Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Not Getting Better: I've rather enjoyed reading Mickey Kaus, among others, rant about the inanity of Times Select. It makes me wonder: Are there any TS articles or columns worth reading that can't be found for free elsewhere on the Internet? I'll continue to do my part by posting Darfur-related columns by Nick Kristof. From the Coalition for Darfur.

Who would have thought that a genocide could become worse? But after two years of heartbreaking slaughter, rape and mayhem, the situation in Darfur is now spiraling downward.

More villages are again being attacked and burned -- over the last week thatch-roof huts have been burning near the town of Gereida and far to the northwest near Jebel Mun.

Aid workers have been stripped, beaten and robbed. A few more attacks on aid workers, and agencies may pull out -- leaving the hapless people of Darfur with no buffer between themselves and the butchers.

The international community has delegated security to the African Union, but its 7,000 troops can't even defend themselves, let alone protect civilians. One group of 18 peacekeepers was kidnapped last month, and then 20 soldiers sent to rescue them were kidnapped as well; four other soldiers and two contractors were killed in a separate incident.

What will happen if the situation continues to deteriorate sharply and aid groups pull out? The U.N. has estimated that the death toll could then rise to 100,000 a month.

The turmoil has also infected neighboring Chad, which is inhabited by some of the same tribes as Sudan. Diplomats and U.N. officials are increasingly worried that Chad could tumble back into its own horrific civil war as well.

This downward spiral has happened because for more than two years, the international community has treated this as a tolerable genocide. In my next column, my last from Darfur, I'll outline the steps we need to take. But the essential starting point is outrage: a recognition that countering genocide must be a global priority.

It's true that a few hundred thousand deaths in Darfur -- a good guess of the toll so far -- might not amount to much in a world where two million a year die of malaria. But there is something special about genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes.

Already, large swaths of Darfur are so unsafe that they are "no go" areas for humanitarian organizations -- meaning that we don't know what horrors are occurring in those areas. But we have some clues.

There are widespread reports that the janjaweed, the government-backed Arab marauders who have been slaughtering members of several African tribes, sometimes find it convenient not to kill or expel every last African but to leave a few alive to grow vegetables and run markets. So they let some live in exchange for protection money or slave labor.

One Western aid worker in Darfur told me that she had visited an area controlled by janjaweed. In public, everyone insisted -- meekly and fearfully -- that everything was fine.

Then she spoke privately to two sisters, both of the Fur tribe. They said that the local Fur were being enslaved by the janjaweed, forced to work in the fields and even to pay protection money every month just to be allowed to live. The two sisters said that they were forced to cook for the janjaweed troops and to accept being raped by them.

Finally, they said, their terrified father had summoned the courage to beg the janjaweed commander to let his daughters go. That's when the commander beheaded the father in front of his daughters.

"They told me they just wanted to die," the aid worker remembered in frustration. "They're living like slaves, in complete and utter fear. And we can't do anything about it."

That aid worker has found her own voice, by starting a blog called "Sleepless in Sudan" in which she describes what she sees around her. It sears at http://sleeplessinsudan.blogspot.com, without the self-censorship that aid groups routinely accept as the price for being permitted to save lives in Darfur.

Our leaders still haven't found their voices, though. Congress has even facilitated the genocide by lately cutting all funds for the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur; we urgently need to persuade Congress to restore that money.

So what will it take? Will President Bush and other leaders discover some backbone if the killing spreads to Chad and the death toll reaches 500,000? One million? God forbid, two million?

How much genocide is too much?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Jump Start: The governor of Virginia is making speeches about how we should go about finishing the job in Iraq.

Can we just make it official? Mark Warner has essentially announced that he is running for president.

That being said, I'm heartened to see that he has refrained from joining the cut-and-run chorus. Here's a quote from a Reuters story.

"This Democrat doesn't think we need to re-fight how we got into (the Iraq war). I think we need to focus more on how to finish it," Warner said.
See, he's even referring to himself in the third person. But not by using his own name, just his own political party. Ain't politics grand?

Anyhow, while 2008 is a long time away, it's good to see a centrist Democrat resisting calls (so far) to label the war in Iraq a mistake. We'll see whether he can maintain that position throughout the primaries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

War Games: A lot of my friends are concerned about this Asian appraisal of our fighting capabilities, and how the Tokyo governor publicly declared that the United States would never win a war against China.

This sounds like a challenge more than anything. But we can safely disregard this rhetoric for one simple reason -- We will never go to war against China.

Think about it. We never even went to war with Russia. Take a look around your house. What do you own that was produced in Russia? Some of you righties may have an AK-47, and you lefties probably have lots of Smirnoff. But those are the only things Russia knows how to make: guns and vodka.

Now take another look around your house. What do you have in your house that's not made in China? Going to war with China would bring economic chaos in the United States. That's the beauty of free trade, it brings diplomatic stability throughout the world.

True, militarily, the United States could never successfully take over China, but China could never successfully take over the U.S. either. That leads to a bunch of saber rattling, with nothing ever coming of it.

And that's a reason to be Thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Observation: The past few days at work have been extremely busy. I even had to work over the weekend and stay up most of last night typing my latest story.


Because the Thanksgiving holidays are approaching. If my office didn't have Thursday and Friday off, I could have relaxed more and gotten some sleep this weekend.

Just wanted to point out that holidays and vacation truly don't exist. You may now return to your previous state of misery.

Spread the Word: Coalition for Darfur sends out this NYT column by Nicholas Kristof about the horrors in Darfur. Unfortunately, the column is blocked by Times Select.

But I'm posting it in full. The New York Times can sue me, if it wants, and take all of my debt.

Never Again, Again?

770 words
20 November 2005
The New York Times
Late Edition - Final
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

TAMA, Sudan -- So who killed 2-year-old Zahra Abdullah for belonging to the Fur tribe?

At one level, the answer is simple: The murderers were members of the janjaweed militia that stormed into this mud-brick village in the South Darfur region at dawn four weeks ago on horses, camels and trucks. Zahra's mother, Fatima Omar Adam, woke to gunfire and smoke and knew at once what was happening.

She jumped up from her sleeping mat and put Zahra on her back, then grabbed the hands of her two older children and raced out of her thatch-roof hut with her husband.

Some of the marauders were right outside. They yanked Zahra from Ms. Fatima's back and began bludgeoning her on the ground in front of her shrieking mother and sister. Then the men began beating Ms. Fatima and the other two children, so she grabbed them and fled -- and the men returned to beating the life out of Zahra.

At another level, responsibility belongs to the Sudanese government, which armed the janjaweed and gave them license to slaughter and rape members of several African tribes, including the Fur.

Then some responsibility attaches to the rebels in Darfur. They claim to be representing the tribes being ethnically cleansed, but they have been fighting each other instead of negotiating a peace with the government that would end the bloodbath.

And finally, responsibility belongs to the international community -- to you and me -- for acquiescing in yet another genocide.

Tama is just the latest of many hundreds of villages that have been methodically destroyed in the killing fields of Darfur over the last two years. Ms. Fatima sat on the ground and told me her story -- which was confirmed by other eyewitnesses -- in a dull, choked monotone, as she described her guilt at leaving her child to die.

"Zahra was on the ground, and they were beating her with sticks, but I ran away," she said. Her 4-year-old son, Adam, was also beaten badly but survived. A 9-year-old daughter, Khadija, has only minor injuries but she told me that she had constant nightmares about the janjaweed.

At least Ms. Fatima knows what happened to her daughter. A neighbor, Aisha Yagoub Abdurahman, is beside herself because she says she saw her 10-year-old son Adil carried off by the janjaweed. He is still missing, and everyone knows that the janjaweed regularly enslave children like him, using them as servants or sexual playthings. In all, 37 people were killed in Tama, and another 12 are missing.

The survivors fled five miles to another village that had been abandoned after being attacked by the janjaweed a year earlier. Now the survivors are terrified, and they surrounded me to ask for advice about how to stay alive.

None of them dared accompany me back to Tama, which is an eerie ghost town, doors hanging off hinges and pots and sandals strewn about. The only inhabitants I saw in Tama were camels, which are now using the village as a pasture -- and which the villagers say belong to the janjaweed. On the road back, I saw a group of six janjaweed, one displaying his rifle.

Darfur is just the latest chapter in a sorry history of repeated inaction in the face of genocide, from that of Armenians, through the Holocaust, to the slaughter of Cambodians, Bosnians and Rwandans. If we had acted more resolutely last year, then Zahra would probably still be alive.

Attacks on villages like Tama occur regularly. Over the last week, one tribe called the Falata, backed and armed by the Sudanese government, has burned villages belonging to the Masalit tribe south of here. Dozens of bodies are said to be lying unclaimed on the ground.

President Bush, where are you? You emphasize your willingness to speak bluntly about evil, but you barely let the word Darfur pass your lips. The central lesson of the history of genocide is that the essential starting point of any response is to bellow moral outrage -- but instead, Mr. President, you're whispering.

In a later column, I'll talk more specifically about actions we should take, and it's true that this is a complex mess without easy solutions. But for starters we need a dose of moral clarity. For all the myriad complexities of Darfur, what history will remember is that this is where little girls were bashed to death in front of their parents because of their tribe -- and because the world couldn't be bothered to notice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fear Itself: This falls under the irrational fear category. A new poll reveals that many Americans believe cloned food is unsafe. Somehow, by making exact replicas of plants and animals, their food products will somehow be tainted.

Somebody needs to explain to everybody that cloned food is the same thing as the original food -- literally. An exact duplicate is created, and it's raised the same way as the original host. Doing such ensures the quality will remain identical.

This goes back to the widespread fear people have about genetically engineered foodstuff. For some reason people are afraid that fine tuning the food we eat at the genetic level will hurt people and the environment. The Left in Europe is so adamant about this that they won't allow potentially life-saving genetically altered food into Africa to feed staving people there.

The truth is we've been altering food genetically for centuries. It's called breeding. At the genetic level, we're just able to do it with more precision. The result is food that is healthier and hardier. But people who fear progress are endangering the people they are trying to protect.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It's Official: Alito doesn't like abortion and has said the Constitution doesn't protect abortion rights for women. I think we all knew this would be the case, but now we have evidence to back it up.

Oh sure, he's disavowing that comment. But it's pretty ridiculous that he would try to do such a thing. It's one thing to abstain from answering questions about future cases, but there's no reason to deny you have feelings about past cases. It is perfectly acceptable to ask how a nominee would vote on a case that has already been decided.

But I think we all assumed Bush would appoint an anti-Roe judge, which brings us to the conservative legal argument against abortion rights. Namely: It's not in the Constitution.

I've heard numerous conservatives rant about how the Supreme Court legislated from the bench with Roe v. Wade. They say that the Court invented a right that's not listed anywhere in the Constitution. To which I say, read the Ninth Amendment.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Now, conservatives have heard this argument before, although they don't seem to buy it. While they don't go so far as to totally dismiss that amendment as Bork did by calling it an "ink blot", they will argue the other extreme by saying that I'm essentially calling for anarchy via the Ninth Amendment.

No, that's not what I'm doing. There are many constitutional laws that can limit Americans conduct and behavior. But the Ninth Amendment makes it explicitly clear that just because something is not listed in the Constitution doesn't mean that it's not a protected right.

The next argument conservatives often raise is that the Ninth Amendment only protects rights that were already codified by state statutes and English common law. It's the originalist defense that the principles of the Constitution have not changed since its drafting.

While I take issue with that premise, I can entertain it in this case because abortion was perfectly legal in 1789. All the states allowed women to terminate their pregnancies until the point of "quickening" -- which refers to the moment that the mother can feel the fetus move inside her, and that usually occurs sometime during the second trimester. But women often knew they were pregnant well before that (when they ceased menstruation) and sometimes sought to terminate the pregnancy early, which doctors would do. It wasn't until the late 1800s that all American states outlawed abortion.

Another argument conservatives use is that the Ninth Amendment applies only to the federal government, and therefore states can regulate abortion as they see fit. They maintain that overturning Roe v. Wade would not automatically outlaw abortion, but that each state can decide for itself via its elected legislature.

That's true, except that the 14th Amendment extends the Bill of Rights to the states. Under the 14th Amendment, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." With that amendment, anything that the federal government is prohibited from doing, the states are prohibited from doing. (I am well aware of the Slaughterhouse Cases, and will gladly debate the fundamental flaws with that reasoning and the further mistake by the Supreme Court when it transferred the guts of the "privileges or immunities" clause to a new creation called "substantive due process". But we cans save that for another time.)

That brings us back to the original question: Is the right to an abortion a liberty protected under the Constitution? I say yes, given that reproductive rights seem to be fundamental to the principles of keeping the government from interfering with people's privacy, so long as people's conduct don't infringe on the rights of others. And because a fetus has little to no brain function early in the pregnancy, its termination should not be considered taking a life, but rather preventing a life from forming.

That's just my opinion, and conservatives are welcome to disagree. But the disagreement must be based on something other than mentioning that abortion is not listed in the Constitution. The Ninth Amendment doesn't say we can't have a debate about abortion. It just says you have to use a different argument.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Stepping Back: Democrats across the nation are giddy about their win in Virginia. As well they should be. But I hope they pay attention to the true lessons to be learned.

First, as I said before, be wary of any national implications. Yes a Democrat won in a Red State. But I'm doubtful Bush's sinking popularity had much to do with this. A Democrat won the governor's seat in November 2001, at the height of Bush's popularity. Kilgore, the Republican, was just a bad candidate. His negative attack ads hurt himself more than Kaine. I support the death penalty, but the ads I saw and read attacking Kaine's position on capital punishment were embarrassing.

Kilgore was actually ahead in the polls initially, but he blew it -- he blew it long before Bush came down for a visit. Republicans came up strong statewide otherwise. The GOP won the lieutenant governor's seat, which was won by a Democrat in 2001, and it looks like the Republican may win a squeaker for the attorney general position. Kaine was the state's lieutenant governor. The fact that he was promoted to the top seat is not a referendum on the war in Iraq. (Trivia: In Virginia, the winning candidate for governor has been from the opposite party of the president since 1977.)

Still, Democrats smell blood. And I encourage them to attack. But be smart. Right now the Democrats have no national agenda or any issues to run on. And the voters realize this.

Unfortunately, the liberal wing is already looking to rehash old strategies that keep failing. Many of them want to continue rearguing the war in Iraq. The Nation has already declared that it will not endorse anyone who does not repudiate the war and vow to withdraw ASAP.

I only speak for myself, but I'll bet others agree with me -- we don't want to relive the past. The national debate should be about where to go in the future.

Bush will have served two terms as president. He's not up for re-election. There is no reason to run against him or to promise to undo the good things he has done.

Kaine won in Virginia because he was a centrist. Moderate Democrats can win, even in conservative states. Moving to the extreme Left will only ensure defeat.

I'm tired of dominant GOP control. But I will vote against anyone who tries to erase all that we've accomplished during the past four years. Despite what The Nation says, we shouldn't hold a contest to find which politician will race to declare defeat the fastest.

The Democrats have an opportunity here. I hope they don't blow it by spewing hate, the way Kilgore did.

PS: I'm out on travel again Friday and Monday. Take care.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Premature Speculation: It's nice to know that a Red State such as the one I live in can elect a centrist Democrat as governor two election cycles in a row. It almost makes me feel like I live among enlightened folks who don't abide by any dogma, political or otherwise.

Then I find out that a Virginia appeals court still maintains that oral sex is illegal in the state, regardless of the fact that the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws. The Old Dominion statute maintains that oral sex is illicit behavior, even between a male and a female.

This calls for some type of civil disobedience.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kiss Me, I Plan on Voting: I still have to vote in the Virginia gubernatorial election today. Normally I do my voting in the morning, but I decided instead to spend the early hours taking photographs of the leaves changing colors on the Potomac River from the Key Bridge.

It's hard to get excited about this race. I'm all for bipartisanship, but I'm still upset that Republicans and Democrats decided together to raise our taxes, only to find out that the state experienced record surpluses immediately afterwards. I would gladly vote for anyone who promised to finally get rid of the god-forsaken car tax, but none of the three candidates have even mentioned it.

While I'm blasé about this election, the rest of the nation seems to be watching it with rapt attention. Once again, some local event is supposed to serve as the political bellwether for the entire country. In this case, Democratic candidate Tim Kaine is expected to eke out a victory, and this is supposed to mean that Bush and the Republicans are toast in the coming midterm elections.

NPR said as much this morning, noting that Virginia is a Republican state that voted heavily for Bush both times. Nevermind that a Democrat, Mark Warner, was also elected governor during that time. And when the NPR segment turned to the New York mayoral election, the fact that a Republican stands to be re-elected in a heavily Democratic city didn't seem to warrant any talk of national implications.

Putting aside any talk of liberal bias in the media, we should just leave local elections to what they are -- local elections. For some reason, the media always finds reasons to predict that the Republican dominance is over and the voters are going to turn in droves to the Democrats. And time after time, the Democrats go on to lose.

Now, I know no party will dominate politics forever (Thank God). But let's study the actual presidential and congressional elections, not all these side shows.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Judicial Fission: Conservatives aren't content with limiting their realignment of the judicial branch to influencing the Supreme Court. They are also proposing to split the left-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to water down its liberalism.

Under a plan buried deep in a bill to cut federal spending, a House budget panel passed a measure to divide the 9th Circuit into two circuits. This would create a new 12 Circuit Court of Appeals, with half the 9th Circuit judges going to the new court. And it would be up to President Bush to appoint judges of his choosing to both circuits, limiting the liberals' influence on the appeals level.

The 9th Circuit is by far the most liberal in the nation, and its rulings are overturned the most by the Supreme Court. Conservatives have had it out for this court for years, especially since this court is trying to outlaw the term "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Of course, publicly, Republicans focus on the fact that the 9th Circuit Court is the biggest with the largest number of cases backlogged in the nation.

This isn't the first time the proposal for splitting the 9th Circuit has come before Congress. And Democrats, most of whom oppose the idea, don't expect it to pass this year.

But with an increasingly desperate Bush administration and midterm elections approaching, don't be surprised if conservatives try some crazy stunt in an attempt to further impress their base.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Keep the faith, my brothers: I often get into a lot of political debates with both my liberal and conservative friends. Our arguments are usually pretty light, although I usually try to keep these two groups of friends separated for fear of a truly heated confrontation.

But one thing I do consistently hear from both sides is dread about the downward spiral this country is in. "Blah blah blah is running this country into the ground." "Blah blah blah, this country is going to hell."

Granted, it's easy to exaggerate in discussions. But I wonder why so many people have so little faith in this country. We're not perfect, but we're strong and stable. There's no reason to believe that same-sex marriage or faith-based programs are going to do anything to seriously hurt this country. Why the doom and gloom?

I do hear centrists and moderates bemoaning partisanship and extremism. But not to the extent of any imminent destruction. It seems that we in the middle are in the best position to observe that the tug-o-war/pendulum-swing of both sides will keep this country down a straight course. This country may sway from side to side, but it is not in any danger of running aground.

I'm sure most people hold this optimistic view. But it seems the loudest voices have the worst things to say.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Backwards: The Ku Klux Klan plans to hold a rally in Austin to support the proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Now, I've been a staunch supporter of gay marriage. And I do believe that people who are against it do harbor some homophobia and prejudice. But I wouldn't put people who are against gay marriage in the same league as the Klan.

Which makes me wonder, Why does the KKK ever rally for these things? The Republicans who wrote the Texas amendment don't want anything to do with the Klan. A KKK rally just brings negative light onto an issue Klan members support.

Sure, they have the right to speak, but they'd be better off speaking out against whatever it is they support.

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