Thursday, March 31, 2005

Fw: Stop Funding for New Nuclear Weapons!


----- Original Message -----
From: "Kathy Guthrie"
To: "Miriam Vieni"
Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2005 4:18 PM
Subject: FCNL: Stop Funding for New Nuclear Weapons!

The Bush administration this year is reviving its proposal for a new
generation of "usable" nuclear weapons, often described as
"bunker busters." Your actions and the efforts of thousands
of others helped support efforts by Rep. David Hobson (OH) to eliminate
funding for these weapons in 2004. Now we need to mobilize again to
slam the door shut on these new nuclear weapons before the
administration proposal gains momentum.

ACT NOW!

Contact your representatives today. Urge them to call for the
elimination of all funding for the bunker buster weapons from the
defense authorization bill and the energy and water appropriations bill
that Congress is now drafting.

Also, thank Congress for eliminating funding for the bunker buster
weapons last year. Tell your representatives that new nuclear weapons
will not make the world more secure. Developing new nuclear weapons
sends a message to the rest of the world that nuclear weapons are
usable. This undermines U.S. security.

Contacting your members of Congress is easy. You can email or fax your
member of Congress for free by going to
http://capwiz.com/fconl/utr/1/HHRLEMWMYU/KECMEMXRQD/ Once there, you
will also find talking points to help you write your letter. It is best
to put your message in your own words, since congressional staff often
ignore "form letters."

Because this issue is so urgent, please pass this message on to your
family and friends!

BACKGROUND

In 2004, FCNL asked for your help in urging Congress to oppose new
nuclear weapons. Your actions, and the leadership of Rep. David Hobson,
resulted in Congress eliminating the money for new nuclear weapons in
the final appropriations bill.

The Bush administration has renewed its effort to develop a
"bunker busting" nuclear bomb that would penetrate the ground
before exploding in order to destroy underground targets. The Energy
Department budget request includes $4 million to develop this new
nuclear bomb, also known as the "Robust Nuclear Earth
Penetrator." Read FCNL's fact sheet on these weapons at
http://capwiz.com/fconl/utr/1/HHRLEMWMYU/EOJWEMXRQE/ The administration
is also asking for $4.5 million in the Air Force budget for non-nuclear
tests that would evaluate the bunker buster's ability to penetrate into
the earth before exploding.

While the amount requested is small relative to the overall military
budget, spending any funds on the bunker buster keeps alive a program
that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars once it moves from
research to production. In addition to the cost to the taxpayer, the
program undermines U.S. efforts to convince other countries not to
develop nuclear weapons.

The administration is also asking for $9 million for a second nuclear
weapons program: the "Reliable Replacement Warhead." This
program, if continued beyond the planning stage, would also result in
hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to replace current warheads
and could lead to the resumption of nuclear testing.

Your efforts and the efforts of thousands of others to successfully
eliminate funds for the bunker buster in 2004 shows that the public
does not support these weapons. Now we need to mobilize again to slam
the door shut on new nuclear weapons.

_______________________________________

The Next Step for Iraq: Join FCNL's Iraq Campaign,
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Contact Congress and the Administration:
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________________________________________

Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 Second St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-5795
fcnl@fcnl.org * www.fcnl.org
phone: (202)547-6000 * toll-free: (800)630-1330

We seek a world free of war and the threat of war
We seek a society with equity and justice for all
We seek a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled
We seek an earth restored.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

What's Going On?

A Call To Action


March 29, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
What's Going On?
By PAUL KRUGMAN

emocratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous.

But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence.

Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through "Terri's law." But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice - a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge's order that she remain there.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law.

The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom.

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism.

Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

And it won't stop there. There is a nationwide trend toward "conscience" or "refusal" legislation. Laws in Illinois and Mississippi already allow doctors and other health providers to deny virtually any procedure to any patient. Again, think of how such laws expose doctors to pressure and intimidation.

But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law than Mr. Greer.

We can't count on restraint from people like Mr. DeLay, who believes that he's on a mission to bring a "biblical worldview" to American politics, and that God brought him a brain-damaged patient to help him with that mission.

What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism. Some people ask, with justification, Where are the Democrats? But an even better question is, Where are the doctors fiercely defending their professional integrity? I think the American Medical Association disapproves of politicians who second-guess medical diagnoses based on video images - but the association's statement on the Schiavo case is so timid that it's hard to be sure.

The closest parallel I can think of to current American politics is Israel. There was a time, not that long ago, when moderate Israelis downplayed the rise of religious extremists. But no more: extremists have already killed one prime minister, and everyone realizes that Ariel Sharon is at risk.

America isn't yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren't sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.


E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com



Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

""It's the peoples money....and we're gonna take it.

A Call To Action
latimes.com
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-bankrupt29mar29,0,5757172.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Judges Say Overhaul Would Weaken Bankruptcy System
By Peter G. Gosselin
Times Staff Writer

March 29, 2005

WASHINGTON — For nearly a decade, proponents of overhauling the nation's bankruptcy laws have described their aim as ensuring that Americans who enter bankruptcy court do not escape bills that they can truly afford to pay.

But only weeks before Congress is likely to approve the long-sought overhaul, bankruptcy judges across the country warn that the measure would undermine the very section of the law under which debtors are now repaying more than $3 billion annually to their creditors.

These judges say the effect of the overhaul would be to discourage most forms of personal bankruptcy, which for nearly two centuries has served as a safety net for people in economic trouble.

"The folks who brought you 'those who can pay, should pay' are pulling the stuffing out of the very part of the bankruptcy law where debtors do pay," said Keith Lundin, a federal bankruptcy judge in the eastern district of Tennessee in Nashville and an authority on bankruptcy repayment plans.

"The advocates aren't trying to fix the bankruptcy law; they're trying to mess it up so much that nobody can use it," Lundin charged.

In interviews, a dozen current or former bankruptcy judges, whose names were suggested by proponents as well as opponents of the overhaul legislation, described what they saw as the problems that could result from key provisions of the new measure.

Judges now have broad discretion to determine how much a debtor must pay to creditors and on what schedule after declaring bankruptcy under what is known as Chapter 13. But under the legislation, that discretion would be substantially curtailed.

The new legislation would bar courts from reducing the amount that many debtors would have to repay on their cars and other big-ticket items. It would also extend the length of time people would have to make repayments and impose repayment schedules that critics describe as so onerous that many debtors would fall behind.

The result, the judges said, would be the collapse of more repayment plans, forcing debtors out of bankruptcy court protection. Creditors then could try to force debtors to pay the full amount owed — not the reduced amount a judge had ordered — by moving to repossess their belongings or bringing legal actions. Many people would have to pay creditors far into the future, the critics said, and thus be unable to restart their economic lives, a long-held aim of bankruptcy.

Repayment plans "are pretty fragile documents to begin with, but they're going to get a lot more fragile under these conditions," said Ronald Barliant, a former bankruptcy judge from the northern district of Illinois in Chicago.

"It's going to take away of lot of the incentives" for people to enter repayment plans, said David W. Houston III, a bankruptcy judge from the northern district of Mississippi in Aberdeen.

Overhaul proponents respond to such criticisms by contending that the current bankruptcy system is rife with fraud and abuse and is stacked against creditors. Many proponents are deeply scornful of bankruptcy judges, who they charge have let the system spin out of control.

"They're part of the … problem," declared Jeff Tassey, a Washington lobbyist who heads the coalition of credit card companies, banks and others that has spearheaded the overhaul drive.

"They're not real judges, not Article 3 judges," Tassey said. He was referring to Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution, under which judges in the regular federal court system are appointed for life. Bankruptcy judges are appointed under Article 1 to 14-year renewable terms.

As matters now stand, financially distressed Americans generally have two options in bankruptcy. They can file a Chapter 7 case, in which they forfeit most of their assets in return for cancellation of most debts and a debt-free "fresh start." Or, they can file a Chapter 13 case, in which they get to keep most of their property but must agree to repay a portion of their debts over a period of time.

Some advocates for changing the system have contended that these provisions should be rewritten to address a kind of moral laxness in bankruptcy practices.

"When you have seen a system that has gone from a few hundred thousand cases to 1.5 million last year — most of that increase during the fat years of the Clinton administration — you must conclude something is not right," said Edith H. Jones, a federal appellate court judge in Houston who served on a blue-ribbon panel to review bankruptcy law in the 1990s and is widely believed to be seen as on President Bush's short list for a position on the Supreme Court.

"People have been encouraged to see bankruptcy as an easy way out of uncomfortable situations," Jones said.

Overhaul proponents have also said that the new measure is so narrowly cast that it would affect no more than 15% of bankruptcy filers.

The legislation would require courts to check whether people make more than their state's median income and can pass a "means test," which gauges whether they have enough to cover allowable living expenses, pay secured creditors such as mortgage lenders and still have some left over for unsecured creditors such as credit card companies. Those who are above the median and have the means would no longer be allowed to file under Chapter 7 and wipe out most of their debts, but would have to file Chapter 13 cases and agree to a repayment plan.

Nearly all congressional Republicans, together with many Democrats, support the overhaul measure, which the president has warmly endorsed and said he would sign. The Senate passed the measure this month in a 74-25 vote. Approval from the House is expected next month.

However, largely overlooked in the debate has been a series of proposed changes in Chapter 13 that critics say would make it harder for debtors to stick with repayment plans — the opposite effect of what supporters say they want.

Critics, including bankruptcy judges in California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Florida say there is nowhere near the fraud in the system that advocates claim.

They cite a study by the nonpartisan American Bankruptcy Institute, which concludes that only about 3% of those who wipe out their debts in Chapter 7 could afford to repay a portion in Chapter 13. Lobbyists for the credit card and banking industries estimate that 10% or more would be able to pay.

Those opposed to the changes contend that most people who file for bankruptcy are truly distressed financially — and say the success that courts have in collecting as much as they do under Chapter 13 shows the system is working.

According to figures from the U.S. Trustee Program, a Justice Department agency, Chapter 13 debtors repaid almost $3.6 billion in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available.

But critics say the courts' success with Chapter 13 is threatened by several little-noticed elements of the proposed legislation:

Auto Loans

Under current law, those who file under Chapter 13 must repay car loans only up to the amount the car is worth at the time they enter court, or they risk losing the vehicle. A debtor who bought a $24,000 sport utility vehicle and filed for bankruptcy two years later, for example, might have to pay far less because the vehicle had depreciated.

By reducing what debtors owe auto lenders in this fashion, the law ensures more money for other creditors. And, according to bankruptcy experts, it means that auto lenders are treated on an equal footing with other "secured" creditors — they are promised repayment only to the value of the item they could repossess.

Under the new measure, debtors would have to pay the full amount on any vehicle purchased within 2 1/2 years of bankruptcy, or risk losing the vehicle. The change may seem minor to an outsider, but not to Chapter 13 debtors or bankruptcy judges. "That's going to be a big deal," predicted A. Thomas Small, a bankruptcy judge for the eastern district of North Carolina in Raleigh. It would mean that many repayment plans that work now would fail under the new measure, he said.

Repayment Plans

Under current law, the debtor and his lawyer work out a repayment plan that they think represents the most the debtor can pay and still cover basic living expenses. A bankruptcy judge must eventually approve the plan, which usually has reduced or stretched-out payments to creditors. In the meantime, the debtor immediately begins making payments to a court-appointed trustee.

Under the legislation, many debtors would have to make full payments on such big-ticket items as houses, furniture and appliances. They would have to make those payments directly to the lenders. And at the same time, they would have to start paying the court-appointed trustee for debts to doctors, credit card companies and other unsecured creditors.

Many bankruptcy judges say debtors who come before them often do not have enough income to make both sets of payments.

The result, they warned, would be that many debtors' plans would quickly fail.

Starting Over

Under current bankruptcy law, two guiding principles are that debtors should not be required to repay indefinitely, or they effectively become indentured servants to their creditors, and that they should eventually be given a debt-free "fresh start" on their economic lives.

The legislation would require debtors to agree to repayment plans with a five-year minimum repayment schedule, up from the current three-year minimum. It would also boost the chances that debtors would be required to continue paying some debts even after a plan's successful completion.

Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University in Virginia, said the shift away from the "fresh start" philosophy is justified because another bedrock American value — that people who incur debts should pay them — is being sullied under the current system.

But many bankruptcy judges and independent experts warn that equally compelling values would be lost if the proposed measure becomes law.

Practically, they warn, debtors who would no longer qualify for Chapter 7 and fail to complete Chapter 13 repayment plans would either have to keep paying creditors indefinitely or drop out.

"If you're confronted with a mountain of debt and have no hope of getting out from under it, you're either going to go underground or turn to crime," said Kenneth N. Klee, a former Republican congressional staffer who was one of the chief authors of the last major bankruptcy law change in 1978 and now teaches law at UCLA.

More broadly, say judges and others, the ability to start over after running into financial problems should not be discounted.

"Loads of people have filed bankruptcy — Mark Twain, Buster Keaton, Walt Disney," said Lundin, the Nashville-based bankruptcy judge. "Bankruptcy is a very American safety net.

"It's part and parcel of the American dream."


Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

Saturday, March 26, 2005

With Friends Like These.....

A Call To Actionlatimes.com

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-paknuke26mar26,0,7347311.story?coll=la-home-headlines
Illegal Nuclear Deals Alleged
Investigators say Pakistan has secretly bought high-tech components for its weapons program from U.S. companies.
By Josh Meyer
Times Staff Writer

March 26, 2005

WASHINGTON — A federal criminal investigation has uncovered evidence that the government of Pakistan made clandestine purchases of U.S. high-technology components for use in its nuclear weapons program in defiance of American law.

Federal authorities also say the highly specialized equipment at one point passed through the hands of Humayun Khan, an Islamabad businessman who they say has ties to Islamic militants.

Even though President Bush has been pushing for an international crackdown on such trafficking, efforts by two U.S. agencies to send investigators to Pakistan to gather more evidence have hit a bottleneck in Washington, said officials knowledgeable about the case.

The impasse is part of a larger tug-of-war between federal agencies that enforce U.S. nonproliferation laws and policymakers who consider Pakistan too important to embarrass. The transactions under review began in early 2003, well after President Pervez Musharraf threw his support to the Bush administration's war on terrorism and the invasion of neighboring Afghanistan to oust Pakistan's former Taliban allies.

"This is the age-old problem with Pakistan and the U.S. Other priorities always trump the United States from coming down hard on Pakistan's nuclear proliferation. And it goes back 15 to 20 years," said David Albright, director of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, favors getting tougher with Pakistan.

U.S. and European officials involved in nonproliferation issues say they recently discovered evidence that Pakistan has begun a new push to acquire advanced nuclear components on the black market as it tries to upgrade its decades-old weapons program.

Current and former intelligence officials said the same elements of the Pakistani military that they suspected of orchestrating efforts to buy American-made products may also have worked with Abdul Qadeer Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani nuclear program who supplied weapons know-how and parts to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Abdul Qadeer Khan and Humayun Khan are not related.

The scheme U.S. investigators are trying to unravel involves Humayun Khan and Asher Karni, a South African electronics salesman and former Israeli army major.

Aided by Karni, who pleaded guilty to violating export control laws and began cooperating with U.S. authorities shortly after his arrest 15 months ago, investigators have traced at least one shipment of oscilloscopes from Oregon to South Africa and on to Humayun Khan.

The trail did not end there, however. According to recently unsealed Commerce Department documents, agents followed the shipment to the Al Technique Corp. of Pakistan, which had not been listed on any of the shipping or purchasing documents.

Al Technique describes itself as a manufacturer of precision lasers and other military-related products. But for federal investigators, "it was a big red flag," one U.S. official said.

"It's definitely a front for nuclear weapons, for their WMD project," the official said. The company is on a U.S. list of firms banned from buying equipment such as the special oscilloscopes that can be used to test and manufacture nuclear weapons.

Like others interviewed for this report, the American official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the political sensitivity of the case, the records of which have been sealed by a federal judge. The judge also has imposed a gag order on all participants.

U.S. officials suspect that the Pakistani government was the customer behind another purchase they say Humayun Khan made from Karni: 200 U.S.-made precision electronic switches that can be used in detonating nuclear weapons.

U.S. law prohibits the sale of equipment that can be used in nuclear weapons programs to Pakistan and some other countries as part of the effort to curb nuclear proliferation. Officials accuse Humayun Khan and Karni of conspiring to break those laws by concealing the nature of the transactions. Humayun Khan has not been charged with any crime, but the Commerce Department on Jan. 31 banned him from doing business in the U.S. for 180 days.

Halting illegal transfers of nuclear weapons components is a cornerstone of the administration's Proliferation Security Initiative, and the departments of Commerce and Homeland Security moved quickly to pursue leads after Karni's arrest.

His cooperation has allowed U.S. officials to significantly expand their investigation. As many as several dozen suspects are under scrutiny in Pakistan, India, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere, officials say.

Humayun Khan's involvement in the deal aroused concern because he has been linked to several militant groups, including the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, a Pakistani party that allegedly supports fighters in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Last year, federal prosecutors used Karni's ties to Humayun Khan to argue successfully against the South African being released on bail while awaiting trial.

"This case represents one of the most serious types of export violations imaginable," one prosecutor argued in a court filing.

U.S. agents began gearing up for an investigative trip to Pakistan in early 2004. They had recently completed a mission to South Africa that produced a wealth of evidence. They hoped to question Humayun Khan and others, locate missing components and pursue further leads.

But when the Commerce and Homeland Security departments asked the State Department to clear the investigators' trip, they did not get permission. Law enforcement officials complain that the delay has allowed the trail to grow cold.

Several senior officials said that the United States had made high-level requests to Islamabad for cooperation in the case, but that none was made forcefully or publicly. Two State Department officials dealing with nonproliferation said the Bush administration voiced concerns about Pakistan's ties to the nuclear black market, most recently during private meetings Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had with Musharraf and other Pakistani leaders last week.

Pakistan has refused to allow access to Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Gary Milhollin, a nuclear nonproliferation expert, said the Bush administration could apply enough pressure on Pakistan to gain access for the investigators reviewing Humayun Khan's activities, tying cooperation to the $3-billion U.S. aid package, for example, and to the sale of F-16 fighter jets that the White House announced Friday.

"But it seems bizarre that we are letting the Pakistanis get away with nuclear smuggling because we think they'll help fight terrorism," said Milhollin, who heads the Washington-based Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

Humayun Khan, in a telephone interview from Islamabad, denied any involvement with the recent shipments, saying that "someone else" ordered the oscilloscopes and the switches, had them shipped to his office, then snatched them somewhere along the way.

"It's very tragic," Humayun Khan said. "You don't know where these things are landing. They come through and they vanish."

He said Washington has allowed dozens of black market companies to flourish in Pakistan and elsewhere by selectively enforcing its nonproliferation laws.

"It's all about politics," Humayun Khan said. "If they don't want us to develop these things, they would do everything they can to stop it…. You [the American government] close one eye and open the other at particular times to these things that have been going on."

He said dozens of front companies throughout South Asia and the Middle East were procuring such components from U.S. firms for questionable purposes.

Humayun Khan said he had e-mailed detailed information to U.S. investigators about at least 10 Pakistani companies that he claimed routinely engaged in illicit schemes to buy goods from U.S. suppliers, including Tektronix Inc., the Oregon firm that allegedly sold him the oscilloscopes.

U.S. officials will say only that Humayun Khan has provided evasive and contradictory answers about the case. Although they have talked to him by telephone, they say it is crucial to confront him in Pakistan, where they can do follow-up investigations.

Humayun Khan said he assumed that, because U.S. investigators never showed up, they must have dropped him as a suspect. Pakistani authorities haven't questioned him, he said, because he and his father have done business with Islamabad's Defense Ministry for 40 years and would not do anything the government didn't approve of.

"Nobody came to me. Why? They didn't bother," Humayun Khan said. "They know us like we were relatives."

Alisha Goff, a spokeswoman for Tektronix said that the company was aware of the investigation, including the purchase of its oscilloscopes, but that it had not been implicated in any wrongdoing.

She said the company had stopped all shipments to Humayun Khan, pending the outcome of the investigation.

"Tektronix is cooperating fully with the government, and as such cannot provide any additional information on this matter," Goff said.

U.S. investigators say they have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of support from the State Department because they see rising indications of Pakistani involvement in the nuclear black market. They cite evidence suggesting that Pakistan has increased its already extensive network of agents operating in the global market for nuclear and missile components.

Foreign officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency say they believe Pakistan has set aside a huge budget for new black market components to upgrade its entire nuclear weapons program.

Some of the equipment is part of a large program to expand Pakistan's nuclear arsenal with plutonium-based weapons, which are smaller and far more destructive than weapons using uranium, diplomats and investigators say.

"Pakistan does need nuclear technology," said one European diplomat with ties to the South Asian country, noting that Islamabad's agents have been caught trying to make illicit purchases of specialized steel and aluminum, as well as nuclear triggers called krytrons.

"We have the names of the companies and we have been talking to them," another diplomat said.

Pakistani officials have repeatedly declined to discuss Karni's case and the investigation, and Al Technique did not return calls seeking comment. One senior Pakistani official said that his country did not intentionally violate U.S. nonproliferation laws, but it would continue to support and improve its nuclear weapons program as a deterrent to India, which he said also used the black market.

The departments of Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice would not permit its officials to discuss the criminal case on the record, and the White House and State Department also had no formal comment.

However, State Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration believed it had few options for pressuring Musharraf when his cooperation was crucial on several other fronts.

"It's one thing for them to cooperate with us in efforts to stop [nuclear components] from going elsewhere, such as Iran," one said. "But they will never cooperate with us on efforts to stop things that they are trying to get. They've got their own program, which they're trying to keep."

Times staff writer Douglas Frantz in Vienna contributed to this report.


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Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Does Democratic Party Have a Death Wish?

A Call To Action
washingtonpost.com
Where Are the Democrats?

By Richard Cohen

Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page A19

Rep. Tom DeLay is called "The Hammer." He is a man of fierce beliefs who has long confused politics with war -- religious war at that. At one time he would have been labeled an "extremist," the sort of politician whom reporters seek out for colorful, wacko quotes. But now he is in the GOP mainstream where, among other things, he has bludgeoned the Democratic Party into pathetic meekness. On the Terri Schiavo debate, the party went AWOL.

By late Sunday, when the debate had reached the House of Representatives, Barney Frank stood almost alone in opposing the bill. Cliches suffered. Here was an openly gay Democrat, the Massachusetts liberal of all Massachusetts liberals, defending the Founding Fathers, federalism and the American tradition of keeping the government's nose out of a family's business.

It was a bravura performance and one could only have wished that it had been matched by John Kerry or Hillary Clinton -- or any of the other Democrats who are being mentioned as presidential candidates. Most of them seemed to be cowering in some bunker, calling their consultants and pollsters, asking what they should do and how they should do it. Please, have a memo on the desk by morning.

You could call this a misreading of public sentiment, and it is that, for sure. When the instant pollsters reported on their instant polls, it turned out that by lopsided majorities the public was appalled at what Congress had done. By a margin of 63 percent to 28 percent, an ABC News poll said Americans supported the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. An even larger majority -- 70 percent -- opposed Congress getting into the act. And for some reason, 67 percent of those polled said Congress was more interested in scoring political points than in Terry Schiavo's fate. As they say in the red states, amen to that.

Given those numbers, it would be reasonable to conclude that Republicans -- the congressional leadership and, of course, the White House -- went barking up the wrong political tree. No doubt. What's more, it's not even clear that the GOP solidified its base. Conservative Christians were probably gratified, but many political conservatives were appalled. These are the people who cherish tradition and hold the Constitution dear. When Congress -- without a committee hearing or much real debate -- pushed the Schiavo matter from Florida court jurisdiction, where it had been decided, to a federal one, you could almost hear conservatives gasp. This, after all, is what they had been lambasting liberals about for years.

But for me the real loser was the Democratic Party. It showed that it's almost totally without leadership. If there is a national figure (other than Frank) who stood up and took on the GOP in this matter, his -- or her -- name does not come to mind. In the Senate, oddly enough, it was Virginia's John Warner who pointed out that he opposed the bill -- and he's a Republican, for goodness' sake. The Democrats were nowhere.

It's not hard to understand why. A vote against the bill would almost certainly be used by some future campaign as a vote in favor of putting Schiavo to death. In a quick TV spot, that sort of stuff can do real damage. At the same time, a fair number of Democrats who were appalled by the bill were reluctant to put their colleagues on the spot. It might have been okay for Ted Kennedy or John Kerry to oppose the bill -- they come from Massachusetts, after all -- but it could be a different story for some Democrat whose state is not quite so blue. Out of consideration for the imperiled, some tongues were clearly held. Still, it seemed that the party's highest principle was to have almost none at all.

Once again, it was a Republican -- Christopher Shays of Connecticut -- who got it right. "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy," he said. Bingo! It is DeLay and the Christian right that set the agenda for the Republican Party and, therefore, for Congress. It is DeLay, whose religious zealotry prompted him to leap all sorts of constitutional barriers and go court-shopping, who, have no doubt about it, would reshape this country in his religious image.

Say what you will about DeLay, he is not afraid to state his beliefs and fight for them. Say what you will about the Democrats, they are. That's why DeLay's called "The Hammer." What would you call the Democrats? Never mind. When they're ready, they'll call you.

cohenr@washpost.com


Fight back, or buy a veil....

A Call To Action
The New York Times
March 27, 2005
FRANK RICH
The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay

AS Congress and the president scurried to play God in the lives of Terri Schiavo and her family last weekend, ABC kicked off Holy Week with its perennial ritual: a rebroadcast of the 1956 Hollywood blockbuster, "The Ten Commandments."

Cecil B. DeMille's epic is known for the parting of its Technicolor Red Sea, for the religiosity of its dialogue (Anne Baxter's Nefretiri to Charlton Heston's Moses: "You can worship any God you like as long as I can worship you.") and for a Golden Calf scene that DeMille himself described as "an orgy Sunday-school children can watch." But this year the lovable old war horse has a relevance that transcends camp. At a time when government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma, the half-forgotten show business history of "The Ten Commandments" provides a telling back story.

As DeMille readied his costly Paramount production for release a half-century ago, he seized on an ingenious publicity scheme. In partnership with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nationwide association of civic-minded clubs founded by theater owners, he sponsored the construction of several thousand Ten Commandments monuments throughout the country to hype his product. The Pharaoh himself - that would be Yul Brynner - participated in the gala unveiling of the Milwaukee slab. Heston did the same in North Dakota. Bizarrely enough, all these years later, it is another of these DeMille-inspired granite monuments, on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin, that is a focus of the Ten Commandments case that the United States Supreme Court heard this month.

We must wait for the court's ruling on whether the relics of a Hollywood relic breach the separation of church and state. Either way, it's clear that one principle, so firmly upheld by DeMille, has remained inviolate no matter what the courts have to say: American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends. While sometimes God racketeers are guilty of the relatively minor sin of bad taste - witness the crucifixion-nail jewelry licensed by Mel Gibson - sometimes we get the demagoguery of Father Coughlin or the big-time cons of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

The religio-hucksterism surrounding the Schiavo case makes DeMille's Hollywood crusades look like amateur night. This circus is the latest and most egregious in a series of cultural shocks that have followed Election Day 2004, when a fateful exit poll question on "moral values" ignited a take-no-prisoners political grab by moral zealots. During the commercial interruptions on "The Ten Commandments" last weekend, viewers could surf over to the cable news networks and find a Bible-thumping show as only Washington could conceive it. Congress was floating such scenarios as staging a meeting in Ms. Schiavo's hospital room or, alternatively, subpoenaing her, her husband and her doctors to a hearing in Washington. All in the name of faith.

Like many Americans, I suspect, I tried to picture how I would have reacted if a bunch of smarmy, camera-seeking politicians came anywhere near a hospital room where my own relative was hooked up to life support. I imagined summoning the Clint Eastwood of "Dirty Harry," not "Million Dollar Baby." But before my fantasy could get very far, star politicians with the most to gain from playing the God card started hatching stunts whose extravagant shamelessness could upstage any humble reverie of my own.

Senator Bill Frist, the Harvard-educated heart surgeon with presidential aspirations, announced that watching videos of Ms. Schiavo had persuaded him that her doctors in Florida were mistaken about her vegetative state - a remarkable diagnosis given that he had not only failed to examine the patient ostensibly under his care but has no expertise in the medical specialty, neurology, relevant to her case. No less audacious was Tom DeLay, last seen on "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago deflecting Lesley Stahl's questions about his proximity to allegedly criminal fund-raising by saying he would talk only about children stranded by the tsunami. Those kids were quickly forgotten as he hitched his own political rehabilitation to a brain-damaged patient's feeding tube. Adopting a prayerful tone, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex., took it upon himself to instruct "millions of people praying around the world this Palm Sunday weekend" to "not be afraid."

The president was not about to be outpreached by these saps. The same Mr. Bush who couldn't be bothered to interrupt his vacation during the darkening summer of 2001, not even when he received a briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington to sign Congress's Schiavo bill into law. The bill could have been flown to him in Texas, but his ceremonial arrival and departure by helicopter on the White House lawn allowed him to showboat as if he had just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Within hours he turned Ms. Schiavo into a slick applause line at a Social Security rally. "It is wise to always err on the side of life," he said, wisdom that apparently had not occurred to him in 1999, when he mocked the failed pleas for clemency of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again Texas death-row inmate, in a magazine interview with Tucker Carlson.

These theatrics were foretold. Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo's) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the "Left Behind" books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, "Revelations," being sold with the slogan "The End is Near."

All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)

That bullying, stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning "the E word," evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it's no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old "religious rights" unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as "the central, unifying principle of biology." Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like "Galápagos" or "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don't give equal time to creationism.

James Cameron, producer of "Volcanoes" (and, more famously, the director of "Titanic"), called this development "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science." Faith-based science has in turn begat faith-based medicine that impedes stem-cell research, not to mention faith-based abstinence-only health policy that impedes the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and diseases like AIDS.

Faith-based news is not far behind. Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, has been canonized by virtually every American news organization as God's messenger because she inspired Mr. Nichols to surrender by talking about her faith and reading him a chapter from Rick Warren's best seller, "The Purpose-Driven Life." But if she's speaking for God, what does that make Dennis Rader, the church council president arrested in Wichita's B.T.K. serial killer case? Was God instructing Terry Ratzmann, the devoted member of the Living Church of God who this month murdered his pastor, an elderly man, two teenagers and two others before killing himself at a weekly church service in Wisconsin? The religious elements of these stories, including the role played by the end-of-times fatalism of Mr. Ratzmann's church, are left largely unexamined by the same news outlets that serve up Ashley Smith's tale as an inspirational parable for profit.

Next to what's happening now, official displays of DeMille's old Ten Commandments monuments seem an innocuous encroachment of religion into public life. It is a full-scale jihad that our government signed onto last weekend, and what's most scary about it is how little was heard from the political opposition. The Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe pointed out this week that even Joe McCarthy did not go so far as this Congress and president did in conspiring to "try to undo the processes of a state court." But faced with McCarthyism in God's name, most Democratic leaders went into hiding and stayed silent. Prayers are no more likely to revive their spines than poor Terri Schiavo's brain.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

American Mullahs

A Call To Action
The New York Times
March 24, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
DeLay, Deny and Demagogue
By MAUREEN DOWD

Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy.

Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government, and are the Democrats so emasculated about not having any power, that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church?

The more dogma-driven activists, self-perpetuating pols and ratings-crazed broadcast media prattle about "faith," the less we honor the credo that a person's relationship with God should remain a private matter.

As the Bush White House desperately maneuvers in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately maneuvers here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the government should be run.

Maybe President Bush should spend less time preaching about spreading democracy around the world and more time worrying about our deteriorating democracy.

Even some Republicans seemed appalled at this latest illustration of Nietzsche's observation that "morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose."

As Christopher Shays, one of five House Republicans who voted against the bill to allow the Terri Schiavo case to be snatched from Florida state jurisdiction and moved to federal court, put it: "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote."

A CBS News poll yesterday found that 82 percent of the public was opposed to Congress and the president intervening in this case; 74 percent thought it was all about politics.

The president, who couldn't be dragged outdoors to talk about the more than a hundred thousand people who died in the horrific tsunami, was willing to be dragged out of bed to sign a bill about one woman his base had fixated on. But with the new polls, the White House seemed to shrink back a bit.

The scene on Capitol Hill this past week has been almost as absurdly macabre as the movie "Weekend at Bernie's," with Tom DeLay and Bill Frist propping up between them this poor woman in a vegetative state to indulge their own political agendas. Mr. DeLay, the poster child for ethical abuse, wanted to show that he is still a favorite of conservatives. Dr. Frist thinks he can ace out Jeb Bush to be 44, even though he has become a laughingstock by trying to rediagnose Ms. Schiavo's condition by video.

As one disgusted Times reader suggested in an e-mail: "Americans ought to send Bill Frist their requests: 'Dear Dr. Frist: Please watch the enclosed video and tell us if that mole on my mother's cheek is cancer. Does she need surgery?'"

Jeb, keeping up with the '08 competition, vainly tried to get Florida to declare Ms. Schiavo a ward of the state.

Republicans easily abandon their cherished principles of individual privacy and states rights when their personal ambitions come into play. The first time they snatched a case out of a Florida state court to give to a federal court, it was Bush v. Gore. This time, it's Bush v. Constitution.

While Senate Democrats like Hillary Clinton, who are trying to curry favor with red staters, meekly allowed the shameful legislation to be enacted, at least some Floridian House members decided to put up a fight, though they knew they couldn't win.

The president and his ideological partners don't believe in separation of powers. They just believe in their own power. First they tried to circumvent the Florida courts; now they're trying to pack the federal bench with conservatives and even blow up the filibuster rule. But they may yet learn a lesson on checks and balances, as the federal courts rebuffed them in the Schiavo case.

Mr. DeLay moved yesterday to file a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court asking that Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube be restored while the federal court is deciding what to do. But as he exploits this one sad case, Mr. DeLay has voted to slash Medicaid by $15 billion, denying money to care for poor people in nursing homes, some on feeding tubes.

Mr. DeLay made his personal stake clear at a conference last Friday organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. He said that God had brought Terri Schiavo's struggle to the forefront "to help elevate the visibility of what's going on in America." He defined that as "attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."

So it's not about her crisis at all. It's about his crisis.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Pure political pandering

A Call To Action
Posted on Thu, Mar. 24, 2005


By Molly Ivins

Creators Syndicate

AUSTIN - • Congress had no business -- none, not one bit -- getting involved here.

I write about the Terri Schiavo case both as one who has personally confronted the "pull the plug" question and as a staggered observer of this festival of political hypocrisy, opportunism and the trashing of constitutional law, common sense and common decency.

The fundamental question in such cases is, "Who decides?" Preferably, the dying themselves, with a living will.

Evidence that Schiavo did not want her life continued in its current state has been offered and accepted in several courts. The next of kin should be legally designated to make the decision through power of attorney.

In the cases where a family splits on the decision, the case goes to court. The Schiavo case has been litigated for seven years, the verdict upheld at every level (including the U.S. Supreme Court, by refusing to hear arguments).

It is beyond comprehension, not to mention the Constitution, that the Congress of the United States and the president should have involved themselves.

What on Earth made them think they had the right to do so?

Both libertarians and constitutional conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, should be having fits over this push by the federal government into a private family matter.

Congress has no power to overturn judicial decisions, nor has it any role in such painful personal decisions. This is as arrogant a usurpation of power as we have had since FDR's court-packing plan.

George W. Bush is neither a neurologist nor a medical ethicist. What is he doing?

In 1999, while he was governor of Texas, Bush signed the Advanced Directives Act, which gives hospitals the right to remove life support in cases where there is no possibility of revival, when the family cannot pay, no matter what the family's wishes are.

In Texas, you can live in a persistent vegetative state only if you are accepted in one of the few institutions that provide such care or if your family is both willing and able to take care of you.

The very Republicans who pushed for this arrogant, interfering bill, which if used across the board would take away everyone's right to make their own decisions in these awful cases, are the same people who voted to cut Medicaid, which pays for the care of people like Schiavo.

This action for Schiavo -- what a despicable display of pure political pandering. What an insult to everyone who has faced this decision without ever considering asking 535 strangers in Washington, D.C., what to do.

How can anyone want to cede that authority to a bunch of politicians?

I am indebted to the blogger called Digby for the following points: Those who passed this bill are the same politicians who want to outlaw medical malpractice suits like the one that has provided the care for Schiavo while she was in "a persistent vegetative state." They are the same politicians who have just finished changing bankruptcy law so that it is much harder for families hit by tragedies like this to get out from under the staggering medical bills.

How dare they talk about morality?

Who are these professional anti-abortion activists who think they have the right to make decisions about someone else's life?

I watched one of the dearest men who ever lived, who had no chance of regaining consciousness, toss for hours in relentless pain before he escaped because the state of New York had such draconian drug laws that doctors were afraid to give him enough morphine to kill the pain.

The New York Legislature, in all its majesty, made sure the 76-year-old, 90-pound man dying from cancer did not become a morphine addict. Political bodies have no business making medical decisions.

Do I believe in miracles?

Yes. I'm praying for one that will let the sanctimonious phonies in Washington realize the gross moral error of their presumption.

Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate. 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Morsel of Goat Meat

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: A Morsel of Goat Meat

The New York Times

March 23, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST

A Morsel of Goat Meat
By
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Binga, Zimbabwe - The hungry children and the families dying of AIDS here
are gut-wrenching, but somehow what I find even more depressing is this:
Many,
many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white
racist government that oppressed them in the 1970's.

"If we had the chance to go back to white rule, we'd do it," said Solomon
Dube, a peasant whose child was crying with hunger when I arrived in his
village.
"Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job."

Mr. Dube acknowledged that the white regime of Ian Smith was awful. But now
he worries that his 3-year-old son will die of starvation, and he would
rather
put up with any indignity than witness that.

An elderly peasant in another village, Makupila Muzamba, said that hunger
today is worse than ever before in his seven decades or so, and said: "I
want
the white man's government to come back. ... Even if whites were oppressing
us, we could get jobs and things were cheap compared to today."

His wife, Mugombo Mudenda, remembered that as a younger woman she used to
eat meat, drink tea, use sugar and buy soap. But now she cannot even afford
corn
gruel. "I miss the days of white rule," she said.

Nearly every peasant I've spoken to in Zimbabwe echoed those thoughts,
although it's also clear that some still hail President Robert Mugabe as a
liberator.
This is a difficult place to gauge the mood in, because foreign reporters
are barred from Zimbabwe and promised a prison sentence of up to two years
if
caught. I sneaked in at Victoria Falls and traveled around the country
pretending to be a tourist.

The human consequences of the economic collapse are heartbreaking. I visited
a hospital and a clinic that lacked both medicines and doctors. Children die
routinely for want of malaria medication that costs just a few dollars.

At one maternity ward, 21 women were sitting outside, waiting to give birth.
No nurse or doctor was in sight, and I asked the women when they had last
eaten
meat, eggs or other protein. They laughed uproariously. Lilian Dube, a
24-year-old who had hiked 11 miles to get to the hospital, said that she had
celebrated
Christmas with a morsel of goat meat.

"Before that, the last time I had meat was Christmas the year before," she
said. "I just eat corn porridge and mnyi," a kind of wild fruit.

An elementary school I visited had its fifth graders meeting outside,
because it doesn't have enough classrooms. Like other schools, it raises
money by
charging fees for all students - driving pupils away.

"Only a few of the kids who started in grade one are still with me in
school," Charity Sibanda, a fifth-grader, told me. "Some dropped out because
they
couldn't pay school fees. And some died of AIDS."

As many as a third of working-age Zimbabweans have AIDS or H.I.V., and every
15 minutes a Zimbabwean child dies of AIDS. Partly because of AIDS, life
expectancy
has dropped over the last 15 years from 61 to 34, and 160,000 Zimbabwean
children will lose a parent this year.

AIDS is not President Mugabe's fault, but the collapse of the health system
has made the problem far worse.

The West has often focused its outrage at Mr. Mugabe's seizure of farms from
white landowners, but that is tribalism on our part. The greatest suffering
by far is among black Zimbabweans.

I can't put Isaac Mungombe out of my mind. He's sick, probably dying of
AIDS, and his family is down to one meal a day. His wife, Jane, gave birth
to their
third child, Amos, six months ago at home because she couldn't afford $2 to
give birth in the hospital. No one in the family has shoes, and the children
can't afford to attend school. They're a wonderful, loving family, and we
chatted for a long time - but Isaac and Jane will probably soon die of AIDS,
and the children will join the many other orphans in the village.

When a white racist government was oppressing Zimbabwe, the international
community united to demand change. These days, a black racist government is
harming
the people of Zimbabwe more than ever, and the international community is
letting Mr. Mugabe get away with it. Our hypocrisy is costing hundreds of
Zimbabwean
lives every day.

Posted by Miriam V 3/23
E-mail:

Fw: Tell Congress to stop grandstanding on the Schiavo tragedy.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Eli Pariser, MoveOn PAC"
To: "Miriam Vieni"
Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 8:26 PM
Subject: Tell Congress to stop grandstanding on the Schiavo tragedy.

Dear MoveOn member,

On Sunday, Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, the Republican congressional leaders,
convened an emergency meeting of Congress to pass a bill that that
interferes with the Terri Schiavo tragedy. And although in five years no
other issue has prompted President Bush to return to Washington during a
vacation--including the tsunami--Bush flew back from his ranch in Texas to
sign it.[1]

Bush, Frist, and DeLay claim that they're acting out of concern for Ms.
Schiavo. But a memo intended only for Republican Senators--uncovered by
ABC News--reveals Republicans' true concern: "The pro-life base will be
excited...this is a great political issue...this is a tough issue for
Democrats."[2] This story also takes the heat off Tom DeLay, who is
facing a number of serious ethics charges and legal scandals.[3]

Americans can have different personal opinions about what should happen to
Terri Schiavo--life is precious, and this case raises some important
ethical questions. But we can all agree that that's what the courts are
for: to make the call in difficult circumstances. That's why Congress'
interference is such an ugly and shameful incident of political
grandstanding. There's no legislative purpose here, just a blatant attempt
to play politics with someone's life.

We need to tell the Republican leaders in Congress that this kind of
pandering and demagoguery will not stand. Will you sign our urgent
petition to Congress to tell them they must stop using one person's
tragedy for their own political gain, and move on to the important
business facing our country?

Sign now at:
http://www.moveonpac.org/grandstanding/?id=5254-5346423-7IP83At0G5BNETbOq3i4Dw

Even many right-wing activists are concerned about Congress's interference
in this case. GOP pollster Tony Fabrizi told the L.A. Times, "It becomes a
more crystallized proof point that we are no longer the party of smaller
government. We have become a party of 'It doesn't matter what size the
government is as long as it is imposing our set of values.'"[4]

The New York Times talked to David Davenport of the Hoover Institute, a
conservative research organization, who said, "When a case like this has
been heard by 19 judges in six courts and it's been appealed to the
Supreme Court three times, the process has worked even if it hasn't given
the result that the social conservatives want. For Congress to step in
really is a violation of federalism."[5]

Medical ethicists are also outraged at the armchair diagnoses of
Republican doctors in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist. As the Associated Press reported:

"It's disturbing that doctors who would never venture a comment about
the health of anybody from a homemade video are sitting on the floor of
Congress making declarations," said Art Caplan, chairman of the
Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania's School
of Medicine. "My own impression, from a distance, is that they've
subverted what they know to be good medicine for the aim of achieving a
political goal."[6]

And reporters are now raising questions about a right-to-die law Bush
signed as Texas governor, contradicting his position in the Schiavo case.
Just last week, the law was applied for the first time, allowing doctors
to remove a critically ill infant from life support against his mother's
wishes. According to the Houston Chronicle, this marks the first time in
American history that courts allowed a pediatric patient to die against
the wishes of their parent.[7] As the Knight Ridder News service reports:

"The mother down in Texas must be reading the Schiavo case and
scratching her head," said Dr. Howard Brody, the director of Michigan
State University's Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life
Sciences. "This does appear to be a contradiction." Brody said that, in
taking up the Schiavo case, Bush and Congress had shattered a body of
bioethics law and practice."[8]

It's time to speak up about this kind of political posturing, and ask
Congress to get back to work. Can you sign our petition to Republican
leaders in Congress to stop grandstanding on the Schiavo tragedy?

http://www.moveonpac.org/grandstanding/?id=5254-5346423-7IP83At0G5BNETbOq3i4Dw

A large majority of the American public agree that Congress was wrong to
interfere in the Schiavo case, and less than a quarter believe Congress
acted out of real concern about Schiavo's life, according to an ABC
poll.[9] And the nation's editorial boards agree. Check out this sampling
from many of the nation's papers, compiled by the National Journal's
Hotline:

* "The U.S. legal system is not supposed to be one of legislative
'do-overs... Lawmakers may believe that they acted this weekend to
save a life, but they also took a step that diminishes the rule of
law" (Washington Post, 3/22).

* "When the Founders wrote the Constitution, they devoted the largest
section to spelling out the powers of Congress. Nowhere did they
include the right to play doctor. Terri Schiavo's story is tragic
enough without political malpractice" (USA Today, 3/22).

* "The Bush administration and the current Congressional leadership like
to wax eloquent about states' rights. But they dropped those
principles in their rush to stampede over the Florida courts and
Legislature...It may be a formula for short-term political success,
but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic" (New York
Times, 3/22).

* "Congress' unwarranted and brash effort to seize judicial power in the
case of Terri Schiavo is shameful truly a low point in its recent
history" (Kennebec Journal, 3/22).

* "What has happened here is that the GOP, famously the party favoring
limited government intervention into people's personal lives, has
inserted the federal government squarely in the middle of an
incredibly personal medical issue. And they've done it all in the name
of making sure that some of their core voters stay with them" (Athens
Banner-Herald, 3/22).

* "Terri Schiavo has the right to die ... Congress and President Bush
should be ashamed for prolonging the suffering and trying to legislate
what is clearly the authority of the courts to adjudicate" (Atlanta
Journal Constitution, 3/22).

* "Coming at a time when crucial health care services are being slashed,
it is particularly upsetting to see this kind of expensive
grandstanding on the part of congressional Republicans over one
high-profile case. This is not compassion: This is cold-blooded
political calculation" (Charleston Gazette, 3/22).

* "One by one, the bedrock conservative convictions of the national
Republican Party are giving way...yielding to the demands of a raucous
religious right that has become the Republicans' most reliable
electoral base" (Trenton Times, 3/22).

* "Washington's empathy for Schiavo centers on vying for political
points, not merely concern for one family's personal, medical plight.
That makes this unwise intervention by elected officials even more
distasteful" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/22).

* "To have the legislative and executive branches of the federal
government mobilize on a Sunday as fast as if we'd declared war in
order to intervene in a family's medical dispute is, frankly,
frightening. It's an unprecedented intrusion by the highest echelons
of federal power into a private hospital room. It's dangerous. And
more than a little Orwellian" (Augusta Chronicle, 3/22).

Let's tell Tom DeLay and Bill Frist to get back to business. Please join
us by signing the petition at the link below, and sending this message on
to your friends and family.

http://www.moveonpac.org/grandstanding/?id=5254-5346423-7IP83At0G5BNETbOq3i4Dw

Together, we can restore some common sense to a Congress that's out of
control.

Sincerely,

--Eli Pariser and the whole MoveOn PAC Team
March 23rd, 2005

Footnotes:

1. Schiavo case exposes political divide in U.S., Reuters AlertNet
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N21351168.htm

2. GOP Talking Points on Terri Schiavo, ABC News
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Schiavo/story?id=600937

3. DeLay Under Fire Over Ethics, Associated Press
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=667&id=5254-5346423-7IP83At0G5BNETbOq3i4Dw

4. Some in GOP Fear Effort May Alienate Voters, L.A. Times
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=668&id=5254-5346423-7IP83At0G5BNETbOq3i4Dw

5. G.O.P. Right Is Splintered on Schiavo Intervention, New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/23/politics/23repubs.html

6. Physicians in Congress criticized, Associated Press
http://msnbc.msn.com/id/7263055/

7. Baby dies after hospital removes breathing tube, Houston Chronicle
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=669&id=5254-5346423-7IP83At0G5BNETbOq3i4Dw

8. Law Bush signed prompts cries of hypocrisy, Knight Ridder Newspapers
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=670&id=5254-5346423-7IP83At0G5BNETbOq3i4Dw

9. ABC News poll
http://www.pollingreport.com/news.htm

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Fw: Lebanon, and Democracy in the Middle East -- What is the U.S. Role?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Kathy Guthrie"
To: "Miriam Vieni"
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2005 3:56 PM
Subject: FCNL: Lebanon, and Democracy in the Middle East -- What is the U.S.
Role?

Recently, the focus in the Middle East has broadened beyond the war and
occupation in Iraq. Elections in the Palestinian Territories and
massive non-violent demonstrations in Lebanon remind us of the wider
region's conflicts, present and past, and opportunities for change.
The Bush administration has cited these events as evidence of the
success of its Iraq war campaign. Ironically, as the security situation
in Iraq fails and reconstruction stalls, the President has pointed to
these other areas and shouted, "Freedom is on the march."

Not so fast. First, if there is to be progress toward democracy and
freedom in the Middle East, the United States must declare
unequivocally that it has no imperial ambitions in Iraq. The
President's refusal to state that the U.S. will leave Iraq is
increasing violence in that country and instability in the region.
Attention should not be turned away from the ongoing U.S. occupation.
Secondly, the situation is not as simple as the Bush administration
would like to claim. While some events do point to potential progress
in the Middle East, the situation requires additional explanation.

Three New Articles

To help place these complex events in context, FCNL is distributing a
new analysis about current events in Lebanon and two commentaries which
analyzed the recent democratic openings in the Middle East.

FCNL is fortunate to have Helena Cobban, a member of Charlottesville
(VA) Friends Meeting, examine the events currently unfolding in
Lebanon. In "Decoding Lebanon," Helena explains the
complexities of Lebanon's domestic politics and emphasizes the need for
the U.S. and others to end outside pressure and influence in that
country. Helena worked in Lebanon as a journalist from 1975 through
1981, and considers that her experiences there--trying to run a
household and raising children under the conditions of a prolonged
civil war--helped her to understand important aspects of the nature of
violence and warfare.

Helena has also written a critique of the latest argument here in
Washington that the new wave of democracy sweeping through the Middle
East is a direct positive consequence of the U.S. decision to invade
Iraq.

And finally, to round out the presentation, Senior Fellow Dan Smith has
also developed an insightful commentary, Democracy Hijacked, on the
same subject which FCNL is distributing today.

Decoding Lebanon by Helena Cobban -
http://capwiz.com/fconl/utr/1/DOWYELQNPC/OSQDELQNTI/

Democratization and War in the Middle East by Helena Cobban -
http://capwiz.com/fconl/utr/1/DOWYELQNPC/HGPUELQNTJ/

Democracy Hijacked by Col. Dan Smith -
http://capwiz.com/fconl/utr/1/DOWYELQNPC/AFCQELQNTK/

_______________________________________

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Monday, March 21, 2005

The Difference Between Steroids and Ritalin is...

A Call To Action


March 20, 2005
The Difference Between Steroids and Ritalin Is . . .
By KATE ZERNIKE

T the Congressional hearings last week investigating steroids and baseball, players were scolded not just for taking substances that are unsafe, but for doing something immoral. Those who use performance enhancing substances were called cheaters, cowards, bad examples for the nation's children.

But if baseball players are cheating, is everyone else, too?

After all, Americans are relying more and more on a growing array of performance enhancing drugs. Lawyers take the anti-sleep drug Provigil to finish that all-night brief, in hopes of concentrating better. Classical musicians take beta blockers, which banish jitters, before a big recital.Is the student who swallows a Ritalin before taking the SAT unethical if the pill gives her an unfair advantage over other students? If a golfer pops a beta blocker before a tournament, is he eliminating a crucial part of competition - battling nerves and a chance of choking?

Beyond baseball and steroids, where do you draw the line on the use of performance-enhancing drugs? President Bush said in his 2004 State of the Union speech that steroid use in baseball "sends the wrong message: that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character."

That is easy to say about steroids. After all, the mystique of the major leagues requires that home run records be set without the help of artificial enhancements. And major league players have some responsibility not to encourage teenagers to use a harmful substance.

When it comes to other drugs, and other kinds of endeavors, the lines aren't so clear. Bioethicists, who don't even all agree about whether taking steroids is wrong, are even less clear about everything else.

Some say the use of performance-enhanced drugs simply reflects progress - better living through chemistry - and to be human is to strive to be better.

"We've gotten very used to already assisting ourselves in other ways," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "No one's going to say, 'Don't drink coffee before the SAT.' No one's going to say, 'Don't smoke cigarettes before the SAT.' And most of the drugs we're talking about are far less harmful than nicotine."

But others lament that a performance-enhanced society is giving in to a culture that prizes the achievement over the journey. Many Americans already get that message from a young age, said Denise Clark Pope, author of "Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic and Miseducated Students."

When surveys ask students which is more important, to be honorable and get a low grade or to cheat and get a high grade, she said, more students choose the A. "The parents will say 'no, no, no,' but the message they're sending says the opposite."

The use of performance enhancing drugs reflects a society where stress and striving have become the national pastime. Ms. Pope calls it the "credentialism society," exemplified in her book through a high school student who describes life as a quest to get the best grades, so you can get into the best college, so you can get into the best graduate school, so you can get the highest-paying job, which brings you happiness.

So where people once took illegal drugs like cocaine to escape or stimulate creativity, they now take legal drugs to focus better and achieve more.

The danger in that, said Carl Elliott, the author of "Better than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream," is that not performing well will be seen as a medical condition - one that needs to be treated.

"The lines between treating an illness and enhancing a performance are so blurry," said Dr. Elliott, an associate professor at the center for bioethics at the University of Minnesota. "Most people don't conceptualize it as performance enhancement; most people conceptualize it as a treatment for an illness."

But others think there's no problem. Norman Fost, the director of the medical ethics program at the University of Wisconsin who has long said that the danger of steroids are overstated, similarly sees nothing wrong with taking drugs like Ritalin or Provigil solely to enhance performance.

"We all would like to do better at what we're doing, whether athletic or intellectual or musical," he said. "There's nothing inherently immoral about performance enhancement. It's what everyone does, or would try to do, for their children. We shouldn't be obsessed with the fact that it's a drug, as if it's a drug like cocaine or heroin."

Dr. Caplan mocks the handwringing over self-enhancement drugs. To him, it is all technology: "The lawyer who's taking a pill to stay up is also carrying a computer or P.D.A. to help his brain remember things. Are we going to throw away our calculators?"

Certainly, there is no guarantee that performance enhancement delivers happiness.

As Ms. Pope notes, at the same time stimulants like Ritalin are becoming more popular among high school students, college campuses are reporting a new drug of choice. It used to be marijuana. Now it's Prozac.



Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |

Sunday, March 20, 2005

G.O.P. Courts Blacks and Hispanics on Social Security

G.O.P. Courts Blacks and Hispanics on Social Security
By
EDMUND L. ANDREWS

WASHINGTON, March 19 - As part of their campaign to overhaul Social
Security, White House officials and Republican strategists have begun a push
to persuade
African-Americans and Hispanics that Social Security, long thought to be of
benefit to them, is a bad deal.

Republican officials argue that blacks are being shortchanged under the
current Social Security system because they tend to die earlier than do
whites and
to collect retirement benefits for fewer years.

In a parallel effort aimed at Hispanics, they focus on the wealth that
people could build through the sort of individual investment accounts that
the Bush
administration has proposed.

"We are not privatizing Social Security," Hector V. Barreto, the
administrator of the Small Business Administration, said in a recent appeal
to Hispanic
leaders here. "This would be voluntary - voluntary personal retirement
accounts."

African-American and Hispanic communities are strongholds of Democratic
support, and retirees in each group rely more heavily on Social Security
benefits
than whites do.

But Republican Party officials are stepping up their efforts, enlisting
black and Hispanic business executives, evangelical church leaders and even
college
students.

Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has in
recent weeks spoken to a forum of black voters in Maryland, black students
at Michigan
State University and the National Black Chamber of Commerce in Trenton.

"African-American men get on average two to four years of retirement
benefits, while white Americans get 10 to 12 years of benefits," said Tara
Wall, a
spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. "The odds are stacked
against African-Americans."

Administration officials are also courting national Hispanic groups like the
National Council of La Raza, which has yet to take a clear stand on the
issue.
They also have been booking interviews on Spanish-language television and
radio for Mr. Barreto and other promoters of President Bush's plan.

The effort has infuriated many who say that Social Security is more
important for their communities than it is for whites.

"It's one of the best deals that poor and working poor can get, and blacks
unfortunately are overrepresented in those groups," said Representative
Charles
B. Rangel, Democrat of New York and a senior member of the Congressional
Black Caucus. "If one of the appeals to blacks is that they're not getting a
fair
shake because they die earlier, it would seem to me that they would at least
address the question of why they die earlier and what we can do about it."

Studies by the Treasury Department and the Government Accountability Office
indicate that Social Security provides more generous benefits to low-income
workers, blacks included, even after accounting for shorter life
expectancies.

Social Security is the only source of income for about 38 percent of black
retirees and 40 percent of Hispanic retirees, according to government data.
In
contrast, only 18 percent of white retirees receive income exclusively from
Social Security.

The system is intended to be more generous, relative to taxes paid, to
low-income workers. Retirement benefits replace about 70 percent of working
income
for a person who earns $10,000 year. But benefits replace only 28.5 percent
of earnings for a person who earns $70,000.

But critics have argued for years that Social Security is less "progressive"
than it looks because poorer people tend to die younger than do affluent
people.

The average life expectancy for black males is about 69 years, compared with
75 years for the average white male, according to the Centers for Disease
Control
and Prevention.

In theory, that greatly reduces the average lifetime retirement benefits for
black men.

But the gap is smaller for people who actually reach retirement because
black life expectancies are heavily affected by infant mortality and
violence. A
black man who turns 65 has a life expectancy of 79.6 years, only two years
less than that of a 65-year-old white man.

African-Americans also receive a disproportionate share of disability
benefits and survivor benefits, which are paid to spouses and children of
workers
who die early.

African-Americans account for about 12 percent of the population, for
example, but African-American children account for 23 percent of children
who receive
Social Security survivor benefits. Mr. Bush has indicated that he would not
make any changes to the Social Security disability program, whose benefits
are financed by a separate part of payroll taxes.

Disability benefits are calculated in part based on estimates of what a
worker's future retirement benefits would have been if he had kept working.
Protecting
the survivor benefits under Social Security could be even more difficult
because those are paid from the same pool of taxes used to pay retirement
benefits.
A Treasury Department study in 1996, which analyzed Social Security records
from 1951 through 1988, concluded that people at all income levels received
more in benefits than they had paid out in taxes, even after adjusting for
inflation.

The Treasury economists concluded that a higher mortality rate "does not
reverse the conclusion that Social Security net returns are strongly
progressive."

The accountability office, the investigative arm of the Congress, reached a
similar conclusion in 2003. It calculated that whites ultimately received
slightly
more benefits than did blacks and Hispanics at every income level. But those
differences were small compared with the higher benefits offered to people
at lower income levels.

"If you took a snapshot today and asked who benefits the most from Social
Security, it would be African-Americans," said Robert Johnson, the chairman
of
Black Entertainment Television and a supporter of Mr. Bush's approach.

Supporters of private retirement accounts say this could be a big political
opportunity for Republicans.

"The Democratic Party is so dependent on huge margins in the black community
that if even 25 or 30 percent of blacks back personal savings accounts it
would
be a big gain for Republicans," said Michael Tanner, the director of the
Project on Social Security Choice at the Cato Institute.

Many large African-American organizations, like the National Associated for
the Advancement of Colored People, remain adamantly opposed to Mr. Bush's
plan.

Hispanic groups are more divided. The League of United Latin American
Citizens has firmly opposed Mr. Bush's call for private accounts.

But the National Council of La Raza has taken a more nuanced position. Last
month, the organization said it welcomed the debate over Social Security but
"does not believe that the system needs to be dramatically restructured."

Copyright 2005
The New York Times Company |

Posted by Miriam V. 3/20/05

Why some budget cuts get less attention

A Call To Action
from the March 21, 2005 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0321/p15s01-cogn.html


By David R. Francis

It's hard being poor in America. It's not just the stagnant minimum wage, which Congress failed to raise this month, or the lack of unemployment insurance benefits for many, since legislators failed last year to extend them for the long-term jobless.

Future cuts in federal aid for the poor look even worse. President Bush's budget for 2006 would reduce spending on early childhood education and child care, home energy assistance and rental assistance, and nutrition assistance to pregnant women, infants, and young children, Washington experts say.

Now, Congress is deliberating whether to punch another hole in the biggest safety net of all for those with little income - Medicaid and the related State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Next to Social Security and Medicare, which serve all income brackets, Medicaid and SCHIP stand as Uncle Sam's biggest social program.

They support 1 in 6 Americans and cover 1 in 4 children. Among low-income children and parents, they provide health insurance for more than 38 million Americans. Medicaid is a critical source of acute and long-term care coverage for 12 million elderly and disabled individuals, including 6 million low-income beneficiaries of Medicare with medical problems not paid for by that health program.

Medicaid costs have soared in recent years. It will cost the states and the federal government about $322 billion this year, with Washington picking up $182 billion of that amount.

One factor behind the soaring cost is the rapid rise in the price of medical services. Another factor is corporate America's many cuts in healthcare provisions for their employees and their retirees. So more people have sought Medicaid help.

As a result, Medicaid has become a significant target for cutting federal spending.

In his budget for fiscal 2006, starting next October, Mr. Bush proposed to cut Medicaid spending by an estimated $20.2 billion over five years. He also called for new tax breaks for Health Savings Accounts and small businesses providing employees with health coverage, which would cost Uncle Sam $7.4 billion. As a result, the net potential savings come to $12.8 billion over five years.

Of course, Congress has the final say on the budget. But the legislature generally has an easier time cutting programs for the poor, many of whom don't vote, than it does cutting those that help the middle class or senior citizens, who do turn out on election day in large numbers.

"They [lower-income people] don't advocate on their own behalf," says Victoria Wachino, health-policy director for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. Nor can they afford "K Street lobbyists," who often have considerable influence on legislation, and usually are generous campaign contributors.

So, even though the poor are becoming more numerous (up more than 1 million between 2002 and 2003 to 35.9 million) and the number of those without health insurance rose 1.2 million during the same period to 45 million, the cuts to Medicaid and SCHIP face less of an obstacle in Congress than changes in Social Security or Medicare.

Nevertheless, advocates retain a glimmer of hope that cuts will be minimized. Congress is besieged by the states - as well as dozens of advocacy groups for low-income people. The states see an effort to shift Medicaid costs onto their already strained budgets.

In the Senate, there was a rebellion last week against Bush's proposed Medicaid savings. Sens. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon and Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico pushed an amendment to restore $15 billion of Medicaid spending in the budget being debated and create a nonpartisan commission to study changes in the program. It won by a vote of 52 to 48 this past Thursday.

But perils remain. The Senate and House will have to reconcile their different spending plans. The House version includes cuts similar to those proposed by the president.

Under the Bush budget plan, Medicaid spending during the next five years would grow about 7.2 percent a year. Without the cut, it will grow by 7.4 percent a year.

Though that sounds modest enough, Heather Boushey, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, says the cut would make 1.2 million children unable to access the system - partly depending on whether states can afford to make up lost federal money.

What especially goads supporters of Medicaid as we know it is that the president still advocates cutting taxes by $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years, primarily helping the well-to-do.

For instance, Max Sawicky, an economist with the liberal Economic Policy Institute, calculates that with the Bush tax cuts, federal revenues for 2005 will amount to 16.8 percent of gross domestic product. That's a level typical of the 1950s.

If the president's proposals are enacted and remain in force, Mr. Sawicky holds, federal receipts will remain so low for 50 years that even Medicare and Social Security will be endangered, let alone Medicaid.

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