The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, March 25, 2005

DU: Republicans' Schiavo Scheme Flopping, But Dangers to Democracy Remain

The Commons

Republicans' Schiavo Scheme Flopping, But Dangers to Democracy Remain

March 25, 2005
By Carolyn Winter and Roger Bybee

What better moment to appease the fundamentalist Right than a miraculous midnight maneuver by Congress and President Bush on Palm Sunday to resurrect Terri Schiavo?

The timing could not have been more melodramatic, but the cynical spectacular produced by "Culture of Life" high priests Tom DeLay and George W. Bush is not getting the raves that were anticipated. Polling by Pew Research shows Americans opposed to the Congressional incursion on the courts by a 2-1 margin, hardly the result sought by the Right.

Tom DeLay literally saw the Schiavo case as a gift from God just at a moment when the backlash against DeLay's ethical lapses and heavy-handed domination of the House is growing.

"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," Mr. DeLay informed a Family Research Council event. "This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others," he thundered.

Meanwhile, a memo by Republican strategists displayed the chillingly partisan motives behind the Republicans' sudden abandonment of states' rights, embrace of federal power, and prayers for long-hated "judicial activism."

"This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," the memo gloated, later causing red faces on the Right when it got leaked to the media.

But the Republicans' momentary setbacks in public opinion and from federal appeals courts should not deflect our attention from the context of the rightist attempt to trample the separation of powers. The Republicans' continuing campaign to construct a one-party state - with only a façade of democracy - is by far the most troubling political aspect of the Schiavo drama.

Following the Medicare drug bill last year, the Palm Sunday farce marked the second time that momentous matters were decided by Congress in the middle of the night with little time for preparation, opportunistic bending of rules, and with maximum emphasis on rightist ideology (and/or theology.) The rules in Congress are increasingly being used by Republicans to undermine any voice for the minority party and any respect for due process.

According to a Boston Globe study, about 85% of House bills in the last session were handled under "emergency" rules that allowed the Republican majority to prohibit the Democrats from putting forth amendments, and thus sparing GOP congressmen from votes that would have clarified their loyalties to corporate donors.

However, the Democrats moan and groan surprisingly little, and basically acquiesce to a situation becoming closer to a one-party state than perhaps at any time in our history. Limits on class-action suits, a major defeat for consumer rights, were passed with considerable Democratic support. Even the many questions still surrounding the legitimacy of vote-counting in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections are rarely raised by mainstream Democratic leaders.

Without loud and consistent Democratic dissent, the Right feels free to stage new incursions on democratic rule. How can the Senate credibly vote to invalidate the Florida courts with only three senators present? If Bush and the forces of the Right continue to appoint extremely ideological federal judges, does every case wind up being appealed endlessly until it can be conclusively decided by an ideologically conservative judge? As of now, more than 20 judges have heard this case. Will it only end when one judge finally issues a ruling acceptable to the Right?

Where are all the constitutionalists who are devoted to the separation of powers and celebrate local control? One Republican leader declared that the constitutional basis of the Schiavo case was the guarantee of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" unless there has been "due process." Yet only a few Democrats have stood up and pointed out that this is exactly what has happened in the last seven years in the Florida courts.

What is truly amazing has been how little effort has been expended by the major media (especially cable TV news) to create a realistic context for this discussion. One would think from much of the coverage that the Schiavo case was unique and that other similar circumstances were not happening many times a day around this country. What would happen to the health care system of this country if every similar case was artificially supported for over 15 years?

As Daniel Schorr noted on NPR, Terri Schiavo is being supported by Medicaid and the award from a malpractice suit. Both sources of support are under fierce attack by the very same people who are so adamant about keeping Ms. Schiavo alive. So what about the right of poor people for dialysis or other necessary treatments that they can't afford?

Most of us who feel that Ms. Schiavo should be allowed to die with dignity would not be troubled if the courts had ruled against that position. But what is making us lose sleep is the loss of checks to the growing power of the right wing in this country. As the polls have shown, this is not the will of the people, as an overwhelming majority agree with the courts. So how does Congress justify overturning the state courts, including the Florida Supreme Court, and placing this case in the federal courts that the right-wing is doing its best to completely control?

The major media played totally into the hands of the Right by not representing any of the complexities of the case, e.g., probably a quarter of a million people per year have similar or related decisions made to limit artificial life support. What about them? The media let the Republicans totally frame the issues and filled almost all the talking-head slots with ardent right-wingers. The Democrats acquiesced by going on the defensive. Very little consistent attention is being paid to the validity of Congress intervening in this issue, especially in the middle of the night and with a disproportionate number of Republicans voting and using rules for non-controversial issues in the Senate.

Further, cable news in particular uncritically handled the Schindler family's understandable but clearly incorrect beliefs about the possibility of Ms. Schiavo's improvement. Their claims were run uncontested, often as if there were competing, equally valid medical opinions regarding Ms. Schiavo's condition by the medical experts who had actually examined her. To back up this view, the media offered a handful of doctors who support Right ideology, like Sen. Bill Frist who felt qualified to offer a cheery prognosis based on a five-year-old video. "We're making a decision to pull a tube this week without a clear-cut diagnosis, or what in my mind was a clear-cut diagnosis," Frist proclaimed like a faith healer with remarkable powers to treat patients from afar.

From time to time, the media occasionally balanced their coverage with mainstream doctors who all gave similar assessments that Ms. Schiavo could not hope to advance from her current "persistent vegetative state."

Yet, a minute later, news shows would have the Schindler family and their supporters back again to maintain that she was actually responsive and showed emotion. A video made by the Schindler family and edited to convey an impression of potential vitality was incessantly aired. While the medical community seems overwhelmingly convinced about the utter incapacity of Ms. Schiavo to improve, this fact was buried under a shrill, frantic chorus of contentions that with therapy she can improve and might even be able to talk.

The media also did a very poor job of contrasting the consequences of keeping people semi-comatose alive while $15 billion in funds for Medicaid and other health programs is set for slashing by Tom DeLay and Co. Little mention was made of the annual death toll stemming from lack of health insurance, estimated at 18,000 Americans per year by the Institute of Medicine.

Thus far, the major media responded to the issue as framed in the Republican playbook, and largely neglected such thorny issues as the ability of technology to prolong life, sometimes indefinitely, after the quality of life is gone.

Despite the deplorable, emotion-drenched and fact-deprived media coverage, the vast majority of Americans concluded, apparently from their own family experiences, that Congress has no place intruding from long distance into intimate, anguished life-and-death decisions. For progressives, the wisdom of ordinary Americans in the face of this propaganda barrage ought to be encouraging.

At the same time, the Schiavo case should urgently remind us of that the Right is still intent on tearing down fundamental pillars of democracy.

Bob Herbert - The Era of Exploitation

March 25, 2005
The Era of Exploitation

ongress is in recess and the press has gone berserk over the Terri Schiavo case. So very little attention is being paid to pending budget proposals that are scandalously unfair, but that pretty accurately reflect the kind of country the U.S. has become.

President Bush believes in an "ownership" society, which means that except for the wealthy, you're on your own. The president's budget would cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps, education, transportation, health care for veterans, law enforcement, medical research and safety inspections for food and drugs. And, of course, it contains big new tax cuts for the wealthy.

These are the new American priorities. Republicans will tell you they were ratified in the last presidential election. We may be locked in a long and costly war, and federal deficits may be spiraling toward the moon, but the era of shared sacrifices is over. This is the era of entrenched exploitation. All sacrifices will be made by working people and the poor, and the vast bulk of the benefits will accrue to the rich.

F.D.R. would have stared slack-jawed at this madness. Even his grand Social Security edifice is under assault by the vandals of the G.O.P.

While the press and the public are distracted by one sensational news story after another - Terri Schiavo, Michael Jackson, steroids in baseball, etc. - the president and his party have continued their extraordinary campaign to undermine the programs that were designed to fend off destitution and provide a reasonable foundation of economic security for those not blessed with great wealth.

President Bush has proposed more than $200 billion worth of cuts in domestic discretionary programs over the next five years, and cuts of $26 billion in entitlement programs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzed the president's proposal, said:

"Figures in the budget show that child-care assistance would be ended for 300,000 low-income children by 2009. The food stamp cut would terminate food stamp aid for approximately 300,000 low-income people, most of whom are low-income working families with children. Reduced Medicaid funding most certainly would cause many states to cut their Medicaid programs, increasing the ranks of the uninsured."

Education funding would be cut beginning next year, and the cuts would grow larger in succeeding years. Food assistance for pregnant women, infants and children would be cut. Funding for H.I.V. and AIDS treatment would be cut by more than half a billion dollars over five years. Support for environmental protection programs would be sharply curtailed. And so on.

Conservatives insist the cuts are necessary to get the roaring federal budget deficit under control. But they have trouble keeping a straight face when they tell that story. Laden with tax cuts, the president's proposal will result in an increase, not a decrease, in the deficit. Shared sacrifice is anathema to the big-money crowd.

The House has passed a budget that is similar to the president's, except it contains even deeper cuts in programs that affect the poor. In the Senate, a handful of Republicans balked at the cuts proposed for Medicaid. Casting their votes with the Democrats, they were able to eliminate the cuts from the Senate budget proposal. The Senate also added $5.4 billion in education funding for 2006.

All the budgets contain more than $100 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, which makes a mockery of the G.O.P.'s budget-balancing rhetoric. When Congress returns from its Easter recess, the Republican leadership will try to reconcile the differences in the various proposals. Whatever happens will be bad news for ordinary Americans. Big cuts are coming.

The advances in areas like education, antipoverty programs, health services, environmental protection and food safety were achieved after struggles that, in some cases, took many decades. To slide backward now (hurting millions of people in the process) because of a desire to siphon funds from those programs and hand them over as tax cuts to the wealthiest members of our society, is obscene.

This is not a huge national story. It's just the way things are. It was Herbert Hoover who said: "You know, the only trouble with capitalism is capitalists. They're too damn greedy."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Colin Powell's Tell-All Book: Steroid Use Rampant in the White House

More Satire From The Onion:

WASHINGTON, DC—Top Cabinet officials are up in arms about the allegations of widespread steroid use made by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in his new political tell-all Pumped: Living Fast, Loose, And On The Juice During My Tumultuous DC Days—And Nights.

"I'm gonna get it from all sides for violating the code of silence in the Players Wing," Powell wrote in the book's introduction. "A lot of people out there don't want to know why a politician suddenly gets big. Well, I hate to break it to you, but it ain't always through able policy-drafting."

In the book, Powell paints a picture of a commander-in-chief who not only permitted, but encouraged the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and an attorney general whose buttocks were knotted with gristle from daily injections of equine growth serum.

Powell neither denies nor goes into great detail about his own steroid use.

"I won't deny that I tried it—the stuff was everywhere, especially during the early days," one passage reads. "But I was blessed with certain natural gifts that, combined with my extensive military training, made steroid use largely unnecessary for me."

Powell alleges that during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, 80 percent of Bush's Cabinet was abusing steroids.

"The signs were right there, if anyone had cared to pay attention," Powell said. "The bursts of foul-mouthed rage from Cheney... The sudden emergence of Donald Rumsfeld as a major-league heavy hitter in Defense... And how anyone overlooked Condi's pop-eyed, clench-jawed grimace, I'll never know. She was shooting up with synthetic testosterone every six hours—more on Cabinet-meeting days."

Powell argues that tremendous pressure to perform is at the root of steroid abuse among Washington insiders.

"Say you're a politician who's a success in your home state," Powell wrote. "You run for Senate. Bang! Suddenly you're in Washington, mixing it up in the big leagues, and let me tell you, it's a whole different world. You have to hustle harder and work longer just to keep up. You wanna be at the top of the heap? Well, we're all the best of the best and we're all putting in 110 percent every day. A lot of guys will do anything to get a Washington Post headline, and yeah, that includes juicing."

Powell said the pressure gets worse as politicians move up the ladder.

"All eyes are on you—PAC lobbyists are turning up the heat, millions of faithful constituents are watching C-SPAN," Powell wrote. "Take a Cabinet appointee, someone who hasn't even worked his way up through the ranks. Ashcroft, say. The pressure's 10 times worse on a poor sucker like him. If he doesn't swing for the fences, he's failed at the biggest game there is, and there's no such thing as lateral movement in Govvy Town. You're out. Some guys, guys who have been at the top their entire lives, can't take the idea of failure."

According to Powell, White House officials wouldn't abuse politics-enhancing substances if the people in charge didn't push them to do so.

"Okay, I'm gonna come right out and say it," Powell said. "The Big Guy's the one running the show, right from the Oval Office. Let's say your provisions to the Patriot Act are striking out, or you put your foot in your mouth at a press conference. You can expect a little visit. Not the Big Guy himself, but someone will drop by for a little chat. He'll hint that maybe you could add a step, get a little quicker, gain a little more power if you had some of Karl Rove's candy. Oh, Number One's too smart to get caught with it himself, but as sure as I'm standing here, he knows where it is and who's taking it. You better believe it."

Above: A 2002 White House photo that might indicate Powell's steroid-related claims are true.
Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC show Hardball, argued that Powell's omissions tell more than his disclosures.

"Well, it's an interesting glimpse inside the clubhouse," Matthews said. "But I don't think Powell's telling us everything he knows. All this about steroid abuse—a thing he denied until he had a six-figure book contract—and nothing about the parties, the recreational drugs, the legions of groupies? Sounds to me like Powell's choosing the one area where he was a choirboy and letting everyone else twist in the wind."

As to whether his former boss used performance enhancers, Powell offered a number of questions.

"Well, I'll let you decide," Powell wrote. "But you might want to ask yourself how a career-Republican bench-warmer found the weight and power to beat a giant like McCain in the '99 primaries. And then you might want to think about why his neck has bulled out so much in the past five years. Listen, I respect the man's abilities, but come on. Put two and two together, America."

EPA To Drop 'E,' 'P' From Name

Satire from The Onion

EPA To Drop 'E,' 'P' From Name

WASHINGTON, DC—Days after unveiling new power-plant pollution regulations that rely on an industry-favored market-trading approach to cutting mercury emissions, EPA Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that the agency will remove the "E" and "P" from its name. "We're not really 'environmental' anymore, and we certainly aren't 'protecting' anything," Johnson said. "'The Agency' is a name that reflects our current agenda and encapsulates our new function as a government-funded body devoted to handling documents, scheduling meetings, and fielding phone calls." The change comes on the heels of the Department of Health and Human Services' January decision to shorten its name to the Department of Services.

Maureen Dowd - DeLay, Deny and Demagogue

March 24, 2005
DeLay, Deny and Demagogue

Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy.

Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government, and are the Democrats so emasculated about not having any power, that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church?

The more dogma-driven activists, self-perpetuating pols and ratings-crazed broadcast media prattle about "faith," the less we honor the credo that a person's relationship with God should remain a private matter.

As the Bush White House desperately maneuvers in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately maneuvers here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the government should be run.

Maybe President Bush should spend less time preaching about spreading democracy around the world and more time worrying about our deteriorating democracy.

Even some Republicans seemed appalled at this latest illustration of Nietzsche's observation that "morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose."

As Christopher Shays, one of five House Republicans who voted against the bill to allow the Terri Schiavo case to be snatched from Florida state jurisdiction and moved to federal court, put it: "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote."

A CBS News poll yesterday found that 82 percent of the public was opposed to Congress and the president intervening in this case; 74 percent thought it was all about politics.

The president, who couldn't be dragged outdoors to talk about the more than a hundred thousand people who died in the horrific tsunami, was willing to be dragged out of bed to sign a bill about one woman his base had fixated on. But with the new polls, the White House seemed to shrink back a bit.

The scene on Capitol Hill this past week has been almost as absurdly macabre as the movie "Weekend at Bernie's," with Tom DeLay and Bill Frist propping up between them this poor woman in a vegetative state to indulge their own political agendas. Mr. DeLay, the poster child for ethical abuse, wanted to show that he is still a favorite of conservatives. Dr. Frist thinks he can ace out Jeb Bush to be 44, even though he has become a laughingstock by trying to rediagnose Ms. Schiavo's condition by video.

As one disgusted Times reader suggested in an e-mail: "Americans ought to send Bill Frist their requests: 'Dear Dr. Frist: Please watch the enclosed video and tell us if that mole on my mother's cheek is cancer. Does she need surgery?'"

Jeb, keeping up with the '08 competition, vainly tried to get Florida to declare Ms. Schiavo a ward of the state.

Republicans easily abandon their cherished principles of individual privacy and states rights when their personal ambitions come into play. The first time they snatched a case out of a Florida state court to give to a federal court, it was Bush v. Gore. This time, it's Bush v. Constitution.

While Senate Democrats like Hillary Clinton, who are trying to curry favor with red staters, meekly allowed the shameful legislation to be enacted, at least some Floridian House members decided to put up a fight, though they knew they couldn't win.

The president and his ideological partners don't believe in separation of powers. They just believe in their own power. First they tried to circumvent the Florida courts; now they're trying to pack the federal bench with conservatives and even blow up the filibuster rule. But they may yet learn a lesson on checks and balances, as the federal courts rebuffed them in the Schiavo case.

Mr. DeLay moved yesterday to file a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court asking that Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube be restored while the federal court is deciding what to do. But as he exploits this one sad case, Mr. DeLay has voted to slash Medicaid by $15 billion, denying money to care for poor people in nursing homes, some on feeding tubes.

Mr. DeLay made his personal stake clear at a conference last Friday organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. He said that God had brought Terri Schiavo's struggle to the forefront "to help elevate the visibility of what's going on in America." He defined that as "attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."

So it's not about her crisis at all. It's about his crisis.


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Frank Rich - The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay

March 27, 2005
The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay

AS Congress and the president scurried to play God in the lives of Terri Schiavo and her family last weekend, ABC kicked off Holy Week with its perennial ritual: a rebroadcast of the 1956 Hollywood blockbuster, "The Ten Commandments."

Cecil B. DeMille's epic is known for the parting of its Technicolor Red Sea, for the religiosity of its dialogue (Anne Baxter's Nefretiri to Charlton Heston's Moses: "You can worship any God you like as long as I can worship you.") and for a Golden Calf scene that DeMille himself described as "an orgy Sunday-school children can watch." But this year the lovable old war horse has a relevance that transcends camp. At a time when government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma, the half-forgotten show business history of "The Ten Commandments" provides a telling back story.

As DeMille readied his costly Paramount production for release a half-century ago, he seized on an ingenious publicity scheme. In partnership with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nationwide association of civic-minded clubs founded by theater owners, he sponsored the construction of several thousand Ten Commandments monuments throughout the country to hype his product. The Pharaoh himself - that would be Yul Brynner - participated in the gala unveiling of the Milwaukee slab. Heston did the same in North Dakota. Bizarrely enough, all these years later, it is another of these DeMille-inspired granite monuments, on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin, that is a focus of the Ten Commandments case that the United States Supreme Court heard this month.

We must wait for the court's ruling on whether the relics of a Hollywood relic breach the separation of church and state. Either way, it's clear that one principle, so firmly upheld by DeMille, has remained inviolate no matter what the courts have to say: American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends. While sometimes God racketeers are guilty of the relatively minor sin of bad taste - witness the crucifixion-nail jewelry licensed by Mel Gibson - sometimes we get the demagoguery of Father Coughlin or the big-time cons of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

The religio-hucksterism surrounding the Schiavo case makes DeMille's Hollywood crusades look like amateur night. This circus is the latest and most egregious in a series of cultural shocks that have followed Election Day 2004, when a fateful exit poll question on "moral values" ignited a take-no-prisoners political grab by moral zealots. During the commercial interruptions on "The Ten Commandments" last weekend, viewers could surf over to the cable news networks and find a Bible-thumping show as only Washington could conceive it. Congress was floating such scenarios as staging a meeting in Ms. Schiavo's hospital room or, alternatively, subpoenaing her, her husband and her doctors to a hearing in Washington. All in the name of faith.

Like many Americans, I suspect, I tried to picture how I would have reacted if a bunch of smarmy, camera-seeking politicians came anywhere near a hospital room where my own relative was hooked up to life support. I imagined summoning the Clint Eastwood of "Dirty Harry," not "Million Dollar Baby." But before my fantasy could get very far, star politicians with the most to gain from playing the God card started hatching stunts whose extravagant shamelessness could upstage any humble reverie of my own.

Senator Bill Frist, the Harvard-educated heart surgeon with presidential aspirations, announced that watching videos of Ms. Schiavo had persuaded him that her doctors in Florida were mistaken about her vegetative state - a remarkable diagnosis given that he had not only failed to examine the patient ostensibly under his care but has no expertise in the medical specialty, neurology, relevant to her case. No less audacious was Tom DeLay, last seen on "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago deflecting Lesley Stahl's questions about his proximity to allegedly criminal fund-raising by saying he would talk only about children stranded by the tsunami. Those kids were quickly forgotten as he hitched his own political rehabilitation to a brain-damaged patient's feeding tube. Adopting a prayerful tone, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex., took it upon himself to instruct "millions of people praying around the world this Palm Sunday weekend" to "not be afraid."

The president was not about to be outpreached by these saps. The same Mr. Bush who couldn't be bothered to interrupt his vacation during the darkening summer of 2001, not even when he received a briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington to sign Congress's Schiavo bill into law. The bill could have been flown to him in Texas, but his ceremonial arrival and departure by helicopter on the White House lawn allowed him to showboat as if he had just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Within hours he turned Ms. Schiavo into a slick applause line at a Social Security rally. "It is wise to always err on the side of life," he said, wisdom that apparently had not occurred to him in 1999, when he mocked the failed pleas for clemency of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again Texas death-row inmate, in a magazine interview with Tucker Carlson.

These theatrics were foretold. Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo's) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the "Left Behind" books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, "Revelations," being sold with the slogan "The End is Near."

All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)

That bullying, stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning "the E word," evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it's no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old "religious rights" unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as "the central, unifying principle of biology." Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like "Galápagos" or "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don't give equal time to creationism.

James Cameron, producer of "Volcanoes" (and, more famously, the director of "Titanic"), called this development "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science." Faith-based science has in turn begat faith-based medicine that impedes stem-cell research, not to mention faith-based abstinence-only health policy that impedes the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and diseases like AIDS.

Faith-based news is not far behind. Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, has been canonized by virtually every American news organization as God's messenger because she inspired Mr. Nichols to surrender by talking about her faith and reading him a chapter from Rick Warren's best seller, "The Purpose-Driven Life." But if she's speaking for God, what does that make Dennis Rader, the church council president arrested in Wichita's B.T.K. serial killer case? Was God instructing Terry Ratzmann, the devoted member of the Living Church of God who this month murdered his pastor, an elderly man, two teenagers and two others before killing himself at a weekly church service in Wisconsin? The religious elements of these stories, including the role played by the end-of-times fatalism of Mr. Ratzmann's church, are left largely unexamined by the same news outlets that serve up Ashley Smith's tale as an inspirational parable for profit.

Next to what's happening now, official displays of DeMille's old Ten Commandments monuments seem an innocuous encroachment of religion into public life. It is a full-scale jihad that our government signed onto last weekend, and what's most scary about it is how little was heard from the political opposition. The Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe pointed out this week that even Joe McCarthy did not go so far as this Congress and president did in conspiring to "try to undo the processes of a state court." But faced with McCarthyism in God's name, most Democratic leaders went into hiding and stayed silent. Prayers are no more likely to revive their spines than poor Terri Schiavo's brain.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Midnight Coup

The Midnight Coup
The Midnight Coup

Republican leaders, eyeing an opportunity to appease their radical right-wing constituents, convened Congress over the weekend to shamelessly interject the federal government into the wrenching Schiavo family dispute. They brushed aside our federalist system of government, which assigns the resolution of such disputes to state law, and state judges. Even President Bush flew back from his ranch to Washington on Sunday to be in on what amounts to a constitutional coup d'etat.

Conservatives are the historical defenders of states' rights, and the supposed proponents of keeping big government out of people's lives, but this case once again shows that some social conservatives are happy to see the federal government acquire Stalinist proportions when imposing their morality on the rest of the country. So breathtaking was this attempted usurpation of power, wresting jurisdiction over a right-to-die case away from Florida's judiciary, that Republican leaders in the end had to agree to limit this legislation's applicability to the Schiavo case.

In other words, according to the bill passed by the Senate Sunday afternoon, and which the House passed after midnight, among all the cases of patients in a persistent vegetative state nationwide, Terri Schiavo's case is the only one in which parents are able to have a federal court review state court rulings on the fate of their loved one.

Last Friday, after years of litigation and medical evaluations, the Florida judge presiding over the case ordered the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, pursuant to her husband's wishes.

House and Senate committees outrageously tried to intervene then by issuing subpoenas to the Schiavos and Terri's doctors, and by asking federal courts to order the feeding tube reinstated. But since this was not a case within federal jurisdiction, their efforts failed. Hence the effort to wrest jurisdiction the old-fashioned way, by passing a law.

Congress does act in other extraordinary cases on behalf of a specific individual, such as when it grants someone U.S. citizenship. But here, Congress is breaking new ground, trying to overturn a judicial decision by altering the Constitution's federalist scheme. This is the family law equivalent of the constitutionally banned "bill of attainder," legislation that seeks to convict someone of a crime.

Lost in all the political and legal maneuvering is the gut-wrenching conundrum of removing life support from a patient like Schiavo.

Bedridden for 15 years since she was resuscitated after she stopped breathing, Schiavo now breathes but is incapable of communicating or eating or drinking on her own. Her persistent vegetative state puts one in mind of the final stages of Alzheimer's disease, except that it can last for decades. Whether she can experience the simplest emotion is now the purview of politics, not medicine.

Schiavo's parents stand on one side of the gulf, demanding that she be kept alive by a tube that puts nourishment directly into her stomach. Her husband, whose motives the parents question constantly, says she would not have wanted to live in this dark twilight between physical life and humanity.

In law, a spouse's decisions about care of a mentally incompetent patient have long trumped parents'.

The praying, chanting protesters outside the Florida hospital where this drama plays out are a hint that this is the new front in what began as the abortion war, an effort to translate religious dogma into law under the right-to-life banner.

The feeding tube removed Friday at the order of a Florida state judge is not high medical technology. There are some people, children and adults alike, who may live nearly ordinary lives despite being forced to feed themselves or be fed through a tube because of other medical conditions. The line on removing such a tube is not as bright as removing a patient clearly at the end of life from artificial breathing or a heart machine. Ethical questions surrounding a case like Schiavo's are blurry and difficult, evidenced by the years of waiting and hoping for a miracle that have passed since she collapsed.

This case, headed like a bullet to the Supreme Court, must have most of the justices wishing for a Kevlar vest. The case is a marker for other battles — about medical assistance in ending a terminally ill life, as in the much-fought Oregon law and a similar proposal working its way through the California Legislature. About the rights of gay couples to assume spousal rights in medical decisions. Most painfully, about abortion.

Federal judges, regarded with contempt by moral conservatives on other issues, are being dragged into another swamp. No decision they make in the Schiavo case and those certain to follow can be the right one.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Daily Kos :: American Body Politic on Life Support

Daily Kos :: American Body Politic on Life Support
"American Body Politic on Life Support
by gnat

Mon Mar 21st, 2005 at 16:13:07 PST

Dear Citizen,

We're not sure yet exactly when it happened, but sometime over the last five years the American body politic fell into a deep coma. And she has remained that way ever since, given only a feeding tube of manufactured, mainstream television "news."

The coma may have first happened in Florida in November of 2000, when she developed a terminal case of dimpled and hanging chads on her body. Despite the systematic purging of black Democratic votes from voter rolls, and the fact that the Florida Supreme Court wanted the vote to be recounted, the US Supreme Court stepped in and demanded that keys to the White House be handed to Jeb's brother, also known as George the First's son, ASAP. This may have been the moment the body politic's coma became irreversible; it was certainly the moment Al Gore stopped shaving.

But then the body politic suffered another, possibly fatal blow: fed on a diet of mainstream news, she was unprepared for the double-whammy of 9/11 and state-sponsored propaganda. Her system was virtually totally shut down by the War on Terror: it immunized her from reality, and she sunk into a deep nether-consciousness of smoking out holes for evildoers. The result was her health, civil liberties, and bullshit detector, were all under severe attack. So when the threat of Iraqi WMD, mushroom clouds, and yellow cake were finally and unequivocally shown to be lies, it was too late to save her.

The truth, like the long-term pre-9/11 plans of the PNAC, or the torture in one of Saddam's old prisons, seemed not so much as to stir her. But still certain doctors (a certain Dr. Dean among them) were hopeful the upcoming election might turn things around.

Alas, it was no to be. Since she knew nothing about Diebold's midterm victories in Georgia, or about the Rovian tricks of forged memos, she fell hook-line-and-sinker for the Swift Boat Veterans for Lies. And the economy, real security, the failure to catch OBL: though the official explanation of 9/11 was full of holes, though the entire world had turned against her leader, she was too far gone to rise from her vegetative state. And then came Ohio. Ohio was the moment that if her feeding tube had been hooked up to the streets of Kiev, the office of Conyers or to the blogosphere, she might have roused at last. But she was kept ignorant, and the Ukrainians were too preoccupied to savor the irony.

Thus, despite the best efforts of Boxer and others, she was officially recognized as comatose in early January of 2005. Since then, the signs for her recovery have been really, really bad. In a short few months, the situation in Iraq has been sold as a victory, despite all evidence to the contrary, Gonzales has been allowed to experiment on her, and Rice has been tapped to represent her. And Bolton will be arriving soon to make the world more sympathetic to her plight. That should be rich.

Meanwhile, her astronomical hospital debts are growing beyond control. Her Social Security has been threatened, her chance to get through bankruptcy from severe medical emergency ruined, her currency has fallen, and her leaders may ask her to support another war.

There is hope however: hope that the plug of her television will be pulled, and she will come back to life against all odds. But, the signs are not good. So hope is dim at best.

Given her steady diet of trivial, sensationalistic "news" items to distract her from what's really going on; given weak and often spineless leaders to stand up for her; there is not much hope.

Much as some of us would like to pull the plug, there are powerful interests who do not want her to get the sustenance of real news or debate or even thought: who fear her more in life than they do in her current lifelessness. "

Juan Cole - The Schiavo Case and the Islamization of the Republican Party

Informed Comment
"The Schiavo Case and the Islamization of the Republican Party

The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model.

The Muslim fundamentalists use a provision of Islamic law called "bringing to account" (hisba). As Al-Ahram weekly notes, "Hisba signifies a case filed by an individual on behalf of society when the plaintiff feels that great harm has been done to religion." Hisba is a medieval idea that had all be lapsed when the fundamentalists brought it back in the 1970s and 1980s.

In this practice, any individual can use the courts to intervene in the private lives of others. Among the more famous cases of such interference is that of Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid in Egypt. A respected modern scholar of Koranic studies, Abu Zaid argued that, contrary to medieval interpretations of Islamic law, women and men should receive equal inheritance shares. (Medieval Islamic law granted women only half the inheritance shares of their brothers). Abu Zaid was accused of sacrilege. Then the allegation of sacrilege was used as a basis on which the fundamentalists sought to have the courts forcibly divorce him from his wife.

Abu Zaid's wife loved her husband. She did not want to be divorced. But the fundamentalists went before the court and said, she is a Muslim, and he is an infidel, and no Muslim woman may be married to an infidel. They represented their efforts as being on behalf of the Islamic religion, which had an interest in seeing to it that heretics like Abu Zaid could not remain married to a Muslim woman. In 1995 the hisba court actually found against them. They fled to Europe, and ultimately settled in Holland.

Likewise, a similar tactic was deployed against the Egyptian feminist author, Nawal Saadawi, but it failed and she was able to remain in the country.

One of the most objectionable features of this fundamentalist tactic is that persons without standing can interfere in private affairs. Perfect strangers can file a case about your marriage, because they represent themselves as defending a public interest (the upholding of religion and morality).

Terri Schiavo's husband is her legal guardian. Her parents have not succeeded in challenging this status of his. As long as he is the guardian, the decision on removing the feeding tubes is between him and their physicians. Her parents have not succeeded in having this responsibility moved from him to them. Even under legislation George W. Bush signed in 1999 while governor of Texas, the spouse and the physician can make this decision. (The bill Bush signed in Texas actually made ability to pay a consideration in the decision!)

In passing a special law to allow the case to be kicked to a Federal judge after the state courts had all ruled in favor of the husband, Congress probably shot itself in the foot once again. The law is not a respecter of persons, so the Federal judge will likely rule as the state ones did.

But the most frightening thing about the entire affair is that public figures like congressmen inserted themselves into the case in order to uphold religious strictures. The lawyer arguing against the husband let the cat out of the bag, as reported by the NYT: ' The lawyer, David Gibbs, also said Ms. Schiavo's religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic were being infringed because Pope John Paul II has deemed it unacceptable for Catholics to refuse food and water. "We are now in a position where a court has ordered her to disobey her church and even jeopardize her eternal soul," Mr. Gibbs said. '

In other words, the United States Congress acted in part on behalf of the Roman Catholic church. Both of these public bodies interfered in the private affairs of the Schiavos, just as the fundamentalist Egyptian, Nabih El-Wahsh, tried to interfere in the marriage of Nawal El Saadawi.

Like many of his fundamentalist counterparts in the Middle East, Tom Delay is rather cynically using this issue to divert attention from his own corruption. Like the Muslim fundamentalist manipulators of Hisba, Delay represents himself as acting on behalf of a higher cause. He said of the case over the weekend, ' "This is not a political issue. This is life and death," '

Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah Delay isn't different from his counterparts in Iran."

Mark A. R. Kleiman: Schiavo, Hudson, and Nikolouzos


Mark A. R. Kleiman: Schiavo, Hudson, and Nikolouzos
" Schiavo, Hudson, and Nikolouzos

Sun Hudson, a six-month-old boy with a fatal congenital disease, died Thursday after a Texas hospital, over his mother's objections, withdrew his feeding tube. The child was apparently certain to die, but was conscious. [Or perhaps not: see third update below.] The hospital simply decided that it had better things to do than keeping the child alive, and the Texas courts upheld that decision after the penniless mother failed, during the 10-day window provided for by Texas law, to find another institution willing to take the child .

Where, I would ask, is the outrage? In particular, where is the outrage from those like Tom DeLay, who referred to the withdrawal of Terry Schiavo's life support as "murder"? If it's appropriate to Federalize the Schiavo case, what about the people being terminated simply because their cases are hopeless and their bank accounts empty?

Sun Hudson is dead, but 68-year-old Spiro Nikolouzos is still alive, thanks to an emergency appeals court order issued yesterday. However, his life support could be cut off at any moment. A nursing home is willing to take him if his family can show that he will be covered by Medicaid after his Medicare runs out. Otherwise, the hospital gets to pull the plug.

The Texas cases contrast with the Schiavo case in two ways:

1. Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, but isn't terminal. The two Texas patients were terminal but not vegetative. [Or perhaps they were in fact vegetative: see third update below.] It seems to me that the distinction between a patient who is aware and a patient who isn't aware is the morally relevant one, while the disctinction between a death that is sure to occur soon and a death that is sure to occur eventually is morally irrelevant. (Try pleading as a defense to a murder charge that the victim had a terminal ailment.)

2. Terry Schiavo's husband has decided that she would have wanted to die, and the courts have upheld his view against the view of her parents. The mother of Sun Hudson wanted her child to live, and the wife and children of Spiro Nikolouzos want him to live. So while the Schiavo case is an intra-family dispute, the two Texas cases pit the families against health-care institutions motivated at least in part by financial considerations.

I'm not a fan of futile care, and my sense -- based on what limited facts I can glean from the media -- is that if the decision were mine I would have wanted to pull the plug in all three cases. (Certainly, if I'm ever in Spiro Nikolouzos's condition I hope someone puts me out of it quickly.) But it doesn't seem to me that my view, or your view, or the hospital's view, or the judge's view, should be controlling here.

In a country rich enough so that giving expensive medical care to someone doesn't mean starving someone else, the decision about whether to prolong life, I would assert, properly belongs first to the person whose life is involved. If that person is unable to decide and communicate that decision, and has left no explicit directive, then the decision ought to be made by someone likely to choose what the person whose life is at stake would have chosen.

(The law that makes the spouse, rather than the parents, the default decision-maker seems to me a reasonable one, and I'm not sure I see a good argument for favoring whichever surrogate chooses survival. I don't pretend to know the facts of the Schiavo case well enough to judge whether, in that particular instance, there was reason to think that the parents would have been the better choice, but surely there's a strong case for a having a clear rule about which relatives get to decide rather than making a case-by-case adjudication.)

But the notion of letting the health-care providers decide, after doing a careful biopsy of the patient's wallet, strikes me as pretty damned outrageous. And it seems to me that the Right-to-Lifers ought to agree, though apparently anti-abortion groups had no problem with it when Gov. George W. Bush signed the Texas Futile Care Law.

No doubt an argument of some sort could be made for the Texas law, based on some combination of cost and the possibility that an impersonal institution will sometimes avoid mistaks that an emotionally-involved relative would make, and I have no reason to doubt the good faith of those who make that argument.

What I can't figure out is how someone could be genuinely outraged about the Schiavo case but not about the Hudson and Nikolouzos cases. Perhaps Mr. Bush, who says he thinks there should be a "presumption in favor of life," can explain that to us.


1. Thanks to Atrios, the Hudson and Nikolouzos cases are now all over the left blogosphere, but so far the "real" media continue to ignore them. This will be an interesting case of whether blogging can force a story into the larger discourse. In the absence of a partisan divide, I'd bet against it.

2. Matt Yglesias and Barbara O'Brien of Mahablog make a point I'd missed: voting for the Schiavo bill and voting at the same time for Medicaid cuts -- which, under laws like the Texas law, means that people will have their plugs pulled not because their families want them to die sooner but because their health-care providers don't want to run up a bill for unpaid care -- is pretty damned outrageous.

[Hat tip, twice, to Kevin Drum.]

3. Query: Is there a copy of the outrageous Senate Republican talking points around somewhere? I've seen references and quotes, but no link to the full text. For some reason, this doesn't seem to have become part of the main narrative.

Second update: Spiro Nikolouzos's family found another facility willing to take him, so he is no longer threatened with having life support withdrawn. But the family plans to fight for changes in the law. Hat tip: HealthLawProf.

Sun Hudson, at last report, was still dead.

Third update: Kevin Keith at Lean Left has a long and thoughtful defense of "futile care" laws, and a critique of the analysis here, based in part on what seems to be a more accurate account of the facts. It appears that Sun Hudson was, and Spiro Nilolouzos is, persistently vegetative. That reinforces my conviction that pulling the plug is the right thing to do, but it doesn't much weaken my belief that the call should be made by the families, not by the health-care providers.

Thanks to a reader, I've finally managed to make sense out the distinction being made by the save-Terri forces between her case and the Texas cases. She is able to breathe on her own, but can't swallow and therefore needs to be fed through a tube. Lots of people, and some of the major religious traditions, regard assisted breathing, but not tube-feeding, as extraordinary measures, so that taking away her feeding tube counts as killing while taking away Sun Hudson's breathing tube didn't. That distinction seems utterly arbitrary to me, but I suppose it might seem valid to someone else, who could then have at least a subjective good-faith reason to want to keep Schiavo alive while allowing Hudson and Nikolouzos to die."

Sam Rosenfeld - Tapped

From the American Prospect

TAPPED: March 2005 Archives

"DR. HACK. Amy Sullivan nails Bill Frist to the wall for his Senate-career-spanning serial medical quackery on behalf of whatever right-wing cause celebre happens to come down the pipeline. Frist’s reprehensible diagnostic intervention in the Terri Schiavo fight was not, sadly, an isolated case of Republican lawmakers abusing the presumed authority of their medical degrees during the political shame-o-rama we’ve all watched unfold in the last week; Senator Tom Coburn attested to Schiavo’s viability on Wednesday, while late last night I had the distinct pleasure of watching Representative (and licensed physician) Dave Weldon of Florida assure Geraldo Rivera on FOX News that the videotape of Schiavo the Schindler family provided has convinced him that she’s no vegetable. (He said this after first helpfully suggesting that the leaked strategy memo distributed to GOP senators last week might have actually been written by Democrats looking to spring a PR trap.)

But obviously the Senate majority leader -- “speaking more as a physician than as a United States senator” -- is the highest-profile MD-abuser in this fight. The gist of his statement on the Senate floor is that the videotape he’s seen of a smiling, open-eyed patient undercuts the notion that Schiavo is really in a persistent vegetative state; he also refers with complete credulity to quite dubious claims made by doctors in affidavits recently introduced by the Schindlers. Advocates in this fight have made much of the fact that Schiavo isn’t actually in a coma -- as if that bolstered, rather than undermined, their case that she’s in a viable state or that there is reason to hope for improvement. As The Los Angeles Times described on Saturday:

The term coma covers a broad range of states. A person who drank too much, passed out and cannot be roused is in a coma, Keane said. At the other extreme, a coma can be so deep that the patient requires blood-pressure support and help breathing. In all cases, the patient's eyes are shut and he or she is unresponsive.

A coma is usually considered to be a short-term situation. After a few weeks or months, the situation is usually resolved with the coma being reversed or the patient dying.

A persistent vegetative state is something different, "sort of like being in an awake coma," said Dr. David A. Goldstein of the Keck School of Medicine at USC. Patients' eyes are open, they have sleep-wake cycles, and it often appears that they are interacting with visitors, which makes it hard on families.

The brains of such patients are functioning only at a very rudimentary level, said Dr. Kenneth V. Iserson of the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson. They cannot feel pain, express themselves or receive communication. They may have grimaces or smiles or other facial movements that look like they are reflecting emotions, but "there really isn't a significant relationship with the outside world," Goldstein said.

And the longer the state persists, "the less likely they are to come out of it," Keane added. Schiavo has been in this condition for 15 years "and it is very, very unlikely she would wake up," he said.

And as The New York Times wrote yesterday:

Especially when a patient's eyes open on emergence from a coma, Dr. Fins said, family members are likely to assume that this is evidence of recovery. In fact, he said, it can augur poorly for the patient. When the eyes open but there is no quick return to mental responsiveness, it suggests that the primitive brain stem is reasserting itself, without engaging the higher brain: the cortex and other parts that are involved in thought and emotion.

Does the good Dr. Frist know he’s being misleading when he raises doubts about Schiavo’s state of mind or, not being a neurologist, is he being sincere, and merely mistaken (and flagrantly negligent) in his speculations? Which is worse? What a choice!

It’s these little teapot tempests, which Republicans like to stir up as a way of distracting themselves and their constituents from the core bankruptcy of their animating ideology and the massive unpopularity of their policy agenda, that can sometimes help to reveal the operating impulses of some of these guys. Tom DeLay is a special combo: the very embodiment of modern GOP corruption and hackery who also happens to have the cold-eyed conviction of a true believer. Frist’s just faking it and always has been. Which is worse? What a choice!

--Sam Rosenfeld"

Bull Moose -- "Conservativism R.I.P."

Bull Moose: "Conservatism R.I.P.

The Moose notes the passing of conservatism.

All pretenses of limited government conservatism have been cast aside with congressional intervention in the Schiavo case. The era of big government conservatism is in full swing. That is, if it can be called conservatism, at all.

At its heart, conservatism had reverence for process and order. But what we are witnessing now is the triumph of ends over means. That is exactly what the right loathed about the left. In the eye of conservatives, the left would stretch the Constitution and the law to serve its so-called noble ends. Liberals would turn to the federal courts to nullify the judgments of localities. In the end, according to the right, the law of unintended consequences would prevail and the rule of law would be obliterated.

Process no longer matters to the right - after all they are on the side of the angels. Whether it is pork barrel spending , the Senate filibuster or federal intervention in a family dispute, modern conservatism knows no boundaries. The right is now intoxicated with power - process is for

When it comes to federal intervention on behalf of the disadvantaged, the conservative response is to leave it to the states and the 'mediating institutions' of community and locality. However, when it involves pandering to the religious right, federal power in the pursuit of righteous aims is no vice.

A few brave souls such as George Will and Andrew Sullivan attempt to hold the right to its principles. But the right is now aping all that it loathed in liberalism - the arrogance of power.

Look in the mirror conservatives - you have become your own worst enemy. --"

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Masters of Sleaze

Now Even the NY Times' official Republican apologist, David Brooks, has had enough:

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Masters of Sleaze
"The New York Times
March 22, 2005
Masters of Sleaze

Down in the depths of the netherworld, where Tammany Hall grafters and Chicago ward heelers gather amid spittoons and brass railings, a reverential silence now spreads across the communion. The sleazemasters of old look back into the land of the mortals and they see greatness in the form of Jack Abramoff.

Only a genius like Abramoff could make money lobbying against an Indian tribe's casino and then turn around and make money defending that tribe against himself. Only a giant like Abramoff would have the guts to use one tribe's casino money to finance a Focus on the Family crusade against gambling in order to shut down a rival tribe's casino.

Only an artist like Abramoff could suggest to a tribe that it pay him by taking out life insurance policies on its eldest members. Then when the elders dropped off they could funnel the insurance money through a private school and into his pockets.

This is sleaze of a high order. And yet according to reports in The Washington Post and elsewhere, Abramoff accomplished it all.

Yet it's important to remember this: A genius like Abramoff doesn't spring fully formed on his own. Just as Michelangelo emerged in the ferment of Renaissance Italy, so did Abramoff emerge from his own circle of creativity and encouragement.

Back in 1995, when Republicans took over Congress, a new cadre of daring and original thinkers arose. These bold innovators had a key insight: that you no longer had to choose between being an activist and a lobbyist. You could be both. You could harness the power of K Street to promote the goals of Goldwater, Reagan and Gingrich. And best of all, you could get rich while doing it!

Before long, ringleader Grover Norquist and his buddies were signing lobbying deals with the Seychelles and the Northern Mariana Islands and talking up their interests at weekly conservative strategy sessions - what could be more vital to the future of freedom than the commercial interests of these two fine locales?

Before long, folks like Norquist and Abramoff were talking up the virtues of international sons of liberty like Angola's Jonas Savimbi and Congo's dictator Mobutu Sese Seko - all while receiving compensation from these upstanding gentlemen, according to The Legal Times. Only a reactionary could have been so discomfited by Savimbi's little cannibalism problem as to think this was not a daring contribution to the cause of Reaganism.

Soon the creative revolutionaries were blending the high-toned forms of the think tank with the low-toned scams of the buckraker. Ed Buckham, Tom DeLay's former chief of staff, helped run the U.S. Family Network, which supported the American family by accepting large donations and leasing skyboxes at the MCI Center, according to Roll Call. Michael Scanlon, DeLay's former spokesman, organized a think tank called the American International Center, located in a house in Rehoboth Beach, Del., which was occupied, according to Andrew Ferguson's devastating compendium in The Weekly Standard, by a former "lifeguard of the year" and a former yoga instructor.

Ralph Reed, meanwhile, smashed the tired old categories that used to separate social conservatives from corporate consultants. Reed signed on with Channel One, Verizon, Enron and Microsoft to shore up the moral foundations of our great nation. Reed so strongly opposes gambling as a matter of principle that he bravely accepted $4 million through Abramoff from casino-rich Indian tribes to gin up a grass-roots campaign.

As time went by, the spectacular devolution of morals accelerated. Many of the young innovators were behaving like people who, having read Barry Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative," embraced the conservative part while discarding the conscience part.

Abramoff's and Scanlon's Indian-gaming scandal will go down as the movement's crowning achievement, more shameless than anything the others would do, but still the culmination of the trends building since 1995. It perfectly embodied their creed and philosophy: "I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!!" as Abramoff wrote to Reed.

They made at least $66 million.

This is a major accomplishment. And remember: Abramoff didn't do it on his own.

It took a village. The sleazo-cons thought they could take over K Street to advance their agenda. As it transpired, K Street took over them.


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The New York Times > National > News Analysis: Small Law, Big Implications

The New York Times
March 22, 2005
Small Law, Big Implications

The new law in the Terri Schiavo case, passed just after midnight yesterday in an extraordinary action by Congress, is in some ways quite modest. It applies to only one case, and it allows a federal judge to determine only some relatively narrow issues.

In another sense, the law is a bold intrusion by Congress into a heavily litigated and finally adjudicated state court proceeding. It raises questions about Congress's conception of its own power, about what federalism and the separation of powers mean, and about the legislative calculus that allows intervention into one life-and-death human drama and not others.

Douglas W. Kmiec, a conservative law professor at Pepperdine University, said the legislation had left him anguished.

"I would be naturally inclined to Terri Schiavo's part in this enterprise," Professor Kmiec said. "This is, however, a benignly intended but tragically mistaken law. It contravenes almost every principle known to constitutional jurisprudence."

Those principles are, however, relatively abstract and subtle, and they are hard to digest and decide on the fly. James D. Whittemore, the federal judge in Tampa assigned to hear the lawsuit Ms. Schiavo's parents brought under the law, may eventually decide that Congress has overreached. But the immediate question before him last night was whether to order Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted while the case proceeds.

Unless it is crystal clear that plaintiffs like Ms. Schiavo's parents have no hope of prevailing, courts weighing the balance of equities in cases like this one are all but forced to maintain the status quo, which here means keeping Ms. Schiavo alive.

As her parents put it in a legal filing yesterday, "Death is absolutely irreparable."

Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Texas, said, "The line of least resistance for the judge is to say: 'I need some time to think about this. Put the feeding tube back in.' "

If that happens, the law will have achieved one of its main intentions.

"The whole point of this legislation," said Jack M. Balkin, a law professor at Yale, "is basically delay."

The law says it creates no new rights, allowing a federal judge to decide only whether Ms. Schiavo's federal rights, principally her right to due process, have been violated.

Some initially curious aspects of the law probably do not make it invalid. Congress is free, for instance, to enact narrowly directed legislation naming particular people and companies, and it does so routinely. These laws, called private bills, tend to confer benefits, in areas like immigration and the donation of federal land, or waive defenses to lawsuits in which the federal government is the defendant.

They have not been used, legal experts said, to reopen cases fully considered by state courts.

Still, Professor Laycock said, "the courts have been pretty indulgent to Congress" in this area, "so they might get away with it."

A Congressional call for a do-over by legislators unhappy with the result in a single case could, however, raise issues under the Constitution's equal protection clause.

"It is a basic principle of our legal system," said Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, "that no legislature may intervene in the most personal and intimate choices that individuals and families make except pursuant to neutral and general laws, laws that draw lines capable of justification in principled terms."

The lawsuit Ms. Schiavo's parents filed early yesterday made five arguments, and legal scholars said they found them largely unpersuasive.

Three of the claims basically contend that Judge George W. Greer, who heard the case in the state trial court, failed to provide Ms. Schiavo with a fair trial. Judge Greer, according to the lawsuit, "became an advocate for Terri's death," held "dual and simultaneous roles as judge and health-care surrogate" and failed to bring her to court personally to assess her level of cognition and her responsiveness.

Professor Kmiec said Congress had been quick to assume the worst about the Florida state judiciary.

"There seems to be a very troubling supposition in this law that the state courts were biased or prejudiced or incompetent," he said. "Yet state judges are men and women of training who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution."

The two other claims in the lawsuit assert that Ms. Schiavo's religious rights as a Roman Catholic have been compromised. Catholics in a persistent vegetative state, the lawsuit says, citing a statement in a speech last year by Pope John Paul II, are morally obliged "to continue to receive nutrition and hydration even though it is through a feeding tube."

Mark S. Scarberry, a law professor at Pepperdine, said the argument was "a very tough one."

"It's going to require courts to decide what Catholic doctrine is," Professor Scarberry said, "and whether Terri Schiavo agrees with Catholic doctrine."

After hearing arguments yesterday afternoon, Judge Whittemore indicated that he needed time to consider the case. Courts are slow moving and reflective institutions. They do not do their best work when they are rushed, and they sometimes resent being forced to alter their usual rhythms.

"When the Congress expands the jurisdiction of the federal courts, courts have an ambivalent view," Professor Balkin said. "They don't feel good about having high-profile cases dumped on them. They don't like to do quick."

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The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: A Blow to the Rule of Law

The New York Times
March 22, 2005
A Blow to the Rule of Law

If you are in a "persistent vegetative state" and there is a dispute about whether to keep you alive, your case will probably go no further than state court - unless you are Terri Schiavo. President Bush signed legislation yesterday giving Ms. Schiavo's parents a personal right to sue in federal court. The new law tramples on the principle that this is "a nation of laws, not of men," and it guts the power of the states. When the commotion over this one tragic woman is over, Congress and the president will have done real damage to the founders' careful plan for American democracy.

Ms. Schiavo's case presents heart-wrenching human issues, and difficult legal ones. But the Florida courts, after careful deliberation, ruled that she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means in her current state, and ordered her feeding tube removed. Ms. Schiavo's parents, who wanted the tube to remain, hoped to get the Florida Legislature to intervene, but it did not do so.

That should have settled the matter. But supporters of Ms. Schiavo's parents, particularly members of the religious right, leaned heavily on Congress and the White House to step in. They did so yesterday with the new law, which gives "any parent of Theresa Marie Schiavo" standing to sue in federal court to keep her alive.

This narrow focus is offensive. The founders believed in a nation in which, as Justice Robert Jackson once wrote, we would "submit ourselves to rulers only if under rules." There is no place in such a system for a special law creating rights for only one family. The White House insists that the law will not be a precedent. But that means that the right to bring such claims in federal court is reserved for people with enough political pull to get a law passed that names them in the text.

The Bush administration and the current Congressional leadership like to wax eloquent about states' rights. But they dropped those principles in their rush to stampede over the Florida courts and Legislature. The new law doesn't miss a chance to trample on the state's autonomy and dignity. There are a variety of technical legal doctrines the federal courts use to show deference to state courts, like "abstention" and "exhaustion of remedies." The new law decrees that in Ms. Schiavo's case, these well-established doctrines simply will not apply.

Republicans have traditionally championed respect for the delicate balance the founders created. But in the Schiavo case, and in the battle to stop the Democratic filibusters of judicial nominations, President Bush and his Congressional allies have begun to enunciate a new principle: the rules of government are worth respecting only if they produce the result we want. It may be a formula for short-term political success, but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Attorneys question whether Texas Law [signed by Bush], federal law [signed by Bush] at odds

The Commons

The federal law President Bush signed to prolong Terri Schiavo's life in Florida appears to conflict with a Texas law he signed as governor, attorneys familiar with the legislation said Monday.

The 1999 Advance Directives Act in Texas allows for a patient's surrogate to make end-of-life decisions and spells out how to proceed if a hospital or other health provider disagrees with a decision to maintain or halt life-sustaining treatment. If a doctor refuses to honor a decision, the case goes before a medical committee. If the committee agrees with the doctor, the guardian or surrogate has 10 days to seek treatment elsewhere.

Thomas Mayo, an associate law professor at Southern Methodist University who helped draft the Texas law, said that if the Schiavo case had happened in Texas, her husband would have been her surrogate decision-maker. Because both he and her doctors were in agreement, life support would have been discontinued

But the committee compromised in crafting the 1999 law because it provided 10 days, or in some cases longer, to seek an alternative treatment site if a doctor or hospital wanted to terminate life support but the patient's guardian or surrogate did not. Graham said she doesn't think the new federal law conflicts with that. She said it's too early to know whether the federal law will override Texas law.


St. Petersburg Times - Political heft behind bill: DeLay

Political heft behind bill: DeLay

The House majority leader has made Terri Schiavo's case his own. "He's the catalyst for this Congress," a colleague says.

By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
Published March 21, 2005

WASHINGTON - Victory was only hours away, but the man known on Capitol Hill as The Hammer was still banging away at the opposition, decrying the moral bankruptcy of the "estranged" husband, the hard-hearted Florida judge, the handful of Democrats who would stand in the way.

He couldn't have slept much, considering the pace of negotiations on behalf of Terri Schiavo over the weekend. But on Sunday evening House Majority Leader Tom DeLay looked as coiffed as ever, in his shiny black suit with a black striped tie, his jet black hair just tinged with gray, parted and immovable, despite the man's constant motion.

"Time is not on Terri Schiavo's side," DeLay said, his voice rising. "The few remaining objecting House Democrats have so far cost Ms. Schiavo two meals already."

He followed with a torrent of invective against her "estranged" husband, Michael Schiavo, now living with another woman, a man with whom he had been trading insults since Thursday.

"No care for 15 years. No therapy. No nothing," DeLay said, his voice awash in scorn. "What kind of man is that?"

With the Senate having passed a bill allowing federal review of Schiavo's case at dusk on Sunday and the House expected to act in the wee hours today, the public face of the case in Washington has been that of DeLay, the hard-charging Republican leader and pest control executive from Sugar Land, Texas, who seemed to have made Schiavo his personal cause.

Lawmakers say DeLay, 57, was also key to brokering a deal between the Senate and Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr., the famously stubborn chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which holds jurisdiction for the bill.

Without Sensenbrenner's okay, DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert could not have moved the bill so quickly to the floor.

"He's the catalyst for this Congress, for the House and for the Senate," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has been close to the negotiations. "When Tom DeLay was moved to step in, this Congress mobilized."

But analysts and critics say the Schiavo case has provided the perfect chance for DeLay, who has been facing questions about his ethical conduct, to work on his image and divert attention from more troublesome matters. It's also an opportunity to woo social conservatives who will be key to ensuring the Republicans maintain their hold on Congress in next year's elections.

"He's the best hardball player we've seen in the House since (Speaker) Newt Gingrich in his heyday," said Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University who studies congressional politics. "This gives DeLay a chance to put a soft face on his otherwise grim image."

Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Palm Bay, introduced the bill to require federal review of Schiavo's case the week before last. But it made little progress in the House or the Senate until last week, when DeLay became involved.

DeLay said he had kept tabs on Schiavo's case since it made national news five years ago, but first took action Monday by asking Sensenbrenner to start working on Weldon's bill. Asked why now, DeLay said, "They were about to kill her."

Like other Republican lawmakers championing Schiavo's bill, DeLay often suggests she is alert and potentially treatable.

"She talks and she laughs and she expresses likes and discomforts," he said Sunday evening. "It won't take a miracle to help Terri Schiavo. It will only take the medical care and therapy that patients require." [oh really!]

After years of review, a Florida circuit court judge found that Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, and any emotions she appears to express are simply reflexive. Based largely on the testimony of her husband and friends, a judge ruled she would not want to be kept alive, and ordered her feeding tube removed Friday.

Her parents have fought the order, and under Weldon's bill a federal judge could review any similar case. The House passed a version of it late Wednesday night, but it was too broad for Senate Democrats.

The Senate then passed a narrow version Thursday that would affect only Schiavo. Sensenbrenner refused to accept it.

King said DeLay and Sensenbrenner then began meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., to find a compromise.

Weldon, a physician, said DeLay called him about the case every day this week, and on Saturday asked him if Schiavo would recover from having the tube removed if Congress took a couple more days.

The final bill - which DeLay labeled the Palm Sunday Compromise - was essentially the Senate's version, and DeLay acknowledged he had "given in." It was a rare concession for The Hammer.

"If somebody thinks (DeLay) is less than a compassionate person, let me tell you - this is all about compassion, this is all about the Constitution, this is all about preserving the rights of Terri Schiavo," King said.

The fact that DeLay's friends feel the need to validate his compassion - and King was not alone - is testament to DeLay's reputation on the Hill, where he is both respected and feared by the Republican members who elected him their leader.

He is cherished for his dedication, political skill and fundraising prowess; his political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, raised $3.7-million in the last election cycle and gave nearly $1-million to Republican congressional candidates.

But he's also known to trample those who cross him. Last year, for example, the Republican leadership replaced the Republican chairman of the House ethics committee after it chastised DeLay three times for official conduct. The leadership then added two Republicans who had contributed to DeLay's legal fund.

While the committee didn't cite specific violations, it suggested DeLay's behavior reflected poorly on the House, and it cautioned him to temper his behavior.

Meanwhile, three associates of DeLay's have been indicted in Texas as part of an ongoing probe into political fundraising. DeLays says he has done nothing wrong.

Shawn Parry-Giles, director of the Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership at the University of Maryland, said it's not surprising that DeLay has taken the lead on the Schiavo bill. She said it provides a distraction from his ethical inquiries, as well the difficulties he and Frist have had in winning support for President Bush's Social Security plan.

DeLay is a social conservative who opposes abortion and gets high marks from right-to-life activists, who have adopted Schiavo as a favorite cause.

Lichtman said getting them to the polls during next year's midterm elections, which traditionally suffer from low turnout, will be essential to maintaining the Republican Party's 29-vote margin in the House.

Lichtman said he also believes DeLay's prominence on the Schiavo bill was an attempt by the Republican Party to scrub his image.

Although Frist has worked just as furiously to secure passage in the Senate, where the Democratic opposition was tougher, he has been content to issue terse written statements. DeLay, meanwhile, has held nationally televised news conferences each day since Thursday.

DeLay has regularly attacked Michael Schiavo and Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer, the judge who ordered the feeding tube removed, saying Friday that "Schiavo's life is not slipping away - it is being violently wrenched from her body in an act of medical terrorism."

DeLay attacked Democratic senators opposing the bill, say they "have put Mrs. Schiavo's life at risk to prove a point, an unprecedented profile in cowardice."

Santorum and others asked him to tone it down, aides said, for fear he would jeopardize negotiations.

DeLay indeed toned it down, at least when talking about Democratic senators, but he didn't disappear. Just after the Senate's passage Sunday evening, with hundreds of House members rushing to town to debate the bill, DeLay held another press conference, blasting the Democrats who still opposed it, while praising those who agreed to help.

"The Republican Party needs Tom DeLay," Lichtman said. "He's the man with total dedication to achieve power for the Republican Party no matter what it takes, and that's hard to replace. Not too many people have that dual combination of strategic insight and iron will."

--Times staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

The New York Times > AP > National > GOP Governors Cut State Workers' Rights

The New York Times
March 21, 2005
GOP Governors Cut State Workers' Rights

Filed at 10:02 a.m. ET

Republican governors in a few spots across the country are angering state employees by removing one of organized labor's strongest tools -- the right to collective bargaining.

Governors in three states who've taken the step say it's about making government more efficient or being fair to non-union workers. Critics say it's political payback for labor's traditional support of Democrats and part of a wider shift to undermine workers in favor of big business.

Within hours or days of taking office this year, Mitch Daniels in Indiana and Matt Blunt in Missouri eliminated collective bargaining agreements for state employees, affecting about 50,000 workers. Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher did the same when he took office in 2003. In each case, the agreements had only been granted by executive order, not by law.

In Mississippi, where state employees don't have collective bargaining rights, GOP Gov. Haley Barbour supports a legislative effort to eliminate existing civil-service protections. In Oklahoma, the GOP-controlled state House approved a measure to repeal a law granting collective bargaining to municipal employees.

Blunt said the union rules of the business world should not apply to government. ``Fundamentally, public employees are different than private sector employees -- their employer is the people of Missouri,'' he said on his first day in office. ``Taxpayers should not be bound by collective bargaining agreements.''

Union leaders see the actions as concerted effort among new, more conservative leaders, and tie it to President Bush, whose administration exempted some employees from collective bargaining at the Homeland Security Department.

``It's unconscionable. This is about the very soul of our movement,'' said Andy Levin of the AFL-CIO, who said his group will fight the governors' efforts. ``Collective bargaining is how we built the middle class in this country.''

Spokesmen for the governors all dismissed any notion that they had acted together, pointing out that each had their own motivation. None of the governors responded to requests for interviews.

In Missouri, Blunt had fought the unions for years as secretary of state, particularly over bargaining fees charged to state employees who aren't union members, and vowed during the campaign to rescind a 2001 executive order that allowed collective bargaining.

Fletcher spokeswoman Jeanne Lausche in Kentucky said the governor had promised to streamline state government and ``ensure that tax dollars are expended in a business-like manner.'' Daniels said his decision would allow him to more swiftly improve government services.

After he eliminated collective bargaining, he immediately created a separate, cabinet-level agency to oversee child protection services, a step he said would have been slowed by union negotiations.

The governors' actions come amid a round of soul-searching and turmoil for the nation's labor movement, which has been watching union membership slide in the past few decades, down to 12.5 percent of wage and salary workers in 2004.

Representation among government workers remains labors' strongest base, at 36 percent. Private industry alone is at 7.9 percent, according to the Labor Department.

The ability to negotiate with employers with the strength that comes from a united group is the basic tool of unions. But comprehensive bargaining -- defined as the ability to bargain over wages, benefits and work conditions -- is only allowed in 25 states, according to the AFL-CIO.

The fight is often a seesaw. In New Mexico, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson signed a law in 2003 giving bargaining rights to public workers, after years of opposition from former Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican.

The GOP strategy aims to weaken a foundation of the Democratic party, said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, with 1.5 million members. ``I see this as an effort to make the Republican right-wing conservatives the party of the future for a long, long time.''

He worried about other efforts by Republican governors that weigh heavily on government workers -- Arnold Schwarzenneger's struggle in California over pensions for state workers and Robert Ehrlich's proposal in Maryland to raise state employees' health care costs.

Yet there's no denying that unions have traditionally been more supportive of Democrats than Republicans, said Robert Bruno, an associate professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. ``It's an easy way to make enemies,'' he said.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Digby - The Hypocrisy of the Schiavo Farce

By Digby via

By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo's care thus far.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schiavo's because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terry Schiavo" mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.

This is why we cannot trust the mainstream media. Most people get their news from television. And television is presenting this issue as a round the clock one dimensional soap opera pitting the "family", the congress and the church against this woman's husband and the judicial system that upheld Terry Schiavo's right and explicit request that she be allowed to die if extraordinary means were required to keep her alive. The ghoulish infotainment industry is making a killing by acceding once again to trumped up right wing sensationalism.

Daily Kos :: GOP Memo: Schiavo case a "great political issue"

GOP Memo: Schiavo case a "great political issue"
by mistersite (dailykos)

Sun Mar 20th, 2005 at 12:16:26 PST

The Washington Post is reporting this morning on a memo to GOP Senators outlining the importance of the Schiavo case for the '06 election. Calling the case a "great political issue," the memo specifically targets Bill Nelson and others, saying that this issue could prove an important wedge in '06 to pull the Religious Right out to the polls.

This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," said the memo, which was reported by ABC News and later given to The Washington Post. "This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats."
This just makes me sick. It's one thing to want to keep the feeding tube in out of concern for her life; it's another thing entirely to do so for political expediency. Whatever one believes, a life is hanging in the balance here, and to call it a "great political issue" that appeals to the "pro-life base" - that's just plain cold.

Folks, we need to push this. We need to get out the message - GOP Senators don't care about Terri, they care about pandering to the base. The singling out of vulnerable senator Nelson is all the proof we need. They're more interested in her as a "political issue" than as a woman with a family. She isn't a real person to them - she's a collection of Religious Right votes to be won. This needs to get out into the wild, because this is the kind of thing that could really make my Evangelical Republican family mad.

This could be just the frame we need: "The GOP is interested in Terri as a political issue." So how do we take this story from being buried in a Washington Post article, to the headlines of CNN, MSNBC, and newspapers? U.S. Misled Allies About Nuclear Export
U.S. Misled Allies About Nuclear Export
North Korea Sent Material To Pakistan, Not to Libya

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page A01

In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.

Pakistan's role as both the buyer and the seller was concealed to cover up the part played by Washington's partner in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, according to the officials, who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity. In addition, a North Korea-Pakistan transfer would not have been news to the U.S. allies, which have known of such transfers for years and viewed them as a business matter between sovereign states.

The Bush administration's approach, intended to isolate North Korea, instead left allies increasingly doubtful as they began to learn that the briefings omitted essential details about the transaction, U.S. officials and foreign diplomats said in interviews. North Korea responded to public reports last month about the briefings by withdrawing from talks with its neighbors and the United States.

In an effort to repair the damage, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is traveling through East Asia this weekend trying to get the six-nation talks back on track. The impasse was expected to dominate talks today in Seoul and then Beijing, which wields the greatest influence with North Korea.

The new details follow a string of controversies concerning the Bush administration's use of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion in March 2003, the White House offered a public case against Iraq that concealed dissent on nearly every element of intelligence and included interpretations unsupported by the evidence.

A presidential commission studying U.S. intelligence is reviewing the case, as well as judgments on Iran and North Korea. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also is reviewing evidence on nuclear, chemical and biological programs suspected in Iran and North Korea.

The United States briefed allies on North Korea in late January and early February. Shortly afterward, administration officials, speaking to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, said North Korea had sold uranium hexafluoride to Libya. The officials said the briefing was arranged to share the information with China, South Korea and Japan ahead of a new round of hoped-for negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program.

But in recent days, two other U.S. officials said the briefings were hastily arranged after China and South Korea indicated they were considering bolting from six-party talks on North Korea. The talks have been seen as largely ineffectual, but the Bush administration, which refuses to meet bilaterally with Pyongyang, insists they are critical to curbing North Korea's nuclear program.

The White House declined to offer an official to comment by name about the new details concerning Pakistan. A prepared response attributed to a senior administration official said that the U.S. government "has provided allies with an accurate account of North Korea's nuclear proliferation activities."

Although the briefings did not mention Pakistan by name, the official said they made it clear that the sale went through the illicit network operated by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdel Qadeer Khan. But the briefings gave no indication that U.S. intelligence believes that the material had been bought by Pakistan and transferred there from North Korea in a container owned by the Pakistani government.

They also gave no indication that the uranium was then shipped via a Pakistani company to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and on to Libya. Those findings match assessments by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is investigating Libya separately. Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program in December 2003.

Since Pakistan became a key U.S. ally in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, the administration has not held President Pervez Musharraf accountable for actions taken by Khan while he was a member of Musharraf's cabinet and in charge of nuclear cooperation for the government.

"The administration is giving Pakistan a free ride when they don't deserve it and hurting U.S. interests at the same time," said Charles L. Pritchard, who was the Bush administration's special envoy for the North Korea talks until August 2003.

"As our allies get the full picture, it doesn't help our credibility with them," he said.

Pritchard, now a Brookings Institution fellow, and others had initially raised questions about the Libya connection when it became public last month. No one in the administration has been willing to discuss the uranium sale publicly.

In testimony to Congress last month, CIA Director Porter J. Goss spoke extensively about North Korea's nuclear arsenal and capabilities. But he gave no indication the intelligence community believed that North Korea had supplied nuclear materials to Libya, that it was capable of producing uranium hexafluoride or that it was a member of the nuclear black market.

Two years ago, U.S. officials told allies that North Korea was trying to assemble an enrichment facility that would turn uranium hexafluoride into bomb-grade material.

But China and South Korea, in particular, have been skeptical of those assertions and are becoming increasingly wary of pressuring North Korea.

The National Security Council briefings in late January and early February, by senior NSC officials Michael J. Green and William Tobey, were intended to do just that by keeping the spotlight solely on North Korea.

Pakistan was mentioned only once in the briefing paper, and in a context that emphasized Pyongyang's guilt. "Pakistani press reports have said the uranium came from North Korea," according to the briefing paper, which was read to The Post.

After initial press reports about the briefing appeared last month, Pyongyang announced that it possessed nuclear weapons and would not return to the six-party talks.

Pritchard said North Korea's reaction was "absolutely linked" to the Green-Tobey trip.

The United States tried to persuade North Korea to return to the talks, but without success. The North Korean leadership responded with a list of conditions, including a demand that Rice apologize for calling it an "outpost of tyranny."

During the first stop on her Asian tour, Rice used noticeably softer language on North Korea, telling a Tokyo audience that the U.S. offer was open to negotiation, and that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il should grab the opportunity.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report from Seoul.