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Sunday, October 30, 2005

NPR : John Hope Franklin puts a 'Mirror to America'

NPR : John Hope Franklin puts a 'Mirror to America'John Hope Franklin puts a 'Mirror to America'

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by Debbie Elliott

Historian John Hope Franklin lives in Durham, N.C. Credit: Tina Tennessen, NPR.
Tina Tennessen, NPR

In addition to chronicling American history, Franklin has also witnessed it. Here are some more of his memories and thoughts.

* On the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921
* On Reparations for Slavery
* On the Lynching of a Classmate
* On FDR's Visit to Fisk University

All Things Considered, October 30, 2005 · Historian John Hope Franklin has spent much of his life -- 90 years, so far -- investigating the legacy of slavery in America.

He has been more than a chronicler of the African American experience. Franklin was, in fact, an important player in the Civil Rights movement, helping Thurgood Marshall and his team craft their landmark Brown v. Board of Education case against school segregation.

Debbie Elliott talks with Franklin about his new memoir, Mirror to America.

Tina Tennessen produced this story.

One Step Closer to the Big Enchilada - New York Times

One Step Closer to the Big Enchilada - New York TimesOctober 30, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
One Step Closer to the Big Enchilada

TO believe that the Bush-Cheney scandals will be behind us anytime soon you'd have to believe that the Nixon-Agnew scandals peaked when G. Gordon Liddy and his bumbling band were nailed for the Watergate break-in. But Watergate played out for nearly two years after the gang that burglarized Democratic headquarters was indicted by a federal grand jury; it even dragged on for more than a year after Nixon took "responsibility" for the scandal, sacrificed his two top aides and weathered the indictments of two first-term cabinet members. In those ensuing months, America would come to see that the original petty crime was merely the leading edge of thematically related but wildly disparate abuses of power that Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, would name "the White House horrors."

In our current imperial presidency, as in its antecedent, what may look like a narrow case involving a second banana with a child's name contains the DNA of the White House, and that DNA offers a road map to the duplicitous culture of the whole. The coming prosecution of Lewis (Scooter) Libby in the Wilson affair is hardly the end of the story. That "Cheney's Cheney," as Mr. Libby is known, would allegedly go to such lengths to obscure his role in punishing a man who challenged the administration's W.M.D. propaganda is just one very big window into the genesis of the smoke screen (or, more accurately, mushroom cloud) that the White House used to sell the war in Iraq.

After the heat of last week's drama, we can forget just how effective the administration's cover-up of that con job had been until very recently. Before Patrick Fitzgerald's leak investigation, there were two separate official investigations into the failure of prewar intelligence. With great fanfare and to great acclaim, both found that our information about Saddam's W.M.D.'s was dead wrong. But wittingly or unwittingly, both of these supposedly thorough inquiries actually protected the White House by avoiding, in Watergate lingo, "the big enchilada."

The 601-page report from the special presidential commission led by Laurence Silberman and Charles Robb, hailed at its March release as a "sharp critique" by Mr. Bush, contains only a passing mention of Dick Cheney. It has no mention whatsoever of Mr. Libby or Karl Rove or their semicovert propaganda operation (the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG) created to push all that dead-wrong intel. Nor does it mention Douglas Feith, the first-term under secretary of defense for policy, whose rogue intelligence operation in the Pentagon supplied the vice president with the disinformation that bamboozled the nation.

The other investigation into prewar intelligence, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, is a scandal in its own right. After the release of its initial findings in July 2004, the committee's Republican chairman, Pat Roberts, promised that a Phase 2 to determine whether the White House had misled the public would arrive after the presidential election. It still hasn't, and no wonder: Murray Waas reported Thursday in The National Journal that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby had refused to provide the committee with "crucial documents," including the Libby-written passages in early drafts of Colin Powell's notorious presentation of W.M.D. "evidence" to the U.N. on the eve of war.

Along the way, Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation has prompted the revelation of much of what these previous investigations left out. But even so, the trigger for the Wilson affair - the administration's fierce effort to protect its hype of Saddam's uranium - is only one piece of the larger puzzle of post- and pre-9/11 White House subterfuge. We're a long way from putting together the full history of a self-described "war presidency" that bungled the war in Iraq and, in doing so, may be losing the war against radical Islamic terrorism as well.

There are many other mysteries to be cracked, from the catastrophic, almost willful failure of the Pentagon to plan for the occupation of Iraq to the utter ineptitude of the huge and costly Department of Homeland Security that was revealed in all its bankruptcy by Katrina. There are countless riddles, large and small. Why have the official reports on detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo spared all but a single officer in the chain of command? Why does Halliburton continue to receive lucrative government contracts even after it's been the focus of multiple federal inquiries into accusations of bid-rigging, overcharging and fraud? Why did it take five weeks for Pat Tillman's parents to be told that their son had been killed by friendly fire, and who ordered up the fake story of his death that was sold relentlessly on TV before then?

These questions are just a representative sampling. It won't be easy to get honest answers because this administration, like Nixon's, practices obsessive secrecy even as it erects an alternative reality built on spin and outright lies.

Mr. Cheney is a particularly shameless master of these black arts. Long before he played semantics on "Meet the Press" with his knowledge of Joseph Wilson in the leak case, he repeatedly fictionalized crucial matters of national security. As far back as May 8, 2001, he appeared on CNN to promote his new assignment, announced that day by Mr. Bush, to direct a governmentwide review of U.S. "consequence management" in the event of a terrorist attack. As we would learn only in the recriminatory aftermath of 9/11 (from Barton Gellman of The Washington Post), Mr. Cheney never did so.

That stunt was a preview of Mr. Cheney's unreliable pronouncements about the war, from his early prediction that American troops would be "greeted as liberators" in Iraq to this summer's declaration that the insurgency was in its "last throes." Even before he began inflating Saddam's nuclear capabilities, he went on "Meet the Press" in December 2001 to peddle the notion that "it's been pretty well confirmed" that there was a direct pre-9/11 link between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence. When the Atta-Saddam link was disproved later, Gloria Borger, interviewing the vice president on CNBC, confronted him about his earlier claim, and Mr. Cheney told her three times that he had never said it had been "pretty well confirmed." When a man thinks he can get away with denying his own words even though there are millions of witnesses and a video record, he clearly believes he can get away with murder.

Mr. Bush is only slightly less brazen. His own false claims about Iraq's W.M.D.'s ("We found the weapons of mass destruction," he said in May 2003) are, if anything, exceeded by his repeated boasts of capturing various bin Laden and Zarqawi deputies and beating back Al Qaeda. His speech this month announcing the foiling of 10 Qaeda plots is typical; as USA Today reported last week, at least 6 of the 10 on the president's list "involved preliminary ideas about potential attacks, not terrorist operations that were about to be carried out." In June, Mr. Bush stood beside his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and similarly claimed that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects" and that "more than half" of those had been convicted. A Washington Post investigation found that only 39 of those convictions had involved terrorism or national security (as opposed to, say, immigration violations). That sum could yet be exceeded by the combined number of convictions in the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay scandals.

The hyping of post-9/11 threats indeed reflects the same DNA as the hyping of Saddam's uranium: in both cases, national security scares are trumpeted to advance the White House's political goals. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC recently compiled 13 "coincidences" in which "a political downturn for the administration," from revelations of ignored pre-9/11 terror warnings to fresh news of detainee abuses, is "followed by a 'terror event' - a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning." To switch the national subject from the fallout of the televised testimony of the F.B.I. whistle-blower Coleen Rowley in 2002, John Ashcroft went so far as to broadcast a frantic announcement, via satellite from Russia, that the government had "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot" to explode a dirty bomb. What he was actually referring to was the arrest of a single suspect, Jose Padilla, for allegedly exploring such a plan - an arrest that had taken place a month earlier.

For now, it's conventional wisdom in Washington that the Bush White House's infractions are nowhere near those of the Nixon administration, as David Gergen put it on MSNBC on Friday morning. But Watergate's dirty tricks were mainly prompted by the ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost. That's a powerful element in the Bush scandals, too, but this administration has upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war. Back on July 6, 2003, when the American casualty toll in Iraq stood at 169 and Mr. Wilson had just published his fateful Op-Ed, Robert Novak, yet to write his column outing Mr. Wilson's wife, declared that "weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger" were "little elitist issues that don't bother most of the people." That's what Nixon administration defenders first said about the "third-rate burglary" at Watergate, too.

The Latest in Second-Term Scandals - New York Times

The Latest in Second-Term Scandals - New York TimesOctober 30, 2005
The Latest in Second-Term Scandals

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 - White House scandals in the second term of presidencies have become the rule.

Dwight D. Eisenhower's chief of staff was forced from office by accusations of corruption. Richard M. Nixon resigned over Watergate. Ronald Reagan's White House was embroiled in the Iran-contra scheme. Bill Clinton was impeached over his deceptions regarding an affair with a White House intern.

But President Bush's situation is different in several respects.

Most important, from Mr. Bush's perspective, he is the first second-term president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to have both houses of Congress controlled by his own party. The other scandals were driven, at least in part, by Congressional investigations. This Congress is unlikely to investigate this president.

On the other hand, except for Nixon, the other second-term presidents in the last half-century mostly maintained their popularity even as the scandals were unfolding.

At his low point, in the spring of 1958, Eisenhower's handling of the presidency was approved of by 48 percent of the public and disapproved of by 36 percent, a Gallup poll showed. At the end of his term, Eisenhower's approval rating had climbed to 59 percent.

In February 1987, as the Iran-contra scandal was breaking, 42 percent of those questioned in a New York Times/CBS News poll approved of Reagan's presidency, with 46 percent disapproving. It was the only month of his second term when a plurality was against him. By summer, his approval rate had climbed above 50 percent, and it was 60 percent when he left office.

Mr. Clinton's approval rating in his second term never fell below 55 percent, and it was 68 percent at the end of his presidency.

Mr. Bush is faring much worse. A Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll taken last weekend found Mr. Bush's approval rating to be 42 percent and his disapproval rating 55 percent.

Another difference is that I. Lewis Libby Jr. is the first high-ranking White House official in many decades to be indicted while still in office. Plenty of top White House staff members from other administrations have been indicted, including H. R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman from the Nixon White House and Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, who was Reagan's national security adviser, but they all resigned long before they were indicted.

The last sitting White House staff member to be indicted may have been Orville Babcock, Ulysses S. Grant's private secretary, who was charged in 1875 with a group of whiskey distillers in a conspiracy to defraud the government of taxes.

In 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned as part of a plea bargain on accusations of corruption in which he avoided a felony indictment. And in 1984, Reagan's labor secretary, Raymond J. Donovan, was indicted on a grand larceny charge that involved the construction business he owned before entering the government. Mr. Donovan took an unpaid leave of absence and resigned the next year. Ultimately, he was acquitted.

Except for Nixon, the two-term presidents in the last 50 years took successful steps to get their presidencies back on track after the scandals broke.

In 1958, Eisenhower's seemingly indispensable chief of staff, Sherman Adams, was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had interceded with federal agencies on behalf of a businessman who had given him gifts. With the economy struggling to recover from a recession, Republicans lost 48 seats in the House and 15 in the Senate in the midterm elections. Eisenhower called the year, his sixth in office, the worst of his life.

But his wartime associate Maj. Gen. Wilton B. Persons, who was named to succeed Mr. Adams, proved to be a competent chief of staff. Eisenhower focused on foreign affairs and took several trips abroad. The Adams scandal was soon old news.

"The president was still Ike, and the presidency went on," said Stephen Hess, who was a young White House aide in Eisenhower's second term and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In the throes of the Iran-contra scandal, Reagan brought in a new top staff. He made Howard H. Baker Jr., the Senate Republican leader, his chief of staff and A. B. Culvahouse the White House counsel.

Mr. Baker demanded resignations of White House staff members and put trusted aides from his Senate staff in charge of operations.

Mr. Reagan gave a speech taking responsibility for the Iran-contra affair, and his popularity began to rise.

Then Mr. Reagan turned to foreign policy. He made his famous speech in Berlin demanding that the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev "tear down this wall," and presided over the beginning of the end of the cold war.

Mr. Clinton also turned to foreign policy after the Senate refused to convict him on impeachment charges. He traveled to China, negotiated a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians and fought a successful war in Kosovo.

"The president proved that he clearly had the whip hand on foreign policy," said John D. Podesta, his last chief of staff.

In domestic policy, Mr. Clinton was strong enough to beat back Republican tax cuts and other policies advanced by Newt Gingrich, the Republican speaker of the House.

In the last 100 years, said Lewis L. Gould, author of "The Modern American Presidency," "there has not been one good second term."

But except for Nixon's, they did not end in disasters either.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

In Indictment's Wake, a Focus on Cheney's Powerful Role - New York Times

In Indictment's Wake, a Focus on Cheney's Powerful Role - New York TimesOctober 30, 2005
The Vice President
In Indictment's Wake, a Focus on Cheney's Powerful Role

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 - Vice President Dick Cheney makes only three brief appearances in the 22-page federal indictment that charges his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, with lying to investigators and misleading a grand jury in the C.I.A. leak case. But in its clear, cold language, it lifts a veil on how aggressively Mr. Cheney's office drove the rationale against Saddam Hussein and then fought to discredit the Iraq war's critics.

The document now raises a central question: how much collateral damage has Mr. Cheney sustained?

Many Republicans say that Mr. Cheney, already politically weakened because of his role in preparing the case for war, could be further damaged if he is forced to testify about the infighting over intelligence that turned out to be false. At the least, they say, his office will be temporarily off balance with the resignation of Mr. Libby, who controlled both foreign and domestic affairs in a vice presidential office that has served as a major policy arm for the West Wing.

"Cheney has had a tight, effective team, and they have been an incredible support system for the presidency," said Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "To the degree that that support system is weakened, it's a bad day at the office. But no person is indispensable." For now, David Addington, the vice president's counsel, is the leading candidate to replace Mr. Libby.

Mr. Cheney's allies noted that there was no suggestion in the indictment that the most powerful vice president in American history, with enormous influence into all important corners of administration policy, had done anything wrong. They also said that Mr. Libby, whose role has been diminished in the past year as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice became more powerful and the leak investigation took its toll, could be quickly replaced from the vice president's large Rolodex of support.

"His reach within both the party mechanism and the policy structures of the government is so deep that I believe that it is possible to find somebody who would provide the technical and intellectual support that Libby did, even if he doesn't have the same personal relationship that he had with Libby," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire Republican with White House ties. "That's very hard to duplicate."

The indictment against Mr. Libby, known as Scooter, alleges that the vice president's office was the hub of a concerted effort to gather information about key critics of the Bush Iraq policy. [Page 28.]

The larger question, Republicans said, was Mr. Cheney's standing with the public - and what his staff has often called the vice president's constituency of one, Mr. Bush.

Christine Todd Whitman, the president's former EPA administrator and a longtime Bush family friend who was critical of the White House and the Republican right wing in a recent book, said that she did not expect the president's personal relationship with Mr. Cheney to change. Nonetheless, she said she believed that if more information about Mr. Cheney's involvement in the leak case becomes public, "and if it keeps hanging around and getting close to the vice president, he might step aside - but that's an extreme case."

For now, she said, "Scooter has fallen on his sword, and the focus is on him."

Paul Light, a vice presidential scholar at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, agreed that Mr. Cheney's relationship with Mr. Bush will likely remain solid, but the taint of the scandal could hurt the vice president outside the White House.

"Cheney becomes a bit of an albatross except with the base, where he's a real rock star," Mr. Light said. "It'll be less possible for him to make campaign trips because this issue will dog him."

A number of influential Republicans agreed, although they did not want to speak for attribution for fear of harming their relationships with Mr. Cheney.

"Cheney doesn't have a legal problem, but he has a political problem," said one Republican close to the White House who did not want to be named to avoid public quarrels with the White House. "As the driving force on foreign policy and the Iraq war, his leadership is now nowhere near as credible. Bush has got to approach the stuff coming from the vice president's office with raised eyebrows."

Others said that Mr. Cheney was far too central at the White House to be diminished by the scandal. "He's a survivor of all time," said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming and a longtime friend of the vice president. "I never saw him bow his head or go into a cocoon or suck his thumb or anything like that. He's an unflappable man."

Former Senator Warren B. Rudman, Republican of New Hampshire, agreed with that assessment. "Look, Dick Cheney is not running for anything, he's obviously an incredibly important person in the administration, and I don't think that will change inside the White House," Mr. Rudman said. "If he were a normal vice president looking to run in '08, then it would be a totally different situation."

Most Republicans said that they had not taken seriously recent talk, advanced by conservatives, that Mr. Cheney should be the next Republican presidential candidate. In any case, they said, his history of heart problems, the faulty pre-war intelligence and now Mr. Libby's indictment effectively ruled out a political future beyond Mr. Bush's second term. "He's too controversial," Ms. Whitman said.

Although Mr. Cheney makes only three appearances in the indictment, the episodes tell a story of a vice president directly involved in an effort to learn about Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who emerged in 2003 as a critic of the way the administration used prewar intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. The episodes do not shed light on the action that set off the special prosecutor nearly two years ago: who first leaked the name of Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, an undercover officer at the C.I.A., as an attempt to denigrate Mr. Wilson's trip as a nepotistic junket arranged by his spouse.

Mr. Cheney's most interesting appearance in the indictment is on Page 5, where he is described as telling Mr. Libby, on June 12, 2003, that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the C.I.A. in the counterproliferation division. "Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the C.I.A.," the indictment states.

Mr. Cheney also appears on Page 8, when he flew with Mr. Libby and others on Air Force Two on July 12, 2003, to Norfolk, Va. On the return trip, the indictment states, Mr. Libby "discussed with other officials aboard the plane" what he should say to reporters in response to "certain pending media inquiries," including questions from Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.

The indictment does not say who the "other officials" are or the nature of the media inquiries, but it does say that on that same day Mr. Libby spoke to Mr. Cooper, and that he confirmed that he had heard that Mr. Wilson's wife was involved in sending him on the trip.

The indictment comes as other parts of the wall that was built around Mr. Cheney's defense of the war have come tumbling down. Earlier this month, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin L. Powell while he was secretary of state, complained in a speech of a "cabal" between Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld when it came to Iraq and of a "real dysfunctionality" in the administration's foreign policy team.

The indictment also serves as fresh evidence to those Republicans who have known Mr. Cheney for decades and say he has changed, and that he reacted to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by becoming consumed with threats against the nation and his long-time desire to rid Iraq of Mr. Hussein. Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush, said as much in The New Yorker's current issue.

"I consider Cheney a good friend - I've known him for thirty years," Mr. Scowcroft told Jeffrey Goldberg. "But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."

Some Republicans say that Mr. Cheney's relationship with Mr. Bush has already changed, and that he has become less of a mentor to the president after Mr. Bush's nearly five years in office. Still, Mr. Cheney's allies insist that, with or without Mr. Libby, Mr. Cheney will be at the president's side.

"I don't think it's ever been about Cheney's staff," said Victoria Clarke, a former Pentagon spokeswoman and aide to President George H. W. Bush. "It's about him. Cheney's influence has always been his own."

Friday, October 28, 2005

Why the Right Was Wrong - New York Times

Why the Right Was Wrong - New York TimesOctober 28, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor
Why the Right Was Wrong

Anaheim, Calif.

OVER the last two elections, the Republican Party regained control of the United States Senate by electing new senators in Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. These victories were attributable in large measure to the central demand made by Republican candidates, and heard and embraced by voters, that President Bush's nominees deserved an up-or-down decision on the floor of the Senate. Now, with the withdrawal of Harriet Miers under an instant, fierce and sometimes false assault from conservative pundits and activists, it will be difficult for Republican candidates to continue to make this winning argument: that Democrats have deeply damaged the integrity of the advice and consent process.

The right's embrace in the Miers nomination of tactics previously exclusive to the left - exaggeration, invective, anonymous sources, an unbroken stream of new charges, television advertisements paid for by secret sources - will make it immeasurably harder to denounce and deflect such assaults when the Democrats make them the next time around. Given the overemphasis on admittedly ambiguous speeches Miers made more than a decade ago, conservative activists will find it difficult to take on liberals in their parallel efforts to destroy some future Robert Bork.

Not all critics of Ms. Miers from the right used these tactics, and those who did not will be able to continue on with the project of restoring sanity to the process that went haywire with Judge Bork's rejection in 1987. Conservatives are also fortunate that no Republican senator called for Ms. Miers's withdrawal.

But the Democrats' hand has been strengthened. Voting for or against Ms. Miers would have forced Senate Democrats to articulate a coherent standard for future nominees. Now, the Democrats have free rein.

The next nominee - even one who is a superb scholar and sitting judge who recently underwent Senate confirmation like Michael McConnell of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, or a long-serving superstar like Michael Luttig of the Fourth Circuit - will face an instant and savage assault. After all, it "worked" with Ms. Miers. A claim of "special circumstances" justifying a filibuster will also be forthcoming. And will other nominees simply pass on the opportunity to walk out in the middle of a crossfire? A White House counsel with distinguished credentials was compared to Caligula's horse and Barney the dog on National Review's Web site. George Will denounced as "crude" those evangelicals who thought Ms. Miers's faith was a good indication of character in a nominee and a hopeful sign on issues involving the unborn. She was labeled a crony before lunch on the day of her nomination by scores of commentators. Attacks on her competence within the White House followed immediately. She never had a chance, really.

The Miers precedent cements an extraconstitutional new standard for nominees. Had the framers intended only judges for the court, they would have said so. No doubt some Miers critics will protest a willingness to support nominees who have never sat on the bench, but no president is going to send one forward after this debacle. The center of the Miers opposition was National Review's blog, The Corner, and the blog, both with sharp-tongued, witty and relentless writers. They unleashed every argument they could find, and the pack that followed them could not be stopped. Even if a senator had a mind to urge hearings and a vote, he had to feel that it would call down on him the verbal wrath of the anti-Miers zealots.

It will be the lasting glory or the lasting shame of The Corner and others involved in driving Ms. Miers from the field, depending on what happens, and not just with the next nominee and his or her votes on the court, but all the nominees that follow, and all the Senate campaigns that will be affected, as well as the presidential race in 2008.

This triumph of the conservative punditocracy will have lasting consequences, and I hope my fears are misplaced. The first returns will come in the decision on parental notification statutes that will be argued before the Supreme Court in late November. Absent a miracle of Senate efficiency, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will cast one of her last votes on the most important abortion-rights case in a few years. And then the accounting will begin in earnest.

Hugh Hewitt, the writer of, is a professor at Chapman University Law School.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bush Choice Gets Criticisms Rare for Nominees to Court - New York Times

Bush Choice Gets Criticisms Rare for Nominees to Court - New York TimesOctober 24, 2005
Bush Choice Gets Criticisms Rare for Nominees to Court

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 - On Oct. 22, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon nominated to the Supreme Court a corporate lawyer and former bar association president with no judicial experience. On Dec. 6, his choice, Lewis F. Powell Jr., was confirmed with fanfare by a vote of 89 to 1.

Harriet E. Miers, President Bush's nominee to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, brings a similar résumé, along with five years in the White House and one year as its counsel. But in just three weeks, her nomination has provoked a range of opposition that some scholars say may have no modern precedent.

"I would be very hard pressed to think of a good historical analogy," Richard Baker, the Senate historian, said. "I don't think there is one."

Though past nominees have faced swift opposition, what makes Ms. Miers's nomination extraordinary, historians say, is the combination of doubts about her philosophy from within the president's own party and attacks on her legal qualifications from both sides of the aisle.

"Harriet Miers is in a real danger zone," said Lee Epstein, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis who uses statistical models to study public perceptions of past Supreme Court nominees. "Our models right now are showing that she would get confirmed, but I would be worried if I was the president," she said. The early calls for withdrawal, the "intraparty attacks" and the questions about her qualifications, Ms. Epstein said, are what make Ms. Miers's nomination "reasonably unique."

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said, "I think if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority either in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor."

"The hearings are going to be make or break for Harriet Miers in a way that they have not been for any other nominee," Mr. Schumer said, adding, "Right now, she has a rough row to hoe."

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the committee and a close ally of the president, responded in a statement, "No senator can speak for the entire Senate." Mr. Cornyn added, "Even if you believe his characterization, and I don't, she should be given the opportunity to appear before the committee."

The criticism of Ms. Miers may, in part, reflect changes in public expectations. Justice Powell and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, named the same year, were the last nominees who did not have judicial experience. Ms. Miers's meetings with senators have also been marred by misunderstandings, including one with Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, over her views on privacy rights. Some of her backers have also suggested an element of sexism in her treatment.

And the debate comes at a moment when social conservatives feel that their electoral victories entitle them to a change in the court.

Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, said that the reaction was like "a triple root canal" but added: "It really isn't Harriet in my mind. It is the president." Mr. Simpson blamed a sense of weakness around the White House because of concerns about the C.I.A. leak investigation, the war in Iraq and the handling of the recent hurricanes. "It is like a huge raptor seeing a rabbit running on only three legs," he said.

Some supporters of the nomination say that they are beginning to turn it around, partly by enlisting lawyers and judges who know Ms. Miers to attest to her abilities. "I think we hit our stride this week," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice.

But the dual opposition is creating some strange bedfellows.

Last week, Mr. Specter joined Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, in criticizing Ms. Miers as failing to answer adequately a Senate questionnaire - a move Mr. Leahy later called "unprecedented." The two senators sent her a letter demanding that by Wednesday of this week she provide documents from her White House work as well as information about what her friends and colleagues have told conservatives on her behalf.

Two other Republicans on the committee, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are also supporting the request. "We need to have that full picture before we can vote," Mr. Brownback said on "Fox News Sunday." Being asked to provide this type of information "is almost a risk they assume when you nominate a candidate that's from inside the White House," he said.

But Mr. Cornyn said on Friday that the administration should reject that request because disclosing internal discussions would violate the confidentiality of White House deliberations.

"I expect them to stand on that principle again, no matter who asked for them," Mr. Cornyn said.

Ms. Miers is not the first nominee to confront ideological opposition from within her own party. Republicans objected so much to President Ulysses S. Grant's 1874 nomination of Caleb Cushing, a former attorney general and a respected lawyer, that it was withdrawn after four days, said Professor Richard D. Friedman of the University of Michigan Law School. Republicans also complained about President Herbert Hoover's 1932 nomination of the eminent jurist Benjamin Cardozo. Others choices for the court - President Franklin Roosevelt's 1937 nomination of Justice Hugo Black, a former senator who never finished high school, or Mr. Nixon's 1970 nomination of G. Harrold Carswell - have faced doubts about their qualifications.

But several historians said that they could not think of a nominee who had drawn so much criticism from both parties so quickly. "I have to sympathize with this woman," said Sheldon Goldman of the University of Massachusetts, noting the similarity with Justice Powell's résumé.

"The difference in treatment that she has received has been absolutely stunning," Mr. Goldman said.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Woman of Mass Destruction - New York Times

Woman of Mass Destruction - New York TimesOctober 22, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Woman of Mass Destruction

I've always liked Judy Miller. I have often wondered what Waugh or Thackeray would have made of the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp.

The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy - her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur - have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types.

Once when I was covering the first Bush White House, I was in The Times's seat in the crowded White House press room, listening to an administration official's background briefing. Judy had moved on from her tempestuous tenure as a Washington editor to be a reporter based in New York, but she showed up at this national security affairs briefing.

At first she leaned against the wall near where I was sitting, but I noticed that she seemed agitated about something. Midway through the briefing, she came over and whispered to me, "I think I should be sitting in the Times seat."

It was such an outrageous move, I could only laugh. I got up and stood in the back of the room, while Judy claimed what she felt was her rightful power perch.

She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet "Miss Run Amok."

Judy's stories about W.M.D. fit too perfectly with the White House's case for war. She was close to Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who was conning the neocons to knock out Saddam so he could get his hands on Iraq, and I worried that she was playing a leading role in the dangerous echo chamber that Senator Bob Graham, now retired, dubbed "incestuous amplification." Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists.

Even last April, when I wrote a column critical of Mr. Chalabi, she fired off e-mail to me defending him.

When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he barred Judy from covering Iraq and W.M.D. issues. But he acknowledged in The Times's Sunday story about Judy's role in the Plame leak case that she had kept "drifting" back. Why did nobody stop this drift?

Judy admitted in the story that she "got it totally wrong" about W.M.D. "If your sources are wrong," she said, "you are wrong." But investigative reporting is not stenography.

The Times's story and Judy's own first-person account had the unfortunate effect of raising more questions. As Bill said yesterday in an e-mail note to the staff, Judy seemed to have "misled" the Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, about the extent of her involvement in the Valerie Plame leak case.

She casually revealed that she had agreed to identify her source, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, as a "former Hill staffer" because he had once worked on Capitol Hill. The implication was that this bit of deception was a common practice for reporters. It isn't.

She said that she had wanted to write about the Wilson-Plame matter, but that her editor would not allow it. But Managing Editor Jill Abramson, then the Washington bureau chief, denied this, saying that Judy had never broached the subject with her.

It also doesn't seem credible that Judy wouldn't remember a Marvel comics name like "Valerie Flame." Nor does it seem credible that she doesn't know how the name got into her notebook and that, as she wrote, she "did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby."

An Associated Press story yesterday reported that Judy had coughed up the details of an earlier meeting with Mr. Libby only after prosecutors confronted her with a visitor log showing that she had met with him on June 23, 2003. This cagey confusion is what makes people wonder whether her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project.

Judy refused to answer a lot of questions put to her by Times reporters, or show the notes that she shared with the grand jury. I admire Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller for aggressively backing reporters in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. But before turning Judy's case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.

Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover "the same thing I've always covered - threats to our country." If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.

Karl and Scooter's Excellent Adventure - New York Times

Karl and Scooter's Excellent Adventure - New York TimesOctober 23, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Karl and Scooter's Excellent Adventure

THERE were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda on 9/11. There was scant Pentagon planning for securing the peace should bad stuff happen after America invaded. Why, exactly, did we go to war in Iraq?

"It still isn't possible to be sure - and this remains the most remarkable thing about the Iraq war," writes the New Yorker journalist George Packer, a disenchanted liberal supporter of the invasion, in his essential new book, "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq." Even a former Bush administration State Department official who was present at the war's creation, Richard Haass, tells Mr. Packer that he expects to go to his grave "not knowing the answer."

Maybe. But the leak investigation now reaching its climax in Washington continues to offer big clues. We don't yet know whether Lewis (Scooter) Libby or Karl Rove has committed a crime, but the more we learn about their desperate efforts to take down a bit player like Joseph Wilson, the more we learn about the real secret they wanted to protect: the "why" of the war.

To piece that story together, you have to follow each man's history before the invasion of Iraq - before anyone had ever heard of Valerie Plame Wilson, let alone leaked her identity as a C.I.A. officer. It is not an accident that Mr. Libby's and Mr. Rove's very different trajectories - one of a Washington policy intellectual, the other of a Texas political operative - would collide before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury. They are very different men who play very different White House roles, but they are bound together now by the sordid shared past that the Wilson affair has exposed.

In Mr. Rove's case, let's go back to January 2002. By then the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan had succeeded in its mission to overthrow the Taliban and had done so with minimal American casualties. In a triumphalist speech to the Republican National Committee, Mr. Rove for the first time openly advanced the idea that the war on terror was the path to victory for that November's midterm elections. Candidates "can go to the country on this issue," he said, because voters "trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America." It was an early taste of the rhetoric that would be used habitually to smear any war critics as unpatriotic.

But there were unspoken impediments to Mr. Rove's plan that he certainly knew about: Afghanistan was slipping off the radar screen of American voters, and the president's most grandiose objective, to capture Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," had not been achieved. How do you run on a war if the war looks as if it's shifting into neutral and the No. 1 evildoer has escaped?

Hardly had Mr. Rove given his speech than polls started to register the first erosion of the initial near-universal endorsement of the administration's response to 9/11. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey in March 2002 found that while 9 out of 10 Americans still backed the war on terror at the six-month anniversary of the attacks, support for an expanded, long-term war had fallen to 52 percent.

Then came a rapid barrage of unhelpful news for a political campaign founded on supposed Republican superiority in protecting America: the first report (in The Washington Post) that the Bush administration had lost Bin Laden's trail in Tora Bora in December 2001 by not committing ground troops to hunt him down; the first indications that intelligence about Bin Laden's desire to hijack airplanes barely clouded President Bush's August 2001 Crawford vacation; the public accusations by an F.B.I. whistle-blower, Coleen Rowley, that higher-ups had repeatedly shackled Minneapolis agents investigating the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, in the days before 9/11.

These revelations took their toll. By Memorial Day 2002, a USA Today poll found that just 4 out of 10 Americans believed that the United States was winning the war on terror, a steep drop from the roughly two-thirds holding that conviction in January. Mr. Rove could see that an untelevised and largely underground war against terrorists might not nail election victories without a jolt of shock and awe. It was a propitious moment to wag the dog.

Enter Scooter, stage right. As James Mann details in his definitive group biography of the Bush war cabinet, "Rise of the Vulcans," Mr. Libby had been joined at the hip with Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz since their service in the Defense Department of the Bush 41 administration, where they conceived the neoconservative manifesto for the buildup and exercise of unilateral American military power after the cold war. Well before Bush 43 took office, they had become fixated on Iraq, though for reasons having much to do with their ideas about realigning the states in the Middle East and little or nothing to do with the stateless terrorism of Al Qaeda. Mr. Bush had specifically disdained such interventionism when running against Al Gore, but he embraced the cause once in office. While others might have had cavils - American military commanders testified before Congress about their already overtaxed troops and equipment in March 2002 - the path was clear for a war in Iraq to serve as the political Viagra Mr. Rove needed for the election year.

But here, too, was an impediment: there had to be that "why" for the invasion, the very why that today can seem so elusive that Mr. Packer calls Iraq "the 'Rashomon' of wars." Abstract (and highly debatable) neocon notions of marching to Baghdad to make the Middle East safe for democracy (and more secure for Israel and uninterrupted oil production) would never fly with American voters as a trigger for war or convince them that such a war was relevant to the fight against those who attacked us on 9/11. And though Americans knew Saddam was a despot and mass murderer, that in itself was also insufficient to ignite a popular groundswell for regime change. Polls in the summer of 2002 showed steadily declining support among Americans for going to war in Iraq, especially if we were to go it alone.

For Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush to get what they wanted most, slam-dunk midterm election victories, and for Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney to get what they wanted most, a war in Iraq for reasons predating 9/11, their real whys for going to war had to be replaced by fictional, more salable ones. We wouldn't be invading Iraq to further Rovian domestic politics or neocon ideology; we'd be doing so instead because there was a direct connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda and because Saddam was on the verge of attacking America with nuclear weapons. The facts and intelligence had to be fixed to create these whys; any contradictory evidence had to be dismissed or suppressed.

Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney were in the boiler room of the disinformation factory. The vice president's repetitive hyping of Saddam's nuclear ambitions in the summer and fall of 2002 as well as his persistence in advertising bogus Saddam-Qaeda ties were fed by the rogue intelligence operation set up in his own office. As we know from many journalistic accounts, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby built their "case" by often making an end run around the C.I.A., State Department intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Their ally in cherry-picking intelligence was a similar cadre of neocon zealots led by Douglas Feith at the Pentagon.

THIS is what Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's wartime chief of staff, was talking about last week when he publicly chastised the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" for sowing potential disaster in Iraq, North Korea and Iran. It's this cabal that in 2002 pushed for much of the bogus W.M.D. evidence that ended up in Mr. Powell's now infamous February 2003 presentation to the U.N. It's this cabal whose propaganda was sold by the war's unannounced marketing arm, the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, in which both Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove served in the second half of 2002. One of WHIG's goals, successfully realized, was to turn up the heat on Congress so it would rush to pass a resolution authorizing war in the politically advantageous month just before the midterm election.

Joseph Wilson wasn't a player in these exalted circles; he was a footnote who began to speak out loudly only after Saddam had been toppled and the mission in Iraq had been "accomplished." He challenged just one element of the W.M.D. "evidence," the uranium that Saddam's government had supposedly been seeking in Africa to fuel its ominous mushroom clouds.

But based on what we know about Mr. Libby's and Mr. Rove's hysterical over-response to Mr. Wilson's accusation, he scared them silly. He did so because they had something to hide. Should Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove have lied to investigators or a grand jury in their panic, Mr. Fitzgerald will bring charges. But that crime would seem a misdemeanor next to the fables that they and their bosses fed the nation and the world as the whys for invading Iraq.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Chinese Finding Their Voice - New York Times

Chinese Finding Their Voice - New York TimesOctober 21, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Chinese Finding Their Voice


And you thought the Cultural Revolution was over. Sorry, it's just beginning, only China's new Cultural Revolution will be driven this time from the bottom up - by podcasters with Apple's little white iPods or competing players, not from the top down by Maoists with Little Red Books.

Yes, I know, I am a little ahead of myself. Very few Chinese have ever even seen an iPod, so the podcasting that does exist here is largely done through PC's. (Podcasting is the technology that enables individuals to produce their own poetry and songs, videos and photos, and upload them onto a podcasting Web site, then offer this content to anyone who wants to sample it or subscribe to it.) Once the prices come down for iPods, both for those that play audio and for Apple's newest version, which also plays video, there will be a huge market here for Chinese-language podcasting.

I got a little glimpse of the future visiting a small apartment in suburban Shanghai, home to China's leading podcasting Web site,

"We already have 13,000 channels on our site and about 5,000 of them are updated regularly," said Gary Wang, 32, the Fuzhou-born and U.S.- and French-educated Chinese engineer who founded Toodou. Any Chinese can create his or her own channel of video or audio content on Toodou (which means "potato"), and other individuals sign up to get that channel's new uploads. Eventually Toodou will charge a monthly subscription fee.

"I want to create hundreds of thousands of different channels, maintained by just average people, where other people can access them and download the material," Mr. Wang added. And he will, because of how easy it is to upload and podcast homemade video and audio content. There are almost no barriers to entry. (His site does self-censor porn and anything that's obviously against Chinese law - but anything else goes.)

Toodou's most popular podcast today shows two 20-year-old Chinese women who lip-sync a popular Cantonese rock tune. "They got bored," Mr. Wang explained, so they bought their own Webcam, which you can find here for as little as $6, used Microsoft Movie Maker, which is free with Windows XP, made their own little three-minute MTV-like podcast and uploaded it onto It's been viewed 75,000 times in three months.

"It took them one hour to make and 15 minutes to edit," Mr. Wang said. The women, called the Beans, now have their own Internet fan club.

Another favorite is a podcast by two Chinese architecture students in Houston Rockets jerseys (the team of the Chinese N.B.A. star Yao Ming) who lip-sync a Backstreet Boys tune. A slide show on life in Shenzhen has been viewed 16,000 times, with lots of accompanying commentary from viewers. The second-most-popular podcast right now shows an underground rock band at a Shanghai bar.

Toodou's goal, Mr. Wang said, "will be to connect [Chinese] people to their tastes and to their potential collaborators. We will have a huge content database, and we will share the revenue with content providers."

For now, a lot of it is junk, but that will change. The podcasting tools are so easy to acquire that it will force competition, experimentation and better quality. Mr. Wang first heard of podcasting only 13 months ago. Today he has the most popular podcasting site in China, with 100,000 registered users, 8 employees, 40 volunteers and a U.S. venture-capital backer.

News of his site was spread free by Chinese bloggers. His office costs $500 a month, and some of the employees sleep there. Almost all of the software that runs is from free open-source material on the Web: an Apache Web server; FreeBSD, a free Unix operating system; MySQL, a free database system; and PHP, free programming lingo. Mr. Wang wrote the basic algorithms that run himself.

Unlike earlier techno-media revolutions, which began in the West and moved East, the podcasting revolution is going to explode everywhere at once, thanks to the Web and free technology tools. That's why the next phase of globalization is not going to be more Americanization, but more "glocalization" - more and more local content made global.

"We have different songs and we want to express different things, but the desire is the same," Mr. Wang said. "We all want to be seen and heard and be able to create stuff we like and share it. ... People from all over the world will draw knowledge and inspiration from the same technology platform, but different cultures will flourish on it. It is the same soil, but different trees will grow."

Paul Krugman is on vacation.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Let's dispel a favorite urban myth

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Let's dispel a favorite urban mythLet's dispel a
favorite urban myth

The lies are supposed to be behind the Nation of Islam now. But I am not so sure. Whenever its current leader, Louis Farrakhan, takes to the podium, something like the truth and its cousin, logic, head for the hills.

The "Willie Lynch" story that Farrakhan delivered at the Million Man March became part of the unquestioned "folk wisdom" of the sidewalk, barbershop, beauty parlor and student "understanding" of the black predicament.

The talk was about a supposed speech given in 1712 by William Lynch, a slaveholder who was lecturing his fellow chattel owners in the best ways to keep the slaves divided. It is a perfect example of the "big lie" theory. Tell a big enough lie and it will become its own truth. At the Million Man March, Farrakhan presented a piece of "truth" that had been hidden from black people.

Now it's 10 years later, and after a Millions More Movement, the Lynch lie maintains its position as potted history passed off as fact. It has ingrained itself so much into our culture's consciousness that Prof. William Jelani Cobb of Spelman College had to sweep away this rhetorical piece of dung on his Web site Cobb was disturbed by how deeply this has penetrated the thought of black Americans across classes and professions. A decade later, people repeat it over and over. The rapper Talib Kweli has even cited it in his material. According to Cobb's Web site, it has taken on the life of a factoid, something that seems true but is not.

The only problem is that Farrakhan's talk was no more than a historical bean pie in the sky. A trumped up example of paranoid "insight," it revealed nothing.

The Nation of Islam, when Malcolm X was alive, and when its founder, Elijah Muhammad, called the shots, prided itself on revealing the truth to "so-called Negroes" who were deaf, dumb and blind to their history. The wool had been pulled over their eyes by the white man who was no more than a devil invented 6,000 years ago by Yacub, a mad black scientist.

The white devil was destined to destroy the civilized world created by black men and take reign, but would be pulled down when UFOs, spaceships flown by black men and filled with dynamite, would rain down explosives on America until it was set ablaze. It would burn for 777 years, cool for another 777. Then it would become a paradise and all black people who had been smart enough to emigrate to Africa could come back. (Actually, I assume the descendants of those who left, but you never know.)

Fast forward to 2005. The mad scientist is no more, but the William Lynch lie continues, permeating the fabric of modern-day black society.

Cobb was rattled to the point that he had to take Farrakhan's fairy tale apart, piece by piece, even noting that the language itself was not authentic. It was clearly written far, far later than it was supposed to be.

Unlike the "doctor" whom the Nation of Islam presented at the Million Man March as a man who had found a cure for AIDS, the William Lynch myth remains current snake oil.

If we think the masses are deserving of the truth, then we have to ask why more people are not involved, like Prof. Cobb, in seriously questioning Farrakhan.

We have been waiting a long time for this and will continue to wait as the Farrakhan spin becomes an ever more serious condition of vertigo.

Originally published on October 20, 2005

Mr. Mugabe, Fighting Colonial Ghosts - New York Times

Mr. Mugabe, Fighting Colonial Ghosts - New York TimesOctober 20, 2005
Mr. Mugabe, Fighting Colonial Ghosts

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe went to Rome for the meeting of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization this week. As he usually does whenever he manages to elude sanctions that restrict his travels to Europe and America, he let loose at George Bush and Tony Blair, likening them to Hitler and Mussolini and blaming them for all of Zimbabwe's woes.

While he spoke, armed bandits back in Zimbabwe were raiding potato farms, and opposition leaders were drumming up support for a boycott of Senate elections next month. In addition, aid agencies say 4 million of Zimbabwe's 11.5 million people are facing famine.

Mr. Mugabe's response has been to raze squatter camps around Harare, driving hundreds of thousands of the destitute into greater misery. The U.N. has called that a "catastrophic injustice." Mr. Mugabe has called criticism of the destruction "blatant interference." Zimbabweans are not hungry, he said - they just can't eat their favorite foods.

Clearly, the Food and Agriculture Organization can allow anyone it wants to attend its World Food Day ceremony in Rome. The United Nations and its agencies must remain ecumenical and open. And the occasional appearance by Mr. Mugabe does help remind the world that the 81-year-old tyrant is still around, still blaming colonialists, neocolonialists, racists and everybody else for his country's suffering, still fixing elections and hounding his opponents.

There was a time when Mr. Mugabe's credentials as a fighter against white-minority rule earned him respect. That time is long gone. He is a millstone around the neck of one of Africa's best endowed lands. Who says so? The South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said Mr. Mugabe is a "caricature of an African dictator"; Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, who has called on Mr. Mugabe to stop "fighting colonialist ghosts"; the Nobel-Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka, who has labeled Mr. Mugabe's regime "a disgrace to the continent."

Mr. Mugabe has run Zimbabwe for a quarter of a century, crushing every attempt to dislodge him, so there's little point in urging him to heed his fellow Africans. But there is every reason to support the opposition in its brave efforts to oust Mr. Mugabe's clique, and to assure the suffering people of Zimbabwe that the world has not forgotten them. - Magazine Article - Magazine Article

Republican Fissures Imperil Bush Agenda
Oxford Analytica, 10.20.05, 6:00 AM ET

President George W. Bush is struggling to contain criticism from conservative activists upset by his decision to nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. The Bush Administration is for the first time facing serious dissent from within the Republican Party.

Bush has experienced a steady decline in political momentum throughout 2005. After setting out an expansive program at home and abroad in his January Inaugural Address and February State of the Union speech, the president struggled to impose his agenda in Congress and rally public support. Despite these setbacks, the broader conservative movement and Republican Party remained essentially loyal to the Administration. Therefore, the present public discontent within the Republican Party is unprecedented during the president's time in Washington. For observers beyond the Washington "beltway," the origins of these troubles may be opaque:

-- Improved Standing. Bush's overall public approval ratings, while unimpressive, have recovered from their nadir during the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an event that embarrassed the White House.

-- Washington Scandals. Several "scandals" have emerged involving figures close to the president, although thus far they have created a greater stir in the Washington press corps than among the public at large.

While these difficulties--and the fear that they might imperil the Republican majorities on Capitol Hill in the November 2006 midterm election--have disturbed conservatives, they are not at the core of current intra-Party warfare. Republican operatives have spent years cobbling together an effective governing coalition. Until now, the White House has been adept at playing to this hard core of conservative support. However, events and White House policy choices have recently aggravated three distinct sections of the conservative movement:

1. Fiscal Conservatives. The "big government" conservatism associated with the Bush White House has long caused resentment among fiscal conservatives. This section of the Republican Party expressed particular distaste concerning:

-- expanded federal funding for education;

-- the addition an expensive prescription-drug benefit package to the to the Medicare old-age health care program; and

-- ballooning federal budget deficits throughout the Bush Administration.

These irritants were tolerated, in part, because of the imperatives of the "war on terror" and the drive to establish a stable Republican majority in Washington. However, victory in the 2004 elections suggested that the latter objective had been secured, and fiscal conservatives began to push for austerity during the Bush second term.

Recently, two factors have pushed fiscal conservatives into open revolt:

Congressional "Pork." There was concern over Bush's July decision to sign the $286 billion Transportation Bill.

Katrina Costs. There was unhappiness over the president's policy to federalize spending on the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

2. Social Conservatives. Bush could afford a degree of discontent among fiscal conservatives, provided that he retained the backing of his socially conservative bedrock. This group was pleased by the Roberts nomination. The political sophistication of that appointment led activists to assume that a similarly effective strategy would be employed to nominate a right wing ideologue to the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. These high hopes caused the overwhelming majority of social conservatives to greet the appointment of Miers with disappointment or outrage. This is a particularly critical nomination, because O'Connor frequently served as a moderate swing vote on the Court. Even those conservatives who are willing to tolerate the Miers appointment have scant enthusiasm for it.

3. Foreign Policy Conservatives. Although it has been less public than either fiscal or social conservative dissent, the course of events in Iraq has exacerbated fissures between traditional foreign policy "realists" and their antagonists in the small, influential faction that provided the primary impetus for the Iraq War. The continued difficulty establishing a secure and stable democratic regime in Iraq has also raised questions about the broader objective of democracy promotion in the Middle East.

These conservative divisions have the potential to cripple the White House political and legislative agenda. The Republican majorities in Congress are not large by historical standards, and may be especially sensitive to internal Party fissures.

Republican infighting presents the White House with both short-term and long-term challenges:

1. Short-Term Hazard. For the moment, the conflict between the White House and social conservatives over the Miers nomination looms large. However, its fallout, either way, will not endure. Bush's vigorous defense of her appointment will either force social conservatives to put aside their doubts, or her nomination will collapse, and a chastened president will be obliged to produce another name more acceptable to his base.

2. Longer-Term Split. The emerging chasm with fiscal conservatives is far more serious. A long-suppressed disagreement about the basic character of Republican government has opened and will not easily be closed. Fiscal conservatives in Congress will attempt to introduce major spending reductions. The initiative will probably earn the support of the majority of the House caucus but be resisted by a coalition of centrist Republicans, leading committee chairmen and Democrats.

3. Subtle Danger. The Administration risks finding itself defending an Iraq policy that is attacked for an overly slow pace of troop withdrawals by Democrats and an overly rapid pullout by the right.

Republican jockeying to succeed Bush further complicates the political picture for the White House. The two most high-profile potential candidates are Sens. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Neither is close to the Party's conservative base. A number of more right wing senators are considering a run, but need to boost their cause by increasing their national name recognition. At the moment, the easiest way to raise their profiles is to support aggrieved conservative constituencies against the White House.

Given that the Administration's current woes are mainly the product of Republican fratricide, there is little incentive for the Democratic Party to inject itself in the debate. Instead, the Democrats will pursue a counter-punching strategy, which includes:

-- vigorously pursuing emerging scandals among the congressional leadership and the Administration;

-- focusing on Miers' inexperience rather than her ideology; and

-- simultaneously portraying Republicans on Capitol Hill as fiscally irresponsible, and callous for cutting social welfare programs such as Medicaid.

The paradox of these internal difficulties for Bush is that they may prove to have little bearing on his public standing in the polls. If the economy strengthens, and the Iraqi security situation improves, it is conceivable that Bush's approval ratings could creep back above 50%.

Emerging divisions within the Republican Party represent a greater danger to the president's capacity to govern than low public opinion-poll ratings. The greatest challenge to his authority may come from fiscal conservatives upset by runaway spending on Iraq, Katrina and social programs, rather than social conservatives challenging Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court.

To read an extended version of this article log on to Oxford Analytica's Web site.

Oxford Analytica is an independent strategic consulting firm drawing on a network of more than 1,000 scholar experts at Oxford and other leading universities and research institutions around the world.

South Korea to the Rescue? - New York Times

South Korea to the Rescue? - New York TimesOctober 20, 2005
South Korea to the Rescue?

The announcement that South Korean stem cell scientists are offering to help beleaguered colleagues in the United States and Europe perform path-finding research through "therapeutic cloning" is a measure of how distorted our own research environment has become. The offer could help some scientists do research they might otherwise forgo, but American scientists should be wary of relying on South Korea instead of honing their own skills in the subtle art of cloning human embryos to extract their stem cells.

A South Korean team has emerged as the best in the world at cloning embryos. It was the first to clone human embryos and extract stem cells from them, and the first to clone a dog. Now it is setting up an international consortium - the World Stem Cell Hub, with satellite clinics in San Francisco and England - to create embryonic stem cell lines derived from patients suffering from particular diseases. That would allow researchers who are reluctant to create the cell lines themselves to study the progression of the diseases and possibly find ways to treat any underlying genetic defects.

The creation of embryos to get stem cells that are matched to a particular patient or disease is legal in most parts of this country, provided no federal funds are used. But political and ethical controversies have retarded progress, and seven states have banned research cloning. The Korean venture would provide expertise and a way to sidestep controversy for those who need it. But researchers who aspire to leadership in this fast-moving field would be wise to seek private or state funds to perform the work themselves.

'Mao': The Real Mao - New York Times

'Mao': The Real Mao - New York TimesOctober 23, 2005
'Mao': The Real Mao

If Chairman Mao had been truly prescient, he would have located a little girl in Sichuan Province named Jung Chang and "mie jiuzu"- killed her and wiped out all her relatives to the ninth degree.

But instead that girl grew up, moved to Britain and has now written a biography of Mao that will help destroy his reputation forever. Based on a decade of meticulous interviews and archival research, this magnificent biography methodically demolishes every pillar of Mao's claim to sympathy or legitimacy.

Almost seven decades ago, Edgar Snow's "Red Star Over China" helped make Mao a heroic figure to many around the world. It marked an opening bookend for Mao's sunny place in history - and this biography will now mark the other bookend.

When I first opened this book, I was skeptical. Chang is the author of "Wild Swans," a hugely successful account of three generations of women in her family, and it was engaging but not a work of scholarship. I was living in China when it appeared, and my Chinese friends and I were all surprised at its success, for the experiences she recounted were sad but not unusual. As for this biography, written together with her husband, Jon Halliday, a historian, I expected it to be similarly fat but slight. Also, the subtitle is "The Unknown Story" - which, after all that has been written about Mao, made me cringe.

Yet this is a magisterial work. True, much of Mao's brutality has already emerged over the years, but this biography supplies substantial new information and presents it all in a stylish way that will put it on bedside tables around the world. No wonder the Chinese government has banned not only this book but issues of magazines with reviews of it, for Mao emerges from these pages as another Hitler or Stalin.

In that regard, I have reservations about the book's judgments, for my own sense is that Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China. And at times the authors seem so eager to destroy him that I wonder if they exclude exculpatory evidence. But more on those cavils later.

Mao is not only a historical figure, of course, but is part of the (tattered) web of legitimacy on which the People's Republic rests. He is part of the founding mythology of the Chinese government, the Romulus and Remus of "People's China," and that's why his portrait hangs in Tiananmen Square. Even among ordinary Chinese, Mao retains a hold on the popular imagination, and some peasants in different parts of China have started traditional religious shrines honoring him. That's the ultimate honor for an atheist - he has become a god.

Mao's sins in later life are fairly well known, and even Chen Yun, one of the top Chinese leaders in the 1980's, suggested that it might have been best if Mao had died in 1956. This biography shows, though, that Mao was something of a fraud from Day 1.

The authors assert, for example, that he was not in fact a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party, as is widely believed, and that the party was founded in 1920 rather than 1921. Moreover, they rely on extensive research in Russian archives to show that the Chinese party was entirely under the thumb of the Russians. In one nine-month period in the 1920's, for example, 94 percent of the party's funding came from Russia, and only 6 percent was raised locally. Mao rose to be party leader not because he was the favorite of his fellow Chinese, but because Moscow chose him. And one reason Moscow chose him was that he excelled in sycophancy: he once told the Russians that "the latest Comintern order" was so brilliant that "it made me jump for joy 300 times."

Mao has always been celebrated as a great peasant leader and military strategist. But this biography mocks that claim. The mythology dates from the "Autumn Harvest Uprising" of 1927. But, according to Chang and Halliday, Mao wasn't involved in the fighting and in fact sabotaged it - until he hijacked credit for it afterward.

It's well known that Mao's first wife (or second, depending on how you count), Yang Kaihui, was killed in 1930 by a warlord rival of Mao's. But not much else is known of her. Now Chang and Halliday quote from poignant unsent letters that were discovered during renovations of her old home in 1982 and in 1990. The letters reveal both a deep love for Mao and a revulsion for the brutality of her time (and of her husband). "Kill, kill, kill!" she wrote in one letter, which became a kind of memoir of her life. "All I hear is this sound in my ears! Why are human beings so evil? Why so cruel?" Mao could easily have saved this gentle woman, the mother of his first three children, for he passed near the home where he had left her. But he didn't lift a finger, and she was shot to death at the age of 29.

By this time, the book relates, many in the Red Army distrusted Mao - so he launched a brutal purge of the Communist ranks. He wrote to party headquarters that he had discovered 4,400 subversives in the army and had tortured them all and executed most of them. A confidential report found that a quarter of the entire Red Army under Mao at the time was slaughtered, often after they were tortured in such ways as having red-hot rods forced into their rectums.

One of the most treasured elements of Chinese Communist history is the Long March, the iconic flight across China to safety in the northwest. It is usually memorialized as a journey in which Mao and his comrades showed incredible courage and wisdom in sneaking through enemy lines and overcoming every hardship. Chang and Halliday undermine every element of that conventional wisdom.

First, they argue that Mao and the Red Army escaped and began the Long March only because Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek deliberately allowed them to. They argue that Chiang wanted to send his own troops into three southwestern provinces but worried about antagonizing the local warlords. So he channeled the Red Army into those provinces on the Long March and then, at the invitation of the alarmed warlords, sent in troops to expel the Communists and thus succeeded in bringing the wayward provinces into his domain.

More startling, they argue that Mao didn't even walk most of the Long March - he was carried. "On the march, I was lying in a litter," they quote Mao as saying decades later. "So what did I do? I read. I read a lot." Now, that's bourgeois.

The most famous battle of the Long March was the Communists' crossing of the Dadu Bridge, supposedly a heroic assault under enemy fire. Harrison Salisbury's 1985 book, "The Long March," describes a "suicide attack" over a bridge that had been mostly dismantled, then soaked with kerosene and set on fire. But Chang and Halliday write that this battle was a complete fabrication, and in a triumph of scholarship they cite evidence that all 22 men who led the crossing survived and received gifts afterward of a Lenin suit and a fountain pen. None was even wounded. They quote Zhou Enlai as expressing concern afterward because a horse had been lost while crossing the bridge.

The story continues in a similar vein: Mao had a rival, Wang Ming, poisoned and nearly killed while in their refuge in Yenan. Mao welcomed the Japanese invasion of China, because he thought this would lead to a Russian counterinvasion and a chance for him to lead a Russian puppet regime. Far from leading the struggle against the Japanese invaders, Mao ordered the Red Army not to fight the Japanese and was furious when other Communist leaders skirmished with them. Indeed, Mao is said to have collaborated with Japanese intelligence to undermine the Chinese Nationalist forces.

Almost everybody is tarnished. Madame Sun Yat-sen, also known as Song Qingling, is portrayed as a Soviet agent, albeit not very convincingly. And Zhang Xueliang, the "Young Marshal" who is widely remembered as a hero in China for kidnapping Chiang Kai-shek to force him to fight the Japanese, is portrayed as a power-hungry coup-monger. I knew the Young Marshal late in his life, and his calligraphy for my Chinese name adorns the Chinese version of my business cards, but now I'm wondering if I should get new cards.

After Mao comes to power, Chang and Halliday show him continuing his thuggery. This is more familiar ground, but still there are revelations. Mao used the Korean War as a chance to slaughter former Nationalist soldiers. And Mao says some remarkable things about the peasants he was supposed to be championing. When they were starving in the 1950's, he instructed: "Educate peasants to eat less, and have more thin gruel. The State should try its hardest . . . to prevent peasants eating too much." In Moscow, he offered to sacrifice the lives of 300 million Chinese, half the population at the time, and in 1958 he blithely declared of the overworked population: "Working like this, with all these projects, half of China may well have to die."

At times, Mao seems nuts. He toyed with getting rid of people's names and replacing them with numbers. And discussing the possible destruction of the earth with nuclear weapons, he mused that "this might be a big thing for the solar system, but it would still be an insignificant matter as far as the universe as a whole is concerned."

Chang and Halliday recount how the Great Leap Forward led to the worst famine in world history in the late 1950's and early 1960's, and how in 1966 Mao clawed his way back to supreme power in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Some of the most fascinating material involves Zhou Enlai, the longtime prime minister, who comes across as a complete toady of Mao, even though Mao tormented him by forcing him to make self-criticisms and by seating him in third-rate seats during meetings. In the mid-1970's, Zhou was suffering from cancer and yet Mao refused to allow him to get treatment - wanting Zhou to be the one to die first. "Operations are ruled out for now" for Zhou, Mao declared on May 9, 1974. "Absolutely no room for argument." And so, sure enough, Zhou died in early 1976, and Mao in September that year.

This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths. But how accurate is it? A bibliography and endnotes give a sense of sourcing, and they are impressive: the authors claim to have talked to everyone from Mao's daughter, Li Na, to his mistress, Zhang Yufeng, to Presidents George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford. But it's not clear how much these people said. One of those listed as a source is Zhang Hanzhi, Mao's English teacher and close associate; she's also one of my oldest Chinese friends, so I checked with her. Zhang Hanzhi said that she had indeed met informally with Chang two or three times but had declined to be interviewed and never said anything substantial. I hope that Chang and Halliday will share some of their source materials, either on the Web or with other scholars, so that it will be possible to judge how fairly and accurately they have reached their conclusions.

My own feeling is that most of the facts and revelations seem pretty well backed up, but that ambiguities are not always adequately acknowledged. To their credit, the authors seem to have steered clear of relying on some of the Hong Kong magazines that traffic in a blurry mix of fact and fiction, but it is still much harder to ferret out the truth than they acknowledge. The memoirs and memories they rely on may be trustworthy, most of the time, but I question the tone of brisk self-confidence that the authors use in recounting events and quotations - and I worry that some things may be hyped.

Take the great famine from 1958 to 1961. The authors declare that "close to 38 million people died," and in a footnote they cite a Chinese population analysis of mortality figures in those years. Well, maybe. But there have been many expert estimates in scholarly books and journals of the death toll, ranging widely, and in reality no one really knows for sure - and certainly the mortality data are too crude to inspire confidence. The most meticulous estimates by demographers who have researched the famine toll are mostly lower than this book's: Judith Banister estimated 30 million; Basil Ashton also came up with 30 million; and Xizhe Peng suggested about 23 million. Simply plucking a high-end estimate out of an article and embracing it as the one true estimate worries me; if that is stretched, then what else is?

Another problem: Mao comes across as such a villain that he never really becomes three-dimensional. As readers, we recoil from him but don't really understand him. He is presented as such a bumbling psychopath that it's hard to comprehend how he bested all his rivals to lead China and emerge as one of the most worshipped figures of the last century.

Finally, there is Mao's place in history. I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao's legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao's entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world's new economic dragon.

Perhaps the best comparison is with Qinshihuang, the first Qin emperor, who 2,200 years ago unified China, built much of the Great Wall, standardized weights and measures and created a common currency and legal system - but burned books and buried scholars alive. The Qin emperor was as savage and at times as insane as Mao - but his success in integrating and strengthening China laid the groundwork for the next dynasty, the Han, one of the golden eras of Chinese civilization. In the same way, I think, Mao's ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book - and yet there's more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber.

Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, has written books about China and Asia together with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Leading by (Bad) Example - New York Times

Leading by (Bad) Example - New York TimesOctober 19, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Leading by (Bad) Example

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (Iraq News Agency) - A delegation of Iraqi judges and journalists abruptly left the U.S. today, cutting short its visit to study the workings of American democracy. A delegation spokesman said the Iraqis were "bewildered" by some of the behavior of the Bush administration and felt it was best to limit their exposure to the U.S. system at this time, when Iraq is taking its first baby steps toward democracy.

The lead Iraqi delegate, Muhammad Mithaqi, a noted secular Sunni judge who had recently survived an assassination attempt by Islamist radicals, said that he was stunned when he heard President Bush telling Republicans that one reason they should support Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court was because of "her religion." She is described as a devout evangelical Christian.

Mithaqi said that after two years of being lectured to by U.S. diplomats in Baghdad about the need to separate "mosque from state" in the new Iraq, he was also floored to read that the former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, now a law school dean, said on the radio show of the conservative James Dobson that Miers deserved support because she was "a very, very strong Christian [who] should be a source of great comfort and assistance to people in the households of faith around the country."

"Now let me get this straight," Judge Mithaqi said. "You are lecturing us about keeping religion out of politics, and then your own president and conservative legal scholars go and tell your public to endorse Miers as a Supreme Court justice because she is an evangelical Christian.

"How would you feel if you picked up your newspapers next week and read that the president of Iraq justified the appointment of an Iraqi Supreme Court justice by telling Iraqis: 'Don't pay attention to his lack of legal expertise. Pay attention to the fact that he is a Muslim fundamentalist and prays at a Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosque.' Is that the Iraq you sent your sons to build and to die for? I don't think so. We can't have our people exposed to such talk."

A fellow delegation member, Abdul Wahab al-Unfi, a Shiite lawyer who walks with a limp today as a result of torture in a Saddam prison, said he did not want to spend another day in Washington after listening to the Bush team defend its right to use torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfi said he was heartened by the fact that the Senate voted 90 to 9 to ban U.S. torture of military prisoners. But he said he was depressed by reports that the White House might veto the bill because of that amendment, which would ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of P.O.W.'s.

"I survived eight years of torture under Saddam," Unfi said. "Virtually every extended family in Iraq has someone who was tortured or killed in a Baathist prison. Yet, already, more than 100 prisoners of war have died in U.S. custody. How is that possible from the greatest democracy in the world? There must be no place for torture in the future Iraq. We are going home now because I don't want our delegation corrupted by all this American right-to-torture talk."

Finally, the delegation member Sahaf al-Sahafi, editor of one of Iraq's new newspapers, said he wanted to go home after watching a televised videoconference last Thursday between soldiers in Iraq and President Bush. The soldiers, 10 Americans and an Iraqi, were coached by a Pentagon aide on how to respond to Mr. Bush.

"I had nightmares watching this," Sahafi said. "It was right from the Saddam playbook. I was particularly upset to hear the Iraqi sergeant major, Akeel Shakir Nasser, tell Mr. Bush: 'Thank you very much for everything. I like you.' It was exactly the kind of staged encounter that Saddam used to have with his troops."

Sahafi said he was also floored to see the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, declare that a Bush administration contract that paid Armstrong Williams, a supposedly independent commentator, to promote Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy constituted illegal propaganda - an attempt by the government to buy good press.

"Saddam bought and paid journalists all over the Arab world," Sahafi said. "It makes me sick to see even a drop of that in America."

By coincidence, the Iraqi delegates departed Washington just as the Bush aide Karen Hughes returned from the Middle East. Her trip was aimed at improving America's image among Muslims by giving them a more accurate view of America and President Bush. She said, "The more they know about us, the more they will like us."

(Yes, all of this is a fake news story. I just wish that it weren't so true.)

Abolishing the Poll Tax Again - New York Times

Abolishing the Poll Tax Again - New York TimesOctober 19, 2005
Abolishing the Poll Tax Again

Critics of Georgia's new voter-identification law, which forces many citizens to pay $20 or more for the documentation necessary to vote, have called it a modern-day poll tax, intended to keep blacks and poor people from voting. A federal judge supported these claims yesterday and blocked the law from taking effect. Instead of continuing to defend the statute in court, Georgia should remove this throwback to the days of Jim Crow from its lawbooks.

Georgia Republicans, who get few votes from African-American voters, pushed a bill through the Legislature this year imposing the nation's toughest voter-identification requirements. When it was passed, most of the state's black legislators walked out of the Capitol. Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., urged the governor to veto it. Under the new law, voters with driver's licenses were not inconvenienced. But it put up huge obstacles for voters without licenses, who are disproportionately poor and black. Most of them would have to get official state picture-identification cards and pay processing fees of $20 or more. Incredibly - beyond the cost imposed on such voters - there was not a single office in Atlanta where the identification cards were for sale.

Republicans claimed the law was intended to prevent fraud, but that was just a pretext. According to Georgia's secretary of state, Cathy Cox, in recent years there have been no documented cases of fraud through voter impersonation. There have been complaints about the misuse of absentee ballots, Ms. Cox says, but the new law actually loosened the antifraud protections that apply to them. Clearly, Georgia Republicans supported the law because they believed that making it harder for blacks and poor people to vote would help their electoral chances.

The League of Women Voters of Georgia, the N.A.A.C.P. and other civil rights and voting rights groups sued. In a lengthy and hard-hitting opinion, Judge Harold Murphy of Federal District Court enjoined the state from enforcing the law. He relied in part on the 24th Amendment, which banned the old racist requirement that citizens pay poll taxes before being allowed to vote in federal elections.

At least one Georgia state senator is vowing to appeal, if necessary, all the way to the Supreme Court. That would send an ugly message about the state of American democracy. In the civil rights era, Southern states had to be told again and again by federal courts not to try to stop their black citizens from voting. It is shameful that in 2005, Georgia needs to be told again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Starved by Red Tape - New York Times

Starved by Red Tape - New York TimesOctober 18, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Starved by Red Tape

Niamey, Niger

In countries like this, children end up being killed not only by malaria and measles, but also by an insistence on the six-week paid vacation.

This land of mud huts and malnourished babies is the very least developed country on the planet, but local regulations stipulate that companies must give all employees six weeks and two days of paid vacation a year. Not surprisingly, there are almost no employers in Niger.

So if we in the West want to help children in countries like Niger, we should send vaccines and mosquito nets - but we also must push these countries to open themselves up for business. Right now, many African countries are in effect killing their own citizens by making it staggeringly difficult for entrepreneurs to open shop.

The World Bank has published a fascinating ranking of how easy it is to do business in 155 countries of the world. New Zealand ranks first, followed by Singapore and the United States. No African country is in the top 20.

But of the 20 countries in the world where it is most difficult to do business, 17 are African, according to the study, "Doing Business in 2006." Niger ranks 150th, followed by Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso and - the very worst place to try to do business - Congo.

Take a simple construction project - building a warehouse for books. In Niger, obtaining the necessary licenses would involve 27 procedures over half a year. And in either Nigeria or Zimbabwe, the licenses would take nearly a year and a half to obtain.

Here in Niger, for example, when people get money (sent to them from a relative abroad, for instance), they often use it to buy a motorcycle or a stereo system, because it is so onerous to invest in a formal business. Or to avoid hassles, they open an unlicensed business - perhaps a bed-and-breakfast, instead of a hotel.

The minimum wage is set at $35 a month in Niger, higher than the local market level. Employees are allowed to work no more than nine hours a day, weekend work is basically prohibited, and women are not allowed to work evenings at all. Layoffs are usually not allowed.

Perhaps those rules (typically inherited from European countries during colonial days) sound as if they protect workers. But the upshot is that companies don't come to Niger and don't hire anyone they don't want on the payroll forever. So almost all people toil in the informal labor sector where there are no protections whatsoever.

In a village 600 miles east of the capital, Niamey, for example, I met a woman named Aisha whose 2-year-old daughter had just died of malaria (partly because she couldn't afford to take the child to the doctor). Ms. Aisha is five months pregnant, although she is so malnourished you can barely tell she's pregnant at all.

Her husband has traveled to a nearby country to look for work, and so Ms. Aisha survives by scrounging the countryside for firewood and then hiking three hours each way to the town of Zinder to sell bundles of wood on the street. It's hard work, seven days a week, and it earns her the equivalent of 40 to 50 cents for a very long day.

Ms. Aisha and the other villagers would be far better off if Nike started a sweatshop here paying the peasants 10 cents an hour to make shoes. But Nike wouldn't do that, both because there would be howls of outrage from American campuses at the exploitative wages and because Niger's labor laws are so uninviting.

Another casualty of overregulation in poor countries is trade. Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa use less than one-twentieth as much fertilizer as those in the West, partly because import duties and red tape can make fertilizer eight times as expensive here as in Europe.

In Zinder, Tchiaka Issoufou, the owner of a small shop, explained that he makes regular trips to Nigeria by truck to buy radios and electronic gear to fill his store. The customs officials make him pay a tax of several thousand dollars per truckload, arbitrarily applied - plus he has to pay off the police at roadblocks and avoid the bandits with machine guns who steal vehicles.

So let's give more aid to indigent countries. Let's forgive some of their debts. But let's also get them to rip up their red tape, and to help their people by welcoming businesses - including sweatshops - and by taking away those six weeks of paid vacation.