Monday, February 26, 2007


By William Fisher

While congress quibbles over “comprehensive” immigration (providing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, a guest worker program, etc.) versus “border security” (building fences), the unasked question is: Regardless of which path the legislation takes, just who is capable of enforcing it?

The job will fall to the Department of Homeland Security, those wonderful folks who brought us the Katrina debacle and “Heckuva job, Brownie.” Our currently highly politicized Department of Justice will also play a role. But for anyone who needs yet another example of the gross incompetence of these agencies to implement anything efficiently, you need to pay attention to this story.

The story is about a young woman named Rodi Alvarado who, at age 28, fled to the US from her home in Guatemala to escape ten years of brutal beatings by her husband, a former soldier in the Guatemalan military. The Guatemalan police and courts ignored her repeated attempts to get help. Mrs. Alvarado requested asylum in the US as a victim of domestic violence who could not be returned to her country for fear of her life.

There was only one problem. The US has no asylum provisions that cover domestic violence. Mrs. Alvarado was about to be deported. Under US law, asylum applicants have to show they can't go home because they face persecution because of religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

Enter a sympathetic immigration judge, who granted Mrs. Alvarado a temporary stay of deportation. That was in 1996 – eleven years ago. And for eleven years, Mrs. Alvarado has been in this legal limbo. She hasn’t been deported – she works as a housekeeper in a California convent. But she can’t achieve any legal status and can’t be reunited with her daughter, now 20, and her son, now 15, who remain in Guatemala. She hasn’t seen them in a dozen years.

The reason: For more than a decade, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have been playing “musical chairs” with a new asylum regulation that would cover domestic violence. Without such a regulation, Mrs. Alvarado’s case cannot come before a Board of Immigration Appeals, which is supposed to re-decide her fate.

The musical chairs have bounced Mrs. Alvarado’s case from the Clinton to the Bush administrations. Indeed, Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, proposed a change in the regulations in her final hours in office in 2001. But with the change in administrations and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the proposal languished.

Opponents said new asylum rules would lead to a surge in claims, an assertion disputed by a large and bipartisan group of immigration, legal and religious advocates.

The next stop in this cruel bureaucratic game was the desk of John Ashcroft, then Attorney general for the Bush Administration. Ashcroft certified the case to himself, making him effectively the judge. He said he would decide Mrs. Alvarado’s fate. But he didn’t. Instead, Ashcroft decided neither to grant nor deny asylum to Alvarado, but said a decision should await new regulations from the Department of Homeland Security.

Wonder of wonders, the DHS actually drafted a regulation to make domestic abuse a valid legal basis for asylum-seekers. But the Department of Justice disagreed with the draft. It still does and that’s where the case stands today, a dozen years after Rodi Alvarado fled to the country that has always said, “give us your huddled masses.”

But the situation was complicated by Ashcroft’s inaction. Just before he stepped down, Bush’s first attorney general punted. He passed the responsibility for the Alvarado case to his successor, Alberto Gonzales. And the current Attorney General has faithfully followed in the quicksand footsteps of his predecessors – he’s done nothing. And that’s where things still stand. Nowhere!

The DHS says it will not press for Mrs. Alvarado’s deportation regardless of how much longer it may take the agency to finalize the new regulations. But that’s cold comfort to Mrs. Alvarado, who is now 40. At the current pace, she could be a very old lady by the time the DHS and the DOJ decide to actually do something.

And these are the agencies that are expected to administer programs affecting millions of immigrants? Solving just one person’s problem would be a big encouragement.

Friday, February 23, 2007


By William Fisher

The Bush Administration is fond of labeling Middle East governments with which it has friendly relations as “moderate Arab states.”

Egypt is perhaps the most prominent of these “moderates” – so moderate that it is, after Israel, the second largest recipient of US development assistance and vast amounts of military accoutrements.

But can anyone find anything “moderate” about throwing a blogger in jail for four years?

The blogger is a former college student, Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, 22, who was expelled from Al-Azhar University – Egypt’s most powerful theological institution -- last spring. His crimes? He spoke out about the university's curriculum, Egypt’s discrimination against minority religions, and religious extremism. He was charged with "spreading information disruptive of public order," "incitement to hate Muslims" and "insulting the President." He has not had consistent access to lawyers or to his family.

The widely respected Reporters Without Borders correctly pointed out that "This sentence is a disgrace. Almost three years ago to the day, President Mubarak promised to abolish prison sentences for press offences. Suleiman's conviction and sentence is a message of intimidation to the rest of the Egyptian blogosphere, which had emerged in recent years as an effective bulwark against the regime's authoritarian excesses."

Only a couple of years ago, President Mubarak convinced George W. Bush that Egypt would be a strong ally in Bush’s messianic mission of spreading democracy throughout the world. To people who know anything at all about world politics, Bush’s judgment was about as reliable as his look into Vladimir Putin’s heart, immediately followed by his assessment of the Russian president as a good man America could work with.

Because Egypt potentially plays a large role in furthering an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the Bush Administration has turned a blind eye to the rapid backward course Mubarak has pursued ever since he vowed to be Bush’s buddy in spreading democracy in the Middle East.

True, Secretary of State Condi Rice did a lot of tut-tutting when Mubarak jailed the leader of his main opposition party, and even postponed a visit to Cairo.

But, since then, it’s been business as usual, with the Bush Administration continuing to describe this wonderful country, and its aging authoritarian leader, as “moderate.”

So what has happened to all the promises Mubarak made to our president? The aging autocrat took his first ‘significant’ step toward democracy by introducing an amendment to the country’s constitution. That measure, hailed by the Bush Administration, purported to allow multiple candidates to run against him for the presidency for the first time.

Then came the fine print. The amendment placed severe restrictions on, for example, political parties that would be recognized as ‘legal’ by the government.
That eliminated a lot of the opposition.

Then the government proceeded with what almost everyone agrees were trumped-up charges against Ayman Nour, head of the leading opposition party. Mr. Nour is now in jail for forging signatures on his party’s registration documents, even though his principal accuser has recanted this claim, which he now says was obtained under police duress.

Then came Egypt’s parliamentary election, which Washington characterized as another important step on the road to democracy. That election was marked by widespread violence and voter disenfranchisement. Many people were killed and many more injured during the month-long election and police cordoned off many polling stations to prevent people from voting.

Just to remind you, the violence flared after Egypt's Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, won 88 seats compared to the 15 it held in the outgoing 454-member parliament. This happened despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is banned from participating in elections, and its candidates are obliged to run as ‘independents’.

Egyptian authorities say the security measures were taken to enable Egyptians to vote in an orderly manner. Right! The police brutality had nothing to do with trying to prevent the Brotherhood from making even larger gains.

“The elections, with their negative and positive aspects, will be a matter of intensive study by all parties to derive lessons to develop future party and democratic actions,'' Mubarak's spokesman, Suleiman Awwad, quoted the president as telling the lawmakers.

“Negative aspects should be answered strongly so that they will not be repeated.''

Study by whom? Mubarak’s National Democratic Party? The state-controlled media? Not likely. The United States? The United Nations? When pigs fly!

As always, the de-construction of this election fell to local and international NGOs who monitor bad governance and abuses of human rights. Lamentably, their reports attracted little press attention anywhere.

And those in Egypt who wrote them did so at great risk. The reason is that NGOs there are strangled by a law severely restricting their activities and by the "extra-legal role" of the country's Security Services. As noted in a report by Human Rights Watch, "Civil society groups in Egypt face severe restrictions under the law governing nongovernmental organizations. In addition, the country's security services scrutinize and harass civil society activists even though the law does not
accord them any such powers.”

The HRW report documents numerous cases where the security services rejected NGO registrations, decided who could serve on NGO boards of directors, harassed NGO activists, and interfered with donations reaching the groups.

In today’s Egypt, the Security Services make their own laws. For more than 20 years, the country has been kept under a “state of emergency,” with draconian laws giving sweeping powers to Mubarak’s security apparatus. More recently, their activities have been trumpeted as a key part of the “global war on terror.”

I am all too familiar with the unbridled power of Egypt’s security services. I was living in Cairo during the multiple trials of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist. Dr. Ibrahim, then a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, headed a research and advocacy institute in Cairo that monitored elections, conducted voter education projects, and at times criticized the Egyptian government.

In the summer of 2000, he and 27 of his colleagues were arrested and tried. All 28 defendants were found guilty and several were sent to jail. Ibrahim was sentenced to a seven-year term.

To America’s great credit, the Clinton Administration put extreme pressure on the Egyptian authorities – even threatening to reduce US aid. Ibrahim’s conviction was finally overturned by the Egyptian Supreme Court and he was ultimately acquitted of all charges in a second trial and released in 2003.

As forcefully underlined by Raja M. Kamal and Tom G. Palmer in a Washington Post op-ed, “Egypt is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the ‘freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media’ …The posting of opinions on a student's personal blog hardly qualifies as a threat to national security, to the reputation of the president or to public order.”

And where is George W. Bush on this issue? Just gullible, and allowing himself to be snookered by the empty promises of one of the Middle East’s least moderate autocrats? Or making it obvious to all that the Bush Administration values Egypt far more as an ally in its Global War on Terror than as a partner in its Global War for Democracy.


By William Fisher

Following an appeals court’s divided decision upholding the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act, opponents of the measure are racing the clock to file an appeal to the US Supreme Court and have it heard during the court’s current term.

A spokesperson for the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York-based legal advocacy group that brought the original suit, told IPS it expected the appeal to be filed within the next two weeks and heard in the spring.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that detainees in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have no right to challenge their imprisonment in federal courts. The decision upheld the core of the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which was passed in a close vote last year by a Republican-controlled congress. The law stripped federal civilian courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions, giving President George W. Bush the right to indefinitely hold detainees outside the US without charges. The ruling affects some 400 prisoners still held at Guantanamo Bay, but could also establish a precedent affecting prisoners held by the US in Afghanistan and in CIA “secret prisons” in other countries.

The Court’s majority decision found that overruling the MCA would “defy the will of congress,” and asserted that habeas corpus does not apply to foreigners who are not in the US. It effectively ruled that the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay is a property leased by the US from Cuba, and that Cuba has sovereignty over it.

Two other appeals courts as well as the US Supreme Court have previously upheld Guantanamo detainees' rights to contest their incarceration in federal courts, first in Rasul v. Bush in 2004 and then in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006. But in its Hamdan decision, the high court also said that Congress could take further action on the issue. That action resulted in the Military Commissions Act, setting up special military trials for the detainees and stripping civilian courts of jurisdiction.

In her appeals court dissent, Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote that habeas corpus may indeed apply to foreign nationals outside the US and that the lawmakers’ action had "exceeded the powers of Congress.” The US Constitution stipulates that habeas may be suspended only "when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." This is likely to be at the heart of the appeal to the Supreme Court.

The US Justice Department (DOJ) expressed approval of the ruling. It believes that foreign detainees enjoy no constitutional rights when they are detained in other countries.

Shayana Kadidal, managing attorney of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, told IPS that the MCA “also allows for evidence obtained through torture, - a violation of the Geneva Conventions - and greatly widens the scope of who the president can label an ‘enemy combatant.’

The non-profit New York-based CCR represents many of the Guantanamo detainees and has played a central role in mobilizing legal representation for many others in custody.

Attorney Kadidal said, "This decision empowers the President to do whatever he wishes to prisoners without any legal limitation as long as he does it off shore, and encourages such notorious practices as extraordinary rendition and a contempt for international human rights law. Two of the three judges held that the President and the military may hold even innocent persons for as long they want without ever charging them so long as they are held offshore.”

He added, “The opinion relies on hypertechnical analysis to circumvent the Supreme Court’s clear mandate in their 2004 ruling: the detainees have the right to test the legality of their detentions in federal court. In every respect – the status of Guantanamo, the history of habeas corpus – the opinion ignores reality in favor of abstractions in order to come to the conclusion that even people the military admits are innocent and can be released have no right of access to the federal courts.”

Kadidal charged that the court majority “is wrong on history as well – there are a myriad of examples of habeas review being granted to persons the king had detained in distant garrisons or islands like Jersey to keep them out of the reach of the English courts. Moreover, on the majority’s reading, the common-law and constitutional rights to habeas have been frozen in time since 1789, and their opinion suggests that even US citizens could be kept in detention as long as the president holds them outside the territory of the United States.”

He said he expects that “this will be the third time the DC Circuit’s Guantanamo rulings are reversed by the Supreme Court.”

Other human rights and legal advocacy groups have also condemned the appeal court ruling. Typical is Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA, who said, “The appellate court's ruling that Guantanamo detainees may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts is an affront to the American justice system which had always been known for its commitment to due process and the rule of law. Hopefully an appeal to the Supreme Court will overturn this shameful decision. In the meantime, Amnesty International urges Congress to act quickly to reverse the damage caused by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.”

The lower court’s decision came as congress adjourned for the President’s Day week-long recess, but congressional Democrats -- now a majority in both houses -- have already introduced legislation, co-sponsored by a powerful Republican, to amend the Military Commissions Act and restore habeas rights for detainees.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that committee's senior Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have introduced a bill that would restore habeas corpus rights.

Another bill was introduced recently by Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who is candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Dodd measure would return habeas corpus rights to detainees and clarify other parts of the law.

The proposed legislation also drew plaudits from parts of the US religious community. For example, The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) announced its support for the Dodd and Leahy-Specter legislation.

"This legislation is urgently needed," said Jeanne Herrick-Stare, Chair of NRCAT
Coordinating Committee, "to not only restore the core elements of due process to our treatment of detainees, but also to restore the United States' role as a world leader in human rights.”

Congressional sources say the appeals court decision is likely to accelerate legislative action, but point to the possibility that President Bush would exercise his veto power. Bush believes detainee policy is a central tenet of his “global war on terror.” He has used his veto power only once in his six years in office – to nullify an act to permit wider federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Overturning a presidential veto requires the votes of two-thirds of Congress and, even with many Republicans currently trying to distance themselves from an unpopular president, it is unclear whether that many votes could be mustered.

More cynical observers say congressional Democrats would welcome a Bush veto, since that will leave the issue on the table for the 2008 elections.

But even if that’s true, we can expect some passionate oratory on this issue when congress returns next week.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


By William Fisher

We all know why our public servants are held in such low esteem: earmarks, bribery, corruption, obfuscation, et cetera.

But there is another practice just as cynical, just as toxic, and just as widespread.

It’s called pandering. And it’s not only practiced – but widely accepted as “professional politics” – by office-seekers and their campaign staffs -- and apparently by voters.

Pandering is particularly useful in primary contests as a means of telling the voters exactly what the latest polling tells you they want to hear. Never mind what a candidate said last week or last year. Never mind principles. Never mind that when the campaign is over, we won’t have the foggiest idea of what a candidate actually believes.

Obama is moving to the left. Hillary is triangulating. Giuliani and Romney are moving to the right on social issues. McCain is moving to the center. And so forth.

On Wolf Blitzer’s CNN “Strategy Session,” guests like conservative Bay Buchanan and liberal Donna Brazile accept these left and right movements as what candidates are supposed to do. Ditto for Chris Matthews “Hardball” with political pillars like onetime presidential wanabee Pat Buchanan and master strategist Bob Shrum.

So it’s not like voters don’t know about these sudden shifts. But, more often than not, they apparently prefer to believe not that the candidate is pandering, but that he or she has experienced some miraculous epiphany.

The most recent epiphany belongs to Senator John McCain, whose “Straight Talk Express” ran off the rails this week, as he wiggled his way from moderate right to hard right to please Falwell evangelicals and conservative primary voters in South Carolina.

In 1999, McCain said overturning Roe v. Wade would be dangerous for women and he would not support it, even in “the long term.” He told the San Francisco Chronicle:

I’d love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.

But that was then and now is primary season for presidential hopefuls.

This week, McCain was interviewed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulis and expressed his unequivocal support for overturning Roe v. Wade.

Here’s part of the transcript:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask one question about abortion...You’re for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, with some exceptions for life and rape and incest.

MCCAIN: Rape, incest and the life of the mother. Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So is President Bush, yet that hasn’t advanced in the six years he’s been in office. What are you going to do to advance a constitutional amendment that President Bush hasn’t done?

MCCAIN: I don’t think a constitutional amendment is probably going to take place, but I do believe that it’s very likely or possible that the Supreme Court should — could overturn Roe v. Wade, which would then return these decisions to the states, which I support.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’d be for that?

MCCAIN: Yes, because I’m a federalist. Just as I believe that the issue of gay marriage should be decided by the states, so do I believe that we would be better off by having Roe v. Wade return to the states. And I don’t believe the Supreme Court should be legislating in the way that they did on Roe v. Wade.

The straight talk senator did another one-eighty on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

When Rumsfeld resigned in November, McCain said, “"While Secretary Rumsfeld and I have had our differences, he deserves Americans' respect and gratitude for his many years of public service."

But in speaking to a conservative South Carolina audience on Monday, McCain scrupulously wiggled out of laying any blame at the feet of President Bush by saying, “The war in Iraq had been mismanaged for years and…Rumsfeld will be remembered as one of the worst in history.”

He added, “We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously." Never mind whom the Secretary of Defense works for!

The saddest part of this tale is that many voters will believe the flip-flops of candidates like John McCain.

We should never expect consistency from human beings – we are blessed with brains to be able to rethink issues and change our minds. But not to rewrite history.

It has to be just a tad suspect that an oncoming primary can result in so many epiphanies.


By William Fisher

One of the uglier paradoxes of our time is that, as the world becomes vastly more complicated, the punditocracy becomes more simplistic.

Today, those who get paid to deliver their opinions and convictions in newspapers, on television, in the White House, and on the floor of Congress, are more undeniably, more absolutely, more positively certain their point of view is not only the right one, but the only one.

What ever happened to respect for the ideas of another? What ever happened to the question that anyone about to put forth some set-in-concrete viewpoint should ask him or herself: What if I’m wrong?

It’s called intellectual humility. It’s the opposite of hubris. It’s the un-arrogance of the thoughtful.

And it’s gone.

It’s gone because it doesn’t sell newspapers, doesn’t raise cable TV ratings, doesn’t score party political points, makes the Commander-in-Chief look weak, doesn’t further the presidential ambitions of wanabee leaders, doesn’t support ideological dogma based on “to hell with inconvenient facts.”

No one forced us to accept this construct as the “new normal.” We capitulated. We gave up. We surrendered to people who think we are stupid and uninformed. And, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, we indeed became stupid and uninformed. The world is just too nuanced for us to understand, we complain, and throw up our hands. We feel more comfortable with well-modulated voices and well-crafted words, the more vitriolic the better. We’d rather live with the faux certitude of flawed ideas than with ambiguity.

Yet the world is intrinsically ambiguous. And no one-dimensional conviction, however passionately or sonorously expressed, changes that reality.

What stirred up this rant was Howard Kurtz’s Washington Post story about Michelle Malkin. Ms. Malkin writes a column syndicated to 150 newspapers, runs a blog and an Internet talk show, and makes frequent appearances on Fox television. She is a mini-darling of the right, a kind of wanabee Anne Coulter.

And like Coulter, she prospers on outrageous rhetoric, the more outrageous the better. Howard Kurtz published this example about the Democrats:

"The donkey party is led by thumb-sucking demagogues in prominent positions
who equate Bush with Hitler and Jim Crow, call him a liar in front of high
school students and the world, fantasize about impeachment and fetishize the
human rights of terrorists who want to kill me. Put simply: There are no
grown-ups in the Democrat Party."

How’s that for nuance?

Or her book, "In Defense of Internment," in which she endorses the World War Two internment of Japanese Americans, and praises racial profiling as a vital tool against terrorism.

Doesn’t exactly exude respect for those with other perspectives, now does it?

Nor is this daughter of Filipino immigrants shy about responding to her critics—moonbats, she calls them. For example, she told Kurtz, "Particularly when you're a minority conservative, you get a lot of ugly, hysterical, unhinged attacks, because you're challenging so many liberal myths about what people of color should think."

Well, Ms. Malkin’s moonbats have their own views on just who is launching these “ugly, hysterical, unhinged attacks.”

But the far right is not the only party guilty of simplifying the world to its virtual vanishing point. For example, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann – one of my personal favorites – rarely invites guests whose views do not match his own. And the only reason we don’t hear more of this from the left is that the right owns most of the media outlets.

This is not a right-left question. There’s more than enough blame to go around. The question is what all of this intemperate, arrogant rhetoric accomplishes?

It dumbs us all down. The common ground it seeks is a burial ground for all ideas “not invented here.” It blurs the line between informed opinion and entertainment. It adds nothing to our understanding of the world or the nation. It makes us less, not more, informed. It further divides us on a myriad of issues. It moves us not a centimeter closer to being able to suggest practical strategies to attack desperately urgent concerns. It serves only to raise TV ratings and enrich the commentariat. We might as well be watching professional wrestling.

There are zillions of facts about which left and right largely agree. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. Millions of American kids have no health insurance. Et cetera.

Beyond these truths, however, lies the question, “Can we fix it and, if so, how?”

Today’s Firing Line style of “debate” does everything to move us further away from ever finding real answers.

We have a right to expect proponents of ideas to advocate passionately. But that doesn’t mean heaping derision and abuse on everyone whose ideas aren’t our own. No one has a monopoly on wisdom.

The bottom line here is that the choice is ours. Thankfully, we still live in a country where the most lethal weapon in the arsenal of ordinary citizens is the TV remote.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


By William Fisher

These days, trying to identify the most outrageous news story of the month presents an embarrassment of riches. Just think of what we have to choose from. The options range all the way from the U.S. Senate debating about whether to have a debate on President Bush’s “surge” of troops in Iraq, to the President telling us we’re making “slow progress” in that death-ravaged country, to Vice President Cheney proclaiming that the administration has achieved "enormous successes" there, to the neocon renaissance ginning up a war with Iran.

But then comes an event so bizarre that it easily breaks through the fog of delusion to rise right to the top of the list. That event was the nomination of Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The nomination came from something called the Landmark Legal
Foundation, which describes itself as the leading conservative public interest law firm in the United States.

The nomination letter, signed by Landmark’s president, one Mark R. Levin, called Limbaugh “the foremost advocate for freedom and democracy in the world today.”

Levin went on to praise the nationally syndicated radio talk show host for his "nearly two decades of tireless efforts to promote liberty, equality and opportunity for all humankind, regardless of race, creed, economic stratum or national origin.”

Rush Limbaugh, Mr. Levin wrote, “is the foremost advocate for freedom and democracy in the world today. Everyday he gives voice to the values of democratic governance, individual opportunity and the just, equal application of the rule of law -- and it is fitting that the Nobel Committee recognize the power of these ideals to build a truly peaceful world for future generations."

And just who is Mark Levin? He is a contributing editor of National Review, as well as a frequent contributor to the Washington Times and Human Events. And he played a role in supporting Paula Jones during the Clinton sexual scandal by receiving funds from the Scaife Foundation and finding lawyers for Jones.

He’s the man who, during the 2004 presidential campaign, asked, “How can [John Kerry] support an organization [the United Nations] that anti-Semitic? I would like to know how the U.N., given the make-up of the august
body, is any different than the KKK or all the rest of it. They've got people in that U.N. that are torturers, mass-murderers, anti-Semites, anti-Americans, anti-freedom, and we're supposed to keep conferring our decisions to them. Why?”

Levin is also the man who said, “We are also challenging what may be the most insidious legacy of modern liberalism – judicial activism and the radical judges who use it to advance an extremist social agenda. America’s courts have become the final bulwark for the advocates of big government who have been defeated time after time at the ballot box at the local, state and federal level.”

And what is the Landmark Legal Foundation? It is a not-for-profit supported by Exxon-Mobil and some of the nation’s most extreme right-wing foundations. It tells us, “Through an aggressive and multifaceted public education campaign, Landmark’s Judicial Reform Initiative is helping to reshape the public debate and crystallize public sentiment about the mission of America’s courts and the proper limits on their authority.”

In other words, reigning in those “activist judges” and their contempt for the rule of law.

According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, LLF “focuses primarily on education and environmental litigation, in an attempt to dismantle institutions that preserve universal public schooling and that promote and fight for a clean environment. It assists state legislators in their pursuit to enact educational reforms such as providing school vouchers, private management of public schools, and other voucher initiatives.

It is a member of Kay Daly’s Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, along with Free Congress Foundation, American Conservative Union, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the Christian Coalition.

And what has the Nobel nominee said that would support his candidacy?

Thanks to Google, Rush’s rants are knowable beyond the 20 million people who listen to him on 650 radio stations every day. Here are some of the more insightful items:

ON GITMO: A picture of religious freedom that “may be a great vacation spot for oppressed Christians in the United States.”

ON AIDS: "And one of the things that -- that the -- the AIDS activists said regularly back then was, oh, this is only a matter of time before it spreads to
the heterosexual community. It's only a matter of time. And they used that as -- as one of the weapons to try to get people like Reagan to start talking about it
from their standpoint. And of course it -- it hasn't. It -- it didn't, and it hasn't, other than in Africa, and in Africa it is -- it is being spread not just by -- it -- it -- it's promiscuity that -- that -- that spreads this, if you want to know the truth. It's promiscuity. But it -- it hasn't made that jump to the heterosexual community."

ON AFRICAN-AMERICANS: "Why should Blacks be heard? They're 12% of the population. Who the hell cares?”

ON CHOICE: "I think this reason why girls don't do well on multiple choice
tests goes all the way back to the Bible, all the way back to Genesis, Adam and Eve. God said, 'All right, Eve, multiple choice or multiple orgasms, what's it going to be?' We all know what was chosen.”

ON CITIZEN SERVICE: “Citizen Service is a repudiation of the principles upon which our country was based. We are all here for ourselves."

ON CONDOMS: “Condoms only work during the school year."

ON DRUG ABUSE: "And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs,
using drugs, importing drugs. And the laws are good because we know what happens to people in societies and neighborhoods which become consumed by them. And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up."

ON EARTH: "The Earth's eco-system is not fragile."

ON FEMINISM: "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive
women easier access to the mainstream of society."

ON HOMELESSNESS: "One of the things I want to do before I die is conduct the
homeless olympics...the 10-meter shopping cart relay, the dumpster dig, and the hop, skip, and trip."

ON PRISON ABUSE IN IRAQ: “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard
of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?”

ON MICHAEL J. FOX’S SUPPORT OF EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH: "He is exaggerating the effects of (his Parkinson’s) disease. He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act. . . .This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting. This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has. He can barely control himself."

ON THE NAACP” "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies"

ON NUCLEAR ARMS REDUCTION: "The only way to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is to use them."

ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT: “Sexual harassment at this work station will not be reported. will be graded!!!”

ON THE RICH-POOR GAP: "Don't let the liberals deceive you into believing that a decade of sustained growth without inflation in America (in the '80s) resulted in a bigger gap between the have and the have-nots. Figures compiled by the
Congressional Budget Office dispel that myth.”

ON THE CONSTITUTION: “You know why there's a Second Amendment? In case the government fails to follow the first one.”

Now, isn’t it refreshing to find someone courageous enough to spend his life consistently challenging conventional wisdom?

And can’t you just picture Rush sitting in the Nobel Pantheon along with Shirin Ebadi, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Kim Dae Jung, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa, and Mother Theresa?

And let’s not forget how his $1.7 million prize would come in handy: After all, Oxycontin isn’t cheap!

Friday, February 09, 2007


By William Fisher

Bob Herbert of the New York Times has written a couple of gut-wrenching columns recently about Gary Tyler, a 16-year-old black youth who in 1974 was accused of murdering a 13-year-old white boy outside the high school they attended in Destrehan, Louisiana.

Herbert recounts how “the boy was shot to death in the midst of turmoil over school integration, which the local whites were resisting violently.
The case against young Tyler — who was on a bus with other black students that was attacked by about 200 whites — was built on bogus evidence and coerced testimony. But that was enough to get him convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to die in the electric chair. His life was spared when the Louisiana death penalty was ruled unconstitutional, but he is serving out a life sentence with no chance of parole in the state penitentiary at Angola.”

Herbert writes that “his mother’s sharpest memory of the day Gary was arrested was of sitting in a room at a sheriff’s station, listening to deputies in the next room savagely beating her son.”

After I got my outrage under control, I remembered scenes from 20 years earlier, when I was a cub reporter for a newspaper in Central Florida – then known as the state’s Bible Belt.

One of my beats was what my managing editor called C&C – cops and courts. They gave me the grand title of Bureau Chief and sent me twenty miles away to the county seat. There, covering the local police, the county sheriff, and the county court offered an eye-opening – and terrifying – glimpse into the abyss of the Jim Crow south. For a young Yankee reporter from New York, it was a never-to-be-forgotten education.

Saturday nights were always the busiest for this fledgling journalist. That’s when a couple of dozen sheriff’s deputies got into their patrol cars and headed for “colored town” – the county seat’s ghetto where the dirt-poor African-Americans lived.

They swept in like the 101st airborne, arresting virtually anything that moved. Men and women – and the occasional child – caught up in the sweep were hustled into waiting paddy-wagons and dispatched back to the sheriff’s station. There, they were put behind bars and charged with a variety of heinous crimes – loitering was the most common. If they could post a $25 cash bond, they got out of jail. If not, they stayed locked up.

The sheriff and his deputies much preferred getting the cash, because back in those days they were paid on the “fee system,” i.e., their salaries were substantially composed of a percentage of the fines they collected from the “nigras.”

The later it got, the more arrests were made. It was Saturday night in “colored town.” People drank. Some got into fights. Occasionally there were knifings. The suspects in these crimes were, like their earlier neighbors, hustled off to jail.

For them, there were no $25 bonds. They were quickly put into tiny cells, where most of them remained through their arraignments and until their trials – sometimes for many months. Bail was an unmentionable.

Likewise, legal aid, as we now understand it, was non-existent. The town’s lawyers were ordered by the local bar association and the judge to represent the accused on a rotating pro-bono basis. And since they weren’t about to give up their own Saturday nights, they rarely appeared until Monday morning. By that time, many of the often-illiterate suspects had placed their “mark” on confessions, largely obtained through empty promises of freedom and/or brutal beatings. The sheriff and his deputies were particularly fond of arresting couples, and then sexually abusing a wife to extract a confession from her husband.

Customarily, the next time I saw these people was when they came before the county judge for trial. Their lawyers were often unaware of the charges, since they hadn’t bothered to read the court papers and police reports. Evidence of coerced confessions was routinely excluded, usually without the slightest hint of an objection from the defense lawyers. Juries were, predictably, all-white and
all-male. Some of the attorneys appointed to defend the suspects showed up in court drunk, or with Saturday night hangovers. Many literally slept through the trials.

The next stop for most of these convicted felons was the state prison at Raiford, then widely acknowledged to be one of the more notoriously cruel and overcrowded penal institutions in the country. There were few appeals; appeals cost money.

That was justice in Central Florida in the 1950s, and things only got worse for black citizens after the civil rights movement started to gather steam.

Things didn’t get much better for me either. In addition to writing stories for the paper that paid my salary – which, to their great credit, often got page one above-the-fold treatment -- I started filing articles for the Baltimore Afro-American, one of the oldest black newspapers in the country. They paid me five cents a word. I wrote about what I was seeing on the C&C beat. They also published photos that I shot with my ancient Speed Graphic camera.

Somehow, that information got back to the sheriff, who one morning appeared in my office and, in his laconic Southern drawl, let me know that hanging around his sleepy cowtown could be damaging to my health. Before long, my editors, concerned for my well-being, called me back to the main office.

With the arrival of Disney, lots of Northern retirees, Supreme Court decisions, and dramatic demographic shifts, Central Florida gradually changed. The county sheriff’s department now boasts of its diversity, and I doubt there are any more Saturday Night Massacres these days.

Which is not to say that racial discrimination has gone away. Doubtless poor African-Americans still get arrested, still get represented by incompetent lawyers, still get convicted at far higher rates than white defendants.

But if racial bias in Central Florida hasn’t gone away, it’s certainly become more subtle. If you’re an African-American, you might be concerned about whether your polling place is going to have enough voting machines. And you’re probably less worried about getting shipped off to jail than about getting a business loan from a bank or a mortgage to buy property in a white neighborhood.

I guess that’s progress. Especially if one looks back less than a generation. Which is probably a worthwhile thing to do during Black History Month. And every other month.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


By William Fisher

Suspected illegal immigrants held in detention by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are failing to receive timely medical treatment and adequate food, being subjected to frequent sexual harassment, and having their access to lawyers, relatives and immigration authorities improperly limited.

These are among the findings of the department’s inspector general, based on an audit of the U.S.-owned and operated Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, a contract Corrections Corporation of America facility in San Diego, and local jails and prisons in Berks County, Pa., and Hudson and Passaic counties, N.J.

But critics of the agency called the report disappointing, contending that it watered down recommendations and ignored the most serious allegations of abuse collected since June 2004, which they said included physical beatings, medical neglect, food shortages and mixing of illegal immigrants in administrative custody with criminals.

Mark Dow, author of “American Gulag,” a scathing expose of immigrant detention facilities, goes further. He told IPS that the Inspector General’s report “has helped ensure that, for now, the mistreatment will continue.”

He contends the reason is that the IG recommends that the DHS agency responsible for the detention of immigrants, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) police itself.

“That is telling the agency responsible for the mistreatment of its prisoners, and whose own inspections are deficient, ‘ensure that periodic oversight and inspection procedures are in place to address compliance with the Detention Standards’. The (IG’s) report neglects to mention that ICE has refused to promulgate its detention standards as regulations because they would then be, at least theoretically, legally enforceable”, he says.

He adds: “The bottom line is that ‘auditing’ without truly independent enforcement is meaningless.”

In response to the IG’s report, more than a dozen national organizations have filed a petition with the DHS to create enforceable regulations governing detention standards. If the federal government agrees to the request, DHS will promulgate binding standards for the safety, health, and conditions for thousands of detainees around the country.

These advocates believe DHS regulations governing detention standards will ensure effective protection of detainees’ human rights. “Today’s petition highlights our unconscionable detention system. The reality is that county governments vie for lucrative contracts with the federal government to warehouse non-citizens without any binding standards of care.”

The signatories included the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Seton Hall University Law Center for Social Justice.

Among the most significant issues raised in the IG’s report was that detainees face significant hurdles when attempting to make complaints about their conditions of confinement. It further points to the current ineffectiveness of ICE’s own annual inspections of detention facilities. “The report exposes gaping holes in the protection of detainee rights. We cannot trust the jail officials to address detainees’ concerns, and we cannot trust ICE to effectively review the jails’ practices.

Many of the detention centers for immigrants have been privatized and are being run by such companies as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut. In 1999, the feds farmed out less than three percent of beds; but seven years later, the number had reached almost one in five.

The boom in privatized prisons began shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when the Department of Justice rounded up thousands of “Middle Eastern-looking” immigrants and detained many of them for months, abusing many, treating them as criminals, and denying them access to lawyers.

A 2003 report by the DHS Inspector General forcefully condemned the treatment of immigrants inside various jails in its report, “The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks.” Infractions included routine abuse of basic prisoner rights, mental and physical abuse, denial of health care and medical treatment, prison overcrowding, and a lack of working showers, and toilets.

None of those held were ever charged with a terror-related crime. Some were deported for immigration violations.

Privatized detention facilities have grown apace amid the clamor for a crackdown on alleged undocumented immigrants. Contracts for these new jails flowed to the private prison industry despite many previous allegations of mismanagement and scandal.

Detainee advocates accuse prison companies of cutting corners in training guards and in providing basic services. The government has done little to regulate prison administration, but has sanctioned exploitive labor practices and rip-off telephone costs for inmates.

For example, a former detainee in a CCA facility in San Diego testified that “The guards would scream and shout at us as if we were little kids. If we would ask them to stop, they would threaten to lock us down for a few days, which would happen constantly. Three people being locked in a two-man cell, in a 12 x 7 room. This happened a lot; sometimes as punishment for the actions of one or two inmates, the other 105–115 detainees would suffer.”

“Other times” he said, “It seemed ‘just because.’ A lot of the detainees would be missing money on their accounts, which I was recently told by a detainee who keeps in contact with me was being stolen by the staff, according to [an] OIG investigation. We would get underserved during meal times. When we complained to the unit manager she would say that we were given the right amounts, which in my opinion is the appropriate portion for a ten or eleven year old. Some of the guards and staff would curse at us. They would purposely lower the televisions so we couldn’t hear them, just to mess with us. During our free time they would take their time turning on the phones so we wouldn’t be able to call our families. Just to be cruel.”

For the second quarter of 2005, CCA announced that its revenue had increased three percent over the previous year, for a total of almost $300 million. CCA calculates that it expenditure of $28.89 per inmate, per day allows it to make a daily profit of $50.26 per inmate.

Meanwhile, on July 1, 2005, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement awarded CCA contracts to continue running the 300-bed Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey and the 1,216-bed San Diego Correctional Facility. Both of these contracts are for three years with five three-year renewal options. In 2005 CCA also secured new prison contracts with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, the state of Kansas, and the Florida Department of Management Services.

Wackenhut has also shared in the private prison boom. Before 2001, Wackenhut, like CCA, had been at the center of all manner of inmate-abuse scandals: Guards were caught having sex with underage inmates, there were routine reports of extreme mistreatment of inmates, and there was even a disproportionately high level of deaths in their facilities.

After a CBS Television report exposed the repeated rape of a 14-year-old girl at a Wackenhut juvenile jail and two guards were found guilty, its CEO said, “It’s a tough business. The people in prison are not Sunday-school children.” Still more worrying was Wackenhut’s record with inmate-on-inmate killings. In 1998–99 alone, Wackenhut’s New Mexico facilities had a death rate of one murder for every 400 prisoners. For the same period in all U.S. prisons, the rate was about one in 22,000.

Wackenhut's most public response was to change its name to the GEO Group. It continues to win lucrative government contracts.

The corrections industry has routinely argued that privatizing prisons dramatically lowers costs. A 1996 U.S. General Accounting Office report concluded, however, that there was no clear evidence supporting this contention. Prison companies do have clear advantages over other corporations: They are able to save large amounts of money on labor practices that would illegal under any other circumstances. Inmate jobs in all prisons pay a pittance, but immigrant prisons are even worse. Because DHS guidelines mandate that non-citizen prisoners cannot earn more than $1 per day, the company gets janitors, maintenance workers, cleaners, launderers, kitchen staff, sewers and grounds keepers at almost no cost.

Author Mark Dow says, “It isn't politically popular to speak up for alien inmates, but Congress has a responsibility to establish independent oversight of the ICE detention system. Congress should hold hearings on ICE detention - with meaningful follow-up.” It should “Create a statutory-based ombudsman's office or independent oversight body outside the Department of Homeland Security. It must have subpoena power as well as authorization to make unannounced inspections of all facilities holding ICE detainees.”

“Eventually, the very nature of our immigration detention system must be
reexamined. We take it as a given that a visa violator, or an asylum seeker, or a thirty-year lawful resident who has paid taxes but committed a non-violent misdemeanor decades ago, should be strip-searched, dressed in a prison jumpsuit, and denied contact with her children.”