What to make of all this?
Dateline Charleston, West Virginia
So what's up on the banks of the Kanawha River in the capital city? More on the mining disasters?
No, Tuesday, February 7th Charleston became one more front in the political war, and this time it was a matter of who really supports the troops. Our here in Los Angeles a comedy writer recently offended the nation mightily, when, in the Los Angeles Times, he suggested that if you have decided this war was a bad idea, and was based on manipulation of facts (either lying outright or the self-delusion of the righteous, born-again and Texan), then all your mouthing off about supporting the troops was illogical, as they were cheerfully implementing a policy with which you disagree. (That was discussed in these pages here.) As "the war a bad idea" and "we were fooled" are majority opinion now, as all polls show, this upset a whole lot of people.
And the ante went up in West Virginia, when the Charleston Gazette-News published an odd story. Who reads that paper?
Well, in this interconnected world, where just about every newspaper is online and you can use Google or any other search engine to find what you seek by combinations of key words, people with definite views found this story about First Lieutenant William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, a West Point honors graduate. After four years of active duty, the last six month of that in Iraq, he was really badly wounded there in a roadside bombing a year ago. He left the Army because of that. He was discharged through Fort Hood in Texas.
What's the story? The Army said he owed them seven hundred dollars for "lost body armor." He said the medics pulled the armor off when he was wounded, to treat him, and the last time he saw the stuff he was, according to this story, "lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered." He says they burned it so the bad guys wouldn't get it. The Army says there's no record of any of that, and as there was no body armor - he wasn't turning any in - that'd be seven hundred dollars. The News-Gazette says he "scrounged up the cash from his Army buddies and returned home to Charleston last Friday."
But his mother was ticked off - as in "soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better - 'It's outrageous, ridiculous and unconscionable. I wanted to stand on a street corner and yell through a megaphone about this.'" Did she contact the News-Gazette reporter, Eric Eyre? Probably.
She was no doubt happy this story was picked up all over, as were the folks at the Charleston Gazette-News, although all the traffic on their website crashed their server a few times, and it's unlike this is anything more that a "one shot" and won't make them a major news source.
But it got really interesting when John Aravosis at his Americablog posted this from Washington, DC -
He got more than four thousand in the first two hours, from nearly two hundred people - twenty bucks was the average donation - and closed the drive when there was more than five thousand. He's going to call the guy - "I'm going to suggest it might be nice to share the money with other service members he knows have faced the same problem."
I've had it with the Bush administration. Enough is enough. Now they're charging US soldiers injured in Iraq for their lost body armor. Enough is enough. We liberal folk may disagree with the Bush administration over the reasons for going to war and over how they're fighting this war, but one thing you'd expect no disagreement over would be the treatment of our soldiers. They fight for their country and they deserve some respect in return. And that means not charging them for their body armor because someone blew them up on the battlefield.
This soldier had to pay $700 for his armor, and now is out trying to find work. He has friends who have faced the same cruel, ridiculous policy. Let's finally raise some cash for these guys and show the Bush administration how compassion really works.
I'm serious. I've set up a special PayPal donation fund. If you click the button below and donate, it will be earmarked with a special code so I'll know it's for the body armor fund. All the money collected, ALL OF IT, will go the soldier who was forced to pay for his armor, and if we get more than $700, I'll give him that as well to help him get back on his feet (he's now unemployed, and he says he knows other soldiers who have faced the same problem, if he wants, he can reimburse his pals who also had to pay for their armor).
I'm pissed. Please help.
But the Charleston Gazette-News reported this -
Medical school will take more than five grand, but it's a start.
Now, Rebrook is sending out résumés, trying to find a job. He plans to return to college to take a couple of pre-med classes and apply to medical school. He wants to be a doctor someday.
"From being an infantryman, I know what it?s like to hurt people," Rebrook said. "But now I?d like to help people."
Of course, all this was followed by a lot of the left taunting the right - you guys have your yellow magnetic ribbons on your SUV's but we actually support the troops. So there!
Interesting. And go here for information on the dozen or more Iraq war veterans running for congress or the senate, as Democrats, opposing the administration.
Something is up.
Previously people were a bit upset when the New York Times reported this -
That, from Sunday. January 29, was discussed in detail in these pages here, but there is now a companion story.
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.
That is the story of George Deutsch - the same George C. Deutsch who put Hansen in his place. He's twenty-four, and used to be an intern for the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the campaign they found him a slot as an information officer for NASA, not just riding herd on world famous climatologists, but also making sure the web designers were on track. And February 4 the New York Times reported this - he instructed a NASA web designer to add the word "theory" to every reference to the Big Bang -
It's religious issue? Whatever. The administration, of course, claims we are now in the post-Enlightenment era, having evolved (oops, wrong word) to the point where we see faith is as important as facts, or some such thing.
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."
It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."
So who is this young man who now tells eminent scientists what is correct to publish? What is his background in science?
He has a degree in journalism from Texas A&M. That's it. Expect he doesn't (see this from February 7th) - he dropped out of college. He has no degree in anything. But he's the gatekeeper, making sure what is published by uppity scientists is accurate.
Well, it's not like Michael Brown at FEMA. No one died. It's only theoretical cosmology, after all. And global warming. If the State of Kansas can define science to include the supernatural, as they have regarding the teaching of evolution, religion gets inserted here of course.
We shall become a very odd country. The president in the State of the Union speech had some words on making sure America is always the technological leader in the world. Yeah, we'll design faith-based microchips.
The Times, by the way, follows up on George C. Deutsch, here, Wednesday, February 8, noting he resigned. His résumé did list "Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Class of 2003" - so he lied. That university in Texas says he never completed the requirements for a degree. It's a federal crime to lie on a job application for a position in government, isn't it? Oops.
Not to worry. They'll find someone with a real degree to keep religion in science.
Dateline New Orleans
What does one make of this? -
Some might see this as humiliating - "Being a charity case is not a pleasant experience" - but it's actually pretty cool. If the administration isn't that enthusiastic about rebuilding New Orleans (too black, too funky, too odd, and never "middle-American" in any way), then maybe it gets its eccentric cosmopolitan nature back when the French and Jordanians pitch in and rebuild it. And the mix will be even odder this time, driving the white-bread Republicans even further up the wall. It always was a mix of folks from everywhere - was there a few years ago for a nephew's wedding in Houma where the bride's family was originally Lebanese but had been there for generations in the shrimp business - and this will make things even more a mighty fine gumbo. Heck, the restaurant scene alone would be amazing. Bring it on. George can have dull Houston and glass-towered Dallas, and the fresh New Orleans will have a MonoPrix for every Wal-Mart. Cool.
Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.
Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.
"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.
Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.
"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods.
Dateline Mexico City
Another story about immigration policy? Not at all.
The idea is this this -
Mexico and Cuba criticized the United States on Monday for demanding that the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel here order a group of Cuban officials, who were meeting last week with representatives of American oil companies, to check out of the hotel and leave the premises.
On Friday, the United States Treasury Department contacted the company that owns the Sheraton and warned them that they were violating federal laws against trading with Cuba by allowing the meeting to take place in their hotel.
Here, from Jeanne at Body and Soul, is some commentary -
Well, it is pretty odd, and as odd as the whole embargo on anything Cuban is concerned, most illuminating. Yes, there are a lot of solid Republican votes in the Cuban exile communities in south Florida - so no trade or travel ever with Cuba - but the OIL COMPANIES are being sneaky and doing an end run here. If you're a Republican, and especially if you're a Texas oilman Republican, this poses a dilemma - someone is going to be unhappy. If you break the embargo your oil friends love you, and the Cuban vote disappears. If you don't, Exxon-Mobile won't bankroll the next election campaign, and add to that they've got an army of natty lobbyists ready to call on everyone in congress.
Cuban officials have been meeting with representatives of American oil companies to discuss developing oil fields off its coasts. Canadian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Spanish, Indian, and Norwegian companies have already signed exploration and services deals, but interest from companies like Exxon would have the added advantage of creating lobbyists against the trade embargo who have a bit more power and influence than most people against the trade embargo.
Here's where it gets really strange. The meetings were held in Mexico City, in an American-owned hotel. The Treasury Department contacted the company that owned the hotel and warned them that they were violating the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act.
An agency of the American government is enforcing American law on Mexican soil. This is how we promote democracy in Cuba.
This administration has some real problems understanding the meaning of the word "democracy."
The hotel not only kicked the Cubans out, it sent their deposit to the Treasury Department!
I'm not sure precisely the name of the law that's violating, but I think the layman's term is theft.
The arrogance of this is mind-boggling. A country's sovereignty doesn't receive a moment's consideration. (Yeah, I know, what did I expect?)
It's kind of amusing. Exxon-Mobile is undermining our foreign policy, that trade and travel embargo that clearly will drive Castro from power one day. After almost fifty years it hasn't, but the concept is appealing. What do you call doing something that just doesn't work, over and over, believing it might work this next time? Yep.
As for the international issues, what are we doing stopping meetings of private firms in a foreign country? We can do that? And weren't Cuba and Mexico feuding not that long ago?
And then too, will we decimate that Alaska wildlife refuge for a few weeks worth of oil before we ever deal with Cuba?
Yeah, we'll show them.
Tuesday, February 7, was the funeral for Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King. It was impressive - four presidents attended: Bush, Bush, Clinton and Carter. The current Bush said some nice things, as expected.
Unfortunately he was followed Reverend Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group King one led. At eighty-four Lowery, as Frank James of the Chicago Tribune notes here, had nothing to lose, so he let it rip.
"How marvelous that presidents and governors have come to mourn and praise. But in the morning, will words become deeds that meet needs?"
James says he saw the president say something then to his wife. He knew what was coming. This happens when you don't get to screen the audience.
The eulogy was in verse, and just fine, until it turned - Lowery spoke of the departed and said, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there."
A two-minute standing ovation. Bush looked uncomfortable.
That was followed by this: "But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."
More cheers, the day after the administration released the proposed budget - higher national security spending and cuts to most domestic programs.
Well, the next speaker was Bush's father, who knew Lowery from old battles over civil rights and domestics spending - "They used to send this guy to Washington and I kept score in the Oval Office desk. Lowery, 21 - Bush 3. It wasn't a fair fight." (See, son, the guy was going to scores some points so take it easy and don't do anything rash.)
Jimmy Carter was next. "It is always a temptation to forget that we worship the Prince of Peace." What was that supposed to mean? And the Carter brought up the way the Kings were targeted by the federal government in the sixties - "It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance and, as you know, her harassment by the FBI." What was that supposed to mean? Yeah, obvious isn't it.
But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.
The right was appalled of course. Samples - I am so very tired of Democrats turning serious occasions into opportunities to bash Bush, Less Than Zero Class ..., Can We Have Some Dignity, Please? - and there was Kate O'Beirne on Hardball (video here, with comments).
Black commentator Oliver Willis here - "I'm sure the cons will get all hot and bothered over this denunciation of Iraq at the Coretta Scott King funeral, but they really need to stop pretending that Dr. King and his wife were apolitical people. They were progressive activists fighting against the closed minds of conservatism."
Sometimes your staff doesn't get to screen the audience and script the event, and you find out what's going on outside the bubble. Score one for reality. Everyone is not happy.
Everyone is not happy? Surely the Brits are still with us?
Well, not exactly -
But they died pure? Or something. Since 2001 we've had that "global gag" rule - Bush proclaimed it. Any organization applying for US funds must sign an agreement not to counsel women on abortion - other than advising against it - and they cannot provide abortion services. Otherwise, no money, folks.
The British government will today publicly defy the United States by giving money for safe abortion services in developing countries to organisations that have been cut off from American funding.
Nearly 70,000 women and girls died last year because they went to back-street abortionists. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered serious injuries.
Critics of America's aid policy say some might have lived if the US had not withdrawn funding from clinics that provide safe services - or that simply tell women where to find them.
The Brits on Monday became the "founder donor" of a fund set up specifically "to attempt to replace the lost dollars - and increase safe abortion services."
The Department for International Development and International Planned Parenthood also published a supporting report - an estimated nineteen million women will risk the consequences of an unsafe abortion this year, and seventy thousand will die - thirteen percent of the half-million maternal deaths each year.
International Planned Parenthood Federation will get money now. But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.
To add to all this, people were still talking about the Monday hearings where the Attorney General defended secret warrantless spying on US citizens, without any oversight by any court or congress.
You got summaries like this -
What we did was legal, or, in our opinion, could have been legal. Since there are arguments on both sides, we will rely on our opinion. However, we won't let a court decide the question, because then we wouldn't be able to rely on our own opinion.
We won't answer hypothetical questions about what we can do legally or constitutionally. We also won't tell you what we've actually done or plan to do; hence every question you ask will about legality be in effect a hypothetical, and therefore we can refuse to answer it.
But it was like that -
And so it goes.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy lost his patience during yesterday's Senate hearings on NSA wiretapping after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, for the umpteenth time, that he would not be able to answer a question because he didn't want to get into "operational details." "Oh, I'm sorry," Leahy said. "I forgot - you can't answer any questions that might be relevant." Leahy had seemed grouchy from the start. But after a marathon session that was long on theories of statutory interpretation and short on specifics about the wiretapping program itself - much less reliable assurances that the program is not being abused - it was hard not to sympathize with the senior senator from Vermont and detect in Gonzales' rote evasions and implacable smile a faint note of smugness.
Throughout the day, Gonzales did not stray from the explanations of the intelligence program already enunciated in the Justice Department's White Paper on the subject. The program targets terrorists and protects civil liberties. How does it select those targets, the senators wondered. Gonzales didn't want to get into specifics. How does it protect civil liberties? "There are guidelines, minimization procedures," he said vaguely. Could he make available those guidelines and procedures? Nope. "They're classified."
After outlining an expansive interpretation of presidential power, Gonzales suggested that in practice the best check on the executive is ... the executive. When questioned about what, if anything, the president could not do, he refused to get into "hypotheticals." The problem for the administration is that without specifics about targeting procedures and safeguards, any defense of the legality of the NSA's program is itself hypothetical. In a rare revealing moment, Gonzales said that the people who make the determination about whom to listen in on are "career professionals" at the NSA?eavesdroppers, in other words. They know better who should be targeted, he said - "certainly than any lawyer." But as Durbin pointed out, alluding to the Japanese internment camps set up during World War II, historically "career professionals" have made some pretty bad decisions about who presents a security threat. With the administration refusing to furnish Congress with any set of guidelines that eavesdroppers must adhere to, Gonzales' "trust us" assurances demand an inordinate amount of trust from Americans and from their elected representatives.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., conceded that the judiciary committee might not be the forum in which to discuss all the details of the spying program. But she pointed out that to date, the administration has not briefed the intelligence committee either. "You haven't let us ask the question, what is a link? What is an affiliate? How many people are covered?" she said. "What are the precise numbers? What happens to the data?" When asked about the legal standard that the NSA uses to determine when to listen in, Gonzales replied that the standard is probable cause but that he preferred the term "reasonable grounds." He glossed over the important difference between the two and when asked to clarify the semantic shift merely repeated that the standard is both.
The day after the hearings, one of the senators who was upset, Russ Feingold, spoke from the senate floor with this -
There's much, much more. Everyone is not happy.
The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA?s domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.
The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.
How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law?
But there is humor. Feingold elsewhere put it this way - "This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law."
Well, we'll see.
These guys play rough, as shown in the big political story of the day, from "Insight," the magazine of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican newspaper, the Washington Times - Rove Counting Heads On The Senate Judiciary Committee. The gist of this is if you vote against the president on any of these NSA matters, or say the wrong things, and you'll be cut off from the party. No money. No support. You political career is over. There's a blacklist.
Worried about impeachment? That's what the item says. Probably just a warning. They can't do anything about the eight-four-year-old at the funeral (maybe), or do anything about the Brits, and who cares what Jimmy Carter says? But they can get the team working together.
But then six hours after the unfortunate words at the funeral, this -
Something is up.
Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, said in an interview that she had "serious concerns" about the surveillance program. By withholding information about its operations from many lawmakers, she said, the administration has deepened her apprehension about whom the agency is monitoring and why.
Ms. Wilson, who was a National Security Council aide in the administration of President Bush's father, is the first Republican on either the House's Intelligence Committee or the Senate's to call for a full Congressional investigation into the program, in which the NSA has been eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of people inside the United States believed to have links with terrorists.