He Does Them No Honor

Call it what you will—chutzpah, delusion, selective amnesia—but George W. Bush has it in spades. In word, he purports to honor those who serve in the military and who die in such service. In action, he dishonors our veterans. Yesterday, Memorial Day, the President spoke at Arlington National Cemetery and had the following to say:

All who are buried here understood their duty. They saw a dark shadow on the horizon, and went to meet it. They understood that tyranny must be met with resolve, and that liberty is always the achievement of courage….

In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war. We have seen those costs in the war on terror we fight today. These grounds are the final resting place for more than 270 men and women who have given their lives in freedom’s cause since the attacks of September the 11th, 2001….

Our nation is free because of brave Americans like these, who volunteer to confront our adversaries abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. Our nation mourns the loss of our men and women in uniform; we will honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives — by defeating the terrorists, by advancing the cause of liberty, and by laying the foundation of peace for a generation of young Americans. [full text]

The tone of the President’s speech was no doubt reverent and somber, and he no doubt conveyed the respect and gratitude deserved to America’s fallen veterans. Yet, in his words, as he has done in so many speeches, Mr. Bush continued to dishonor the truth and, in so doing, those who serve at his behest. He again conflated the Iraq War (a.k.a., the War on Terror) and the attacks of September 11th, despite their lack of connection. He spoke of going to war “reluctantly,� despite much evidence that suggests his administration was intent on tilting at this particular windmill regardless of the costs (to both the truth and to our military personnel). He suggested a belief that stubbornly staying the course and “completing the mission� is the best way to honor those who have fallen (which would be akin to investing in Enron after the scandal broke and the stock tanked). He warned of “a dark shadow on the horizon,� which is ironic given the shadows in which his administration typically lurks. He spoke of “advancing the cause of liberty� and meeting “tyranny� with “resolve,� yet he has done more to undermine liberty and demean the Constitution in his tenure than any President in modern history. Indeed, on this very same day, Mr. Bush signed a bill that would seek to legislate respect for military veterans (the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act), a bill that seems unlikely to pass constitutional muster and, in truth, does little of substance to show respect for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. What a sad day for a once honorable nation.

Al Gore: The Ethical President Who Might Have Been

David Remnick sums up the qualities of Gore’s leadership that might have been put to good use over the past 6 years:

It is past time to recognize that, over a long career, his policy judgment and his moral judgment alike have been admirable and acute. Gore has been right about global warming since holding the first congressional hearing on the topic, twenty-six years ago. He was right about the role of the Internet, right about the need to reform welfare and cut the federal deficit, right about confronting Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo. Since September 11th, he has been right about constitutional abuse, right about warrantless domestic spying, and right about the calamity of sanctioned torture. And in the case of Iraq, both before the invasion and after, he was right—courageously right—to distrust as fatally flawed the political and moral good faith, operational competence, and strategic wisdom of the Bush Administration.

And now, compare and contrast:

In the 1992 campaign against Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush mocked Gore as “ozone man� and claimed, “This guy is so far out in the environmental extreme we’ll be up to our necks in owls and outta work for every American.� In the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush cracked that Gore “likes electric cars. He just doesn’t like making electricity.� The younger Bush, a classic schoolyard bully with a contempt for intellect, demanded that Gore “explain what he meant by some of the things� in his 1992 book, “Earth in the Balance�—and then unashamedly admitted that he had never read it. A book that the President did eventually read and endorse is a pulp science-fiction novel: “State of Fear,� by Michael Crichton. Bush was so excited by the story, which pictures global warming as a hoax perpetrated by power-mad environmentalists, that he invited the author to the Oval Office. In “Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush,� Fred Barnes, the Fox News commentator, reveals that the President and Crichton “talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement.� The visit, Barnes adds, “was not made public for fear of outraging environmentalists all the more.�

Remnick also provides some good insights on “An Inconvenient Truth”:

The imminence of catastrophic global warming may be a subject far from the ever-drifting mind of President Bush—whose eschatological preoccupations privilege Armageddon over the Flood—but it is of growing concern to the rest of humanity. Climate change is even having its mass-entertainment moment. “Ice Age: The Meltdown�—featuring Ellie the computer-animated mammoth and the bottomless voice of Queen Latifah—has taken in more than a hundred million dollars at the box office in two weeks. On the same theme, but with distinctly less animation, “An Inconvenient Truth,� starring Al Gore (playing the role of Al Gore, itinerant lecturer), is coming to a theatre near you around Memorial Day. Log on to Fandango. Reserve some seats. Bring the family. It shouldn’t be missed. No kidding.

“An Inconvenient Truth� is not likely to displace the boffo numbers of “Ice Age� in Variety’s weekly grosses. It is, to be perfectly honest (and there is no way of getting around this), a documentary film about a possibly retired politician giving a slide show about the dangers of melting ice sheets and rising sea levels. It has a few lapses of mise en scène. Sometimes we see Gore gravely talking on his cell phone—or gravely staring out an airplane window, or gravely tapping away on his laptop in a lonely hotel room—for a little longer than is absolutely necessary. And yet, as a means of education, “An Inconvenient Truth� is a brilliantly lucid, often riveting attempt to warn Americans off our hellbent path to global suicide. “An Inconvenient Truth� is not the most entertaining film of the year. But it might be the most important.

The catch, of course, is that the audience-of-one that most urgently needs to see the film and take it to heart—namely, the man who beat Gore in the courts six years ago—does not much believe in science or, for that matter, in any information that disturbs his prejudices, his fantasies, or his sleep. Inconvenient truths are precisely what this White House is structured to avoid and deny.

Bush Quietly Waives SEC Rules for Defense Contractors

An article in this week’s Business Week details how President Bush recently authorized John D. Negroponte to “excuse publicly traded companies from certain accounting and securities-disclosure obligations.” From the article:

Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA, said a number of companies have been granted the waiver: “Pick any of the major defense contractors — Lockheed (LMT ), Boeing (BA ), Raytheon (RTN ). They do a lot of classified work for the government, and I know it’s not all reported.”

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp. wouldn’t confirm or deny the company has ever gotten a waiver but said Lockheed is “fully compliant” with all financial-disclosure requirements. Boeing Co. and Raytheon Co. declined comment.

Smith, now a partner at Washington law firm Arnold & Porter, added: “Some of [the contractors' work] is really black; that means really secret. Boeing might be building jet fighters for the federal government, but the building won’t say Boeing on it. It will say something else. That type of thing you’re not going to put in your SEC filings.” Stressing that he isn’t a securities lawyer, Smith said he believes defense contractors’ revenue and costs still have “to be accounted for in some fashion.”

[...]

In the document, Bush addressed Negroponte, saying: “I hereby assign to you the function of the President under section 13(b)(3)(A) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.” A trip to the statute books shows that the act was amended in 1977 by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The amended version states that “with respect to matters concerning the national security of the United States,” the President may exempt companies from certain critical legal obligations. These include keeping accurate “books, records, and accounts” and maintaining “a system of internal accounting controls sufficient” to ensure the propriety of transactions and the preparation of financial statements in compliance with “generally accepted accounting principles.”

I would agree with Jeffrey H. Smith that defense contractors still need to provide information that indicates that they are abiding by the laws of corporate finance. Otherwise, why not just add a few more zeros on this column, and cut a few off this one? National security is important, but it does not trump corporate accountability. If that becomes the case, then we are headed for a dark time where corporations and government can easily collude and deceive.

The Casualties At Home

On this Memorial Day, with the current number of U.S. casualties in Iraq totaling 2466 and in Afghanistan totaling 296, the New York Times reports on a different number. “An estimated 1,600 children have lost a parent, almost all of them fathers, to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.� Some 150 or so of these children have gathered together this weekend in Arlington, VA to attend a grief camp run by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). In so doing, they tell their stories:

After Loss of a Parent to War, a Shared Grieving

By Lizette Alvarez

ARLINGTON, Va., May 28 — Jacob Hobbs, 10, did not mince words about the death of his father. “He was in a Humvee, driving at night on patrol, and a homemade bomb blew up on him so bad it killed his brain,” Jacob said of his father, Staff Sgt. Brian Hobbs, 31, of the Army. “But he wasn’t scratched up that much. And that’s how he died.”

Sitting across from Jacob in a circle at a grief camp over Memorial Day weekend, Taylor Downing, a 10-year-old with wavy red hair and a mouthful of braces, offered up her own detailed description. “My dad died four days after my birthday, on Oct. 28, 2004,” Taylor said quietly of Specialist Stephen Paul Downing II. “He got shot by a sniper. It came in through here,” she added, pointing to the front of her head, “and went out there,” shifting her finger to the back of her head. “Before he left,” Taylor said, “he sat me on his knee and he told me why he had to go: because people in Iraq didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have enough money. They couldn’t go to school. And they didn’t have homes.”

An estimated 1,600 children have lost a parent, almost all of them fathers, to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over the Memorial Day weekend, nearly 150 of these children gathered at a hotel here in this Washington suburb for a yearly grief camp run by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit group founded in 1994 that helps military families and friends cope with death and talk about their loss.

Burying a parent is never easy for a child, but losing a father in a violent way, in a far-off war, is fraught with a complexity all its own. The children receive hugs from strangers who thank them for their father’s courage; they fight to hold back tears in front of whole communities gathered to commemorate their fathers; they sometimes cringe when they hear loud noises, fret over knocks at the door and appear well-versed in the treachery of bombs.

And often the children say goodbye not just to their fathers but to their schools and homes, since families who live on a military base must move into the civilian world after a service member dies.

At the camp, their drawings of their fathers are never mundane, they are mythic: a father as hero, in uniform, with medals trailing across his chest and an American flag floating high above. “Before my dad left, he said he wasn’t afraid to die,” Jacob said of Sergeant Hobbs, who was killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan on Oct. 14, 2004. His father was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Jacob explained. “He saved his commander from an exploding tank,” he said.

Many of these children are old enough to remember their fathers, but now the images are slipping away in fragments. One memory few will ever forget is the moment they learned that their fathers would not come home. Paul R. Syverson IV, a 10-year-old with a blond crew cut and his father’s face, saw a soldier at the door. “My mom saw him and started crying,” said Paul, trying hard to stifle tears as he recounted how he was sent next door to play.

His father, Maj. Paul R. Syverson III, 32, a Green Beret, had been killed by a mortar round inside Camp Balad, Iraq — or as Paul put it, “He was eating breakfast, and he was shot by Iraqis.” Later, “I cried,” he said. “I played with my soldiers. And then I went to the basement because my dad was a collector of ‘Star Wars’ stuff. I took those out, and I played with them.”

Brooke Nyren, 9, whose father, Staff Sgt. Nathaniel J. Nyren, died in a vehicle accident in Iraq on Dec. 28, 2004, told her story in a writing assignment at the camp. When two Army men showed up at the door, “I was really scared,” Brooke wrote. “The two Army men asked my mom, please can you put your daughter in a different room. So I went in my room. The only thing I was doing was praying.”

“My hart was broken,” she wrote. more…

The Latest Poop On Civil Liberties

While there is little question that law enforcement officers must endure a lot of crap on the job, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a recent ruling, has taken such [fecal] matters to a whole new level, as reported in today’s Washington Post:

Swallowing dope or other contraband won’t hide it anymore.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that Milwaukee police officers were justified in using laxatives to search a man who had swallowed a bag of heroin during a 2002 drug bust. The decision found that police did not violate Tomas Payano-Roman’s constitutional rights against unreasonable search by forcing him to drink a laxative called GoLytely every 20 to 30 minutes until the drugs came out.

In its 5 to 2 decision, the court said the laxative use was acceptable because it was carried out under medical supervision and met dual medical-treatment and evidence-gathering purposes. Dissenting, Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson said the evidence should not have been allowed since police didn’t get a search warrant.

Officers saw Payano-Roman swallow the bag as they approached him. He pleaded guilty to possession of heroin and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

“Drug investigations are tough,” said Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. “Drug suspects, drug dealers will go to great length to escape detection. When someone swallows the evidence, which is not an easy thing to do, the fact that the stuff was taken using a laxative should give the drug world something to think about.”

It should also give civil libertarians something to think about. In reviewing the decision of the Court (thanks to TalkLeft for the link), I am not certain I entirely agree with the analysis of the majority opinion. In her dissent, Chief Justice Abrahamson questions, among other things, the legality of imposing medical treatment of uncertain necessity upon a criminal suspect:

[A]n individual may choose not to accept medical treatment. Individuals have a constitutional right to refuse medical treatment. This right is often analyzed under general privacy principles, but more properly is analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment liberty guarantee. Had the defendant not been under arrest, he surely would have been permitted to refuse a laxative if he had ingested a dangerous material. No authority is cited for the proposition that an arrest negates the need for a person’s consent for medical treatment or for a showing of medical necessity. [full text of decision]

In this era of diminishing privacy and eroding civil liberties, the Wisconsin court’s decision—however narrow its scope—is cause for some concern and further indication that those of us who care deeply about the Constitution must never be lax in its defense.

Massacre in Haditha

This is just so sad. This is war. This is what it does to people:

Then one of the Marines took charge and began shouting, said Fahmi, who was watching from his roof. Fahmi said he saw the Marine direct other Marines into the house closest to the blast, about 50 yards away.

It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali. Although he had used a wheelchair since diabetes forced a leg amputation years ago, Ali was always one of the first on his block to go out every morning, scattering scraps for his chickens and hosing the dust of the arid western town from his driveway, neighbors said.

In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children — 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.

Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots — in Ali’s house and two others — were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha’s hospital said.

A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died.

Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.

The Marines moved to the house next door, Fahmi said.

Inside were 43-year-old Khafif, 41-year-old Aeda Yasin Ahmed, an 8-year-old son, five young daughters and a 1-year-old girl staying with the family, according to death certificates and neighbors.

The Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom, survivors and neighbors said later. Khafif’s pleas could be heard across the neighborhood. Four of the girls died screaming.

Only 13-year-old Safa Younis lived — saved, she said, by her mother’s blood spilling onto her, making her look dead when she fell, limp, in a faint.

Townspeople led a Washington Post reporter this week to the girl they identified as Safa. Wearing a ponytail and tracksuit, the girl said her mother died trying to gather the girls. The girl burst into tears after a few words. The older couple caring for her apologized and asked the reporter to leave.

Moving to a third house in the row, Marines burst in on four brothers, Marwan, Qahtan, Chasib and Jamal Ahmed. Neighbors said the Marines killed them together.

Media Ignores Public’s Concerns About Health Care

A couple of months back, the Gallup Organization conducted a poll to determine the top issues and concerns of Americans. As subsequently reported by Editor & Publisher and other media outlets, health care topped the list:

A new Gallup Poll released Tuesday reveals that the issue cited by most Americans as the one they worry about the most is “the availability and affordability of healthcare.� A total of 68% said they worried about this a “great deal.� Coming in second is the social security system at 51%. Following close behind that were “availability and affordability of energy,� drug use, crime and violence—and only then “the possibility of terrorist attacks in the U.S.� (at 45%). In a sign of the times, Americans grew more worried in the past year, Gallup said, in 11 of the 12 top issues. Health care, energy and immigration had grown the most in concern since 2005. [full text]

Given the growing concerns about health care, one might expect that a National Symposium on Health Care Reform sponsored by the world-renowned Mayo Clinic might attract some attention in the press. Such a symposium was held earlier this week—from May 21st to 23rd in Rochester, Minnesota—and it reportedly “brought together more than 250 leaders from academia, business, government, health care, media and patient advocacy for a highly interactive exchange of ideas.� Dismayingly, there was virtually no major media coverage of this event. (The media apparently does not share the public’s concerns or is pathetically out of touch with such.) I would not have known about it myself had not my colleague, Nancy Arons, a talented clinician who hails from Minnesota, pointed it out to me. She had read an editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (offered in full below), which did manage to offer some commentary and perspective on the topic of America’s ailing and failing health care system:

Editorial: A sobering checkup at the Mayo Clinic

Strolling through the rather imperial campus of the Mayo Clinic—a place revered for quality and efficiency—you would never guess that the U.S. medical system is itself in critical condition. Yet that’s exactly the message Mayo transmitted this week during a three-day symposium that brought some of the nation’s most eminent experts to Rochester and delivered one indictment after another of American health care.

Consider: Americans spend 50 percent more on medical care than their counterparts in nations such as Germany and Japan, yet a recent RAND Corporation study found they receive appropriate care only about 55 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the cost of health insurance doubles every eight to nine years, crushing major corporations such as Ford and General Motors and pushing the ranks of the uninsured ever higher. “After studying health care in America, I feel I should apologize for all the jokes I used to make about Brezhnev,� said Eugene Litvak of Boston University, who came to the United States in 1988 from the notoriously inefficient Soviet Union.

Mayo, which has traditionally shunned the spotlight on policy and politics, organized the forum out of frustration that no one in Washington has taken the issue seriously for a decade, and out of hope that the general public, confronted with the facts, might start demanding leadership.

That’s good. This conversation needs to move outside the walls of clinics and universities into public discourse and onto the campaign trail.

If the symposium highlighted problems, however, it also offered intriguing solutions. Dr. John Wennberg of Dartmouth University said that Medicare, which pays about one-fifth of the nation’s medical bills, could cut its outlays by some 30 percent if it required all hospitals to be as efficient as those in Salt Lake City (or some in Minnesota, for that matter). Roger Feldman of the University of Minnesota said hospitals would cut the number of medical errors sharply if insurance companies rewarded them for adopting well-known, simple safety protocols. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel from the National Institutes of Health said the United States, using vouchers for every citizen, could provide universal health insurance without spending much more money than it spends today because it already treats the uninsured in such costly, inefficient settings.

Since the debacle known as Hillary-care in 1993, Washington has mostly shied away from fundamental reform. Congress did create the new Part D drug benefit for Medicare, which is a great subsidy for the elderly but hardly a model of efficiency; it also created Health Savings Accounts, a form of tax shelter which was generally panned by the experts in Rochester. Perhaps, like the guy who quits smoking only when the doctor insists, Washington will listen up now that Mayo has entered the consulting room. Voters should expect no less.