Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Karpinski Reports Command Structure Covering Up Causes Of Female Soldier's Deaths

After reports that U.S. forces have been kidnapping the wives of suspected insurgents to use as "levers,"("U.S. Army detained suspects' daughters, wives as leverage"), and prior reports of rapes in the U.S.-run "detention facilities" (what the real world calls "prisons"), the former head of the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison has spoken of conditions in the field in Iraq where women in the U.S. armed forces are being subjected to conditions and attitudes that promote rape, sexual assault and harassment by male soldiers in the U.S. forces.

She made these statements to a panel comprised of a group of American lawyers, academics, writers and human rights activists, as well as a number of people from other countries, that have established what it calls "The 2005 International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration of the United States."

Although this "commission" has no legal powers, it can help publicize reviews and allegations of abuses either sponsored by, or directly committed by, members of the U.S. armed forces or intelligence communities.

In the case at hand, Col. Janis Karpinski (formerly a brigadier general) has stated that, on at least one U.S. base in Iraq (Camp Victory, about 5 KM from the Baghdad International Airport) women soldiers are being subjected to conditions that are conductive to their being raped by their own fellow soldiers. She further contends that these conditions have been in place for several years and that the command structure, as far up as Rumsfeld, has ordered that the facts be covered up, rather than be addressed openly.

According to Karpinski's statement before the panel, and in a 2004 interview she gave to US Army Col.(ret) David Hackworth,
The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," ....
It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.
Accordingng to Karpinski's statement,
a surgeon for the coalition's joint task force said in a briefing that "women in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the port-a-lets or the latrines were not drinking liquids after 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and in 120 degree heat or warmer, because there was no air-conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep."

"And rather than make everybody aware of that -- because that's shocking, and as a leader if that's not shocking to you then you're not much of a leader -- what they told the surgeon to do is don't brief those details anymore" ...

For example, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Sanchez's top deputy in Iraq, saw "dehydration" listed as the cause of death on the death certificate of a female master sergeant in September 2003. Under orders from Sanchez, he directed that the cause of death no longer be listed, Karpinski stated. The official explanation for this was to protect the women's privacy rights.

Sanchez's attitude was: "The women asked to be here, so now let them take what comes with the territory," Karpinski quoted him as saying. Karpinski told me [Marjorie Cohn of TruthOut.org] that Sanchez, who was her boss, was very sensitive to the political ramifications of everything he did. She thinks it likely that when the information about the cause of these women's deaths was passed to the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld ordered that the details not be released. "That's how Rumsfeld works," she said.
To illustrate how lightly she felt the DoD treated the very real problem of sexual assault against women soldiers, Karpinski noted during an interview in October of 2004 that the military established a stateside 1-800 (toll-free) telephone number that could be used to report a sexual assault.

Unfortunately, many women in the field or at forward bases do not have access to telephones. There was also great difficulty in connecting through to the 1-800 number, and even when connected, the reporting soldier would hear a recording and be told to leave a message. Karpinski said that even after more than 83 assaults against U.S. soldiers were reported during just a 6-month period in Iraq and Kuwait, the dedicated number was still being answered with a recording telling the soldier to leave a message.

Some people will claim, like Karpinski asserts Sanchez's attitude shows, that women should be in neither combat nor combat bases, or they should "tough it out." Rather, what we, as a society, should be saying is that this treatment, especially of our own soldiers, should not be tolerated as all. If the perpetrators of these assaults cannot be rooted out, what does that say about our ability to field forces that can be relied upon not to commit like assaults, or other atrocities, against the people in the countries they are being fielded in.

Cyberpunk is a Literary Light?

zuzu has a new article over at Feministe that links to a list from LitLine of the "100 best first lines from novels"

I don't know the parameters used by LitLIne to select the novels to include (Novels with great first lines? First lines from great novels? Great Novels with great first lines?).

One of the listed entries is the opening line from Bill Gibson's novel Neuromancer, which has sometimes been described at the first in the "cyberpunk" genre (even though Bruce Bethke coined the term earlier in 1980). Someone in the comments section over at Feministe seemed surprised that something that was modern Science Fiction was included in a "literature" list.

There are a slew of "academics" who don't regard Gibson's Sprawl cycle as "Science Fiction." They can point to the fact that he didn't own a computer until after Neuromancer was successful and that he had typed the manuscript using manual typewriter.

Maybe they consider those works as "futurist magical realism," I suppose.

When I asked him about it during a convention he thought that those who claimed *he* didn't think of it as SF were full of themselves.

The interview/Q&A session was actually somewhat surreal.

Gibson had been slated to be the Writer Guest of Honor (GOH) at the con, but bailed at the last minute because his father-in-law suddenly passed on, so instead of being in a hotel in suburban Boston, he was in Texas. (Readercon 8, 1996)

The GOH interview was conducted in the ballroom, and the GOH's virtual presence was accommodated by the consensual reality via a fax machine, whereby the questions and answers were communicated from the assembled multitude.

Bear in mind that was much before the advent of personal, casual access to anything like high-speed access, so this was a "cutting edge" endeavor.

This same stratagem was used during a panel discussion, where someone was delegated to fax the panel discussion to Texas, and then read the resulting comments aloud. This resulted in some significant propagation delay, comparable to, say, Pluto (as characterized by one audience member)

Tangential Note From the Alito "Debate"

While listening to the "debate" (what has now been revealed to be pro forma speechifying, thanks to the Democratic senators who voted to allow cloture), one of the GOP members was going on (and on and on) about how Great GW Has Been and how Terrible The Left Has Been, and was pontificating about how terrible it is that the Left is using onerous environmental regulation to keep us from achieving "energy independence."

One example was that there were natural gas reserves that would supply our needs for the next 37 years. *My* not-so-hypothetical question is, what do we do in 2043?

Another thought that crossed my mind was - "How much of that oil and gas the Democrats are 'withholding' are under the ground in the National Parks system and in Indian lands?"

Monday, January 30, 2006

Cloture Vote Update

Here is the roll call vote, as recorded by the Senate Bill Clerk.

(Question: On the Cloture Motion (Motion to Invoke Cloture On The Nomination of Samuel A. Alito, Jr. of New Jersey, To Be An Associate Justice Of The Supreme Court)

Being from Massachusetts I can derive cold comfort that both of my Senators voted against cloture, but others are not so lucky.

Alito Cloture vote

(I'll try live blogging)

After debate, with the only stirring rhetoric from Ted Kennedy, and a lot of misleading speeches and misdirection from the GOP senators, the vote for Cloture to cut off debate is proceeding at 4:30 PM, East-Coast time. The vote requires 60 votes to pass.

If the cloture vote passes, the final vote for Alito's confirmation to the United States Supreme Court will occur on Tuesday, at 11:00 AM ET, requiring a simple majority vote.
at 4:49 PM the clerk is reading back the votes received, and soliciting votes from those senators who were not at their desks.
At 4:57 the polling is still taking place.

I'm not able to take the running tally, so I'll have to wait on the clerk (or C-SPAN) to get the tally and names.

The video shows most of the Senate standing in the well of the Senate floor, presumably making sure of votes, or arm-twisting to change votes.

If this nomination passes through, I really think this will be a black day for our country.

Unlike what Hatch claimed during his speech, this is *not* just about Roe v Wade.

It's about undue deference to government instrumentality.

It's about undue deference to monied business interests.

It's also about whether or not the GOP ideology will take precedent over the needs of the people of the nation.

at 05:06 PM the clerk is still taking names.

Today Cheney has a day off from the Senate (he doesn't vote on issues like this)
At 05:15 still not final tally.

At 05:27 the final tally is 72 to support cloture and 25 agai9njst.

This will aloow the vote to proceed tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Oh, This Explains Just Soooo Much...

Pam, over at Pandagon, has linked and excerpted a study on several species of bat that examines the size of the male brain in relation to, Umm, ahhh, umm, teabags.

You have to read this article (Size Does Matter), and try to tell me that your reaction is not either "Hmm, that just confirms it" or laughing till you cry.

My reaction was to laugh so *very* hard.

I have this image now of these bats flying 'round in circles 'cause their echo-location is mucked up from backscatter caused by the itsy-bitsy gold chains they are wearing and how hard it must be to flap around in open-necked silk shirts.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"*What* al-Queda leaders?"

From CNN:

Pakistan PM: CIA attack reports 'bizarre'

No evidence that top al Qaeda leaders were at target, he says

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday ridiculed as "bizarre" a U.S. report that senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in a CIA attack on a home along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"There is no evidence, as of half an hour ago, that there were any other people there," Aziz said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"The area does see movement of people from across the border. But we have not found one body or one shred of evidence that these people were there."

U.S. counterterrorism officials have said they believe the
January 13 attack killed four to eight al Qaeda-affiliated "foreigners" attending a dinner meeting. Knowledgeable sources have said that their bodies were removed from the scene by comrades and buried elsewhere. (
Full story)

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have taken to the streets in cities nationwide to express outrage about the attack, which killed more than a dozen civilians, including women and children. (Full story)

Pakistani officials originally put the death toll at 18 civilians; Aziz cited 13 deaths Sunday.


So, the people who live in and govern the *country* it is say the story is full of crap.

This is just bodycounts-r-us all over again.

How many times have we heard that the # 3 guy has been captured or killed?

Who's next?

The replacement mailroom kid?

This is just ... Strange...

I've seen a lot of web-based advertising, from Amazon.com to web portals for brick-&-mortar chains to viral marketing (such as the pigeon-defying Ford SportKa ) and really slick ads for really average booze( like this one). I thought I'd seen the gamut of dumb ads as well. Till I saw this one linked at Coeruleus, who didn't quite believe it either.

I've never before seen an appeal to suburban teen angst and really dubious fashion sense in order to solicit funding for violent revolutionary groups such as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) and PFLP (Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine). Yet this is exactly what the "Fighters + Lovers" website does.

You can buy (if you are dumb enough) tees and support the site's operators who
claim they are
"greatly in debt to the stylish classic coolness of Palestinian fighter Leyla Khaled and the funky outrageous style of Colombian guerrilla commander Jacobo Arenas. Our Collection 2006 is inspired by the style and principles of these legendary fighters.
I haven't seen such blatant pandering to idiocy since the mail solicitation I got from the GOP looking for money because GW had "kept us safe from terrorists."

You pick your Tee (choice of a couple of logos), you go to their wire-transfer site, feed it some money from your credit card, wire the money to these bozos and wait for the mailman to deliver your Hip! Kewl! Stuph!

Meantime somebody has hacked the wire-transfer site and emptied your credit card reserves.

On their "About us" page they say
"In a world obsessed with envy and hate, Fighters+Lovers dares to speak up for brotherhood"
Which is why they are giving money to PFLP. Right. No hate there at all. Yep.

And just to add that little frisson of being naughty, they post the following disclaimer under "Legal Notice":
"To be a Fighters+Lovers customer you must be 18 years or older. When you buy Fighters+Lovers products you might experience legal problems because of US or EU "antiterrorist" legislation, outlawing financial support to organizations labelled as "terrorists", including the PFLP and the FARC. But anyway, when was the last time you listened to someone who told you what you couldn't wear?"
Hey, don't let anything like laws get in the way of your actions, right?

If it works for G.W., Karl Rove and Scooter, why not you?

Monday, January 23, 2006

DOJ staff and appointees' tension rises

For whatever reason the Washington Post is one of the few nationally-influential dalies to note the degree of growing conflict between the permanent legal staff in the DOJ Voting Rights and Civil Rights divisions and the political appointees higher up in the department, the overwhelming majority of whom were put in place by the G.W. Bush administration.

Part of this conflict has resulted in much higher turnover in the career legal staff during this administration.

Another symptom has been the disagreement in advised action between the senior (appointed) staff and the “on the ground” (career) staff in the these divisions in the department. This was painfully evident with the highly publicized cases where three recommendations by the career lawyers tasked with analysis of Section 5 legislative proposals have been overruled by the appointed higher-ups in the department, in Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.

In the Georgia voter’s ID case, senior officials overrode the staff recommendation the very next day without offering countering evidence (a DOJ spokesperson later characterized the staff recommendation memo as being an “early draft”).

In the Mississippi case, in 2002, the career staff recommended approval of a redistricting plan that, as a byproduct of giving minorities more “solid” representation, appeared to favor more Democratic constituencies over Republicans. During the delay over the Department issuing any recommendation, either for a preclearence of or an objection to the plan, a three-judge panel (all judges who were GOP nominees) approved a rival plan that had the opposite effect. Because the DOJ had not precleared the redistricting plan, the federal court made it’s own choice, stating that, because DOJ had not “precleared” the plan, there was, in effect, no “plan” under DOJ approval. (see “Mississippi Congressional Redistricting”) There was further controversy when the redistricting appeal went before the U.S. Supreme Court, as Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia was a personal friend of both the Republican congressman whose seat was in question, Charles Pickering, and that congressman’s father, Charles W. Pickering, Sr. (the senior Pickering was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in a controversial recess appointment by President G.W. Bush), yet Scalia refused to recuse himself. Scalia, In explaining his ruling against a 1993 precedent he authored, cited the lack of a decision by the DOJ in the case.

In the Texas redistricting case an initial appeal by the Democratic party was unsuccessful, but the DOJ refused to allow the documentation by the career staff lawyers who recommended objection to the Tom Delay-engineered gerrymandering to be presented at the hearings. That redistricting plan is now scheduled for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Washington Post noted this tension in an article in Sunday’s edition (“Politics Alleged In Voting Cases”) that posits the case that the upper management at DOJ wants to remove the influence of long-term staff from voting and civil rights cases, on the grounds of ideological conflict. This means that the long-term staff, who owe their positions to continued competence rather than political patronage, are also being shut out of affording the department the advice that the accumulated years of experience affords. This practice was formalized in a memo written in November of 2005, and was the impetus to remove the staff recommendation in the Georgia voter-id case, where the career staff recommended rejection of proposed legislation, from the analysis document before that document was passed higher-up within the department. (see “Staff Opinions Banned In Voting Rights Cases”) .

Lawyers in the Civil and Voting Rights divisions have also been reassigned from that division, or assigned to cases in other divisions, and reports from at least as far back as 2002 have indicated that aides of the Attorney General have been moving to limit career legal staff influence and input, in some cases meeting with defendants in civil rights cases without informing the career lawyers handling those cases or allowing them to be present.

Restructuring of the enforcement priorities also means that the Department is prosecuting far fewer “traditional” civil rights cases but is prosecuting far more cases in human smuggling and defending deportation orders – which indicates a much higher emphasis on illegal immigration concerns than on investigating concerns of discrimination against women and minorities who are U.S. citizens.

According to a Washington Post article in November (Civil Rights Focus Shift Roils Staff At Justice), almost 20% of the career legal staff in the Civil Rights division have left the department, and those remaining have been excluded from any input on hiring of replacements, leaving the impression that selection of new hires is being weighed more by their ideology than their competence and experience.

The overall impression one is left with is that the Department of Justice, under both former AG Ashcroft and current AG Gonzales, is more concerned with momentary ideological issues (such as a much heavier emphasis on immigarion issues, as shown by the increase of cases in human smuggling and defense of deportation orders), partisan politics (as shown in the redistricting shuffles and the Georgia voter-id law) and a deemphasis on “more traditional” civil rights cases (the DOJ over the last 5 years has initiated only a handful of discrimination cases, and none involving African Americans).


See also:

03/15/2002 - Ashcroft's Civil-Rights Office Being Politicized, Critics Say
See earlier commentary on the Texas and Georgia cases here:
“U.S. Supreme Court to hear Texas Redistricting Challenge”
"Sometimes It Really *Is* A Poll Tax"
"DeLay's Redistricting Master Stroke illegal? **Gasp!!**"
"Memo? What Section 5 Memo?"
"About that DOJ memo..."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Maybe it's about the Pakistani nuke plants?

I suppose Bush/Cheney thinks Al Qaeda need help in it's membership drives?

(and is your resident blogger allowed a couple of tin-foil hat observations every quarter or so?)

If asked 2 years ago if the White House could be this stupid, I would have said *no way!*

After what else has been happening in DC, with the GOP under heavy legal fire against the leadership cult figures in the House and Senate, the Abramoff cases, the second federal grand jury hearing testimony about Plamegate, a growing perception that the mid-term elections, rather than the condition of the war "on the ground," will drive troop levels in Iraq, the continued strikes by the U.S. against Pakistani targets looks like really desperate efforts to generate some good news in the War On Terra(tm) and Shock And Awe in Iraq.

These missile strikes, combined with last month's flap about the "poem" spelling out G.W.'s name being inserted into Pakistani textbooks seem designed to destabilize the current government in Pakistan and invite a new Islamic theocracy to fight. Or create another imputed "failed state" condition that will give an excuse to invide Pakistan as well.

Perhaps under the guise of denying terrorists access to Pakistan's atomic weapons and the Chasnupp and Kanupp nuclear reactors ?

It would not be at all out of the question (particularly in light of the administration's deliberate deception about the yellowcake "sales" to Iraq) to use a threat like an anti-Israel, anti-US theocracy with nukes as an excuse to invade Pakistan, and to "bring democracy" to more of the region.

Two years ago I wouldn't have believed it.


I can only ask "what's next?"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Massachusetts Guardsmen seek pay for post-9/11 duty

Tell me again about how well-laid these plans were?

All the time anyone questions the preparedness of the agencies of the government, or the contingencies allowed for in the Armed Forces plans, we are always told "trust us -- we know best, and we've thought of all the problems."

Well, if they *did* think of all the problems, someone forgot to tell the people making plans. Or maybe those at the top didn't care to be bothered with other than "The Big Picture."

Didn't bother to be concerned with things like:
- insufficient troop allocations
- insufficient armor for troops
- insufficient armor for vehicles
- inappropriate vehicle use (Humvees are *not* designed for use as armored vehicles, witness the problems with roll-over and handling when they are equipped with more than minimal armor)
- lack of contingency plans to secure/destroy enemy ammunition and explosives stores
- lack of contingency plans to secure/reduce enemy strongholds that were "leapfrogged" so that those strongholds were in the operation rear lines
- lack of contingency plans to secure/protect sites that would be of cultural importance (like the museums)
- lack of a *clue* in accounting for existing cultural impressions (just whose brilliant idea was it to use, as a military prison and interrogation station the complex that most Iraqis would see as "torture central" from the Saddam Hussein era?
- State Department support of a man who has been *proven* to be thief, and who also consistently fed the U.S. fabricated "intelligence"
- willful ignorance about the probability of letting the invasion turn into a breeding ground for local insurgents and extranational partisans
- and so on, and so on, and so on.

(pretty much all of the above, I think, can be laid on other heads than the military command structure -- it seems that most of these are failures on the part of the civilian authorities whose overriding objective was to try for a "short, victorious war". The planning seemed to be all concentrated towards that end, with military planners apparently being overridden at each step, from troop strength, to supplies, to pushing for headlines of entering the capital rather than securing the ground covered.

Stateside things didn't work very well either, from reduced enlistments to back-to-back deployments of regular troops and unprecedented callups of National Guard and Reserve troops.

Almost forgotten was also the callup of State National Guard personnel to provide security for local sites, such as airports, reservoirs and nuclear power plants.

And, in Massachusetts at least, someone neglected to remember that the National Guard troops have lives and businesses and finances that are not tied to the military. And that these people don't have really deep pockets.

And now they want to get paid.

A group of four members of the Massachusetts National Guard are suing for expenses incurred when they, and hundreds other members of the National Guard,. were activated and assigned to security posts throughout the Commonwealth. In some cases the Guardsmen were assigned to security posts at military bases without available food or sleeping facilities. The four are also seeking to have the suit afforded class-action status that would include reimbursement for all troops in the Commonwealth's Guard units that are in the same situation.

According to an AP report ( "Guardsmen sue for Sept. 11 duty expenses" ):
The soldiers, who are from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, say they traveled hundreds of miles to security postings - such as Quabbin Reservoir, the Boston areaÂ’s primary water supply - and used their own money for gas, food and lodging, expecting to be paid back.

But the soldiers say in their complaint that their requests for compensation were repeatedly denied until they were told by their commanding officers that they could be taken off their missions ifthey didn'tnÂ’t stop asking for reimbursement. The response, they said, had a "chilling effect."

"Plaintiffs concluded they could not seek the ... reimbursement compensation they felt they were owed, without extreme and negative repercussions on their military careers," the complaint reads.

The suit says federal law provides military personnel with meals and travel allowance while away from home on active duty. But Massachusetts guardsmen received orders that read: "Government quarters not available; ... government meals are not available; ... per diem: not authorized."
The Boston globe is also covering what is a very local story ( "Soldiers sue for reimbursement - Guardsmen seek pay for post-9/11 duty" ):
If the soldiers in all approximately 300 positions at issue were fully reimbursed for every day since Sept. 11, 2001, they would be owed an estimated $73 million, the lawyers said.

The four plaintiffs said they were never given reasons why their reimbursements -- a maximum of $158 a day for food and lodging, plus travel expenses -- were denied.

Sergeant Wayne R. Gutierrez of New Bedford, one of the soldiers suing for reimbursements, said his family struggled under the financial burden of paying for travel expenses and meals while he was serving at Camp Edwards in Bourne. His Guard duty cost him about $18,000 over three years, he said.

''I had to not pay one bill to pay for another," said Gutierrez, who is married and has two children.

Major Winfield Danielson, a spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard, said his office was reviewing the lawsuit and could not discuss it.

But he said the rules for reimbursements for soldiers are complex and depend on several factors, including what type of duty the soldiers are on, how long they are serving, and whether the government provides lodging where soldiers are working.

He said he couldn't discuss how those factors applied to the four soldiers suing because he did not know their status.

But John Shek of Boston, the soldiers' attorney, said he knew of no other state where similar Guard orders denying the reimbursements for post-Sept. 11 security were issued.
Retired Captain Louis P. Tortorella of Brookline, N.H., another of the Massachusetts Guard soldiers who filed the lawsuit, said he spent about $14,600 of his own money on expenses necessary to carry out his 21-month assignment to Camp Edwards between 2001 and 2003.

He said the trip from his home to Cape Cod was 250 miles roundtrip and took 3 1/2 hours, a drive he made daily because he was refused reimbursement for lodging.

During part of his service, he was assigned to security at the Quabbin Reservoir, Boston's main drinking water source, overseeing about 45 soldiers.

There was no place to sleep at the reservoir, and so he and other soldiers drove home after their shifts
First Lieutenant Veronica Saffo, a spokeswoman for the Vermont National Guard, said orders calling up National Guard soldiers typically lay out whether lodging and meals are provided by the government, as they are for soldiers who serve one weekend a month, she said.

''If there's not lodging available, you need to find accommodation somewhere and you should be reimbursed for that," said Saffo
These men put their personal and economic lives on hold in order to serve their country.

We have to do right by them, and part of that is to not ruin them financially.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Has your signature been stolen?"

"Has your signature been stolen?"

This is a question that I heard when I picked up the receiver in response to the ring.

This seemed an odd question to open a telephone call with, but very quickly became obviously relevant.

It was about the anti-gay marriage petition people.


Even prior to the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling (in 2003) that the prohibitions against same-sex marriage were contrary to the state Constitution, there were initiative petitions being offered that would restrict access to civil unions, petitions to restrict redress in the event of discrimination in hiring or access to housing, or workplace discrimination or harassment, or ability to adopt children, including an initiative petition in 2001 that sought to ban same-sex marriage.

In Massachusetts the initiative petition is a process that enables citizens to put proposed laws for enactment by the legislature, or amendments to the state Constitution to a vote of the Commonwealth's citizens as a whole. (* see below for a description of the initiative petition process in Massachusetts)

In November of 2003 the Massachusetts State Supreme Court (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health) ruled that the laws in the Commonwealth that banned same-sex marriage were against the Massachusetts State Constitution, and directed the state legislature to compose laws that incorporated civil marriage by members of the same sex. In 2004 the legislature attempted to satisfy that requirement by drafting "civil unions." The state Supreme Court said, in effect, "we *said* marriage, not civil unions, and we *meant* marriage."

Since then, in addition to local, in-state groups, there have been out-of-state groups that have come to Massachusetts, "founding" local chapters and representing themselves to the public as home-grown "grass-roots" organizations (a tactic that Theresa Nielson-Hayden terms "astroturfing" - for fake grass-roots). This is a tactic that we have seen in a number of states in order to push for restrictions of gay rights in those states (I suppose the people in those states don't really know what should be the "proper" priorities).

Because of the ruling that the prior laws were contrary to the state Constitution, the only way to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts will be to change the state Constitution itself. (** see below for background). The Constitutional Convention that Governor Mitt Romney called didn't do the trick, so the opponents decided to go the initiative Petition route.

Which brings us to the phone call.

(see the full text, Under The Fold)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

But He Gave Money To The Dems too!... oh, never mind

One of the supposed "giant-killers" these days if either side of the aisle does something egregious is to say "they did it too/first!" (Admit it -- how many times have you heard "But Clinton did it!" over the last 5 years whenever somebody from the GOP gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar or G.W./Cheney finds their head in the toilet?)

First, "the other guy did it too" equivalence does *not* mean that the crime or questionably-legal/moral act committed is not still a crime or questionable.

Second, a lot of times the "equivalence" is more than a little false -- e.g.: At no point did President Bill Clinton order or authorize warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens within the U.S.

At no point did Clinton authorize the use of torture in any context. (Asan aside here, if anybody can provide me documentation for the contrary to these assertions I will gladly post a retraction and correct the archived text, with an audit entry showing what was changed).

Now, however, one of the all-time bribery guys to come out of the GOP-endorsed and GOP-directed "K Street Project" is one Jack Abramoff, who has already pled guilty to charges that will net him at least a decade behind bars (assuming that his 2007 presidential pardon is not the next page down from Scooter's), and who is likely going to be a buzzy little bee talking to the federal prosecutors.

Because of campaign finance disclosure laws, whatever monies in amounts of over $200/year are donated to either a candidates campaign funds or a special-interest group or PAC are a matter of public record.

NEWSMEAT has a search page that allows you to plug in a contributor's name, and whatever contributions have been made/reported are returned in a table.

One such search result is to the contributions made by Jackie A.

Since 1992, Jack A has contributed $172,933 to GOP candidates, and $88,985 to special interests and PACs.

I cannot find the name of one Democratic candidate, nor do I recognizce any of the PACs listed as being for Democratic causes. (unless the "AMERICANS FOR A REPUBLICAN MAJORITY POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE" or "REPUBLICAN MAJORITY FUND" are really stealth Democratic PACS).

However, I did note, with wholly inappropriate humor, that one of the 2003 recipients of $5,000 was the "RICH POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE."

I kid you not.

Ralph Nader Is Screwing People Over *Again*

First, with pushing to *ban* rather than make safer, the first attempts of the U.S auto industry to make a lighter, fuel efficient car were scrapped because Ralph "It isn't my fault" Nader wanted to see the Corvair off the roads entirely, when making it safer would have been better. That eliminated the incentive for U.S. Auto makers to do anything but build huge boat anchors, kept the mindset of "design inertia is good, and it's only current American design we'll look at," left the Japanese and Korean car makers a wide-open market, and now the U.S. automakers are shuttering plants and laying off 10s of thousands of workers.

Nader decided to play at politics, and while giving himself a grand ego-boost, he refused to take his name off the presidential ballot, and we have G.W. Bush in the White House, a war in the Mideast, 2,000+ U.S. soldiers dead and have planted the seeds for an Islamic theocratic dictatorship.

Now, an organization that Nader founded in 1971, Public Citizen , as a non-profit organization to "represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts." Although Nader resigned as head of Public Citizen in 1980, the organization has maintained some of Nader's pull-out-all-the-stops activism, and often doesn't look at the second- and third-tier effects of their actions. Currently, one of the major efforts of Public Citizen has been activism against the pharmaceutical industry, working to increase oversight of the industry and the FDA, and lobbying for increased disclosures of risks associated with new and existing drugs.

This is laudable, but Public Citizen has also been actively lobbying for the removal of drugs it considers "unsafe" from the pharmacopoeia. Again, as when Nader's "Unsafe at any Speed" campaign trashed the first innovations in the U.S. for more fuel efficient and economical cars, and his ego boosted the effects of votes for the GOP's presidential nominee in 2000, Public Citizen's drive to outright ban drugs it considers "unsafe" is removing access to drugs that may be the only effective treatment for some conditions.

An instant case in point for this is the campaign that Public Citizen led against availability of the drug Cylert. The primary labeled use of Cylert (generically known as Pemoline) is as part of a treatment regimen to treat ADHD. A secondary (off-label) use is as part of the regimen of treatment for some instances of narcolepsy and some of the chronic fatigue experienced by sufferers of MS. Cylert/Pemoline is not the primary choice for treatment of these conditions, but for some patients it is the only effective therapy.

Because this class of drugs (along with a raft of others, including many for control of cholesterol) can cause liver damage, the drug labeling has called for stringent testing for liver function. However, Public Citizen did not think that that was a good enough strategy, pushing instead for the cessation of manufacturing. And, not happy with the cessation of manufacturing the drug, in March of 2005, by Abbot Laboratories, the holder of the patents on Cylert, Public Citizen pushed for, and got, the FDA-mandated withdrawl from marketing of the generic form, Pemoline, on Nov 8, 2005.

This was done without fanfare, and apparently many physicians who had been prescribing pemoline/Cylert for their patients either never received the notices of withdrawl or the notices got lost in the blizzard of paperwork that the average MD receives each month.

I have no issues with Public Citizen's push for greater disclosure of risks associated with medications, or the drive for drug side effects to be more closely monitored. What I object to is the drive to outright ban some drugs without looking at the need for these drugs as a unique part of patient therapy. Much more effective would have been the drive for greater disclosure of the health risks involved, and allowing the patient, with their prescribing physician, to make a choice based on informed consent as to whether or not to continue use of a particular drug.

One of the reasons Abbot gave for ceasing manufacture of Cylert was declining sales, as other drugs (with fresher patents) joined their stables. And, yes, the clinical trials needed for formal approval of Cylert for treatment of symptoms of narcolepsy, MS and cocaine addiction (another off-label use) would be more expensive than they would be worth for the relatively small potential audience of users. But there as no choice for either Abbott or the generic manufacturers.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm supposed to be part of the mythical monolith of "progressives" and "liberals," and hate the drug companies and the FDA, etc, etc.

Well, first, there is no such critter as the "liberal" or "progressive" monolith.

Second, my own impression is that the overwhelming majority of progressives do *not* want autocratic control over people lives and the destruction of the free-market system. What progressives *do* want is the balance between the public's interest to be informed, shielded by appropriately minimal legislation with strong enforcement of common-sense solutions, and appropriate checks on the power of the unfettered free market over people's lives and livelihood. Oh, we also believe in the rule of law, not personalities, be those personalities Stalin, Nader or Cheney.

Sony Cited Over Illegal Ads In Philadelphia

Somebody at Sony management needs to buy a clue. Or at least staff their public and community relations groups with people who know how to do their jobs. And maybe a few lawyers as well, so they notice the legalities of what the corporation is doing.

On the heels of the debacle of Sony loading music CDs with Digital Rights Management (DRM) that infected the operating system of the PCs the CDs were loaded on, Sony is now facing the ire of the City of Philadelphia, and its citizens over a new ad campaign that uses graffiti-style ads on buildings to push product awareness of the new PlayStation Portables product. The ads were placed into public spaces without regard to either the prevailing attitude of the city, and its citizens, or the legality of permits and zoning.

Many cities are exerting more control over outdoor advertising, restricting height of billboards, placement and style of marques displayed and text included. Outdoor advertising is being seen more and more as a "quality of life" issue for communities, with some of the older painted-on building ads preserved as historical artifacts, along with the restrictions or elimination of billboards and other outdoor ads. Often at stake is investment in the communities by outside interests that see an overerabundance of billboards and other product advertising as indicative of a lack of local investment in the communities, as well as a measure of civic pride.

The people of Philadelphia have pride in their community, and want to keep their city attractive and livable. And they are not happy with Sony at all, viewing the corporation as being arrogant and insensitive to the community and the wishes of its citizens.

From the LA Times article on the story ( "Sony Draws Reproach Over Graffiti-Style Ads" )
PHILADELPHIA -- Graffiti and billboards are sensitive topics in this densely packed city, where municipal officials and community groups have joined forces in recent years to crack down on advertisers that had blanketed low-income neighborhoods with ads for beer, liquor and action films. The city prides itself on the hundreds of murals that decorate walls and buildings once smeared with graffiti.

In addition, Mayor John Street has waged a campaign to clean up the city, mounting programs to erase graffiti, clean up vacant lots and tow abandoned cars.

So, many in the city took offense when what appeared to be graffiti on building walls in inner-city North Philadelphia in recent weeks turned out to be what many consider even more annoying --- stealth advertising.

The caricatures depicted wide-eyed children playing with video toys. They were part of an advertising campaign by Sony Corp. for its PlayStation Portables, disguised as graffiti to appeal to the urban hip-hop generation.

Anti-graffiti activists were incensed. Graffiti aficionados were appalled. One of the three downtown ads was painted over, apparently by an anti-graffiti watchdog group that may or may not have realized it was an ad.

And last week, the city cited Sony for violating sign ordinances and ordered the company to remove the ads or the city wound take them down. Sony was warned that it faced fines for posting ads without a permit.

"They are not only illegal -- they are disrespectful to the community," Joe Grace, the mayor's communications director, said of the ads in an interview Friday. "We believe in removing urban blight ... and now we have a major corporation come in and just throw up ads without approval."

Grace said the city had not heard back from Sony, and public relations officials for the company did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Recently, a Sony spokeswoman told Wired magazine's website that the ads were aimed at "urban nomads, people who are on the go constantly."

Neither the product name nor the Sony brand is mentioned in the ads, which anti-graffiti activists say have appeared in six other cities, including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

It's The /N/i/g/h/t/ Week Of The /L/o/n/g/ /K/n/i/v/e/s/ Awards

We have seen a couple of sets of blogger awards of late, and now we have a new award judged by a blog -- World O' Crap has just announced the winners for the 2005 Ultimate Wingnut Award.

The ending lineup was:
  • 4th Runner-up - Michelle Malkin

  • 3rd Runner-up - Dr. Professor Mike S. Adams, Ph.D. (nee Daphne?)

  • 2nd Runner-up - Anne Coulter

  • 1st Runner-up - Pastor J. Grant Swank

  • Winner & 2005 Ultimate Wingnut! is - Hindrocket of Powerline!

  • But they certainly do deserve these alleged accolades.

    The post linked above describes the awards they would be receiving if it were possible to /p/u/t/ /t/h/e/m/ /i/n/ /t/h/e/i/r/ /p/l/a/c/e/s/ give them their due honors.

    However, the article that describes the achievements for the five finalists is just chock full of the praise they so richly deserve - "Ultimate Wingnut Finalists"

    Read both of the articles, they highlight the deep appreciation that the author holds for these esteemed personages.

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    More on the murder of Paul Berkley (AGAIN)

    This thing gets uglier and uglier.

    Look for this in some Law & Order or CSI episode.

    Detail from the AP: "Reservist slain allegedly by wife and teen lover"
    Christine Canty told the newspaper that she had been bickering with her son about his affair with Monique Berkley for the better part of a year.

    "She didn't sit right with me from the moment I met her," she told the paper. "It bothered me because she was older, and I wondered why she was hanging out with my son. He figured he was a grown man and could do what he wanted."

    Johnson, a freshman business major at East Carolina University, began dating Becky Berkley, Christine Canty told the newspaper. Police have not suggested that Becky Berkley was involved in the crime.

    This year, Andrew Canty told his mother that he and Monique Berkley had begun a sexual relationship, Christine Canty told The News & Observer. He allegedly moved in with her in April, a few months after her husband shipped out.

    "We can't imagine in any circumstances the chain of events that led to this tragedy," Susan Wheeler, Monique Berkley's mother said in a statement issued Monday. "Monique has no history of violence and comes from a loving and caring family. We are truly saddened by Paul's death."
    Short plea-bargains from all involved, the trials will be even more sordid. Certainly L&A and CSI material.
    previous articles on this:
  • 12/19/05 Naval Reservist, and Blogger, Murdered

  • 12/23/05 Update on Military Blogger Paul Berkley's Murder