Friday, October 13, 2006
Big Brother is Watching... Don't You Think Anti-Terror Money would be better spent trying to catch Terrorists?
October 13, 2006Documents Reveal Scope of U.S. Database on Antiwar Protests
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 — Internal military documents released Thursday provided new details about the Defense Department’s collection of information on demonstrations nationwide last year by students, Quakers and others opposed to the Iraq war.
The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show, for instance, that military officials labeled as “potential terrorist activity” events like a “Stop the War Now” rally in Akron, Ohio, in March 2005.
The Defense Department acknowledged last year that its analysts had maintained records on war protests in an internal database past the 90 days its guidelines allowed, and even after it was determined there was no threat.
A department spokesman said Thursday that the “questionable data collection” had led to a tightening of military procedures to ensure that only information relevant to terrorism and other threats was collected. The spokesman, Maj. Patrick Ryder, said in response to the release of the documents that the department “views with great concern any potential violation” of the policy.
“There is nothing more important or integral to the effectiveness of the U.S. military than the trust and good will of the American people,” Major Ryder said.
A document first disclosed last December by NBC News showed that the military had maintained a database, known as Talon, containing information about more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” around the country in 2004 and 2005. Dozens of alerts on antiwar meetings and peaceful protests appear to have remained in the database even after analysts had decided that they posed no threat to military bases or personnel.
Some documents obtained by the A.C.L.U. referred to the potential for disruption to military recruiting and the threat posed to military personnel as a result.
An internal report produced in May 2005, for instance, discussed antiwar protests at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and was issued “to clarify why the Students for Peace and Justice represent a potential threat to D.O.D. personnel.”
The memorandum noted that several hundred students had recently protested the presence of military recruiters at a career fair and demanded that they leave.
“The clear purpose of these civil disobedience actions was to disrupt the recruiting mission of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command by blocking the entrance to the recruiting station and causing the stations to shut down early,” it said.
But the document also noted that “to date, no reported incidents have occurred at these protests.”
The documents indicated that intelligence reports and tips about antiwar protests, including mundane details like the schedule for weekly planning meetings, were widely shared among analysts from the military, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security.
“There is simply no reason why the United States military should be monitoring the peaceful activities of American citizens who oppose U.S. war policies,” said Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U.
Joyce Miller, an official with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that learned that information on some of its antiwar protests was in the military database, said she found the operation to be a “chilling” and troubling trend.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The President's brother Neil is making hay from school reform Across the country, some teachers complain that President George W. Bush's makeover of public education promotes "teaching to the test." The President's younger brother Neil takes a different tack: He's selling to the test. The No Child Left Behind Act compels schools to prove students' mastery of certain facts by means of standardized exams. Pressure to perform has energized the $1.9 billion-a-year instructional software industry.
Now, after five years of development and backing by investors like Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and onetime junk-bond king Michael R. Milken, Neil Bush aims to roll his high-tech teacher's helpers into classrooms nationwide. He calls them "curriculum on wheels," or COWs. The $3,800 purple plug-and-play computer/projectors display lively videos and cartoons: the XYZ Affair of the late 1790s as operetta, the 1828 Tariff of Abominations as horror flick. The device plays songs that are supposed to aid the memorization of the 22 rivers of Texas or other facts that might crop up in state tests of "essential knowledge."
Bush's Ignite! Inc. has sold 1,700 COWs since 2005, mainly in Texas, where Bush lives and his brother was once governor. In August, Houston's school board authorized expenditures of up to $200,000 for COWs. The company expects 2006 revenue of $5 million. Says Bush about the impact of his name: "I'm not saying it hasn't opened any doors. It may have helped with some sales." (In September, the U.S. Education Dept.'s inspector general accused the agency of improperly favoring at least five publishers, including The McGraw-Hill Companies, which owns BusinessWeek. A company spokesman says: "Our reading programs have been successful in advancing student achievement for decades; that's why educators hold them in such high regard.")
The stars haven't always aligned for Bush, but at times financial support has. A foundation linked to the controversial Reverend Sun Myung Moon has donated $1 million for a COWs research project in Washington (D.C.)-area schools. In 2004 a Shanghai chip company agreed to give Bush stock then valued at $2 million for showing up at board meetings. (Bush says he received one-fifth of the shares.) In 1988 a Colorado savings and loan failed while he served on its board, making him a prominent symbol of the S&L scandal. Neil calls himself "the most politically damaged of the [Bush] brothers."
While hardly the first brother to embarrass a President -- remember Billy Carter's Billy Beer or Roger Clinton's cocaine? -- Neil could be the first to seek profit from a hallmark Presidential crusade. And also that of a governor: Jeb makes school standards a centerpiece in Florida, too.
Neil says he never talks shop with his brothers. He attributes his interest in education to his struggles with dyslexia. His son, Pierce, also had difficulties in school, he says. "Not one of our investors has ever asked for any kind of special access -- a visa, a trip to the Lincoln Bedroom, an autographed picture, or anything."
Republican Values: Evangelicals are "Nuts." Office of Faith Based Initiatives LITERALLY A TAXPAYER FUNDED PART OF REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN MACHINERY.
Keith Olbermann on Countdown:According to Kuo, Karl Rove's office referred to evangelical leaders as 'the nuts.'
Tonight on Countdown–David Kuo, who was the number two guy at the Office of Faith Based initiatives in the White House writes a scathing account of how the administration used Christians to grab and maintain power. This story validates Tucker Carlson's admission that: "The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power."
When President Bush touched on Iraq at his news conference this morning, he may have been revealing more than he knew.
[video] BUSH: The stakes couldn't be any higher, as I said earlier, in the world in which we live. There are extreme elements that use religion to achieve objectives.
He was talking about religious extremists in Iraq. But an hour later, Mr. Bush posed with officials from the Southern Baptist Convention.
It is described as the largest, most influential evangelical denomination in a new book by the former number-two man in Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
The book, "Tempting Faith," not out until Monday, but in our third story tonight, a Countdown exclusive we've obtained a copy and it is devastating work.
Author David Kuo's conservative Christian credentials are impeccable; his resume sprinkled with names like Bennett and Ashcroft. Now, as the Foley cover-up has many evangelical Christians wondering whether the G.O.P. is really in sync with their values, "Tempting Faith" provides the answer: No way.
Kuo, citing one example after another of a White House that repeatedly uses evangelical Christians for their votes — while consistently giving them nothing in return;
A White House which routinely speaks of the nation's most famous evangelical leaders behind their backs, with contempt and derision.
Furthermore, Faith-Based Initiatives were not only stiffed on one public promise after another by Mr. Bush — the office itself was eventually forced to answer a higher calling: Electing Republican politicians.
Kuo's bottom line: the Bush White House is playing millions of American Christians for suckers.
According to Kuo, Karl Rove's office referred to evangelical leaders as 'the nuts.'
Kuo says, 'National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous,' 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy.' "
So how does the Bush White House keep 'the nuts' turning out at the polls?
One way, regular conference calls with groups led by Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Ted Haggard, and radio hosts like Michael Reagan.
Kuo says, "Participants were asked to talk to their people about whatever issue was pending. Advice was solicited [but] that advice rarely went much further than the conference call. [T]he true purpose of these calls was to keep prominent social conservatives and their groups or audiences happy."
They do get some things from the Bush White House, like the National Day of Prayer, “another one of the eye-rolling Christian events,” Kuo says.
And “passes to be in the crowd greeting the president when he arrived on Air Force One or tickets for a speech he was giving in their hometown. Little trinkets like cufflinks or pens or pads of paper were passed out like business cards. Christian leaders could give them to their congregations or donors or friends to show just how influential they were. Making politically active Christians personally happy meant having to worry far less about the Christian political agenda.”
When cufflinks weren't enough, the White House played the Jesus card, reminding Christian leaders that, quote, “they knew the president's faith” and begging for patience.
And the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives?
According to Kuo, “White House staff didn't want to have anything to do with the Faith-Based Initiative because they didn't understand it any more than did congressional Republicans . They didn't lie awake at night trying to kill it. They simply didn 't care."
Kuo relates one faith-based promise after another — billions of dollars in funding and tax credits — that goes unfulfilled year after promise after year.
He recounts one specific funding exchange with Mr. Bush:
Bush: "Eight billion in new dollars?"
Kuo: "No sir. Eight billion in existing dollars for which groups will find it technically easier to apply. But faith-based groups have been getting that money for years."
Bush: "Eight billion. That's what we'll tell them. Eight billion in new funds for faith-based groups."
Why bother lying?
Kuo says, "The faith-based initiative had the potential to successfully evangelize more voters than any other."
According to Kuo, the Office spent much of its time on two missions:
One—Trying–and failing–to prove Mr. Bush's claim of regulatory bias against religious charities hiring who they wanted. Quote: "Finding these examples became a huge priority. …[but] religious groups had encountered very few instances of actual problems with their hiring practices." "It really wasn't that bad at all."
Another mission: lobbying the President to make good on his own promises.
Kuo says they tried to prove their political value by turning the once-bipartisan faith-based initiatives into a political operation.It wasn't just discrimination against non-Christian charities. (One official who rated grant applications told Kuo, " when I saw one of those non-Christian groups in the set I was reviewing, I just stopped looking at them and gave them a zero…a lot of us did. ")The Office was also, literally, a taxpayer-funded part of the Republican campaign machinery.
In 2002, Kuo says the office decided to "hold roundtable events for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders … using the aura of our White House power to get a diverse group of faith and community leaders to a 'nonpartisan' event discussing how best to help poor people in their area."
White House Political Affairs director Ken Mehlman "loved the idea and gave us our marching orders. There were twenty targets." Including Saxby Chambliss in Georgia and John Shimkus in Illinois.
Mehlman devised a cover-up for the operation. He told Kuo, "It can't come from the campaigns. That would make it look too political. It needs to come from the congressional offices. We'll take care of that by having our guys call the office to request the visit."
Kuo explains, "this approach inoculated us against accusations that we were using religion and religious leaders to promote specific candidates."
Those roundtables were a hit. Republicans won 19 of those 20 races. 76 percent of religious conservatives voted for Chambliss over decorated war hero Max Cleland.
And Bush's 2004 victory in Ohio? That "was at least partially tied to the conferences [they] had launched [there] two years before."
By that time, Kuo had left the White House, concluding that "it was mocking the millions of faithful Christians who had put their trust and hope in the President and his administration. Bush knew his so-called compassion agenda was languishing and had no problem with that."
If you would question Mr. Kuo's credibility, you should know his former boss also quit the White House complaining in his one public interview that politics drove absolutely everything in the Bush administration. There is more, much more revealed in Tempting Faith… how Jack Kemp was tricked into sounding like a religious conservative without even knowing it; Jerry Falwell's astonishing behavior at the 9/11 Day of Remembrance and considerably more as our Countdown exclusive of Tempting Faith continues here tomorrow night.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
After Decades of Exploiting Homophobia for Political Gain, Republicans Face the Kobayashi Maru.
'Values' Choice for The GOP
By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, October 10, 2006; A21
It's possible that the Mark Foley scandal could finally end the phony, trumped-up "culture war" that the Republican Party has so expertly exploited all these years -- possible, but not likely. I'm afraid the Foley episode will be remembered as just another bloody battle, one with lots of collateral damage.
The Republicans wouldn't be where they are today -- in control of the White House and all of Capitol Hill -- if they hadn't portrayed themselves as the stalwart defenders of moral standards and painted Democrats as a bunch of anything-goes libertines. Republicans promised social and religious conservatives that the values they treasure would not only be respected but written into law. Even if they didn't deliver on these promises, or even try very hard, Republicans paid enough lip service to moral issues to keep "values voters" inside the tent.
It was a political masterstroke, but it required creating and sustaining an illusion -- that Republican officeholders themselves not only talked the talk but walked the walk, that in their own lives they adhered to these deeply conservative moral standards. Human nature being what it is, there was no way this illusion could be sustained.
So for a party that crusades against gay marriage and welcomes voters that consider homosexuality a sin or a disease, headlines about a gay Republican congressman lusting after underage male congressional pages are a problem. The emerging outlines of a coverup -- allegations that the Republican speaker of the House, or at least his aides, got wind of Foley's little problem months or years ago -- are an even bigger problem.
And it will come as a surprise to some religious conservatives that so many Republicans involved in the scandal are gay -- Foley; his former aide Kirk Fordham; a former clerk of the House, Jeff Trandahl. The Post reported yesterday that Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, the one openly gay Republican congressman, saw "inappropriate" e-mail correspondence between Foley and young pages as long ago as 2000.
It comes as no "October surprise" to the Republican leadership that there are gay men -- and, yes, lesbians, too -- working on Capitol Hill, some in high-ranking positions. Before the Foley scandal runs its course, we will probably learn of other gay staff members on the Hill. These people are good at their jobs, and their sexual orientation is, of course, irrelevant. The understanding, in these years of Republican hegemony, reportedly has been something akin to don't ask, don't tell.
But some conservative activists are irate that the "values" party would allow such an arrangement. Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog, thundered on the group's Web site yesterday that "House leaders permitted homosexuals to infiltrate and manipulate the party apparatus while they publicly postured as friends of family values and traditional marriage. The facade is now in ruins."
In other words, Republican House leaders secretly harbored fairly modern attitudes toward homosexuality. How inexcusable.
The culture war is supposed to be about morality, but really it's a crusade to compel Americans to follow certain norms of private behavior that some social and religious conservatives believe are mandated by sociology, nature or God. Republican officeholders have paid lip service to this crusade, all the while knowing that the human family is diverse and fallible. They know that the gravest threat to marriage is the heterosexual divorce rate. They know that Republicans drink, swear, carouse and have affairs, just like Democrats. They know that homosexuals aren't devils.
Most Americans know all of this, too, by the way. Main Street hasn't been Hicksville for a long time.
But Republicans positioned themselves as our national Church Lady and were rewarded with the support of the staunchest religious conservatives, who now feel betrayed. Faced with the spreading Foley scandal, the party has a choice.
The party can look America in the face and say, "Folks, we're all just human, and while we should strive to adhere to the highest moral standards, this whole idea of writing a specific, narrow, fundamentalist Christian view of morality into law is really not a good idea. Even those of us who thought that way when we came to Washington realize we were wrong. Condemning others just because they are different doesn't make us stronger or better, it makes us weaker and poorer. As Barry Goldwater would have said, live and let live."
Or the party can purge its gay staffers, maybe symbolically burn a few at the stake, and continue to pretend that you can legislate what is permitted to reside in American hearts and minds. Unfortunately, that's where it looks like we're headed.
Republicans, Looking for a Scapegoat for the Foley Scandal, begin to Target Homosexuals. Why anyone who is Gay would work for the GOP is beyond me.
A New "Night of Long Knives?"
By Larry C. Johnson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 10 October 2006
It looks like Republican homosexuals who work on the Hill are being set up as the ultimate scapegoat for the electoral disaster awaiting the Republicans in November. It remains to be seen whether there will be a purge, albeit a bloodless one, of homosexual staffers, but the tale of the rocky relationship between Adolf Hitler and the co-founder of the Nazis, Ernst Roehm, who also led the Storm Troopers (S.A. aka Sturmabteilung) offers some fascinating parallels.
Homosexuality was illegal in Germany prior to and during the Nazi regime. Yet, prominent leaders of the Nazi Party, like Ernst Roehm, played an active role in the Nazi party and the Nazi government. According to the New York Times and other publications, there are Republican homosexuals in key leadership positions throughout Washington - including the Congress, the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Republican National Committee.
How any self-respecting homosexual can support and advocate Republican policies that endorse the persecution of homosexuals is beyond me. But they do. The dilemma facing gay Republicans has been described in today's New York Times and in David Corn's blog on Wednesday last. When Hitler felt threatened, he got rid of Roehm and other homosexuals. If Republican control of Congress is threatened because of the Foley scandal, will the anti-homosexuals in the Republican Congress and the White House sit by and do nothing? I don't think so.
Ernst Roehm was eliminated during a purge in 1934 in an event now known as the "Night of the Long Knives":
Hitler eliminated his closest friend Roehm and certain SA leaders as potential rivals. The strictly political motivation of this ruthless power play was initially too obvious to be entirely denied, but later it was conveniently obscured by charges of homosexual depravity (Haberle:369f).
The formal accusations against Roehm and those arrested with him centered on their homosexual activities, which Hitler had of course known about for fifteen years and shrugged off, it being alleged that these activities disgraced the party. For those victims without any homosexual background, "the Great Blood Purge" continued all over Germany, as Nazi leaders got rid of all their most hated enemies, as well as the inevitable "mistakes" (Garde:726f).
I am by no means suggesting that Republican leaders are getting ready to murder homosexual Republicans. However, I do believe the fallout from the Mark Foley scandal will be a springboard for the religious right to press for a purge of the "sodomites" from important positions. If they do that things could get quite interesting.
If Republicans try to blame homosexuals for the Foley scandal it could blow up on them big time. As David Corn noted on Wednesday, some of the most radical rightwing Republicans - including Representatives Katherine Harris and Henry Hyde, and Senators Bill Frist, George Allen, Mitch McConnell and Rick Santorum - have had gay staffers. Homosexuals staffers are certain to have loads of information about their bosses' past misdeeds. Will gay Republicans still in the closet sit idly by and be made the scapegoat for Hastert's failure of leadership? I don't think so. The Republican homosexuals have excellent media contacts.
We've already seen how two of the homosexual staffers - Kirk Fordham, Mr. Foley's onetime chief of staff who resigned Wednesday as an aide to Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, Republican of New York, and Jeff Trandahl, formerly the clerk of the House of Representatives - responded to Denny Hastert's "memory" problems. These gay guys ain't walking a plank for the Republican agenda.
Some in the homosexual community continue to play defense for the Republicans. Remember our old buddy, Jeff Gannon aka Guckert? Gannon, who posed nude and appeared on several websites as a male escort, also hung out at the White House as a faux journalist. Gannon is helping lead the charge claiming that this scandal is the fault of George Soros and Democrats. It would help to know why Gannon remains so protective of a White House that espouses so many anti-homosexual policies. So far the media has failed to investigate who Gannon was "seeing" in the White House when he was not asking softball questions.
Hopefully, the homosexual community - Republican and Democrat - will be left alone and allowed to go on serving their country just as heterosexuals do. The Foley scandal is not about being gay; it is about inappropriate behavior between an adult and children. As the Republican position becomes more desperate in the coming days, the long knives will come out. Only this go-around, I don't think the homosexuals will take the assault lying down. Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and US State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC's Nightline, NBC's Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world.
Demagoguery: Pat Buchanan says "Gay Mafia" in the Republican Party to blame for Foley Scandal.
Buchanan: Gay "mafia" on Hill "looked upon the pages" as their "personal preserve"
On the October 9 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, during a discussion about the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), accused a number of gay staffers and lawmakers associated with the scandal -- including Kirk Fordham, former chief of staff to both Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) and Foley -- of being "this little mafia in there [that] looked upon the pages, I guess, as their -- sort of their personal preserve." Buchanan added that "it stinks to high heaven what was done. And it stinks to high heaven that it was not exposed." However, as Media Matters for America has documented, Fordham has stated that he informed House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) office of Foley's interaction with underage congressional pages years ago, and another congressional staffer has come forward to corroborate Fordham's account.
From the October 9 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, now we're finding out, again, other pages coming forward, saying maybe the reason why the Republicans didn't find out is because [Rep. Jim] Kolbe [R-AZ] was keeping to himself. These pages saying, according to The Washington Post, that Kolbe offered to let them use his apartment when he left town. I mean, is it any wonder that you look at these latest polls according to Newsweek, 53 percent of Americans want the Democrats to take control of Congress, only 35 want Republicans to hold it. I mean, this is a mess.
BUCHANAN: Look, Kolbe is gay. He is an out-of-the-closet gay. Foley was gay. The House clerk who was in charge of the pages was gay. Foley's administrative assistant, Mr. Fordham, The New York Times tell us, was gay. You hear about a lot of others. What's going on here, Joe, is basically these, this little mafia in there looked upon the pages, I guess, as their -- sort of their personal preserve
. And it stinks to high heaven what was done. And it stinks to high heaven that it was not exposed and these types of people, thrown out by the Republican Party
SCARBOROUGH: OK. Wait a minute.
BUCHANAN: It is Republican leadership --
ANA MARIE COX (Washington editor, Time.com): I think you need to be very careful about that kind of accusation.
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second, though, Pat. Well, but, Pat, what about the fact that Denny Hastert was told in 2003, 2004, or at least his staff was told in 2003 or 2004 that Mark Foley was behaving inappropriately? And by the way, certainly nobody suggests that Kolbe ever sent these type of IMs, just that he confronted Foley back in 2000.
Today is National Coming Out Day. Judy Shepard Has Some Words For You.
Eight years ago this week, I lost my son, Matthew, to a hate crime.
The violence, ignorance and misunderstanding that led to his death are the exact reasons that National Coming Out Day, which is celebrated each year on Oct. 11, is so important.
This year, the Coming Out Day observance is particularly poignant in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal. Some members of the media, along with anti-gay pundits on the radical right, have been trying to blur the lines between Foley's repugnant behavior and his sexual orientation -- which are two very different things.
That is why it is crucial that this year, all of us, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, take a moment to think about who GLBT Americans really are, and the things we all have in common.
For the last eight years, I have traveled the nation continuously telling my family's story, and trying to encourage honest, respectful dialogue on gay issues. On the topic of coming out, and living openly, there are a few things that I always try to impress upon people.
First, let's be clear -- being gay or straight is no more a choice than being right- or left-handed. It is simply a matter of how each of us is born.
Anyone who has ever witnessed loved ones coming out -- struggling to find the words to say, wondering if they will be rejected by their most cherished friends or family simply for being who they are -- knows that even in 2006 America, being open and honest about being gay is still difficult, and at times all-too-dangerous.
Coming out and being open is an act of bravery and honesty. That's something that any mother, friend or family member can and should be proud of.
It is hard enough in this world for gay people to come out, and be open about who they are. It becomes even more difficult and daunting during times when gay people are publicly slandered for political gain, which is what the ultra-right has tried to do time and again during election years.
The bottom line is that families are more whole, friendships are more substantial and nations are stronger when we are all able to stand together in spite of our differences and because of our similarities.
Please, whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, take some time today to talk to some of the people in your life about why openness, fairness, respect and compassion are important to you.
In fact, if you are having trouble starting that important conversation luckily the Human Rights Campaign has partnered with Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to release a new resource: "A Straight Guide to GLBT Americans." The guide walks straight people through the typical emotional responses people go through when a friend or family member has just come out, outlines myths and facts about GLBT Americans, and highlights ways that they can show support for equality. You can get your hands on this valuable new tool by going to: www.hrc.org or www.pflag.org.
Coming Out Day isn't just about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. It is about all Americans who want to create a more just and fair country for future generations.
Matthew Shepard Foundation
Why Does Habeas Corpus Hate America? -- Keith Olbermann
Because the Mark Foley story began to break the night of September 28th, exploding the following day, many people may not have noticed a bill passed by the Senate that night.
Our third story on the Countdown tonight, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and what it does to something called "habeas corpus."
And before we reduce the very term "habeas corpus" to something vaguely recalled as sounding kinda like the cornerstone of freedom, or maybe kinda like a character from "Harry Potter," we thought a Countdown Special Investigation was in order.
Congress passed The Military Commissions Act to give Mr. Bush the power to deal effectively with America's enemies — those who seek to harm this country.
And he has been very clear about who that is:
"…for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America."
So the president said it was urgent that Congress send him this bill as quickly as possible, not for the politics of next month's elections, but for America.
"The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."
Because time was of the essence–and to ensure that the 9/11 families would wait no longer–as soon as he got the bill, President Bush whipped out his pen and immediately signed a statement saying he looks forward to signing the actual law…eventually.
He hasn't signed it yet, almost two weeks later, because he has been swamped by a series of campaign swings at which he has made up quotes from unnamed Democratic leaders, and because when he is actually at work, he's been signing so many other important bills, such as:
The Credit Rating Agency Reform Act;
the Third Higher Education Extension Act;
ratification requests for extradition treaties with Malta, Estonia and Latvia;
his proclamation of German-American Day;
the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act;
and his proclamation of Leif Erikson Day.
Still, getting the Military Commissions Act to the President so he could immediately mull it over for two weeks was so important, some members of Congress didn't even read the bill before voting on it. Thus, has some of its minutiae, escaped scrutiny.
One bit of trivia that caught our eye was the elimination of habeas corpus. which apparently used to be the right of anyone who's tossed in prison, to appear in court and say, "Hey, why am I in prison?"
Why does habeas corpus hate America…and how is it so bad for us?
Mr. Bush says it gets in the way of him doing his job.
[video clip]Bush: "…we cannot be able to tell the American people we're doing our full job unless we have the tools necessary to do so. And this legislation passed in the House yesterday is a part of making sure that we do have the capacity to protect you. Our most solemn job is the security of this country."
It may be solemn…
[video clip] Bush: "I do solemnly swear…"
But is that really his job? In this rarely seen footage, Mr. Bush is clearly heard describing a different job.
[video clip]…to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States..
Countdown has obtained a copy of this "Constitution of the United States."
And sources tell us it was originally snuck through the Constitutional Convention and state ratification in order to establish America's fundamental legal principles.
But this so-called Constitution is frustratingly vague about the right to trial. In fact, there's only one reference to habeas corpus at all. Quote: "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."
But even Democrats who voted against the Military Commissions Act concede that it doesn't actually suspend habeas corpus.
[video clip] Leahy: The bill before the Senate would not merely suspend the great writ, the great writ of habeas corpus, it would eliminate it permanently.
And there is considerable debate whether the conditions for suspending habeas corpus, rebellion or invasion, have been met.
[video clip] Leahy: conditions for suspending habeas corpus have not been met.
[video clip] Kerry: We're not in a rebellion, nor are we being invaded.
[video clip] Specter: We do not have a rebellion or an invasion.
[video clip] Biden: The United States is neither in a state of rebellion nor invasion.
[video clip] Byrd: We are not in the midst of a rebellion, and there is no invasion.
Countdown has learned that habeas corpus actually predates the "Constitution," meaning it's not just pre-September 11th thinking, it's also pre-July 4th thinking.
In those days, no one imagined that enemy combatants might one day attack Americans on native soil.
In fact, Countdown has obtained a partially redacted copy of a colonial "declaration" indicating that back then, "depriving us of Trial by Jury" was actually considered sufficient cause to start a War of Independence, based on the then-fashionable idea that "liberty" was an unalienable right.
Today, thanks to modern, post-9/11 thinking, those rights are now fully alienable.
The reality is, without habeas corpus, a lot of other rights lose their meaning.
But if you look at the actual Bill of Rights — the first ten amendments to that pesky Constitution — you'll see just how many remain.
Well, ok, Number One's gone.
If you're detained without trial, you lose your freedom of religion, speech, the press and assembly. And you can't petition the government for anything.
Number Two? While you're in prison, your right to keep and bear arms just may be infringed upon.
Even if you're in the NRA.
No forced sleepovers by soldiers at your house. OK. Three is unchanged.
You're definitely not secure against searches and seizures, with or without probable cause - and this isn't even limited to the guards.
Five… Grand juries and due process are obviously out.
Six. So are trials, let alone the right to counsel. Speedy trials? You want it when?
Seven. Hmmmm. I thought we covered "trials" and "juries" earlier.
Eight — So bail's kind of a moot point…
Nine: "Other" rights retained by the people. Well, if you can name them during your water-boarding, we'll consider them.
And Ten — powers not delegated to the United States federal government seem to have ended up there, anyway.
So as you can see, even without habeas corpus, at least one tenth of the Bill of Rights, I guess that's the Bill of "Right" now… remains virtually intact.
And we can rest easy knowing we will never, ever have to quarter soldiers in our homes… as long as the Third Amendment still stands strong.
The President can take care of that with a Signing Statement.
GOP Base Cracking Up. Evangelicals Begin to Preach On Global Warming. Bush and Republicans Out In The Cold.
Believers Preach Gospel of Green
By Patrick Goldstein
The Los Angeles Times
Tuesday 10 October 2006
In Hollywood, the white knight in the fight against global warming is Al Gore, whose film, "An Inconvenient Truth," was received with great media hoopla when it arrived in theaters earlier this year. But in much of the rest of America, the man spearheading the battle against catastrophic climate change is someone you'd never see at the Ivy, hobnobbing with the Bush-hating, abortion-allowing, carbon footprint calculating nabobs of Hollywood elitism.
In fact, when it comes to broadening the reach of the environmental movement to red state America, the real savior turns out to be the Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, America's most influential Christian lobbying group, representing 45,000 churches and roughly 30 million believers across the country. According to two new documentaries, it is evangelicals like Cizik who may do more to make global warming a front-and-center issue than hundreds of white-wine fundraisers in Bel-Air and Manhattan's Upper West Side.
For all its admirable sentiment, and sound science, "An Inconvenient Truth" ended up basically preaching to the converted. It grossed $23.6 million, an impressive number for an issue-oriented documentary. But the vast majority of its audience was in urban areas - even at its peak, it didn't play in more than 587 theaters.
To hear the people behind these new documentaries, there is a much larger group of Americans eager to join the fight against global warming. "Is God Green?" airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on KCET as part of "Moyers on America," a three-part series of documentaries by Bill Moyers, a born-again Christian and environmentalist himself.
The other documentary, "The Great Warming," which arrives in theaters Nov. 3, focuses on environmental activism among evangelicals as well as ecologists, physicists, emergency room doctors and organic farmers. It interviews former CIA Director James Woolsey, who offers the blunt assessment, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Adapted from a series of Canadian TV specials, the film is being exhibited nationwide by Regal Cinema, the mega-movie theater chain owned by conservative family values activist Philip Anschutz.
Even more telling, according to Karen Coshof, the film's producer, is how Regal became interested in the film. "They called us after they'd been inundated by calls and letters about the movie, which people had seen after we sent DVDs out to about 200 churches around the U.S. If we've learned anything, its that social change in America begins at the grass-roots level, in churches and synagogues where people listen to their pastors and rabbis and are moved to action."
The documentaries debunk popular knee-jerk assumptions, namely that environmentalists are all Hollywood lefties and that evangelicals are simply antiabortion zealots. It is certainly refreshing to see evangelicals, who are often mocked in Hollywood films, treated as free-thinking human beings, not uptight fanatics.
Cizik is part of the nearly 80% of white evangelicals who voted for George W. Bush. But despite being against abortion and gay marriage, the NAE's vice president for governmental affairs vehemently opposes the administration's efforts to gut environmental protection laws, notably the ones that govern emissions that contribute to global warming. And when he criticizes Republican efforts to dismantle environmental laws, he speaks in a language you don't hear from Leonardo DiCaprio and with a fervor that must send a shiver down Karl Rove's spine.
"The manner in which we've pumped into the atmosphere 7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually is, to me, a testimony to human sin. Does God desire this? I don't think so," he tells Moyers in "Is God Green?" "The Republican Party is largely serving the interests of the oil, gas and utility industries who pay large donations to Republican politicians. Can we expect that party to speak out on behalf of [the environment] without our political advocacy? Of course not!"
Cizik's conversion to environmental activism came in 2002, when he was dragged to a conference at Oxford and met John Houghton, a climatologist - and evangelical Christian. Now a two-Prius family man, Cizik travels around the country, preaching about "creation care" - the evangelical term for environmental protection - to church groups. I caught up with him at an airport after a speech in the Midwest, curious to hear why evangelicals would tune out former Vice President Al Gore but were willing to listen to one of their own.
"We tried to get evangelicals to go see 'Inconvenient Truth,' but they just wouldn't go, even when we offered free tickets," he explains. "I respect Mr. Gore for telling the truth, but he's not the best messenger in our community. For our people, this has to be presented as a moral issue. And a lot of people simply wouldn't accept Al Gore, God bless him, as a spokesman on moral issues."
For liberals, it seems hard to imagine the GOP, home of Jack Abramoff and Rep. Mark Foley, has the high ground on morality. But for evangelicals, what matters most is hearing the word from their pastor, not a politician. As Cizik puts it: "When evangelicals hear their pastor speak out of the Bible, they respond. Never mind what Rush Limbaugh says. If their minister says this is an important issue, they'll listen and they'll act."
Moyers believes that evangelicals, who've been in the forefront of many social issues, from the 19th century fight against slavery to 20th century battles for women's suffrage and civil rights, were held back on the environment by the influence of religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. "They decided that the Grand Old Party would become God's Own Party, so they used the accumulated influence of their followers to give them unprecedented political influence," Moyers says. "They also went about using political propaganda to demonize the environmental movement and doubly demonize Hollywood celebrities fighting for the environment."
Conservatives still routinely sneer at celebrities, either for being too strident or hypocritical for flying around in gas-guzzling private jets. But Cizik says times are changing. He points to the presence of Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette, who narrate "The Great Warming."
"If you're a celebrity going around criticizing President Bush, you're probably going to alienate people," he says. "But if you're reaching out to tell a vital story, it's another matter." Cizik is a big fan of George Clooney, a key ally of the evangelicals on the fight to stop mass murder in the Darfur region of Sudan. "When I introduced him to my son at a Darfur rally, my son's opinion of his dad suddenly went through the roof."
Cizik will need all the allies he can get. He has powerful evangelical foes in the fight against global warming, notably Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson and the Rev. Louis P. Shelton, as well as Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who calls man-made global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people."
Several evangelical leaders have gone to Cizik's boss, NAE leader Ted Haggard, calling for his head. Cizik also got into hot water when he invited both Pennsylvania senatorial candidates to a recent screening of "The Great Warming" and only the Democratic contender, Robert P. Casey, showed up. GOP supporters accused Cizik of going over to the other side, which he vehemently denies.
"Some people would like to knock me off my horse," he says, noting that his foes have sent operatives to take notes at his speeches and interviews, faxing the results around Capitol Hill in an attempt to damage his credibility. "I'm not going to be bullied by them or by Rush Limbaugh, who thinks the environment is just an issue for tree huggers. Well, we evangelicals are people huggers, and when our rivers are too polluted to swim in, when our children are getting asthma and mercury poisoning, isn't it time we did something about it?"
Even if Cizik takes a fall, the tide is turning. One of the signers of the Evangelical Climate Initiative earlier this year was Rick Warren, a leading evangelical and senior pastor at Orange County's Saddleback Church. An ad endorsing "The Great Warming" due to run this month in the Washington Post was signed by other evangelicals, including the Rev. Joel Hunter, the new head of the Christian Coalition of America. Even Pat Robertson recently told his "700 Club" audience that the heat this summer made him a convert - global warming is for real. Cizik sent him a message saying, "Welcome to the fold."
This new sense of urgency may have broad political implications, with Cizik making the bold prediction that "there won't be a Republican running for the White House in '08 who isn't with us on this issue." Cizik says that Bush was giving a speech in support of his prescription drug plan earlier this year before a pre-screened audience of Republican supporters. "And yet, when he took questions, one of the first of those pre-screened people got up and said, 'What's your position on climate change, Mr. President?' "
Cizik can't disguise his delight. "You can run," he says. "But you can't hide."
Bush's Pacification by Force Program In Iraq Planning to Continue Through 2010. And Then?
Army: Troops to stay in Iraq until 2010
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
The U.S. Army has plans to keep the current level of soldiers in Iraq through 2010, the top Army officer said Wednesday, a later date than Bush administration or Pentagon officials have mentioned thus far.
The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, cautioned against reading too much into the planning, saying troops levels could be adjusted to actual conditions in Iraq. He said it is easier to hold back forces scheduled to go there than to prepare and deploy units at the last minute.
"This is not a prediction that things are going poorly or better," Schoomaker told reporters. "It's just that I have to have enough ammo in the magazine that I can continue to shoot as long as they want us to shoot."
Even so, his comments were the latest acknowledgment by Pentagon officials that a significant withdrawal of troops from Iraq is not likely in the immediate future.
Currently there are 141,000 troops in Iraq, including 120,000 Army soldiers. Those soldiers are divided among 15 Army combat brigades plus other support units.
Schoomaker's comments come less than four weeks before congressional elections, in which the unpopular war in Iraq and the Bush administration's policies there are a major campaign issue.
Last month, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, said the military would likely maintain or possibly even increase the current force levels through next spring.
In recent months the Army has shown signs of strain, as Pentagon officials have had to extend the Iraq deployments of two brigades in order to bolster security in Baghdad and allow units heading into the country to have at least one year at home before redeploying.
Schoomaker said he has received no new guidance from commanders in Iraq as to when the U.S. will be able to begin reducing the number of troops there. Last year officials had hoped to be down to about 100,000 by the end of this year, but escalating violence and sectarian tensions have prompted military leaders to increase forces.
He also said the Army will have to rely on the National Guard and Reserves to maintain the current level of deployments. When asked about concerns that reserve units are struggling to get the training and equipment they need before going back to Iraq, Schoomaker said that no troops would be sent into war without needed resources.
Schoomaker spoke as the U.S. military death toll in Iraq rose to at least 2,750 since the war's start in March 2003. On Wednesday, the U.S. command said three U.S. Marines and two soldiers were killed in fighting there.
In another indication of the burden the Army expects to bear, Schoomaker said he believes the Army will need $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $40 billion more than its planned expenditures for the 2007 budget year, which began Oct. 1. Schoomaker's proposed figure is nearly $25 billion more than the initial amount discussed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Schoomaker said the Army needs the money to modernize the force, continue needed research and development programs, and keep enough combat brigades in the field, while allowing adequate time for training and restoring equipment between deployments.
The Bush administration is likely to release its 2008 budget in February.
Today in his press conference, President Bush applauded the courage of Iraqis, stating that he is “amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to — you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.”
In reality, 890,000 Iraqis have moved to Jordan, Iran and Syria
since Hussein’s fall and more than 300,000 have fled to other parts of Iraq to escape the violence. Additionally, 71 percent
of Iraqis want U.S. forces to leave Iraq within a year, saying “they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq.”
Iraqis aren’t “tolerating” the violence. They’re just trying to survive.
Full transcript below:
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: Thank you, Mr. President. Back on Iraq, a group of American and Iraqi health officials today released a report saying that 655,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraq war. That figure is 20 times the figure that you cited in December at 30,000. Do you care to amend or update your figure and do you consider this a credible report?
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I don’t consider it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to — you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.
Bush's Private War. How War Profiteers Are Getting Rich While 600,000 Iraqi's get Dead. Fuck Bush and Cheney.
October 10th, 2006 6:10 pmIn Iraq, contractor deaths near 650, legal fog thickens
By Bernd Debusmann / Reuters
WASHINGTON - The war in Iraq has killed at least 647 civilian contractors to date, according to official figures that provide a stark reminder of the huge role of civilians in supporting the U.S. military.
The contractor death toll is tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor on the basis of claims under an insurance policy, the Defense Base Act, that all U.S. government contractors and subcontractors working outside the United States must take out for their civilian employees.
In response to questions from Reuters, a Labor Department spokesman said there had been 647 claims for death benefits between March 1, 2003, and September 30, 2006. The Defense Base Act covers both Americans and foreigners, and there is no breakdown of the nationalities of those killed. The Pentagon does not monitor civilian contractor casualties.
The death toll of civilians working alongside U.S. forces in Iraq compares with more than 2,700 military dead and, experts say, underscores the risks of outsourcing war to private military contractors.
Their number in Iraq is estimated at up to 100,000, from highly-trained former special forces soldiers to drivers, cooks, mechanics, plumbers, translators, electricians and laundry workers and other support personnel.
A trend toward "privatizing war" has been accelerating steadily since the end of the Cold War, when the United States and its former adversaries began cutting back professional armies. U.S. armed forces shrank from 2.1 million when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 to 1.4 million today.
"At its present size, the U.S. military could not function without civilian contractors," said Jeffrey Addicott, an expert at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "The problem is that the civilians operate in a legal gray zone. There has been little effort at regulation, oversight, standardized training and a uniform code of conduct. It's the Wild West out there."FOG OF LAW
Two court cases slowly making their way through the U.S. legal system have opened a window on the legal fog hanging over civilians who work alongside the military and have become an everyday presence in conflict zones.
The legal cases involve Blackwater Security and Halliburton which field hundreds of civilians in Iraq. The two companies are part of a global industry estimated to bring in up to $100 billion annually.
The suit against Blackwater, the first of its kind in the United States, was brought 19 months ago by the families of four civilian contractors who were shot in March 2004 by insurgents who burned their bodies and hung the charred remains of two from the girders of a bridge in the city of Falluja.
Television images of the gruesome scene, with jubilant Iraqis shaking their fists, were beamed around the world and shocked the United States. Some military experts view the Falluja incident, which prompted a massive U.S. retaliatory assault on Falluja, as a turning point in the war.
The suit, for fraud and wrongful death, alleges that Blackwater broke explicit terms of its contract with the men -- Stephen (Scott) Helveston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona -- by sending them to escort a food convoy in unarmored cars, without heavy machine guns and in teams that lacked even a map.
The suit against Halliburton stems from the April 2004 ambush of a convoy of fuel trucks near Abu Ghraib in which six drivers working for a company subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root were killed and 11 injured. In September, a federal judge in Houston threw out the suit, saying his court had no jurisdiction because the decision to send the convoy had been "interwoven with Army decisions."
"The effect of this ruling is ... a legal gray zone in which Halliburton and KBR can act in any manner they chose," said T. Scott Allen, attorney for the families. "We will appeal."
A few days after the Houston decision, a U.S. appeals court in Raleigh, North Carolina, rejected a Blackwater petition for a rehearing of an appeal to have the case moved from a state court in Moycock where the company is based, and have it adjudicated by the Department of Labor, which decides Defense Base Act claims in the first place.
"The decision was clear: jurisdiction of this case rests with the state court," said Dan Callahan, one of the attorneys for the families of the four killed in Falluja. "This paves the way for holding Blackwater liable and establish guidelines and accountability for contracting firms operating abroad."
Where the case comes to be heard has enormous monetary implications: There is no cap on punitive damages in a state court and past judgments have reached staggering heights. Callahan, for example, won a $934 million jury verdict in a 2003 corporate litigation in California.
The Base Defense Act provides for maximum death benefits of $4,123.12 a month.
Police find 60 bodies in Baghdad
Sixty bodies have been found scattered across the Iraqi capital Baghdad, police there have said.
A car bomb has also exploded near a Sunni mosque in a southern district of the city, killing 11 people.
The bomb attack comes a day after 10 people were killed in a car bombing at a market in the capital.
It also coincides with the release of new figures indicating that an estimated 300,000 Iraqis have fled their homes due to sectarian violence.
Attacks have increased between Iraq's majority Shia Muslims and the Sunni minority, who dominated the country until the fall of Saddam Hussein.Executions
The 60 bodies, who were all men, were found in various parts of the city over a 24-hour period, defence and interior ministry officials said on Tuesday.
Many of them had been shot in the head at close range, execution-style.
The victims also had their hands and feet bound and showed signs of torture - hallmarks of death-squad killings, the police said.
Tuesday's bomb was placed under a car near a mosque in the district of Doura, killing 11 bystanders standing outside a bakery, police said.
The bomb - which also injured at least four people - exploded at about 1100 GMT.Displaced families
The sustained sectarian violence has seen more than 50,000 Sunni and Shiite families - around 300,000 people - flee their homes, according to figures released by Iraqi minister for migration, Dr Abd al-Samad Rahman.
Some fled their homes after receiving direct threats while others simply felt threatened and moved to areas where their own sect predominates and they feel safer.
The flight is continuing, especially in parts of Baghdad and Diyala province, north-east of the capital.
BAGHDAD, Oct. 10 — A team of American and Iraqi public health researchers has estimated that 600,000 civilians have died in violence across Iraq since the 2003 American invasion, the highest estimate ever for the toll of the war here.
The figure breaks down to about 15,000 violent deaths a month, a number that is quadruple the one for July given by Iraqi government hospitals and the morgue in Baghdad and published last month in a United Nations report in Iraq. That month was the highest for Iraqi civilian deaths since the American invasion.
But it is an estimate and not a precise count, and researchers acknowledged a margin of error that ranged from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths.
It is the second study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It uses samples of casualties from Iraqi households to extrapolate an overall figure of 601,027 Iraqis dead from violence between March 2003 and July 2006.
The findings of the previous study, published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, in 2004, had been criticized as high, in part because of its relatively narrow sampling of about 1,000 families, and because it carried a large margin of error.
The new study is more representative, its researchers said, and the sampling is broader: it surveyed 1,849 Iraqi families in 47 different neighborhoods across Iraq. The selection of geographical areas in 18 regions across Iraq was based on population size, not on the level of violence, they said.
The study comes at a sensitive time for the Iraqi government, which is under pressure from American officials to take action against militias driving the sectarian killings.
In the last week of September, the government barred the central morgue in Baghdad and the Health Ministry — the two main sources of information for civilian deaths — from releasing figures to the news media. Now, only the government is allowed to release figures. It has not provided statistics for September, though a spokesman said Tuesday that it would.
The American military has disputed the Iraqi figures, saying that they are far higher than the actual number of deaths from the insurgency and sectarian violence, in part because they include natural deaths and deaths from ordinary crime, like domestic violence.
But the military has not released figures of its own, giving only percentage comparisons. For example, it cited a 46 percent drop in the murder rate in Baghdad in August from July as evidence of the success of its recent sweeps. At a briefing on Monday, the military’s spokesman declined to characterize the change for September.
The military has released rough counts of average numbers of Iraqis killed and wounded in a quarterly accounting report mandated by Congress. In the report, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” daily averages of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians, soldiers and police officers rose from 26 a day in 2004 to almost 120 a day in August 2006.
The study uses a method similar to that employed in estimates of casualty figures in other conflict areas like Darfur and Congo. It sought to measure the number of deaths that occurred as a result of the war.
It argues that absolute numbers of dead, like morgue figures, could not give a full picture of the “burden of conflict on an entire population,” because they were often incomplete.
The mortality rate before the American invasion was about 5.5 people per 1,000 per year, the study found. That rate rose to 19.8 deaths per 1,000 people in the year ending in June.
Gunshots were the largest cause of death, the study said, at 56 percent of all violent deaths, while car bombs accounted for about 13 percent. Deaths caused by the American military declined as an overall percentage from March 2003 to June 2006.
Violent deaths have soared since the American invasion, but the rise is in part a matter of spotty statistical history. Under Saddam Hussein, the state had a monopoly on killing, and the deaths of thousands of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds that it caused were never counted.
While the near collapse of the Iraqi state makes precise record-keeping difficult, authorities have made considerable progress toward tracking death figures. In 2004, when the Johns Hopkins study was first released, authorities were still compiling deaths on an ad hoc basis. But by this year, they were being provided regularly.
Iraqi authorities say morgue counts are more accurate than is generally thought. Iraqis prefer to bury their dead immediately, and hurry bodies of loved ones to plots near mosques or, in the case of Shiites, in sacred burial sites. Even so, they have strong incentives to register the death with a central morgue or hospital in order to obtain a death certificate, required at highway checkpoints, by cemetery workers, and for government pensions. Death certificates are counted in the statistics kept by morgues around the country.
The most recent United Nations figure, 3,009 Iraqis killed in violence across the country in August, was compiled by statistics from Baghdad’s central morgue, and from hospitals and morgues countrywide. It assumes a daily rate of about 97.
The figure is not exhaustive. A police official at Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad who spoke on the condition of anonymity said he had seen nationwide counts provided to the hospital that indicated as many as 200 people a day were dying.
Gilbert Burnham, the principle author of the study, said the figures showed an increase of deaths over time that was similar to that of another civilian casualty project, Iraq Body Count, which collates deaths reported in the news media, and even to that of the military. But even Iraq Body Count puts the maximum number of deaths at just short of 49,000.
As far as skepticism about the death count, he said that counts made by journalists and others focused disproportionately on Baghdad, and that death rates were higher elsewhere.
“We found deaths all over the country,” he said. Baghdad was an area of medium violence in the country, he said. The provinces of Diyala and Salahuddin, north of Baghdad, and Anbar to the west, all had higher death rates than the capital.
Statistics experts in the United States who were able to review the study said the methods used by the interviewers looked legitimate.
Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Program on Public Opinion and Health and Social Policy, said interviewing urban dwellers chosen at random was “the best of what you can expect in a war zone.”
But he said the number of deaths in the families interviewed — 547 in the post-invasion period versus 82 in a similar period before the invasion — was too few to extrapolate up to more than 600,000 deaths across the country.
Donald Berry, chairman of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was even more troubled by the study, which he said had “a tone of accuracy that’s just inappropriate.”
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
by Mark Weisbrot & Robert Naiman
In recent weeks, press reports have indicated that U.S. efforts to prepare for a military attack on Iran have accelerated. Time magazine
wrote of new movements of U.S. warships to the region and reviewing of plans for airstrikes and blockading Iranian ports. Many, of course, have compared the present situation to that four years ago when, faced with a mid-term election and a hyped threat of "weapons of mass destruction" from Iraq, Congress voted to authorize the President to "use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary" to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."
Of course, there are indeed many similarities. Claims of an imminent threat from Iran are not borne out by more sober assessments of international inspectors or by our own career intelligence experts. The Bush Administration claims to be pursuing diplomacy, but then sabotages diplomatic efforts by clearly unreasonable demands. As the New York Times reported on October 4
, the Bush Administration has "consistently taken the position that any uranium enrichment on Iranian soil is out of the question," a position that has no basis in international law, and would require Iran to give up fundamental rights. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration refused to pledge not to attack Iran militarily, even if negotiations over its uranium enrichment program were to be successful.
A military strike against Iran would be politically risky for the Administration, but the Bush team has repeatedly warned that “all options are on the table.” Whether or not they decide to move faster along this route between now and the election, their ongoing efforts in the direction of military action against Iran could easily bear fruit at a later date. And the election season brings tends to silence what might otherwise be opposition in Congress (see the recent passage by Congress, with almost no debate, of the
On the postitive side, there is are significant differences between the present situation and the build-up to war with Iraq.. These are important because four years ago, many people were frustrated that after so many huge demonstrations around the world, including in the US, after many meetings, lobbying, letters to Congress, the war in Iraq went ahead anyway. So some of these folks may say to themselves, what's the point in protesting, in lobbying Congress, in writing letters to the editor, when they are going to do whatever they want anyway?
Of course, such a view would not be morally defensible. History is complicated and unpredictable, and there is never a point at which an objective person could honestly say, "now I'm certain that it's hopeless. Nothing I could do would possibly make any difference."
To see how unpredictable things are, look at the Foley/Hastert scandal. Four weeks out from the elections, when the Republicans want to dominate discussion with hyped up stories about supposed threats from Iran or “terrorism”, they can't dictate the agenda because one of their members of Congress was caught making sexual advances to teenage boys and the Republican leaders covered it up. No one predicted this, not even a week earlier.
But in this particular case, we don't have to rely on the unpredictability of politics. The world has changed since four years ago. President Bush is much weaker politically, domestically as well as internationally. His domestic approval ratings are in the cellar. A majority of Americans consistently tell pollsters the war in Iraq was a mistake. Democratic politicians are increasingly demanding a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Senior Republicans, like Senator Warner and Senator Frist, are questioning the Administration's policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Journalists are getting bolder in criticizing the government, as Bob Woodward, who previously wrote two favorable books about the Bush Administration, now says it is hiding the truth from the public about what is going on in Iraq. Internationally, Bush's key ally Tony Blair is on his way out, while France, Russia and China are deeply skeptical about even imposing economic sanctions in Iran in the United Nations Security Council, and insist the diplomacy be given the opportunity to work.
This is why it is critical that more people in the United States stand up right now in clear opposition to a U.S. military attack on Iran.
Take a first step. Sign our petition against war with Iran at http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/iranpetition.html
. This petition, directed to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, is a joint project with Peace Action. And become a member of our organization by signing up for action alerts or news updates. In the past, Americans have successfully organized to reverse destructive U.S. foreign policies -- ending the Vietnam War, breaking the Reagan Administration's cozy relationship with Apartheid South Africa. Many Americans, in a political season three and a half years into a disastrous war, are ready to hear a different message about the direction of our foreign policy. Help us get that message out.
Aim High! U.S. Military fills recruiting shortfall with low-aptitude recruits. Paging Forrest Gump... Paging Forrest Gump.
Lower Standards Help Army Recruit More
By Lolita Baldor
The Associated Press
Tuesday 10 October 2006
Washington - The U.S. Army recruited more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year, helping the service beat its goal of 80,000 recruits in the throes of an unpopular war and mounting casualties.
The recruiting mark comes a year after the Army missed its recruitment target by the widest margin since 1979, which had triggered a boost in the number of recruiters, increased bonuses, and changes in standards.
The Army recruited 80,635 soldiers, roughly 7,000 more than last year. Of those, about 70,000 were first-time recruits who had never served before.
According to statistics obtained by The Associated Press, 3.8 percent of the first-time recruits scored below certain aptitude levels. In previous years, the Army had allowed only 2 percent of its recruits to have low aptitude scores. That limit was increased last year to 4 percent, the maximum allowed by the Defense Department.
The Army said all the recruits with low scores had received high school diplomas. In a written statement, the Army said good test scores do not necessarily equate to quality soldiers. Test-taking ability, the Army said, does not measure loyalty, duty, honor, integrity or courage.
Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a private research group, said there is a "fine balance between the need for a certain number of recruits and the standards you set."
"Tests don't tell you the answer to the most critical question for the Army, how will you do in combat?" Goure said. But, he added, accepting too many recruits with low test scores could increase training costs and leave technical jobs unfilled.
"The absolute key for the Army is a high-school diploma," Goure said.
About 17 percent of the first-time recruits, or about 13,600, were accepted under waivers for various medical, moral or criminal problems, including misdemeanor arrests or drunk driving. That is a slight increase from last year, the Army said.
Of those accepted under waivers, more than half were for "moral" reasons, mostly misdemeanor arrests. Thirty-eight percent were for medical reasons and 7 percent were drug and alcohol problems, including those who may have failed a drug test or acknowledged they had used drugs.
The Army said the waiver process recognizes that people can overcome past mistakes and become law abiding citizens.
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo said that adding more recruiters enabled the Army to identify more recruits. "We got the right people in the field in the right places in the right numbers," said Cucolo, the chief spokesman for the Army.
About two-thirds of the recruits qualified for a bonus - an average of $11,000 each. Some in highly valued specialties, such as special operations forces, can get up to $40,000 in extra cash.
The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve both fell slightly short of their recruiting goals. The Reserves recruited 25,378 of the targeted 25,500; and the Guard recruited 69,042 of the targeted 70,000.
by Glenn Greenwald
One of the hallmarks of the Bush administration's foreign policy -- arguably its most disastrous hallmark -- is the literal elimination of diplomacy as a foreign policy instrument for dealing with hostile nations. They actually believe, and overtly argue, that diplomacy and negotiations are worthless when it comes to many countries which are acting against American interests.
Glenn Reynolds approvingly cites
to this post
from National Review'
s Michael Rubin, in which Rubin essentially declares negotiations to be a useless option for of our most pressing foreign policy problems:
Let’s be fair: To condemn the Axis of Evil speech is to condemn Bush for prescience. He didn’t create the Axis of Evil; rather, he voiced the problem. And if that shocked European diplomats, well too bad. If it’s a choice between national security and enabling European diplomats to remain secure in their illusions, I’d hope both Republicans and Democrats would favor the former.
Clinton administration attempts to engage the Taliban and the North Korean regime were folly. Any attempt to do likewise with Iran would be equally inane. Certain regimes cannot be appeased. Dialogue is no panacea.
When Rubin refers to "certain regimes" as ones with whom we cannot have any dialogue, he seems to mean most regimes which are hostile to the U.S. For instance, we know that Iran and North Korea can't be negotiated with. Saddam Hussein's Iraq could not be. Syria, with whom we refuse to have any dialogue at all, is on that list. So, in essence, there is no point in trying to negotiate with our enemies because to engage in diplomacy is simply to "appease" them.
After quoting from the Rubin post, Instapundit himself adds that "diplomats tend to overvalue dialogue," and he then cites to an interview
Diane Sawyer conducted yesterday with Donald Gregg, the Ambassador to South Korea under Bush 41, in which Gregg argued that it was a mistake for the Bush administration to refuse North Korea's repeated requests for direct negotiations. In response, Reynolds says that the Gregg interview "made me very grateful that he no longer has a hand in formulating U.S. policy." Thank God that someone who thinks we should negotiate is out of government. After all, refusing to negotiate with North Korea has worked so very well.
It is this "reasoning," as much as anything else, that has placed us in the weak and vulnerable position we are now in. Where a country like North Korea is engaged in conduct that we would like to stop, we have three options:
(1) wage war against them;
(2) engage in diplomacy and attempt to reach a negotiated solution; or
(3) do nothing.
If we remove option (2) from the list -- as Bush followers want to do in almost every case and as the administration repeatedly does -- it means that only options (1) and (3) remain. And where option (1) is not viable -- as is the case with the U.S. vis-a-vis North Korea (mostly because we already chose option (1) with two other countries and are threatening to do so with a third) -- then the only option left is (3) -- do nothing. That is exactly what we have done while North Korea became a nuclear-armed power, and we did nothing because we operated from Rubin's premise that diplomacy and negotiations are essentially worthless, which left us with no other options.
This toxic notion that hostile countries can't be negotiated with -- or that attempts to negotiate with them are thinly disguised gestures of weakness, appeasement and surrender -- seems to be grounded in the belief, one could almost say the neurosis, that every country is Nazi Germany
and every leader is Hitler and therefore are beyond reason. But none of the countries whom we are told can't be negotiated with has displayed that type of irrationality or self-destruction. To the contrary, Kim Jong Il -- like Saddam Hussein -- seems obsessed with self-preservation and with perpetuating the power of his regime. The same could be said for Syria's Bashar Assad, just like his father before him. And whatever else one wants to say about them, the Iranian mullahs seem to be among the most rational and calculating actors on the world stage.
They may be oppressive and tyrannical and even evil. But that doesn't mean they are irrational or beyond the realm of reason. What seems irrational is the refusal to negotiate with them, because we then have no good options. We can't wage endless war. In fact, we can't even successfully wage the current wars we are fighting given our limited resources. And even if we could, doing so doesn't seem to enable us to achieve our objectives (see e.g.
, Iraq and, more and more, Afghanistan).
Diplomacy and negotiations -- including with irrational and oppressive regimes -- have been the key to maintaining stability and peace since the end of World War I, at least. Ronald Reagan fought against
the same anti-diplomacy factions now in order to negotiate with the Soviet Union precisely because it was the only real option. Once you decide that negotiations are a worthless instrument, you're left with only two options -- endless war-making, or standing by and doing nothing in the face of growing dangers.
That is why that those are the two things we have had over the last five years. We stood by and did basically nothing while North Korea developed a nuclear capability because, having eliminated diplomacy as an option, that was literally the only possibility there was. That decision led directly to Sunday's nuclear test. Ponder the level of irrationality required for someone to believe that this was a good and smart approach that ought to be repeated -- not just with North Korea, but also with Iran and beyond.UPDATE
: Tim at Balloon Juice sees the connection
between the Bush administration's inflated sense of certainty in its own Rightness and its irrational, destructive refusal to negotiate with regimes they dislike.
Monday, October 09, 2006
At any moment, state inspectors can step uninvited into one of the three child care centers that Ethel White runs in Auburn, Ala., to make sure they meet state requirements intended to ensure that the children are safe. There must be continuing training for the staff. Her nurseries must have two sinks, one exclusively for food preparation. All cabinets must have safety locks. Medications for the children must be kept under lock and key, and refrigerated.
The Rev. Ray Fuson of the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, Ala., does not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center his church runs. Alabama exempts church day care programs from state licensing requirements, which were tightened after almost a dozen children died in licensed and unlicensed day care centers in the state in two years.
The differences do not end there. As an employer, Ms. White must comply with the civil rights laws; if employees feel mistreated, they can take the center to court. Religious organizations, including Pastor Fuson’s, are protected by the courts from almost all lawsuits filed by their ministers or other religious staff members, no matter how unfairly those employees think they have been treated.
And if you are curious about how Ms. White’s nonprofit center uses its public grants and donations, read the financial statements she is required to file each year with the Internal Revenue Service. There are no I.R.S. reports from Harvest Temple. Federal law does not require churches to file them.
Far more than an hourlong stretch of highway separates these two busy, cheerful day care centers. Ms. White’s center operates in the world occupied by most American organizations. As a religious ministry, Pastor Fuson’s center does not.
In recent years, many politicians and commentators have cited what they consider a nationwide “war on religion” that exposes religious organizations to hostility and discrimination. But such organizations — from mainline Presbyterian and Methodist churches to mosques to synagogues to Hindu temples — enjoy an abundance of exemptions from regulations and taxes. And the number is multiplying rapidly.
Some of the exceptions have existed for much of the nation’s history, originally devised for Christian churches but expanded to other faiths as the nation has become more religiously diverse. But many have been granted in just the last 15 years — sometimes added to legislation, anonymously and with little attention, much as are the widely criticized “earmarks” benefiting other special interests.
An analysis by The New York Times of laws passed since 1989 shows that more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation, covering topics ranging from pensions to immigration to land use. New breaks have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.
The special breaks amount to “a sort of religious affirmative action program,” said John Witte Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at the Emory University law school.
Professor Witte added: “Separation of church and state was certainly part of American law when many of today’s public opinion makers were in school. But separation of church and state is no longer the law of the land.”
The changes reflect, in part, the growing political influence of religious groups and the growing presence of conservatives in the courts and regulatory agencies. But these tax and regulatory breaks have been endorsed by politicians of both major political parties, by judges around the country, and at all levels of government.
“The religious community has a lot of pull, and senators are very deferential to this kind of legislation,” said Richard R. Hammar, the editor of Church Law & Tax Report and an accountant with law and divinity degrees from Harvard.
As a result of these special breaks, religious organizations of all faiths stand in a position that American businesses — and the thousands of nonprofit groups without that “religious” label — can only envy. And the new breaks come at a time when many religious organizations are expanding into activities — from day care centers to funeral homes, from ice cream parlors to fitness clubs, from bookstores to broadcasters — that compete with these same businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Religious organizations are exempt from many federal, state and local laws and regulations covering social services, including addiction treatment centers and child care, like those in Alabama.
Federal law gives religious congregations unique tools to challenge government restrictions on the way they use their land. Consequently, land-use restrictions that are a result of longstanding public demands for open space or historic preservation may be trumped by a religious ministry’s construction plans, as in a current dispute in Boulder County, Colo.
Exemptions in the civil rights laws protect religious employers from all legal complaints about faith-based preferences in hiring. The courts have shielded them from many complaints about other forms of discrimination, whether based on race, nationality, age, gender, medical condition or sexual orientation. And most religious organizations have been exempted from federal laws meant to protect pensions and to provide unemployment benefits.
Governments have been as generous with tax breaks as with regulatory exemptions. Congress has imposed limits on the I.R.S.’s ability to audit churches, synagogues and other religious congregations. And beyond the federal income tax exemption they share with all nonprofit groups, houses of worship have long been granted an exemption from local property taxes in every state.
As religious activities expand far beyond weekly worship, that venerable tax break is expanding, too. In recent years, a church-run fitness center with a tanning bed and video arcade in Minnesota, a biblical theme park in Florida, a ministry’s 1,800-acre training retreat and conference center in Michigan, religious broadcasters’ transmission towers in Washington State, and housing for teachers at church-run schools in Alaska have all been granted tax breaks by local officials — or, when they balked, by the courts or state legislators.
These organizations and their leaders still rely on public services — police and fire protection, street lights and storm drains, highway and bridge maintenance, food and drug inspections, national defense. But their tax exemptions shift the cost of providing those benefits onto other citizens. The total cost nationwide is not known, because no one keeps track.
When Values Collide
Few Americans dispute the value of protecting religious liberty. The framers of the Constitution opened the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights with language preserving religious freedom with two clear goals in mind, constitutional scholars agree.
First, they wanted to assure that everyone, even members of small and possibly unpopular sects, could practice their faith without fearing the kind of persecution that many had experienced in their home countries, where a dominant religion was allied with the state. Just as important, the framers wanted to prevent the government from ever being captive to a particular religion or set of beliefs at the expense of people of other faiths.
Over the last two centuries, many scholars say, this tradition of religious freedom and tolerance, a radical concept in the 18th century, has helped this country avoid the spasms of sectarian violence that have erupted in countries from Ireland to India and attracted immigrants bringing talents from across the world.
Some legal scholars and judges see the special breaks for religious groups as a way to prevent government from infringing on those religious freedoms.
“Never forget that the exercise of religion is a constitutionally protected activity,” said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Michigan who has written and testified in support of greater legislative protection for religious liberty. “Regulation imposes burdens on the free exercise of religion. Exemptions lift those burdens.” He added, “That is constitutionally a good thing.”
Precious as protecting religious freedom is, however, there are cases where these special breaks collide with other values important in this country — like extending the protections of government to all citizens and sharing the responsibilities of society fairly.
Religious organizations defend the exemptions as a way to recognize the benefits religious groups have provided — operating schools, orphanages, old-age homes and hospitals long before social welfare and education were widely seen as the responsibility of government.
But while ministries that run soup kitchens and homeless shelters benefit from these exemptions, secular nonprofits serving the same needy people often do not. And rather than just rewarding charitable works that benefit society, these breaks are equally available to religious organizations that provide no charitable services to anyone.
Similarly, religious nonprofit groups that run nationwide broadcasting networks, produce best-selling publications or showcase a charismatic leader’s books and speeches can take advantage of exemptions that are not available to secular nonprofit groups — not to mention for-profit companies — engaged in the same activities.
Any government oversight of religious groups must fit within the First Amendment’s command that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
For most of the past half-century, courts interpreted the first part of that clause as a barrier to government action that seemed to treat religious groups more favorably than secular ones, legal scholars said. But today, many lawyers agree, courts are taking a more accommodating view of government actions that benefit religious groups.
The willingness of the federal courts to accept these arrangements increased considerably under the influence of William H. Rehnquist when he was chief justice of the Supreme Court, said Derek H. Davis, until recently the director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Tex.
“Clearly, we’re going to be in this accommodative mode for some time,” added Mr. Davis, who sees Chief Justice Rehnquist’s successor, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. as likely to follow in Chief Justice Rehnquist’s footsteps on cases affecting religious groups.
The problem is, efforts to protect the free exercise of religion can clash with efforts to assure that religion is not favored by the government.
Besides regulatory exemptions and special tax breaks, some of which have been in place for decades, religious organizations have recently become eligible for an increasing stream of federal grants and contracts from state and federal governments. This policy shift began in 1996 under President Clinton, and has continued with greater force under President Bush. Known in the Bush administration as the Faith Based Initiative, it has drawn considerable attention in political, religious and academic circles.
But the broader tapestry of regulatory and tax exemptions for religious groups has gone largely unacknowledged. Indeed, some religious leaders and politicians — focusing not on these special accommodations but on issues like the display of religious icons on public land — argue that religious groups in America are targets of antagonism, not favoritism. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, in introducing a legislative agenda last July, said, “Radical courts have attempted to gut our religious freedom and redefine the value system on which America was built.”
In March, hundreds of people and a number of influential lawmakers attended a conference called “The War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006” in Washington and applauded the premise that religion was under attack.
Society “treats Christianity like a second-class superstition,” Tom DeLay, then a Republican representative from Texas, told the crowd. “Seen from that perspective, of course there is a war on religion.”
The argument that religious groups are victims of discrimination drew a sigh from Ms. White, the day care director in Alabama, where licensed day care centers are finding it harder to compete with unlicensed faith-based centers that do not have to comply with expensive licensing requirements.
James E. Long, a deputy attorney general for Alabama’s department of human resources, acknowledged that licensed day care operators have complained time and again that the exemption is unfair. “But I am unaware of any bill ever having been introduced” that would eliminate it, Mr. Long said. “That would be a very contentious issue. I’m sure the churches would want to be heard on that.”
Breaks for Social Services
On an early summer day at the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, a lively group of older children tossed soccer balls around a dim, cool gymnasium. In a smaller room to the side, staff members rocked sleeping infants and comforted cranky toddlers.
This bustling church-based center, next to the church sanctuary in a well-tended middle-class neighborhood, covers its costs and helps support the work of the church, the church pastor said.
“We have talked about getting licensed before in the past, but it would cost us quite a bit of money,” Pastor Fuson said. The staff would probably be large enough to meet state standards, he said, but the center would need costly renovations to upgrade the facilities.
Ms. White, whose licensed program, Auburn Daycare Centers, has become nationally accredited during her tenure, understands how demanding the state requirements are. Her centers in Auburn have to comply with them, down to the specific toys required for each age group.
As in many states, these regulations were a response to conditions that had put young lives at risk. In Alabama alone, almost a dozen children died in day care facilities in the two years before the state began upgrading its licensing requirements in 2000.
Ms. White said the root problem in Alabama is that there is not enough state aid for working families who need good day care. But given the state’s limited resources, she said, it seems unfair that subsidies are available to unlicensed centers as well as licensed ones — a view shared by the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama, which has lobbied for greater financing and universal licensing.
Some churches in Alabama have voluntarily obtained licenses. The Rev. Paul B. Koch Jr., of First Christian Church in Huntsville, whose day care center is licensed, thinks licensing for such programs is appropriate and raises the quality of care. “But the Christian Coalition is still strong in Alabama and this is an issue for them,” he said.
John W. Giles, president of the state’s Christian Coalition, confirmed that his organization supported the exemption, noting that state oversight would be intrusive and was unnecessary “because the pastors and congregations are your quality control.” Although most of the unlicensed centers are run by Protestant churches or ministries, the exemption covers all faiths, from an Islamic preschool program in Huntsville to a Catholic parish center in Tuscaloosa.
Eleven other states — including Utah, Maryland, Illinois and Florida — also have exempted religious child care programs from at least some of the rules that apply to other nonprofit programs, according to the National Child Care Information Center in Fairfax, Va.
One state that has dropped off that list is Texas.
In 1997, George Bush, who was the governor, pushed through legislation that exempted faith-based day care centers and addiction treatment programs from state licensing, allowing them to be monitored instead by private associations controlled by pastors, program directors and other private citizens. Other laws enacted on his watch steered more state financing to these “alternatively accredited” institutions.
Fewer than a dozen child care centers and about 130 addiction treatment programs took advantage of this new alternative, according to subsequent studies. But several of these later became the focus of state investigations into complaints of physical abuse. A study by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, a nonprofit research organization that opposed the faith-based initiatives, found that “the rate of confirmed cases of abuse and neglect at alternatively accredited facilities in Texas is more than 10 times that of state-licensed facilities.”
In spring 2001, the Texas Legislature quietly allowed the alternative accreditation program for day care centers to lapse.
Two leading First Amendment scholars, asked about faith-based day care licensing exemptions like these, said they were unfamiliar with the practice but thought it sounded legally dubious. “I think what you describe is unconstitutional,” said Ira C. Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University and the co-director of legal research for the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, an independent project of the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
Professor Witte, the director of Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, said in an e-mail response that he “would frankly be surprised to find even this Supreme Court going that far.”
However, when a group of licensed day care centers challenged the Alabama law in a federal court in mid-2001, arguing that it deprived them of their constitutional right to equal protection before the law, the group lost.
Judge Myron H. Thompson of United States District Court, who ruled on the case, said the state could have adopted the arrangement to avoid church-state entanglements or simply to accommodate the free exercise of religion. Indeed, he cited four other federal cases, all decided since 1988, that had upheld similar exemptions for day care centers in other states.
In Judge Thompson’s view, it is “well settled” constitutional law that “the possible economic inequalities that might result from religious exemptions such as day care licensing exemptions” are not a violation of anyone’s equal-protection rights.
Exemptions From Zoning Rules
“When you fly in to Denver at night, you can always pick out Boulder,” said Ben Pearlman, an athletic young lawyer who grew up there. “It’s the only one with big patches of darkness around it.”
As one of Boulder County’s three governing commissioners, the soft-spoken Mr. Pearlman talks about protecting the county’s spectacular beauty as if it were a sacred trust. In 1978, the county limited intensive development to already urbanized areas, buffered by large swaths of prairie and farmland. The landscape therefore now stands in stark contrast to the spreading carpet of subdivisions, office parks and malls in neighboring counties around Denver.
To Alan Ahlgrim, the mellow and mesmerizing preacher who founded Rocky Mountain Christian Church in eastern Boulder County in 1984, those encroaching subdivisions look like spiritual vineyards, full of families ready to be transformed by his church’s call for them to become “blessed to be a blessing” to others.
“The church has never grown fast enough to suit me,” Pastor Ahlgrim said with a grin that showed he was almost, but not quite, serious.
But the church, one of more than 200 in the county, did grow fast enough in the last 22 years — from about three dozen families in 1984 to more than 2,200 people today — to burst from its original building and five subsequent expansions approved by the county.
Today, its enthusiastic young congregation is once again bumping up against the walls of its 106,000-square-foot home, which sits on 55 acres in an agricultural buffer zone around the small town of Niwot. It is holding multiple services to handle the overflow congregation, but its Sunday school space is full, with some classes spilling out into hallways and temporary buildings set up in a parking lot.
Yet church members cringe at the notion of turning away newcomers. “Who do you say no to? Do you hang a ‘no vacancy’ sign out front?” asked Guy Scoma, a young father who visited the church as a lonely widower and stayed on when he met, then married, his wife, Kaarin.
The church wants to almost double the size of its facilities so it can accommodate up to 4,500 people. The church could then provide a new children’s wing, more rooms for adult classes and a gymnasium with room for two basketball courts or potluck suppers for 1,000. The new wings, linked to the existing building by spacious galleries, would be surrounded by more than 1,200 landscaped parking spaces, 60 percent more than today.
But the county’s land-use plan and zoning rules for the agricultural buffer zone where the church stands would limit any construction on the site to a single residential building. So the church cannot build without the approval of the Boulder County commissioners. And in February, after an emotional public hearing attended by more than a thousand people, Mr. Pearlman and his two fellow commissioners said no.
“People are always trying to develop their properties to the limits of the law and sometimes beyond,” Mr. Pearlman said. But the worst suburban sprawl is the consequence of “lots of little decisions that have this cumulative effect,” he continued. “We’re trying to resist this death by a thousand cuts, and preserve the land where we can.”
Like the leaders of large, fast-growing churches across the country confronting zoning restrictions on their expansion plans, Pastor Ahlgrim is unhappy. The decision “is severely restrictive to our mission,” he said. Like worshiping, teaching and gathering for fellowship, the practice of sharing with the community — in this case, allowing certain outside groups to use the church when it’s available — is “vital to our mission,” he continued. “When one of your core values is generosity and you are restricted from sharing what you want to share — what God has provided — we consider that to be a severe limitation.”
The church had no choice but to go to court, he said.
The church has sued the county under a federal land-use law enacted by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton in 2000 to protect religious organizations from capricious or discriminatory zoning restrictions by local governments. The unusual law came after a decade-long bipartisan tug-of-war between Congress and the Supreme Court.
Before 1990, the court had generally held that any government restriction on religion must serve a compelling public interest in the least burdensome way — a standard known as the “strict scrutiny” test. But in one Oregon case dealing with two Native Americans’ sacramental use of peyote, an illegal drug, the majority concluded that there was nothing unconstitutional about states expecting citizens to comply with valid, neutral and generally applicable laws — like those criminalizing peyote — even if compliance conflicted with religious beliefs.
This “Smith decision,” Employment Division v. Smith, provoked a fierce reaction that has energized the drive for more legislative protections for religion ever since. In 1993, under pressure from a broad coalition whose members ranged from the Anti-Defamation League to the Southern Baptist Convention to the American Humanist Association, Congress adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which restored the “strict scrutiny” test to any federal, state or local government action affecting religious practice. A new tool had been added to the First Amendment emergency kit, although no one was quite sure how to use it.
Then the Supreme Court tugged back. In 1997, it ruled that the religious freedom act could not be applied constitutionally to the states. In reaction, 13 states have subsequently adopted similar measures of their own. But Congress thought the decision left room for it to address zoning restrictions and, separately, religious restrictions imposed on prisoners.
In 2000 Congress adopted and Mr. Clinton signed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which restored the “strict scrutiny” test to local zoning decisions, making it easier for churches to challenge those decisions in court. The act also made it easier for prisoners to challenge restrictions on their religious practices.
The provisions that apply to prisoners have been upheld, but the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the land-use provisions that Rocky Mountain Christian Church is invoking in its lawsuit against Boulder County. One of the church’s allies in the fight is the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which is defending the law’s constitutionality in cases around the country.
Defenders of the law say that some cases invoking its protections have addressed actions by local governments that seem to reflect blatant religious bias. For example, Rabbi Joseph Konikov of Orlando, Fla., successfully sued his local government under the law in 2002 after county officials repeatedly cited and fined him for holding small worship services in his suburban home, in violation of a zoning provision later found to be an unconstitutional burden on religious freedom.
“It was like Communist Russia,” said Rabbi Konikov, who said his grandfather had fled the Soviet Union to escape religious oppression. He has continued to hold services in his home. “It was very satisfying to see that, at the end, our Constitution and our American values and freedoms came through for us.”
Other zoning challenges, all invoking the 2000 law, have been filed by a Sikh society that wants to build a temple in a low-density residential area of Yuba City, Calif.; a Hindu congregation seeking permission to expand its temple and cultural center on a busy highway in Bridgewater, N.J.; and a Muslim organization that has been trying for years to build a mosque on land that the local government in Wayne Township, N.J., now wants to buy for open space.
Seeking a Protective Balance
Critics of the 2000 law argue that the First Amendment itself has long prohibited religious discrimination in zoning, and that such zoning decisions could have been challenged just as successfully in the courts if the law had never been passed.
When Congress considered the law, “what was actually being discussed was ‘How do we make sure churches don’t get discriminated against,’ ” said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and the author of “God vs. The Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law” (Cambridge University Press, 2005), which calls for closer scrutiny of some religious exemptions, especially those affecting land use and family law.
“Unfortunately, the answer was to give such an expansive remedy that not only are they not getting discriminated against, but they are now capable of discriminating against all other landowners,” added Professor Hamilton, who is advising Boulder County in its case.
The financial stakes in the Boulder lawsuit are large.
Under the 2000 law, if the county loses, it will have to pay not only its own legal bills but also those of the church. If the church loses, it will sacrifice the money it has spent on legal, architectural and public relations fees, but it will not be required to pay the county’s legal bills. And unlike the county, it could seek free legal help from various religious advocacy groups, although it has not yet done so.
While a county victory might provide other local governments with a template for defending against similar challenges, some lawyers fear that if Boulder County, with its long history of careful land-use planning and its environmentally demanding voters, cannot successfully argue that preserving open space is a “compelling public interest,” few local governments could.
“Religious institutions have realized that land-use authorities are vulnerable to the threat of litigation,” David Evan Hughes, the deputy county attorney, asserted in the county’s court filings. Without greater clarity from the courts, he continued, the new law’s reach “will expand to the point where religious institutions are effectively dictating their own land-use regulations.”
Like most Boulder County residents, several church members said they cherish the open space preserved by the county’s past land-use decisions. But they think the county was wrong to reject the church’s proposal.
Lanny Pinchuk, a church member who formerly served on the county planning board, praised all that the county has done to preserve the environment. “But you can’t keep people from coming to the religious institution of their choice,” he said. “I feel that is just, well, un-American.”
Church leaders and members said their current proposal was the “forever plan,” the last expansion the church would make on this site.
But they all struggled to explain why it is an unconstitutional burden for them to have to turn away newcomers now when, if they continue to grow, they will inevitably have to turn away people when their “forever” building is full.
“At some point, we’re going to have to say we can’t accommodate any more; I mean, we’re not going to have a 100-story building over there,” said Gerry Witt, a founding church member who has recently put his house on the market so he and his wife, Carole, can move to a less developed area on the western slope of the Rockies.
“So is there any limit?” He thought a moment, then answered his question. “Yes,” he said. “There’s God’s limit. When he says, ‘You’re at your limit,’ that’s when we will stop.”