick and move as late as yesterday, President Bush took a new, bold approach. Here is (summarized in the venacular to ensure it is understood by young and old alike) what he said:

Damned Skippy. Sucks to Be You

Now, of course, President Bush facially relied on what he said was a belief that what he was doing was perfectly legal - a belief furthered by the same lawyer who said the Geneva Conventions might actually permit torture. But that's the obvious. What is not obvious, unless you were really listening behind his literal words and taking into account Bush's demeanor (in which he was clearly angry, and looked at times to be almost crying) was the unspoken message to his unnamed opponents. A message that has now become his frightful trademark when he feels challenged. The message that is, with his speech today, now being sent to the American people themselves:

"Bring it On"

In his tearfully angry radio address today, which spent all its time railing about how the successful filibuster against renewal of the the USA PATRIOT Act and our finally-doing-their-job press were the *real* threat to America -- and absolutely none on the obvious threat to America posed by warrantless, domestic spying on Americans by the Executive Branch -- President Bush, in my opinion, threw down the gauntlet. He issued a dare to all of us.

He dared us, the American People, to actually *do* something about his behavior if we don't like it.

This is a dare that the past five years has shown to Emperor George will most likely never be called. After all, there has been no serious, organized and well-executed threat to his ongoing leadership in response to most of the uncountable illegal, unethical, immoral or just plain greedy and stupid things that George W. Bush and his administration have done since 2000, largely in plain sight. So, playing devil's advocate, what reason has the left given George Bush to believe that his fundamentally undermining our entire system of checks and balances will result in anything different? He has gotten away, pretty much, with all of it. At least, so far.

Remember, right now around 40% of the American public still believes that George W. Bush is doing a right-fine job. They believe this despite it being publicly known for the past 5 years (to anyone that was not so terrified to face the truth about who we'd made President and what he was doing to America that they heeded their non-lying eyes and ears) that America itself was being hijacked. That it was being inexorably reshaped -- from within its own White House. Our America, the still-largely fledgling grand experiment of government, was being remodeled under the Bush Administration. Changing into an America that first confused, then later sickened, many of us.

Into what 100 years from now might be called, New AmericaTM.

Bush's New America is an America that even in its darkest days, we'd never seen before. An America that gleefully thumbs its nose at own treaties, like those designed to shield the planet from the death by a thousand storms due to global warning or the instant annilation of nuclear war. An America that lies about the reasons for commencement and continuation of a doctrine of pre-emptive warfare against other sovereign nations, rogue, threat or Mostly Harmless; ignored, excused away and largely refused to punish kidnapping, incommunicado indefinite imprisonment, sadistic and sexually charged torture and desecration of the dead undertaken in our country's name, all in defiance of the fundamental pillars of International Law.

New America requires a populace that is unclear and uncertain, ignorant and uninformed, insecure and afraid, about everything that really matters to the integrity of the democracy itself. So, George W. Bush's administration has shown us an America in which our votes are insecure and uncertain; where paid propaganda is sold to us as objective analysis, where data and records that our taxes paid for are scrubbed from public websites we also pay for; and where keeping secrets is is the most important public relations goal. This process started with baby steps, like eliminating the 50-year old tradition of having the American Bar Association prescreen the qualifications of federal judicial candidates. To larger things like preventing the government's own attorneys from expressing their legal opinion about matters directly under their jurisdiction. And now to a monstrous thing: the willingness to admit that a single man's desire to spy on what he believes are his enemies is enough to set aside due process and the Constitution itself so long as the words "war on terror" are mentioned.

And in Bush's New America, nothing -- other than money and power - is sacred. Those in control have proven that they are willing to let one of our nation's crown jewels of history and culture die an internationally-viewed and ignorable death if saving it takes a buck that Bush wants given to someone else - who doesn't need it. They are willing to drag their feet on warming the cold, or feeding the hungry; sheltering the homeless or healing the sick; and will never feel shame at systematically transfer the wealth and power which made America's middle class great from the hands of the working class and electorate to a select class: those who needed nothing from America they didn't already have (at least economically), but still want more anyway.

All of it excused away because of the Executive Branch snatch and grab job commonly known as "Funding The War on Terror".

And what of those who do see what is happening and complain? In New America, those civil servants, decorated heroes or ordinary people who try to tell the truth to the American people were retaliated against, shoved out of their jobs, told that their replacement was already waiting in the wings, or simply called coward or traitor. while those civil servants whose only qualifications for their roles appear to be (a) unswerving personal fealty to George Walker Bush and (b) disdain for the rule of American and International law, the duty of government and the opinion of the world stage are lauded as doing a great job, given medals for failure, and offered up to sit in the highest seats of power in the land despite their public advocacy for immoral and illegal policies or their complete lack of qualifications.

The official White House ResponseTM was, is and shall ever be, this: George Bush is right because he says so. We are wrong because he says so. Protecting America means giving up our freedoms, because Freedom is Hard Work. And, since it's HIS hard work, when it comes to our fundamental freedoms, HE gets to decide what is, or is not American.

So just forget the virtually continuous and repeated displeasure expressed about his approach to the Executive role by Courts, members of Congress and his own Executive branch career civil servants, who are fleeing or being pushed out of policy and legal departments by the droves because of their vehement disagreement with the New American OrderTM. Not to mention the objections of that portion of the American People who have actually been paying attention to the systematic erosion of our Constitution some are now calling "Operation Eroding Freedom". They do not agree, so they do not matter.

Not in New America, anyhow.

100 years from now, the world may end up remembering that 5 years ago tomorrow, President-Elect George W. Bush first uttered in public hearing his opinion about a Better America:

If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.

In light of yesterday's news, and today's petulent admission, if George W. Bush has not yet earned the title of Dictator, then I don't know what a dictator is, any more.

Do you?

What else do you call it when one man, in defiance of law and regardless of concerns about his conduct being expressed by his political opponents like Russ Feingold and his political allies, like Arlen Specter, nonetheless on nationally-broadcast radio stands up and proudly proclaims to the American people in the face of their real concerns that: I've done it, I'm doing it, and as long as *I'm* President I'm going to KEEP doing it?" What else do you call it When the person at the top of the power pyramid, the so-called leader of the Free world, admits that he has no intention of justifying anything about his activities to anyone he does not choose to listen to as long as he holds the office of President? What else can you call it, when politicians who are normally opponents agree that there is nothing good or lawful about a President's conduct, find nothing good to say about a President's actions? For example, yesterday Senator Russ Feingold stepped up and told the Associated Press what was on the minds of many of us who deeply love America and are truly afraid for her right now:

I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for. . .

One must continue to shield ones lying eyes and ears to believe that Bush has NOT styled himself as King, when even his political friends (like Arlen Specter) can say no more in his defense than

There is no doubt that this is inappropriate.

With this morning's angry lecture from the White House, it is clear that President Bush believes he needs answer to no man or woman, except himself. And clear that the President's intent is to continue to govern America not as the constitutional democratic republic that it has always been, deliberately secured by checks and balances against any overreaching of power by the Executive, but instead as a quasi-fascist state (or at least, state-in-training if you compare the state of America since 2000 to the checklist) over which George Walker Bush and his Inner Circle (chosen, apparently, with unflagging personal fealty to Bush as their primary qualification) -- will rule and will dispense their rewards to the deserving: those equally loyal and equally powerful.

With today's tearfully furious confirmation that he had both effectively revived the hated ghost of COINTELPRO and deliberately hid it from the American People "to protect America" from "the menace of terrorism" (a claim that would have made both J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy proud), George W. Bush has effectively drawn a line in the sand of our very democracy. A line that separates America, and its freedoms, from the Bush Administration's New America.

When will the American people draw our own line in the sand, in response?

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Spinning Like a Top - Katrina's Real Victims were White?

Man oh Man: what the Right Wing won't do when race is an issue that's pointing right at their wingnutty little heads.

From (a source that I highly recommend people avoid because it's biases are evident thus taking it from the realm of "news" firmly into the realm of "rightwing propaganda"; I mention it only because it's being discussed on left wing blogs after Drudge latched onto it, so you need to see the official source) comes this quite stunning "news":

Whites died at the highest rate of all races in Hurricane Katrina.

Well, knock me over with a feather. All those black faces on TV crying about missing or dead loved ones? All those Black voices testifying before Congress? Yet whites were the "real victims"?

Give me a break. The desperate spin of actual facts that led to this "news" is obvious and thus, it's conclusion about "the real victims" utterly unsupported.

Here's why.

According to CNSNews (and I include the word "news" only because I have to in its name) the data from which this conclusion about race is beign trumpeted came from Louisiana DHH. Actually, from the St. Gabriel Morgue, which admits to having received 883 bodies.

Well, that's already 200 people short. The official death toll according to the Louisiana DHH is 1,094 in Louisiana (1,300 when you include Mississippi).

Moreover, Louisiana DHH attempts to ascribe race to only 466 of the 523 bodies that it admits to having released to families, even though only 23 bodies have been determined to be wholly unrelated to Katrina. In other words, there were so far 34 known victims that have been identified yet not ascribed a race, for unexplained reasons.

The more significant number is the 571 bodies that have not yet been identified that LDHH admits it has knowledge of. For example, you have the fact that only 500 of St. Gabriel's -- the primary Katrina morgue -- 883 bodies have been identified, according to St. Gabriel itself. Since that subset of bodies is larger than that from which CNSNews makes it's stunning announcement about race, it would seem that the underinclusivity of the known data set is obvious to anyone who has bothered to....oh, pay attention in 9th grade science and math class?

But the ultimate fact that undermines any conclusion about race and Katrina's dead at this point that contradicts the likely outcome (and it is likely that in a city that was 69% black, 69% or more will be among the dead) is this:

Louisiana DHH also says that there are 4,486 people still missing - four times the number of people whose remains have been found.

(Others say that figure is still not high enough. As of three weeks ago, according to USA today there were still 6,644 people missing and unaccounted for from Katrina, of which nearly 700 were children.)

I can't speak for you, but when there are still 4 times as many people missing and unaccounted for 3 months after Katrina as have been found, I think it's fair to say that any analysis of the official number is analyzing fiction. How can you even make a statement until the majority of victims have been identified? You can't -- until they are found, and ID'd, they can't be classified by race because it is the surviving family members who would make such a designation. If it turns out that the majority of them were of African descent, that would dramatically undermine a conclusion that whites were disproportionately affected, wouldn't it?

So until all *those* missing folks are found dead, identified, and classified by race by relatives, anyone jumping up and down claiming that whites were killed disproportionately is knowingly and deliberately working with incomplete data. There is only one reason that anyone would wish to do so: to undermine the public's perception of a tragedy disproportionately affected the one group that most folks usually would rather not think about because they can't handle the guilt and need to believe that *anything* is true other than the truth about how racism intersected with poverty to create a death sentence for what looks like thousands in New Orleans.

The sad part is how many people desperate to believe that race had nothing to do with Katrina's aftermath will fall for this "news" hook, line and sinker.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Death by Reason of Insanity aka Shanikka's Really DUMB Questions

Taking the advice of a woman far smarter than I where blogging is concerned, I'm posting this -- a comment that I left on the smart person's great leftwing blogMy Left Wing both here and in several other places to hopefully spur others to serious thought about what happened yesterday at Miami International Airport - the killing, in the name of safety, a man named Rigoberto Alpizar by members of the United States Federal Air Marshal Service.

I was, last night, quite torn and troubled about what had happened, since this is by all accounts the first time since 9/11 that the US Marshals have exercised their privilege on an aircraft to kill someone if they believe that person poses a greater harm.

This story had me heartsick and quite conflicted yesterday afternoon. But this morning, I woke up awash with what what I labeled in my comment on MLW as my really dumb questions. I sure wish that the Air Marshals would answer them:

Dumb Question #1: Don't most male passengers traveling internationally keep their passports/identifying paperwork somewhere other than in their pockets, given the high risk caused by loss of these items - and wouldn't an arriving international passenger need that item first thing upon disembarking?

OK this is my bias coming out, but the very *first* thought that popped into my mind when I heard the "reaching into a backpack" part was this:

Amadou Diallo

Dumb Question #2: If it is true that this man was arguing with his spouse for much of the first leg of this flight from Quito, and this gave the marshals cause for concern, why did nobody warn Miami in advance that this possibly unsafe/unstable/terrorist person was coming so that beefed up security could have been waiting for him?

I've heard of them turning planes completely around for an overly drunk belligent passenger who is of no harm to anyone but him/herself. Certainly, the folks with the cuffs can and regularly do detain/arrest passengers who are "suspicious" based on in-flight conduct. Yet this guy was allowed to travel, disembark, go through customs, and reboard without anyone even attempting to discern what was the matter?

Dumb Question #3: Is it truly believable that anyone could have gotten a "bomb" or other dangerous piece of material past security in Ecuador that American Airlines and every other US based carrier has imposed for all flights traveling into the US?

At present, I cannot even get a cigarette lighter past security. It is caught in the XRay machine. How could a person just get a bomb through security in their carry-on luggage when you can't even get through with fertilizer residue on the bottom of your shoes? We're not talking about an international carrier that might, perhaps, be less diligent than a US carrier. We're talking about American Airlines, the owner and operator of 2 of the lost 9-11 aircraft. That backpack was without question looked into when he boarded the flight.

So what changed during the time between Ecuador and landing in Miami? Is this an international plastiques expert that just managed to end up on board and jerryrig something in the lavatory mid-flight and, if so, wouldn't whoever actually looks into passenger manifests under the TSA program (or whatever it is called these days) have known that a weapons expert was on board?

Dumb Question #4: How is it that the air marshals heard him say he had a bomb but did not hear his wife screaming down the aisle of the plane after him about his mental illness? And how is it that the air marshals managed to hear this when presently, not a single passenger, boarding passenger, or airline employee/airport worker claims to also have heard it?

Maybe it was a language thing - maybe they don't teach the marshals Spanish. Although I understand that the (brand new) widow was also screaming in English. Maybe it's a culture thing: they don't understand that right now, even the US Supreme Court acknowledged in Illinois v. Wardlowthat the mere possibility of police confrontation can cause innocent people to run away (or try to, before they usually get shot dead). As the late, (in)famous Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote:

Respondent and amici also argue that there are innocent reasons for flight from police and that, therefore, flight is not necessarily indicative of ongoing criminal activity. This fact is undoubtedly true, but does not establish a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Even in Terry, the conduct justifying the stop was ambiguous and susceptible of an innocent explanation. The officer observed two individuals pacing back and forth in front of a store, peering into the window and periodically conferring. Terry, 392 U.S., at 5—6. All of this conduct was by itself lawful, but it also suggested that the individuals were casing the store for a planned robbery. Terry recognized that the officers could detain the individuals to resolve the ambiguity. Id., at 30.

In allowing such detentions, Terry accepts the risk that officers may stop innocent people. Indeed, the Fourth Amendment accepts that risk in connection with more drastic police action; persons arrested and detained on probable cause to believe they have committed a crime may turn out to be innocent. The Terry stop is a far more minimal intrusion, simply allowing the officer to briefly investigate further. If the officer does not learn facts rising to the level of probable cause, the individual must be allowed to go on his way.

Who knows? Maybe it's because the Marshals neither follow the Supreme Court nor the newspaper, and thus did not truly understand that, contrary to myth, not every completely harmless person views being approached by the police as a benign event and stands still secure in their innocence, even now that we are fighting our war on terror.

Dumb Question #5: Is it really plausible that a terrorist could decide that it was more important/showy/terror inducing to wait until landing in Miami to detonate an explosive on an airport jetway that might, if he's lucky, kill 20 people, instead of blowing his arriving flight up mid-air and killing with certainty more than 130? Or blowing his stash in customs, which he had already come through and cleared, and kill God knows how many people from all over the world?

This is the one that is sticking with me the most, today.

But not as much as the words "Amadou Diallo."

The good news? Here, just off the presses: Dubbya says that the air marshals did the right thing. And, as we all know, if Dubbya says that a government employee with responsibility for our homeland security is qualified and doing a good job, then it's true.

Or is that doing a heck of a job?

Oh well, fighting terrorism is hard work. Federal air marshals, like all law enforcement officers, never shoot people who are of no danger to anyone. They are always careful and reflective (which I'd like to think anyone packing heat should be). After all, even the U.S. Supreme Court says that use of deadly force has a limit.. People like this psychologist hired to do a study for Walter Reed Army Medical Center simply don't understand why if we worry about law enforcement mistakes shooting people, the terrorists will have won:

During the investigation of the domestic complaint, 19% of students shot the hostage. . .Moreover, 97% failed to meet the criterion of 70% of their rounds hitting the suspect. . .. Many of the students fired blindly, from the minimal cover available. Trainees were expected to call for backup in high-risk situations and had also been taught that if using their radio while their weapon was in their hand, the weapon should be kept in the dominant hand. Seventy percent failed this element by switching the weapon to the weak hand, in order to operate the radio in the dominant hand. The approved response for coping with the “dud” round that fails to fire is to tap the magazine, rack the slide and reengage
the threat. The majority of the students failed this element, resorting to a variety of methods, all less desirable, to clear the malfunction. . . During the IA investigation, only 43% of students could accurately describe their shot placement. . .and only 57% could accurately identify the exact moment when the situation and doctrine first justified the use of lethal force.

Hmm. Well, we have to give law enforcement, especially the Air Marshals, the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are only there to protect us. Even if they sometimes overreact just a little bit.

Especially when you are mentally ill. Or Black, like Amadou Diallo. Or now, perhaps, both nonwhite *and* psychotic, like the late, not yet-quite-lamented by anyone but his family and neighbors (all of who say he was a pretty OK guy), Rigoberto Alpizar.

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