Next month, South Dakota is slated to carry out its first execution in almost 60 years. The victim, Elijah Page, was convicted along with two other men of an especially ugly murder. Still, according to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, he has some pretty heavy mitigating circumstances in his background: "his mother often would allow drug dealers to molest Page in exchange for drugs and his step-father once used him as a human shield in a drug-related shoot out. Warren Johnson, the judge who presided over Page's punishment trial, stated, 'Most parents treated their pets better than your parents treated you.'"

But don't get the idea that South Dakotans don't respect human life. This is the state, don't forget, that will soon vote on whether to uphold a ban on all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. If that ban is upheld, doctors performing abortions might be open to murder charges.

Washington Post:

"Think of what you hate most about your job. Then think of doing what you hate most for five straight hours, every single day, sometimes twice a day, in 120-degree heat," [said Army Staff Sgt. Jose Sixtos in Baghdad]. "Then ask how morale is."

Frustrated? "You have no idea." [...]

"It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown up. That's the most honest answer I could give you," said Spec. Tim Ivey, 28, of San Antonio.

Interestingly, though, a recent Stars and Stripes survey found that two-thirds of U.S. troops serving in Iraq say they believe the cause they're fighting for is worthwhile. But: "Responses appeared to track with military rank. Eight-eight percent of senior officers, for example, ranked both unit and personal morale as high or very high. Among junior enlisted servicemembers, 49 percent rated unit morale as high or very high and 66 percent gave that same rating to their own personal morale."

Oddly, fifty-five percent called the mission in Iraq "very clear." Perhaps they could fill us in...?

Just posted at Mother Jones (via Tomdispatch): Tom Engelhardt, in a terrific essay, takes up the subject of war from the air, setting the Israeli campaign against Lebanon in the context of history. He traces the rise of air power and notes its tendency, always, to concentrate its destruction on the civilian structure of a society. It's an essentially barbaric form of warfare, he writes, and no less so for having become real-time TV entertainment.

He concludes:

"As air wars go, the one in Lebanon may seem strikingly directed against the civilian infrastructure and against society; in that, however, it is historically anything but unique. It might even be said that war from the air, since first launched in Europe's colonies early in the last century, has always been essentially directed against civilians. As in World War II, air power -- no matter its stated targets -- almost invariably turns out to be worst for civilians and, in the end, to be aimed at society itself. In that way, its damage is anything but 'collateral,' never truly 'surgical,' and never in its overall effect 'precise.' Even when it doesn't start that way, the frustration of not working as planned, of not breaking the 'will,' invariably leads, as with the Israelis, to ever wider, ever fiercer versions of the same, which, if allowed to proceed to their logical conclusion, will bring down not society's will, but society itself.

"For the Lebanese prime minister what Israel has been doing to his country may be 'barbaric destruction'; but, in our world, air power has long been robbed of its barbarism (suicide air missions excepted). For us, air war involves dumb hits by smart bombs, collateral damage, and surgery that may do in the patient, but it's not barbaric. For that you need to personally cut off a head.

Read the piece in full here.

July 28, 2006

No Magic Wand, says White House: At the White House briefing Thursday, a reporter asks, "I just want to follow up on you saying that Secretary Rice had significant victories in Rome. How can you say that when she came away with no cease-fire?" Press Secretary Tony Snow replied, "Because, Ed, you're laboring under the presumption that she was supposed to come with a magic wand and say a cease-fire. What she has said is, what on earth is the good of having another empty-handed cease-fire in the Middle East? What is the purpose of having something that is not enforceable at this juncture and is not realistic?"
Read the entire exchange.

Moral Grounds for Killing Civilians: Asa Kasher, author of the Israeli military's code of ethics, says killing civilians in southern Lebanon can be "morally justified."

"I don't know what the truth is about the circumstances," Kasher stressed. "But assuming that we warned the civilians and gave them enough time to leave, and that the civilians who remained chose, themselves, not to leave, then there is no reason to jeopardize the lives of the troops," he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Moshe Keynan, father of a soldier killed in another conflict, was quoted by the paper as saying he was angry with the IDF for jeopardizing soldiers' safety to protect civilians. "We need to worry that our kids return to their parents and we need to worry about our family and sons and wives, not how we look on BBC."

Need cash? Want a car? Israeli psyops operating out of a radio station in the south of Lebanon are offering gifts for tips on Hezbollah's activities. Tipsters are encouraged to call from phones from areas where they are not known and can't be easily traced. Residents of southern Lebanon received warnings to get out of their houses and head north in telephone calls from exchanges in Canada and Italy, and traced back to Israeli intelligence.

A third of the nation's 8,000 voting jurisdictions are using electronic voting for the first time this November. How are their systems expected to perform? Patchily, according to a committee of National Research Council experts.

"Some jurisdictions -- and possibly many -- may not be well prepared for the arrival of the November 2006 elections with respect to the deployment and use of electronic voting equipment and related technology, and anxiety about this state of affairs among election officials is evident in a number of jurisdictions." (Washington Post)

The panel's chairman called the November midterms "a moment of truth for electronic voting," and the analysis a "caution sign, not a stop sign, but not a clean bill of health for a technology that everyone recognizes there may be problems with."

For more on those problems--machines can screw up and are vulnerable to hacking--see this and this, and this.

The New York Times poll about Iraq is pretty stunning. 56 percent of respondents think the United States should "set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq". A whopping 72 percent think the war in Iraq is "making the U.S. image in the world… worse." And 41 percent think the U.S. presence in Iraq is leading to "less stability" in the Middle East (as opposed to a mere 25 percent who thinks it's leading to "greater stability.")

At this point, it appears that any candidate—Democrat or Republican—who truly believes that withdrawing from Iraq is the least bad of the very bad options available has no political reason for refraining from saying so. Meanwhile, on the partisan front, 42 percent of respondents thought that Democrats were "more likely to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq," compared to 36 percent who thought Republicans were more likely to do so. I wonder how those numbers would change if Democrats came out more strongly in favor of a timetable for getting out.

I also wonder how to square this with the fact that, according to a poll published a few days ago, over half the people in this country falsely believe Saddam Hussein had WMDs, and 55 percent of respondents believe that "history will give the U.S. credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq." Maybe they can be reconciled. Maybe polls just show that people are usually quite confused.

Hmmm… Harold Meyerson writes that Europe should "put up or shut up" and deploy peacekeepers in southern Lebanon to secure the borders and stop the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Okay, but is this realistic? Would a European force actually be able to stop Hezbollah from firing missiles into Europe? He doesn't say.

What if Hezbollah defies this much-heralded international force, or what if they start waging a guerrilla war against the peacekeepers to try to drive them out? Should Europe stay? Should Europe fight? Should they try to wage a counterinsurgency battle against Hezbollah? Is that realistic? If European countries are really just refusing to deploy troops to Lebanon out of sheer cowardice, that's one thing, but if they have serious objections to deploying troops there, because they're afraid of getting caught in a situation similar to what the United States faces in Iraq, well, that deserves a hearing, no?

A couple of days ago, New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman stood on the Senate floor and told terrible stories of Native Americans in his state who could not get health care. Native Americans are five to seven times more likely to get diabetes, and they are also more likely than other Americans to get tuberculosis, yet their healthcare choices are very limited.

Bingaman talked about a little girl who died because she could not get treatment, and then talked about a man who had run out of insulin, but when he went to the only available clinic, there was none there and the doctors were unable to get any for at least twenty-four hours. Patients who need serious or emergency treatment have no hospital, and often have no transportation to take them to one.

The Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) was passed in 1976. IHCIA expired in 2000, and Congress has yet to renew it, despite putting about $3 billion a year into it. Native American advocates say this sum is too low, and that the lack of reauthorization make future funding uncertain.

The U.S. Senate only recently restored funding for the Urban Indian Health Program, which George W. Bush has proposed be eliminated in the 2007 budget.

The IHCIA reauthorization that is being proposed includes funding to recruit and train healthcare professionals, provide mental health treatment and mental and behavioral health education, and provide disease preventon and cancer screening. But Congressional interest in reauthorizing IHCIA, as usual, is low. In the meantime, the Indian Health Service estimates that two-thirds of health care needed by Native Americans and Alaskan Natives is denied.

In related news, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment announced today that it will, along with Dooda Desert Rock Committee, oppose the approval of an air quality permit for the Desert Rock power plant in northwestern New Mexico.

From the announcement:

Two existing plants in the vicinity have been called two of the worst point-sources of pollution in the U.S. by the EPA, spewing concentrations of a number of pollutants proven to be damaging to human health and the environment. The health of neighboring residents has already been compromised by their exposure to these toxins; it would be genocidal to subject them to more pollutants in their already overburdened community. Despite the talk of so-called reduced power plant emissions, the San Juan County area simply cannot afford the increased emissions levels that will result from Desert Rock.

The announcement goes on to say that "The U.S. government spends twice as much per capita ($3800) on health care for federal prisoners as it spends for Native Americans."



[Guardian] Russia signed a £1.6 billion [$3 billion] arms deal with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela today, risking a confrontation with the U.S., which has imposed an arms embargo on the South American country.

The outspoken Venezuelan president, who has claimed that America wants to assassinate him and pledged cheap heating fuel for London's poor, also told reporters in Moscow that his country could develop its own nuclear program.

Earlier this month, Chavez looked deep into the soul of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at an African Union summit and liked what he saw. "Doesn't Iran have the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful means?" he asked--rhetorically--while Ahmadinejad returned the compliment by lashing out at "bullying powers" who "think the countries and nations of the world must be their slaves. I know how the oppressed people of Africa and Latin America have suffered." Good thing we have so much leverage with both these countries.

Yesterday, the House and Senate passed the Child Custody Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime to transport a pregnant minor across state borders for an abortion without parental consent, and allow parents to sue abortion providers if their daughters go to a clinic without permission. Today in the American Prospect, Helena Silverstein and Wayne Fishman take the time to explain what's wrong with this law.

Thirty-four states have laws in effect that require either parental consent or notification before a minor can get an abortion. The official purpose of the CCPA is to bolster these state laws. After all, what good is it for, say, Pennsylvania to require parental consent if grandma or boyfriend can just take missy to New Jersey? It's a fair enough point.

But here's another fair point: Not all families are well functioning, and missy might have very good reason to think that dad would unleash some righteous whoop-ass on any daughter of his who is even sexually active, never mind one who wants an abortion. So a minor's wellbeing can be put at risk by making it more difficult for her to get an abortion without parental involvement -- for instance, by going out of state. Now some supporters of parental notification laws argue that if a pregnant minor is really in trouble with her parents (because they're abusive, say, or because the girl's father was the one who got her pregnant), then she can just go get a "judicial bypass" from the courts that would allow her to get an abortion without notifying her parents.

But as Silverstein and Fishman point out, the judicial bypass system is a complete and utter mess. In Alabama and Tennessee, "nearly half of the courts charged with implementing the bypass mechanism were unprepared to do so." And many judges, unaware of their responsibilities, simply refuse to give pregnant minors a waiver to get an abortion for ideological reasons. So often there's no escape, and the CCPA is, in effect, bolstering a court system that doesn't work.