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Friday, September 30, 2005

A Letter From the Shores of Iraq - New York TimesSeptember 30, 2005

A Letter From the Shores of Iraq - New York TimesSeptember 30, 2005
A Letter From the Shores of Iraq

Umm Qasr, Iraq

To reach the headquarters of the Iraqi Navy in the port of Umm Qasr, my U.S. Navy escort and I had to drive in from Kuwait. We were met at the border by two jeeps with the Royal Marines who escorted us to Umm Qasr at dusk. Even though this is the safest part of Iraq, we had to be outfitted in body armor, and the Royal Marines had their automatic weapons loaded and ready. They kept every civilian car we passed, every kid on a bicycle, in their sights, just in case one was a suicide bomber.

And no wonder - roadside bombs have suddenly started to appear on this route. And the enemy just keeps getting smarter. After the coalition forces introduced jamming devices to block roadside bombs detonated with cellphones, the insurgents started using infrared devices from garage door openers. So much ingenuity for so much malevolence. And this is the safe, Shiite part of Iraq.

The British Royal Navy is in charge of training the 1,000-man Iraqi Navy, which I wanted to see for two reasons. First, the effort to get Iraq's Navy back afloat is a microcosm of all the good, the bad and the ugly that is involved in trying to rebuild Iraq's military. And second, the Iraqi Navy has a very important job: with U.S., British and Australian help, it oversees Iraq's only port and the two oil pumping platforms off the coast of Umm Qasr. This is where virtually all of Iraq's one million barrels of oil - nearly 90 percent of Iraq's G.D.P. - gets loaded onto tankers daily.

The good news? The Umm Qasr port is busy today - 50 cargo ships a month offload air-conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, satellite dishes and cars for Iraqi consumers. Virtually every Iraqi naval officer I encountered had his own cellphone. Three years ago no one here had one. And considering that 18 months ago Iraq had no working navy, the fact that it now has a cadre of officers who have taken over the training, so the British and U.S. Coast Guard contingents here can focus on training the trainers, is also real progress.

But progress is slow. One day last week a whole boatload of Iraqi sailors decided to take a long lunch break and blew off the afternoon training. Too hot. When sailors misbehave, the Iraqis fall back on Saddamist discipline. The other day, an Iraqi officer suggested to his British adviser that a misbehaving sailor be buried in sand up to his neck.

The biggest challenge, explained Capt. John Clink of the Royal Navy, is getting middle-management Iraqis to take the initiative, especially when things go wrong. This requires a huge cultural shift.

Saddam's tyrannical rule over nearly three decades conditioned people here never to assume responsibility.

"There is a huge problem with fear of blame, fear of failure," Captain Clink said. "The result is a tendency to look away when a problem arises, to ignore it or just not do anything in the hopes that it will all go away." A vast majority of Iraqi military personnel, Captain Clink added, "have had the initiative kicked out of them by decades of repression. ... When Patrol Boat 1 breaks down, it is amazingly difficult to get them to decide how to get around the problem. They want to refer everything to the operational commander.

"At the younger level, though, the 25-year-olds, you start to see a completely different outlook on life. They are not superstars, but you see better English, more initiative, better leadership. And these are the guys out driving the patrol boats."

The problem is that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense in Baghdad is so dysfunctional that it is next to impossible to get these Iraqi junior officers promoted. And one month last summer the whole Iraqi Navy didn't get paid.

The Iraqi government ordered three new fast patrol boats from a contractor in Baghdad for millions of dollars. They are being finished on the dock in Umm Qasr, but no one knows whether they will stay afloat, because of all the extras that were added by the Iraqis without regard to seaworthiness.

The Iraqi Navy has a couple of terrific, dedicated commanders - real leaders, respected by their men. But when they go back home to lawless Basra, they never know whether masked men will attack them, as has happened to colleagues. And behind these few real leaders, there is no effective middle management.

So yes, we've trained a lot of Iraqi soldiers in the last 18 months, but that is not the relevant number. The relevant number is how many will be paid on time, how many will get promoted when they've earned it, how many will show up for training after lunch, how many will follow when their commander says charge, and how many can go home on weekends and tell people what they really do. That number has a long way to go.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas

New York Daily News - Ideas Some very poor excuses

So-called 'authentic' street culture is just plain destructive

When we look at the ongoing crisis in the depths of black America, it is sometimes hard to understand why there was such an explosion of outrage at Bill Cosby. One would have thought that he did the very worst thing possible when he called on the carpet the self-destructive behavior that separates prosperity from poverty. What Cosby showed was how dangerous defensiveness in face of the facts can be to any serious discussion of poverty.

Poverty and ignorance have always been well-acquainted. Part of the problem at the bottom is ignorance. Part of the problem of those who suffer from it is those in the black middle class who pretend to be engaged intellectuals but come up with nothing more than long-winded dismissals of accurate observations as some variation of "blaming the victim."

I began thinking more about this when I read in The New York Times about the health problems in Nigeria that are being addressed with the hard science of medicine rather than a "respect" for indigenous culture that allows backward ways to maintain themselves. Young women who are suffering from fistulas, a problem largely gone from Western life, are being treated by European doctors who take the catastrophe seriously. These young women find themselves with babies lodged in their birth canals, which result in the tearing of their bowels or their urethras. In the backward way of people who live at least part of their lives in the world of incapacitating superstition, these girls are usually rejected in exactly the same way as the rape victims of marauding African "revolutionary" troops who turn available women into sex slaves.

None of these problems are determined by genetics or are explained by the superstitions of racism. The human being is a learning animal. Any barbaric tradition can be rejected in the face of education.

What we need in America is the same kind of hard science that has no sentimental investment in authenticity or diversity when it amounts to ways of living that are self-destructive.

An ignorant person never represents an ethnic group or a religion. An ignorant person represents, most of all, every other ignorant person - regardless of color, sex, ethnicity, class, religion or any other particulars.

Once those facts are faced, we can get to work on changing the popularization of backward ideas and barbaric behavior that the popular media promotes as "pushing the envelope," which can result in middle class black parents finding their well-reared children aspiring to be the knuckleheads and street hussies.

A belief in education, the development of skills and the refinement of character are the best weapons against backwardness of the self-destructive sort. People like Cosby and Oprah Winfrey understand this well, and we would do ourselves a favor by getting up on the level of perception from which they are making clear observation in the most important terms, the human ones that are always stronger than tired rhetoric and predictable ideology.

Originally published on September 29, 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Ariel Sharon's Choice: Israel or Likud? - New York Times

Ariel Sharon's Choice: Israel or Likud? - New York TimesSeptember 28, 2005
Ariel Sharon's Choice: Israel or Likud?

The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, got a reprieve on Monday when he narrowly beat back Benjamin Netanyahu's stab at punishing him for withdrawing from Gaza by unseating him as leader of the right-wing Likud Party. In a narrow vote on the mundane question of whether to move up the election for party leader, holding it this November rather than in April, some 52 percent of Likud's Central Committee members opted for April, a victory for Mr. Sharon.

We hope that while Mr. Netanyahu is planning his next maneuver, Mr. Sharon will use this reprieve to continue the disengagement policy that he began with the successful Gaza pullout. The last thing he should do is allow pressure from the right within Likud to steer him away from the path that Israel has to pursue if it ever expects to make peace with the Palestinians.

Likud conventions are always lively - remember the one in 1986 when a fistfight broke out during a leadership contest among Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Mr. Sharon and David Levy? This one was no exception. On Sunday, a saboteur cut off the sound system just as Mr. Sharon was beginning to address the Central Committee. Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, was able to deliver his prepared speech free of interference.

But whatever the internal Likud machinations, the real issue facing Mr. Sharon is whether he will in the future be beholden to Israelis as a whole or to the narrow interests of the Likud Central Committee. The Gaza withdrawal may be complete, but there are 2.4 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank alongside nearly 250,000 Israeli settlers. The so-called road map for peace calls for Israel to work with elected Palestinian officials to create a plan for a negotiated Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The responsibility of the Palestinians is to clamp down on terrorist activity against Israelis. If ever there was a time less suited to the rise of Mr. Netanyahu and the right wing of Likud, it is now.

We hope that Mr. Sharon chooses the Israeli people above his party. It would be better for him to abandon Likud for good than abandon real hope for peace in the Middle East.

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Ivy housewives exercise true right to choose

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Ivy housewives exercise true right to chooseIvy housewives exercise true right to choose

A spate of studies and news articles now tells us that a good number of women in Ivy League colleges do not intend to set aside motherhood, or being wives, in the interest of careers that might not be as fulfilling as the feminist warhorses of the '70s once guaranteed.

Modern women have long been in a struggle to adjust themselves to society and to get society to adjust itself to them. In the process, they have brought about many changes - some of them good, some silly, others stupid.

It is not now hard to imagine that, in the wake of female mayors and governors, we will someday have a woman in the Oval Office. Though I doubt that first woman will be Hillary Clinton, I would love to see Clinton and Condoleezza Rice square off against one another, though the ongoing confusion of the Democratic Party and the sustained Republican insensitivity that borders on racism makes such a race a shot too long to even consider.

But the fact that it can be a conversation topic is a measure of how far we have come.

This moment is very different from what feminist ideologues thought it would be when they were expressing all kinds of rage and frustration 35 years ago. Most of their thinking was based in self-fulfillment of the narrowest sort - I, me, my, mine - which was considered an honorable rejoinder to the supposed imprisonment of the self-effacing, all-suffering, stereotypical woman who was loved only as a doormat.

Women began to pride themselves on selfishness and disregard for the wishes of others - especially men, who surely deserved a few buckets of ice water on the conventional fires before which they rubbed their hand-me-down thoughts about the opposite sex.

Then came the expected narcissism that we have seen in ethnic nationalism, where one's group becomes more important than anything else and the vision of its essence turns into sentimental balderdash. Just as one became accustomed to (and bored by) sentences that began with one's ethnicity being stated in almost all situations, one got the same feeling when females began prefacing their opinion by saying, "I, as a woman, feel...."

But women proved themselves capable of doing many, many jobs that we had not expected from them in the past, and doing them damn well. So it is now largely an open sky for women in the worlds of business, technology, entrepreneurship, and so on.

But now that women have begun to lose the difference in life expectancy, having more heart attacks and all of the other health problems that come with the stress of careers, we see more of them deciding that, perhaps, the career path is not for them. These women are turning their backs on somebody else's conception of a more complete life.

They are doing what Americans always have done when they have the choice: making decisions based less on ideological doctrine than on their own sense of what is happening.

The television mom of the 1950s is gone for good, but the spark-filled women who have done so much to better our society, our educational system, and our arts are here to stay. They have been here since Abigail Adams, and only a serious fool would count them out.

Originally published on September 26, 2005

The Endgame in Iraq - New York Times

The Endgame in Iraq - New York TimesSeptember 28, 2005
The Endgame in Iraq

Umm Qasr, Iraq

Even a brief visit to this southern Iraq port leaves me convinced that we are entering the endgame here. The coming Iraqi votes, in October over the new constitution and in December over a new Parliament, are going to tell America whether it is worth staying here or not for much longer.

Despite all the shameful blunders of Donald Rumsfeld, Iraq, at the end of the day, was always going to be what the Iraqis decided to make of it. And those in the Iraqi majority - the Shiites and Kurds who make up roughly 80 percent of this country - have spoken. They want an Iraq that will be decentralized and will allow each of their communities to run its own affairs and culture - without fear of ever again being dominated and brutalized by an oil-backed Sunni minority regime in Baghdad.

Equally important, both the Kurds and the Shiites have made it clear that they have no interest in telling the Sunnis how to live, and will cut them a slice of Iraq's oil revenue and maintain Iraq's basic Arab identity.

So now we know what kind of majority the Kurds and Shiites want to be, the question is what kind of minority the Iraqi Sunnis want to be. Do they want to be the Palestinians and spend the next 100 years trying to mobilize the Arab-Muslim world to reverse history and restore their "right" to rule Iraq as a minority - a move that would destroy them and Iraq?

Or do they want to embrace the future? I know the Sunnis are terrified by Iran's influence in this southern region, but, as the Brits who run the Basra area, which includes Umm Qasr, will tell you, the Iraqi Arab Shiites here are obsessed with not being dominated by Iran. Despite growing cultural and commercial ties with Iran, they are Iraqis first. That attitude would only be enhanced if Iraqi Sunnis, rather than allowing or abetting the murders of Shiites, would instead embrace the new constitution and let the U.S. cut the Sunnis an even fairer slice of the pie.

"We have a lot of overlapping interests with the Sunnis of Iraq," a senior U.S. official in Baghdad said. Indeed, in the latter stages of the constitutional negotiations in Iraq, the talented U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, was basically acting as the Sunnis' lawyer in dealings with the Kurds and Shiites. The problem was that the Sunnis never knew when to say yes, "that's enough," and the U.S. got fed up with their demanding much more than their due.

Do the Iraqi Sunnis understand their own interests, and does the Sunni world have any moral center? Up to now the Sunni Arab world has stood mute while the Sunni Baathists and jihadists in Iraq have engaged in what can only be called "ethnic cleansing": murdering Shiite civilians in large numbers purely because they are Shiites in hopes of restoring a Sunni-dominated order in Iraq that is un-restorable. A fatwa has just been issued against a female Indian tennis player who is Muslim, condemning her for her short skirts, but no fatwa has been issued by Sunni clerics condemning Zarqawi's butchering of Iraqi Shiite children and teachers.

Some courageous Sunnis have begun to speak out. "One of the most bizarre phenomena of recent times has been the refusal of Arab governments to condemn terrorist acts in Iraq or to commiserate with the victims," Abdul Rahman al-Rashed wrote in the Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat. He added, "Take the most recent atrocities in which more than 200 Iraqis lost their lives in two days of carnage: no Arab government raised its voice in condemnation, although most of them shrilly objected when the new Iraqi constitution failed to mention that the country was part of the Arab nation. The official Arab position vis-à-vis Iraq has always been spineless."

So, folks, we are faltering in Iraq today in part because of the Bush team's incompetence, but also because of the moral vacuum in the Sunni Arab world, where the worst are engaged in murderous ethnic cleansing - and trying to stifle any prospect of democracy here - and the rest are too afraid, too weak, too lost or too anti-Shiite to do anything about it.

Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind. We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children.

Mr. Brown Tells His Story - New York Times

Mr. Brown Tells His Story - New York TimesSeptember 28, 2005
Mr. Brown Tells His Story

The Bush administration's embarrassment in bungling the Hurricane Katrina disaster was compounded yesterday as Congressional Republicans used a sham hearing to help Michael Brown, who resigned under fire as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pass the buck to Democratic officials in Louisiana despite the now-transparent record of federal ineptness. "A pretty darn good job," is the way Mr. Brown scored his work at FEMA as he was fed a steady stream of softball questions by Republicans. The postmortem hearing was clearly designed to shield the Bush White House from any whiff of culpability. According to Mr. Brown's self-serving tale, the heart of the mismanagement of Katrina was that officials in Baton Rouge and New Orleans were too "dysfunctional" for their part of the challenge.

The hearing, boycotted by most Democrats, who understandably feared a partisan whitewash, was the firmest evidence yet that a broad and independent inquiry on the order of the 9/11 commission is needed if the public is ever to understand what really went wrong when Katrina hit. The nation is already well aware that all three levels of government failed the victims of the storm. But the hearing was largely a careful mix of perfunctory scolding of Mr. Brown and a tight focus on state and local failures.

Questioners didn't touch on the role played by President Bush, who shocked much of the nation by exuding disconnect in the crucial first days of the disaster. Ever protective of his former patrons, Mr. Brown bordered on the comical as he recalled gravely telling the president's chief of staff as the hurricane loomed that "this is going to be a bad one."

Mr. Brown, in exculpating himself, did lay one hand on the Bush administration, when he blamed unspecified superiors at the Homeland Security Department for the gradual "emaciation" of FEMA as it was subsumed by an agency preoccupied with the threat of terrorism. Scores of millions of dollars have been quietly shuffled from the FEMA budget to other needs, leaving personnel and programs stretched, he told lawmakers. But the committee was clearly unwilling to seize on this as a symptom of the need for an independent inquiry into the government's lack of preparedness.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Patrick Gaffey, American's unquestioning dedication to the Policies of President Bush

On September 21, 2005, during a political discussion on the Miles Davis Discussion Listserv, a European participant wondered at the “unquestioning dedication” many Americans seem to feel toward their president.

An American participant, Patrick Gaffey, replied:

Terry, I sympathize with your difficulty in understanding America today.

A bizarre movement is sweeping America, based on a wildly exaggerated version of Romanticism: individualism idealized to the extreme. The Americans who are part of this movement tend to believe themselves America's most patriotic yet can trace most of their ideals back to the Confederacy and its attempt to destroy the US. Their beliefs frequently include a view of Christianity distorted as violently as the "Islamists" distort Islam, a view of Christianity which also traces back to the old South and attempts to justify slavery. A smaller, closely related, strain proclaim their rebel love for American freedom by displaying the icons of Nazi Germany on their motorcycles or pickup trucks.

Obviously the movement is as volatile as it could be. It brings together Fundamentalist Christians with atheists and Satanists. It brings the religion of Jesus cheek to cheek with a fanatical belief in the most soulless, hollow-eyed form of capitalism. It draws its unity and its strength from the reaction against the Civil Rights Movement and against the attempts in the Sixties to ameliorate some of the damage a century of Jim Crow did to Black America. As Richard Nixon wrenched the Republican Party out of its traditional alignment to take over the constituency of George Wallace by nominating first Clement F. Haynesworth, then G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court, theorists following in the wake of Barry Goldwater were completing a tower of bullshit, explaining why the Confederacy was justified in wanting to leave the US, why the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which finally made it possible for blacks in the South to vote, was unconstitutional, and why, as Ronald Reagan was soon to proclaim, the Federal Government is the problem, which placed him in the footsteps of the Confederates, along with a line of individualists from John Wilkes Booth to Jesse James to Tim McVeigh and Eric Robert Rudolph.

Think about the fact that Reagan is now one of the most popular of former presidents. Ronald Reagan. To find another American president to rate with Reagan, one must step outside the traditional line of the presidency and look at Jefferson Davis. When Reagan kicked off his winning presidential campaign, he thought long and hard about the symbolic importance of his first campaign speech, the one that would set the tone for everything to come. Where would he give the speech? What would he say, that would crystalize for all time the ideals for which he stood? He decided to kick off his campaign in Philadelphia. No, not Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, cradle of American liberty. No. Philadelphia, Mississippi, known to all American for one event. It was the home of the cretins who tortured and murdered three civil rights workers and buried them in a dam in the summer of 1964.

And what did Ronald Reagan say in Philadelphia in 1980, 16 years after the murders? Did he express his regret and sadness for the tragedy and the loss? Did he denounce the killings of three men who were working to advance the all-American right to vote? Did he denounce murderers? Lawbreakers? Mobs? Vigilantes? Disturbers of the peace?

Despite traveling to an obscure town known for only one event, in his speech he never mentioned that event. He never mentioned its victims. The point of his speech was that the people of Philadelphia, Mississippi, did not need the Federal Government sending its voting registrars and investigators to their town to disturb their way of life. He went to Philadelphia to stand up for freedom--for the freedom of the white people of Philadelphia to go on living as they always had.

I don't hate George Bush, but I always will hate Ronald Reagan, if only for that one speech. And today Ronald Reagan is the president held up by millions as the greatest American president. And Ronald Reagan is the spiritual father of the movement which put George Bush, via the Supreme Court, into the White House.

But why, you ask, would Americans defend any president so passionately as some defend Bush, in a postmodern world in which we see so clearly the flaws in everyone? The answer lies in the brilliant little book The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, written in the wake of WWII to consider the twin phenomena of Communism and Fascism. He also spends a good deal of space on religious fanaticism, notably Christian and Islamic. He notes that most assume that a follower who would die for his faith must indeed be a true believer. But then he proceeds to explain that eagerness to die for one's beliefs indicates exactly the opposite: that the "true believer" is filled with doubts. He can only quell his doubts and prove to himself that he really believes--which, of course, he doesn't--by going to the farthest extreme. When you see a fanatical adherent who responds to challenges by becoming more fanatical, whose voice rises to the pitch of hysteria, you know you are seeing someone with deep questions about their position. Followers of the mishmash of "conservative" philosophies represented by George Bush are willing to defend him to a point beyond logic because they don't know how else to quash their own painful doubts.

By Patrick Gaffey

Saturday, September 24, 2005

For Wolfowitz, Poverty Is the Newest War to Fight - New York Times

For Wolfowitz, Poverty Is the Newest War to Fight - New York TimesSeptember 24, 2005
For Wolfowitz, Poverty Is the Newest War to Fight

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 - Three months into his new job as president of the World Bank, Paul D. Wolfowitz caused heartburn this week for some former colleagues in the Bush administration.

As finance ministers from around the world began three days of discussions here on Friday, officials closed in on an international agreement to wipe out $18 billion in debt for some of the world's poorest countries. [Page C6.]

But that agreement came only after Mr. Wolfowitz publicly sided this week with officials from other countries who warned that the United States might back away from the full cost of debt relief for the poorest countries.

The quiet power struggle is part of Mr. Wolfowitz's transformation from an architect of the United States' war in Iraq to a champion for the world's poor.

Mr. Wolfowitz repeatedly called this week for "stronger commitments" by rich countries to reimburse the World Bank for lost loan repayments. He also pointedly suggested that Congress demonstrate American commitment by passing an authorization bill to cover the future costs.

"It's not that they aren't sincere," he told a group of reporters. "But time passes, and I think it's very important to keep them accountable."

American officials said that the United States made good on its promises. Hoping to mollify countries like the Netherlands, which was quietly backed by Mr. Wolfowitz, the United States produced a joint letter promising to reimburse the World Bank dollar-for-dollar on all lost repayments.

Since taking over at the World Bank, Mr. Wolfowitz has called on rich countries to provide more foreign aid. He has cultivated ties with antipoverty groups like Oxfam International and Data, the advocacy group founded by Bono, the rock star.

He has placed a new priority on Africa, but he also talks about goals like expanding opportunities for women, fighting corruption and improving governance in poor countries.

"It's not just about inputs of capital and labor," he said. "It's about a whole range of factors, and many are not traditional economic ones."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Wolfowitz has gone out of his way to reassure political leaders and antipoverty advocates who expressed concern that he would turn the World Bank into a tool of American ideology.

Some longtime campaigners against global poverty, often sharp critics of American policy, say their first impression has been good.

"It appears that he is committed to health and education, which are nearly all of the millennium development goals," said Max Lawson, policy adviser to Oxfam International, referring to goals on poverty reduction and education spelled out by members of the United Nations. "We'll be watching him very closely over the next few months to see whether he follows up on that."

But some experts said they were worried that Mr. Wolfowitz might prove too ambitious. If there is a link between his role in the Iraq war and his role at the World Bank, they caution, it may be in his fervent belief in the ability to impose democracy on countries from the outside.

"The idea that you can spread democracy by either military intervention or through the World Bank is folly, pure folly," said William Easterly, a former director of research at the World Bank and a critic of the bank's policy failures.

"What I'm afraid of is that the World Bank will have more of what it already suffers from, which is mission creep - getting involved in sweeping international causes that sound good without any evidence to show they can be accomplished."

Mr. Wolfowitz has not forgotten about Iraq. Earlier this week, he confirmed a report in The Washington Post that he was considering sending World Bank staff members into Baghdad for the first time in two years. The bank has pledged about $500 million in aid to Iraq, but withdrew its people after insurgents blew up the United Nation's mission there and killed its top envoy.

Still, Mr. Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense, has focused most of his attention elsewhere. He traveled to Africa in the summer, shortly after taking over the bank, and declared that it would be a "special emphasis" for the bank.

Moving cautiously, he has often sounded the same themes as his predecessor, James D. Wolfensohn. Like Mr. Wolfensohn, Mr. Wolfowitz talks about the importance of reducing corruption in poor countries and promoting opportunities for women.

But he has also hinted at a heavier emphasis on new agriculture technology, promoting the idea of a "green revolution" for Africa. And he has hinted at a renewed emphasis on infrastructure like roads, water systems and power plants.

Infrastructure projects are a sensitive issue for the World Bank, which retreated from them after being criticized for financing giant bridges and dams that critics said did little to relieve poverty and damaged the environment.

"We've learned a lot from our past mistakes," Mr. Wolfowitz acknowledged this week. But, he said, entrepreneurs and farmers could not begin to realize their potential if they lacked electricity, clean water or roads to move their products to market.

The World Bank makes $18 billion to $20 billion in loans and grants a year to low-income countries. But its finances depend on loan repayments and fresh donations from wealthy nations. For all its size, its scale is small in comparison with the private investment that flows through Latin America and Asia.

"I don't hear any new vision yet," said Nancy Birdsall, founder of the Center on Global Development, a nonpartisan research organization here. "The big issues are not about internal management but about what the role of the World Bank is going to be in the 21st century. Right now, the banks products are still 1960's-style products - loans to governments, infrastructure loans."

Few people would argue that Mr. Wolfowitz, a former dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is short on ideas.

But supporters of increased aid to poor countries, including those who adamantly opposed Mr. Wolfowitz's role in invading Iraq, said this week that his vision for the future might be less important right now than his close relationship to President Bush.

Rooting for Bibi Is Rooting for Israel - New York Times

Rooting for Bibi Is Rooting for Israel - New York TimesSeptember 23, 2005
Rooting for Bibi Is Rooting for Israel

Next Monday, Israel and the whole Middle East will witness a hugely important election. Ostensibly it is a vote over when the Likud Party should hold its primary. But it actually is a vote over who will lead Likud into the next election - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or his challenger, Bibi Netanyahu. If I could vote, there is no question whom I would cast my ballot for: Bibi. Yes, pray for Bibi to crush Mr. Sharon and drive him right out of the party. That's where Mr. Sharon belongs.

Why, you ask? Because the Likud under Bibi, and without Ariel Sharon, will be free to be itself - to represent the lunatic right in Israel, become a fringe party and drive over a cliff. Mr. Sharon will then also be free to be himself, to form a new party with other center-right and center-left figures, a party that can give Israel a solid majority for making a final settlement with the Palestinians - provided they ever get their act together and turn Gaza, their ministate, into something more like Dubai and less like Mogadishu.

"Sharon will only peel off from the Likud and start his own center party after he is persuaded that he has lost control of the Likud," said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the author of a recent study on the Gaza disengagement. "A Likud split would likely realign Israeli political parties so they more closely mirror the real views of the Israeli public. Right now, two-thirds of Israelis support a two-state solution with the Palestinians. A portion of this two-thirds was in the Likud and represented by Sharon. I would call them the 'hard-bargainers.' But many of the one-third who oppose any deal were also in the Likud. Call them the 'hard-liners.' Many of them view Bibi as their standard-bearer."

A new coalition made up of Mr. Sharon's followers from Likud, as well as the moderate Labor and Shinui Parties, "could revitalize the Israeli center, which was decimated by the terror and violence between 2000 and 2004, by bringing together under one political tent that two-thirds who want a deal with the Palestinians based on secure borders," Mr. Makovsky said. "This could be a winning ticket, so long as Hamas does not return to rocket and suicide attacks that, if past is prologue, would only bolster Bibi."

The whole debate about disengagement from Gaza exposed the real political trends in Israel today, precisely because having 8,000 Jews living in one-third of the Gaza Strip, surrounded by over 1.3 million Palestinians, had become utterly insane - disconnected from any strategic, moral, demographic, nationalist or religious logic. Therefore, those who supported continuing the status quo in Gaza indefinitely, which included the whole hard-line wing of Likud, really identified themselves as Jewish extremists and messianists who are a danger to the future of Israel and the Jewish people.

As the Haaretz newspaper essayist Ari Shavit put it, "Following the disengagement, it is now clear that these are two different states: Israel on one hand, and the Likud state on the other. Israel wants sovereignty, a border and a clear national identity; the Likud state wants settlements, a mixed population and a blurred identity. Israel wants democracy, rationality and enlightenment; the Likud state wants corruption, slaps on the back and emotional storms. ... In the past, the Likud state could be credited with representing the people. But no longer. ...

"Therefore, the time has come to choose: Israel or the Likud state. The Israeli republic or the republic of the Likud Central Committee. ... Without dividing the Likud, it will be impossible to divide the land. Without setting a border for the Likud, it will be impossible to set a border for Israel."

There is something about the international climate today - the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the pressures of globalization, rising middle classes who want stability and the passing of a generation of charismatic leaders - that is blowing apart many of the stale political arrangements that have long governed Arab-Israeli politics. Syria has been forced out of Lebanon. Israel has unilaterally pulled out of Gaza. Egypt has held its first quasi-multiparty election. The Palestinian Authority has imploded with the death of Yasir Arafat, and the Baathists have been blown up by the Bushes.

The laws of gravity are finally forcing some reality politics on the Middle East, except in those countries with oil.

If Israel is the harbinger, maybe the moderate majorities will finally get together out of necessity and start burying the past, rather than continuing to let themselves be manipulated by fanatic minorities who want to bury the future.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Daily News > Stanley Crouch > He refused to forgive

He refused to forgive

During famed Nazi hunter's very
long life, guilty could never rest

This week, Austria, the homeland of Adolf Hitler, lost Simon Wiesenthal, the world's most famous Nazi hunter. To the horror of Europe's worst fugitive mass murderers and their sympathizers, Wiesenthal was almost 100 years old, a tough old man who had chosen to never let sleeping, and rabid, dogs lie in comfort.
Wiesenthal made a great contribution to our understanding of the hard blue facts.

First, he survived. If the Nazis had had their way, Wiesenthal, being Jewish, would not have seen the end of World War II; he would have been reduced to a murdered corpse in some place made despicable by genocidal actions. Or he would be blowing in the wind with the ashes of those millions who went up the chimneys of the crematoriums.

Wiesenthal dedicated his life to the principle that some things should not be forgotten and that some people should not be forgiven. That principle also brought with it the recognition that some people owe debts to the world that cannot be written off or redefined in the interest of simplicity and comfort.

There were many who did not want to hear from Wiesenthal when a number of Nazis were still on the run or making new lives for themselves. Since both the United States and Russia made use of captured German scientists in their nuclear and space programs, neither world power was too happy to have bloodhounds snooping around. All things were considered fair if they appeared to have the potential for creating an advantage in weaponry.

Nothing swayed Wiesenthal, who felt that he owed a debt to the murdered. He was not seeking revenge; he wanted justice, which is more difficult to understand in some circumstances than it is in others. Because of our long tradition of Christian forgiveness and its having developed into the concept of rehabilitation in our penal system, there are some who believe that a crime, no matter how terrible, should be forgiven over time.

That is absurd. If we have learned anything since World War II, it should be that the Germans may have been caught in circumstances, part of which was a long legacy of European anti-Semitism, but they were not unique when it came to killing those among them who had been defined as innate enemies of the society. We saw this happen in Cambodia and we saw it in Rwanda. Perhaps most sobering is the fact that we all witnessed Europe sitting on its hands while Bosnia became a target for Serbian butchers who showed no mercy to man, woman or child. They even previewed their intentions with the term "ethnic cleansing."

Throughout his career as a hunter of Nazi war criminals, Simon Wiesenthal made it hard for those on the run to sleep peacefully. The feeling that one just might be caught, or that any staring person could know that one is wanted, may not be as good as an arrest and a trial, but those feelings are a potent aspect of justice. People guilty of committing or aiding and abetting murder should never feel safe.

If he had done no more than that, Simon Wiesenthal would be a great man whose work and whose cause should never be forgotten.

Originally published on September 22, 2005

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Katrina's lesson is this: The people come first

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Katrina's lesson is this: The people come firstKatrina's lesson is this: The people come first

Many feel that when something goes wrong, as in the mishandling of the first response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi, heads should roll. I support the spectacle of heads rolling for reasons beyond the fun of seeing incompetent or corrupt fools in high places brought down. I prefer to see those heads used like bowling balls that knock over the tenpins holding bad or inadequate policies in place.

Now that the critics are many, the elephants are stampeding away from what is a fundamental poverty of vision, which gives the impression that the GOP has no concern for ethnic groups beyond white folks. Most black people believe that things would have gone better for the people of New Orleans if they had been white. Most white people do not believe this. Hmmm.

What the tragedy in New Orleans provides us with is a metaphor for all that is wrong not only on the level of color but on the level of poverty. The people should always be first, but there should be personal responsibility when possible, and federal protection when necessary.

The local, state and federal incompetence surrounding Hurricane Katrina is not alone in this mess. What makes matters worse are the layers of traditional New Orleans and Louisiana corruption, and the defeatist form of disregard that out-of-touch conservatives consider an aspect of tough love. President Bush at least admitted that the federal government dropped the ball and promised massive rebuilding. Hooray for him.

Admission of bumbling is not the actual problem that has to be addressed in long-range terms. We are at a provocative crossroads in our nation. The full meaning of New Orleans actually challenges us to invent something better than what we presently have.

What we need at this point is a reconsideration of all that is done to protect those at the lowest levels of our society. The donkeys are calling for a domestic Marshall Plan that sounds good to the gallery, but is not enough in itself. We need something much more thorough than merely spending money and handing out contracts to builders who are hot to make New Orleans a mall that celebrates Mardi Gras while serving gumbo and po'boy sandwiches.

Part of what those down in the hole suffer from is often a lack of knowledge about how to protect themselves and how to develop skills that could serve them in a much more demanding market than the world has ever known.

We have successfully beaten down much of the ignorance that long supported bigotry toward so-called minorities and women. Such victories cannot be dismissed by any sane person. So it is impossible to believe that we cannot successfully fight the intellectual genocide witnessed in substandard schools and in the numbskull codes that too many confuse with "a different culture" that should be respected. No backward and self-destructive code should ever be respected.

We need a realistic set of perspectives based on information that is rather easily found because all successes in the pernicious areas of lower-class culture are part of the public record. They provide all of the direction we need.

Every aspect of future social policy needs to be based on approaches that have proven themselves viable in the flesh-and-blood world, not the intellectual crematoriums of the academy and partisan think tanks.

Yes, the tragic example of New Orleans might be beckoning a better way for us to go in this nation. Whatever happens, we can be very sure that the methods that have so pathetically failed right before everyone's eyes need to be kicked to the curb.

Originally published on September 19, 2005

Denying Access to the Ballot - New York Times

Denying Access to the Ballot - New York TimesSeptember 20, 2005
Denying Access to the Ballot

It has been clear since 2000 that the election system is in serious need of reform. But the commission led by James Baker III and former President Jimmy Carter has come up with a plan that is worse than no reform at all. Its good ideas are outweighed by one very bad idea: a voter identification requirement that would prevent large numbers of poor, black and elderly people from voting.

The commission makes helpful recommendations. It favors requiring electronic voting machines to produce paper records, and opposes partisan activity by state election officials. It fails to address other problems, like not counting provisional ballots cast at the wrong precincts.

But the bombshell recommendation is for the states to require voters to have drivers' licenses or a government-issued photo ID. That would not be a great burden for people who have drivers' licenses, but it would be for those who don't, and they are disproportionately poor, elderly or members of minorities. These voters would have to get special photo ID's and keep them updated. If they didn't have the ID's, their right to vote would be taken away. The commission recommends that the cards be free. But election administration is notoriously underfinanced, and it is not hard to imagine that states would charge for them. Georgia is already charging $20 and more for each of its state voter cards.

There is very little evidence of voters' claiming to be people they are not, and the commission admits that its members are divided about how big a problem it is. But the report goes on to say that even if there is just a small amount of fraud, it should be stopped. True, but if the solution risks disenfranchising hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of voters, it is a very bad reform.

There are more reasonable approaches. The states could require uniform ID's, but allow each voter without one to sign an affidavit attesting to his or her identity, a system some states use now. It is little wonder that a dissent came from the former Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, a commission member. He said that "for some, the commission's ID proposal constitutes nothing short of a modern-day poll tax."

The disappointing report made public yesterday was not a complete surprise. There have been red flags waving around the commission for some time; Mr. Baker is remembered by many for his fierce fight to stop the counting of votes in Florida in 2000. There have also been complaints about the commission's process. Spencer Overton, a George Washington University law professor and commission member, complains that he was told he had to limit a dissent on complicated voting issues to just 250 words.

The purpose of election reform should not be making it harder to vote. We all have a duty to make our election system as good as it can be - and not to disenfranchise people in the name of reform.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tragedy in Black and White - New York Times

Tragedy in Black and White - New York TimesSeptember 19, 2005
Tragedy in Black and White

By three to one, African-Americans believe that federal aid took so long to arrive in New Orleans in part because the city was poor and black. By an equally large margin, whites disagree.

The truth is that there's no way to know. Maybe President Bush would have been mugging with a guitar the day after the levees broke even if New Orleans had been a mostly white city. Maybe Palm Beach would also have had to wait five days after a hurricane hit before key military units received orders to join rescue operations.

But in a larger sense, the administration's lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina had a lot to do with race. For race is the biggest reason the United States, uniquely among advanced countries, is ruled by a political movement that is hostile to the idea of helping citizens in need.

Race, after all, was central to the emergence of a Republican majority: essentially, the South switched sides after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Today, states that had slavery in 1860 are much more likely to vote Republican than states that didn't.

And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself, "There but for the grace of God go I." A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself, "Why should I be taxed to support those people?"

Above all, race-based hostility to the idea of helping the poor created an environment in which a political movement hostile to government aid in general could flourish.

By all accounts Ronald Reagan, who declared in his Inaugural Address that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," wasn't personally racist. But he repeatedly used a bogus tale about a Cadillac-driving Chicago "welfare queen" to bash big government. And he launched his 1980 campaign with a pro-states'-rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., a small town whose only claim to fame was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers.

Under George W. Bush - who, like Mr. Reagan, isn't personally racist but relies on the support of racists - the anti-government right has reached a new pinnacle of power. And the incompetent response to Katrina was the direct result of his political philosophy. When an administration doesn't believe in an agency's mission, the agency quickly loses its ability to perform that mission.

By now everyone knows that the Bush administration treated the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a dumping ground for cronies and political hacks, leaving the agency incapable of dealing with disasters. But FEMA's degradation isn't unique. It reflects a more general decline in the competence of government agencies whose job is to help people in need.

For example, housing for Katrina refugees is one of the most urgent problems now facing the nation. The FEMAvilles springing up across the gulf region could all too easily turn into squalid symbols of national failure. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which should be a source of expertise in tackling this problem, has been reduced to a hollow shell, with eight of its principal staff positions vacant.

But let me not blame the Bush administration for everything. The sad truth is that the only exceptional thing about the neglect of our fellow citizens we saw after Katrina struck is that for once the consequences of that neglect were visible on national TV.

Consider this: in the United States, unlike any other advanced country, many people fail to receive basic health care because they can't afford it. Lack of health insurance kills many more Americans each year than Katrina and 9/11 combined.

But the health care crisis hasn't had much effect on politics. And one reason is that it isn't yet a crisis among middle-class, white Americans (although it's getting there). Instead, the worst effects are falling on the poor and black, who have third-world levels of infant mortality and life expectancy.

I'd like to believe that Katrina will change everything - that we'll all now realize how important it is to have a government committed to helping those in need, whatever the color of their skin. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Still Eating Our Lunch - New York Times

Still Eating Our Lunch - New York TimesSeptember 16, 2005
Still Eating Our Lunch


Singapore is a country that takes the Internet seriously. Last week its Ministry of Defense granted a deferment for the country's compulsory National Service to a Singaporean teenager so he could finish competing in the finals of the World Cyber Games - the Olympics of online war games.

Being a tiny city-state of four million, Singapore is obsessed with nurturing every ounce of talent of every single citizen. That is why, although its fourth and eighth graders already score at the top of the Timss international math and science tests, Singapore has been introducing more innovations into schools. Its government understands that in a flattening world, where more and more jobs can go anywhere, it's not enough to just stay ahead of its neighbors. It has to stay ahead of everyone - including us.

Message to America: They are not racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top.

As Low-Sim Ay Nar, principal of Xinmin Secondary School, explained to me, Singapore has got rote learning down cold. No one is going to outdrill her students. What it is now focusing on is how to develop more of America's strength: getting Singaporean students and teachers to be more innovative and creative. "Numerical skills are very important," she told me, but "I am now also encouraging my students to be creative - and empowering my teachers. ... We have been loosening up and allowing people to grow their own ideas."

She added, "We have shifted the emphasis from content alone to making use of the content" on the principle that "knowledge can be created in the classroom and doesn't just have to come from the teacher."

Toward that end, some Singapore schools have adopted a math teaching program called HeyMath, which was started four years ago in Chennai, India, by two young Indian bankers, Nirmala Sankaran and Harsh Rajan, in partnership with the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University.

With a team of Indian, British and Chinese math and education specialists, the HeyMath group basically said to itself: If you were a parent anywhere in the world and you noticed that Singapore kids, or Indian kids or Chinese kids, were doing really well in math, wouldn't you like to see the best textbooks, teaching and assessment tools, or the lesson plans that they were using to teach fractions to fourth graders or quadratic equations to 10th graders? And wouldn't it be nice if one company then put all these best practices together with animation tools, and delivered them through the Internet so any teacher in the world could adopt or adapt them to his or her classroom? That's HeyMath.

"No matter what kind of school their kids go to, parents all over the world are worried that their kids might be missing something," Mrs. Sankaran said. "For some it is the right rigor, for some it is creativity. There is no perfect system. ... What we have tried to do is create a platform for the continuous sharing of the best practices for teaching math concepts. So a teacher might say: 'I have a problem teaching congruence to 14-year-olds. What is the method they use in India or Shanghai?' "

Singaporean math textbooks are very good. My daughter's school already uses them in Maryland. But they are static and not illustrated or animated. "Our lessons contain animated visuals that remove the abstraction underlying the concept, provide interactivity for students to understand concepts in a 'hands on' manner and make connections to real-life contexts so that learning becomes relevant," Mrs. Sankaran said.

HeyMath's mission is to be the math Google - to establish a Web-based platform that enables every student and teacher to learn from the "best teacher in the world" for every math concept and to also be able to benchmark themselves against their peers globally.

The HeyMath platform also includes an online repository of questions, indexed by concept and grade, so teachers can save time in devising homework and tests. Because HeyMath material is accompanied by animated lessons that students can do on their own online, it provides for a lot of self-learning. Indeed, HeyMath, which has been adopted by 35 of Singapore's 165 schools, also provides an online tutor, based in India, to answer questions from students stuck on homework.

Why am I writing about this? Because math and science are the keys to innovation and power in today's world, and American parents had better understand that the people who are eating their kids' lunch in math are not resting on their laurels.

Message: I Care About the Black Folks - New York Times

Message: I Care About the Black Folks - New York TimesSeptember 18, 2005
Message: I Care About the Black Folks

ONCE Toto parts the curtain, the Wizard of Oz can never be the wizard again. He is forever Professor Marvel, blowhard and snake-oil salesman. Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to endure in the American psyche as long as L. Frank Baum's mythic tornado, has similarly unmasked George W. Bush.

The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of "compassionate conservatism," the lack of concern for the "underprivileged" his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action.

In the chaos unleashed by Katrina, these plot strands coalesced into a single tragic epic played out in real time on television. The narrative is just too powerful to be undone now by the administration's desperate recycling of its greatest hits: a return Sunshine Boys tour by the surrogate empathizers Clinton and Bush I, another round of prayers at the Washington National Cathedral, another ludicrously overhyped prime-time address flecked with speechwriters' "poetry" and framed by a picturesque backdrop. Reruns never eclipse a riveting new show.

Nor can the president's acceptance of "responsibility" for the disaster dislodge what came before. Mr. Bush didn't cough up his modified-limited mea culpa until he'd seen his whole administration flash before his eyes. His admission that some of the buck may stop with him (about a dime's worth, in Truman dollars) came two weeks after the levees burst and five years after he promised to usher in a new post-Clinton "culture of responsibility." It came only after the plan to heap all the blame on the indeed blameworthy local Democrats failed to lift Mr. Bush's own record-low poll numbers. It came only after America's highest-rated TV news anchor, Brian Williams, started talking about Katrina the way Walter Cronkite once did about Vietnam.

Taking responsibility, as opposed to paying lip service to doing so, is not in this administration's gene pool. It was particularly shameful that Laura Bush was sent among the storm's dispossessed to try to scapegoat the news media for her husband's ineptitude. When she complained of seeing "a lot of the same footage over and over that isn't necessarily representative of what really happened," the first lady sounded just like Donald Rumsfeld shirking responsibility for the looting of Baghdad. The defense secretary, too, griped about seeing the same picture "over and over" on television (a looter with a vase) to hide the reality that the Pentagon had no plan to secure Iraq, a catastrophic failure being paid for in Iraqi and American blood to this day.

This White House doesn't hate all pictures, of course. It loves those by Karl Rove's Imagineers, from the spectacularly lighted Statue of Liberty backdrop of Mr. Bush's first 9/11 anniversary speech to his "Top Gun" stunt to Thursday's laughably stagy stride across the lawn to his lectern in Jackson Square. (Message: I am a leader, not that vacationing slacker who first surveyed the hurricane damage from my presidential jet.)

The most odious image-mongering, however, has been Mr. Bush's repeated deployment of African-Americans as dress extras to advertise his "compassion." In 2000, the Republican convention filled the stage with break dancers and gospel singers, trying to dispel the memory of Mr. Bush's craven appearance at Bob Jones University when it forbade interracial dating. (The few blacks in the convention hall itself were positioned near celebrities so they'd show up in TV shots.) In 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign Web site had a page titled "Compassion" devoted mainly to photos of the president with black people, Colin Powell included.

Some of these poses are re-enacted in the "Hurricane Relief" photo gallery currently on display on the White House Web site. But this time the old magic isn't working. The "compassion" photos are outweighed by the cinéma vérité of poor people screaming for their lives. The government effort to keep body recovery efforts in New Orleans as invisible as the coffins from Iraq was abandoned when challenged in court by CNN.

But even now the administration's priority of image over substance is embedded like a cancer in the Katrina relief process. Brazenly enough, Mr. Rove has been officially put in charge of the reconstruction effort. The two top deputies at FEMA remaining after Michael Brown's departure, one of them a former local TV newsman, are not disaster relief specialists but experts in P.R., which they'd practiced as advance men for various Bush campaigns. Thus The Salt Lake Tribune discovered a week after the hurricane that some 1,000 firefighters from Utah and elsewhere were sent not to the Gulf Coast but to Atlanta, to be trained as "community relations officers for FEMA" rather than used as emergency workers to rescue the dying in New Orleans. When 50 of them were finally dispatched to Louisiana, the paper reported, their first assignment was "to stand beside President Bush" as he toured devastated areas.

The cashiering of "Brownie," whom Mr. Bush now purports to know as little as he did "Kenny Boy," changes nothing. The Knight Ridder newspapers found last week that it was the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, not Mr. Brown, who had the greater authority to order federal agencies into service without any request from state or local officials. Mr. Chertoff waited a crucial, unexplained 36 hours before declaring Katrina an "incident of national significance," the trigger needed for federal action. Like Mr. Brown, he was oblivious to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the convention center, confessing his ignorance of conditions there to NPR on the same day that the FEMA chief famously did so to Ted Koppel. Yet Mr. Bush's "culture of responsibility" does not hold Mr. Chertoff accountable. Quite the contrary: on Thursday the president charged Homeland Security with reviewing "emergency plans in every major city in America." Mr. Chertoff will surely do a heck of a job.

WHEN there's money on the line, cronies always come first in this White House, no matter how great the human suffering. After Katrina, the FEMA Web site directing charitable contributions prominently listed Operation Blessing, a Pat Robertson kitty that, according to I.R.S. documents obtained by ABC News, has given more than half of its yearly cash donations to Mr. Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. If FEMA is that cavalier about charitable donations, imagine what it's doing with the $62 billion (so far) of taxpayers' money sent its way for Katrina relief. Actually, you don't have to imagine: we already know some of it was immediately siphoned into no-bid contracts with a major Republican donor, the Fluor Corporation, as well as with a client of the consultant Joe Allbaugh, the Bush 2000 campaign manager who ran FEMA for this White House until Brownie, Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate, was installed in his place.

It was back in 2000 that Mr. Bush, in a debate with Al Gore, bragged about his gubernatorial prowess "on the front line of catastrophic situations," specifically citing a Texas flood, and paid the Clinton administration a rare compliment for putting a professional as effective as James Lee Witt in charge of FEMA. Exactly why Mr. Bush would staff that same agency months later with political hacks is one of many questions that must be answered by the independent investigation he and the Congressional majority are trying every which way to avoid. With or without a 9/11-style commission, the answers will come out. There are too many Americans who are angry and too many reporters who are on the case. (NBC and CNN are both opening full-time bureaus in New Orleans.) You know the world has changed when the widely despised news media have a far higher approval rating (77 percent) than the president (46 percent), as measured last week in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Like his father before him, Mr. Bush has squandered the huge store of political capital he won in a war. His Thursday-night invocation of "armies of compassion" will prove as worthless as the "thousand points of light" that the first President Bush bestowed upon the poor from on high in New Orleans (at the Superdome, during the 1988 G.O.P. convention). It will be up to other Republicans in Washington to cut through the empty words and image-mongering to demand effective action from Mr. Bush on the Gulf Coast and in Iraq, if only because their own political lives are at stake. It's up to Democrats, though they show scant signs of realizing it, to step into the vacuum and propose an alternative to a fiscally disastrous conservatism that prizes pork over compassion. If the era of Great Society big government is over, the era of big government for special interests is proving a fiasco. Especially when it's presided over by a self-styled C.E.O. with a consistent three-decade record of running private and public enterprises alike into a ditch.

What comes next? Having turned the page on Mr. Bush, the country hungers for a vision that is something other than either liberal boilerplate or Rovian stagecraft. At this point, merely plain old competence, integrity and heart might do.

Too Much of a Mystery - New York Times

Too Much of a Mystery - New York TimesSeptember 18, 2005
Too Much of a Mystery

John Roberts failed to live up to the worst fears of his critics in his confirmation hearings last week. But in many important areas where senators wanted to be reassured that he would be a careful guardian of Americans' rights, he refused to give any solid indication of his legal approach. That makes it difficult to decide whether he should be confirmed. Weighing the pluses and minuses and the many, many unanswered questions, and considering some of the alternatives, a responsible senator might still conclude that he warrants approval. But the unknowns about Mr. Roberts's views remain troubling, especially since he is being nominated not merely to the Supreme Court, but to be chief justice. That position is too important to entrust to an enigma, which is what Mr. Roberts remains.

Few lawyers in America can compete with Mr. Roberts in professional accomplishments. After getting college and law degrees at Harvard, he clerked for Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court, and then became a top lawyer in the Reagan administration, deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration, and partner in a prestigious law firm. He has served two years on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If the test were legal skill alone, Mr. Roberts would certainly pass. But the Senate and the American people have a right to know whether he would use his abilities to defend core rights and liberties, or to narrow them. There may be a debate on Capitol Hill on this point, but popular opinion is clear. In a New York Times/CBS News poll, 46 percent said it was "very important" for senators to know Mr. Roberts's "position on issues such as abortion and affirmative action." Another 31 percent said it was "somewhat important." Only 13 percent said it was not important at all.

It has been difficult for senators to extricate his views. During his brief term as a judge, he has written few notable opinions. The White House has refused to release the memorandums he wrote in the solicitor general's office, which could have been revealing. Memos from earlier in his career raise red flags on issues like civil rights, women's rights and the right to privacy - which he dismissed, at one point, as the "so-called 'right to privacy.' " When confronted with this record, he often gave the impression of having moderated his views, but stopped well short. More recently, as a judge, in a case involving the Endangered Species Act, he threw doubt on Congress's power to protect the environment in important ways. In another case, he upheld the arrest of a 12-year-old girl in the Washington subway for eating a single French fry.

Given these concerns about his record, Mr. Roberts needed to use the hearings to reassure the American people in a substantive way that he would be a vigilant guardian of their rights. He did sound some positive notes. He promised that he would not be an ideologue on the court, and that he hoped to build greater consensus. He supported Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case holding that married people have a right to buy and use contraception, though he was unwilling to commit to a right to privacy that includes much more.

Over days of testimony, he dodged and weaved around many other critical legal issues. On abortion, church-state separation, gay rights and the right of illegal immigrants' children to attend public school - all currently recognized by the court - he asks to be accepted on faith. That just isn't good enough. The Constitution says that senators must give their "advice and consent" to Supreme Court nominees. To do that in a meaningful way in the case of Mr. Roberts, they need information that has been withheld from them.

If he is confirmed, we think there is a chance Mr. Roberts could be a superb chief justice. But it is a risk. We might be reluctant to roll the dice even for a nomination for associate justice, but for a nomination for a chief justice - particularly one who could serve 30 or more years - the stakes are simply too high. Senators should vote against Mr. Roberts not because they know he does not have the qualities to be an excellent chief justice, but because he has not met the very heavy burden of proving that he does.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Supreme Court's Biggest Question - New York Times

The Supreme Court's Biggest Question - New York TimesSeptember 18, 2005
The Supreme Court's Biggest Question
WASHINGTON — He had the right to remain silent. He knew that everything he said could and would be used against (and for) him. And yet, when Judge John G. Roberts Jr. was asked last week by Senator Arlen Specter, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, whether he believed the "right to privacy" existed in the Constitution, Mr. Roberts replied, "Senator, I do."

History suggests that if he had not, Judge Roberts would have sunk his chances to become the 17th chief justice of the United States just 20 minutes into his 20 hours of confirmation testimony. So many Americans - and so many senators - now accept that concept as an organizing principle of modern life and law that Robert H. Bork's confirmation as an associate justice collapsed 18 years ago this month in the face of his refusal to find such a right.

But the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution itself: Privacy to do just what, and with whom, under what circumstances, with the benefit of what technology? There's the rub, as Judge Roberts reflected: He endorsed Griswold v. Connecticut, the 40-year-old Supreme Court decision that enshrined married couples' right to use contraception, but steered clear of embracing the more controversial rulings that have grown - or may yet grow - out of it involving abortion, gay sex and the right to die.

"Where we're talking about private heterosexual conduct, we're not in a debate," said Pauline Maier, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies America's founding era. "But the controversy comes in those areas where people feel the private activity has an impact on the fabric of society as a whole, and that's where liberals and conservatives disagree. Fundamentalist Christians say homosexuality is awful and will damage society, and liberals say, 'If that's who they want to sleep with, let them.' "

The phrase "right to privacy" first appeared in an 1890 Harvard Law Review article by Louis D. Brandeis and his law partner, Samuel D. Warren. And as Judge Roberts noted, the notion began flowering 80 years ago in Supreme Court decisions that struck down laws that required children to attend only public schools and barred the teaching of foreign languages in elementary school, on the grounds that they violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law."

Such reasoning eventually led to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion, and for which "privacy" has become neutral-sounding shorthand. It was that precedent that propelled the line of questioning by Senator Specter, a moderate Republican and ardent supporter of abortion rights. But, as Judge Roberts also noted, concepts of privacy are at least as old as the Bill of Rights, and vitally important to libertarian conservatives, who resist government intrusions like the Clinton administration's raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., or the Bush administration's Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

That is one reason that Judge Roberts's conservative supporters, while perhaps not thrilled with some of his answers, did not rush to condemn him, either. Some of them view Griswold as the Warren Court's sloppy first step down the slippery slope that led to Roe. But they were quick to note approvingly (as Judge Roberts's critics did with concern) that Clarence Thomas had embraced the privacy right outlined in Griswold in his own confirmation hearings 14 years ago, while refusing to extend it just two years ago to cover consensual gay sex.

"I thought his answers on the privacy issue were pretty good, and were satisfying to me," said Leonard Leo, a lawyer who is on leave from a position at the conservative Federalist Society to help coordinate support for Judge Roberts. He noted that, in response to intensive questioning by Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, Judge Roberts had resisted endorsing a "general right of privacy," which Mr. Leo said was "very indicative of his skepticism about the way in which post-Griswold jurisprudence has developed."

"I don't think there's much of a dispute that privacy is embedded in the Constitution and manifests itself in a number of different ways," Mr. Leo added. "It's heartening that what Judge Roberts was trying to do was tie the concept to specific clauses in the Constitution. He recognizes that privacy is not synonymous with abortion. It's about search and seizure; it's about the Third Amendment's ban on the quartering of troops, it's about the First Amendment and freedom of religion."

Forrest McDonald, a constitutional historian who retired two years ago from the University of Alabama, noted that privacy has been a "vexed question" from the earliest days of the republic. The framers believed in protection of home and hearth from government intrusion, but also granted "police powers that were pretty broad, and pretty extreme."

"In 1789, they didn't have such things, but the people of Connecticut would have felt perfectly free to regulate the use of contraceptives as immoral behavior," he added. "Our whole standards and our sexual attitudes have changed." And therein lies the problem in adapting an 18th-century document and concepts of freedom to the 21st century.

"My leanings are toward the so-called originalist positions in constitutional interpretation," Professor McDonald said, "but you can't really be an originalist if you know what it originally was." He said, given his field of study, that he had "lived in the 18th century most of my adult life." And he added: "I love these guys. But there were an awful lot of things they took for granted that I just couldn't live with. I own 20 acres of land, and I'm sitting right in the middle of it. In the 18th century, my neighbors would have had the right to cross it to gather wood, let their hogs and cows run across it, cross it to get somewhere else."

In his opening statement in the confirmation hearings, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware suggested as much, when he traced the 20th-century court's evolving notions of privacy, then posed pointed rhetorical questions to Judge Roberts about the future: Can a microscopic tag be implanted in a person's body to track his every movement? Can brain scans be used to determine whether a person is inclined toward criminality or violent behavior?

"You will rule on that," Mr. Biden said.

Kermit T. Hall, president of the State University at Albany and an expert on the Constitution, predicted that 30 years from now, a Roberts court would be judged by "the stands that it took with regard to the issues of individual personhood - for me, privacy - and the technological revolution." There will be a range of issues, from the right of universities to peer over the shoulders of students sharing computer files to new pregnancy-ending technologies and life-preserving treatments that might make abortion as it is now understood moot, but even more troubling to some.

"The ethical issues become considerably differently placed, and profoundly stretched, when you anticipate the technology of sustaining life at an earlier and earlier period and, who knows, we may actually discover that cognizance begins in the womb," he said.

Brandeis and Warren's law review article was written in response to advances in photography that allowed swifter and sharper invasions of privacy than ever before. "Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life," they wrote, "and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that 'what is whispered from the closet shall be proclaimed from the housetops.' "

So it is perhaps a fitting reminder of that fear that only last week, a journalist's telephoto lens captured President Bush at the United Nations, jotting a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he might need a "bathroom break," and the Reuters news agency enhanced the image and beamed it around the world.

"The principle which protects personal writings and all other personal productions, not against theft and physical appropriation, but against publication in any form," Brandeis and Warren wrote, "is in reality not the principle of private property, but that of an inviolate personality." Senators weighing Judge Roberts's nomination must now decide whether he has surrendered just enough privacy to give them a sense of his.

Black Leaders Say Storm Forced Bush to Confront Issues of Race and Poverty - New York Times

Black Leaders Say Storm Forced Bush to Confront Issues of Race and Poverty - New York TimesSeptember 18, 2005
Black Leaders Say Storm Forced Bush to Confront Issues of Race and Poverty

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 - Hurricane Katrina has forced President Bush to confront the issues of race and poverty in a way that has shaken his presidency and altered his priorities, African-American leaders of both parties said this week.

One of the most striking developments, they said, was that while Mr. Bush still calls himself a "compassionate conservative" who sees the problems of blacks as largely economic, in the last three days he embraced civil rights language from the 1960's about "the legacy of inequality" and pledged billions of dollars to rebuild one of the poorest urban areas in America.

Many black leaders, who have newfound political leverage at the White House in the wake of the storm, cautiously applauded. But they said Mr. Bush's promises of help on housing, education, taxes and job training in two speeches - a prime-time address in New Orleans on Thursday night and remarks at a day of remembrance for storm victims at Washington's National Cathedral on Friday - were only the beginning.

"Katrina has posed a challenge to the White House and the country regarding the great divide, which is race and class in America," said the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, the president of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation, a coalition that represents primarily black churches. "It's a challenge and an opportunity which can be won or lost, and ultimately it is the decision of the White House as to which way it goes."

Leaders like Mr. Rivers, a Democrat and a supporter of Mr. Bush, said the White House still had serious repair work to do among blacks after the images of the desperate and dying victims of the hurricane so shocked the nation and the world. A major first step, they said, was to include blacks in the millions of dollars in contracts to rebuild New Orleans.

"President Bush needs to ensure that we do not see racial divisions reproduced in the reconstruction effort as white millionaires get richer," Mr. Rivers said.

T. D. Jakes, the black television evangelist who delivered the sermon before Mr. Bush's speech at the National Cathedral, issued a similar warning. "I do think that African-Americans are waiting to see what this administration is going to do about this crisis," Bishop Jakes said Friday. "If the appropriate actions are taken in an expeditious, competent way, I think then our community will re-evaluate our opinions of this administration."

But Mr. Bush, who specifically noted in his speech that the federal government's rebuilding effort would include loans to minority-owned businesses, has already drawn criticism for his administration's decision to suspend the Davis-Bacon Act, the law that requires employers to pay the local prevailing wage to construction workers on federally financed projects.

The White House rationale for the decision, announced Thursday, was not only to reduce the cost to taxpayers for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, estimated at as much as $200 billion, but to open up the bidding to minority-owned businesses that have not historically contracted with the federal government.

That explanation did not satisfy critics of Mr. Bush like the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "It's a hurricane for the poor and a windfall for the rich," Mr. Jackson said after the president's speech in New Orleans. Mr. Jackson likened the structure for assistance to the region, federal financial aid managed under local control in the states, to the post-Reconstruction era that allowed segregation to take hold in the South.

At the very least, black leaders said, Hurricane Katrina set back the long-term plans of Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, and Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, to bring more blacks, a longtime Democratic constituency, into the Republican fold.

Before the hurricane, their plan appeared to be working on the margins: Mr. Bush received 9 percent of the black vote in 2000 and 11 percent in 2004, an increase that Republicans attribute in part to their courting of conservative black religious leaders like Bishop Jakes and money sent to black churches and charities through a White House religion-based initiative.

Republican political strategists point out that many middle-class blacks have views on social and economic issues that are consistent with those of Republicans, even if blacks as a group have traditionally voted for Democrats.

"The fact is, there are millions of African-Americans who are conservative, who are with the Republican Party on a number of issues, and agree with us that the path to prosperity is a path based on opportunity and ownership and empowerment," Mr. Mehlman said.

Like other supporters of Mr. Bush, Mr. Mehlman said he was outraged by the charges of racism at the White House, which increased after the president's mother, Barbara Bush, said in a radio interview that many of the people she had seen while touring a Houston relocation site were faring better than before the storm hit. "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them," Mrs. Bush said.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, distanced Mr. Bush from his mother's comment by calling it a "personal observation," while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration's most prominent African-American, vehemently rejected any suggestion that Mr. Bush would discriminate on the basis of race.

"I find it very strange to think that people would think that the president of the United States would sit deciding who ought to be helped on the basis of color, most especially this president," Ms. Rice said in an interview at The New York Times on Monday. "What evidence is there that this is the case? Why would you say such a thing?"

Some African Americans say that, remarkably, the hurricane has had the effect of pushing Mr. Bush to propose such sweeping Great Society-type programs - the president called on Thursday for an Urban Homesteading Act to provide free land for low-income storm victims - that conservative members of his own party are in an uproar about the expense. Until now, Mr. Bush's chief poverty program was the No Child Left Behind Act, an education initiative that is meant to largely benefit disadvantaged minority students.

"We've all known that there are these big pockets of isolated deprivation and disadvantage in the country," said John DiIulio, the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. "Everybody seems to have taken their crack at it, but certain aspects of the poverty problem are stubborn. The reality is, having everybody wake up to the problem is a good thing. I know it's fashionable in Washington to see differences, but I've always felt there's a lot more goodwill and a lot more possibility for statesmanship. This crisis I think is going to bring that out."

Whatever happens, both blacks and whites said, the hurricane has defined Mr. Bush's second term, for better or worse.

"There are usually two ways that presidents do important things," said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian. "One is that they see an urgent need, and they bring it before the public and address it. Other times it's an incident that changes the country, and changes the presidency."

Under Din of Abortion Debate, an Experience Shared Quietly - New York Times

Under Din of Abortion Debate, an Experience Shared Quietly - New York TimesSeptember 18, 2005
Under Din of Abortion Debate, an Experience Shared Quietly

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - At Little Rock Family Planning Services, the women filed in without making eye contact, a demographic that remains unrecognized.

Leah works in a clothing boutique. Alicia is in high school. Tammy pulls espresso. Regina is a sergeant in the Army, recently home from Iraq.

Far from Washington and the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge John G. Roberts Jr., here in Little Rock on an August weekend, 26 women from as far away as Oklahoma joined the more than one million American women who will probably have abortions this year.

Their experiences, at one of only two clinics in the state, offer a ground-level view of abortion in 2005, a landscape altered by shifts in technology, law, demographics and the political climate.

Brittany, 17, brought her mother for support. Linda, 39, brought her daughter.

Alexia, who wore a cross pendant, prayed all through the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Delta State University in Mississippi. At 23, she was having her third abortion. "My religion is against it," she said, adding that she is a Baptist. "In a way I feel I'm doing wrong, but you can be forgiven. I blame myself. I feel I shouldn't have sex at all."

Venetia Grunder, 21, viewed an ultrasound image of the fetus in her womb. She was 12 weeks pregnant, though she had taken birth control pills as directed. "I feel pretty messed up," she said after seeing the image. "It's different, just knowing. My husband told me not to look. This changes my feelings, but I'm sticking by it. Damn it, $650, I'm sticking by it."

More than 25 million Americans have had abortions since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973. Often kept secret, even from close friends or family members, the experience cuts across all income levels, religions, races, lifestyles, political parties and marital circumstances. Though abortion rates have been falling since 1990, to their lowest level since the mid-1970's, abortion remains one of the most common surgical procedures for women in America. More than one in five pregnancies end in abortion.

In the squat, nondescript brick building here, the lofty rhetoric that has billowed through public debate for the last 32 years gave way to the mundane realities of the armed security guard and the metal detector, the surgical table and the settling of the bill before the procedure - $525 to $1,800, cash or credit card only.

While public conversation about abortion is dominated by advocates with all-or-nothing positions - treating the fetus as a complete person, with full rights, or as a nonentity, with none - most patients at the clinic, like most Americans, found themselves on rockier ground, weighing religious, ethical, practical, sentimental and financial imperatives that were often in conflict.

Regina cried on the operating table.

Kori, 26, who was having her third abortion, asked to watch the procedure on the ultrasound monitor. "I wanted to see what it was like," she said. "It was O.K. to watch. Once you had your mind made up to do it, you just suck it up and go with it."

The solitary protester outside , Jim Dawson, 74, stood a court-mandated distance from the clinic with a video camera, taping women as they entered, and promising them hellfire if they went through with it - as he has for a decade. Mr. Dawson drives 40 miles from Vilonia, Ark., bringing cardboard signs that say "Abortion Kills," and usually departs by midmorning. On days when the clinic is closed, he pickets the Clinton presidential library. "I don't stop many of them," he said, "but a little bit goes a long way."

The Women

At the clinic, patients allowed a reporter to attend their consultations and even operations, but most spoke only if they could use just their first names. "It's not something I would talk about," said "M," a high school teacher who agreed to be identified only by her middle initial. She wore a miniskirt and T-shirt, her blond hair pulled back from her forehead. She said she had never discussed abortion with relatives or colleagues. Only two friends knew she was here.

"I'd lose my job," she said. "My family's reputation would be ruined. It makes me nervous even being in the waiting room. You don't want to know who's here, you don't want to be recognized, and you don't want to see them ever again. Because in society's eyes, you share the same dirty secret."

Even most staff members at the clinic insisted on using only their first names - "to protect my identity from the antichoice people," said Lori, a nurse practitioner. Several said they had not told family members what they did for a living, or were ostracized if they had.

"My oldest son won't let me see my grandchildren," said Sherry Steele, 57, a surgical assistant who started working at the clinic after her daughter had two abortions. The New York Times agreed to anonymity to encourage candor and to get a representative sample of women. (Those who volunteer their full names are by nature an unrepresentative minority.) On this August weekend, the women entering the Little Rock clinic resembled those who have abortions nationwide. They were mainly in their 20's, more likely to be poor and African-American than the area population. Most were already mothers, many single. They arrived as a result of failure of one sort or another: a poor sexual decision, a broken relationship, a birth control method that just did not work. More than half of all women who have abortions say they used a contraceptive method in the month they conceived, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

While abortion rates have been falling generally since 1990, the decline has been steepest among teenagers, and rates are lowest among educated, financially secure women. Researchers attribute the drop in teenage abortion to reduced rates of pregnancy, as a result of better access to contraception - including the three-month Depo-Provera injections - and abstinence.

Conversely, for poor and low-income women, rates increased during the 1990's, possibly in response to the 1996 welfare overhaul, which reduced support systems for women who carry their fetuses to term. At every income level studied by the Guttmacher Institute, African-American women were more likely to terminate their pregnancies than white women.

Leah, 26, said money was a factor in her decision to have an abortion. A former college track athlete, she works in a clothing boutique, a job that she said did not pay enough to support a child.

Like many women at the clinic, Leah had conflicted feelings about what she was doing. "I always said I would never, ever have an abortion," she said. "I probably will regret it. I'm pro-choice for cases of incest or rape, but if it's your own fault, you should accept responsibility. And it's my own fault."

In Arkansas, as in many states, abortion providers are required to offer women their ultrasound images before an abortion. Because Leah was just five weeks pregnant, her image showed a formless mass. "If I saw an actual fetal baby on the ultrasound, I wouldn't have been able to go through with it," she said. She said she felt selfish, "but hopefully this will set me on a straighter path."

The procedure took only minutes. Afterward, in a recovery area, she said she was less shaken than she had expected. "I thought I'd be crying," she said. "I feel goofy now, but not in a bad way. I feel relieved more than anything. I know I'll never forget it, but I'd rather do that than have a child I can't take care of."

Karen, 29, who arrived at the clinic 20 weeks pregnant, expressed no qualms about ending her pregnancy. Like nearly half of all women who have abortions, she had had one before, when she was 18. She did not look on abortion as shameful, she said, adding, "All of your past goes into making you who you are."

She has a 9-year-old son, and she said she felt she could not start again with a newborn child. This, too, is common. More than half of all women having abortions have had children, a percentage that rose in the 1980's but has not changed since 1990, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Karen and her boyfriend have an unstable relationship plagued by money problems, and they lived with a relative after being evicted from their home. She did not come in earlier in the pregnancy, she said, because she did not have the money. In the end, because she was so far along, her abortion took two days and cost $1,375, nearly three times what it would have cost if she had come in at 12 weeks.

"People tell you you can put your child up for adoption," she said. "But if your kid has medical problems, no one wants to adopt him. And you never know."

For many women at the clinic, their desire to end their pregnancy clashed with their religious beliefs. Tammy, a Muslim, had her first abortion a year ago, after having three children. She is married and works in a coffee shop in Tennessee. She became pregnant this time after erratically taking her birth control pills.

"I know it's against God," she said of her abortion. "But you have three kids, you want to raise them good. My friends and sister-in-law say, 'You care about money problems but don't care about what God will do.'

"I believe it's wrong. I pray to God to forgive me. This will be the last one. Never, never again."

The Law

Since 1992, when the Supreme Court recognized states' authority to restrict abortion as long as they did not create an "undue burden," states have enacted 487 laws restricting patients or providers, in many cases calling for mandatory counseling, waiting periods and parental consent for minors, according to Naral Pro-Choice America. The result is a patchwork of laws and regulations that vary from state to state, some of which may come before the United States Supreme Court. In surveys, Americans largely support these restrictions, even if they say abortion should be legal. This fall, the court will consider whether New Hampshire's parental notification statute creates an undue burden because it does not include an exception to protect the health of the woman.

Arkansas, which before Roe v. Wade had one of the nation's most liberal abortion laws, now has one of the most restrictive, requiring state-scripted counseling at least a day before the procedure and, since mid-August, parental consent for minors. At 20 weeks, doctors are required to tell patients that the fetus feels pain, though this is medically disputed.

At the clinic in Little Rock, patients and staff members said the restrictions were more inconveniences than roadblocks. Patients nodded dutifully as the staff members asked questions like, "Do you understand that the father of the child must provide financial assistance if you deliver the pregnancy?" Like the protester outside, the regulations seemed simply part of the drill.

In a pre-operation holding room, Alicia, 17, awaited an abortion for which her parents were not asked permission. Under Arkansas law, as in 33 of the 34 states that require parental consent or notification, juveniles can bypass their parents if they persuade a judge that they are mature enough to make the decision themselves, or that it might be in their best interest.

Alicia, who was 17 or 18 weeks pregnant, said she did not have the abortion earlier because she was afraid to confront her parents. When she finally told her parents she was pregnant, she said, her mother threw a stool at her and kicked her out of the house.

"But I can't give a baby a life it should have financially," she said. "My boyfriend didn't want me to go through with it, but he realized he couldn't support a baby either." Her parents ultimately gave her $1,700 for the abortion, but she arrived from Oklahoma without their formal consent.

Getting a judicial bypass was not difficult, she said. The clinic scheduled her appointment early in the morning, and after taking a pregnancy test, for which she paid $200, she met with a judge briefly in his chambers.

"If you go to the judge and say, 'I'm afraid to tell my parents because they might harm me,' that's all you need to say," said Dr. Tom Tvedten, who has been performing abortions in Arkansas for 20 years, and now works part time at the Little Rock clinic. "It doesn't have to be true, because how would anybody know?"

He added, "But every time a restriction is placed on us, it increases our costs, and that cost is passed on to the consumer."

The Practice

For the clinic, the regulations add paperwork and require extra staff members, said Dr. Jerry Edwards, the chief physician, who owns the clinic with his wife, Ann F. Osborne, the director. Penalties can include lawsuits or criminal prosecution.

"Normally, if someone's a flagrant violator of medical regulations, they get disciplined by the profession," Dr. Edwards said. "But these guys go for the pocketbook or put you in jail. It's much more punitive than the doctor who commits Medicare fraud."

New licensing laws, enacted in 28 states, require providers to comply with state codes for equipment, record-keeping, building grounds and other areas, which small businesses can find onerous. In Arkansas, these laws - which clinics call TRAP laws, for targeted regulation of abortion providers - do not apply to existing clinics, but they make it expensive for anyone who wants to open one, Dr. Edwards said. "We look at TRAP laws as a major barrier for people who want to become providers," said Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, a trade group of providers.

Dr. Tvedten likened the regulations to "death by a thousand scratches."

In part because of the legal, financial and emotional pressures, the number of doctors in Arkansas who perform more than occasional abortions has fallen to three, down from six in the late 1990's. The youngest, Dr. Tvedten, is 59.

This reduction mirrors a national trend. Nationally, 1,819 facilities provided abortions in 2000, down from a high of 2,908 in 1982, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Dr. Edwards, 63, said he felt an obligation to stay in business. "If we retired, I'm not sure anybody else would come to Arkansas and practice," he said. "We can't get residents from the hospital to come over and see what an abortion is like."

Threats against abortion clinics are on the decline, in part because of sterner laws to protect clinics. But picketing has remained steady, at 80 percent of clinics.

Dr. Edwards and Ms. Osborne said they felt isolated from the local medical community and the community at large. Even the patients often have a negative view of abortion. "I very often hear, 'I don't believe in this, but my situation is different,' " Ms. Osborne said.

Though the clinic has developed an equilibrium with its lone demonstrator, Ms. Osborne is wary of any opposition to abortion rights. In 1994, when she was executive director of Preterm Health Services in Brookline, Mass., an abortion opponent named John C. Salvi III came into the clinic and started shooting, killing the receptionist.

The Technology

As laws become more restrictive, technology has gone the other way, making abortions possible both earlier and later in pregnancy, and by pill or surgery. Doctors can perform abortions as early as eight days after conception, and 59 percent of women having abortions do so within eight weeks, according to 2001 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fewer than 1 percent have abortions after 20 weeks. A late-term procedure called intact dilation and extraction, sometimes known as partial-birth abortion, accounted for less than two-tenths of 1 percent of all abortions in 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Fewer than one in 50 providers performed those.

Since September 2000, when the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug mifepristone, sometimes called RU-486, for early abortion, more than 460,000 women have chosen this option, according to the manufacturer's data. Mifepristone is given in conjunction with a second pill, misoprostol, usually over two or three days, and requires a follow-up exam with a doctor.

At the Little Rock clinic, few patients chose the pills over surgery. "With medical termination, the discomfort is significant because they have to go through mini-labor," Dr. Tvedten said. "There's a lot of hard cramps and usually significant bleeding. It's cheaper, safer and less painful to have a surgical termination."

Each technological advance has led to new legislative and legal wrangling, which may ultimately reach the Supreme Court. On Aug. 31, the director of the women's health office at the Food and Drug Administration resigned in protest over delays in approving over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill known as Plan B, which has emerged as a front in the abortion battles.

The Procedure

Regina, 28, blamed a faulty contraceptive Depo-Provera shot from an Army nurse in Iraq for her pregnancy. In Arkansas, she receives the injection in her hip, where it is most effective, but in Iraq she got it in the arm - she remembered by the soreness she felt slinging her rifle. "I was in Iraq 13 months," she said. "I guess I got a little happy when I got home."

She arrived at the clinic with a cut on her nose and bruises on her forehead and lip, which she sustained after telling her boyfriend she was pregnant. "He flipped out because he wasn't ready," she said. She had thought, upon learning of the pregnancy, that she "was about to get married," she said. She came in with two fellow sergeants, who wore their uniforms. Her boyfriend was in jail, she said.

"I've done this once and swore I wouldn't do it again," Regina said. "Every woman has second thoughts, especially because I'm Catholic." She went to confession and met with her priest, she added. "The priest didn't hound me. He said, 'People make mistakes.' "

In the operating room, a team of nurses gave her injections to relieve anxiety and pain. Dr. Edwards inserted a speculum and maneuvered a plastic suction device around her uterus. "Don't leave," she entreated Ms. Osborne. The procedure lasted about five minutes.

As she lay on the table, Regina wept and put an arm around Ms. Osborne, asking how things looked "in there."

"I'm not a baby, that's what's so sad," Regina said. "Thank you, ladies, for being here for me. I'm too old to make these mistakes."

She said the experience was emotional because she had expected more of the father.

She spoke to Dr. Edwards. "Thank you, sir," she said.

Ebony, 28, an operating room supervisor, rinsed the blood off the aborted tissues for Dr. Edwards to examine. Ebony, too, had a story. When she was 15, her aunt and grandmother had made her carry her pregnancy to term. Later, she had an abortion. As a Baptist, she still considered abortion a sin - but so are a lot of things we all do, she said. She squeezed Regina's hand.

"No problem, sweetie," Ebony said. "We've all been there."