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On Tuesday, meeting with the press in the White House Rose Garden, the President responded to a question about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria this way: "[P]hoto opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror." There should, he added to the assembled reporters, be no meetings with state sponsors of terror.
That night, Brian Ross of ABC News reported that, since 2005, the U.S. has "encouraged and advised" Jundullah, a Pakistani tribal "militant group," led by a former Taliban fighter and "drug smuggler," which has been launching guerrilla raids into Baluchi areas of Iran. These incursions involve kidnappings and terror bombings, as well as the murder (recorded on video) of Iranian prisoners. According to Ross, "U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or â€˜finding' as well as congressional oversight." Given past history, it would be surprising if the group doing the encouraging and advising weren't the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a long, sordid record in the region. (New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been reporting since 2005 on a Bush administration campaign to destabilize the Iranian regime, heighten separatist sentiments in that country, and prepare for a possible full-scale air attack on Iranian nuclear and other facilities.)
The President also spoke of the Iranian capture of British sailors in disputed waters two weeks ago. He claimed that their "seizureâ€¦ is indefensible by the Iranians." Oddly enough, perhaps as part of secret negotiations over the British sailors, who were dramatically freed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, an Iranian diplomat in Iraq was also mysteriously freed. Eight weeks ago, he had been kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad by uniformed men of unknown provenance. Reporting on his sudden release, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times offered this little explanation of the kidnapping: "Although [Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar] Zebari was uncertain who kidnapped the man, others familiar with the case said they believe those responsible work for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency." The CIA, of course, has a sordid history in Baghdad as well, including running car-bombing operations in the Iraqi capital back in Saddam Hussein's day.
It's been a frigid winter for the abstinence-only crowd. Back in October the GAO slammed the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for funding two abstinence-only programs without reviewing their "education materials for scientific accuracy" or even requiring grantees "to review their own materials for scientific accuracy." Then last week the Institute of Medicine (IOM) attacked abstinence-until-marriage earmarks in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as ideologically driven barriers that jeopardize "the vitally important end of saving lives." The nation's editorial pages echoed IOM's findings. And this Monday, Wade Horn, director of ACF and architect of Bush's abstinence-only and marriage promotion policies, abruptly resigned -- much to the dismay of the family-values crowd.
Add to this mix the introduction of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine endorsed by the CDC and Republican governors alike but opposed by abstinence-only fanatics, and it's clear that support for abstinence-only education is more precarious now than at any other point in the Bush administration. With Democrats in control of Congress, there's hope that funding for comprehensive sex education (such as the REAL Act and the PATHWAY Act, both sponsored by Barbara Lee (D) and Chris Shays (R)) might get a fair shake.
But don't count your condoms just yet. As Scott Swenson reports over at RH Reality Check, federally-funded abstinence groups have pooled together their resources and created the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). And they've hired Creative Response Concepts (CRC), the pitbulls behind the "Swift Boat Veterans" ads, as their PR flacks. NAEA promises "proactive 'rapid response'" to "negative attacks" on abstinence education, a campaign to "promote positive national media exposure" and the mobilization of "local abstinence organizations" in "key congressional districts."
It wasn't enough for George W. Bush to nominate a donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as Ambassador to Belgium. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which John Kerry sits, was poised to reject Sam Fax's nomination, Bush gave him a recess appointment.
The President just told Congress what Dick Cheney memorably said to Senator Patrick Leahy: "Go [bleep] yourself."
Under the recess arrangement, Fox will bypass the Senate and serve in a voluntary capacity, receiving no salary. But since he's a multimillionaire donor to GOP causes, that hardly matters. Democrats are now questioning the legality of this arrangement. "Federal law prohibits 'voluntary service' in cases where the position in question has a fixed rate of pay, as an ambassadorship does," reports Mary Ann Akers of the Washington Post, citing the Government Accountability Office.
Boy, does the media love a good daycare controversy. Since we haven't had a good Satanic abuse or child molestation daycare story in years, we have to make do with provocative statistics. It's not the same, but it allows us to air our gender anxieties and maternal issues, and we seem to have a collective need to do that at least once a year.
Last week's media frenzy focused on the latest National Institutes of Health day care study-- actually on one finding in particular: kids who spent three or four preschool years in daycare had marginally more behavior problems in school. Researchers themselves said kids were "in the normal range" and parents shouldn't freak out -- but such caveats were lost in the cacophony. This week, the reports are still making the roundsin the blogosphere, with many bloggers offering a salutary corrective to the way the story was initially reported. Many mainstream journalists, as usual, were eager to twist the results to confirm the most reactionary assumptions: mothers shouldn't work. The very best analysis anywhere was Emily Bazelon's terrific dissection on Slate.
The study suggests some interesting possibilities. The quality of the day care mattered a great deal (though the quality of the care children received at home, from their parents, mattered even more). Many day care centers are substandard, especially those available to poor people. Watching TV in the company of underqualified strangers can't be terribly helpful to a kid's development. Raising the pay of child care workers would certainly help improve the quality of care, and more oversight of the daycare industry would be helpful. There's a great daycare center in my neighborhood-- caring, intellectually and socially stimulating -- but since it costs more than three years of my college education, I have never even visited it. All kids deserve to attend places like that. But in addition to improving daycare, we need to get more companies to offer on-site babysitting so that parents and children can spend more time together. And of course, people should have more choices: it should be made much easier for parents to take longer parental leaves or work part time when their children are very young.
The Supremes have spoken. George, we put you in the White House back in 2000, but we can't go along with your "junk science" on global warming. We order you and your weak-spined EPA to obey the law. Do something real about the climate-change carbon emissions from automobiles that are killing the polar bears. Or, if you decide not to do so, then give us an explanation based on science, not on the latest press release from your pals at Exxon Mobil.
How radical is that? Of course, the four Corporate Justices â€“ Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito--choked and sputtered and pounded the bench. In the majesty of the Constitution, they insisted, this issue should never have come before the court. Leave it to the Congress. In the wisdom of democratic process, the lawmakers can decide whether to side with Al Gore and a zillion anxious scientists or the good folks from autos, oil and electric utilities who pass out the checks to deserving legislators.
After the court delivered its 5-4 decision, a political hack who fronts for the car makers, solemnly announced they "look forward to working constructively with both Congress and the administration." That's a hoot. Detroit has resisted every small step forward for forty years, starting with Ralph Nader's observation that many fewer people would be killed if the companies designed more for safety, less for testosterone.
Generally that was a predictable performance by the Decider, but one thing stuck out to me. The New Rationale TM for the war, (I've lost track of how many this is) is that the generals say the surge will work and the politicians should just butt out and let the men do their jobs. As Josh Marshall points out, this is patently untrue. The generals didn't think the surge would work so Bush replaced them with someone who did. But even more absurd is the notion that the people executing war policy should be actually determining war policy, that we should just outsource the decisions about the duration of our occupation of Iraq to the all-knowing David Petraeus.
This is particularly ironic against the backdrop of the US Attorney's scandal. The administration's MO from the very beginning has been to overide the judgement of experts and career civil servants, whether they be scientists assessing climate change, or public health officials evaluating food and drugs, or US attorneys weighing whether there is sufficient evidence for an indictment. In short they have politicized every last function of the government, so much so that the work product of the entire federal bureacracy must now be assessed as if it were little more than an RNC press release. And now, on the single most vital political issue, Bush wants to argue that politics should play no part and the judgement of a single man should dictate the entirety of US policy.
President Bush describes Iran's seizure of fifteen British sailors and Marines as "inexcusable behavior."
But did the Bush Administration's anti-Iran machinations lead to the escalation in tensions that culminated in the seizure of the Brits?
One of the finest reporters on the Middle-East affairs argues that this is precisely the case.
If it's spring break in Washington, then that must be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi--accompanied by, my goodness, the perpetually pro-Israel Tom Lantos!-- heading for Syria this week.
Pelosi's delegation is currently in Lebanon. AP's Zeina Karam writes there that the Speaker,
"We have no illusions, but we have great hope," she said.
As the crisis between Iran and Britain enters its second week, and confrontational rhetoric fills our newspapers and airwaves, it is worth reading a statement published just a few days ago by Iranian,Iraqi and British women activists, academics and politicians (including a few Western colleagues).