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18 June 2005

Have You No Decency Sirs

The results of an autopsy performed on Terri Schiavo by a medical examiner in Florida supports her husband's insistence that she had severe brain damage and had no chance of recovery. We now know that she was also blind. This is not a local-interest story pumped up by the media similar to the Lacy Peterson murder. This was a story exploited by President Bush, Governor Jeb Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for partisan politics. The facts caught up with them and they should be exposed for what they have done. Frist ignored his medical training as a physician and lied to the American people when he very publicly stated that Schiavo had not been in a vegetative state.

You might think that the Republican Party would be ashamed of their Faustian bargain with the Religious Right and their shameless attack on Schiavo’s husband. You would be wrong. Instead, Jeb Bush responded by abusing his position as Governor, asking a prosecutor Friday to investigate Schiavo’s collapse 15 years ago. The bait and switch away from the facts in the case is intended to create an image in the public consciousness that her husband was responsible for her death.

Americans that care about civil liberties should not remain silent.
Posted by PAUL at 6/18/2005 03:29:00 PM

07 June 2005

Pure as the Driven Snow

John Aravosis of AmericaBLOG, citing the New York Times, wonders why the embryo "adoption" program so beloved by George Bush and his theocratic friends gets away with readily apparent discriminatory practices.

It's disgusting that they allow anti-gay discrimination too, of course, but religious discrimination is in the civil rights act. And this is not a church, it's an adoption agency. So how do they permit discrimination? Do they permit discrimination based on race too? You know, in case I don't want any of those dark folks adopting my sperm child. And would a court of law be forced to endorse religious or race based discrimination if the adoption agency refused to follow through on the donors racist or bigoted views?

Couples adopting or donating Snowflakes embryos are mostly Christian, and most embryo donors are white, Ms. Maze said. Some families are Roman Catholic, even though the church has historically opposed in vitro fertilization....

Those conditions were fine with Bob and Angie Deacon of Virginia Beach, Va.., who donated their 13 embryos after having twins and being discouraged from another pregnancy by a doctor. "With another program, to be honest with you, they could have been adopted by lesbian parents, and I'm totally against that," said Mr. Deacon, 35.

It took two and a half years to bring themselves to fill out the papers. On their forms, they said the adopting family must be conservative Christians and, ideally, include a stay-at-home mother.

Law or no law, these people were at the White House. AT THE WHITE HOUSE, at the invitation of the president. The president wanted this to be THE MODEL for the country—religious-based (and who knows, race-based?) discrimination as the model for the entire country.

A gander at the website for Nightlight Christian Adoptions proves quite illuminating. What constitutes a Christian agency, one might ask.

As a "Christian" agency we serve families of all faiths and denominations. Our birth and genetic families have a variety of criteria that they are seeking in an adoptive family—our objective is to represent families that meet these criteria.

I love the scare quotes, in the original around Christian. Is the Christianity expressed here someone less than real? I suspect that "Christian" means more Conservative than Christian. But let us read on.

NATASHA NECHIPORENKO is Nightlight Christian Adoptions' Southern Regional Director. She works near the Dallas/Fort Worth area but travels throughout Texas, meeting with families, representing Nightlight at adoption seminars, and organizing Texas tours of children from the orphanages in Russia....

JOHN CARVER is Nightlight Christian Adoptions' East Coast Regional Representative. John lives in Maryland and is the proud father of six wonderful children, all adopted from Russia and Belarus. John represents Nightlight at adoption seminars and is always happy to meet with families who are interested in learning more about adoption.

Amazing: six children, all adopted from Russia and Belarus. And it seems that all of Nightlight's international adoptions are in three countries—China, Belarus, and Russia. I have no quarrel with anyone who wants to adopt a child from overseas, but I do wonder why both of the staff members mentioned on the website are involved personally with adoptions from Europe and not from the United States.

The sad truth about adoption in the United States is that thousands of African-American children go wanting for domestic adopting families. The Oregonian last year examined the increasing placement of African-American children to Canada and Western Europe.

Americans pay as much as $35,000 to adopt white or Chinese infants. But many African American children like Gabriel have difficulty finding permanent U.S. families at any price. Since the early 1990s, several hundred have found homes—with white parents—in Canada....

Margaret Fleming, director of a Chicago agency called Adoption-Link that specializes in African American adoptions, has placed 70 black children with white Canadians since 1993.

"There is no shortage of American families willing to adopt," she said. "There is a shortage of American families willing to adopt these kids."

There is an "adoption hierarchy," Fleming said, that is impossible to overlook. "Blond, blue-eyed girls are at the top and African American boys are at the bottom," said Fleming, who is the white mother to five adopted African American children.

And yet, it is more complicated than just that. Often it is the African American birth mothers who are deciding to send their children to grow up in Canada, the last stop on the historic Underground Railroad, and where the black population numbers 2 percent....

Steven Kirsh, an Indianapolis adoption attorney... estimates that he has placed about 100 African American babies to white clients in Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland since 1991. There is little in-country adoption in Western Europe, Kirsh said, because of liberal reproductive rights that include access to contraceptives and abortion. In addition, strong social safety nets provide child care and maternity benefits, lessening the financial burden of raising children. Most prospective adoptive parents, therefore, must turn abroad.

Most of Kirsh's adoption cases are open ones, with black birth mothers choosing to place their children overseas.

"Americans like to think our society is colorblind, but it isn't," he said. "These birth mothers feel their kids will be more accepted for who they are there, and that's a big incentive."...

[In the early 1990s in] Canada, where the wait for domestic adoptions can take years, prospective parents realized that American babies of color were available to them and began inquiring at agencies.

American adoption officials took reconnaissance trips to Vancouver and other Canadian cities, and, before long, a trickle of interest turned into a surge. Now, the United States is the sixth-largest provider of foreign-born adoptions in Canada, Canadian immigration statistics show. Since 1995, 600 U.S.-born children have been adopted by Canadians.

And this brings me to the question of why the snowflake program has that name. President Bush, in 2001, hinted at one reason in an address at the White House: "Like a snowflake, each of these embryos is unique, with the unique genetic potential of an individual human being." Indeed, the embryos are frozen, and snowflakes are intricate crystals of frozen water. But snowflakes do not grow into anything more complex; indeed, their complexity generally degrades soon after landing. Embryos, by contrast, grow more and more complex over time.

What snowflakes are is white, like the majority of patients of fertility clinics. And with the difficulty of adopting a white American baby, a "snowflake adoption" indeed gives an infertile white couple another chance at a white baby. But coded appeals to racism could never happen in America.

Even if the Snowflakes program is indeed completely pure at heart, if faces a deeper philosophical problem for its nominally conservative supporters. The basic idea behind the program is that the embryos that were frozen by fertility clinics are living things. But the Snowflakes web page itself implies that many of these embryos are no longer alive.

Nightlight has matched 230 genetic families (with 1584 embryos) with 145 adopting families. To date 81 babies have been born, and 10 adopting families are currently expecting at least 15 babies.

So, of 1584 embryos matched through the program, Nightlight has blessed the world with 96 babies, thus needlessly ending the lives of 1488 embryos that could have remained frozen until medical science improved the success rate of implanting embryos.

If life truly starts at conception, is not the Snowflakes program an abomination?

Posted by Tim W at 6/07/2005 12:35:00 AM

06 June 2005

Why Does the Islamic World Hate America?

Perhaps it's because our sainted troops, civilians, contractors, and allied despotic regimes are so good at torturing prisoners, quasi-prisoners, and crypto-prisoners. Late last month, Slate.com put together an exhasutive compendium of who authorized, perpetrated, and obfuscated the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. Its conclusion falls short of brilliance by neglecting the chonic uselessness and inhumanity of torture, but at least it acknowledges that what should be extraordinary at best has become all too ordinary.

An opposition party unafraid of its own shadow would have known what to do with what was publicly known by November 2004—even the usually wishy-washy Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom realized that a strong anti-war stance was a good political move. I hope that history will judge harshly the lack of political will in the United States to adhere to any patch of moral high ground.

The real legacy of American interrogation practices, post-9/11, is that practices and justifications that should have been reserved for the worst of the worst (assuming we could know who they are) began to be used indiscriminately. In the eyes of the government, they began to seem almost normal. The effect has been to turn America from the world's leader on many issues of international human-rights law into the world's tyrant.

Absolute rules are favored in wartime because they work. There are few slopes more slippery than that the one from small war crimes to large ones; any wartime action, however heinous, can always be justified by some perceived necessity. As one of us—Phillip Carter—writes in a longer piece on the topic in the Washington Monthly, "Once discipline is lost, it is nearly impossible to restore." Assuming that harsher interrogations can produce valuable intelligence—an open question—Congress and the president must weigh that benefit against the enormous strategic cost of operating a facility like Guantanamo.

Yet the elected branches of government have exercised almost a total lack of oversight. Nearly all the important decision-making that has led to torture took place in secret: in conversations and exchanges of documents that involved only a few civilian and military officials. Congress has not pushed to know more in any sustained or meaningful way. Lawmakers have not taken any steps to ensure, for example, that if extreme measures are to be taken, this step occurs only after the White House and the Pentagon have directly authorized it and Congress has been notified, as it is about other forms of clandestine activity. Nor has Congress asked for more transparency at the detention facilities. But for a few leaks to the press, we would never know there was a torture memo, let alone know about the links between the policies hatched in Washington and the abuses photographed in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib was bad enough. Worse yet is a political climate that has failed to register what happened there as truly outrageous.

Posted by Tim W at 6/06/2005 11:57:00 PM

04 June 2005

A Tale of Two Ombudsmen

Do not feel too badly for Daniel Okrent. As the outgoing public editor of the New York Times, he wanted to tie up some loose end. Alas, one of those loose ends was to take a lazy, petty, misinformed swipe at Paul Krugman. And if there is one thing that Paul Krugman cannot stand, it is misinformation. The Times, to its credit, has the whole embarassing mess available for all to see. Here is a choice excerpt from Krugman's summary.

To summarize: when I asked Mr. Okrent for evidence of my malfeasance, he provided one example in which his description of what I did was simply wrong, and another in which he accused me of pulling a fast one on readers, when all I did was use official data in a standard way.

In correspondence with Mr. Okrent, I pointed out that his specific attacks -- especially the blatantly wrong characterization of my 5/25/04 column -- were unfair. I asked him to do what he would have expected me to do, and admit that he had been in error. He refused.

Let me repeat that Mr. Okrent never raised these issues as public editor. He now says that he didn't because he "experienced your best-defense-is-a-good-offense approach, and found it futile to deal with it."

The British seem to have a better idea of what a public editor should be doing. Take a look, for example, at what Ian Mayes does for The Guardian in his regular column.

A report on the foreign news pages of the Guardian on January 5, headed "Seven children die in crossfire as Israelis target suspected militants", drew complaints from pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian email lobbies. The Guardian report, although not unflawed, was, in my opinion, substantially accurate and fair.

mayes goes on to describe what the paper did correctly or incorrectly, without being defensive or snarky. His columns are free of cant and interesting to read. A lesson for the Times? It helps the readers when the public editor really cares about the public and not about winning arguments with columnists.

Posted by Tim W at 6/04/2005 12:59:00 AM

What a Liberal Media

If Jeff Jacoby did not exist, it would be necessary to create him. Twice a week, Bostonians have the pleasure of discovering just how bad a conservative columnist can be and still pull down a steady paycheck for well nigh a decade. On Thursday, he complaint was the old bugaboo of the liberal media.

If nothing else, the Kerry-Stein-Alterman-Gore-Clinton complaint makes it clear that the paranoid style in American politics is alive and well. Thirty years ago, it was Richard Nixon who fumed at the media and compiled an enemies list. Today it is in the upper ranks of the Democratic Party that unflattering news coverage is blamed on "conspiracies" and subversive "fifth columns."

But there is a difference. Nixon really did a face an overwhelmingly hostile press corps. Kerry, Gore, and Clinton, by contrast, benefit from a news media that is overwhelmingly liberal, as countless surveys have shown. To cite just one: When a New York Times reporter polled journalists covering the 2004 Democratic National Convention, those from around the country favored Kerry over Bush by a ratio of 3 to 1. Among the Washington press corps, the results were even more lopsided—12 to 1 pro-Kerry.

What Kerry and the others object to is not that there are only conservative voices in media circles these days but that there are any such voices. The right-of-center Fox News cannot hold a candle to the combined left-of-center output of ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and PBS. Scaife, Bradley, and Olin money helps leverage Republican messages, but its impact is dwarfed by the Ford, Rockefeller, Pew, Heinz, MacArthur, Carnegie, and Soros fortunes. The Washington Times is conservative? Yes, but The Washington Post is liberal—and its circulation is eight times as large.

Yes, Nixon faced a hostile press, mostly because he was running a bunch of criminal operations from the White House. But the notion that the "liberal media" was in any way fair to Clinton, Gore, or Kerry is laughable. Bob Somerby has performed yeoman work over the past several years at Daily Howler examining just how lazy, illiberal, and scripted the so-called liberal media are.

A full exegesis of Jacoby's views would include a rendition of how Cathy Young managed to libel Eric Alterman on the Globe op-ed pages; the "liberal" Globe refused to give Alterman equal space.

Indeed, I sometimes wish, as a true left-winger, that the Rockefeller, Pew, Heinz, MacArthur, Carnegie, and Soros fortunes were as single-minded in their pursuit of advancing the political left as the Scaife, Bradley, and Olin Fortunes have been in advancing the political right. But I am also glad that these institutions give money to other, less political, causes as well. Take one of my children's favorite shows on PBS: "Between the Lions", a show that uses a variety of approaches to help children learn to read. George Soros, through the Institute for Civil Society, was one of the original major funders.

Particularly amazing about Jacoby's column is that he cannot reconcile his longstanding love of free markets with the fact that right-wing newspapers like the Washington Times often lose out in the actually existing market of the newsstand. Perhaps the Washington Post is simply a better paper than the Washington Times.

But someone in Jacoby's position is bound to have a skewed notion of free markets anyway. (Do David Brooks, Jeff Jacoby, Max Boot, Cathy Young, John Tierney, and George Will all owe their positions to their innate talent, or do they owe it to a liberal notion that an o-ed page is not complete without some sort of conservative voice?) As someone added to the staff to add "balance" to the op-ed page, Jacoby is insulated from the vagaries of the market—surely conservatives in Boston cannot see Jacoby as their best or brightest.

In a better world, the Globe would take inspiration from Paul Krugman's work in the New York Times and find some smart academics to grace its pages. Noam Chomsky and Harvey Mansfield might not be available, but I might start with them.

Posted by Tim W at 6/04/2005 12:30:00 AM

Slow On the Uptake

The Boston Globe is finally starting to get it. Friday's paper had, on the front page, the headline, "Adviser says governor faked stance on abortion: Asserts Romney not 'pro-choice'". But why did it take the Globe so long to discover what sane denizens of this state already knew: that Romney is a fraud. (And while you are checking out the compendium of information on Willard Mitt, please take a moment to gently ask Ben to start posting again.)

Posted by Tim W at 6/04/2005 12:24:00 AM

For Our Next Trick

How did we know to reprint an excerpt from All the President's Men on 24 May, only a few days before Mark Felt revealed that he was "Deep Throat"?

That would be telling.

No, it was just happenstance.

David Brancaccio of the excellent "Now" program on PBS made a superb observation about Mark Felt and the Nixon and Bush administrations. Felt was convicted of illegally authorizing "black bag jobs"—secret searches—against friends of the Weather Underground movement. Ronald Reagan pardoned him, and in doing so praised his motivation in fighting terrorism. Under current federal law, Felt could conduct these searches in two ways. He could get authorization for some searches, which would be forever secret, from a special secret court charged with a purview against terrorism. Or he could obtain a court order for a "sneak and peek" warrant from a variety of courts for a variety of reasons. A sneak and peek warrant is also secret, but not forever. Despite their rhetorical insistence on small government, the soi-disant conservatives in Washington have been enablers for a more powerful state than ever.

Posted by Tim W at 6/04/2005 12:09:00 AM

03 June 2005

The Difference Between Neoliberals and Neoconservatives

In Britain, the Left is understandably frustrated with the continued electoral, if not moral, success of New Labour and its increasingly neoliberal view of the world. But today's newspapers show that even in the Blair administration, shards of humanity and decency can still glint in the sun.

Gordon Brown, chancellor to the Treasury in Tony Blair's cabinet, called for a massive financial aid scheme for most African countries. Surely the neoliberals view this as a productive and potentially lucrative investment. But it still is a worthwhile undertaking.

Gordon Brown today called for a "modern Marshall Plan" for Africa that would include 100% debt relief and an international finance facility for immunisation.

Speaking in Edinburgh, the chancellor outlined his ambitious development plans in advance of a meeting of finance ministers from the G8 industrial countries in London next week, which precedes the summit in Gleneagles, Scotland in July.

"Our proposal is that the debt relief of as much as 100% on bilateral debts owed by the poorest countries is now matched by as much as 100% relief on multilateral debts owed by the poorest countries," Mr Brown said.

And what has been the neoconservative response of George Bush to this ambitious plan?

Britain, however, faces an uphill task in persuading the US to back its plans. President George Bush yesterday reiterated his opposition to a British plan to create an international finance facility (IFF) to boost foreign aid for Africa.

The president said the IFF did not fit in with the US budgetary process, referring to limitations on Congress entering into long-term financial commitments. US officials have rejected British arguments to make an exception for African aid. Mr Bush also signalled that he believed the leadership of the G8 countries was already moving in the right direction on African aid and the policy did not need overhauling at Gleneagles.

There has never been a budgetary limitation to throwing hundreds of billions of dollars into an unnecessary, deadly, and unending war in Iraq; to slashing taxes on the salaries, dividends, and stock market profits of the American affluent; or to spending billions of dollars on a rudimentary and buggy missile defense system. But there has been a persistent tendency in Washington to neglect the needs of Africa, whether those needs include debt relief, AIDS funding, or even attention to the horrible situation in Darfur.

At least in Britain, the sorry gentlemen who got the country into a horrible war seem to be trying to do the right thing, at least some of the time.

Posted by Tim W at 6/03/2005 11:50:00 PM

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