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:: 8.5.2003 ::


The Scope has moved. You can find it at it's new home, with a new look and some new features.
:: Incadenza 12:34 PM [link] ::
:: 7.24.2003 ::
Keep religion out of it

By now, I thought that I couldn't be shocked by anything in politics. I was proven wrong this morning. From an article in today's New York Times:

A scheduled vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee today on one of President Bush's most conservative judicial nominees turned into an extraordinary debate over whether Democrats were blocking Catholics from being named to the federal bench or whether such an accusation was a politically motivated slur.
Mr. Pryor, the subject of the debate, is a staunch conservative who has urged a greater role for Christianity in American public life and has issued especially blunt denunciations of the Supreme Court for its rulings upholding the right to abortion. When Mr. Pryor appeared before the committee on June 11, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman, asked him to acknowledge that his beliefs stemmed from his strict Catholicism.

Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and Mr. Pryor's principal supporter, called him "this solid Catholic individual" and said that his opposition to abortion, for example, in cases of rape and incest, was good Catholic doctrine. Therefore, he said, if someone is opposed for holding that position, "Are we not saying that good Catholics need not apply?"

Mr. Hatch offered a similar analysis, saying that he was concerned that the Democrats were trying to enforce a policy in which "traditional pro-life Catholics cannot serve on the federal bench."

Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, accused the Republicans of "waving the bloody shirt that this committee is unfair to Catholics." He said that as a Catholic, he did not agree that there was only one proper stand on abortion. He sarcastically thanked Mr. Sessions, a Methodist, and Mr. Hatch, a Mormon, for explaining Catholic doctrine to him.

I was thinking that Pryor, since he's such a "good Catholic," must oppose the death penalty based on his religion and would surely block executions if given the chance. Although it's unrelated to the duties of a judge, he must have also been against the war in Iraq.

The Washington Times, believe it or not, gave voice to a Democrat sharing my incredulity (although the article played the argument as a disagreement that just arose, not giving credit to Hatch and Sessions for bringing religion into the debate):

"Let me tell you, the doctrine that abortion is not justified for rape and incest is Catholic doctrine," Mr. Sessions said. "It's the position of the pope, and it's the position of the Catholic Church.

"Are we saying that if you believe in that principle, you can't be a federal judge?" Mr. Sessions said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and a pro-choice Catholic, responded, "As a person who was raised Catholic and is a practicing Catholic, I deeply resent this new line of attack from the right wing that anyone who opposes William Pryor is guilty of discrimination against him because he is a Catholic."

"There are many Catholics who see this nomination much differently than those who support Mr. Pryor," he said. "Many Catholics who oppose abortion personally do not believe the laws of the land should prohibit abortion for all others in extreme cases involving rape, incest and the life and health of the mother."

Mr. Durbin also told Mr. Sessions that Mr. Pryor's faithful adherence to Catholic doctrine is questionable.

"The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty," Mr. Durbin said. "Pryor is in favor of it. I'm not going to ask Senator Sessions to make a judgment as a Methodist whether that makes him a good Catholic or not."

I trust that the Republicans would not reject a judicial candidate with strong environmental beliefs, because that stems from being a Wicca. And surely they would not reject a Satanist, because that's a religion too.

I'm tired of people with political/religious agendas smearing any political disagreement as an act of religious intolerance. The levels that religion has in our politics is unfathomable to anyone from another advanced democracy. The US has one of the highest church attendance totals in any country. Although the separation of church and state is written in our Constitution, it's obvious to anyone without religion for whatever reason (athiest, agnostic, apathetic...yes, some people would rather spend their time and energy in other ways and don't really care if god exists, and they lead normal lives just like anyone else) that America is a Christian country. Disagree? Can anyone honestly believe that an openly atheistic person can be elected president?

Joe Lieberman proves that you no longer have to be Christian to be accepted politically, just as long as you have some faith. I find this to be the case mostly everywhere, even in liberal circles. People are tolerant of differences in faith but are uncomfortable with a rejection of faith.

I hope the Bright movement takes off. Read an essay about what being a Bright means and why it's important if you have no idea what I'm talking about.
:: Incadenza 10:11 AM [link] ::
:: 7.22.2003 ::
Brain...not...working!...Conservative knee jerk reactions...leading to...opposite...conclusions! Help me, Town Hall!

I can't wait to how the right will handle this, if they talk about it at all:

Officials See Threat in Newspaper Cartoon

By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Secret Service is studying a pro-Bush cartoon in the Los Angeles Times, showing the president with a gun to his head, as a possible threat, U.S. officials said on Monday.

Cartoonist Michael Ramirez said the drawing, which ran in Sunday's paper, was only meant to call attention to the unjust "political assassination" of Bush over his Iraq policy.

The cartoon, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from the Vietnam War, depicts Bush with his hands behind his back as a man labeled "Politics" prepares to shoot him in the head. The background of the drawing is a cityscape labeled "Iraq."

"We're aware of the image and we're in the process of determining what action if any can be taken," John Gill, Secret Service spokesman, said.

An official who asked not to be named said: "The Secret Service does take threats against all of their protectees very seriously and they have an obligation to look into any threat that's made against any of their protectees." The official did not elaborate.

The 1968 photograph on which the cartoon is based showed the instant before South Vietnam's national police commander pulled the trigger in a summary execution of a Vietcong prisoner on the streets of Saigon.

For those who don't read the LA Times (and I can't understand why anyone wouldn't choose to do so, what with all of the ads in the print edition and the ridiculously intrusive web registration), Michael Ramirez is the Times' editorial cartoonist, having taken over from the legendary Paul Conrad. Ramirez is a gifted artist, like Conrad, and is strongly conservative, the opposite of Conrad.

I more than welcome conservative viewpoints on opinion pages. But Ramirez's cartoons usually make me nauseous. I can handle the viewpoint, it's his hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer symbolism that turns me off. For example, during the Dems' fillibuster of Estrada, he drew a cartoon with a figure labelled "Democrats" and resembling George Wallace blocking Miguel Estrada from entering the doors to a courthouse.

The cartoon in question was another example of roll-your-eyes overstatement. Here, Ramirez is saying that Bush is being assassinated by the political process. The cartoon is a reference to the famous photo from Vietnam, as mentioned in the Reuters clip. At first I was amazed by Ramirez's rhetorical overkill, but then I started to wonder about the underlying meaning. It seems an odd picture to choose to base a pro-Bush cartoon on, if you know anything about the photo. It's a brutal look at a South Vietnamese police commander ('our guy') killing a Vietcong prisoner in an extra-judicial execution. That photo, along with the more famous photo of the naked girl on the road being burned by napalm, is well known as part of the media imagery seen by the American public that led to a drop in support for the war in Southeast Asia. Ramirez seems to have chosen the photo without any thought to its historical context or subtext.

Additionally, he drew a connection between America in Iraq and America in Vietnam, something I wouldn't expect a conservative to do voluntarily. Anytime a voice from the antiwar side raised the prospect of a quagmire in Iraq, conservatives dismissed the comparison immediately.

Finally, and the most obvious objection to everyone else besides knee-jerk Bush defenders, is it political assassination to question the steps that led our president to talk the majority of Americans into going to war? What would Ramirez have thought if a cartoon appeared during 1998/1999 with Clinton in Bush's position in his cartoon? Again, that thought is probably beyond the pale for some but is obviously raised by the cartoon. I think the spin, contradictory statements, and parsing of what makes a truthful statement (the British think it is true, that is what we cited, therefore the president did not lie) coming from the administration can be damaging enough when accurately reported without any need to try to politically assassinate Bush.

All that said, I find it outrageous that the Secret Service is going after Ramirez. Add this to the long list of people being questioned or confronted for personal statements or actions that in no way resemble crimes but are suspicious in our Orwellian culture of suspicion and fear. A cartoon symbolizing the execution of the president can raise eyebrows, especially if reading an article criticizing Fox News can get the FBI knocking on your door:

You Marc Schultz?" asks the tall one. He shows me his badge, introduces himself as Special Agent Clay Trippi. After assuring me that I'm not in trouble, he asks if there is someplace we can sit down and talk. We head back to Reference, where a table and chairs are set up. We sit down, and I'm again informed that I am not in trouble.

Then, Agent Trippi asks, "Do you drive a black Nissan Altima?" And I realize this meeting is not about a friend. Despite their reassurances, and despite the fact that I haven't committed any federal offenses (that I know of), I'm starting to feel a bit like I'm in trouble.
Then they ask if I carried anything into the shop -- and we're back to me.

My mind races. I think: a bomb? A knife? A balloon filled with narcotics? But no. I don't own any of those things. "Sunglasses," I say. "Maybe my cell phone?"

Not the right answer. I'm nervous now, wondering how I must look: average, mid-20s, unassuming retail employee. What could I have possibly been carrying?

Trippi's partner speaks up: "Any reading material? Papers?" I don't think so. Then Trippi decides to level with me: "I'll tell you what, Marc. Someone in the shop that day saw you reading something, and thought it looked suspicious enough to call us about. So that's why we're here, just checking it out. Like I said, there's no problem. We'd just like to get to the bottom of this. Now if we can't, then you may have a problem. And you don't want that."

You don't want that? Have I just been threatened by the FBI? Confusion and a light dusting of panic conspire to keep me speechless. Was I reading something that morning? Something that would constitute a problem?

The partner speaks up again: "Maybe a printout of some kind?"

Then it occurs to me: I was reading. It was an article my dad had printed off the Web. I remember carrying it into Caribou with me, reading it in line, and then while stirring cream into my coffee. I remember bringing it with me to the store, finishing it before we opened. I can't remember what the article was about, but I'm sure it was some kind of left-wing editorial, the kind that never fails to incite me to anger and despair over the state of the country.
Back in the store, Trippi gives me his card and tells me to call him if I remember anything. After he's gone, I call my dad back to see if he has calmed down, maybe come up with a name. We retrace some steps together, figure out the article was Hal Crowther's "Weapons of Mass Stupidity" from the Weekly Planet, a free independent out of Tampa. It comes back to me then, this scathing screed focusing on the way corporate interests have poisoned the country's media, focusing mostly on Fox News and Rupert Murdoch -- really infuriating, deadly accurate stuff about American journalism post-9-11. So I call the number on the card, leave a message with the name, author and origin of the column, and ask him to call me if he has any more questions.

To tell the truth, I'm kind of anxious to hear back from the FBI, if only for the chance to ask why anyone would find media criticism suspicious, or if maybe the sight of a dark, bearded man reading in public is itself enough to strike fear in the heart of a patriotic citizen.

My co-worker, Craig, says that we should probably be thankful the FBI takes these things seriously; I say it seems like a dark day when an American citizen regards reading as a threat, and downright pitch-black when the federal government agrees.

Let's hope that the Secret Service's interest in Ramirez will raise conservative's eyebrows and bring the creeping surveillance to their attention. After all, conservatives are opposed to government presence in our lives, right?
:: Incadenza 9:50 AM [link] ::
:: 7.20.2003 ::
Say goodbye to another environmental treaty

In Montreal earlier this month, the Bush administration demanded exemptions for use of the chemical methyl bromide, which was scheduled to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol. The story appeared in today's Independent:

Under an extension to the Montreal Protocol, agreed in 1997, the pesticide is being gradually phased out and replaced with substitutes; its use in the West is due to end completely in 2005. Nations are legally allowed to extend the use of small amounts in "critical" applications, but the US is demanding exemptions far beyond those permitted, for uses ranging from growing strawberries to tending golf courses.

It is also pressing to exploit a loophole in the treaty - allowing the use of the chemical to treat wood packaging - so that, instead of being phased out, its use would increase threefold.

The demands now go to an international conference in Nairobi this autumn. Experts fear that, if agreed, the treaty will begin to fall apart, not least because developing countries - which are following rich nations in phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals - could cease their efforts.

."The US is reneging on the agreement, and working very, very hard to get other countries to agree," said David Doniger, a former senior US government official dealing with ozone issues, who now works for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If it succeeds, it threatens to unravel the whole fabric of the treaty."

Dr Joe Farman, the Cambridge scientist who discovered the Antarctic ozone hole, added: "This is madness. We do not need this chemical. We do need the ozone layer. How stupid can people be?"

After reading the article, I was interested in learning more about methyl bromide and decided to go a Google search on the topic.

The first result is an USDA page. Interestingly, the page is non-existent (at least for this morning). Thank god for Google's cache of the page. Looking at that, I found out that the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA is studying alternatives to the use of methyl bromide, the chemical that the Bush administration thinks farmers cannot do without (although it must be said that Clinton's 1999 budget pushed back the phaseout of the pesticide to the same timeline used by developing countries).

Doing some further digging in Lexis-Nexis (the perks of a university internet connection--getting subscription research serves), it seems that the administration has been getting support from Joe Barton (R-Texas), the House Energy and Commerce Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman. According to the June 4 issue of Agriculture/Climate Change, Barton

will consider a legislative fix to aid the U.S. agriculture industry if the Bush administration is unsuccessful during international negotiations this fall aimed at gaining a series of exemptions from the 2005 ban on methyl bromide, a widely used pesticide that scientists say is contributing significantly to the destruction of the earth's stratospheric ozone layer.

Barton, answering to a chorus of agricultural interests' concerns, told three top administration officials that he will
be closely following the progress of the United Nations-sponsored Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, scheduled to run Nov. 10-14 in Nairobi, Kenya. There, U.S. officials will be asking an international tribunal of 183 signatory nations to approve its pre-submitted list of critical use exemption requests, which would benefit the tomato, eggplant, forest tree seedling nursery, ginger and turfgrass industries, among others.

And it seems that at least one Democrat is willing to go along for the ride:

Barton did not provide specific details of how he would move legislatively to help the agriculture industry, except to note that Congress has addressed similar issues before through the appropriations process. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), the
subcommittee's ranking member, said in a brief interview that he'd be willing to help out the agriculture interests as long as
it is within Congress' power and it did not sidestep an international accord already approved by the United States. "Whatever we do should be done in a matter consistent with the treaty," he said.

In early June, California farm groups released a letter calling for longer use of the chemical, supported by Darrell Issa. Hey, isn't he busy orchestrating a recall?

At the end of June, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson (no joke) held a two-day workshop with federal officials on behalf of Florida farmers supporting methyl bromide.

All of this comes after a study published in the May 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers in the Agricultural Health Study studied the causes of cancer among agricultural workers using pesticide. Here's what the press release said:

The latest report from the AHS evaluated the role of 45 pesticides and found that only a few of them showed evidence of a possible association with prostate cancer among pesticide applicators. Methyl bromide was linked to the risk of prostate cancer in the entire group, while exposure to six other pesticides was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer only among men with a family history of the disease...

The current study included 55,332 men who are classified as either "private pesticide applicators" (92 percent) or "commercial pesticide applicators" (8 percent). Private applicators are farmers or nursery-workers. Commercial applicators work for pest control companies or for businesses such as warehouses or grain mills that use pesticides regularly. Between 1993 and 1999, 566 new prostate cancers developed among all applicators, compared to 495 that were predicted from the incidence rates in the two states. This means that the risk of developing prostate cancer was 14 percent greater for the pesticide applicators compared to the general population. The men in this study were followed for about 4.3 years.

Now I'm really interested. I do some more searching on methyl bromide, and find some very informative pages at CorpWatch. They have a special section on the Bromide Barons. One of the major producers of methyl bromide is Great Lakes Chemical, who used to be in the business of producing tetraethyl lead, which put the lead in leaded gasoline. Since tetraethyl (which accounted for half of Great Lake's profits as recently as 1995) is not good for engines, ethylene dibromide gets added. When that is burned, methyl bromide is produces. When leaded gasoline was phased out domestically, Great Lakes turned to pesticide production.

Completing the picture, groups making methyl bromide like to get together and retain the same political lobbyists. Spending was down in 2000, but check out the amounts given to Sparber & Associates in 1998. Great Lakes, the Bromine Science and Educational Forum, and the Methyl Bromide Working Group combined to give $220,000 to Sparber & Assoc. in 1998.

With support from congressmen and state officials, it looks like it's time to prepare another funeral for a environmental agreement while our president further isolates us from the rest of the world.
:: Incadenza 9:04 AM [link] ::
:: 7.17.2003 ::
Deja vu?

Anyone that's been reading Tom Englehardt's daily dispatches recently has been aware of the mounting examples used to describe the Iraq war that sound similar to those used in Vietnam.

Today's NY Times brings us another, from the mouth of Gen. John Abizaid and through the pen of Thom Shanker in his article:

The commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, pledged that the United States and its allies would not be driven from Iraq by the guerrilla attacks, which today killed one American soldier and wounded at least six others around Baghdad. But he cautioned that pacifying Iraq might require fresh American troops to spend yearlong tours there, double the normal duration of Army forces on peacekeeping duty.

The guerrilla war parallel should be obvious to anyone by now, but it was interesting to see a military official pledge that the forces would "not be driven" from the country.

The striking parallel, for me, was the proposed yearlong tour. All we need now is returning soldiers to talk about being "in country." That would actually require soldiers to return home, though.

Expect a large group of soldiers to come back to the US to be reunited with their families sometime around mid- to late-October 2004, by the way.
:: Incadenza 9:52 AM [link] ::
:: 7.1.2003 ::
Slow posting

Updates will probably be infrequent for the next couple of weeks. I just moved last weekend, so I'm still unpacking. I'm also getting over losing my cat, Wesley. He escaped from the new apartment the night before my girlfriend and I were moving in, after we left him to get acquainted. But I've heard stories of cats returning after four or five days away from home, so hopefully he'll find his way back.
:: Incadenza 4:59 PM [link] ::
:: 6.26.2003 ::
Independent article on detention and torture

There's an important article on detention and the war on terror in today's Independent. It raises an issue that always was in the back of my mind when the Washington Post article came out on the CIA interrogations and torture of prisoners, but wasn't prominently raised:

What is perhaps most disturbing about all this is that the US officials who have leaked the information have not done so out of a need to expose something that they see as shameful. On the contrary, they have made it clear that they wanted the world to know what is going on because they feel it is justified.
No fewer than 10 serving US national- security officials - including several people who have been witnesses to the handling of prisoners - came forward to speak to The Washington Post, which has published the most graphic account of what is going on in Bagram, and in several other unnamed US interrogation centres across the world. "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, one told the paper, "you probably aren't doing your job". He and the others involved are, in effect, saying: we are doing these things because we have to, and we want the world to know.

:: Incadenza 12:00 PM [link] ::

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