2006 - %3, November

The Press is Less and Less Protected in America: An Update from the Front Lines

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 1:28 PM PST

One for the "War on the Press" file. Back when the 2006 Press Freedom Rankings were released -- with the U.S. placing a depressing 53rd -- Mother Jones made mention of the plight of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the indicted-and-likely-to-be-jailed San Francisco Chronicle reporters who used leaked grand jury testimony to expose the Balco steroid scandal. Today, the New York Times hangs out with Fainaru-Wada and Williams' lawyer, as she fights on behalf of Hearst employees, usually reporters, who are having their notebooks, phone logs, and personal correspondence forced open by the federal government. She does not see the plight of the press becoming any easier:

In the last 18 months, she says, her company has received 80 newsgathering subpoenas, for broadcast stations, newspapers and magazines. "But that was after the Judy Miller case," she said, mentioning the case in which the former New York Times reporter went to jail to protect a source. "In the two years before that, we had maybe four or five subpoenas. We didn't even keep track."

And as for Fainaru-Wada and Williams, the lawyer says:

"This is the single biggest case I have ever been involved in," she added. "In terms of the public's right to know what the government does and doesn't do, it is huge. If the government wins in this case, every reporter's notebook will be available to the government for the asking....You won't get the Watergate story, you won't get the Pentagon Papers."

In The Good Fight, Peter Beinart argues that America's brightest policymakers in the early Cold War period realized that a strong American foreign policy required a thriving domestic polity. That is to say, in order to spread (or attempt to spread) an American vision abroad, the American public needed to be healthy and whole, with each member given an equal chance to a succeed and a set of rights that were respected and protected. One wonders if the Bush Administration needs a reminder: You make a less convincing argument for democracy to the Iraqis and Afghanis (and Iranians and Syrians) when you go around tossing the fourth estate in prison.

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K Street's New 800-lb Gorilla

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 1:10 PM PST

Just in time to face down Washington's new regulatory mavens, the two major Wall Street lobbying groups, representing securities and bonds traders, have merged this year into a behemoth. Reports the Washington Post:

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, with a budget of $80 million, is the main mouthpiece for the financial services industry, the biggest corporate player in national politics. Only organized labor donates more to candidates for federal offices.

When added together, SIFMA's political action committees gave more than $1 million during the 2006 election season, putting the organization in the top 25 of all PACs. Its combined $8.5 million in spending on federal lobbying last year placed it in the top 30.

The association will need all that and more. It's already at the center of some of the most heated, high-stakes battles on Capitol Hill. It has begun to question the regulatory requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and wants to extend the temporary, multibillion-dollar tax breaks for profits garnered from stocks and bonds.

Don't expect Democrats to shoot this new K-Street Kong off the ramparts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's top campaign donors? Securities and investment companies. Her supporters in Silicon Valley have argued Sarbanes-Oxley creates too many roadblocks to taking companies public. The Speaker supports reforming the law. Look for proposed administrative changes to Sarbanes by the SEC in a week or two.

"Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men": A Homily of the Radical Left?

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 11:12 AM PST

Does this mean the Christmas carol is now an anti-war chant?

DENVER (AP) -- A homeowners association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.

Some residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq, said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs. He said some residents have also believed it was a symbol of Satan. Three or four residents complained, he said.

''Somebody could put up signs that say drop bombs on Iraq. If you let one go up you have to let them all go up,'' he said in a telephone interview Sunday.

What to ban next? Melting snowmen! Red and blue christmas lights! And Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains, to be sure.

Mass Extinction Led to Reordering of Marine Ecosystems

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 7:12 AM PST

Scientists have recently discovered that the "Great Dying," 250 million years ago when a massive extinction wiped out nearly 95 percent of marine life and 70 percent of land species, also brought about a fundamental change in the ecology of the oceans.

Published in Friday's Science, a report from scientists with The Field Museum in Chicago have found that ecologically simple marine communities were displaced by complex communities initiating a new pattern that has continued since: the dominance of higher-metabolism, mobile organisms like snails, clams and crabs that go out and find their own food over the older groups of low-metabolism, stationery organisms that filter nutrients from the water.

The scientists were studying how life forms in the oceans changed over the last 540 million years when they stumbled on the data which shows that there had been sudden relative abundance in marine life shortly after the "great dying."

An accompanying article suggests that this striking change escaped detection until now because previous research relied on single numbers--such as the number of species alive at one particular time or the distribution of species in a local community--to track the diversity of marine life while this research used a huge repository of fossil data in the new Paleobiology Database.

This is only the beginning of what this cool sounding database will tell us about the earth and its species' early tracks. The lead author of the study, Peter J. Wagner says, "We think these are the first analyses of this type at this large scale."

"Tracing how marine communities became more complex over hundreds of millions of years is important because it shows us that there was not an inexorable trend towards modern ecosystems. If not for this one enormous extinction event at the end of the Permian, then marine ecosystems today might still be like they were 250 million years ago."

These results also might cause scientists to shift their view of how humans are affecting marine ecosystems today. Wagner added: "Studies by modern marine ecologists suggest that humans are reducing certain marine ecosystems to something reminiscent of 550 million years ago, prior to the explosion of animal diversity. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs couldn't manage that."

The research is new, the whys are still unclear, but for now this discovery is opening the door to exciting areas of research that hopefully can better inform us on the history, and the mysteries, of the deep.

Iraqi Shi'ites Stone Shi'ite Prime Minister

| Sun Nov. 26, 2006 8:26 PM PST

You know things are really getting bad when Shi'ite mobs seem ready to kill their own prime minister. As Reuters reports:

The motorcade of Iraq's Prime Minister was pelted with stones yesterday by fellow Shiites in a Baghdad slum when he paid respects to some of the 200 who died there last week in the deadliest attack since the US invasion...."It's all your fault!" one man shouted as, in unprecedented scenes, a hostile crowd began to surge around Al Maliki. Men and youths then jeered and jostled as his armoured convoy edged through the throng away from a mourning ceremony for one of the 202 victims of Thursday's multiple car bomb attack in Sadr City.

Outsourcing Meth

| Sun Nov. 26, 2006 8:15 PM PST

America's methamphetamine manufacturers are the latest entrepreneurs to discover the advantages of moving their factories to the Third World. Spurred by a crackdown on rural labs and the sale of ingredients used to make crystal meth in the U.S., savvy speed producers have relocated to Mexico. Authorities there recently shut down the biggest meth factory ever found in the Americas. And it's not just a North American issue - like everything else, the crystal trade is global. Mexican meth makers are apparently importing their ingredients from China and India, via Hong Kong. Their number one market, of course, is still the U.S.

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Sen. Chuck Hagel Advocates Phased Withdrawal

| Sun Nov. 26, 2006 1:21 PM PST

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who recently joined General Abizaid in shooting down John McCain's "20,000 More Troops" plan for Iraq, has published his thoughts on the desert quagmire in an op-ed in the Washington Post. Hagel has been a harsh critic of the Bush Administration at times, and he pulls no punches here. Highlights:

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.

We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans.

...

The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq. The cost of combat in Iraq in terms of American lives, dollars and world standing has been devastating. We've already spent more than $300 billion there to prosecute an almost four-year-old war and are still spending $8 billion per month. The United States has spent more than $500 billion on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And our effort in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, partly because we took our focus off the real terrorist threat, which was there, and not in Iraq.

We are destroying our force structure, which took 30 years to build. We've been funding this war dishonestly, mainly through supplemental appropriations, which minimizes responsible congressional oversight and allows the administration to duck tough questions in defending its policies. Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibility in the past four years.

Plenty Of Troops To Fight Against the War On Christmas

| Fri Nov. 24, 2006 11:51 AM PST

Signing up to fight the "War on Christmas" may be more popular these days than signing up to fight that other war. Between Bill O'Reilly's ranting and John Gibson's writing, publicity about the non-existent war on Christmas hit a peak last holiday season.

Alliance Defense Fund Attorney Mike Johnson says that "About this time every year, our phones start to ring off the hook from people reporting cases of discrimination." According to Johnson, ADF received 400 phone calls last year about incidents that included possible discrimination against Christians.

This year, the ADF will once again focus on keeping Christmas in the schools and in public spaces. Over 930 attorneys are available "to combat any improper attempts to censor the celebration of Christmas in schools and on public property." According to the ADF, the organization's major function is to point out what is legal in cases in which institutions "censor" Christmas. For example (from the ADF website):

* The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that public schools must ban the singing of religious Christmas carols or prohibit the distribution of candy canes or Christmas cards.

* School officials do not violate the Constitution by closing on religious holidays such as Christmas and Good Friday.

* School officials are not legally obligated to recognize all other religious holidays simply because they officially recognize Thanksgiving or Christmas.

* School officials may use "Christmas Vacation" to refer to the December holiday break without offending the Constitution.

* Government-sponsored Christmas displays are not banned as some people believe. When faced with the question of whether a Christmas display is constitutional, a court simply asks, "Is the government celebrating the holiday or promoting religion?" Often, the "Three Reindeer Rule" is used by courts, whereby a judge reasons that having a sufficient number of secular objects in close enough proximity to the Christmas item (such as a crèche) renders the overall display as a constitutional community observance of the holiday.

This year, the ADF has support from Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Coral Ridge Ministries, and the majority of the nation's state-based family policy councils.

Recently, Wal-Mart changed it's policy on holiday greetings. Wal-Mart staff will no longer say "Happy Holidays" to customers, but will instead say "Merry Christmas." The "Happy Holiday" policy led to protests and calls for a boycott from conservative religious groups.

Thanksgiving for the Bush Family

| Fri Nov. 24, 2006 10:41 AM PST

President Bush celebrated Thanksgiving at Camp David with relatives and good friends like Condoleeza Rice. This week, George Bush Sr. was with a much less welcoming crowd in Abu Dhabi—defending his son's record on the war.

In a story that did not make the headlines in American media over the holidays, Bush Sr. was jeered by a crowd after giving a key note address to young business leaders in the United Arab Emirates.

After a woman audience member told Bush Sr. "We do not respect your son. We do not respect the work he's doing all over the world," the crowd whooped.

Due to the presence of journalists, Bush Sr. would not say what advice he gives George W. on the war. But he displayed unfailing family loyalty, saying that his son was "an honest man" who was working for peace.

"When your son's under attack, it hurts," Bush Sr. told the audience. "You're determined to be at his side and help him any way you possibly can."

--Caroline Dobuzinskis

Marine Gets Less than Two Years for Executing Iraqi Civilian

| Wed Nov. 22, 2006 3:51 PM PST

In his final speech before the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush pronounced that "unlike Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty."

Liberty meaning that you won't be dragged from your home and shot point-blank in the head by a group of soldiers?

That's what happened to Hashim Ibrahim Awad last April, and the soldiers were American. Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman dragged Awad from his home in Hamdaniyah, west of Baghdad. They bound his hands and feet, though Awad is lame, and forced him outside. Four of them then shot him in the face. Afterwards, the soldiers placed a shovel and an AK-47 by Awad's body to make it look like he was an insurgent digging a hole for a roadside bomb. The real motive for the killing remains unknown.

Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr. was one of the shooters. He was sentenced yesterday to 21 months in jail. That's significantly less than the five-year federal minimum sentence for growing a single marijuana plant. None of Shumate's co-conspirators has received a longer sentence (though some have yet to be tried).

An Iraqi life is worth less than a victimless crime. How much is saving these young soldiers' asses really worth to the military?