This Is Great!

I’m over the moon about having something good to say about Barack Obama.  Apparently his administration has decided to climb back into the leadership saddle at the UN:

After nearly a decade of an often tense and estranged relationship with the United Nations, Washington appears to be taking a much more conciliatory and multilateral approach to the world body.

U.S. President Barack Obama formally restored funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) Wednesday by signing a major spending bill, prompting U.N. officials to again welcome the policy shift on women’s health-related rights.

In January, Obama issued an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on U.S. funding for overseas family-planning groups and clinics that perform or promote abortion or lobby for its legalisation.

“We are delighted that the United States will, once again, take a leading role in championing women’s reproductive health, and rights,” said UNFPA’s executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. “This is a great day for women and girls.”

During the administration of George W. Bush, the UNFPA lost its U.S. funding on charges that it was trying to promote abortion, an allegation that Obaid and other officials strongly denied.

In a recent statement, Obama said the resumption of U.S. funding would help not only to reduce poverty, but also improve the health of women and children and prevent HIV/AIDS.

UNFPA says due to the U.S. restrictions on funding its programmes, millions of women in poor countries were unable to access health care during pregnancy and that many of them died as a result.

Earlier this week, Obama signed the legislative omnibus funding bill containing a 50-million-dollar contribution to UNFPA. The funding had been in limbo since 2002 when Bush began to implement his ideologically-driven policies towards women’s rights.  [more]

The UNFPA has been almost hopelessly underfunded.  Among other things, it’s the UN agency responsible for the health of women in the DNC – those who have been raped and maimed by DNC rebels and soldiers.  Much more money is needed than will be provided by this change, but it’s a wonderful new start.  Thanks Barack!

On His Way Out …

… the door hits George on the butt.  From  The Economist:

Mr Bush’s role model throughout his presidency was not his father but the patron saint of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan. He regarded Reagan as a man who had unleashed free-enterprise and defeated the Soviet Empire, and he tried to do the same with his huge tax cuts and his global war on terror. He mimicked Reagan’s Western style, even relaxing on a Texas ranch where Reagan had taken his holidays on a Californian one; and he echoed Reagan’s enthusiastic use of the word “evil”.

Other facets of Mr Bush’s personality mixed with his vaulting ambition to undermine his presidency. Mr Bush is what the British call an inverted snob. A scion of one of America’s most powerful families, he is a devotee of sunbelt populism; a product of Yale and Harvard Business School, he is a scourge of eggheads. Mr Bush is a convert to an evangelical Christianity that emphasises emotion—particularly the intensely emotional experience of being born again—over ratiocination. He also styled himself, much like Reagan, as a decider rather than a details man; many people who met him were astonished by what they described as his “lack of inquisitiveness” and his general “passivity”.

This led Mr Bush to distrust the Washington establishment, and even to believe that establishment wisdom was probably wrong simply by virtue of what it was. Fred Barnes, a conservative journalist, entitled his book on Mr Bush “Rebel in Chief”. He quotes one Bush confidante as saying: “One tux a term. That’s our idea of outreach to the Washington community.”

Lack of curiosity also led Mr Bush to suspect intellectuals in general and academic experts in particular. David Frum, who wrote speeches for Mr Bush during his first term, noted that “conspicuous intelligence seemed actively unwelcome in the Bush White House”. The Bush cabinet was “solid and reliable”, but contained no “really high-powered brains”. Karen Hughes, one of his closest advisers, “rarely read books and distrusted people who did”. Ron Suskind, a journalist, has argued that Mr Bush created a “faith-based presidency” in which decisions, precisely because they were based on faith, could not be revised subsequently.

Read the whole thing here

Bush Deception, Manipulation & Subterfuge

From the abstract of a paper by Stephen P. Gordon, John Smyth and Julie Diehl:
The breadth of deception and manipulation of science by the Bush Administration is quite amazing, cutting across policy on endangered species, climate change, reproductive health, stem cell research, dietary science, and environmental pollution. This is a story of  suppressing and tampering with scientific findings, intimidating scientists, manipulating the membership of scientific committees, and allowing representatives of industry and social conservative groups to write Administration policies or legislative proposals.
From the section of the paper on reproductive health:

Despite evidence that abstinence-only sex education programs do not decrease unwanted pregnancies and may actually increase them, the Bush Administration has insisted that abstinence only programs be the only ones supported by the federal government. The Administration forced scientists from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to attend daylong sessions on the ―science of abstinence, conducted by nonscientists and absent of any scientific evidence. The CDC was forced to remove information on five comprehensive sex education programs supported by scientific studies from its website (Rushing, 2004).
To obscure the fact there is no scientific evidence indicating abstinence-only programs work in reducing unwanted pregnancy, the Administration measures the effectiveness of abstinence programs by tracking only participants‘ attendance and attitudes rather than the birth rate of female participants (UCS, 2004a).
The Bush Administration removed information on the effectiveness and proper use of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, and replaced it with a ―fact sheet that emphasized condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinence. Also removed was discussion of scientific evidence that sex education does not lead to increased sexual activity (Waxman, 2003).
Research, including a Danish study of 1.5 million women, has concluded there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. However, in 2002, The National Cancer Institute (NCI) removed from its website a fact sheet that reflected scientific consensus and replaced it with one inferring studies in this area were inconclusive (Rushing, 2004). This action resulted in so much outrage from abortion rights and breast cancer advocates as well as the scientific community that in 2003 the NCI was compelled to bring over 100 experts together to reexamine the issue. The experts concluded, again, that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer (Mooney, 2005).
In 2002, Dr. W. David Hagger, a religious conservative who had lobbied for reconsideration of the Food and Drug Administration‘s (FDA) approval of the drug RU-486 and whose scholarship included medical books with conservative religious themes, was nominated to chair the FDA‘s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. Previously, eminent reproductive health scientists had been nominated for this position. Following protests by scientists and others, Dr. Hager was not named the chair but he was placed on the committee (Waxman, 2003). In 2003, the acting director of the FDA‘s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research overturned the advice of two scientific panels and his own staff in refusing to approve the emergency contraceptive ―Plan B as an over-the-counter drug.
This action was taken despite the fact that the FDA is required by law to approve drugs found to be safe and effective (UCS, 2004b). In 2006, after considerable protest from the medical community and women‘s groups, the FDA approved over-the-counter nonprescription sales of Plan B by licensed pharmacists to women 18 or older, with a prescription still required for sales to women under 18.

Read the article here [pdf]

Crimes With Victims

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

… unlike Eliot Spitzer, Dick Cheney — just like Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo; think tank scholar, author and former Georgetown School of Foreign Service Professor Doug Feith; Georgetown’s current Distinguished University Professor George Tenet, and so many others — isn’t going to be forced to endure any humiliation or remorse rituals whatsoever.  As Cheney is feted by network news anchors a year or two from now upon release of the book he plans to write, there will be no real objections that this monstrous war criminal and perverter of our constitutional framework is treated like some sort of retired royal dignitary.  Cheney is and will remain a symbol of profound seriousness, entitled to respect and endowed with permanent wisdom.

What’s most striking is not that we have zero intention of prosecuting the serious crimes committed by our leading establishment figures.  It’s that we don’t even recognize them as crimes — or even serious transgressions — at all.  To the contrary, we still demand that those who are culpable be treated as dignified, respectable, serious and inherently good leaders.  Real outrage is never generated by the crimes and outrages they have undertaken, but only when they are not given their proper respectful due as leading American elites.  Hence:

An Iraqi citizen throws his shoes at an American President who — all based on false pretenses — invaded, occupied and obliterated his country; set up prisons where his fellow citizens were encaged without trials and subjected to brutal treatment; slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and displaced millions more.  And the outrage is predominantly directed at the disrespect, irreverence and the “ingratitude” displayed by the shoe-thrower, not the murderous and inhumane acts of the dignified American leader. 

[…]

The reason the American political establishment tenaciously refuses to acknowledge the devastation and crimes that have been unleashed during the Bush era is obvious:  aside from the generalized belief that Americans are inherently good and thus incapable of meriting terms such as “aggressive wars” and “war criminals” no matter what they actually do (those phrases are applicable only to lesser foreigners), most of the establishment supported these crimes and the criminals who unleashed them.  We can therefore tolerate thinking about Bush officials and their bipartisan enablers as political and opinion leaders who (with the best of intentions) embraced what turned out to be some misguided policies, but not as people whose criminal acts led to death and suffering on an enormous scale and an almost complete degradation of whatever was still commendable about American political values.  

That’s the real benefit, the real cause, of these flamboyant and obsessive collective outrage sessions directed at petty offenders who do things like hire prostitutes, commit adultery, or engage in some sleazy though quite commonplace political corruption.  Those rituals enable those who participated in and cheered on real crimes to parade around as righteous defenders of the moral good without having to acknowledge the extremism, brutality and destruction they’ve supported …

Read the whole thing here

Obama, “Change” & Torture USA

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

While virtually all of the Bush agenda over the last eight years ended up being deeply unpopular and profoundly discredited, it was his foreign policy and intelligence programs (torture, rendition, illegal surveillance, war) which caused the most intense opposition, at least among Democratic voters.  That is a large part of why Democrats just won their second straight national election promising to oppose Bush’s policies and to implement “change.”  It was the policies implemented and overseen by Bush’s Pentagon, CIA and “homeland security” apparatus that caused the most disgrace.  “Continuity” in those areas would be nothing less than a patent betrayal of everything Democrats, over the last two years, told the citizenry they intended to do.

And yet, having watched Obama already announce that he is retaining Bush’s Defense Secretary, here we have the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee also urging that Obama keep, for “at least” six months, Bush’s handpicked Director of National Intelligence (whom Democrats excoriated during the FISA debates for manipulating and, as even Reyes himself noted, outright lying to them) and Bush’s handpicked CIA Director (who was, as Obama himself said, the “architect and chief defender” of Bush’s illegal NSA spying programs).  Even worse, Reyes is publicly urging that Obama maintain, rather than overhaul, “some parts of the CIA’s controversial alternative interrogation program” — or else we’ll all be slaughtered by the Terrorists.

Read the whole thing here

Hearts & Minds

From Ali Eteraz at The Guardian:

Growing up and then attending college in America’s deep south, I was taught that when it came to the English language liberals were like Humpty Dumpty. What with their “deconstruction” and “post-modernism” and “relativism” those leftists – linguistic anarchists! literary terrorists! – could make a word mean “just what I choose it to mean”.

Meanwhile, conservatives were the mature and staid and serious “defenders” of “the canon” and “the great books” and “the classics”. They believed that words had certain fixed, even sacrosanct, meanings that were rooted in religion, tradition and western mores.

Then I graduated and encountered the Bush administration.

Conservative in garb, southern in style, jingoistic in jargon, it was Osama bin Laden to English. All of a sudden I saw not just an absolute disregard for language but a complete subversion of it. Everyone from GW Bush down to his staff and political appointments traduced our lingua franca and left me feeling utterly disoriented.

It is worth considering some of the crimes against English that Bush conservatism wrought.

There was, for starters, the term “compassionate conservatism“. It should have immediately rung a warning bell. Here was a leader whose mantra was an insult to his own philosophy. Hint: if you need to put “compassionate” before “conservatism”, you are signalling that regular conservatism is brutal or indifferent. (Incidentally, some Muslims object to the use of the term “moderate Muslim”, because it wrongly implies that the average Muslim is an extremist).

Putting aside the seven minutes of silence that occurred on one of the most tragic days in American history – to what can those be attributed except a lack of coherent words? – one ends up in the arena of law enforcement, where the Bush administration turned English into a laughing stock.

The most serious error was the term “war on terror.” On September 18 2001, the Rand Corporation requested the government not to refer to our response as a war, as it would confirm the narrative that al-Qaida wanted to establish. And how can one wage war upon a feeling? A war on terror is as farcical as a war on pain or a jihad on arousal. “War on terrorism” is not a whole lot better because a) it doesn’t have the requisite ring and b) most of what we’ve done in response to al-Qaeda constitutes collaborative police action and doesn’t fit the traditional definition of war. The unsexy, but correct, term should have have been “counter-terrorism“.

The terror errors accumulated. Faced by a group of killers who fancied themselves modern-day Saladins and sought revenge for the occupation of Jerusalem, President Bush went ahead and called his response, yes, a crusade.

This was followed by the foolishly named “Operation Infinite Justice” – a theological phrase invoking God – which was the first title given to the operation in Afghanistan. It was eventually renamed “Operation Enduring Freedom” when someone realised that Muslims believed in God as well. By then, however, the damage had been done.

Then, as the United States tried to “win the battle for the hearts and minds” of Muslims, we gave our operations such conciliatory names as “Operation Hammer” and “Operation Mountain Fury”.

Read the rest here

Bush Crimes

From John S. Hatch:

Amidst the somewhat hysterical euphoria of the Obama win is the fact that he has some very sober decisions to make, and his choice of Chief of Staff (Rahm Emanuel has already had to apologise for remarks by his once-terrorist father) does not auger well. Why choose someone who has served in Israel’s brutal IDF and who is rabidly anti-Palestinian? Is this ‘Change’? Also disturbing is talk of retaining Secretary of Defense Robert Gates with all his Iran-Contra baggage. Or Madeleine Albright who insanely stated that the undisputed deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children (under the age of five) during the (ineffectual to Saddam) sanctions following Gulf War I were ‘worth it’. Or possibly  appointing Paul Volker to head Treasury. Change? This sounds like Business As Usual. 

            But his biggest challenge will be in how he chooses to deal with the crimes of the previous Administration. Crimes such as kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, torture (including perhaps hundreds of torture deaths for which no one has been held to account), assassination, illegal invasions, the use of prohibited weapons such as white phosphorous, the wrongful deaths of up to 1.2 million Iraqi and Afghan civilians, illegal domestic spying, and probably a host of other things as yet undisclosed. 

            Will an Obama Administration seek to restore justice? 

            Or will it indulge in the familiar American proclivity to retreat into self-delusional denial? And please note that we’re not just talking about President Bush here, but a huge number of enablers from the top right down to the actual torturer or sniper or pilot dropping white phosphorous on living human beings, including children. It’s Ashcroft and Rice and Rumsfeld and all their minions. It’s John Yoo and a bunch of law-breaking lawyers. It’s generals and colonels and functionaries and aides. America sees fit to put Osama’s chauffeur on trial. So why not those who drove America along such a long low road? In Hitler’s Germany Adolph wasn’t the only sadistic maniac committing war crimes. This was recognized at the Nuremburg trials. Even if Bush and Cheney express contempt for Nuremburg (as well as Geneva conventions and habeas corpus), most civilized people and nations consider it as a template with which to judge human conduct in wartime. 

Read the rest here

Constitutional Peril

I do hope that America pays close attention to a book written by Bruce Fein, the Harvard-educated constitutional lawyer who had the gumption, to up and quit and critisize the Bush administration for its crimes against the America and the Founding Document:  Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy.  Here’s part of a review at firedoglake:

While most of his fellow conservatives were defending anything and everything George Bush did, and most establishment Democrats were running away from these issues as fast as their scared little legs could carry them, Fein became one of the most eloquent and uncompromising defenders of our country’s constitutional values in the face of a coordinated onslaught led by Dick Cheney’s office and the Bush DOJ. Fein, to my knowledge, was the first prominent political figure to declare — in a December 27, 2005 Washington Times column that has aged exceptionally well — that Bush’s FISA lawbreaking was not only a threat to our republican principles, but was an impeachable offense, and he further argued that Congress had not the option, but the Constitutional duty, to impeach the President if the lawbreaking did not cease immediately:

Volumes of war powers nonsense have been assembled to defend Mr. Bush’s defiance of the legislative branch and claim of wartime omnipotence so long as terrorism persists, i.e., in perpetuity. Congress should undertake a national inquest into his conduct and claims to determine whether impeachable usurpations are at hand. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 65, impeachment lies for “abuse or violation of some public trust,” misbehaviors that “relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. . . .

Congress should insist the president cease the spying unless or until a proper statute is enacted or face possible impeachment. The Constitution’s separation of powers is too important to be discarded in the name of expediency.

As further revelations of anti-democratic policies emerged — involving torture, rendition, due-process-less detentions and a whole slew of frivolous legal theories to shield the President’s behavior behind a wall of secrecy — Fein has remained one of the nation’s most relentless and tenacious critics of the Bush administration’s assault on our Constitution, as well as the inexcusable Congressional abdication in the face of this assault. He worked with Sen. Russ Feingold on the Wisconsin Senator’s resolution to censure Bush for violating FISA, and most of all, he has repeatedly urged that Congress fulfill its constitutional obligation by pursuing impeachment proceedings against this incomparably lawless President.

Fein has now made perhaps his most important contribution yet to the cause of defending the Constitution and the rule of law: his newly released book, Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy. As the title suggests, Fein argues and richly documents that, primarily as the result of the last eight years, America’s constitutional form of government is in imminent danger of extinction. Employing both his substantial constitutional expertise and his penchant for describing complex legal issues in clear and easy-to-understand terms, Fein details how the crux of our Constitutional guarantees have been gutted –not only by a lawless and power-grabbing administration, but also by a Congress that has allowed it to happen and, at least as much, by an American citizenry that has been tragically indifferent to safeguarding the liberties which the Founders guaranteed.

While other books have critiqued the Bush administration’s theories of executive power and chronicled its chronic lawbreaking, Fein very persuasively makes the case that, at this point, the blame is far more collective than suggested by those who simply heap blame on the White House. While the crimes of the Bush administration were originally conceived of and implemented in secret by a small group of executive branch officials, that is no longer the case. One by one, the criminal acts of the Bush administration has been revealed. Yet Congress has done virtually nothing in response, except to endorse the lawbreaking and immunize the criminals — as it did when it authorized the President’s detention and interrogation schemes with the 2006 bipartisan passage of the Military Commissions Act, as well as the 2008 enactment by the Democratic Congress of the FISA Amendments Act. And through it all, American citizens have expressed little outrage at the systematic evisceration of our core liberties.

The central project of Fein’s book is to examine the likelihood that these trends can be reversed. What, he asks, are the prospects for restoration of the Constitutional system that has served us so well for the last two centuries? The answer is one that most readers will be unhappy to hear, though there is little doubt that his answer is realistic. With a citizenry that has proven itself largely indifferent to these matters, a presidential election that has ignored them almost completely, and the general tendency of political officials — no matter how well-intentioned — to expand rather than contract their own power, Fein argues that, absent some unforeseeable and extraordinary changes, this erosion of our Constitution is likely to continue rather than abate, no matter who is in power.

Though pessimistic, Fein is not without hope — as evidenced by, at the very least, the fact that he has written this book, and has generally continued his forceful advocacy in defense of the rule of law. Within Fein’s grim assessment of where we are and are likely to go lies the template for persuading our fellow citizens of the urgency of these matters. As Fein recognizes, political institutions will respond to public will. It is that public will which must be galvanized, and Fein’s book is a vitally important tool in that cause.

Canadians and others would do well to read it too, since no constitution is immune from Bush-type revisions and regressive interpretations.  We are living through a huge threat to democracy every place it tries to grow.

Her Blog

I really love and admire Anglachel’s Journal and recommend it to everyone.  Here’s part of her post on the experience of Riverbend who, until a year ago, blogged at Baghdad Burning:

For me, everything that Movement Conservatism has done wrong can be read in Riverbend’s blog. Her careful chronicle of how the normalcy of everyday life melted away is the story of the corrosive effect Bush and his backers have had on the world directly for eight years and in varying levels of intensity since Reagan.

Anyone who praises Reagan and the movement he led is praising what has happened to Riverbend, her family, her friends, her country. There is no wall between the domestic and foreign policy of these people. The collapse of Wall Street and the burning of Baghdad are of a piece, joined by a Darwinian world view that there are hunters and prey, the strong and the weak, the winners who are deserving and the losers who deserve nothing. The prisons of California, an industry the Republicans proudly comapre to Pat Brown’s university system, are the siblings of Abu Ghraib. The drowning of New Orleans is the mirror of Baghdad in flames. Devastation to the innocent by-standers who could not flee in time, a gold mine for the contractors who arrived like vultures to strip the carcasses to the bone.

Read more about Riverbend and the rest of this post here

The comments on this post, wherein Anglachel challenges men to take responsibility for rape are worth a read as well, but be prepared for ignorance and agression from most of the males.

Bush-ed Doctrine

Tom Englehardt:

On June 1, 2002, George W. Bush gave the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The Afghan War was then being hailed as a triumph and the invasion of Iraq just beginning to loom on the horizon. That day, after insisting the U.S. had “no empire to extend or utopia to establish,” the President laid out a vision of how the U.S. was to operate globally, facing “a threat with no precedent” — al-Qaeda-style terrorism in a world of weapons of mass destruction.

After indicating that “terror cells” were to be targeted in up to 60 countries, he offered a breathtakingly radical basis for the pursuit of American interests:

“We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long… [T]he war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act… Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world.”

This would later be known as Vice President Dick Cheney’s “one percent doctrine” — even a 1% chance of an attack on the U.S., especially involving weapons of mass destruction, must be dealt with militarily as if it were a certainty. It may have been the rashest formula for “preventive” or “aggressive” war offered in the modern era.

The President and his neocon backers were then riding high. Some were even talking up the United States as a “new Rome,” greater even than imperial Britain. For them, global control had a single prerequisite: the possession of overwhelming military force. With American military power unimpeachably #1, global domination followed logically. As Bush put it that day, in a statement unique in the annals of our history: “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge — thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.”

In other words, a planet of Great Powers was all over and it was time for the rest of the world to get used to it. Like the wimps they were, other nations could “trade” and pursue “peace.” For its pure folly, not to say its misunderstanding of the nature of power on our planet, it remains a statement that should still take anyone’s breath away.

Read the whole thing at tomdispatch

Lotsa things Bush has said and done take my breath away.  What’s shocking to me is that many Americans seem to be breathing quite comfortably.