Some of these men had become abstrusely entangled with the spying departments of other nations and would give an amusing jump if you came from behind and tapped them on the shoulder.- Vladimir Nabokov, The Assistant Producer
The surprising thing was that it was a surprise. It just goes to show how hard it is to predict who will be embarrassed by disclosures when governments operate outside the law.
Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq, was distressed to learn from reading Bob Woodward’s recent book, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, that George Bush spied on Iraqi citizens. That should not have come as much of a surprise since George Bush & Co. have had few compunctions about spying on U.S. citizens. There was little reason to think the administration would not have had fewer compunctions about spying on Iraqi citizens. After all, Iraqis lack the veneer of protection of the United States Constitution.
The discreditation of the United States Constitution – in favor of spying and other extra-judicial conduct – began early in the Bush administration and continues in today’s headlines.
But let’s rewind. On December 16, 2005, we learned from the New York Times that George Bush had signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to listen in on phone conversations held by citizens and non-citizens alike even though some with old-fashioned ideas of life in the United States believed such conduct was legally proscribed. According to that report the NSA “has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible dirty numbers’ linked to Al Qaeda.”
As with much of what George Bush has done during his eight-year tenure, the spying was not without its critics. Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said: “This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration. It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.”
On June 25, 2008 the U.S. House Appropriations Committee had approved an amendment denying money for the “National Applications Office.” According reports that office is a Bush administration program expanding the use of Pentagon spy satellites for domestic uses. Rep. Jane Harmon, a California Democrat, chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on intelligence was alarmed and told Newsweek: “We have to make sure this is not a back door for spying on Americans.” She and her colleagues worried that the “Applications Office” might impinge on civil liberties, A reasonable worry since, as with all things in the Bush administration, things that look and quack like ducks often are described by the administration as swans.
In light of the foregoing it is hard to say why the Iraqis are so upset by Mr. Woodward’s book.
According to Woodward, the United States spied on Prime Minister al-Maliki, his staff and other government officials. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Maliki was very upset at the disclosure. An Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh said if the allegations were true, it would be evidence of a lack of trust. Interestingly, that is the sort of thing that a typical American citizen said when learning that he or she was susceptible to unlawful spying. It’s also what so concerned Rep. Harmon. Mr. al-Dabbagh went on to state that the administration’s activity “reflects also that the institutions in the United States are used to spy on their friends and their enemies in the same way.”
Not all of the Iraqi spokespersons were as concerned as al-Dabbagh. Employing the common technique of telling the press something the speaker is supposedly not authorized reveal, an anonymous “top aide to al-Maliki” told USAToday that “If this is true, then we feel sorry about that. We look upon the Americans as our partners. There’s nothing of real value that would require the Americans to spy on us. On top of that, we have nothing to hide from the Americans to make them have to spy on us.” A less circumspect prominent Kurdish lawmaker, Mahmoud Othman said: “If it is true, it is very dangerous and we will condemn it because how can a friend spy on you? This is unacceptable for us.”
I have news for Mr. Othman. It is unacceptable for American citizens too.
Sadly, George Bush will never be asked to explain how a friend can spy on you. He will never be asked to explain how a United States president can spy on his own citizens. The fact that he did it will simply become part of his legacy.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink
Thy spirit, Independence, let me share;
Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye,
Thy steps I follow with my bosom bare,
Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky. – Tobias George Smallett, Ode to Independence
It was quite a contrast. And that’s not to say that what Russia did was right. It’s just interesting for the outsider to contrast President George Bush’s response to events in Kosovo with his response to events in Georgia. In examining the two responses one is made aware of the fact that Soviet President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Mr. Bush’s United States have come far since George first met Vladimir and, exercising his parapsychology skills, looked into Mr. Putin’s soul and liked what he saw.
Clearly, what he saw in Mr. Putin’s soul was a reflection of his own Texas-bred cowboy mentality.
The cowboy mentality that enabled George Bush to swagger into Iraq in pursuit of an imagined adversary. Not finding the sought-after enemy, he created one remarkably similar to the one he was chasing. It was George Bush’s cowboy mentality that convinced him to place corrals – called radar installations – inside the Czech Republic and missiles inside Poland, ostensibly to protect Europe from a nuclear strike should Iran succeed in developing nuclear weapons. In the eyes of Vladimir Putin and many foreign policy mavens, the installations were meant to protect Europe from Russia.
Following Russia’s invasion of South Ossetia in support of South Ossetia’s bid for independence from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Bush sent his head wrangler, Vice President DIck Cheney – a real cowboy, come to think of it – off to Georgia to let the Russians know who was boss. Of course, that part of the world is more closely related to the Russian cowboy’s sphere of influence than the Texan’s.
During Wrangler Cheney’s visit to Georgia he not only assured the Georgian people of Mr. Bush’s support for Georgia’s insistence that the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain part of Georgia, but promised the Georgians that the U.S. would continue its support for its inclusion in NATO. Both positions were the equivalent of pushing a thumb into Putin’s eye since the Russian opposes Georgia’s entry into NATO and supports the bids of South Ossetia and Abkhazia for independence from Georgia.
What made the pronouncements even more interesting, however was that in opposing independence for the two break-away Georgian republics Cowboy George was taking a position diametrically opposed to the one he took slightly more than one year earlier.
In June 2007 Bush visited Fushe Kruje in Albania before the vote was taken on whether or not Kosovo should be independent of Serbia and become an independent country. There were pictures of a back-slapping George Bush greeting people in Albania and expressing his support for Kosovo’s bid for independence from Serbia. According to a report of his visit in the Guardian, Bush announced that he had made up his mind that Kosovo should be independent from Serbia. He let it be known that if agreement were not soon reached permitting the U.N. Security Counsel to vote on its bid for statehood, he might encourage Kosovo to declare independence. Following that, said he, the U.S. would give Kosovo diplomatic recognition. George said: “Independence is the goal. That’s what the people of Kosovo need to know. If it is apparent that is not going to happen in a relatively quick period of time, in my judgment, we need to put forward the resolution. Hence, deadline.” In a press conference in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Mr. Bush said: “Sooner rather than later you’ve got to say enough’s enough. Kosovo’s independent.”
Russia and Serbia opposed Kosovo’s bid for independence. Among other things Serbia was concerned that if Kosovo were independent Serbia would lose 15 percent of its territory. It also observed that the independence of Kosovo would create a dangerous precedent for secessionists in other places around the world…like South Osseti! Responding to Mr. Bush’s meddlesome statements Mr. Putin said Russia remained firmly opposed to Kosovo’s bid for independence. Kosovo declared its independence in May 2008. Shooting started shortly thereafter.
Now South Ossetia’s independence has been recognized by Russia and Cowboy George has responded by sending warships to unload humanitarian aid to those affected by the conflict. Watching the three cowboys one can only hope that Bush will leave the scene before he is able to sponsor a shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 2:00 PM | Permalink
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. – George Orwell, Animal Farm
Now that we’ve all gotten over our giddiness at the excitement of a former beauty queen, mayor and short-term governor as John McCain’s running mate we should put to rest any thought that this was nothing more than a spur of the moment decision by John McCain. He only selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin after careful consideration of all the possible candidates for the post.
After all, there are lots of things in Gov. Palin’s background that render her a highly qualified candidate. One that has not been extensively commented upon is her finding common cause with Canada in a fight with the United States.
In what might be perceived a disloyal act coming from a Republican, Sarah took Canada’s side with respect to the status of the polar bear as an endangered species. Neither Sarah nor Canada wants the animal’s continued existence to interfere with life as we have grown accustomed to it.
Last month, a Canadian scientific panel released an April review of the polar bear’s status within that nation and said the bear population was a matter of “special concern” but was not a population “endangered or threatened with extinction.” This finding directly contradicted last year’s U.S. Geological Survey prediction that “two thirds of the world’ polar bear population could be gone by mid-century if “predictions of melting sea ice in the Arctic hold true.” Canada is also in direct conflict with the Bush administration’s decision in May 2008 to add the polar bear to the endangered species list, a decision that was promptly attacked by Gov. Palin. Within days after the ruling was announced, Alaska began a lawsuit demanding that the decision be reversed claiming that the climate models predicting the loss of sea ice were unreliable, a position that is reinforced by Gov. Palin’s belief that global warming, if it exists at all, has nothing to do with human activity.
Explaining the reasons she opposed listing the polar bears as an endangered species, Gov. Palin said that state wildlife officials had “found no reason to list the bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act” even though three marine mammal biologists in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game agreed with the studies the federal government relied on in declaring the polar bear endangered. In addition to opposing the rule because of her flimsy understanding of science, Gov. Palin pointed out that the rule would make drilling for oil and gas more difficult.
Her approach put herself and her state squarely at odds with the Bush administration that had promulgated the new rule in May. Dirk Kempthorne, the U.S. Interior Secretary, said his decision to add the polar bear to the endangered species list was based on three findings: “First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival; second, the polar bear’s habitat has dramatically melted; third, sea ice is likely to further recede in the future.” Those comments were remarkably close to the beliefs expressed by scientists, an alignment almost unheard of in the Bush administration. Naturally, it wasn’t meant to last. Science would once again be sent to the back of the Bush Administration bus.
When the Bush administration discovered that it had come out on the side of science in connection with a sensitive subject, it quickly retreated thus lining itself up behind Gov. Palin In August, a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act was proposed was proposed. Instead of having independent scientific reviews to determine whether protected species like polar bears would “be imperiled by agency projects”, federal agencies comprising non-scientists would begin making those determinations, a conclusion reminiscent of the EPA’s decision to take issues away from scientists and place them in the hands of non-scientists. Dick Kempthorne, who so eloquently defended the May ruling, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that the new rules were simply an attempt to “provide clarity and certainty to the consultation process under the Endangered Species Act.”
Not everyone sees it that way.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said the rule gives “federal agencies an unacceptable degree of discretion to decide whether or not to comply with the Endangered Species Act.” And Bob Irvin who is senior vice president of conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife observes that most agencies do not have wildlife biologists on staff and, therefore, have no way to make qualified judgments on issues affecting wildlife.
Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serve disagrees and offers reassurance that all will be right with the endangered species. He says individual agencies will have to take responsibility if their projects do harm a protected species. “This really says to the agencies, ‘This law belongs to all of us. You’re responsible to defend it’” he explained to the Washington Post.
Those words are comforting. If the agencies err because of lack of scientific input they will be responsible for the consequences. The consequences will be extinction or reduction of the species. The agencies will almost certainly feel really bad about that.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink
Cosi Fan Tutte – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
It was a wonderful week for women and it more than made up for the fact that Hillary Clinton is neither the Democrats’ presidential nor vice-presidential candidate. Both events took place on the Republican side of the aisle. It is hard to decide which was more significant so I shall relate them chronologically.
In a brilliant move that contrasted sharply with the activities of Michelle Obama during the week of the Democratic convention, Cindy McCain, a major shareholder in a $300 million-a-year beer distributing company started by her father went off to Georgia (the one that used to be in Russia) on her first foreign policy mission. While Michelle Obama was giving her Monday night speech in the safety of Denver’s Pepsi Center, Cindy was flying to Georgia where she planned to meet with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and visit soldiers wounded in that country’s war with Russia that had ended – sort of – just a few days earlier. Although reports do not indicate what she intended to talk to Saakashvili about it is safe to say this was a diplomatic mission and that Cindy McCain assured the Georgian president that he would enjoy the same level of support from a McCain administration that it has received from the Bush administration.
For John to send Cindy off on her first diplomatic mission less than a week before the beginning of the Republican convention was a stroke of genius diverting attention, as it did, from the Democrats’ activities in Denver. Cindy said that the trip was really part of the U.N. World Food Program in which she has been active, but her plans to visit the president and wounded soldiers hints that her mission was nothing more than a cover-up for real purpose of the trip.
Indeed, Cindy told Time magazine that she had wanted to visit Georgia for some time and told the magazine that that kind of a trip is “an important part of what I’m about, what makes me tick.” As Nicolle Wallace, a McCain adviser told Time: “While she’s on the phone with the World Food Program, he’s on the phone with Saakashvili. It’s like this great picture of what they’ll be like in the White House.” I got quite a few goose bumps when I read that.
The other great news pertained to Senator McCain’s brilliant choice of a vice-presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Sarah, like Cindy, has quite a bit of foreign policy experience. She comes from Wasilla, Alaska, a town that is not much more than 1,500 miles from Russia as the crow flies. Being in such proximity to Russia has given Sarah a unique perspective and sensitivity to the relations between the United States and that country.
And Sarah is a fast learner.
Politico.com reports that as recently as a month ago Sarah told an interviewer that she didn’t know what the job of vice-president entailed. “As for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day? I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration,” Palin was quoted as saying.
Presumably she was comparing the vice president’s job to the important kinds of things she did as mayor of Wasilla, a town with a population of less than 8,000 and an annual budget of approximately $20 million. Or perhaps she was thinking of her short tenure as governor. My guess is in the interim between first hearing of the job – and its lack of productivity and becoming McCain’s running mate, Sarah had a chance to interview current Vice President Dick Cheney. In his case, he ran the country although George Bush got most of the credit, being president. Sarah no doubt understands that she’d not have quite the same authority being unable to match Dick’s knowledge of how a vice president can make government do what he wants it to do rather than what the framers intended.
Nevertheless, Sarah’s selection is a stroke of genius and provides everyone the opportunity to see the kind of leadership choices John McCain will make if elected. And Sarah will certainly attract many – if not all – of the women who were supporting Hillary Clinton. The only real differences between them, after all, are their positions on abortion, Supreme Court appointees, oil drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, gun control, the death penalty, same-sex marriage and whether to teach intelligent design in the classroom. Those differences – the two women agree on none of these issues – are insignificant given the fact that what they have in common is that they are both women.
If you don’t believe me, ask the Hillary supporters who plan to vote for John and Sarah. If you can find them.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum
And said “What a good boy am I.”
- Nursery Rhyme
One of the purposes of anti-terrorism funds is to fight terrorism. There is, of course, a lot of money available for that purpose, and sometimes it is so tempting to use it for purposes other than those prescribed by Congress, that the temptation cannot be resisted. That’s what two reports in July suggested happened with at least some of the funds. Since the diverted funds were less than $300 million they would not have been enough to make a difference in the fight against terrorism.
Most of the diverted funds went to help out George Bush’s great good friend Pervez Musharraf, who, when the money was diverted, was still the president of Pakistan. Although many terrorist groups are hiding out on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan thus making the border a logical destination for those funds, they did not head for the border. They headed for an airport. Mr. Bush decided that $230 million should not be used in the border fight between Pakistani forces and the Taliban and al-Qaida, as dictated by Congress, but should be used to pay for, among other things upgrading Pakistan’s F-16 airplanes’ radar systems. (A cynical observer might wonder whether the upgrades of the radar will permit the planes to identify NATO aircraft, a feature that was not allowed on the planes when originally sold to Pakistan.)
Congress is upset with the diversion of funds. So is India. Congress is upset because when it says funds are designated for anti-terrorism efforts it expects them to be spent for anti-terrorism efforts. India is unhappy because one of the more obvious uses for the F-16s is to fight India should war erupt between those two countries. Mr. Bush called Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, to let him know of the diversion of the anti-terrorist funds. Mr. Singh was reportedly, “disappointed.”
The other diverted anti-terrorist force funds found a use that has even less to do with fighting terrorism than the use to which Mr. Bush put his dollars. The Air Force diverted funds for the sake of comfort.
The Washington Post reports that Air Force officials have been using anti-terrorism funds to develop and install something initially called a “Senior Leader Intransit Comfort Capsule.” (The name was later changed to call the capsules “conference” capsules rather than “comfort capsules”. One officer suggested that may have been done to avoid the possibility that the word “comfort” would cause those loading the capsules to confuse the capsules with the pallets of latrines that are often loaded on military planes. It would, for obvious reasons, be disastrous if upon boarding the plane a high-ranking officer found himself seated in a latrine for a ride halfway around the world instead of the luxury capsule he had been led to believe would be his.)
The Air Force says that the new capsules are needed so that important officers can “talk, work and rest comfortably in the air.” The folks who are actually going to go into combat do not need such comfort while flying since it would simply remind them that as soon as they got off the plane and went into combat, there would be no comfort capsules to protect them.
The Air Force has been meticulous in its specifications for the capsules. The capsules must be “aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule. ” One of the ways this goal was achieved was by spending $68,240 to change the seat color and pockets in the capsule because the officers responsible for deciding on the colors concluded that the colors originally supplied were not as practical as the colors ultimately installed. The entire project is estimated to cost $7.6 million and the money has come from funds that would otherwise have been used in the anti-terrorism effort.
General Robert McMahon, who is overseeing the project, explained that he wanted to “create an environment that whoever was riding in that would be proud of”, the government would be proud of and “the people of the United States would be proud of.” He has certainly got that right. I can’t imagine anything that would make me prouder than knowing that high-ranking officers were flying in ultimate luxury. Unless it was knowing that funds were diverted from the anti-terrorism effort to give returning troops the best possible medical care. There’s no sense spending time imagining that. It won’t happen on George Bush’s watch.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 2:38 AM | Permalink
All persons born . . . in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States. . . .
- 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
August 2008 was a banner month for passports. They played a significant role in world events that garnered them rare publicity. Two of the events demonstrated how easy a government can make it to get passports and one demonstrated how difficult it can be.
In August, Russia and Georgia got into an argument over whether Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be allowed to leave Georgia and become independent or should remain part of Georgia. For the last several years Russia has been issuing passports to residents of South Ossetia, thus bestowing Russian citizenship on the holders. Thus, when invading South Ossetia, Russia was simply going to the aid of its citizens, albeit many of them Russian-come-lately. Which makes one wonder what would have happened if George Bush were clever enough to have issued passports to Iraqis prior to invading their country. He might then have announced he was simply acting to protect United States citizens.
China, too, issued passports in furtherance of national objectives. In November 2007 an Associated Press report described the success of a young girl gymnast, He Kexin. He was one of the stars at China’s Cities Games in November 2007. Xinhua, the Chinese Government’s news agency reported on her success in those games and said she was 13 years of age. Olympic rules require that for a gymnast to compete in Olympic games the gymnast must attain age 16 in the year in which the games take place. For He to leap over the years that separate 13 from 16 in a mere 9 months was a distance that not even a gymnast as accomplished as she could hope to span. The difference was bridged instead by issuing a passport. In 9 months He aged three years and her team became the first Chinese women’s team to win a gold medal in gymnastics.
Passports can, of course, be withheld in furtherance of a country’s foreign policy, as the United States demonstrates. In the passports are being used to create, not bridge, gaps. A law that goes into effect next year requires anyone crossing between the United States and Canada or Mexico to present a passport instead of a birth certificate or driver’s license. As a result the thousands who cross borders daily because of employment must now obtain passports. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that many United States citizens who were born in South Texas are having difficulty obtaining passports.
Ordinarily a passport can be obtained by furnishing the issuing authority a certified copy of a birth certificate, acceptable identification and the appropriate fee. Russia made it easy for people in South Ossetia to get passports but the U.S. State Department has made it difficult for people in South Texas to get theirs. A birth certificate is not always accepted because the State Department has learned that some people in South Texas have fake birth certificates. Those people were delivered by midwives and some of the midwives were convicted of forging birth certificates for children born not in South Texas but in Mexico. The forgeries may have affected as many as 15,000 people. Although people in South Texas can vote, become border patrol agents or president of the United States, they may not obtain passports without additional proof that they were born in the U.S.
The additional proofs include obtaining affidavits or testimony from the midwives who delivered them, assuming the midwives can be found and can remember whom they delivered dozens of years after the birth. They can produce newspaper announcements of their births or they can produce hospital records going back dozens of years to show they were treated in the hospital if, indeed, they were.
Juan Aranda is someone who has been unable to get a passport and here is what he has done. Juan submitted all the required documentation and when he was turned down sent in school records going back 38 years showing that his kindergarten records recited that his birthplace was Weslaco, Texas. He sent in a picture of his kindergarten class that included him. He sent in a baptismal certificate with a church seal reciting he was born in that town. He explained that pre-natal medical history was unavailable because his mother was too poor to have pre-natal care.
The State Department told Mr. Aranda that he hadn’t “fully complied with the request for additional information” and he should start the process to become a naturalized citizen. Instead, Mr. Aranda hired a lawyer.
If his lawyer is successful it may soon be as easy for an American citizen to get an American passport as it is for a Georgian citizen to get a Russian passport and Mr. Aranda’s success would be remembered as another example of the courts being invoked to protect the citizens of the United States from the administration of George W. Bush.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 4:00 PM | Permalink
I hate [slavery] because it deprives the republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity. – Abraham Lincoln, 1854 speech at Peoria, Illinois
It was a dreadful coincidence and no one felt sorrier for George Bush than I did. He gave a perfectly wonderful speech in Thailand and was done in by the timing. Since he made the speech the same day that the military tribunal in Guantánamo rendered its verdict in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan timing made him sound the perfect fool.
When Mr. Bush was in Thailand he thought it would be a good time to criticize China’s human rights record, which everyone agrees is terrible. The problem is that the Hamdan verdict reminded everyone that China and Mr. Bush who take pride in their respect for human rights have nothing of which to be proud.
In Guantánamo, a military tribunal convicted Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, of providing material support for terrorism. Mr. Hamdan is the first person in Guantánamo to be tried by the military commissions that were created in 2006. Mr. Hamdan was convicted on a Wednesday and the prosecution asked for a life sentence. On Thursday the commission sentenced him to more than five-and-a-half years in prison with credit for the 61 months he has already spent in prison. Within five months he will have served his sentence.
Unfortunately, that is the end of the good news for Mr. Hamdan unless something unexpected happens. That’s because at the end of the five months he will still be an unlawful combatant and that means Mr. Bush can keep him in prison as long as he wants or until the war that Mr. Bush has declared is declared over by Mr. Bush – whichever happens first
Although the trial does not by itself, do anything to hasten Mr. Hamdan’s release, it serves one useful purpose from Mr. Bush’s perspective. It enables the administration and its supporters to point out that, because the trial has been conducted, human rights are being observed and the military commissions are working in a way that proves the United States is a country that follows the rule of law. The people who believe that, of course, are the ones who invented this new justice system. The rest of the world is less credulous.
Neither the verdict or its timing inhibited the national orator. The anticipation of all the fun to be had in Beijing is one reason Mr. Bush made a really good speech in Thailand.
Mr. Bush relished the opportunity to be the first U.S. president to attend an Olympic ceremony outside the U.S. In part he viewed it as a reward for the tough time he has had during the last eight years. The opportunity came, appropriately enough, during the twilight of his perpetually dark administration. And there could hardly be a better reward for a job poorly done, than to attend the games as the leader of the entire free world (save, of course, for Guantánamo.)
It was clearly a fun time. He took his wife and one of his daughters. There were lots of good parties including a dinner for 300 people to which he and his father, former President and Ambassador to China George H.W. Bush, and other important people were invited. The younger Bush got to play a little beach volleyball with one of the very pretty bikini-clad beach volleyball players, even tapping one on the back and have his picture taken with her with their arms around each other, he wearing a cocky baseball cap and looking every bit the frat boy he was in college.
But still Mr. Bush was mindful of his responsibilities as leader of the free world and took advantage of the trip to make a verbal show of being committed to human rights.
In that speech he expressed “deep concerns” about restrictions on faith and free speech in China. He expressed concern about the detention of dissidents. The detained dissidents of which he spoke are not, of course, the detainees at Guantánamo. Those people are not called dissidents. They are called unlawful combatants. They have something in common with dissidents, however. Both dissidents and unlawful combatants are kept in jail until the country that is holding them decides, in its sole discretion, when they can be released.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped on a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece.
- Richard Eberhart, The Groundhog
Now that the Olympic games have begun, it is time to compare promise with performance.
China’s first attempt in recent memory to host the Olympic summer games was in 1993. At that time its efforts to be selected were Herculean.
The visit by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to evaluate Beijing’s bid took place in March 1993 when smog hangs heavily over the city. The authorities knew that if the committee got wind of the smog it would never select Beijing as a site for the summer games. To reduce coal smoke in the atmosphere the government cut off all heat to large areas of Beijing. Taxi drivers and peddlers with cars were advised to take a vacation so that the IOC members would not be slowed by traffic or offended by seeing people munching on food purchased from street vendors. Three hundred thirty thousand school children were enlisted to clean traffic signs. All buses and 30,000 taxicabs were required to post window-stickers supporting the city’s Olympic bid. The government reduced its surveillance of foreign reporters.
That was not all. It modeled itself after the state of Utah which two years earlier had lost out to Nagano, Japan for the 1998 winter games, Saddened by its loss to Nagano, but determined to do better when bidding for the 2002 games, Utah began wooing African IOC members by offering them and members of their families tuition and athletic training assistance in what some perceived as an attempt to get their votes when the venue for the 2002 games was determined. The effort was enhanced when 5 years later the Salt Lake City bidding committee paid some individuals $500,000 in scholarships, 6 of the recipients being relatives of IOC members. Recognizing what a good idea Utah had struck, the Chinese followed suit. They presented the IOC committee with a pair of cloisonné vases estimated to have a value of about $40,000. In addition, they gave the new Olympic museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, a terra cotta soldier from Xian for which China had earlier reportedly declined a $100 million offer.
China’s bid for the games did not succeed in 1993, but the IOC has a long memory and that may explain in part why Beijing is hosting the 2008 games.
When Beijing was awarded the games some, but not all, thought it would enhance human rights in China. In an interview with Ray Suarez on PBS’s News Hour shortly after the games were awarded, Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, was asked whether awarding the games would affect China’s human rights policy. She said there was no evidence to support that. She was right. Smog, traffic and press freedom have fared no better than human rights.
Two weeks before the games were to start, Liu Shaokun was sentenced to serve a year of “re-education through labor” because he posted pictures on the web of schools that had collapsed during the recent earthquake. He was charged with “disseminating rumours and destroying social order.” Ye Guozhu was convicted in 2004 of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” for trying to organize a group against forced evictions without just compensation in order to make way for construction in preparation for the games. His sentence served, his release was delayed until after the Olymics thus preventing him from being interviewed by visiting reporters.
Smog covered the Beijing during much of July and early August. In 2007 authorities said driving restrictions would not be needed to solve the pollution and congestion problems. July 21 marked the first workday in which car restrictions were imposed on Beijing’s residents.
The press, like driving, were restricted, contrary to earlier assurances that all would be able to operate freely. In 2001, Wang Wei, Secretary General of the Beijing Olympic Games Committee, told the IOC that the international press would have “complete freedom to report when they come to China.” Echoing those comments last month, Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president and, er, Cheer Leader-In-Chief told Agence France-Presse: “For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China.”
But on July 31 it was reported that the IOC had failed to insist on unfettered press access to the Internet. On August 2 Kevan Gosper, press commission chief of the IOC said somewhat enigmatically: “We believe we are moving to a point where you will be moving toward a point where you can report in an unfettered way.”
The games have begun, the smog’s in the heavens, the cars clog the roads, activists and the Internet are imprisoned. But in the eyes of the IOC all’s right with the world. As Mr. Rogge said on August 2: “Come the 9th of August the magic of the games and the flawless organization will take over.”
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink
If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. – Gloria Steinem, The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.
Herewith a suggestion on how to improve the South Dakota Fairy Tale that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has approved for reading to women before they undergo abortions.
The case was Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, et al vs. Mike Rounds, et al. It pertained to a piece of legislation passed by the South Dakota legislature, a mostly male body that has, until now, unsuccessfully tried to tell women what they may and may not do with their bodies. Thanks to the court it has finally succeeded.
The essence of the case was that although women may continue to get abortions in South Dakota, the physician performing the procedure is required to read aloud to the prospective mother. Under section 7 of the statute a woman is required to receive oral disclosures about the procedure she is about to undergo. Some of the information must be given orally and in writing and other information only in writing although the language of the statute can be read to require that all information must be imparted orally by the physician.
Although the prescribed reading (and writing) is not the sort of thing the mother would read aloud to the child were the child to be born, it has a certain fairy tale like quality to it. Among the things the physician is required to tell the mother is that an abortion will “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being,” that the woman has an “existing relationship with that unborn human being,” that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States constitution and under laws of South Dakota” and that “by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated.”
It is patently absurd to describe the embryo has a “whole” and a “separate” human being since whatever else it may be, it is neither whole, having many months to go before it achieves that state, nor is it “separate” since ordinarily it cannot survive outside the mother’s body at the time the abortion is performed. It is equally absurd to say that the “relationship” “enjoys protection under the United States Constitution” since it does not.
Sarah Stoesz, president of the regional Planned Parenthood office, said the statute represents an “unprecedented interference in the doctor-patient relationship and unprecedented interference in a woman’s life.” She also observed that the law is “non-science”. But as we have been taught by none other than the president of the United States and his minions at the Environmental Protection Agency that science these days is an elective subject whose proofs one may accept or reject based on one’s personal biases.
Speaking of science, we are brought to the EPA most recent pronouncement which when added to the South Dakota statute, will bring the number of abortions performed in South Dakota to zero.
The EPA issued a report on July 19 pertaining to a matter with which few people knew it was concerned. The report said the value of a human life has gone down from $8.04 million to $7.22 million. That does not mean, as the report is careful to point out, that every reader of this column is worth that amount. Some readers will be worth more and others less and most readers know to which group they belong.
There’s a reason it is important to know the value of a human life. When when you have the answer to that question you can decide whether certain governmental actions are worthwhile. If a governmental agency’s proposal determines will save 50 lives and cost $500 million, the agency determines if the proposal makes sense by multiplying 50 lives times $7.22 million. If the product is less than $500 million, the project is abandoned and if more, it may be implemented. If, in that example, 200 people were affected, then the math would justify the cost.
Now that this information is available, the South Dakota legislature should promptly amend House Bill 1166 to include a requirement that the state fairy tale be refined to add a section that will inform the woman that not only is she “terminating the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” but she is also disposing of an asset that has a scientifically established value of $7.22 million.
Armed with that scientifically correct information most women will immediately spring for the cash and abortions in South Dakota will come to an end. There will, of course, be a modicum of disappointment when the kid hits college age and the parent goes looking for that $7.22 million. They will then find, to their dismay, that the $7.22 million was, like much of the rest of the language in the South Dakota Fairy Tale, made up by ignorant busy bodies more interested in controlling women’s bodies than in educating their proprietors.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 12:31 AM | Permalink
For every time she shouted “fire!”
They only answered “Little liar!”
And therefore when her aunt returned,
Matilda and the house were burned.
- Hilaire Beloc, Matilda
At first it seems outrageous. Then the reader puts it in perspective. In a war that has cost millions of Iraqi lives and more than 4000 American lives, a handful of deaths is not that big a deal.
The most recent disclosure that 13 soldier were killed – not because of enemy fire, land mines, defective or inadequate body armor or humvees that were inadequately protected – is literally a shock since the deaths that were caused by a surge. Not the surge in troops of which George Bush was so proud. No, it was an electrical surge that was not planned and, in a well managed war, would never have happened.
The reports of the deaths were almost unnoticed and might still languish in the graveyard of Bush mistakes alongside the corpses he helped create, were it not for the death of Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth.
In January of this year Sgt. Maseth was taking a shower on his base in Baghdad and was electrocuted because of defective electrical wiring. At first the army explained to Sgt. Maseth’s mother that her son had an electrical appliance with him in the shower that caused his electrocution. That, as so much else associated with this war is, was a lie.
Maseth was electrocuted because a water pump in the building was not properly grounded and when the shower was turned on he was zapped with a powerful surge of electricity. The sergeant was not the first person to be electrocuted. According to Pentagon documents more than 12 other people have been electrocuted on U.S. bases in Iraq and many more injured by electrical shocks. In one barracks there were almost daily reports of its inhabitants receiving electrical shocks. And, in early July of this year an electrical fire resulted in the destruction of 10 buildings.
According to the New York Times an Army survey of February 2007 noted “a safety threat theater-wide created by the poor-quality electrical fixtures procured and installed, sometimes incorrectly, thus resulting in a significant number of fires.”
The first thing one is tempted to do when learning of something like this is to assume it is the fault of contractor Kellogg Brown Root. That is because KBR is the poster child for what went wrong with private contractors in Iraq. Among other things, it charged for food it did not serve the troops, it failed to build a pipeline for which it was paid $75.7 million and failed to deliver safe water for hygiene uses.
Some people may wonder how one company can get so much wrong. The answer is since the war began it has been paid more than $24 billion and has 40,000 employees in Iraq. That affords it lots of opportunity to perform incompetently and it has taken advantage of many of them. More are on the way. KBR was recently awarded a part of a $150 billion contract for restoring the oil fields in Iraq. It will develop the southern oil fields while two other companies, one of which, Parsons, which has had its own share of shoddy performance, will develop those in the northern part of the country.
It would not be fair to blame KBR for Sgt. Maseth’s death just because it was responsible for the Radwaniya Palace Complex (RPC) where he died. That is because KBR not required to act prophylactically. Reporting on the palace electrocution, CNN reported that KBR said its contract hold KBR responsible for “fixing potential hazards.” It was only required to fix things after they broke down.
KBR and the Pentagon would probably agree that a shower that electrocutes the bather is a shower that has broken down but the only way that can be discovered is after someone has been electrocuted. Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said the company found no link between its work and the electrocutions. As is sometimes the case when KBR explains what happens, not everyone agrees with its self-analysis.
Ingrid Harrison, an official with the Pentagon’s contracting management agency was quoted in the Times as saying: “KBR has been at [the palace] for over four years and was fully aware of the safety hazards, violations and concerns regarding the soldiers’ housing.” KBR, said she, “chose to ignore the known unsafe conditions.”
Electricians who were formerly employed by KBR said their repeated warnings to their superiors as well as to military personnel about unsafe electrical conditions were ignored. That probably explains why 283 electrical fires took place between August 2006 and January 2007. There should be fewer in the future. The Times notes that “senior army officials have ordered electrical inspection of all buildings in Iraq maintained by KBR. Chris Isleib, a spokesman for the Pentagon said: “We consider this to be a very serious issue.”
He got that right. KBR, as usual, got it wrong. It won’t affect its shareholders – only the soldiers who have died or been injured and the taxpayer who pays the company for its incompetence.
Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink