Monthly Archives: October, 2006

An Assortment of Notable Lynx (10-29-06)

An assortment of notable lynx

The War After the War—The first of a four part series by Thomas Farragher of the Boston Globe that movingly chronicles “the consequences of a roadside bombing in Baghdad that killed Jeremy F. Regnier, 22, of Littleton, N.H., in October 2004� and left his two surviving comrades struggling to come to terms with the experience.

Iraqis See the Little Things Fade Away in War’s Gloom—A thoughtful article by Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times that relates the very personal ways in which the war in Iraq “tears the fabric of society, breaking communities and long-established social networks.�

Bill Moyers For President—A piece by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader in Common Dreams that makes the case for a Bill Moyers candidacy in 2008.

Bill Maher – New Rules—A video clip, posted on onegoodmove, from the most recent episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, in which the host provides commentary on recent events that is both hilarious and hard-hitting.

A Cautionary Tale for These Torturous Times

If the child of tragedy is the need for understanding and accountability, its spoiled stepchild is the scapegoating of innocents. The latter occurs when reason and restraint fail and when the search for answers and suspects is fouled by overzealousness, expedience, and the like. In such cases, the search itself becomes suspect. So corrupted, a host of unconscionable tactics—including fabrication of evidence, coercion, torture, et al.—are rationalized as acceptable. All too soon, guilt is assigned, and innocents are sacrificed in the name of justice. But it is only in name.

Consider the following editorial, reprinted in full, from today’s Washington Post:

A Travesty in Libya

IN AN attempt to shed his rogue status, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi has foresworn weapons of mass destruction and agreed to compensate the families of those who died in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. But on Tuesday a trial reopens that could again tarnish Libya’s image. Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor are accused of intentionally injecting the AIDS virus into more than 400 Libyan children. The accusations are an attempt to deflect Libyans’ attention from the shocking state of their own medical system. The evidence against the six foreigners is flimsy, but they could face a firing squad.

The infections occurred at a children’s hospital eight years ago in Benghazi, a city in Libya’s northeast. When the outbreak was discovered, a local magazine suggested that the infections reflected poor standards of hospital hygiene: Children were often treated with unscreened blood products, and equipment was not always cleaned before reuse. But Libyan authorities seized the foreign health workers at the hospital and tortured them until they confessed to malpractice. The foreigners were convicted and sentenced to be executed. But Libya’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial following foreign protests.

The prosecution’s case in the new trial is built on a report by five Libyan physicians. The British science journal, Nature, obtained this report and showed it to Western medical experts, who determined that it contained no real evidence. Meanwhile, the Libyan court has refused to admit as evidence an investigation done by two prominent European AIDS experts. The Europeans concluded that the infections had begun before the foreign health workers had even arrived in Benghazi. They also noted that many of the children were infected with hepatitis B and C, evidence consistent with the theory that the HIV was spread by poor hospital hygiene.

The European Commission and the United States have called for the release of the health workers. If Libya nonetheless goes ahead with this travesty of justice, it will be saying that it prefers to scapegoat foreigners rather than admit to the weakness of its own medical system. The first victims will be the health workers. But they will be followed by the Libyans themselves, who need a government with the honesty to confront the true causes of HIV infections.

Biting the Bullet v. Using the Bullet

Those to whom the public delegates the ever vital authority to serve and protect must ever operate with good prudence and judgment. There is little question that these individuals and agencies are charged with great responsibility and have a challenging job to perform, particularly as that job often requires balancing competing needs and risks and making quick decisions upon which people’s lives may depend. On occasion—though it may feel counterintuitive—the authorities must opt to forgo or relinquish intervention, because the potential costs of pursuing such exceed the potential benefits. Thus, however unfortunate, there are times when ending a pursuit is the wisest and safest choice.

These circumstances are brought to mind as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision this week to hear arguments on a case involving a police officer’s use of deadly force while in pursuit of a suspect. The Washington Post provides coverage:

High Court to Rule on Deadly Force in Police Chases

The Supreme Court stepped into the national debate on the risks of high-speed police car chases yesterday, announcing that it will decide whether the Constitution permits police to use deadly force against a fleeing motorist whose only suspected offense is speeding or reckless driving.

The court’s decision was a victory for a Georgia police officer appealing a ruling earlier this year by the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. That court had concluded that the officer acted unreasonably by ramming a fleeing speeder, causing a crash that left the driver, Victor Harris, paralyzed….

When the court hears arguments in Scott v. Harris…early in 2007, it will be the first time the justices have reexamined the constitutional prerequisites for employing deadly force against unarmed fleeing suspects since 1985.

In that case, which involved not a speeder but a suspected burglar, the court ruled that police may use deadly force only when they have good reason to believe someone will be killed or injured if they do not.

“It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape,” the court ruled. “A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead.”

The 11th Circuit cited that ruling to support its decision against Scott, noting that Harris was not suspected of any offense more serious than speeding, a misdemeanor, and posed little risk to the public because the streets were empty at the time….

Pursuits — even of armed and dangerous suspects — have become controversial in recent years, because of the risk they can pose to third parties and police officers themselves.

A 2004 University of Washington study found that, from 1994 to 2002, 260 to 325 people were killed annually as a result of high-speed chases. [full text]

How the Supreme Court will ultimately rule here remains uncertain, though it seems clear that the crux of the case involves examining the supposed exigency of the circumstances and then determining what standards for forceful intervention need apply and whether those standards were reasonably met. Was deadly force justified? And, more broadly, when ought the authorities bite the bullet (and break off pursuit) versus use the bullet? What is acceptable?

The same set of questions could perhaps be used to examine this country’s recent foreign policy, in particular the Bush administration’s use of deadly force in Iraq in its pursuit of Saddam Hussein and his phantom WMDs. Many before and the vast majority now believe the invasion and subsequent occupation were not justified. The circumstances were not sufficiently exigent, the threat was overblown, and the dangers and costs of intervention were too great. Nonetheless, the authorities in this case refused to break off their pursuit and continue to do so—to the detriment of thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. To break off pursuit even now is pejoratively viewed as cutting and running. But what the authorities—i.e., Bush and his cohorts—appear reluctant to acknowledge are established legal standards and precedents which assert, in effect, that it is sometimes better to cut one’s losses than to risk disproportionate harm. Failure to adhere to the rule of law on such matters opens the door to much unnecessary devastation, as well as possible civil and criminal penalties.

So how might the Supreme Court—if they could be relied upon to be sufficiently objective—rule in a case such as Bush v. Iraq? Would the Court find that the defendant, George W. Bush, did willfully and recklessly engage in a pursuit that included the use of deadly force, while discounting or distorting the necessity of this pursuit and ignoring the likelihood of causing considerable damage and loss of life as a result? What would the verdict be? Perhaps the ruling that is to come in Scott v. Harris might shed some light upon the darkness. Stay tuned.

Politicking Across the (Contami)Nation

You know it’s getting late in the election season and the media is losing energy and originality when one of the nation’s preeminent newspapers, the New York Times, decides to cover not just the politicians but the “parasites� with whom they come in contact. No, I’m not speaking of the various lobbyists and other influence peddlers who wish to curry (i.e., purchase) the favor of current or potentially future members of the political establishment. I’m speaking of actual parasites, as well as their microbial brethren. Mark Leibovich offers what turns out to be an interesting article on the unseen perils of pressing flesh with the populace:

In Clean Politics, Flesh Is Pressed, Then Sanitized

Campaigns are filthy. Not only in terms of last-minute smears and dirty tricks. But also as in germs, parasites and all the bacterial unpleasantness that is spread around through so much glad-handing and flesh-pressing.

“You can’t always get to a sink to wash your hands,� said Anne Ryun, wife of Representative Jim Ryun, Republican of Kansas.

Hands would be the untidy appendages that transmit infectious disease.

Like so many other people involved in politics these days, Mrs. Ryun has become obsessive about using hand sanitizer and ensuring that others do, too. She squirted Purell, the antiseptic goop of choice on the stump and self-proclaimed killer of “99.99 percent of most common germs that may cause illness,� on people lined up to meet Vice President Dick Cheney this month at a fund-raiser in Topeka.

When Mr. Cheney was done meeting and greeting, he, too, rubbed his hands vigorously with the stuff, dispensed in dollops by an aide when the vice president was out of public view.

That has become routine in this peak season of handshaking, practiced by everyone from the most powerful leaders to the lowliest hopefuls. Politics is personal at all levels, and germs do not discriminate. Like chicken dinners and lobbyists, they afflict Democrats and Republicans alike. It would be difficult to find an entourage that does not have at least one aide packing Purell.

Some people find that unseemly in itself.

“It’s condescending to the voters,� said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat.

A fervent nonuser of hand sanitizer, Mr. Richardson holds the Guinness Book of World Records mark for shaking the most hands over an eight-hour period (13,392, at the New Mexico State Fair in 2002).

Indeed, what message does it send when politicians, the putative leaders in a government by the people, for the people, feel compelled to wipe off the residues of said people immediately after meeting them?

“The great part about politics is that you’re touching humanity,� Mr. Richardson said. “You’re going to collect bacteria just by existing.� [full text]

And has there ever been a greater collection of bacteria than the current political establishment? Just the thought of coming into contact with any of them makes me want to dunk myself in Purell. Now, if only they could make a cleanser that politicians could apply to their oft-compromised morality and honesty. Although, if such a product were applied, I imagine the outcome would look something like this:

Dick Cheney melts after exposure to moral antiseptic

These Reactionary Times

From The Progressive:

Two Rows Over a T-Shirt with Arabic on It

This is a story about one T-shirt that caused two rows.

The shirt has the phrase “We will not be silent,� written both in English and in Arabic.

This may seem innocuous enough, but not in today’s America, where the very sight of Arabic alarms some citizens, as well as Homeland Security.

On August 12, Raed Jarrar, who works for Global Exchange in Washington, DC, was wearing that T-shirt as he was trying to board a JetBlue flight from JFK to California.

While he was at the gate eating some cheese and grapes and drinking some orange juice, two men approached him and one flashed his badge, Jarrar writes on his blog raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com. They asked for his boarding pass and driver’s license.

“People are feeling offended because of your T-shirt,� said one of the men, whom Jarrar identifies as Inspector Harris.

“He asked me if I had any other T-shirts to put on, and I told him that I had checked in all of my bags,� Jarrar relates on the blog. “And I asked him, ‘Why do you want me to take off my T-shirt? Isn’t it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?’ . . . Do you have an order against Arabic T-shirts? Is there such a law against Arabic script?’ �

Here’s what Inspector Harris said, according to Jarrar: “You can’t wear a T-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a T-shirt that reads ‘I am a robber’ and going to a bank.� [full text]

“A Carnival of Ugly”

This nation reaps what it sows. For the last half decade, the politics of “anything goes� and “the end justifies the means� has transformed the seat of government into little more than a fraternity kegger. And the longer the party rages on, the uglier and meaner things get—particularly when those who object to the ruckus and excess try to shut the party down and disperse the revelers. But while such is playing out, a great many who have been forced to observe the bacchanalian display and ensuing conflict turn away in disgust.

From today’s Washington Post:

The Year of Playing Dirtier

Rep. Ron Kind pays for sex!

Well, that’s what the Republican challenger for his Wisconsin congressional seat, Paul R. Nelson, claims in new ads, the ones with “XXX” stamped across Kind’s face.

It turns out that Kind — along with more than 200 of his fellow hedonists in the House — opposed an unsuccessful effort to stop the National Institutes of Health from pursuing peer-reviewed sex studies. According to Nelson’s ads, the Democrat also wants to “let illegal aliens burn the American flag” and “allow convicted child molesters to enter this country.”

To Nelson, that doesn’t even qualify as negative campaigning.

“Negative campaigning is vicious personal attacks,” he said in an interview. “This isn’t personal at all.”

By 2006 standards, maybe it isn’t.

On the brink of what could be a power-shifting election, it is kitchen-sink time: Desperate candidates are throwing everything. While negative campaigning is a tradition in American politics, this year’s version in many races has an eccentric shade, filled with allegations of moral bankruptcy and sexual perversion.

At the same time, the growth of “independent expenditures” by national parties and other groups has allowed candidates to distance themselves from distasteful attacks on their opponents, while blogs and YouTube have provided free distribution networks for eye-catching hatchet jobs.

“When the news is bad, the ads tend to be negative,” said Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford professor who studies political advertising. “And the more negative the ad, the more likely it is to get free media coverage. So there’s a big incentive to go to the extremes.”

The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit. [full text]

Bush Plans Military Attack on Massachusetts?

The headline caught my eye: “Bush defines marriage as man and woman.� That’s amazing. Not that the President would come out (pun intended) against gay marriage, but that he would actually define something. Heck, he has a hard enough time pronouncing words, never mind defining them. Although maybe he uses “the Google� for help. In any regard, Bush traveled to Des Moines today. (I imagine, upon landing, he was surprised to find himself in Iowa instead of France.) He was in corn country to boost the sagging spirits and hopes of some nameless Republican congressional candidate. As such, the Definer decided to offer a kernel or two of opinion on the subject of marriage, to which the AP lent an ear:

President Bush said the “sacred institution� of marriage between a man and a woman must be defended against what he called activist court rulings.

Bush briefly brought up the topic, unprompted, while raising money here for a Republican congressional candidate, a day after the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that same-sex couples must be given the same rights as married people.

The court left it up to the state’s Legislature to decide whether to extend those rights under the structure of marriage, civil unions or something else.

The president said the ruling “raises doubts about the institution of marriage.�

“I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman,� he said. “I believe its a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families, and it must be defended.� [full text]

It must be defended? Them’s fightin’ words. Is the President so rattled by recent scandals and failures that he is planning to shrug off Iran and North Korea—and attack Massachusetts instead? Perhaps that’s the October Surprise the White House has up its sleeve, to shock and awe the Gomorrah of states into submission and make the world safe from sodomy (which, by the way, is a term better used to describe what Bush and his cronies have been doing to the country than what consenting adults might opt to engage in). What’s really scary is that even the Muslim extremists would be on board with such a plan.

I have to say that I don’t much like the threatening posture that Bush is adopting here—and not just because I live in the Bay State. It’s just plain wrong to threaten, denigrate, or marginalize people who want nothing more than to share in the same liberties and opportunities to which their fellow citizens are entitled. If the President is so dang concerned about the sacred institution of marriage, then maybe he should do something about the high rate of divorce in this country. But, of course, he won’t do that. Politically, he’d be shooting himself in Des Loines, since “the areas of the country where divorce rates are highest are also frequently the areas where many conservative Christians live….And the state with the lowest divorce rate [is] Massachusetts, home to John Kerry, the Kennedys and same-sex marriage.â€? Well, fancy that.

I’d be tempted to suggest that Bush define irony or hypocrisy, only I don’t reckon the lame bugger is up to the task. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bunker to dig.

Bush Cameo at Chafee Press Conference!

George W. Bush is really making the rounds this campaign season. Here he is at Lincoln Chafee’s smear press conference today, in which Chafee attempted to associate Whitehouse with Buddy Cianci by (shocking!) holding up a picture of them together in 2001. Read the Projo article on Chafee’s new bag of tricks here. The photo credit goes to Kathy Borchers of The Providence Journal. And check out more Bush cameos here!

Active Duty Troops Call for Iraq Withdrawal

Reuters is reporting on a group of 200 active duty service members in the Iraq war who are calling for the US to withdraw its forces. From the article:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than 200 active duty U.S. armed service members, fed up with the war in Iraq, have joined an unusual protest calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, organizers said on Wednesday.

The campaign, called the Appeal for Redress from the War in Iraq, is the first of its kind in the Iraq war and takes advantage of Defense Department rules allowing active duty troops to express personal opinions to members of Congress without fear of retaliation, organizers said.

“As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq,” states the appeal posted on the campaign’s Web site at www.appealforredress.org.

“Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home,” it adds. [full text]

Incurious George Receives a Report Card

It is evening, less than two weeks until the midterm election. President George W. Bush is walking slowly towards his residence in the White House. His head is down, and he appears somewhat disconsolate. His lips move steadily yet soundlessly, as if mentally rehearsing a speech or reading “The Pet Goat.â€? In his right hand, he clutches a folded piece of paper. As he nears the residence, he finds his thoughts turning away from his beleaguered administration and towards his ranch in Crawford. He imagines himself contentedly clearing brush beneath a searing blue sky. The blue of Laura’s eyes. In the distance, circling patiently, the buzzard hawks call to one another…

LAURA: (smiling) George!

GEORGE: (startled from his reverie) Oh, hi, sweetie.

LAURA: How was your day?

GEORGE: (blandly) Okay, I guess.

LAURA: You don’t sound very convincing. Is everything okay? Dick didn’t take that tone with you again, did he? I know how you hate that.

GEORGE: (evasively) No, no…nothin’ like that. The day was fine, just an ord’nary day…you know, keeping Americans safe from terr’ism. Oh, and Karl told me a pretty funny fart joke.

LAURA: What’s that?

GEORGE: Well, the pope decides one day he’s in the mood for beans, so….

LAURA: No, what’s that? (She points to the paper still clutched in her husband’s hand.)

GEORGE: (suddenly abashed and dodging her eyes) Nothin’.

LAURA: Really? It looks like it might be something important.

GEORGE: (shrugging) I dunno. Maybe.

LAURA: (frowning) Is that your report card, George? The one you were expecting from the Council on Foreign Relations? On “homeland security�?

George does not reply. He is overwhelmed with feelings of disappointment and embarrassment and anger. He knows as sure as there is a God in heaven speaking through him that he should have aced this homeland security eval. Wasn’t that his specialty, what he and the Republicans were supposed to be good at? Five years after 9/11, how could he have gotten such mediocre grades? It was Yale all over again.

LAURA: (gently) Let me see it, George.

GEORGE: (reluctantly handing it over) I tried my best, Laura. Honest. I think they just had it in for me. Maybe al-Qa’ida got to them.

The leader of the free world then turns and stomps sullenly away. Laura, shaking her head and sighing, opens the report card and examines her husband’s progress:

George Bush receives mediocre grades yet again

Council on Foreign Relations: Homeland Security Report Card

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