Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Apparently the Investigation is Ongoing

TERRY MORAN (ABC): Does the President stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of the name of a CIA operative?

McCLELLAN: Terry, I appreciate your question. I -- I think your question is being asked related to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. Um, the criminal investigation that you, uh, reference -- is something that continues at this point. And as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, uh, the White House is not going to comment on it. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, uh, we made a decision that we weren't going to comment on it while it is ongoing.

White House Press Briefing, 7/11/05

It all began in the dear, dim days of 2002, when a certain terrorist syndicate -- let's just call it "the Bush administration" -- was trying to prove something that wasn't true. Sometimes, it's the only way to get people to do what you want. And there they all were -- Bush, Card, Cheney, Rove, Rice, Rumsfeld, maybe Mary Carey -- rubbing their hands together, giggling like giddy schoolgirls about the prospect of bombing the shit out of Iraq. They had lately decided, perhaps as the result of an all-night brainstorming session, that He Who Tried to Kill My Dad at One Time was now trying to kill everybody. They agreed to believe that Saddam Hussein was nearly at the point of almost approaching the verge of considering thinking of weapons. I wasn't in the room, of course, but we can all envision how the scene probably played:


RUMSFELD: Does he have weapons? I don't know. Maybe. Why not? Why wouldn't he have weapons? If he has weapons, then he obviously intends to use them, and if he intends to use them, then he must have them. Right? You just can't use weapons which you don't intend to have! That's not the way it works! That's not the laws of life in the world. That's common sense.

CHENEY: Look at this...I just ate a mouse.

RICE: Excuse me. I'm sorry. To return to the, ah, matter -- that is to say, the "matter at hand," if you will. And by the way, excuse me, I'm sorry, excuse me. Oh, yes, thank you, sir, very much, and thank you, sir, if I may say so. Pardon me, that is, to return to my first point: Indeed, it will be, yes, necessary, to demonstrate, if you'll forgive me, sir --

BUSH: Hey. I think I'm hungry. Yeah -- I am hungry! We still got any of that cake?

CHENEY: So, uhhh, where we stand is that we need proof of, uhhh, weapons program. But what specific evidence are we going to -- you know, uhhh -- talk about?

BUSH: Hey! Is anyone listening? I WANT SOME CAKE! Didn't anyone see, there was a big cake here this morning, one of the interns baked it. I liked it. It's lemon. It's amazing how good lemon things can taste at times. Didn't anyone see a yellow cake?


I'm sure it went something like that. Perhaps their future selves had traveled backwards through time and retroactively worked from the British intelligence which later turned out to be forged. One way or another, the Bush gang got it into their heads that Saddam was trying to buy uranium-enriched yellowcake -- a key ingredient in the recipe for a nuclear weapon -- from the African country of Niger. In a grave strategic error, they allowed the C.I.A. to send a highly qualified investigator. His name was Joseph C. Wilson IV. After a long career as a foreign service officer, Wilson had served as an ambassador to Africa in Bush's father's administration. In 1990, he became the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. During "Desert Shield," he was responsible for the release of hundreds of American hostages, and the evacuation of thousands of foreigners from Iraq. He then helped to direct Africa policy for the National Security Council under Clinton. When Joe Wilson finished his 2002 investigation, he dutifully reported his findings -- that Saddam simply could not have purchased Nigerian yellowcake, the mining of which is tightly managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Q: Scott, how long has the President known that Karl Rove spoke in 2003 to at least one reporter about Joseph Wilson's wife?

McCLELLAN: That's a question relating to the investigation. You've had my response on those questions.

Q: Was it like a big surprise to him this week, and when the story broke about it?

McCLELLAN: Again, it's an ongoing, continuing investigation, and I think I've addressed why I'm not going to get into discussing it further at this time.

White House Press Briefing, 7/12/05

The Bush people sure were angry at Joseph Wilson for not doing the honest and honorable and patriotic thing and lying. And when Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times wondering why Bush was still using the discredited yellowcake excuse in the 2003 State of the Union, they were really upset. Fuming. Furious. The night after Wilson's article appeared in the Times, Cheney couldn't even get to sleep until he'd skinned and devoured a live pony. As for skinning and devouring Joseph Wilson, that plainly fell under the jurisdiction of a certain Evil Lord of Darkness who we will call "Karl Rove."

DAVID GREGORY (NBC): Scott, can I ask you this; did Karl Rove commit a crime?

McCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don't think you should read anything into it other than we're going to continue not to comment on it while it's ongoing.

White House Press Briefing, 7/11/05

Eight days after Wilson's op-ed, Robert Novak wrote a column entitled "Mission to Niger." Breaking news loudly and in public, Novak wrote that although Wilson had never worked for the C.I.A., "his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." According to Novak, "two senior administration officials" had informed him that "Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger," but the C.I.A. maintained that it had simply "asked his wife to contact him." It is, of course, a treasonous crime to out a covert agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. It's a threat to national security.

And it was taken seriously as such. Bush said that if the leak had come from his administration, he would fire whoever was responsible. Then-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie appeared on Hardball and agreed with Chris Matthews' comment that an administration official outing a covert intelligence agent would be "worse than Watergate." Gillespie said that "to reveal the identity of an undercover C.I.A. operative -- it's abhorrent, and it should be a crime, and it is a crime."

GREGORY: When did the President learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation...with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson's wife in the decision to send --

McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions.

GREGORY: ...Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove's lawyer has spoken publicly about this...that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove, the Deputy Chief of Staff?

McCLELLAN: Well, those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing. And that was what they requested of the White House. And so I think in order to be helpful to that investigation, we are following their direction.

White House Press Briefing, 7/11/05

Due largely to the peerless political maneuvering of the unscrupulous Rove, the outing of Valerie Plame never quite took hold as a major issue in the 2004 presidential campaign. But federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was on the case. As journalists began to follow up on the revelation in Novak's column, Fitzgerald found that information was much easier to come by. According to Newsweek, "Novak apparently made some arrangement with the prosecutor, but Fitzgerald continued to press other reporters for their sources, possibly to show a pattern (to prove intent) or to make a perjury case." The hottest trails seemed to begin with Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time ("Some government officials have noted to Time in interviews...that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a C.I.A. official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction"). Fitzgerald pursued them relentlessly, until they all wound up in court. Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ordered Miller, Cooper, and their editors to cooperate in Fitzgerald's investigation, but they didn't, and the next time around -- October of 2004 -- Hogan held them in contempt. They appealed his order, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, so with their tails between their legs they went trudging back to Hogan to get scolded.

Q: Does the White House have a credibility problem?

McCLELLAN: Ed, these are all questions that you're bringing up in the context of an investigation that is ongoing.

White House Press Briefing, 7/12/05

Matt Cooper and Judith Miller knew that they had a choice -- they could reveal their sources, or they could go to jail. Incarceration would last at least until October 28, when the term of the investigating grand jury expires. Before the trial, Cooper said goodbye to his six-year-old son. But "minutes later," according to the Washington Post, "he received a surprise phone call from his government source, who...freed him to break their confidentiality agreement and to tell a grand jury about their conversations in July 2003." Time duly presented Cooper's notes and e-mails, but Cooper wouldn't reveal the identity of the official who had called him. Heavy speculation ensued, and most of it centered on Karl Rove -- who, Cooper's notes revealed, indeed spoke with him in July of 2003.

CARL CAMERON (FOX): Does the President continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?

McCLELLAN: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you've heard my response on this.

CAMERON: So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the President has confidence in his Deputy Chief of Staff?

McCLELLAN: Carl, you're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation. And I would not read anything into it other than I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.

White House Press Briefing, 7/11/05

Rove and his lawyer, Robert Luskin, issued a barrage of carefully-chosen words. When asked about Valerie Plame, Rove told CNN, "I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name." Luskin told Newsweek that Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the C.I.A." Luskin then sort of denied that it was Rove who made the call that spared Cooper: "Karl has not asked anybody to treat him as a confidential source with regard to this story." Another Cooper e-mail revealed that Rove had told him that the person responsible for sending Joseph Wilson on the yellowcake hunt was "Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on [WMD] issues who authorized the trip." Get it? He didn't name her. He didn't actually say, in these exact words, "Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert C.I.A. agent." This is why Karl Rove is seen, in some circles, as a genius. Later, Luskin told Newsweek that it actually was Rove who gave Cooper permission to reveal his sources.

Judith Miller, who refused to reveal her sources, handed her necklace to her husband and went off to jail. The question now is, will Karl Rove be joining her? Will the Bush regime be forced to expel its almighty mastermind? Is the post-Deep Throat era a time when journalists can't make any promises to their sources? Is this just another symptom of the current administration's unprecedented level of criminal activity? And since the Wilson/Plame situation has grown directly out of the regime misleading us into war, will its increasing prominence have a Downing Street Memo effect on public opinion?

And above all, is this investigation ongoing, or what?

JOHN ROBERTS (CBS): Scott, some Democrats are calling for the revocation of Karl Rove's security clearance. Does the President see any need for that?

McCLELLAN: Uh, John, I...I think there's a lot of discussion that's going on in the context of an ongoing investigation. This is based on some news reports that came out recently. I...I think you heard me talk about the importance of helping this investigation move forward. I don't think it's helpful for me from this podium to get into discussing what is an ongoing investigation. I think it's most helpful for, uh, me to not comment while that investigation continues. And these are all issues that some are trying to raise in the context of news reports. I don't think we should be prejudging the outcome of any investigation at this point.

ROBERTS: But the issues of security clearance and criminal investigations are often on very separate tracks. So does the President see any reason, any necessity, at least in the interim, to revoke Karl Rove's security clearance?

McCLELLAN: Uh, John, the President -- first of all, let me back up – uh, some, some of you asked a couple of questions about does the President still have confidence in particular individuals, specifically Karl Rove. I don't want to get into commenting on things in the context of an ongoing investigation.

White House Press Briefing, 7/12/05

I could listen to him for hours.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Madison Was Okay. You're Just Scary.

When Hillary Clinton sat across from Matt Lauer and urged journalists, any journalist, to investigate the "vast right-wing conspiracy conspiring against" her husband, a lot of people said she sounded like a paranoid nut. David Letterman made jokes; Jay Leno cracked wise; and "right-hand conspiracy" jokes began popping up everywhere Monicagate was mentioned. But some people did investigate her nutty claims and, as it turns out, she was right. There was a right-wing conspiracy. It just wasn't as big as she thought. That was when I first heard about the Federalist Society.

According to their website, the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies was founded in 1982 and is:

A group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order. We are committed to the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks to promote awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.

The Washington Monthly calls it:

The best-organized, best funded and most effective legal network operating in this country.

Federalist Society members have openly opposed the Supreme Court's Miranda decision for permitting "lawlessness." Members have headed organizations that advocate dismantling the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Outspoken members have said that the 14th Amendment does not apply to reproductive rights and have called the court's decision in Roe v Wade a "perversion." Dan Hodel, head of the Christian Coalition is a member. They also wear ties with little silhouettes of James Madison all over them which is reason enough to want to put distance between you and them.

The foundation gets its money from the Bradley Foundation (responsible for funding David Brock's The Real Anita Hill and the 1999 best seller, The Bell Curve written by Federalist member Charles Murray); the Koch Foundation (started by the son of Fred Koch who founded the John Birch Society); and the Scaife Foundation (need I say more?).

In 1987, one of the Federalist Society's shining stars, current board co-chair Robert Bork was nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Bork once argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would harm business owners by forcing them not to discriminate (he later recanted that position while being questioned by the Senate before being confirmed Solicitor General). As Solicitor General, Bork obeyed Nixon's order to fire Archibald Cox even though two of Bork's superiors had quit rather than fire a man for doing his job. Bork thinks that it would be a good idea if a Senate majority could overturn Supreme Court rulings. Among the various reasons attributed to his eventual rejection by the Senate (besides his extreme ideology) were a rousing speech given by Senator Edward Kennedy against the confirmation, and the efforts of many civil rights and women's groups. But some people think his Senate rejection may have been because of something more sinister...the ultra liberal and subversive...American Bar Association.

In 1947, there were some federal judgeships to fill, so Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Alexander Wiley decided to turn to the experts and invited the American Bar Association to testify or make recommendations regarding federal judicial nominees. During the Eisenhower Administration, in 1952, the request came directly from the Executive Office - Attorney General James McGranery contacted the ABA and agreed that the Justice Department would obtain the ABA's views before nominations were announced. Since then, a rotating committee made up of 15 members of the American Bar Association has evaluated almost all candidates proposed by the White House for the federal bench, providing valuable information on each of the potential nominees to the Justice Department, Senate and White House.

The committee's process is rigorous and detailed: for a Supreme Court nomination, the entire committee takes part in nationwide confidential interviews with the candidate's former and present associates; teams of law school professors examine piles of legal documents written by the candidate; teams of practicing lawyers examine the legal writings and provide their analysis; the entire committee meets with the candidate and, finally, after deliberation among its members, assigns each candidate a rating of Qualified, Well-Qualified or Not Qualified. There are three basic criteria which guide the members in their decisions: Integrity, Professional Competence, and Judicial Temperament (which considers compassion, decisiveness, open-mindedness, courtesy, patience, freedom from bias and commitment to equal justice under the law). While the ABA's rankings have never been binding in any sense, they have held considerable weight in confirmations under administrations of both parties.

When Robert Bork got his rating,the Federalist Society got pissed off. Even though he received an overall rating of "Well Qualified," four out of fifteen members had rated him "Not Qualified." Personally, I think they gave him that rating because of his apparent total lack of compassion, open-mindedness, courtesy, freedom from bias, commitment to equal protection, and, above all, integrity. But according to the Federalists, it's because the American Bar Association is way too liberal.

Following Bork's rejection, the society started unofficially investigating the ABA and its purported liberal bias. This investigation became official in 1992 with the launch of the group's "ABA Watch." The leader of this initiative? One of Bork's former law clerks.

In 1996, there were hearings questioning the role of the ABA in the confirmation process. Who called the hearings? Federalist Board of Directors co-chair Orin Hatch. Who testified? Edwin Meese, society member. Following these hearings, Hatch announced that as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, he would no longer consider the ABA's evaluations in Senate confirmations.

At the urging of the White House Counsel's office (staffed with at least 4 members of the society and others affiliated with it), inauguration-fresh George W. Bush announced that the White House would no longer continue the practice of submitting names to the ABA Committee for review. The man who delivered the bad news to the ABA? Alberto Gonzales, White House Counsel with ties to the Federalist Society.

Well, okay, fine. Let's say the ABA was biased and to give them first review of the candidates was preferential. If the committee isn't providing Bush with research about the candidates, who is? Well, it's the Federalist Society.

In an interview, C. Boyden Gray (counsel to Bush I, advisor to Bush-Cheney transition Department of Justice, founder of the "Committee for Justice" and co-chair of the Federalist Society) said that the society will provide the candidate information, and a group called Progress for America who backed the Bush reelection in 2004 will spend almost $20 million in media supporting the nominees. He must have really felt his dreams had come true when he told the reporter, "We've been waiting two and a half years for this."

So how threatening is this group really?

In March 2001, just before the White House got rid of that pesky ABA committee, the New York Times reported that of the 50 judicial candidates who had been interviewed by Alberto Gonzales, "most have been law clerks for conservative judges and Supreme Court justices and are members of the Federalist Society..."

Indeed, many of Bush's appointees to powerful appeals courts have Federalist ties. Among those are Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor, who were recently confirmed by the Senate as part of the filibuster compromise. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Chief Justice Rehnquist are affiliated with the group. Ken Starr is a member. So is John Ashcroft. And John Bolton. In Michigan, the Governor and 5 members of the Supreme Court are Federalists.

Every single nominee on the proposed short lists of U.S. Supreme Court nominees is either a member of or proudly claims ties to The Federalist Society: Samuel Alito, Miguel Estrada, Emilio Garza, Edith Jones, Michael Luttig (who is reported to only hire clerks who are members), Michael McConnell, John Roberts, J. Harvey Wilkinson, and Theodore Olson - proud Federalist member who argued before the Supreme Court in Bush v Gore.

The society claims to have no platform, saying that it does not "lobby for legislation, take policy positions, or sponsor or endorse nominees and candidates for public service," but that its "main purpose is to sponsor fair, serious, and open debate about the need to enhance individual freedom and the role of the courts in saying what the law is rather than what they wish it to be."

But with membership like this, who needs lobbyists?

The Federalist Society has a right, just like any other group, to gather, network, exchange ideas and promote their ideas with the hopes of turning them into social policy. There's nothing wrong with that. But it would be wrong to ignore the incredible influence and power this group has. The Federalist Society wants to pack the courts with its candidates. Its members have shown utter contempt for progress made in civil and women's rights. They occupy positions in every branch of our government. Let's face it. They're just scary.

In Federalist #10, titled "The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection," THE James Madison wrote of the danger of factions, which he defined as:

A number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community...The latent causes of faction are...sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

There are two ways to make sure that factions do not take control and oppress the minority - to suppress its cause or to suppress its effect. Suppression of its cause - to take away the liberty, choice and freedoms of individuals - was a non-option. Madison believed faction could lead to tyranny, but argued denying individual liberties in order to suppress factions was much, much worse.

So, instead, he sought to limit the effect of a majority faction through a large, multi-layered republic with independent local, state and federal government and proportional representation for both houses of Congress. Because of these layers and, well, beauracracy, Madison believed:

The majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression...the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

Some might use Madison's words to argue that we have nothing to worry about from the Federalist Society. I say James Madison didn't have the Internet. In order for a faction of his day to communicate nationwide, it would have taken years and years and several hundred couriers. Even the founding fathers knew that "corrupt" elements would infiltrate the government no matter how rigorous the standards of the Constitution. They depended on the sheer size of the nation and the inability to organize to keep "domestic faction and insurrection" at bay. We can no longer depend on the isolation of extremist ideas to protect us from them.

The Federalist Society is a faction, a faction that has taken over the majority and is slowly taking over the republic. It is doing exactly what Madison most feared - denying individual liberties, removing layers of government and barriers between the branches, and spreading nationwide at every level.

I don't think James Madison would like that very much. And I think he'd hate the neckties.

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I got my research for this from a number of sources, but I want to make special mention of the People for the American Way website, where I found tons of information on the Federalist Society and the threat to our courts.

Monday, July 11, 2005

George W. Bush and Other Terrorists

Thursday afternoon, George W. Bush emerged with a scowl on his face from the Gleneagles Hotel in Auchterarder, Scotland. He was taking a break from the G8 summit, to say a few words to the international press about the terrorist attack in London that morning.

He said there was a contrast -- "incredibly vivid to me" -- between what was taking place at the G8 summit and what had happened in London. "And the contrast couldn't be clearer," he said, "between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty, and those who kill -- those who have got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks."

But to those of us who are not George W. Bush -- and that's a lucky break for us -- the contrast is inconsistent. Terrorists took the lives of more than fifty "innocent folks" in London. But that devastating atrocity pales beside the resume of the terrorist who trotted out of the Gleneagles Hotel hours later. By the most conservative credible estimate, Bush has slaughtered 10,000 innocent Iraqi civilians since March of 2003. The least conservative, still credible estimate is 100,000. (U.K.-based Iraq Body Count puts it at 22-25,000.) Whatever your opinion of where the truth falls in that 90,000-body range, nobody could reasonably deny that more innocent noncombatants have been murdered in the Iraq war than in the New York, Washington, Bali, Madrid, Istanbul, Riyadh, and London attacks combined. Moreover, statistics from the RAND Corporation show that the 5,362 deaths from terrorism worldwide from March 2004 to March 2005 were almost double the number of terrorism deaths from March 2002 to March 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq. ("Any objective person who looks at this situation has to know that we're not losing," says Donald Rumsfeld.)

Among the most painful and obvious lessons of last Thursday's attack is that the world is now less safe, not more safe. After 9/11, the Bush regime instituted a radical and illegal series of programs allegedly intended to rid the world of terrorism. Since then, five more metropolitan centers have been struck, in attacks attributed to al Qaeda. (And that's not counting anything in Iraq.) Clearly, the Bush administration's approach is a bitter and tragic failure. But "the war on terror goes on," Bush told the press in Scotland, almost jubilantly. However, as the British Socialist Worker noted, the London bombings demonstrate that "the 'war on terrorism' has endangered, rather than protected, ordinary people." The Worker goes on to applaud the Spanish government's reaction to the 2004 Madrid bombings: "Rather than stampeding people into support for a right-wing government, the attacks in Madrid led people to reject the war makers who have made the world a far more dangerous place. They voted overwhelmingly to throw out the government that had dragged them into Bush's war in the Middle East."

The American right wing, of course, sees Spain's withdrawal as chickening out, or "giving the terrorists what they want." This is neither a substantive argument nor a coherent policy. Declining to fight a war which is itself an act of terrorism -- as war was never declared, and there was no "clear and present danger" -- gives the world what it wants. To give "the terrorists" what they want, we would all have to die. To offend them, all we have to do is live. "The terrorists" had no position on the Iraq war until there was an Iraq war. They had some ideas about our foreign policy, which we have neatly validated. Half of the American people think that the current carnival of terrorism is partially the result of our own government's actions. Bush, as he has clearly told us, feels that if you don't agree with him, then "you side with the terrorists." But saying that anyone who opposes the administration is siding with terrorists is like saying anyone with a moustache is Saddam Hussein.

Writing for the Financial Times, Guy Dinmore and Demetri Sevastopulo suggest that the we're-safer-than-we-were argument "may have been finally buried by Thursday's bombings in London," but for those of us who are not George W. Bush or one of his myopic acolytes, that argument was buried a long time ago. In fact, it has spent its entire life underground. John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Dinmore and Sevastopulo that the world is "clearly not safer." He said, "Obviously we must try to intercept the terrorists. But we must also address the broader socio-political context. We can't solve this with a relatively limited dimensional model of counterforce. Being mighty is one thing. Being effective is another." Too true, but that's the problem -- this sane reading of the facts is too true for the Bush regime. Although cracks are beginning to show, the Bush regime still exerts a strong enough influence on public opinion to rest assured that all these baseless fallacies will remain unburied -- at least in the eyes of those too blinded by nationalism to see the rubble.

That occupied Iraq has now become a training ground for terrorists is well-established, and this fact alone proves John Hamre's point. Marveling that Tony Blair "still regards [the Iraq war] as a valid response to global terrorism," Simon Jenkins of the London Sunday Times notes that after 9/11, British and American "retaliatory" attacks in Afghanistan "kill[ed] far more civilians than had died in America." The Afghanistan action "failed to find Osama bin Laden or suppress terrorism" and "led directly to the assault on Iraq." And the assault on Iraq marked the transition of that nation into the terrorist headquarters that Afghanistan had been, ever since we used and discarded it in our furor over the Soviets. You can hear Simon Jenkins sigh when he writes that "American marines in Iraq are still told they are 'fighting 9/11.'"

It's incredible how every time we get more proof of Bush's catastrophic failure, American neoconservatives tell us how well he's doing. But for every point they make about policy, they make ten about politics. Just as Bush the candidate talks about his "message" more than his actual convictions and practices, the pawns who love him are constantly proclaiming him the winner -- of a broad and irreconcilable ideological disagreement. I guess it's because even they can't keep a straight face while proclaiming him the winner of anything real. Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution told the Houston Chronicle that "Bush's strong point has been the war or terror, and anything that focuses attention on that probably works for him politically." In other words, keep 'em coming, al Qaeda! This is great for our message!

Of the London attack, Hess said, "One ramification for this [sic] in Europe is that [Bush] doesn't look like a Texas cowboy. He looks like a leader who recognizes the danger jihadists present to the Western nations." Whether or not Bush looks like a Texas cowboy is something we might chew on for the rest of our lives, but to posit that he "recognizes the danger jihadists present" is not to say that he offers any kind of effective solution. Another Washington analyst, Stuart Rothenberg, told the Chronicle that the attack "could make the Germans and the French a little more receptive to what Bush has been saying, if they see they could be in the same boat as London." Now, this is really dumb. It's not that Europe -- or anyone -- doesn't see terrorism as a problem. France and Germany, like everyone else, extended help and compassion to America after 9/11. They know it's a problem. They just don't agree with Bush about its source and its solution, and that puts them "in the same boat" as most of the civilized world. If they disagreed with Bush all those attacks ago, why would events which prove him wrong change their minds?

Outside the Gleneagles Hotel on Thursday, of course, Bush was "on message," which in his case means he was lying. He presented himself as a member of a unified summit, eager to collaborate with world leaders, when of course his primary role in the G8 talks has been to stifle progress. But talking to the gaggle in the sun, he droned on about "the resolve of all the leaders" at the summit, who in his delusion agree with him about terrorism, global warming, and foreign aid. "Their resolve is as strong as my resolve," he said, like that means anything. "And that is we will not yield to these people. Will not yield to the terrorists. We will find them. We will bring them to justice." How -- by showing them how it's really done?

Not quite, because although Bush has killed more people than al Qaeda has in the last four years, he's actually not half as good at terrorism as they are. Partly, it's because al Qaeda is smarter than Bush, but let's face it, so is the average tuna. Bush also has the world's greatest and wealthiest military. Seen in its proper context -- not al Qaeda against America, or al Qaeda against the West, but al Qaeda against its every ideological opponent -- the conflict becomes more complicated than anything even the average tuna can handle. If a competent administration had done its job well after 9/11, it might have been possible to significantly weaken al Qaeda through an aggressive campaign of investigation and apprehension. But what could not possibly have destroyed al Qaeda has made it stronger. It's out of control.

An Associated Press survey of "longtime students of international terrorism" finds a consensus that "al Qaeda is mutating into a global insurgency, a possible prototype for other 21st-century movements, technologically astute, almost leaderless." Michael Scheuer, "the man who tracked Osama bin Laden for the CIA," told the A.P. that the Iraq war has brought us to "the point where jihad is self-sustaining." As for the new era of terrorism, Scheuer says, "I don't think it's even started yet." Just in case you've been sleeping much too well lately, add this to the prediction of RAND's Bruce Hoffman: "Endless war." Hoffman attributes al Qaeda's strategy to the recognition that "they need to do just one significant terrorist attack a year in another capital, and it regenerates the same fear and anxieties." But for us, he says, "the main challenge" is to break "the cycle of terrorist recruitment through the generations." And this is done, the A.P. paraphrases, by "lessen[ing] the appeal of radicalism by improving economies, political rights and education in Arab and Muslim countries." Which is exactly what people like Bill Clinton and I have said.

Cynthia Combs, a terrorism expert at the University of North Carolina, told the A.P. that al Qaeda has become a "virtual network" that cannot be toppled by conventional military methods. An unnamed British intelligence official told Raymond Whitaker and Paul Lashmar of The Independent that "trying to hit al Qaeda is like trying to hit jelly. One minute you think you know who is running it, and next minute you feel you have no idea." Whitaker and Lashmar point out that even Osama bin Laden's role is to be "as much a figurehead as a strategist. Presumed to be hiding in the tribal borderlands...communicating only by written notes and the occasional hand-delivered cassette or video tape, he is in no position to exert day-to-day control over terrorist attacks." But their intelligence source said, "The bad news is that it is harder to track and stop [bin Laden] inspired groups who leave fewer footprints, communicate less and don't need to travel as far."

Yet another terrorism expert, George Kassimeris, told the Independent that although American officials have envisioned a war that could last years, "we can't have a major attack in a European capital every year for the foreseeable future." Kassimeris warns against "personalizing" the problem as stemming from bin Laden: "Building him up as the arch-terrorist simply helps the cause of those seeking to attack us." In what may be a specific retort to Karl Rove's noxious remarks to the New York State Conservative Party, Kassimeris says, "Even though this is pure revenge terrorism, with no negotiable demands, you still have to try to understand what they want to achieve." And why they're so upset. As Cynthia Combs asked, "If we hadn't been ignoring Afghanistan and instead offered real assistance, would it have become a base for bin Laden?"

No, but the problem is -- the problem is -- that our government has a damning record of not acting in our interests, and many of its more spectacular betrayals have been recent. When 9/11 resulted in somewhat tighter security on airplanes, al Qaeda quickly adapted and began targeting mass transit on the ground. This has been their pattern in the last few years, and yet, as Thomas Oliphant reminds us, just three weeks before the London attack, our Senate dropped $50 million from the nation's paltry $150 million rail and mass transit security budget. Since 9/11, Oliphant writes, "some $250 million has been spent on rail and transit security, compared to more than $18 billion on air."

But in terms of spin, perhaps the most reprehensible official lie about the London bombings -- and 9/11 too -- is that they came out of nowhere, that they were unpredictable. In fact, these atrocities were predicted, not only by ideological opponents of Bush and Blair, but by the very intelligence agencies whose expertise they're supposed to employ. Those of us who opposed this war from its inception have been right about nearly everything, from Iraqi reception of the occupation, to the absence of WMD programs, to the spread of prolonged and uncontainable combat. Unfortunately, we were also right when we said that the Bush regime would make matters worse, and that more innocent people would pay the ultimate price for our illegitimate president's lies and malice.

Standing there outside the Gleneagles Hotel, Bush moved his head around in little circles as he groped for the words to not explain his approach to fighting terrorism. Finally landing on something, he said, "We will spread, uh, an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate. Hm, thank you very much."

One reporter began to ask, "Do you still say that the war is --"

But Bush was gone.

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Friday, July 08, 2005

There's a Connection Here

By this afternoon, there will likely be two imminent vacancies on our highest court, and this guy gets to appoint people. Hurricane Dennis, which has already killed an unknown number of people in Haiti, is on its way to the massively-evacuated low-lying regions of Cuba and the Florida Keys. The remnants of tropical storm Cindy, having claimed two lives in Georgia, will cause mere flooding in New York, where mass transit has been on "orange alert" following Thursday morning's terrorist attack in London.

Other than that, how are you?

George Galloway, the audacious Member of Parliament who wiped up the floor with Senator Norm Coleman at the Oil for Food scandal hearings, said of the July 7 attack: "We argued, as did the security services in this country, that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain. Tragically, Londoners have now paid the price of the government ignoring such warnings." Galloway extended condolences to the victims and their families, and ended his statement with three of the wisest sentences I've read in a long time:

"The loss of innocent lives, whether in this country or Iraq, is precisely the result of a world that has become a less safe and peaceful place in recent years.

"We urge the government to remove people in this country from harm's way, as the Spanish government acted to remove its people from harm, by ending the occupation of Iraq and by turning its full attention to the development of a real solution to the wider conflicts in the Middle East.

"Only then will the innocents here and abroad be able to enjoy a life free of the threat of needless violence."

Not every response was so compassionate. For example, Fox News anchor Brit Hume -- during breaking news coverage -- explained his own reaction to the horrific attack:

"...You know, the market was down. It was down yesterday, and you know, you may have had some bargain-hunting going on. I mean, my first thought when I heard -- just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been this attack and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, 'Hmmm, time to buy.' Others may have thought that as well."

Yeah, maybe, Brit...if they're completely heartless. Personally, I was thinking of the people of London and what they were going through. I was remembering vividly the day I had on 9/11, reflecting on the senselessness of violence, and of the politics which perpetuate it. But that's just me. Brit Hume's first thought was Hey, I could make some money on this! Nice. But even that is not as insidious as the responses of Hume's Fox colleagues Brian Kilmeade and Stuart Varney.

Kilmeade, who hosts Fox & Friends with all the grace and style of a frat boy after a keg stand, said that before yesterday morning's terrorist attack, the G8 summit's "topic number one, believe it or not, was global warming; the second was African aid." But fortunately, Kilmeade is implying, there was a deadly attack, so now they're not bothering with those minor problems. "And that was the first time since 9/11 when they should know," Kilmeade barked, "and they do know now, that terrorism should be number one." Varney, in full agreement, added, "It puts the number one issue right back on the front burner, right at the point where all these world leaders are meeting. It takes global warming off the front burner. It takes African aid off the front burner. It sticks terrorism and the fight on the war on terror right up front all over again."

It's hard for those of us who live on Earth to understand the Fox News mindset, but I think I've got a handle on this. Kilmeade and Varney are saying it's good that this attack happened, or at least that it happened during the G8 summit, because now the leaders of the world will be concentrating on helping the victims of yet another brutal slaughter, and won't get to spend as much time on global warming and African aid. Apparently these are not important things for world leaders to think about. Varney can barely contain his glee that "terrorism and the fight on the war on terror" are "right up front all over again" -- which certainly seems to imply that in his view, things haven't been this good since 9/11. These Fox News guys are really great, aren't they? It's nice to know that when terrorists strike, these varcken will be there to tell us how profitable it could be, or how good the political timing is.

Lack of human compassion aside, they could not be more gravely mistaken about the politics. They think terrorism should be "the number one issue," but they don't understand the issue of terrorism. They don't understand, or won't acknowledge, that the G8 summit is not addressing unrelated matters. Global warming is largely the result of America criminally abusing the resource of Middle Eastern oil. To confront terrorism in an honest and productive way, we have to end our reliance on petroleum -- not exterminate the innocent men, women, and children of Iraq. Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and global warming are two results of the same problems: unregulated corporate behemoths doing what's best for their stockholders and worst for humanity in general, and unconcerned Westerners trapped in lifestyles dependent on the constant use of inefficient automobiles.

Just one day before the London bombings, the Financial Times reported that the oil -- which has hit "new record highs above $61 a barrel" -- is running out. Saudi Arabia, which is where we get our most of oil and terrorists, has announced that "the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will be unable to meet projected western demand in 10 to 15 years." European officials, according to FT, "hope that energy saving measures could curb oil demand." They believe that OPEC "could produce the 44m b/d the world would need if consumers adopted efficiency measures under discussion by governments in the U.S. and Europe." So that would be a good idea, but unfortunately, Brian Kilmeade doesn't think it matters. Actually, forget that; Brian Kilmeade's opinion is worthless. The problem is that this guy isn't interested. So the country most responsible for the crisis is going to do the least to help. (Of the eight nations in the summit, the U.S. ranks eighth in addressing climate change issues.)

And on the issue of aid for Africa, the connection is just as clear. As Bill Clinton explained in his speech at Georgetown on November 7, 2001, the real way to fight terrorism is to feed and educate the world. It is our responsibility to do this. If the men and women of our armed services were armed with books, food, and medicine, they would be considered heroes by everyone in the world, not just us. With those weapons, they could actually fight terrorism, rather than fan its flames.

Now, obviously, food and books and medicine are not going to stop the current generation of active terrorists. But you get to those children, wherever they are, and instead of bombing their homes and their schools, you make sure they have food to eat, and access to a system of education which exposes them to diverse and inclusive bodies of knowledge. You make sure they have health care and a place to live. If you do that, the next generation will have a lot fewer terrorists. It will not have suffered so acutely, and it won't be looking for someone to blame. And its sole cultural input won't come from a fanatical religious doctrine of absolute morality and perpetual jihad. Feeding and educating the world is not only a more effective "war on terror" than military violence; as Clinton points out, it's also much less expensive. Sure, war is very profitable for Halliburton, General Electric, Citigroup, and the rest. But think what the economy would be like if even half our defense spending were diverted to create a food-and-books shock-and-awe campaign. Americans need jobs. Can you think of a better one than feeding and teaching the hungry and the ignorant?

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

J.D. Mullane Googles Himself

I recently wrote an article about Bucks County Courier Times columnist J.D. Mullane, in which I accused him of being a disingenuous writer. Illustrating the charge, I responded to two of his recent columns -- one which purported that liberals are "hostile to religion and people of faith," and another which suggested that no "enduring" songs have been written about the two-and-a-half-year-old Iraq war. But these two were chosen more or less at random; I've read dozens of Mullane's columns, and almost any of them proves the incidental points I made about his writing.

In response to my criticism, Mr. Mullane has taken the time to e-mail me. The complete text of his very characteristic note:

stick to tour bus guide, dude
best wishes,
jd mullane

It's interesting -- Mullane likes to tell dudes what to stick with. When he disagreed with novelist and aspiring newspaperman James Howard Kunstler, he wrote, "Better stick with writing obscure novels, dude. Newspapers ain't your game."

It's funny that one who writes as poorly as Mullane would have this compulsion to tell other writers what to do. His worldview is so simplistic that there's usually nothing in his columns to ponder, but in his e-mail there is the baffling construction, "stick to tour bus guide, dude." What in the world could someone mean by that? Apparently Mullane is referring to my career as a New York City tour guide -- to which I made no reference in my Mullane piece, and which hasn't had anything to do with buses in more than three years. Not that I have ever been employed as a "tour bus guide," which I suppose is someone who guides buses, as opposed to tours. Just to reassure J.D., I have every intention of "sticking to" the work I do as an urban storyteller; I enjoy rhapsodizing about the city I love before large and adoring crowds, and I'm well-compensated for it.

But by instructing me to "stick to tour bus guide," Mullane seems to be suggesting that I should devote my career entirely to bus guiding, and not write. I'm not sure if Mullane approves of any of the other things I do, as his perusal of my website appears to have been cursory. But everything Mullane does appears to be cursory. I would not normally devote two articles to one provincial opinion columnist, but having carefully read Mullane's e-mail, I think he may be impugning my ability as a writer.

He might have enjoyed my comments about him, though, because he was very pleased last year when two people from the New York Times responded in protest to one of his columns. Mullane wrote, "It was a treat to hear from a couple of Times journalists who graciously took time from their busy, important day to tell me I'm dumb and a hack." He seems to like it. Perhaps his ideal day is one when several people call him a dumb hack. Maybe that explains it.

But look, J.D. Mullane is hardly the worthiest subject for these attacks, and he's not evil incarnate, either. I don't disagree with everything he says, and once in a rare while he does succeed in making an interesting point or telling an effective story. Moreover, I don't think he's important enough to warrant even the attention I've given him. I wrote about him because I had some points to make about liberals' views on religion, and the relationship between politics and music during American wars. Mullane quotes, as it turned out, were the perfect springboards for these arguments. Establishing that this guy is a bad writer is really not high on my list of priorities, but now he's telling me that I shouldn't be writing? That whatever I write must be so bad that the time would be better spent guiding a bus?

I'm sorry, but if that's what he's saying, I must burden you with the knowledge that in the column which prompted the Times staffers' comments, Mullane describes the paper's editorial personnel as "largely unseen boobs." He was so proud of that line that he quoted it a week later, claiming that he made editor Peter Putrimas "angrier than a metrosexual out of hair gel -- especially when I called Times editors 'largely unseen boobs.'" He also envisions reporter Richard Perez-Pena "pecking through my words like an Upper West Side pigeon." This is a prime example of Mullanian simile, predicated on the strange assumption that Upper West Side pigeons peck through the words of Bucks County columnists in a different manner than Harlem or Gramercy Park pigeons.

It's not a crime to be a shoddy wordsmith, or to make observations of little substance. But it is contemptible to say that innocent parties are guilty of your everyday misdemeanors. When Mullane said that newspapers were not James Howard Kunstler's game, and that Kunstler should "stick to writing obscure novels," he was implying that he himself had an authoritative command of the journalistic form. He prides himself on this presumed credential, and constantly asserts that he loves newspapers and journalism and is in a position to speak of them with the highest expertise. (A few examples here, here, here, and here.)

And yet so much of Mullane's own work is such sloppy journalism. In the very column which tells Kunstler what to stick to, dude, Mullane attempts to discredit Kunstler's point (American suburbs are "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world") by quoting someone who clearly agrees with Kunstler. One Dennis Winters conceded to Mullane that he didn't think the problem was "as bleak as the film [End of Suburbia] painted it," but he also told him that cities leave the "smallest ecological footprints," while suburbs "consume vast amounts of energy, resources, land." Mullane knows Winters is right: "Valid points, I'll admit." Editorially, he claims that Winters "admitted that a lot of the current criticism of the 'burbs is really a social prejudice from city folks, who feel their eco-conscious lifestyles are superior." In his conclusion, Mullane smugly predicts that "Dennis Winters' grandkids will drive and love it, like most teenagers do." What he's really predicting is that oil depletion will have no significant effect on suburban life over the next two generations. We'll see. But he's also pitting an irrelevant factoid -- kids like cars -- against a body of thought he doesn't seem to understand.

The worst fallacy is Mullane's central assertion that those who question the wisdom of suburban sprawl do so out of hatred for the people who live in suburban towns. It's just like saying that because liberals believe the government should be secular, they must hate people who go to church.

But these things don't seem to matter. Mullane wanted to write a column railing against city dwellers ("prejudice[d]"), urban theory ("nuts"), oil depletion theory ("junk science,") the documentary End of Suburbia ("incoherent"), and one of its interviewees, Mr. Kunstler ("'burb hater"). This is the motivation of a man who considers himself a paragon of journalistic integrity. A man who says that Kunstler -- who mentions in the film that he is considering starting a local daily -- shouldn't bother entering the newspaper business.

Incidentally, prior to his career as an "obscure" novelist and urban theorist, Kunstler worked at a daily newspaper in Albany, as well as a number of other papers, and later became a staff writer for Rolling Stone; his writing has since appeared in The New York Times Magazine and the Times Op-Ed page, and Atlantic Monthly.

Mr. Mullane,

Thank you for your intelligent, well-crafted comments. I expect nothing less from a writer of your caliber.

Thanks for reading,

And that's that. We are done with J.D. Mullane. Really, my only important point then was that liberals don't hate religious people, and that good songs have been written about the current war. And my only important point now is that I think I'm a good writer, and I'll defend that. Also, I feel that J.D. Mullane is a largely unseen boob.

I also must confess to you that his e-mail caught me in a bit of a bad mood, because it's Bush's birthday. What do you think would be an appropriate gift? A subpoena? Censure? Articles of impeachment? Or something he can really use, like Hooked on Phonics?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Roe v Wade – It's Not for Everyone

1973 started on a Monday. It was the year of the Ox. Steinbrenner bought the Yankees for $10 million and the cost of a first class stamp was eight cents. (The median household income was only $10,512 so stamps had to be cheap.) The second highest grossing film was Deliverance which was released months before the U.S. ended involvement in Vietnam. The always bold and forward thinking State of Ohio became the first U.S. state to post metric distances on its signs. 1973 was the year David Blaine entered consciousness on this planet, and the year Bull Connor, Lon Chaney Jr and Bruce Lee passed on. In May 1973, the Watergate Hearings began and in June, Mark Felt resigned from the F.B.I. And, of course, Johnny Miller shot 63 at Oakmont Country Club to win the U.S. Open.

1973 also marked a turning point for the extreme right wing. Not since the Scopes Monkey Trial had we seen them so voracious. The fight against science had really taken a lot out of them and they were unorganized and scattered. But in Roe v Wade, they found a cause they could be united in - the oppression of women and minorities. And so, armed with nothing but the Bible, a coat hanger and a legendary bloodthirst in the name of Christ, ultra-conservatives began the battle to chip away at women's constitutional rights.

I was born in 1976 (a leap year starting on Thursday), so I've never lived without the protection of my rights Roe affords me. I can't really grasp the concept of life without Roe and neither can most women I know who are my age. And that is wonderful. But it's also dangerous. It's dangerous because we take it for granted, of course. But what I think is even more dangerous is that when it comes to abortion, we're forced to fight for rights we already have. The pro-lifers get to go on a crusade while the pro-choicers have to stay home and guard the fortress. Playing defense never riles people up the way playing offense does. You can't forget to attack. But you can forget to defend.

The 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade found a woman's right to choose abortion was protected by the 14th Amendment's right to privacy. The court divided pregnancy into trimesters and allowed regulation of abortion only when the viability of the fetus became a "compelling" interest for the state.

The court held that:

a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.

b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate and even proscribe abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.

For the first time in America, all pregnant women regardless of their economic status could choose to have an abortion up to the third trimester. No longer did women have to resort to what Emma Goldman called the "fantastic methods despair could invent: jumping off tables, rolling on the floor, massaging the stomach, drinking nauseating concoctions and using blunt instruments." Those days were over. We had won. Or had we?

In 1976, only a year after being sworn in as a U.S. Representative, an Irish Catholic Democrat-turned-Republican from Illinois, Henry Hyde burst onto the scene with an amendment that would be the first successful attack against abortion rights. The proposed Hyde Amendment would eliminate all federal funding for abortion. The year it was introduced, the amendment passed in the Senate without much of a fight. It seemed clear that it was nothing more than a shot at poor women and that the U.S. Supreme Court, just years after deciding Roe, would declare the amendment unconstitutional.

As expected, the law was challenged. But not so expected was the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision stating that "the Equal Protection Clause does not require a state participating in the Medicaid program to pay the expenses incident to nontherapeutic abortions for indigent women simply because it has made a policy choice to pay expenses incident to childbirth" (Maher v Roe, 1978). In other words, the court said that a state refusing to pay for abortions or abortion counseling while still providing full coverage for childbirth expenses is not restricting a woman's right to have an abortion. It is simply making a "value judgment" promoting childbirth over abortion which it has every right to do. The woman is still capable of finding a private abortion provider and using her own funds.

The court also well knows its decisions will have the practical effect of preventing nearly all poor women from obtaining safe and legal abortions, and will brutally coerce them to bear children whom society will scorn for every day of their lives.

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall - responding to U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Maher v Roe

Imagine that you are a young mother on Medicaid. Your birth control failed and you become pregnant. You already have two children and you only work part time because you cannot afford child care. Your partner makes minimum wage. Finances are tight and you basically live paycheck to paycheck. The average abortion ranges in cost from $350 - $4,000 depending on where the procedure is done and the term of the pregnancy. The further along the pregnancy, the more it costs. Depending upon where you live, you may have to drive a long distance and spend the night either before or after the procedure. If you live in a state that requires a 24-hour waiting period, you will need to make two separate trips. You will need to arrange for child care both for your counseling appointment and your actual appointment. You will also potentially lose up to two day's pay and perhaps your job. If you do not have a car, you will have to rent one or find an alternate mode of transportation.

If it takes you too long to save money for transportation, child care, overnight shelter and the procedure itself, you may have more trouble finding a provider as the vagueness of the recently signed "Partial Birth Abortion Ban" has frightened many doctors into canceling all second trimester procedures. How do you get the money? What do you decide to skip that month - the electricity bill, food, medication? How long will it take you to make up the lost funds? By the time you realize you have been turned down by Medicaid, how long do you have to save up the money it will cost you to act on your constitutional right to have an abortion? How many women, because of the Hyde Amendment, have been prevented from having a safe, legal abortion?

Rosaura Jimenez was 27 years old and a mother of a five year-old. She was 6 months away from receiving a bachelor's degree in Education. This must have been a source of great pride for her and her family who were Mexican migrant workers. Rosie was a Medicare patient. She is also the first recorded death resulting directly from restrictions made by the Hyde Amendment. Because her plan would not pay unless her life literally would be threatened by carrying the fetus to term, she received a back alley abortion performed with dirty instruments. She died less than 24 hours later from an infection similar to tetanus. The real tragedy of Rosie's story is that she died with a $700 scholarship check in her pocket. She was determined to use that money for its intended purpose: to help her finish her final term in college so that her five year old daughter would never have to work in the fields as she had.

Rosie was one of four women that year whose deaths the CDC directly linked to the restrictions created in the Hyde Amendment, but every year since 1976, a version of the Hyde Amendment has been attached as a rider to the annual Labor/Health and Human Services (HHS)/Education appropriations bill. And every year it passes. Though extremely poor women feel its effects the most, the Hyde Amendment doesn't just affect women on Medicaid. Through the years and today, the bill has passed with abortion rights restrictions for military personnel and their dependents, federal workers and their dependents, Peace Corp volunteers and Native American Women. Some years it has restricted funding only to "medically necessary" abortions. Some years, it includes funding for victims of incest or rape.

After only 4 years, the women who needed reproductive rights protection the most were forced again turn to Goldman's "fantastic methods" to try to maintain control of their bodies.

For the women I come from, the women who brought me up, choice is basically a myth. Reproductive freedom comes with a big price tag and if you have no money, then you have no choice. In my neighborhood and in my family I watched women take pills, pitch themselves down flights of stairs and drink and douche with all kinds of concoctions in attempt to force miscarriages on their bodies because those bodies go unprotected by the 'right to choose.' If you are too young, too poor, or a color other than white, then the coat hanger desperation everyone else left behind in the '70s is alive and well for you. That desperation was alive and well for my friends, my cousins, my own mother - right here in 2003, almost thirty-one years after Roe.

Jenna McKean, 23 years old - grew up on welfare in South Pennsylvania

As of 2004, 32 states receiving federal Medicare funds followed the federal standard for abortion: providing coverage only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. Additionally, 17 states funded abortions in cases of extreme physical threat of the mother. Of those 17 states, only 4 provide the funding voluntarily - the rest have been court ordered to do so. One state, South Dakota, is apparently in violation of federal standard as it only provides abortion coverage in the case of life endangerment.

If there were no federal, local or state legislation mandating Medicaid in case of life endangerment, rape, incest, and physical endangerment of the mother only FOUR states voluntarily provide it. That's why we have the laws, you say. Well, that's where things get tricky.

On December 8, 2004, George W. Bush signed the Hyde-Weldon Amendment written by Congressman Dave Weldon at the behest of Henry Hyde himself. The Amendment essentially states that any "health care entity" can refuse the right to perform, finance, provide coverage, or refer for abortions without any fear of retribution under local, state or federal laws. The enforcement of these laws could fall under what Weldon and the anti-choice groups call "discrimination" of providers, hospitals, insurance plans, HMO and, yes, Medicaid plans, that refuse to perform abortions. Any government which discriminates against these groups loses all of its funding under the Health and Human Services Appropriation Bill.

Remember those states that only provide Medicare funds for life endangerment or extreme physical damage to the mother because they are required to under federal and state law? They don't have to worry about it anymore. Because of Hyde and Weldon, no one is going to prosecute them.

The enactment is the culmination of a four year effort by the National Right to Life and a coalition of other groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic Health Association, and the Family Research Council.

National Right to Life website - on the passage of the Hyde-Weldon Amendment

The Weldon Amendment would radically alter existing law by providing broad license for all manner of health care entities - from hospitals to insurance companies to HMOs - to avoid basic legal requirements imposed by all levels of government.

The ACLU - in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA), 11/04

So how the hell did this amendment get through Congress? Because its proponents, like many politicians, are sneaky, sneaky people. It was stuck in a budget that provided funding for a lot of government agencies. The National Right to Life Foundation seems very proud of this tactic, declaring on its website: "its enactment was necessary to fund most government agencies, leaving the pro-abortion lawmakers with few options."

Currently, there is a lawsuit in D.C. District Court filed by the California Attorney General, Bill Lockyer challenging the law on the basis that it affects the state's sovereignty. And apparently U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White agrees with him. Last week, White issued an order rejecting the federal government's request to dismiss the case, saying Lockyer "sufficiently alleged an injury to California's sovereign interest in the continued enforceability of its own statutes." And Barbara Boxer has vowed to change the language this fall. Let's hope our folks in Congress are successful.

But of course, our battle isn't just fought in the Legislative Branch.

While purporting to adhere to precedent, the joint opinion instead revises it. Roe continues to exist, but only in the way a storefront on a western movie set exists: a mere facade to give the illusion of reality.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist - Planned Parenthood v Casey concurring/dissenting opinion

When Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement, I immediately received hundreds of e-mails saying that now was the time to "SAVE ROE!" As scary as it is, I'm kind of glad her retirement has brought the "Save Roe" people back to the forefront. Because Roe hasn't been safe for quite some time, even without Congress screwing it up.

From 1973 to the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded on and further defined the rights upheld in Roe in several cases (Akron, 1983; Thornburgh, 1986; Babbitt, 1986). Among other things, the court consistently ruled that requiring 24 hour waiting periods, parental and spousal consent, and state mandated information describing the development of the fetus be provided to the patient unconstitutional.

From 1981 - 1988, four Reagan appointees were confirmed by the senate as Supreme Court justices. In 1990 - 1991, two Bush I appointees were confirmed. In the years 1988 - 1991, the court overturned its decisions on waiting periods, parental consent and state mandated information. It also declared that the Missouri law which stated that life begins at conception was constitutional because the statement was, ajudgmentvalue judgement" and could not be used to hinder a woman's rights.

By 1992, 6 of the 9 Supreme Court seats were appointees of administrations that made no bones about their anti-abortion stance. And in 1992, in the case of Planned Parenthood v Casey the court effectively nullified all of the rights granted under previous U.S. Supreme Court abortion cases. This was the closest we've come so far to out and out overturning Roe v Wade.

In the joint decision of the court, O'Connor wrote:

It must be stated at the outset and with clarity that Roe's essential holding, the holding we reaffirm, has three parts. First is a recognition of the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State. Before viability, the State's interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the woman's effective right to elect the procedure. Second is a confirmation of the State's power to restrict abortions after fetal viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger a woman's life or health. And third is the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.

But Rehnquist disagreed that the joint opinion upheld the essence of Roe, saying:

Roe decided that a woman had a fundamental right to an abortion. The joint opinion rejects that view. Roe decided that abortion regulations were to be subjected to "strict scrutiny" and could be justified only in the light of "compelling state interests." The joint opinion rejects that view. Roe analyzed abortion regulation under a rigid trimester framework, a framework which has guided this Court's decision making for 19 years. The joint opinion rejects that framework...

...this state of confusion and disagreement warrants reexamination of the "fundamental right" accorded to a woman's decision to abort a fetus in Roe...

... In evaluating abortion regulations under that standard, judges will have to decide whether they place a "substantial obstacle" in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. In that this standard is based even more on a judge's subjective determinations than was the trimester framework, the standard will do nothing to prevent "judges from roaming at large in the constitutional field" guided only by their personal views...

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think William Rehnquist has a lot of good points. I don't think the current laws uphold the essence of Roe v Wade. The standards of the law are too subjective.

I get scared when I think that my rights depend on the court, state or federal government's definition of "viability" while George W. Bush is signing "Partial Birth Abortion" bans, Missouri state law says life begins at conception and at least one member of the U.S. Senate is at home cuddling a miscarriage.

I don't like it when I find out that Antonin Scalia gets to decide what is an "undue burden" to place in front of women seeking abortion.

I'm a little disconcerted that WOMEN'S RIGHTS are in the hands of Clarence Thomas. I don't think a woman's anything should be in the hands of Clarence Thomas. But I think he's all too happy to grab hold of our rights (and our asses) without fear of judgment.

But unlike Rehnquist (thank GOD I finally get to say that), I don't think the answer is to overturn Roe v Wade. I think the answer is to stop Congress and the Supreme Court from chipping away at it until there's nothing left.

This is how they will win. They will not march valiantly into the Supreme Court shouting "overturn Roe v Wade now!" They will make it more and more difficult for women to receive abortion counseling or services. They will make sure that no one can get a referral. They will loosen laws against anti-abortion protesters. They will, piece by piece, destroy the right that many of us have never had to live without. They will make the point that Roe is irrelevant in the face of the new laws. And they'll be right.

And it will be nice, and quiet, and almost imperceptible until it's done.

They are sneaky. Politics is sneaky.

The shell of Roe v Wade remains. The next few months will be extremely important. But we can't just pay attention to the initial confirmation hearings and forget about it. We can't get too involved in the exciting shouting matches over ideologies and ignore the boring budget amendments. We have to watch Congress; we have to watch the courts. We have to find out when someone is passing a Weldon Amendment and we have to fight against it. We have to have a voice coming from the left because the right damn sure has a voice. And it is LOUD.

So we'll just have to be smarter than they are.

write to me


49% of American women find themselves unintentionally pregnant.
Of those 49%, half terminate the pregnancy through medical means.
Between 1973 and 2002, more than 42 million women chose safe, legal abortion.
4 out of 10 girls in the United States get pregnant at least once before age 20.
Source: The Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Some Current Legislation Introduced in the House and Senate in 2005:
S. 51: Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act of 2005
A bill to ensure that women seeking an abortion are fully informed regarding the pain experienced by their unborn child. (Brownback, R-KS)

H.R. 776: Sanctity of Life Act (2005)
To provide that human life shall be deemed to exist from conception. (Paul, R-TX)

H.J. Res. 4:Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States with respect to the right to life
(Emerson, R-MO)

H.R. 522: To implement equal protection under the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution for the right to life of each born and preborn* human person
(Hunter, R-CA)

S. 839: Access to Reproductive Health Information Act
A bill to repeal the law that gags doctors and denies women information and referrals concerning their reproductive health options. (Boxer, D-CA)**

H.J. Res. 31: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to equality of rights and reproductive rights
(Jackson, D-IL)

*When my spell check flagged this word, it made me so happy.
**Thank god for Barbara Boxer. I think we should all send her fruit baskets.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Freedom Tower and the Fourth of July

"...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator [or whatever you happen to believe] with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men [and Women], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..."

Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago today, the Second Continental Congress voted for American independence from England. Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson, who opposed independence primarily out of a deep reverence for the mother country, had craftily proposed that any vote on the issue had to be unanimous in order to carry. (On the grounds, he said, that no colony be torn from its British affiliation without its own consent.) Even so, the vote was not unanimous. There were twelve yea votes, and one abstention, and that was New York. Lewis Morris and Robert Livingston, New York's delegates to the Congress, said that the state's legislature could arrive at no consensus about how to advise them to vote.

The thirteen colonies, as a union, didn't actually endorse independence until July 15, 1776, when Morris and Livingston persuaded their legislature to allow them to add New York's name to the Declaration. Most of the Congress signed the document gradually, over the next year. The idea that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4 lives on in American mythology, but the only member of Congress to sign on that date was its president, John Hancock. Over the next few weeks, anticipating the hangman's noose, Hancock grew increasingly nervous and suggested that some of his colleagues might add their names, too.

Having declared its sovereignty on paper, the newborn Unites States of America then had to win an impossible war. With little more than 6,000 soldiers present and fit for duty, General George Washington understood that he was the leader of a tiny little insurgency. That insurgency, in a series of bloody battles which largely centered on New York City, had to face down the greatest superpower in the world. It all worked out for Washington, of course; history shows that insurgencies fighting intruders almost never lose. When the Continental Army, at long last, was able to take back Manhattan, Washington knew that he could deliver on the Declaration's promise.

Twelve years later, on April 30, 1789, Washington found himself standing on the steps of Manhattan's Federal Hall, on the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street. There, for the first time, he was referred to by a title no previous statesman had held: President of the United States. In a concession to lingering puritan mores, which linger to this very day, Washington's inaugural procession marched up Broadway to St. Paul's Chapel. There, our first secular deist Commander-in-Chief knelt on a pillow and prayed for the future of the nation.

St. Paul's Chapel was actually a good place to launch the ship of America, because its mere presence was something of a miracle. Most of the buildings in Manhattan had been lost to the Great Fire of 1776, and what had sprung up on their graveyard by the time of Washington's inauguration was a brand new city, which contained almost no reminder of its hundred-and-fifty-year European colonization. But St. Paul's survived the fire, which reached the barren lots surrounding the church, and inexplicably chose just that moment to die away as embers on the wind.

St. Paul's, the oldest New York City building in continuous public use, is fortified by the essence of Manhattan Island itself. Its exterior, though trimmed with brownstone, is chiefly comprised of locally quarried Manhattan schist. The schist, reddish and granite-like, is the literal bedrock of Manhattan. Its unmatched strength is what gives our skyscrapers permission to rise so high, with two-story basements. Where the schist is strongest -- Midtown and Lower Manhattan -- the skyline reaches its highest peaks. The shape of Manhattan's skyline, to a degree, is geologically mandated by the stone quarried to build St. Paul's Chapel.

It was built in 1766, when today's international economic nerve center was still a scrappy countryside village. The chapel stood alone, facing the Hudson River. Over the next two centuries, as the Financial District blossomed around it, the building's orientation changed. Instead of facing the Hudson River, it eventually faced the World Trade Center, but not really, because its rear entrance had become its front entrance. So it faced Broadway. It's not necessarily surprising, but it is symbolic, that this ancient survivor of the 1776 fire also survived 9/11. St. Paul's Chapel is in a position to take things in stride. It stood in the shadow of the Twin Towers for thirty years, but that was a mere fraction of its historic scope. It's stood in the much more substantial figurative shadow of Ground Zero for almost four years now, and it knows it will one day cool in the eclipse of something called the Freedom Tower.

Last week, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the latest redesign of the proposed skyscraper, hastily conceived to appease the NYPD's concerns about safety from car bombs. The new design has had its critics, but the general consensus seems to be that it is, at least, a vast improvement over the previous design. There's no doubt about this. The new Freedom Tower design is much better. It evokes the Twin Towers, yet it's more graceful than they ever were. It culminates in a convincing central spire which references the city's greatest skyscrapers, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings.

But it's been my opinion for some time now that whatever we do with Ground Zero, one thing we should absolutely not do is build an immense skyscraper. Sure, that's the obvious compulsion, but wouldn't it be better not to? How about a series of smaller buildings? How about an actual neighborhood? Before the Port Authority bulldozed sixteen acres of homes and businesses to build the original World Trade Center, that's what the place was -- an actual American neighborhood, a home to people from all over the world. Wouldn't that send a stronger and more defiant message to those who would like to do us harm?

Donald Trump suggested recently that we should rebuild the Twin Towers faithfully, but one story taller. It's just what Donald Trump would do. And it's appalling. It falsely suggests that 9/11 made us stronger, somehow, better. It has the exact same effect as another popular suggestion, recently mentioned to me by a guy on my tour: "We should build five skyscrapers there, in the shape of a huge hand, giving the finger." Giving the world the finger is exactly why 9/11 didn't make us better. And with all due respect, sir, why don't you go to work every day in the enormous "fuck you" sign downtown? Why don't you go to sleep at night in a city whose most prominent region has become both a target for terrorists and a showcase for the preposterous cowboy hubris of tiny little millionaires?

Even now, the creators of the Freedom Tower are practically begging for another 9/11. It's going to be the safest building in the world, they sang at their press conference. It really did have the tone of musical comedy. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly did a catchy little ditty about how "the Police Department had sought to protect the building against bomb blasts, which our counterterrorism experts agree present one of the greatest threats to such iconic structures." And Pataki, looking more like a potato on a stick than ever, sang, "If one of those giant corporations occupies the top floors and wants to hire one of my kids, I'd be honored to have them working there and be confident in their safety." Really, George, no kidding? You wouldn't be worried that they'd die in a terrorist attack? Wow! Sold!

Cheeky defiance is a distinctive American tradition, and there might be a convincing argument for the Freedom Tower if Lower Manhattan actually needed office space. If we need it, we should build it, but we don't. There is not a single tenant engaged for the new tower, nor is there a single tenant for the new building at 7 World Trade Center, which is almost finished. The Financial District is already full of empty offices, and it doesn't need more. It needs retail and housing -- and also, perhaps, a fitting memorial to the horrific event which continues to haunt our national dreams. Since the Twin Towers themselves were built on a Lenape Indian burial ground, it has been wisely suggested that we actually need two memorials there. Regardless, the only real justification for the new tower is the superficial need of people who don't live in Lower Manhattan to see another tall thing where the Twin Towers used to be. Bloomberg said the new tower "will be a spectacular addition to the city's skyline," which is hard to deny, and that "its construction will climax the greatest comeback in the history of our city," which means nothing.

In my career as a New York City tour guide, I've spent much of the last several years thinking and talking about the city and its symbols. On September 10, 2001, I performed my last tour which included the Twin Towers, and in April of 2002 I performed my first which included the unsettling new landmark, Ground Zero. These days, when my tour works its way around the bank of the Lower Hudson, I start with Forty Wall Street, the former headquarters of the Bank of Manhattan. Forty Wall Street, I usually say, is one of my favorite chapters in the New York story, because it was the tallest building in the world for about twenty minutes. The Chrysler Building was finished on the same day. That's New York. What can you say about a town like this -- where a building can be taller than anything else on the planet, but not after dinner. A city which is always changing -- a skyline that never stays still -- can inspire you, but it can also break your heart. Ahead of you and on the right, there's a tragic gap in the skyline, which ultimately is part of that story.

The Twin Towers, of course, were two of the seven buildings that made up the World Trade Center. All together, two hundred thousand people worked in those seven buildings every day. About fifty thousand in the towers themselves. In strong wind, the Twin Towers swayed a foot and a half in any direction. They had their own zip code.

The main reason why we're having such difficulty replacing the towers is that it's hard to memorialize what you have not yet come to terms with. But whether it's the 9/11 attacks, or the General Slocum disaster, or the Triangle Fire, or the Fire of 1776, or the Civil War Draft Riots, unspeakable tragedy has devastated this city many times, and New Yorkers have always responded with two questions. The first is "What can I do to help?" One of the beautiful things about that terrible day was the juxtaposition of people willing to fly planes into towers with people willing to walk into those towers to help other people out of them. And the second question is, "When can I go back to work?" When the British marched in in 1664 and New Amsterdam became New York, nobody minded much; the invasion was peaceful and not a single shot was fired. The businesspeople of Manhattan were utterly indifferent to whether the Dutch or the British controlled the island, as long as they could keep going to work. They just wanted to know what the new name of the city would be, so they could alter their letterheads accordingly.

New Yorkers are determined to go on, and that's why New York City is so resilient. We accept our unpredictable skyline. We want to see what happens. After 9/11, we heard this sentence a lot: "We are all New Yorkers now." We are all New Yorkers now. It's a beautiful sentiment, and it was true long before 2001. The City of New York is the most diverse place in the entire world; it's everybody's home. Its most characteristic features seem totally out of place. Now, whether you like New York is of course a matter of personal taste, but everyone has the ability to belong here. New York City is here when you need it. Whoever you are and whatever your background, even if you've never been to New York, its story overlaps with your story; and somewhere in its five boroughs there is a tiny room where you might reinvent yourself someday.

New York City is big, over three hundred square miles. But when we talk about New York City, we usually mean Manhattan, which is easily its smallest borough. Manhattan feels enormous, but it's less than one twelfth of the city's total area. Manhattan is twenty-three square miles, and that's all; it's thirteen miles long, and its average width is two miles. We like to pretend that we touch the sky out of some vertical manifest destiny, but the truth is that Manhattan is tall because it's small. The skyscraper came of age here because there was no way the island could expand horizontally. Originally, before downtown and midtown were flattened by progress, the whole island was green and hilly -- so hilly that its original human inhabitants, the Lenape, named it Manahata -- "island of hills." There's actually some argument about this. Some have said that Manahata translates more accurately to "island of inebriation," which is also an apt description. It's basically the same meaning: Whether it means high on a hilltop or high in a delirious mental state, that's what Manhattan means -- it means high, it means up. It's significant that even before we came here, with our technology and ambition, there was already a Manhattan skyline.

Because I make these points so often when I'm on the tour, and because I've spent so much time traversing Manhattan by double-decker bus and circling it by boat, I have a particularly intimate relationship with the city's skyline. To me, the Hudson River is the Ganges and the spires of Manhattan are the Himalayas; the city is a bookshelf, and I can't really look at it without reading the stories. It all means something to me -- something sacred and uplifting and desperate and sad.

Despite my convictions about the future of Ground Zero, it's been obvious for years now that there will be an immense skyscraper constructed there, no matter what. So if it's going to happen, it's going to happen, and since it is, I'm cautiously pleased with the new plans. I must confess that I was taken by surprise when I saw these graphics from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. What surprised me is that I was moved beyond belief.

I don't know what to say. I think it's beautiful. I think it's unnecessary and misguided, and an ominous, frightening shame. But beautiful. And in spite of what I know in my head, these pictures are incredibly reassuring to my heart.

But tonight, when I'm out on the harbor, singing the city's praises under fireworks, I won't think of Manhattan's image as "post-World Trade Center" or "pre-Freedom Tower." The skyline is the skyline. Take a picture of it at any moment, and you'll capture something that's both transitory and eternal. You can never take the same picture of it twice.

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P.S. Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Be sure to stop by tomorrow for Amanda's inaugural NERO FIDDLED article (see Friday's entry), and I'll be back on Wednesday.