Friday, June 04, 2004

A brief break

I'm off to the San Juans for a long weekend. Hope to see some orcas. Apologies for the light posting this week, but the batteries need recharging.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Attacking the providers

Blue Mountain Women's Clinic in Missoula, Montana, is one of those places doing important work in a forsaken environment, providing a range of great medical care for women in western Montana -- and yes, abortions and other reproductive choices.

It's important because in a place like Montana, as Mother Jones reported some time back, the Christian right's stealth campaign again abortion has focused on denying access to abortions by drying up the number of places able to provide them.

When I lived in Missoula, some good friends of mine worked at Blue Mountain. I knew that abortion was hardly the only work going on at the place -- but I also knew they felt strongly about keeping it available there, because it was choice that was increasingly not being offered elsewhere in the state and indeed the broader region, including Idaho, Wyoming and eastern Washington.

The place was burned to the ground in 1993 by a right-wing fanatic turned arsonist. The clinic kept running in other locations until a brand-new facility was built, thanks to a strong showing of support from the community.

This clinic was the target of frequent anti-abortion protests in the early 1990s, most of them organized by Operation Rescue, the ultra-right outfit associated with a couple of abortion-doctor murders in Florida. But after the arson, the protests largely went away.

Via Z Magazine, it appears the protesters have returned with a vengeance:
In September 2003, a person with well-known ties to Operation Rescue, Marilyn Hatch, set up camp at the clinic picketing and harassing patients and staff. With a long history of anti-choice activism, Hatch had three previous arrests, all from 1994, when she was apparently traveling throughout the country on her "mission" to obstruct clinic access. In March 1994, she was arrested during an Operation Rescue blockade of a clinic entrance in Birmingham, Alabama. In May of that year, she was arrested for obstructing the entrance to the Planned Parenthood in Waco, Texas. In June, she was arrested for violating FACE (the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act) when she and four others chained themselves to old cars in front of a clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During that year, Hatch was on the payroll full time for Operation Rescue.

In her currently resurrected career of clinic harassment, Hatch's strategies to harass, confuse, and intimidate patients has become more aggressive. During her first weeks at the clinic, she began by telling patients that she was "here to help them" by providing counseling. ("Sidewalk counseling" is currently in vogue with anti-choice protestors throughout the country.) As those techniques failed to draw any free "counseling" takers, she changed her tactics and began shouting misinformation at women and their partners as they entered the clinic. Clutching her bible, she would yell, "Ask about the breast cancer link." (The National Institute of Health reported in March 2003 that there is no medical evidence linking breast cancer to abortion.) She would often shout at the partners, "Be a man, don’t kill your baby" or, "This will damage you for life, you won't be able to have babies again."

Hatch also targets clinic staff. Her tactics include photographing staff and their license plates and trying to befriend staff by telling them, "You can get a better job" or leaving business cards for "abortion workers," urging them to report employers for discrimination and payroll fraud. In one instance, Hatch singled me out as the director of the clinic and threatened to tell my neighbors that I kill babies.

Why is this happening now? Possibly because of the direction coming from the top:
Public discourse on abortion has become more heated during George Bush Jr.'s presidency. One of his first actions after taking office in 2001 was to reinstate the global gag rule on abortion. The gag rule prohibits family planning organizations that receive U.S. funds from using their own funds to counsel about or refer for abortion or to lobby their own government for a change in abortion laws.

Bush's nomination of nine conservative judges to federal circuit courts has also reignited the abortion debate, as most of the nominees either refused to answer questions about their positions on abortion or were blatantly and vocally anti-choice. Circuit court judges are often nominated to the Supreme Court and with President Bush's public statements in favor of the repeal of Roe v. Wade, national organizations such as NAF, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization of Women pressured Democrats to filibuster the nominations of these extremist judges.

Bush's policies to withhold the $34 million that Congress had traditionally appropriated for the United Nations' International Family Planning Program (UNFPA), has damaged the U.S.'s standing internationally. The fund provides the largest internationally funded source of population assistance to developing countries, providing reproductive and maternal health services to millions of men and women in more than 150 countries. The Fund's programs help impoverished and underserved women throughout the world. Bush's withdrawal of support was based on the funds' work to promote contraceptive education and access to safe abortion services.

With Bush on their side, extreme right pundits have set the climate for renewed aggression aimed at abortion clinics, physicians, and families looking to access their safe and legal right to reproductive health care.

The religious right has been especially vocal in pushing Bush farther rightward on the abortion issue. The result is that Bush's sympathy for anti-abortion extremists has become fairly clear.

That sets an example that plays out in dangerous ways. And it genuinely harms women in the process.

Media mavens

My favorite moment from Alexandra Polier's excellent piece on the attempt to smear John Kerry with a concocted "intern scandal":
One reporter had a little girl call up, assuming I wouldn’t hang up on a child. They even made her say, "Can I talk to Alex?" And when I said, "Yes, it's me," a reporter jumped on the line. CNN's Zain Verjee wrote beseeching notes, slipping them under the front gate. It was like a horror movie where the zombies are on the other side of the door and then an arm comes through the window. Stuck with Kerry's denial, each of the American networks had hired a local fixer to approach me for a big sit-down. "Tell me it's true and we're on the next plane to Nairobi!" ABC's Chris Vlasto e-mailed hopefully.

But of course, since it wasn't true, they stayed put. Funny about that.

As always, Atrios is your one-stop shop for the lowdown on Vlasto (including a recent shot).

What a nasty piece of work Vlasto is. And people wonder why I think the chief problem with the media has been its takeover by conservative ideologues who will do literally anything to attack Democrats. It's precisely the kind of behavior that conservatives consistently accuse nonpartisan journalists of engaging in, usually when they're simply doing their jobs.

Lying liars

From Liz Rich, via Mark Crispin Miller:

George W. Bush last February, on Meet The Press:
Russert: If the Iraqis choose, however, an Islamic extremist regime, would you accept that, and would that be better for the United States than Saddam Hussein?

President Bush: They're not going to develop that. And the reason I can say that is because I'm very aware of this basic law they're writing. They're not going to develop that because right here in the Oval Office I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi and al-Hakim, people from different parts of the country that have made the firm commitment, that they want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion.

George W. Bush yesterday, in a Rose Garden press conference:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Chalabi is an Iraqi leader that's fallen out of favor within your administration. I'm wondering if you feel that he provided any false information, or are you particularly --


Q Yes, with Chalabi.

THE PRESIDENT: My meetings with him were very brief. I mean, I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him.

Mr. Brahimi made the decision on Chalabi, not the United States. Mr. Brahimi was the person that put together the group. And I haven't spoken to him or anybody on the ground as to why Chalabi wasn't taken.

In terms of information --

Q I guess I'm asking, do you feel like he misled your administration, in terms of what the expectations were going to be going into Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't remember anybody walking into my office saying, Chalabi says this is the way it's going to be in Iraq.

[Extended digression, smothered with patriotic homilies]

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Manipulated by Chalabi

My friend Paul deArmond, aka Warbaby, of World in Conflict is an extraordinarily sharp-eyed analyst. Sometimes he overreaches, and sometimes he misses the mark, but more often than not he's on the money. I went back recently and reread a piece he cobbled together nearly a year ago regarding developments in Iraq, and was struck by its prescience:
INC and blowback

What has not been widely discussed is the central role the Iraqi National Congress (INC) played in the road to war -- not as puppet but instigator. The role of the INC in generating unreliable "intelligence" on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD -- meaning nuclear, chemical and biological weapons) has been mentioned in passing in the media since the occupation started to go sour. Once the investigations move beyond the ability of some as-yet unidentified foreign operation to plant childishly crude forgeries in the State of the Union address, the INC's steady stream of questionable intelligence will deserve more scrutiny.

And that's where the afore-mentioned list of bogus assumptions in the Bush war plan become very interesting. You see, all of them trace back to a single source. If you guessed the Iraqi National Congress, you win the exploding cigar!

His conclusions back then, in particular, seem especially relevant:
The White House allowed the false information to circulate through the echo chamber of the media. The hawks made baseless allegations that would move America closer to war, the INC dutifully provided the "intelligence" selected to reinforce their masters' views, the media uncritically echoed the leaks and statements by "unnamed officials" -- and the public was manipulated.

The intentions of the parties involved may be arguable, but the effect is indistinguishable from psychological warfare against the national interest.

The debate over whether the misinformation was a product of intentional deceit or incompetent gullibility misses one important point: the United States government needs to be protected from bad intelligence and particularly needs to be defended against external manipulation. In this case, the counter-intelligence apparatus failed to defend the integrity of the intelligence process and the country has been manipulated by misinformation disguised as "intelligence."

The roots of bigotry

The estimable Kynn Bartlett of Shock and Awe has written a terrific column for The Californian that tackles the sticky issues raised by the recent rise of the specter of white supremacism among high-schoolers in the San Diego area and elsewhere:
Is 'City of hate' back?

Significantly, Kynn points out that the bigotry is not merely relegated to matters of race:
The roots of intolerance grow deep in our community. It`s not always just about race. Lake Elsinore Unified School District Superintendent Sharron Lindsay said that students with disabilities and gay students have been targets of hate.

"Anyone who is different in any way," she told The Californian recently.

Schools can`t deal effectively with this kind of intolerance, because it doesn`t actually come from the schools. It only manifests there.

Hatred begins in the home. The evils of racism, homophobia, disdain for people with disabilities, and hatred for those who are different need to be fought throughout the community, not just in the high schools.

These kinds of problems don`t grow in a vacuum. The attitudes of intolerance which dominate our community led directly to events such as the Temescal Canyon fights as well as hate crimes on a Murrieta campus.

Kynn goes on to point out that the Lake Elsinore area has an unfortunate history of real bigotry deep in its roots.

The reality is that nearly every locale in America has similar roots. And the problems of bigotry are, as a result, extremely difficult to eliminate.

Conservatives often react in horror to attempts to stamp it out -- mostly by labeling it "identity politics" -- by pretending that racism and other kinds of pernicious bigotry are part of our distant past. But, as Faulkner famously put it: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."