Friday, September 23, 2005

Response to Bush's UN Address

Better late than never, MADRE recently deciphered the UN speech Bush made on September 14th. It is a much needed reality check on how the president has lived up to his words, point by point.

"Either hope will spread, or violence will spread—and we must take the side of hope."

As the world's biggest arms exporter, the US has clearly taken the side of violence. On Bush's watch, US arms sales have outpaced the second-largest arms dealer (Russia) two-to-one. More than half of these weapons went to governments known for human rights abuses against civilians, such as Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Colombia. 1

"The terrorists must know that wherever they go, they cannot escape justice."

Oh no? While the Bush Administration has been busy killing civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, al Qaeda has regrouped to become a more diffuse network of local units able to strike with greater frequency in multiple countries. Osama bin Laden, meanwhile, cannot be found because—as Bush famously explained—"he is hiding."2

"The Security Council has an opportunity to put the terrorists on notice when it votes on a resolution that condemns the incitement of terrorist acts."

The resolution, which was passed after Bush's speech, bans incitement without defining the term. It thereby gives governments a powerful instrument to silence political opponents, shut down organizations critical of their policies, and quash peaceful dissent.

"We must send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsor terror and pursue weapons of mass murder: you will not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world."

Apparently that prerogative is reserved for the Pentagon, which just last week updated plans for using nuclear weapons preemptively.3 In a move that the UN Secretary General labeled "a disgrace," Bush's UN Ambassador, John Bolton, blocked a call for nuclear disarmament from the Summit's outcome document.

"Confronting our enemies is essential, and so civilized nations will continue to take the fight to the terrorists."

More bad news for the people who happen to live in the battle zone. While Bush was making this callous remark, 150 Iraqi civilians were killed in the worst single day of attacks since the 2003 US invasion.

"We are committed to the Millennium Development Goals."

This must have been news to Bolton, who tried to delete every mention of the goals from the Summit's outcome document.

"I call on all the world's nations to implement the Monterrey Consensus."

The Monterrey Consensus (named for a 2002 economic summit in Mexico) includes a commitment by rich countries to spend 0.7 percent of their national income (less than three-quarters of a percent) on development—something that the US has fought tooth and nail against and still refuses to do. In fact, the US—the word's richest country—spends less than a quarter of one percent on development (0.18 percent). Bush is much more enthusiastic about the other provisions of the Monterrey Consensus: poor countries implementing political and economic reforms demanded by wealthy countries in exchange for aid and debt relief.

"Tying aid to reform is essential to eliminating poverty."

Actually, untying aid from "reforms" imposed by donor countries would go a lot farther. These "reforms" center on policies such as privatization, trade liberalization, and debt servicing, which have worsened poverty in poor countries, and resulted in a net flow of about $200 billion a year from poor to rich countries (compared to about $50 billion a year that poor countries receive in aid).4 And while ending government corruption (to which Bush was ostensibly referring) is crucial, it is the citizens of poor countries, not rich foreign governments, who should have the power to demand accountability from their leaders.

"At the G8 Summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, we set a clear goal: an AIDS-free generation in Africa. And I challenge every member of the United Nations to take concrete steps to achieve that goal."

Some of Bush's "concrete steps":

  • Bush demanded that African governments spend US funding exclusively on drugs patented by US companies, instead of generics (the patented drugs cost about $15,000 a year per patient compared to $350 a year for generics).5
  • Bush's UN Ambassador refused to allow the World Summit to "encourage pharmaceutical companies to make anti-retroviral drugs affordable and accessible in Africa."
  • Bush insists on prevention programs that promote abstinence over proven "safer sex" approaches, put stringent restrictions on condom use, and demand that groups receiving funds formally oppose abortion and prostitution.
  • Bush promised in 2003 to spend $15 billion to fight AIDS, but took most of this money from existing programs, including child vaccination initiatives—a move that The New York Times described as "forcing the babies of Africa to pay for their parents' AIDS drugs."6

"We've pledged to increase our funding for malaria treatment and prevention by more than $1.2 billion over the next five years."

Another lie. Only about nine percent of this is new money; the rest was slated to be spent anyway.7 Malaria is the number one killer of African children, yet Bush is undermining international cooperation in the fight against malaria (and AIDS) by refusing to adequately fund the UN Global Fund to Fight AIIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

"We agreed to cancel 100 percent of the debt for the world's most heavily indebted nations."

This is a frequently repeated distortion of the agreement reached by the G8 countries (the world's richest countries) in July 2005. Debt cancellation was offered to only a limited number of countries (18 of the 62 that need it in order to achieve the minimum standards of the MDGs).8 In dollar terms, the deal is worth only about $1.5 billion a year (or about 6 percent) of the $25 billion that Africa needs to achieve the MDGs.9 And it comes with a catch: to qualify, countries must "boost private sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign." These conditions are designed to bring the G8 countries more money than they write off.

"And when Iraqis complete their journey, their success will inspire others to claim their freedom, the Middle East will grow in peace and hope and liberty, and all of us will live in a safer world."

This delusion has already cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 2,000 US soldiers and pushed Iraq to the brink of becoming an Islamic state. In fact, the example of Iraq's "journey" has undermined democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond by instilling fear that "regime change" could result in foreign military occupation, mass killings, and civil war.

Nightmare Exodus From Rita

Evacuation? What Evacuation? I like walking my car!As yet another example of government ineptitude, nearly 2 million people were urged to evacuate from the coast of Texas and Louisiana at once. Hasn't anyone over there heard of a staggered evacuation? Clearly, even after hurricane Katrina, there has been little attempt at planning this evacuation, much less local and state coordination. The result is entirely predictable and a miserable failure:

Highways leading inland out of Houston, a metropolitan area of 4 million people about an hour's drive from the shore, were clogged for up to 100 miles north of the city.

Drivers ran out of gas in 14-hour traffic jams or looked in vain for a place to stay as hotels filled up all the way to the Oklahoma and Arkansas line. Others got tired of waiting in traffic and turned around and went home.

Service stations reported running out of gasoline, and police officers along the highways carried gas to motorists whose tanks were empty. Texas authorities asked the Pentagon for help in getting gasoline to drivers stuck in traffic.

The traffic jam extended well into Louisiana, with I-10 jammed from Lake Charles through Baton Rouge. State police said the biggest backups were at exits, where cars stacked up in long lines of motorists trying to get gasoline.
The response to this situation has been swift by our elected officials. Well, at least the finger-pointing has swiftly begun:
"If the hurricane comes in at a certain angle," said Houston Mayor Bill White, "being on the highway is a death trap."

Brazoria County Judge John Willy complained that Houston and Harris County jumped the gun, encouraging evacuation before people on the coast could get past the big city.

"Everybody did a fabulous job down here until Houston-Harris County forgot that there was a plan, and they clogged up the freeways and byways where there's still traffic sitting and waiting," Willy said.

But both White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said late Thursday that they never called for a complete evacuation of Houston or Harris County.
It seems painfully clear that local, state and the federal government are - exposed by Katrina and now Rita - completely inadequate, unprepared, and wholly oblivious to their constituents. This should prove that both Democrats and Republican leadership have failed, governors have forgotten how to govern, government agencies and branches are ineffectual and uncoordinated, and resources needed by authorities are drastically under-funded.

Something needs to change. Voters should stop voting for "values" and begin voting for progress and ultimately reform. The citizens of this country need to wake up and take control of their government rather than continue the status quo of complacent consumerism and indifference.

If any good comes out of these disasters, perhaps it will come in the form of greater participation and voters. The way this country does business must change or it is doomed to repeat these failures. And as constituents continue indiscriminately feeding the corporate politics, the government will only increase in isolation from its citizens.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bolton's UN Blunder

The recent United Nations World Summit last week in New York went largely unreported in the wake of Katrina and the John Roberts hearings. The Bush Administration's agenda to reform and update UN institutions, and come to a world-accepted definition of "terrorism" were certainly laudable goals that had largely been ironed out before the summit. Egypt and Pakistan were even buckling under world pressure to yield to key US priorities.

Then, enter John Bolton, a "kiss up and kick down" UN Ambassador:
Within weeks of his appointment and less than a month before the Summit, Ambassador Bolton proposed hundreds of amendments to the draft document, throwing negotiations into turmoil. He outraged developing nations by attempting to remove any mention of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and by conducting an all-out assault on a provision reaffirming rich countries'commitment to allocate 0.7 percent of their national incomes to help poor countries lift themselves out of poverty. In the past, the administration had supported both provisions - —on numerous occasions, in fact.

In the larger scheme of things, the MDGs and 0.7 percent of GDP issues were neither inimical to U.S. interests nor contrary to existing policy. By fighting relatively harmless - —and largely aspirational - —provisions that the administration had previously endorsed, Bolton helped bring to a screeching halt growing momentum for real changes at the United Nations.

This is exactly why many in Washington feared a Bolton ambassadorship: his overly simplistic approach to diplomacy does not produce results. In splitting hairs over development, among other things, Bolton took his eye off the ball - and the United States lost on the issues that mattered most.
Thank you, Bolton! It seems UN reform in Bush terminology refers more to a method of US supremacy rather than results. The only reforms this idiot cfacilitateitate are by his own resignation. Perhaps the recent FEMA-Mike Brown fiasco will lead the Administration to reconsider seriously Bush's other appointments.

Loyalty after all is not the only prerequisite to a government post. Or at least, outside of Bush Country it isn't.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Sheehan Anti-War Rally Cut Short

Yesterday, New York City officers ended Cindy Sheehan's speech in Union Square, arresting the rally organizer and infuriating supporters:
The claps and cheers that had greeted Ms. Sheehan's arrival at the rally in Union Square quickly turned to furious chants of "Let her speak!" as officers ushered away the organizer, Paul Zulkowitz, who the police said lacked audio permits for the event.

Angry activists followed officers as they led Mr. Zulkowitz away, waving their fists and shouting, "Shame, shame, shame." Ms. Sheehan, who was visiting New York on the last leg of a bus tour across the country, was nearing the end of her speech when the police officers arrested Mr. Zulkowitz. She was whisked to a car by two supporters just before the police officers seized the microphone. Mr. Zulkowitz was arrested because he did not have a permit, said the commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, Inspector Michael J. McEnroy.

Detective Kevin Czartoryski said Mr. Zulkowitz was charged with unauthorized use of a sound device and disorderly conduct, and was released after being given a court summons.Detective Czartoryski said the police had taken the "appropriate action" in response to a lawbreaker.
This just does not make sense. If war advocates really want to bolster their cause, then letting Sheehan speak could do less damage than silencing her. I think the momentun is already there, but direct confrontation will only accelerate the anti-war movement.

Monday, September 19, 2005

North Korean Nuclear Agreement

Alright, it's only an agreement, but this historic joint statement deserves some jubilation:
The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards.

The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.
There is little doubt that this agreement is what DPRK Dictator Kim Jong Il wanted from the very beginning. Perhaps, even the Bush Administration will be happy about this as well. Their conquest interests lie more towards the Middle East with Iran. Neither China nor the US could desire any stand-off in their own respective backyards.

Many issues are unresolved however, making this peace process hardly complete. The nuclear facility at Yongbyon is still in operation. North Korea's demand for a civilian light-water nuclear reactor is still being blocked by the US. The question of verifying the scope and scale of North Korea's weapons programs still plague this process.

But it is a start. Hopefully, towards a final agreement.

spot on

this commentary expresses pretty much exactly how I feel about the UK governments new plans.

But one item may prove impossible to shift: a new crime of “glorifying” terrorism. It won’t have been Mr Clarke’s idea to put people in prison for praising an idea. Home Office lawyers will have told him that it cannot be done and (one hopes) his instincts will anyway have been against the attempt.

No, there is only one possible source of this folly. The notion that you can make the world a better place by making it illegal to say nasty and dangerous things has the intellectual sloppiness, the headline-seeking shallowness, the philosophical carelessness and the creepy mix of the sinister with the sanctimonious, that marks it out as absolutely characteristic of our Prime Minister’s mind.

When I was about 7, urged to say my prayers before bed, I came up with what seemed a succinct and catch-all formula. “Please God,” I would whisper, “make everybody be as they ought to be and do as they ought to do.” By the age of 10 it had occurred to me that my prayer did not do justice to the complexities of life, and I moved on. I rather think that Tony Blair is still stuck at this stage.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Double Jeopardy

Via blood and Treasure. This is proof, if any was needed, that the British government cannot be trusted with the sweeping powers it demands.

Seven Algerians, including four who were cleared at the Old Bailey in April of involvement in the alleged ricin plot, were detained yesterday pending their deportation on the grounds that they are a "threat to national security".

Human rights groups raised concerns last night that the seven face deportation to Algeria. A spokesman for Liberty said: "We are very concerned that as the majority appear to be Algerian, they are likely to be deported there. Observers and the UN have repeatedly pointed out violations of human rights by Algeria."

Jurors who acquitted four Algerians involved in the ricin plot trial told the Guardian they were angry their verdicts were ignored and were concerned the men would face torture or death if deported. "If anyone has grounds for asylum in this country, it is these men," one said.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush Takes Responsibility?

At a press conference today, US President Bush finally admits some mistakes:
Bush thinkingKatrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong.

I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm. And that's a very important question. And it's in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on and -- so that we can better respond.
This said, despite how much Bush touted his Department of Homeland Security and their work in knitting the quilt between local and federal authorities earlier this year:
We've taken important steps to protect our nation's critical infrastructure -- our bridges and tunnels and nuclear power plants and water treatment facilities and the cyber networks that keep our government and our economy running.

This department has also taken action to strengthen the hand of our partners in state and local law enforcement. Local police and other authorities are those most likely to encounter terrorists. And we're giving them the tools and information they need to do their jobs. We've established secure connections to emergency operations centers in every state and every governor's office to ensure that they get threat information on a real-time basis. We've helped states establish mutual aid agreements and reasonable response plans, so that when first responders need help from their neighbors they can be sure the right assistance will get to the right people at the right time.

We've provided more than $14 billion over the last four years to train and equip state and local first responders across America. Since 2001, we've trained more than 600,000 first responders, and more than tripled spending on homeland security.
So, despite Bush's willingness to pay penance after the fact, it is very clear the Department of Homeland Security has done nothing but bloat our existing emergency system. This is a clear case of government bureaucracy dragging immediate response down.

This was just a test of the Department of Homeland Security; if it had been an actual terrorist attack involving a dirty bomb or even worse, there is little doubt they would have failed in the same way.

Bush and his Republican cronies have been telling the US public that the federal government is ineffectual, but yet they are surprised at its snail's crawl in an emergency? Face it. This administration is not making you safer. Those billions of dollars and years of empty promises are just smokescreen, a placebo for your anxiety. The harsh reality is a terrorist attack could do much worse, much easier.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Fourth Observance of 9/11

Bill Moyers wrote a truly inspired piece at, documenting and lamenting the fundamentalism that caused 9/11 and still motivates us four years since. I fully recommend you read it in its entirety, but here is a brief synopsis:
My spiritual forbears did not take kindly to living under theocrats who embraced religious liberty for themselves but denied it to others. "Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils," thundered the dissenter Roger Williams as he was banished from Massachusetts for denying Puritan authority over his conscience. Baptists there were a "pitiful negligible minority" but they were agitators for freedom and therefore denounced as "incendiaries of the commonwealth" for holding to their belief in that great democracy of faith - the priesthood of all believers. For refusing to pay tribute to the state religion they were fined, flogged, and exiled.

Such revolutionary ideas made the new nation with its Constitution and Bill of Rights "a haven for the cause of conscience." No longer could magistrates order citizens to support churches they did not attend and recite creeds that they did not believe. No longer would "the loathsome combination of church and state" - as Thomas Jefferson described it - be the settled order. Unlike the Old World that had been wracked with religious wars and persecution, the government of America would take no sides in the religious free-for-all that liberty would make possible and politics would make inevitable. The First Amendment neither inculcates religion nor inoculates against it. Americans could be loyal to the Constitution without being hostile to God, or they could pay no heed to God without fear of being mugged by an official God Squad. It has been a remarkable arrangement that guaranteed "soul freedom."

It is at risk now, and the fourth observance of the terrorist attacks of 9/ll is an appropriate time to think about it.

They came in the name of God. They came bent on murder and martyrdom. It was as if they rode to earth on the fierce breath of Allah himself, for the sacred scriptures that had nurtured these murderous young men are steeped in images of a violent and vengeful God who wills life for the faithful and horrific torment for unbelievers.

Yes, the Koran speaks of mercy and compassion and calls for ethical living. But such passages are no match for the ferocity of instruction found there for waging war for God's sake.
. . .

Terrorists plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to turn each and every imagination into a private hell governed by our fear of them.

They win only if we let them, only if we become like them: vengeful, imperious, intolerant, paranoid. Having lost faith in all else, zealots have nothing left but a holy cause to please a warrior God. They win if we become holy warriors, too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike first at those who had not struck us; allow our leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason together, allowing others to tell what's in God's mind. Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in.

So over the past four years I have kept reminding myself of not only the horror but the humanity that was revealed that day four years ago, when through the smoke and fire we glimpsed the heroism, compassion, and sacrifice of people who did the best of things in the worst of times. I keep telling myself that this beauty in us is real, that it makes life worthwhile and democracy work and that no terrorist can take it from us.
. . .

As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our boisterous past, one lesson about democracy stands above all others: Bullies - political bullies, economic bullies and religious bullies - cannot be appeased; they have to be opposed with a stubbornness to match their own. This is never easy; these guys don't fight fair; "Robert's Rules of Order" is not one of their holy texts. But freedom on any front - and especially freedom of conscience - never comes to those who rock and wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting. Christian realism requires us to see the world as it is, without illusions, and then take it on. Christian realism also requires love. But not a sentimental, dreamy love. Reinhold Niebuhr, who taught at Union Theological Seminary and wrestled constantly with applying Christian ethics to political life, put it this way: "When we talk about love we have to become mature or we will become sentimental. Basically love means ... being responsible, responsibility to our family, toward our civilization, and now by the pressures of history, toward the universe of humankind."

Christian realists aren't afraid to love. But just as the Irishman who came upon a brawl in the street and asked, "Is this a private fight or can anyone get in it?" we have to take that love where the action is. Or the world will remain a theatre of war between fundamentalists.

No Exceptions To Equality

Liz Figueroa, California state senator, wrote a good opinion piece in the Advocate yesterday. She argues the gay marriage issue from an equality standpoint rather than the "re-definition" limelight in which the radical conservatives prefer to frame the debate. This excerpt really drives home the foundation of the same-sex marriage movement:

The question we should be asking is whether we are redefining another word, a far more fundamental one: equality. That’s what all this is really about. Every court that has weighed in on the question of same-sex marriage has been interpreting a constitutional provision that says all citizens are entitled to equal treatment under the law. And whatever can be said about the definition of marriage throughout history, the definition of equality hasn’t changed very much. It means exactly what it has always meant, and just what it says—unless you subscribe to some rather extreme doctrines.

Before the discussion about marriage became so prominent, lesbians and gay men were frequently accused of asking for “special rights” when they fought for antidiscrimination laws that would protect them from being fired from their jobs or denied housing. But you don’t hear much about “special rights” anymore.

That’s because if ever there was a set of special rights, it’s the set that comes with marriage. Right now those special rights are reserved by heterosexuals only for themselves.
There’s nothing even remotely fair about that, or equal. This is exactly why we have raised equality to a constitutional position. A constitution enshrines principles that are the most important to us, and says that, no matter what, they cannot be violated, even by a majority vote. Especially by a majority vote.

Some of my colleagues in the California legislature have argued that gays and lesbians have the same right to marry as heterosexuals do; they say that everyone in California, gay or straight, has the equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex. With all due respect, I have no idea how anyone can think that argument makes any sense at all. Why would a lesbian or gay man want to marry someone of the opposite sex? What sort of a right is that, and what does it say about the person making such an argument?

And particularly for those of us who are heterosexual, why would we want to subject ourselves—or our children—to such a bizarre prospect? “Don’t ask, don’t tell” works badly enough in the military; it’s an even worse idea in a relationship as intimate and personal as marriage.

Lesbians and gay men need the same right that heterosexuals take for granted: to have the state recognize their relationships with someone they love. And the only way that equality will happen is if their relationships can be legally recognized by the state as marriages, with all the attendant rights and responsibilities that the rest of us have. The law should not discourage them from forming loving, complicated, and wonderful families.
That is the crux of the issue, isn't it? Many conservatives would prefer homosexuality remain in sin and corruption, rather than assert itself prominently in the family domain. It is one thing to claim that all homosexuals are promiscuous and immoral, and quite another to allow them to embrace life-long partnerships. The hypocrisy is rich.

Justification of the homosexual sin has never been enough on its own merits; the environmental factors must be applied. Once the environmental factors are removed and gay partners are allowed to form a family, the cornerstone of society according to conservatives, homosexuality is seen as another facet of normalcy and stability. The importance of the family unit to the conservative mind overrides the difference in sexual orientation. The snake swallows its own tail.

Hopefully, with state senators like this one, the recent gay marriage legislation won't be the last time Californians push the governor between a rock and a hard place.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


From an article in National Geographic about a year back.

Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

Later on...

Such high stakes compelled a host of unlikely bedfellows—scientists, environmental groups, business leaders, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—to forge a radical plan to protect what's left. Drafted by the Corps a year ago, the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) project was initially estimated to cost up to 14 billion dollars over 30 years, almost twice as much as current efforts to save the Everglades. But the Bush Administration balked at the price tag, supporting instead a plan to spend up to two billion dollars over the next ten years to fund the most promising projects. Either way, Congress must authorize the money before work can begin.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

California Assembly Approves Gay Marriage

In a slim majority 41-35 vote from the California State Assembly on Tuesday night, California has now become the first US state to approve same-sex marriage legislation. The bill changes California's definition of marriage as between "two persons,'' instead of "a man and a woman.'' This moves the bill into Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's side of the court, slated as the first governor to make an executive decision on gay marriage in the US. This, on the eve of a November special election will prove especially contentious:
Schwarzenegger has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action, the bill would also become law, and California would become the second state behind Massachusetts to legally sanction same-sex marriage and the first to do so through legislation, not a court order.
The legal ramifications of this proposed law are somewhat unclear. Under Proposition 22 passed by 60% of the populace in 2000, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." As Kevin Drum observes, this is "murkier" than it seems:
First, at the time it passed, California already defined marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman. The point of Prop 22, then, wasn't to define marriage in California, it was to make sure that California didn't recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The ballot argument made this point, and so did the attorney general, who renamed the initiative from "Definition of Marriage" to "Limit on Marriages," a change that was upheld by a state court. Needless to say, though, this interpretation of Prop 22's text remains controversial.

Second, Prop 22 was passed as a statutory initiative, not a constitutional initiative. This means that it might be found to violate the state constitution's equal protection and privacy clauses, something that would obviously be impossible if it were itself a constitutional amendment. (The state Supreme Court had a chance to rule on this a couple of months ago in a case related to California's domestic partnership law, but it punted and ruled on different grounds.)
Ultimately, it seems the courts will decide the issue even if Governor Schwarzenegger does sign the bill into law. But one can hope this is another step in social progress, slow as it might be.

UPDATE 9/8: Governor Schwarzenegger's office says he will veto the same-sex marriage bill "out of respect for the will of the people." (The Daily Review) The question of whether a similar measure to Proposition 22 will pass as easily as it did in 2000 is another issue altogether. The "will of the people" does change over time, after all.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Grandma Bush Mocks Poor

Former US First Lady Barbara Bush made a very snobbish and insensitive comment last night on NPR's show Marketplace:
What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.
After the devastating disaster of Hurrican Katrina on the New Orleans area, I would have thought some degree of humility and compassion would accompany her visit to Houston's Astrodome. The few important things that an impoverished person lost in this disaster are just an important as that lost by the rich. Perhaps more so, since its value is higher for those with little and harder to replace than for those well-off. Surely, empathy for those who have lost everything, especially those who had so little, would overwhelm any petty class or racial prejudices.

Obviously not.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Forced marriage to be made illegal

There is a movement towards making forced marriage illegal in Britain. It already IS, of course, but is not a specific charge, instead more obscure charges like kidnapping are used.

Forced marriaged are a simply unnaceptable abuse of human rights; while we should respect cultural differences, there are some points we cannot permit- generally, any practice which severely infringes the rights of others. This, I think, is one of them. This is a very positive mood, and one I hope will be met with appreciation by most of the UK.

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Orleans - Too Little, Too Late

Fire burns in the east side of NOLA.apYesterday, police were reduced to looting ammunition out of stores themselves to stem the supply from snipers and armed thugs walking the streets. Over 20% of police forces did not show up to work in many precincts, either dead or choosing to stay with their families. The only real federal presence in New Orleans has been in the vicinity of the Superdome as survivors were evacuated to Texas. Residents in surrounding areas are putting up blockades and shooting anyone who attempts to leave New Orleans, fearing for their own safety.

According to Knight Ridder, the situation in New Orleans in sinking deeper in lawless chaos, thwarting relief efforts and police:
An explosion jolted residents awake early this morning, illuminating the pre-dawn sky with red and orange flames over the city where corpses rotted along flooded sidewalks and bands of armed thugs thwarted fitful rescue efforts.

At 4:35 a.m., an explosion rocked a chemical storage facility near the Mississippi River east of the French Quarter, said Lt. Michael Francis of the Harbor Police. A series of smaller blasts followed and then acrid, black smoke that could be seen even in the dark. The vibrations were felt all the way downtown.

Francis did not have any other information about the explosions and did not know if there were any casualties. At least two police boats could be seen at the scene.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ray Nagin lamented the federal response Thursday night on WWL-AM (more Nagin quotes):
I need reinforcements. I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. This is a national disaster. This is a major, major, major deal. And I can't emphasize it enough. It's awful down here, man.

I don't know whether it's the governor's problem, or it's the president's problem, but somebody needs to get ... on a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now.

We have an incredible crisis here and his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice. Excuse my French - everybody in America - but I am pissed!

They thinking small, man, and this is a major, major deal. Get off your asses and let's do something.
New Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert had some choice words to add as well:
This is a national disgrace. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans.
Contact your senators, your house representative, and our president. Let them know that we expect more out of our federal government than press conferences and photo ops. We expect action.

Mayor Ray Nagin called for a "moratorium on press conferences" yesterday until order is restored. Make our federal representatives put their money and actions where their mouths are!

UPDATE: Supplies are finally coming in to those starving at the New Orleans Convention Center. Check out more at the interdictor's journal here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pump Phobia Grips Georgia

Normally, I try to keep my personal life out of this blog unless it is newsworthy or makes a point. The events that transpired yesterday as I left work could certainly qualify.

In the midst of the growing relief effort for the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina, residents of Georgia, especially in Atlanta, decided to create a gas shortage yesterday out of a rumor. Meanwhile, governor Sonny Purdue declared Georgia to be in a state of emergency due to gas prices rising to $6 a gallon in some areas.

I do not know how this began, but as I was driving home yesterday around 5:00pm, I noticed long lines of cars at pumps along my normal route, Lawrenceville Highway. The lines were so long that they spilled over from many of the gas stations into the street, making the usual rush-hour traffic much worse. As I passed those long lines about at the fourth gas station or so, I began to wonder what was going on.

Once I got home, my first impulse was to call someone who might be keeping track of news closer that day that I was. So I called my girlfriend at work, asked her if she had heard about anything. She said that she didn't know what was going, but that her mother, a teacher in Athens, was told not to come in the next day for school. The school was closing down for the rest of week. Her mother said something about rising gas prices to blame. Now, we both knew that the devastation by Katrina was going to raise the price of gas to some extent, but neither of us knew why there was a rush to the pump that day.

No news was coming in about this, and I couldn't find out anything online. Then, minutes before 5:30pm, my girlfriend called back and told me that one of her colleagues came in late for her shift with some news. She said that all gas stations in Atlanta were going to shut off their pumps at 5:30pm and then turn them back on at $5 a gallon. I admit it; I panicked. My car was at less that a fourth a tank and would need to be filled soon. I ran out the door, grabbing my keys, set on looking for a gas station before they raised the pump to $5.

Traffic was noticeably worse as rush-hour continued. The lines at the pumps were longer, and it took me waiting at five different gas stations before I went back home. I saw people screaming and honking at other cars in line for a pump, a collision between two angry drivers trying to pull into the same pump, and many people topping-off huge SUVs and trucks, leaving gas to spill all over the ground. There were at least 2 out of every 5 filling 2-3 1-gallon drums in their trunk. This was worse than a price hike. Atlanta residents were creating a gas shortage where there was none.

I couldn't believe what I was doing at any of those gas stations. I was just another cog in this destructive panic machine, spinning wildly out of control. I decided I wouldn't contribute more to the pump phobia and would go home, without gas. I calmed down and realized how stupid my actions were. How could so many people become so self-centered and horde what might become scarce for a while. Shouldn't conservation be the natural approach?

Later, I heard on NPR that 2 of the 3 main pipelines into Atlanta were shut down for repairs, but many people were convinced that no gas was coming into Atlanta at all. According to the AJC, Sonny Purdue assured the press that this was a temporary problem, resolved before the end of the Labor Day weekend if people didn't panic:
"Forgoing our trips over the Labor Day weekend and staying home and enjoying our families ... is one of the better things we can do," Perdue said during a press conference at the American Red Cross headquarters in Atlanta.

"Just hang out with your families and enjoy their company. Any discretionary driving you planned, why don't you just relax and spend the time with your children, with your parents, and with your families at home."

Perdue said there is no reason to panic about gas shortages and rising prices. He told reporters that fuel shipments are continuing to arrive at Georgia Ports, and that Colonial Pipeline, the largest pipeline distributing fuel into Georgia, expects to be largely operational by the Labor Day weekend.

"There does appear to be some spot shortages in unbranded, spot-purchasing service stations," he said. "We expect that to be a temporary problem."

"There is no reason to panic. There is plenty of gas on the way. The only way we would have problems is if people rush out and try to horde and try to accumulate gasoline they won't need for a while."
Too late. After seeing all of the closed gas stations last night and hearing the horror stories of unbelievable price-gauging, Georgia has already created the problem. How we handle this fear in the coming days now must be the test.

If you live in Georgia, conserve what you have. Don't horde!