Saturday, April 05, 2008

Why did she lie?

By Edward Copeland

One of the biggest questions left unanswered after Hillary Nothing-But-Ambition Clinton's easily debunked nonsense about sniper fire in Bosnia is why she would make such a fib that could be uncovered at such rapid speed? Writing in Slate last week, professional misanthrope Christopher Hitchens may have hit upon the answer. Granted, I usually think the worst of Hillary and her motives, but this one I find even more appalling because if it's true it means that she wasn't lying just to boost her own foreign policy credentials but also in part to cover her complicity in delaying the Bosnian peace process in the 1990s costing thousands of people their lives as a result.

Hitchens reminds his readers of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign promise of ending the genocide in Bosnia, something he sat on his hands about for most of his first term. By the time Hillary took her trip in March 1996, things were finally getting under control, but according to an account in the book For Love of Politics by Sally Bedell Smith, the delay was directly attributable to Hillary's insistence on stalling.

Taking the advice of Al Gore and National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Bill agreed to a proposal to bomb Serbian military positions while helping the Muslims acquire weapons to defend themselves—the fulfillment of a pledge he had made during the 1992 campaign. But instead of pushing European leaders, he directed Secretary of State Warren Christopher merely to consult with them. When they balked at the plan, Bill quickly retreated, creating a "perception of drift." The key factor in Bill's policy reversal was Hillary, who was said to have "deep misgivings" and viewed the situation as "a Vietnam that would compromise health-care reform." The United States took no further action in Bosnia, and the "ethnic cleansing" by the Serbs was to continue for four more years, resulting in the deaths of more than 250,000 people.

Yes, Hillary, according to this account, thought a little more ethnic cleansing was OK if it meant her health plan might have a clearer path to success. Of course, in 2008, the U.S. still has an awful health care system and thousands of Europeans still mourn their dead.

Hitchens also cites two personal instances as further evidence as to the why behind the sell out of Bosnia for Hillary care.

I can personally witness to the truth of this, too. I can remember, first, one of the Clintons' closest personal advisers—Sidney Blumenthal—referring with acid contempt to Warren Christopher as "a blend of Pontius Pilate with Ichabod Crane." I can remember, second, a meeting with Clinton's then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin at the British Embassy. When I challenged him on the sellout of the Bosnians, he drew me aside and told me that he had asked the White House for permission to land his own plane at Sarajevo airport, if only as a gesture of reassurance that the United States had not forgotten its commitments. The response from the happy couple was unambiguous: He was to do no such thing, lest it distract attention from the first lady's health care "initiative."

Hillary Clinton may be more despicable than I ever gave her credit for.

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Other Nations Watch US

By Carol Gee

Mideast journalist watched the NATO summit -- As has been noted in the past Aljazeera is a good source to watch and can often provide useful insight into world opinion. This is its view of Bush's current trip. "Bush loses out in Bucharest," was written by Marwan Bishara, who is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst. To quote:

As the Nato conference in Bucharest comes to a close, it is clear George Bush did not get much of what he bargained for. . . Bush's adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have hurt Washington's standing within the alliance, even if it remains its only prospective leader.

. . . Needless to say, none of this will do the Republicans much good in an election year. With escalation in Iraq, further deterioration in Afghanistan will make it far more difficult for the Bush presidency to claim any success of any sort.

. . . All the while its partners are becoming more numerous than its members with a far more complex set of challenges than dealing with the Cold War threat from the Warsaw pact. It has become clear that the more Nato expands the less effective it has become. If Washington is to expect more European help, it will have to accept more European autonomy in defense and decision making. And even then, the Europeans remain generally reluctant to increase their military budget to four per cent of their GDP as Washington would want them to do in order to share the burden of its adventures.

Watching Putin -- "Putin criticizes NATO but has praise for Bush." Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George Bush each won and gave up a little bit at the NATO Summit this week. Putin is pleased that the Ukraine and Georgia were not admitted into the NATO alliance and Bush is pleased at the generally positive tone of remarks by Putin regarding the U.S. proposed missile shield. To quote the IHT, "Bush, speaking directly to Putin in his remarks, described the two of them as 'two old war horses,' the American official said." Russia's RIA Novosti reports on Bush's meetings in Russia next, for perhaps the last meeting between these two leaders. Bush will leave office next year and Putin will hand over power to his successor Dmitry Medvedev in May. To quote:

Bush and Putin are expected to meet for an informal dinner later today, and will begin negotiations on Sunday. The U.S. leader will also meet on Sunday with Russian president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who is set to take over in the Kremlin on May 7 when Putin steps down.

The presidents' talks, a continuation of their meeting at the NATO summit which Putin attended as a guest, are again likely to focus on missile defense and NATO expansion. The agenda will also include a broader strategic security deal between the two countries.

References: Deutsche Welle/Germany on NATO: Opinion, easing tensions, Afghanistan, Ins & Outs ; and on the U.S. election: "Dear American Voter" videos @ Link TV.

The Financial Times watches -- For all kinds of news, not just financial, if you can only read one newspaper on line, choose the Financial Times of London. Regarding U.S. job losses, its headline reads, "US loses jobs at fastest rate in 5 years." To quote from the story:

US employers cut more jobs in March than at any other time in the past five years, reinforcing the view that the US is in recession and raising fears about consumer spending.

. . . The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised upwards its estimate of job losses in January and February. The figures show the US has lost between 76,000 and 80,000 jobs every month since the start of this year and 232,000 jobs during the quarter.

International watch -- In the same way that we are interested in what other nations think, other nations are interested in what we think. From the International Herald Tribune we get this headline: "81% in U.S. poll say nation is on the wrong track." To quote:

Americans are more dissatisfied with the country's direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.

In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track," up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2002.

Although the public mood has been darkening since the early days of the war in Iraq, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.

The BBC is watching -- the Blackwater story: Despite an FBI investigation begun in November into an "unprovoked" shooting of 17 Iraqis, Blackwater's contract to provide security to the State Department has been renewed. The Clintons' money story, provides a quote:

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, have revealed they earned more than $100m (£50m) in eight years.

Since 2000, the former first couple took in nearly $110m, with more than $20m made in 2007, and gave more than $10m to charity in the same period.

Viewing the globe as shrinking, it takes less and less time to learn what is going on in the rest of the world. With the advent of the Internet we can instantly "pick up a newspaper" from across the sea without ever getting in a boat.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Wealth And Politics

By Carl

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton released tax data Friday showing they earned $109 million over the last eight years, an ascent into the uppermost tier of American taxpayers that seemed unimaginable in 2001, when they left the White House with little money and facing millions in legal bills.

In his book, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are MakingDavid Rothkopf notes that one of the quickest ways to fabulous wealth is to serve in government, and that Presidents, by dint of their international connections, are poised to become immensely wealthy.

Hey, you didn't really think Obama or McCain, nevermind Clinton, were running because they wanted to do good, did you?

But something odd about the Clinton's wealth should be stressed:

The bulk of their wealth has come from speaking and book-writing, which together account for almost $92 million, including a $15 million advance — larger than previously thought — from Mr. Clinton’s 2004 autobiography, “My Life.” The former president’s vigorous lecture schedule, where his speeches command upwards of $250,000, brought in almost $52 million.
(emphasis added)

Most former government officials sign on with boards of directors of multinational corporations to achieve this kind of wealth. Indeed, it is a testament to President Clinton's popular appeal and his moral fiber that he hadn't accepted the kind of cheap wealth that his predecessor had, and successor likely will.

Like his Vice President Al Gore, Bill Clinton could easily have sat on any number of boards of directors for companies as diverse as Wal-Mart, Citigroup (Robert Rubin, his Treasury Secretary, once served there ex-administration), the Red Cross, and MicroSoft (as a thank you for his help in keeping Bill Gates from off-shoring his entire company).

But he didn't. He decided to try to leverage his popularity and more important, his Rolodex into something positive: The William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, and as its centerpiece, the
Clinton Global Initiative, a kind of "Davos That Does" in that Clinton doesn't just ask his participants to indulge in rhetoric, but to make concrete valuable pledges of resources to tackle the world's problems.

Being a rich ex-President is not a sin. Wasting that power and influence is. It's nice to see that the Clintons not only made it, made it big, but didn't forget where they came from or whom to help.

(crossposted to
Simply Left Behind)

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Hypocrisy versus hope

By J. Kingston Pierce

I’m not the first and will probably not be the last commentator today to remark on John “100 Years War” McCain’s incredible hypocrisy in celebrating the life of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., after having been one of a minority of congresspeople to oppose the creation of Martin Luther King Day in the 1980s. As Think Progress notes, “In 1983, while serving in the House, McCain voted against legislation creating MLK Day. Most Republicans (including then-Rep. Dick Cheney) supported the bill, later signed by President Reagan. McCain complained it “cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized.” (This quote’s phrasing suggests McCain thought King was once president of the United States, which of course he wasn’t. But then the Republican’t hopeful has been confused about a lot of things.)

Conservatives in McCain’s home state of Arizona subsequently blocked a measure to recognize the national MLK Day, forcing then-Governor
Bruce Babbitt to create the holiday through an executive order. In 1987, when GOP governor Evan Mecham rescinded his Democratic predecessor, Babbitt’s order, McCain didn’t only stay quiet, he endorsed Mecham’s move.

Yet today,
four decades after King’s shocking assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, this year’s presumptive Republican’t nominee for president sought to champion the slain civil-rights leader, while at the same time twisting King’s murder into a justification for his own continuing support of George W. Bush’s disastrous occupation of Iraq. Speaking to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Memphis, McCain said:

Martin Luther King Jr., was not a man to flinch from harsh truth, and the same is required of all who come here to see where he was in the last hours of his life. The Lorraine Motel is a civil rights museum now, but in the memory of America it will always be a crime scene as well. On the National Register of Historic Places, there are few sites remembered with more regret, or touched with so much sorrow.

If we think only of that day and that moment, there is no inspiration to be gained here. The man we remember was a believer in the power of conscience and goodness to shape events. But this place will always stand as a reminder that cowardice and malevolence lay claim to their own victories. No good cause in this world--however right in principle or pure in heart--was ever advanced without sacrifice. And Dr. King knew this. He knew that men with nightsticks, tear-gas, and cattle prods were not the worst of what might be lying in wait each day and night. He was a man accustomed to the nearness of danger. And when death came, it found him standing upright, in open air, unafraid.

We see him today from a distance of four decades, more time than the man himself lived on this earth. And it would not be unusual if his stature or reputation had faded with the passing of the years. It happens sometimes that the judgments of history overrule contemporary opinion, indifferent to the fame and approval of the moment. But this has not been the case with the first-born son of Alberta and Martin Luther King, Sr. He only seems a bigger man from far away. The quality of his character is only more apparent. His good name will be honored for as long as the creed of America is honored. His message will be heard and understood for as long as the message of the gospels is heard and understood.

McSame … er, McCain would no doubt like his speech today to erase from the public’s mind his past ambivalence toward, if not opposition to Dr. King. He’s going to need at least some support from African Americans, if he hopes to take Bush’s place in the Oval Office next year and carry on the latter’s failed policies. That will be especially true if, as seems likely, his Democratic opponent in November is the dynamic Senator Barack Obama. Unfortunately for McCain, though, some people in this nation have long memories, and they aren’t going to let him off the hook for his actions, no matter how long ago they occurred. During his address on Friday, The Huffington Post reports, McCain “was met with boos and interruptions from many in the audience, as he apologized for repeatedly opposing the creation of a holiday to celebrate King’s legacy.” (Of course, it didn’t help his reception any, that a young black man had to hold an umbrella over the aged GOPer’s balding head while he spoke. Doesn’t McCain understand the significance of such symbolism?) The video of his being heckled can be found here.

And it’s not just McCain’s antagonism toward a holiday honoring King that American voters are reminded of today. It’s the Arizonan’s “tepid” support of civil rights, in general. Think Progress
offers some of the highlights (or low points):

Honoring the Confederate flag: In 2000, McCain called the flag “offensive.” Later, he lauded it as a “battle flag” and a “symbol of heritage.”

Honoring racists: In 2000, Richard Quinn, McCain’s South Carolina spokesperson in 2000, called the MLK holiday “vitriolic and profane.” McCain defended Quinn, calling him a “respected” and “
fine man,” refusing to fire him. McCain’s current campaign has paid the firm Richard Quinn and Associates $180,000.

Skipped African-American debate to campaign: McCain joined Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson in September 2007 in
skipping PBS’ presidential debate, which featured “a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color.”

Meanwhile, Senator Obama, eschewing the obvious, easy photo op in Memphis, spoke during a campaign stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana, pointing out that King didn’t simply stand for racial justice, but was also an advocate of economic justice--a not-so-veiled reminder of Bush’s incipient U.S. recession and a hat tip to former Democratic rival John Edwards’ “two Americas” theme. Obama said, in part:

There’s been a lot of discussion this week about how Dr. King’s life and legacy speak to us today. It’s taking place in our schools and churches, on television and around the dinner table. And I suspect that much of what folks are talking about centers on issues of racial justice--on the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington, on the freedom rides and the stand at Selma.

And that’s as it should be--because those were times when ordinary men and women, straight-backed and clear-eyed, challenged what they knew was wrong and helped perfect our union. And they did so in large part because Dr. King pointed the way.

But I also think it’s worth reflecting on what Dr. King was doing in Memphis, when he stepped onto that motel balcony on his way out for dinner.

And what he was doing was standing up for struggling sanitation workers. For years, these workers had served their city without complaint, picking up other people’s trash for little pay and even less respect. Passers-by would call them “walking buzzards,” and in the segregated South, most were forced to use separate drinking fountains and bathrooms.

But in 1968, these workers decided they’d had enough, and over 1,000 went on strike. Their demands were modest--better wages, better benefits, and recognition of their union. But the opposition was fierce. Their vigils were met with handcuffs. Their protests turned back with mace. And at the end of one march, a 16-year old boy lay dead.

This is the struggle that brought Dr. King to Memphis. It was a struggle for economic justice, for the opportunity that should be available to people of all races and all walks of life. Because Dr. King understood that the struggle for economic justice and the struggle for racial justice were really one--that each was part of a larger struggle “for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity.” So long as Americans were trapped in poverty, so long as they were being denied the wages, benefits, and fair treatment they deserved--so long as opportunity was being opened to some but not all--the dream that he spoke of would remain out of reach.

The full text of Senator Obama’s speech can be found here. A video of his address in Indiana is available here.

One presidential candidate speaking from hypocrisy, the other speaking from his hope for a better, saner, more civil America. Which would you choose?

The John McCain ‘Centrism’ Fallacy,” by Glenn Greenwald (Salon); “Why We Should Fear a McCain Presidency,” by Anatol Lieven (Financial Times); “McCain’s Century-Long Problem,” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report).

(Cross-posted at

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40 years ago tonight

By J. Kingston Pierce

One of the most moving speeches ever made, its importance only exacerbated by one’s knowledge of the tragedy that would be visited upon Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy less than two months later.

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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Election scenarios

By Carol Gee

Looking to the past for answers as to what might happen in the presidential elections this year will not give us predictions. One needs a crystal ball in 2008. Pundits, politicians, pollsters and the public are all anxious to know how things will come out during this voting year. I qualify on two counts of anxiousness, as a quasi-pundit (a blogger), and as someone in the public. But I have no crystal ball. What to do?

Finding the answers is not as simple as asking the experts. The experts have sometimes steered me wrong. Serious blogs or cable news programs often have no more wisdom than comedy. I could look for consensus among the pundits and predict from that. I probably will not find consensus there, as they are all over the map on any given day and too often wrong. Pollsters' public opinion results are fleeting and changeable, mostly good for that day only. No help there. Political candidates are notorious for seeing rosy scenarios (pertaining to themselves), or dire predictions (pertaining to their opponent). So I am on my own without a crystal ball. What I have left is experience, observation, hunches and a sixth sense.

Experience -- Having seen lots of presidents come and go gives me the capacity to step back a bit during the election year. What I do not know I try to find out from news or opinion sources that have more experience than I do. Experience is also a factor with all three of the candidates. Inexperience is not a bar to election if the candidate is surrounded with good people. Remembering that inexperience was not an impediment to Senator John Kennedy's election in the 1960s, I can visualize a scenario where Senator Obama has the same talent for picking good people. These people could conceivably him win the election and then help him govern effectively.

Observation -- Reading the best newspapers and watching or listening to public broadcasting avails me of trustworthy observations about objective reality. Good resources for quality up-to-date and comprehensive information are essential to good judgment. is just such a resource. Memeorandum is another. Many times consistently watching the big picture permits me to infer an overall outcome from within several smaller data points. A great many Obama supporters, including Governor Richardson are unable to articulate why they support him. I am with the Governor in that "there is something" that propels us in Barack Obama's direction. I have observed Obama in action and I like what I see and hear from him.

Hunches -- It is no secret that voters often vote "from the gut," going with a hunch that may not be related to the candidate's position on issues. Having lived in Texas during the term of Governor Bush, I had a hunch that he would make a poor president. This hunch was strong enough that I predicted his defeat in both 2000 and 2004. I have a hunch that the current administration's record of poor governance will somehow influence the outcome of the election, even if only marginally. As for my prediction of who will win in November, remember that my record in '00 and '04 is not so good. But here goes anyway. I think that Senator McCain will lose also. And I have a hunch that this is, again, wishful/magical thinking.

Sixth Sense -- Blog readers choose their favorite opinion makers based on intuitive trust of the blogger. I am in that mold. I have always had a sixth sense about Howard Dean as a leader. It began when he decided to focus on grass roots organizing at the beginning of his tenure. In my opinion he will continue to do a creditable job in leading the Democratic Party. That means I trust him to interpret and enforce the rules of the party, to be fair and evenhanded with the two candidates, and to be a good out-front spokesman for the party, while not assuming that he is THE LEADER of the party. I predict the Democrats will be able to unite around Senator Obama and his chosen running mate in a timely manner, and go on to win the general election at the end of the year.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Mugabe opts for runoff


The Independent reports that Robert Mugabe has opted for a runoff in the Zimbabwean presidential election, after the conclusion of a meeting of his top party leaders.

Despite this announcement, there is still no official release of results from last Saturday's first round.

I am not sure what the game is that Mugabe is playing here. Yes, under the rules, if his challenger, Morgan Tsvangarai, really did earn only 48 or 49% of the vote in the first round, a runoff is required. However, this is obviously no ordinary democratic two-round presidential election. And already it has been officially acknowledged that his party lost control of the assembly for the first time. (The same news item indicates that ZANU-PF will challenge the results in 16 seats. If they can overturn most of those, they would get their majority back, I hesitate to imagine what the social consequences of such a decision would be.)

It is virtually impossible that, in anything close to a free contest, Mugabe could win a runoff, based on unofficial results that show his main opponent so close to the majority already and Mugabe himself around 43%. He would need virtually every vote of the third candidate, Simba Makoni, in order to pull it off. Makoni was until quite recently a member of Mugabe's inner circle. Had he not run, it is likely that this would have been a very close two-man race and one Mugabe might have been able to steal (assuming much of what became Makoni's voter base had stayed with ZANU-PF or could have semi-credibly claimed to have). That may have been what Mugabe was counting on, till Makoni entered the race. However, now that the assembly results are out, as is information about the general shape of the presidential vote, and given that a faction of the MDC that ran separately and won assembly seats has now indicated it will throw its support to the mainstream MDC, it is almost inconceivable that Mugabe could reverse this result.

It is even more likely that some votes would shift from Mugabe to Tsvangarai in a runoff, given the revelation of information to previously cowed voters that the old dictator can actually be defeated.*

Of course, there remains the possibility that Mugabe believes he can change the second-round results fundamentally through intimidation. Already there have been ominous signs, including a raid yesterday on the opposition by security forces. Chaos could be Mugabe's short-term ally, but then what? By law, the runoff should be within 21 days of the first round. But Mugabe is apparently trying to have it set for up to 90 days thereafter, to give security forces time to clamp down.

I will admit to having a hard time seeing how Mugabe turns this around now, though the quiescence of Tsvagari so far may be giving Mugabe an opening to exploit. And if the security forces remain fully loyal and ruthless, a total crackdown may be coming. The first news item linked above, however, notes that:

There have been reports of rifts within the highly politicised upper echelons of Zimbabwe's security forces.

Setting a runoff, delaying it, and calling out the goons may be part of a game of negotiating better terms for his departure or forcing a "power sharing" deal. Or maybe he really believes he can "win" full power back.

These are obviously very dangerous times in Zimbabwe.

Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.

* I am reminded of the results of the first semi-free Albanian election in 1990, where a parliamentary election was held under a two-round rule. Most of the districts that went to a second round saw a collapse of the ruling party's votes relative to the first round.

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A patriot regardless

By Creature

Via ThinkProgress we learn that Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry referred to one of our soldiers serving in Iraq as a "two-bit security guard." As Steve Benen points out, if this representative was a Democrat right-wing talking heads would be exploding across the country right now. However, what Steve forgets in this little "what if a Dem had said it" game, is that Rep. Patrick McHenry wears a flag lapel pin, and has a yellow ribbon on his SUV, so all is forgiven.

Update: It turns out our "two bit security guard" solider was actually a "two bit security guard" contractor. However, the point remains the same and the Dems would have been blasted either way.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The dark side of Hillary's support

By Michael J.W. Stickings

No, not all Hillary supporters are like this -- right, Carl? -- but ignorance and bigotry are certainly alive and well among her base. Here's Michael Crowley at The Stump:

A Hillary supporter in Pennsylvania to the New York Observer's Jason Horowitz:

"She’s got this one locked," said Mary Yates, a 67-year-old retired worker in a chemical factory. "No Muslim is going to be president. No drug addict. If Hillary isn't the one, everyone I know will vote for John McCain."

As Horowitz notes, "Her campaign may not be at liberty to say so, but that sort of sentiment -- factually misguided though it may be -- is just what the Clinton campaign needs right now."

Is this Mary Yates the rare exception? Hardly. At The Plank, Jonathan Chait cites a new Pew survey:

In particular, white Democrats who hold unfavorable views of Obama are much more likely than those who have favorable opinions of him to say that equal rights for minorities have been pushed too far; they also are more likely to disapprove of interracial dating, and are more concerned about the threat that immigrants may pose to American values. In addition, nearly a quarter of white Democrats (23%) who hold a negative view of Obama believe he is a Muslim.

Less educated and older white Democrats, who have not backed Obama in most primary elections, hold these values more commonly than do other Democrats.

It's an ugly, ugly world out there, to be sure, even among Democrats -- and especially, in this regard, on Hillary's side. (She has done extremely well among "uneducated" white voters, and will likely do so again in the Pennsylvania primary later this month.)

No doubt these ignorant bigots would go for McCain over Obama, but it is distressing -- and should be deeply worrying to everyone who wants to see a Democratic victory in November -- that Hillary's candidacy has been bolstered by ignorance and bigotry and that she and her campaign have made appeals to ignorant bigotry time and time again.

Of course, most of the ignorant bigotry out there arose long before the present Democratic campaign. However, some of it may no doubt be traced directly to these noxious efforts to tear down Obama, Republican and Clintonian alike. (For example, appealing to anti-Muslim bigotry by implying or even stating explicitly that Obama is a Muslim.)

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Blog Against Sexual Violence Day: Rape in the military and war zones

By LindaBeth

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and today, April 3rd, is Blog Against Sexual Violence Day. At the end of the day I will be posting a roundup of some of the blog posts done by those who participated.

I want to bring attention to the issue of sexual violence and war/military. It is a pretty common understanding that the rape of civilian women and girls is used as a weapon of war, and is "even" used by "civilized" countries such as, I don't know, the U.S.

But I want to bring up two stories about rape and the military/war -- as in, rape in the military and in the context of war. Last week, via Think Progress:

In today's LA Times, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) sheds light on the staggering number of sexual assaults within the military, stating, "Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq," and calls on Congress and the military to do more to protect servicewomen:

At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through "nonjudicial punishment," which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of "insufficient evidence." […]

The absence of rigorous prosecution perpetuates a culture tolerant of sexual assault — an attitude that says "boys will be boys."

A Department of Defense report released this month found 2,688 reports of sexual assault in the military in FY2007. According to Harman, the number of reported military rapes jumped 73 percent from 2004 to 2006.

WOW. The percentage of reports actually pursued is pathetic and discouraging for women who may be unsure about if they want to go through the emotional trauma of coming forward. Add this to the Haliburton rape-cover-up and the unprosecuted rape of another Haliburton employee in Iraq from 2007, and sexual violence against women seems to more the rule in war-zones less than a deviation, and the common resolution is... nothing.

In August 2007, a female Air Force Airman 1st Class who had reported being raped, then decided not to testify at the court martial was then charged by the Air Force with committing indecent acts with the men she had said raped her.

In written statements to her attorneys, the three accused airmen call the sex consensual. One said Hernandez wore "skin tight" clothes, danced in a "promiscuous way" and later stripped naked.

Hernandez said that is not how it happened.

"What those guys did was wrong. There's nothing worse than being raped and people not believing you," she said.

A book author and researcher on rape issues who is helping Eason and Ashmawy, John Foubert, said that charging a rape victim with having consensual sex “when the evidence clearly points the other way is an insult to every American and every individual who has worn the uniform.”

What makes this even better is the slutting of the rape victim by her perpetrators. They pull the classic victim-blaming: "her clothing and behavior meant she was asking for it" line, a misconception about rape that continues to persist, and perpetuates the (wrong) assumption that rape is about sex, or it is just sex (so without any "actual" violence -- as if rape as forced sex isn't violence itself -- it's not "that bad"), or that it's sex "gone wrong." NO: rape is about power, control, dominance, and male privilege. Rape is not sex; in rape, sex is the weapon.

And as other bloggers have suggested, the default assumption regarding sex is "no." Radical, huh? Shouldn't be, but in a culture where we think a woman's clothing and "flirtations" trump actually, I don't know, asking if she wants to have sex, I suppose it is. But I guess this is how women look when it is assumed that their sexuality revolves around the desires of men--that sexual availability is assumed unless you are wearing a potato sack, and that women who dress or act sexual are doing so for the benefit of the men around her so that she doesn't have the right to say no. Men not being privy to a woman's blatant sexuality, and therefore taking it by force? That's an issue of power, not sex.

And when the military is the beacon of masculine power, it's no wonder the ladies are "put in their place," and the argument against women in the military is reiterated. Not that it's the military that needs to change, no, never...


UPDATE: Today The Nation posted a web-only story on another rape by two defense contractors for KBR/Haliburton who was told by her supervisor to keep quiet about the rape:

Currently, she has forty US contractor employees in her database who have contacted her alleging a variety of sexual assault or sexual harassment incidents--and claim that Halliburton, KBR and SEII have either failed to help them or outright obstructed them.

Most of these complaints never see the light of day, thanks to the fine print in employee contracts that compels employees into binding arbitration instead of allowing their complaints to be tried in a public courtroom. Criminal prosecutions are practically nonexistent, as the US Justice Department has turned a blind eye to these cases.


Another UPDATE: I wanted to pass along these disturbing stats posted from RAINN in a post from Shakesville:

But seriously -- why is it that whenever legislation comes up that might ameliorate the appallingly low rate of rape convictions, the first thing we hear is, "But what about false allegations?!?!?"

Get real. Get informed. Here are some handy (nauseating) facts about rape/sexual assaults in the US:

There were 272,350 sexual assaults (64,080 were completed rapes) reported in 2006, according to the DOJ National Crime Victimization Survey (these numbers do not include victims 12 years or younger).

60% of rapes/sexual assaults not reported to the police.

If a rape is reported, there is a 50.8% chance of an arrest.
If an arrest is made, there is an 80% chance of prosecution.
If there is a prosecution, there is a 58% chance of conviction.
If there is a felony coviction, there is a 69% chance the convict will spend time in jail.

So, even in the 39% of attacks that are reported to the police, there is a 16.3% chance the rapist will end up in prison.

Factoring in unreported rapes, about 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail -- 15 of 16 walk free. ~

This is pathetic. And depressing. And more reason I get sick over the rape apologists who say feminists have us in a tizzy over nothing, and that the fact that women can ruin a man's life over false rape allegations is improperly addressed by feminists ('cause I guess the fact that some people lie about stuff sometimes needs feminist theorizing), and that it is in some way feminists' fault for "creating" a rape epidemic over "sex."

Yeah, it gets me.

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No doubt, Lou Dobbs will go Absolut-ely apocalyptic

By J. Thomas Duffy

If I were in the predictions game, I might go out, on a very short limb, and say Lou Dobbs will soon be calling for a boycott of Absolut Vodka.

The Right Wing Freakshow is all atwitter today, with an ad campaign that conjures up the image of the mythical land of Aztlan, apparently found on, or tipped off to, a blog of a Latin American Editor and Journalist.

In a perfect world, our loved ones wouldn’t die leaving us terribly saddened and alone. But in an “Absolut World,” wonderful things can happen, including getting the U.S.-Mexico border straight once and for all. (This print ad was taken from the current issue of Quién magazine, in Mexico City.)

Hmmm ... Think I'll have to whip up a batch of vodka-and-tonics tonight, kick back, and watch Lou Dobbs melt down.

Ahh, screw Lou Dobbs ...

Better to fire up some Ruben Blades.

Pedro Navaja. Ruben Blades & Seis del Solar

Azucar! Laura Martinez!

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Update from behind the door

By Carol Gee

By which bit of national security news will we be buoyed these days? It turns out that a number of the Bush administration's efforts claiming to protect national security have been revealed to be just the opposite. For example, the release of the Justice Department's John Yoo so-called "torture memo," House continued steadfastness regarding the FISA bill, fear mongering Republicans are often failing, and more mainstream media reports of the truth about the war in Iraq.

By which branch of Congress will United States citizens have their civil liberties protected? It turns out that the House of Representatives has had the courage to stand up to the current Bush administration's threats and fear mongering regarding the future FISA bill(s). And it has worked. The House Majority Leader is reporting that there may be room for compromise, according to TPM Muckraker, 4/1/08: "Hoyer: The Administration wants to talk." Also, "It Turns Out There Was No Wolf," by emptywheel, 4/1/08, presents a note of cautious optimism that checks and balances may actually be viable.

By which administration officials were the Constitutional privacy protections/civil liberties most recently betrayed? A couple of reliable bloggers posted the latest on the Bush administrations public relations blitz during the recent congressional recess. It turns out that the foreign surveillance program laws were routinely broken prior to the revelation of a far reaching domestic spying program. The administration continues to lie, and continues to lose credibility with larger segments of the general population. Bloggers emptywheel (with "The DNI Is Well-Meaning. Really. Except with Those He Claims Want No IC." -- 4/1/08) and Wired - Threat level (with "In Spy Debate, Top Spy Lobbies, Attorney General Misleads" -- 4/1/08). To quote the latter:

Democrats no longer trust the "straight shooting" Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and consider him to be a 'lobbyist.' . . . And now the nation's top law enforcement official [Mukasey] is lying about wiretapping laws.

By which agency would you rather be spied upon, the Pentagon or the FBI? Well through court action the ACLU has found out that in this case you need not have choosen, because they were partnered in the effort, using NSL letters as the mechanism. It turns out the the FBI abused the practice by issuing the letters almost indiscriminately, including issuing many for the Pentagon. It also turns out that the Pentagon did its domestic spying through a mechanism known as CIFA, now closed. See "Pentagon closing CIFA," by emptywheel, 4/1/08. Emptywheel closes with this intriguing suspicion, "I don't know how I'll occupy my time until I find where they're going to hide CIFA."

By which branch of internal politics is the current administration now being dominated? Steve Clemons wrote this question in "Purging the neocons" at Andrew Sullivan, 8-31-07. During the early George Bush years, the neocons were clearly in control and alligned with "pugnacious Jesse Helms-revering nationalists like Dick Cheney and John Bolton." It turns out that now many neocons have left government service along with those who were forced out, such as Scooter Libby. To quote Clemons' conclusion last year,

. . . the rise of the "liberal realists" as a counter to the neocons -- but what may be happening is that the Bill Kristol-led neocons harmed this nation during their time at the wheel and those with a conscience, those who understand what checks and balances are about, what habeas corpus means in a justice system, who understand accountability for tragedies like Abu Ghraib are bouncing back to the norms this country has traditionally embraced.

By which of these stories do I become more optimistic? Actually whenever the door to truth is opened we have reason to be hopeful. In the past we could only rely upon the Fourth Estate, the press, to do that for us. Very fortunately, the blogosphere and courageous administration whistle-blowers and a few officials acting in good faith, have also managed to get at the truth within the shadows. It is a very good thing!

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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PostNATO care

By Carl

Well, some
interesting developments in foreign relations today...

NATO has decided not to include the Ukraine and Georgia among its new members after strong objections from Russia. However, the alliance pledged that the two countries would eventually become members.

President Bush was a supporter of the Ukraine and Georgia's bids to become members of NATO.

Former Soviet republics Croatia and Albania were invited to become members in the decision announced Thursday.[...]

Macedonia was denied entry to the alliance after Greece blocked its invitation because of objections to the country's name. However, leaders said Macedonia can join as soon as it resolves the dispute, AP said.

Greece has a northern province that is also called Macedonia, and argues the former Yugoslav republic's insistence on being known as Macedonia implies a territorial claim.

The denial of Macedonia is a pretty silly matter, unless of course, you're Greek, or Turkish, for that matter. It's a little like denying York, Pennsylvania full American rights because it sounds like New York City.

However, the Georgia/Ukraine as well as Croatia/Albania questions... there's an interesting little bit of chemin de fer amongst the NATO allies. Russia, which of course was most decidely NOT a charter member of NATO, set up to defend against the Soviet Union's hegemony into Europe.

One almost gets the sense that Bush got the split difference: he lost out on Georgia and Ukraine, countries he had explicitly asked membership for, but was granted Albania and Croatia, which, while not former Soviet republics, certainly were under USSR influence in the old Warsaw Pact country of Yugoslavia. He had not lobbied for these. Give the baby his candy, perhaps?

This indicates the rise of Vladimir Putin's profile in European matters in tandem with the decline of American prestige in such affairs, even amongst our staunchest allies and pledged defenders.

In his book
Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making, David Rothkopf makes the observation that the 21st century will see a kind of global government arise that will subsume national governments, and it won't be led by America.

While this was likely inevitable before the Bush administration fumbled foreign affairs so badly after the sparkling diplomacy of Bill Clinton, Rothkopf points out that only the Bush administration could have the world hating us...for being the victim of a terror attack!

This "New World Order," to use a hackneyed phrase, will originate in Asia, and be led by China, India (which is poised to become the most populous nation on the planet shortly), and -- you guessed it! -- Russia.

Indeed, several nations which have been mulling admission into NATO have not aggressively pursued admittance simply because they view NATO as not "European enough" (code word for "too dominated by the US").

Keep in mind that Russia, China, and India all possess nukes, and all have shall we say, close working relationships with Iran?

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Bill Clinton: "irked" or "melting down"

By Creature

Yesterday the talk of the Intertubes was of Bill Clinton and his red-faced tirade at this past weekend's California superdelegate meeting when he was asked about Bill Richardson's Judas-like endorsement of his wife's rival. To read the SFGate story, it was classic Bill:

In fact, before his speech Clinton had one of his famous meltdowns Sunday, blasting away at former presidential contender Bill Richardson for having endorsed Obama, the media and the entire nomination process.

"It was one of the worst political meetings I have ever attended," one superdelegate said.

However, today the story went national, and the Associated Press' version has a slightly different take:

During a private meeting with California Democrats this past weekend, Clinton grew red-faced as he talked about how he expected Richardson, who was a member of Clinton's Cabinet, to back Hillary Rodham Clinton for the presidential nomination or at least stay neutral, according to several people who attended. [...]

"He sort of gets a little redder and redder and redder, but he wasn't off the deep end as I had seen him in the past," said Inola Henry, an uncommitted superdelegate. "It was sort of like, 'Gee, I'm a martyr.' He seemed more hurt than anything." [...]

"I left the meeting feeling this was great," Mulholland said. "The guy had time to talk to us about the campaign."

Even comparing the headlines it's hard not to see a bit of backroom spinning to tone down the story by the Clinton's, the AP, and reporter Laura Kurtzman:

SFGate: Bill Clinton's tirade stunned some delegates

AP: Clinton irked by Richardson endorsement

Read them both, compare for yourself, and while I'm glad the story went national, and that it's a top story on Yahoo! news, it's hard not to be disappointed that an event that was clearly indicative of Bill's negative influence on his wife's campaign was not portrayed as such.

As the Clinton campaign steers their superdelegate wooing toward Obama's Reverend Wright problem, I think it's fair to point out that Hillary would have a bit of a Bill problem herself come November.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Crimes of Yoo

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Must-read Greenwald:

The fact that John Yoo is a Professor of Law at Berkeley and is treated as a respectable, serious expert by our media institutions, reflects the complete destruction over the last eight years of whatever moral authority the United States possessed. Comporting with long-held stereotypes of two-bit tyrannies, we're now a country that literally exempts our highest political officials from the rule of law, and have decided that there should be no consequences when they commit serious felonies.

John Yoo's Memorandum, as intended, directly led to -- caused -- a whole series of war crimes at both Guantanamo and in Iraq. The reason such a relatively low-level DOJ official was able to issue such influential and extraordinary opinions was because he was working directly with, and at the behest of, the two most important legal officials in the administration: George Bush's White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and Dick Cheney's counsel (and current Chief of Staff) David Addington. Together, they deliberately created and authorized a regime of torture and other brutal interrogation methods that are, by all measures, very serious war crimes.

In short, the Bush Administration committed war crimes. Needless to say, a demand for justice is in order.

Make sure to read Glenn's entire post. And see also Scott Horton at Harper's, Phillippe Sands at Vanity Fair, and the ACLU.

Sands: "The abuse, rising to the level of torture, of those captured and detained in the war on terror is a defining feature of the presidency of George W. Bush."

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The glennbeckery of Glenn Beck

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The mega-assholery of Glenn Beck has been the subject of much attention from those who bother to pay attention to him, and thankfully there are those who do, because he needs to be exposed for what he is, and I have at least twice posted on him here at The Reaction -- see here and here. Why not more frequently? First, tracking Beck's mega-assholery -- and it is very much his essence -- requires a great deal of time and energy. I simply don't have either the time or the energy to waste on him. Second, I don't want to pollute my blog with too much of him. And even mentioning his name seems like too much of him. Third, we have the invaluable Media Matters, which has thankfully devoted a good deal of time and energy to tracking his mega-assholery, as you can see here.

But I began to wonder, as I sat down to write this third post on yet another of the many outbursts of his mega-assholery, what do I have against the asshole that I would liken it to Glenn Beck? After all, where would we be without our assholes? Call them what you will, they serve a useful and essential service -- and not just in one way, I might add (and leave it at that). As with the pussy, of which you can learn more here, the asshole needn't be used as a bad and insulting word. On the contrary, it ought to be liberated from such uses. It may have a bad reputation, but how can such a useful and essential thing really be so bad?

And so I will speak no more of the mega-assholery of Glenn Beck, nor of the assholery of his ilk.

But, then, what word to use? How to describe the essence of the Glenn Becks of the world?

Allow me to coin a new word: glennbeckery. As in, the glennbeckery of Glenn Beck. Does that make sense? Perhaps this will: the glennbeckery of Bill O'Reilly, the glennbeckery of Sean Hannity, the glennbeckery of Ann Coulter.

Or this: Today on Fox News, Michelle Malkin was even more of a glennbeck than usual.

Or this: John Gibson spewed glennbeckism after glennbeckism.

Or this: Rush Limbaugh exhibited his characteristic glennbeckitude.

Is this giving Beck too much credit? Does he really deserve his own neologism? Do we need to remind ourselves of him with a new word, with new words, in our vocabulary? No, maybe not. And this may be the one and only post in which I use them...

...until the next time I find the time and energy to blog about his essential glennbeckery.

(All I ask is this: Use these words yourselves. Try them out. Just remember to give credit where credit is due. Deal?)


Do you all know the story of Debbie Shank? If not, here's Think Progress:

In 2000, then-Wal-Mart employee Debbie Shank was hit by a semi-truck, leaving her seriously brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair. Wal-Mart covered her medical expenses until she won a settlement from the trucking company that left her $417,000 after legal fees.

Invoking a little-noticed clause in Shank’s contract that kicked in once she won a settlement with the trucking company, Wal-Mart sued the Shank family to recoup the medical expenses it had spent on her care, all $470,000.

Thankfully, if only because it was the target of intense criticism, including from the great Keith Olbermann, Wal-Mart dropped its lawsuit: "Occasionally others help us step back and look at a situation in a different way. This is one of those times... Wal-Mart will not seek any reimbursement for the money already spent on Ms. Shank’s care, and we will work with you to ensure the remaining amounts in the trust can be used for her ongoing care."

Wal-Mart is mostly evil, in my view, and was so here, but at least, at the very least, it did the right thing in the end. And we're all happy about that, right?

Wrong. Here's what Glenn Beck, exhibiting characteristic glennbeckery, said on his radio show yesterday:

This is blackmail. And yet Wal-Mart folds. You don't deal with terrorists? Really? You just did. You just dealt with economic blackmailers.

Yes, that's right, as evil as Wal-Mart may be, it's no match for Glenn "fuck the brain-damaged handicapped woman" Beck. And just who are these "terrorists"? The Shanks, of course, but even more so the media, and especially MSNBC. We all know there are some pretty dangerous (and genuine) terrorists out there, but Beck just lumps the Shanks right in there with them. Nice, eh?

Just another glennbeckinous glennbeckism from the glennbeckiest glennbeck of them all.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Healthcare proxy

By Carl

It seems to me that, when the American healthcare system works, there's not much room for improvement. It's when it doesn't work, or is non-existent, that things get cocked up.

I'll relate my story from yesterday as anecdotal evidence of how it can and should work:

As many of you know by now, I was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma on my nostril three months ago. Two months ago, I had it excised, and needed same-day plastic surgery to close the wound. During that procedure, another nest of suspicious cells was found, excised and biopsied.

Yesterday, I had the surgery to close everything up, since it was determined that I no longer had malignant cells in this region.

I arrived for surgery at 1PM at a New York City Catholic hospital, on an ambulatory basis. Surgery was scheduled for 2PM.

I filled out a couple of forms: a consent to allow the insurance company to pay the hospital, and a patient's bill of rights acknowledgement. I was then ushered to the pre-op area, where I might change into a gown and have my clothes secured. In that area, I was interviewed by two nurses, an anesthesiologist, and the surgeon. Two orderlies took my temperature. The area of concern was examined, and the surgeon initialed my nostril.

In the course of the interview with the first nurse, along with questions about what medications I might be on and what previous surgeries I had, the fact that I had eaten 7 hours ahead of surgery instead of eight was revealed (I misread the directions. My bad!)

So we waited an hour. No problem. At the appointed time, I got my IV unit inserted, and walked into surgery with the anesthesiologist. I laid down on the operating table, and was conscious for quite a while after that, which is a good thing, since the IV unit has jostled slightly out of position, wetting the linens I was on.

All three nurses walked in and interviewed me separately: what are you here for? Specifically where is the incision to be made? Who is your surgeon? Is this your name on the name tag?

The surgeon came in, and we spoke briefly, again, about my options for being out cold v. being groggy. The "late" meal was not a crisis, it turns out, but to be on the safe side, we agreed to put me out, but if I started to come to, it would be OK.

Precisely what happened.

I should explain. I'm not big into medication. I don't like to even take aspirin if I can avoid it. When I've had surgery in the past (not recently, admittedly), I've asked for local and pain meds.

This time, I wanted to be out given the proximity of a sharp object to my eye. I've always had problems with things flying at me. That's probably why I was such a good goaltender: I didn't want to get hurt!

By the time I woke up, however, the knifey part was done, and the doctor was into stitching. Needles and my eyes don't get along, but I was too groggy to really give a crap. But it was fun to listen to the surgical team talk about how I was awake and to even get off a one liner or two ("Hey, doc? Did I get Heath Ledger's nose like I asked?")

The other advantage to this strategy was I was practically able to get up and walk when we left the operatory. I was released on schedule, pretty much, despite being in surgery nearly ninety minutes later than planned.

So what went right here?

Well, for one thing, the rules were followed. There was great communication all around, no one fumbled for the next question. Information was passed on efficiently, and I was given as much choice as possible in my treatment options. The surgeon had already consulted with me about two possible options for closure, and I picked one, which we went over in the hospital. He said that one option would require less work to do, but might leave my nose
slightly misshapen (as in you couldn't tell unless you looked closely), and one would require a graft of both skin and cartilage, which is what we ultimately decided on. Good thing, too, because the wound turned out to be a bit more complex than we thought.

The staff worked quickly and as a team. No one was asking questions they didn't need to ask and everyone understood his or her role. I confess that, after the last encounter, I was very scared going in, but by the time I was in the operatory, I felt very at ease, despite my own error.

What went wrong here, however?

Ahhhh, and there's the rub: if you re-read all this carefully, so much of what transpired, while for my benefit, was not done out of concern for my well-being, necessarily. I'm not saying that this doctor, or these nurses and orderlies, or any doctor, nurse, or orderly, does not have the best interests of the patient first and foremost in his or her heart.

What I am saying is that a lot of this communication is generated for one reason and one reason only: to stem lawsuits.

By putting the onus on me for decisions, by making sure that I understand each and every choice and decision that has to be made, but more important, by confirming that I am fully aware and vested in each step of the operation, the hospital is mitigating their risk.

This was brought home to me today, when the hospital called for a follow-up: are you in pain? Are you satisfied with the results? Did you receive post-operative counseling?

As the healthcare system in America becomes more and more profit-driven, as hospitals and HMOs have to answer first and foremost to their stockholders as opposed to the public weal, we are all going to be forced to deal with the downsizing of authority to the patient, who in many cases may be the least informed party.

Think about it: I had a simple operation, and yet underwent grueling questioning of my understanding of what was to happen. I was fortunate in that my surgeon and his team were all communicative and helpful, and more important, understandable.

Imagine if I hadn't understood what was to take place. Imagine if my procedure was complex and risky. Imagine if I was of even average or below average intelligence.

Such enormous risk to place on the shoulders of a civilian, as opposed to leaving it to the expert. And if you've spent anytime in doctor's offices lately, this trend continues in there.

Exhibit A: The original lesion itself, which I've had for nearly thirty years now. In that time, literally hundreds of doctors have seen it, yet it took an urgent care doctor in a clinic to mention "You oughta have that looked at", nevermind how many doctors have stuck a probe up my nose or looked directly in my eye.

If you have a question about your health, even while you're standing there in your underwear, it's next to impossible to get taken seriously in an awful lot of doctor's offices, a circumstance I suffered two years ago when I had chest pains and trouble breathing, until I basically called a doctor and said "Look, if you can't help me with this stuff, I'm going into a hospital."

Which clearly triggered his self-preservation mechanism. He might have imagined that I was a bit upset over his inability to listen to my complaints.

I'm glad this ordeal is over because through it, I gained a new-found respect for the medical professions and confidence that not everytime I see a doctor, I get sicker.

But let me say this: It shouldn't have taken this long for just one doctor to prove me wrong

(crossposted to
Simply Left Behind)


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Iraq Political Party Primer

By Carol Gee

Recognition by Western readers of Iraq's political system is useful. Here is how I understand it at its most basic level, bolstered by other articles and references below this very simplified introduction.
First the Shiites -- Nuri al-Malaki is the Da'wa Prime Minister of Iraq. He governs in a coalition called the United Iraqi Alliance, made up of Da'wa and ISCI (with its Iranian-trained militia the Badr Corps), headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Opposing the United Iraqi Alliance is the Mahdi Army, a very large militia led by Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr.
Next the Kurds -- The President of Iraq is Kurdish Jalal Talibani. This powerful and respected leader holds the more ceremonial position than that of the Prime Minister. The Kurds have a relatively successful semi-autonomous form of government in their region.
Third, the Sunnis -- Under Saddam Hussein's now outlawed Baathist party, the Sunnis controlled Iraq until the U.S. invasion. Since their defeat, the Sunnis, always a numerical minority but only in Iraq, have not been able to integrate themselves effectively into governing Iraq. Last year the 11 member Sunni bloc returned to Parliament after a boycott. Currently the Awakening Movement in al-Anbar and other provinces meant that Sunni insurgents have joined with the U.S. forces in fighting al-Qaeda. Sunnis comprise by far the largest block within Islam in the larger Middle East.

Why al-Malaki attacked Basra: The three reasons the Iraqi prime minister launched his ill-fated assault on the Sadrists of southern Iraq." This story, an important article for, was written on April 1, 2008 by Juan Cole of Informed Comment. It is very good background reading to understanding the current political and military situation in Iraq, prior to the appearances next week of the Oracle of Iraq Truth, General David Petraeus.

Understanding the current political "system" in Iraq is essential to remain knowledgeable when reading news reports such as the following about what is going on in Iraq. Cole's most recent post (4/2/08), from which I quote, is rather alarming:
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday honored the militias of the parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, i.e. the Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. They were singled out for having fought alongside government security forces, and some 10,000 of them were inducted into the latter.

Al-Zaman points to a double standard, insofar as the government has not similarly honored, or accepted into the state apparatus, most members of the Sunni Awakening Council militias that have been fighting the Qutbist Jihadis.

The induction of Badr Corps fighters (the paramilitary of ISCI) and those of the Da'wa Party into security positions came in the wake of the firing of thousands of officers and troops who had refused to obey orders to fire on the Mahdi Army militiamen in Baghdad and the southern provinces. They were accused of mutiny.

If al-Zaman's reporting is correct, the scale of the mutiny is breathtaking, and helps explain why government troops did so poorly against the Sadrists-- the hearts of the thousands of them were simply not with the fight.

About the near recent past political situation in Iraq, Phebe Marr of USIP wrote in January of last year. To quote:

  • Third, and most important, many of the current leaders have spent the best part of their adult life engaged in opposition to the Saddam regime, often in underground or militant activities. Those who had any affiliation with, or simply worked under, the old regime have still found it very difficult to gain entry. The result has been a profound distrust between the new leadership and those with some association with the old regime. The continuation of the insurgency has helped this political struggle metamorphose into an ethnic and sectarian war.
  • A fourth parameter is emerging as significant: the development of political parties and groups, often accompanied by militias. While ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq have grabbed most of the headlines, it is these parties and their constituencies that are shaping the political agenda and are likely to be determinative in the future.
  • The most important of these parties now occupy seats, not only in the assembly but in the government. They include the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Da'wah, and the Sadrist movement in the dominant Shi'ah United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the Kurdistan Alliance, Tawafuq (Iraqi National Accord) among the Sunnis, and the weaker Iraqiyyah (Iraqi) ticket among the secularists. Each of these parties has different positions on issues and different constituencies to satisfy; in a number of cases these cross ethnic and sectarian divides.

Wikipedia has a list of Iraqi political parties but cautions that it needs to be updated. First, I have not included a very long list of secular parties, because of they have fewer members. I list the most significant ones of the three factions as a Wiki quote:

This has been a very eventful couple of weeks in the Iraq civil war. The ruling party's President took military action against their armed rivals in Baghdad and to the South. The PM and his Iraqi army did not prevail. Iran brokered a truce, and the Sadrists came out looking the strongest in the battles. The estimated loss of life for the week is 350, according to Juan Cole.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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