Monday, December 31, 2007

Why the Democrats would be wise not to give the Presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton

As we enter the second (or is it the third?) year of the campaign for the November 2008 Presidential election, it is finally time to give some consideration to this nomination selection process and the candidates before the Iowa caucuses later this week starts off the avalanche of caucuses and primaries scheduled for the next few months.


Please excuse me for just a minute as I rant about the whole process. This absurd Rube Goldberg system of selecting major party nominees is extremely wasteful in time and resources and does nothing to carry forward democracy or the best interests of the country.

Iowa, with its caucus system in which just a miniscule number of people participate, and tiny little New Hampshire with its must-be-first-no-matter-what primary will likely make and break numerous campaigns with the possibility of setting one candidate up in each party as the ultimate nominee. At a minimum, they will frame the nomination process by giving fundraising advantages to the frontrunners. This will be a long time before most American voters will get a chance to consider the candidates.

It simply isn’t in the best interests of the candidates or the parties. Given the timing of this whole process -- almost a year before the election -- there is the very real possibility of “buyers’ remorse” setting in and the public and maybe even party activists, becoming disillusioned and/or tired of the candidates. And while this campaign is almost as long as the term of office the candidates are running for most of the public across the country are outside the process. Any momentum the eventual nominees may have had during the winter primaries and caucuses will be long gone by Labor Day.

I would propose a national primary based upon the popular vote six weeks before the general election. There would be no conventions. If no candidate received a majority of votes cast then the top two candidates would compete in a run-off primary one week later. Candidates would be prohibited from campaigning until one month before the national primary. I would also have the winner take office no less than one month after the election. I know lots of people have any number of excuses why this process can’t be simplified and made more democratic but let’s remember many European nations have very democratic and speedy electoral systems.

I could go on and on (don’t get me started on the Electoral College) but unfortunately we are stuck with the system we’ve got for the foreseeable future. However, we’re not stuck with the any candidate…yet.


As for the race at hand, it appears at this time the real race is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama with John Edwards running close behind. Senators Biden and Dodd as well as Governor Richardson are all great guys but don’t appear to be picking up the steam needed to survive this crazy electoral cycle.

I have come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton – who has been running as the “inevitable” nominee – is not the best choice for the Democrats. Here are some of my thoughts:

Don’t count on the collapse of the Republicans: Right now the Republicans are divided but we can’t count on the Republican Party collapsing. They managed to elect a complete idiot to the White House not once but twice in the past eight years. It’s foolish to just assume they can’t pull it off again even with one of that sorry lot they have running for their nomination. We won’t have George Bush to kick around anymore which means the Republicans will have a fresh face to present to American voters. The Republicans may even surprise us by nominating their strongest candidate, Senator John McCain although if elected he will be the oldest President this country has ever had and will certainly be among the oldest of the world’s leaders.

The Democrats succeeded in making the 2006 Congressional election a referendum on George Bush and won. Unfortunately, they just barely won and while responsible for the leadership in both the House and the Senate do not have the votes to accomplish much. The public is not happy with the lack of progress and now hold the Democratic Congress in as low regard as they hold the Republican President. While being the non-incumbent party for the White House the Democrats are the incumbent party for Congress and voters will take that into account next November. It is foolish to assume the 2008 election will be a cakewalk. Simply being the anti-Bush/not-Republican party was good enough for 2006 but won’t be enough to win in 2008.

Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton: No one born since 1970 has voted in a Presidential election that did not have a Bush or a Clinton running at the top of the ticket. What kind of a message does that send to all those nations already suspicious of the American promotion of democracy? What happened to grooming leadership for the future? We are a republic and this two decade run by the Clinton and Bush families is enough. Both parties can, and need to, do better.

Hillary Clinton as the incumbent: It’s important to remember not everyone thinks back on the administration of Bill Clinton as the good old days and Hillary Clinton would run not as a fresh face but as an incumbent of sorts for a Clinton third term. Bill Clinton’s presidency was a mixed bag which, of course, is far better than the disaster of George Bush’s presidency. But it will be will far easier for whoever the Republican candidate is to distance himself from George Bush than for Hillary Clinton to distance herself from Bill Clinton. In some ways she would be running as the incumbent without the institutional advantages incumbency carries. My sense of the electorate is Americans want change this year.

And it’s not just the Clinton position on issues but the Clinton style of posturing that is not necessarily a positive link to Bill Clinton. Too much of what she says comes across as not wholly sincere and calculated to appeal to one set of voters or another after it has been tested on a focus group. This is classic Bill Clinton but he used his “Bubba” persona to sugarcoat the obvious pandering. He appealed to the Bubba vote but she won’t.

The vote against race or gender: A friend of mine pointed out that there are a number of Americans who would vote against Barak Obama because he is black. I completely agree. However, I don’t believe any of those people would vote for any Democrat anyway. Those voters just aren’t in play. And the same goes for the gender issue for Hillary Clinton – yes, there are Americans who would not vote for a woman but they are not going to vote Democratic anyway. Again, those voters aren’t in play. However, what’s different about her is I believe there are Americans who would vote for a Democrat but are not going to vote for Hillary Clinton not because she is a woman but because she is Hillary Clinton. Those voters are in play and we may be writing them off by nominating her.

Polarization: Hillary Clinton has become a polarizing figure. If she is to blame for this, it is only partially so at most. Right-wingers have turned her name into an epithet and have an almost Pavlovian response to her. Contempt just drips from their mouths every time they mention her name. She seems to be the one Democratic candidate who can unite the Republicans (without necessarily uniting the Democrats).

This isn’t to say there is anything wrong in standing up to these characters but why fight that battle when it can be avoided. Wouldn’t it be better to focus energy on issues of war and peace, global warming, immigration reform, and health care?

This raises a problem not only getting elected but also for governing unless the Democrats can make substantial gains in Congress. (Congressional gains seem likely but substantial gains seem unlikely as this time given how the system is geared to protect incumbents.) There is no reason to believe the Republicans will let go of their disrespectful reaction to the Clinton name. The country has been too polarized for the past decade. It’s time for a fresh start and an attempt to bring the country back together.

Electability: There is already speculation about an independent run for President against the candidates of the two major political parties. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee my guess is this would increase the likelihood of an independent challenge because the Republican candidate, whoever he is, will work to put distance between himself and the Bush Whitehouse but won’t be entirely successful. Just ask Al Gore how easily that can be done. Given a choice between the party of Clinton versus the party of Bush, independent voters may be looking for a third way. However, given the Republican advantage in the Electoral College a third party or independent candidate is unlikely to impact both candidates evenly and thus deny the Democrats the White House.

My home state of Virginia is Republican leaning but is slowly coming more “in-play” for the Democrats. If Clinton were at the top of the ticket my guess is locals running for election – outside of Northern Virginia - would keep her at arms-length and it would be very unlikely Virginia, as well as other not-as-Republican-as-they-used-to-be states, would go Democratic. Whoever the Democratic nominee is needs to pull one or two of these states out of the Republican column to take the White House.

The choice: Biden and Dodd are great guys but are too much a part of the party and Senate establishment. Richardson is certainly well qualified but has something of a charisma deficit. I love Edwards’ populist rhetoric but he failed to carry his home state in 2004 and a 2008 race could be turned into a 2004 rerun by the Republicans.

I’ve come to the conclusion Barack Obama would be the best candidate for the Democrats and the best President for the country. We Democrats need someone who will win and we Americans need someone who will unite the country.

Hillary Clinton certainly stands head and shoulders above anyone running for the Republican nomination and if she is the nominee then Democrats should rally behind her. However, for the time being, the Democrats have the luxury of making a choice – fight the battles we choose to fight or fight the battles imposed upon us. Our moment is now.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What torture is good for: fear

It is sad to see many American all too willing to sacrifice our liberties by trying to sanctify torture in reaction to the 9-11 attacks against the United States. They have even tried to muddle the debate by downplaying the effect of waterboarding – a well known technique of torture used at least since the Inquisition and currently popular with U.S. intelligence agencies – by suggesting it is a mere “simulation” of drowning that somehow does no real harm and therefore somehow doesn't rise to the level of real torture.

And, of course, there are those with some degree of intellectual integrity willing to admit waterboarding is torture but who then go on to justify it to gather information to protect the public from those ticking-bomb scenarios popular in television action shows.

The problem with that line of thinking is torture is ineffective for gathering information. However, it is good for something – instilling fear in the population.

This observation from P.Z. Myers:

… torture is an extremely powerful tool. It's just useless for gathering information. There's just no way you can trust information gotten while ripping somebody's fingernails off with a pair of pliers — they'll scream anything to get you to stop.

Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population. If you want it widely known that your ruling regime is utterly ruthless and doesn't care about individuals, all you have to do is scoop up random people suspected of anti-government activities, hold them for a few weeks, and return them as shattered wrecks with mangled limbs, while treating the monsters who would do such a thing as respected members of the ruling clique, who are immune from legal prosecution. The message gets out fast that one does not cross the government.


When the US government announces it's support for torture, they aren't talking about intelligence gathering: they are simply saying "Fear us." They are taking the first step on the road to tyranny.

The real problem is that fear isn't a good tool to use in a democratic society. We are supposed to be shareholders in our government; when a process of oppression is endorsed by our legislators and president, we should recognize that they are trying to set themselves apart from the ordinary citizenry, and it's time to rebel…before the goon squads come to your neighborhood. Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.

And I know some are going to crawl out of the woodwork to claim it's OK in this case because the US is mainly trying to torture non-citizens, outsiders and foreigners — but then what it represents is an announcement to the rest of the world that the American superpower is not planning to be a benevolent member of the community of nations.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wes Montgomery – “Round Midnight” (1965)

The Wes Montgomery Quartet playing for the BBC TV series Jazz 625 with Harold Mabern on piano, Arthur Harper on bass and Jimmy Lovelace on drums in 1965. They are performing Thelonious Monk’s classic, “Round Midnight”.

Read more about Wes Montgomery here.

Saudi blogger behind bars – guilty of blogging

The Saudi government has arrested blogger, Fouad Ahmed al-Farham. Fouad blogged at Alfarhan and has been a noted advocate for reform in the Saudi Arabian kingdom. He had been warned approximately a year ago by Saudi security agents that if he did not stop criticizing the government he could face serious consequences and was forced to shut down his blog for several months. Other bloggers have also been harassed.

He had most recently been promoting fair trials for Saudi political prisoners when he was abducted by Saudi security personnel. According to the website, Global Voices Advocacy,

Fouad's arrest was directly linked to his blogging activities. He may remain in custody for a one-month investigation period. After that his family will be allowed to visit him and be informed about his case and the possible charges that might be brought against him. Fouad is apparently being held, without charge or trial, at the ministry of interior's security service (al-Mabahith al-'Amma) headquarter in Jeddah. He has been arrested at his office in Jeddah and had been led to his home where police confiscated his laptop computer.

He is most likely guilty of blogging according to Iman AL-Qahtani,

This year might have ended peacefully (in comparison to the status of Tunisian and Egyptian bloggers) had it not been for this case that has shaken us. It shows that members of the security apparatus don't have the ability to tolerate the opinions of a Saudi blogger that are written on his personal website. Saudi bloggers have shown that their blogs are serious and mature and reflect what is happening in society, politics and media.

The wife of Fouad Farhan has said that her husband will be held for an entire month and then the authorities will decide what to charge him with. Only then will she be allowed to visit him!

This means that he is currently held without a charge. How was he held without a clear charge being levied against him? Or are we supposed to think that he is charged simply with "blogging"?

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information condemns the arrest of al-Farhan and the unjustified detention in an unknown place. They are demanding the government reveal their reasons for detaining Fouad.

Free Fouad, a website demanding his release, has been set up by supporters.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released this statement:

On December 10, Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, a 32-year-old blogger who runs the site Alfarhan, was detained by Saudi security agents at the Jeddah office of the IT company he owns, CPJ sources and Saudi blogs have reported. Security agents later visited al-Farhan’s home and confiscated his laptop, those same sources said.

Al-Farhan’s whereabouts are unknown and it is unclear why he has been detained. Attempts by CPJ to obtain comment from the Saudi Embassy in Washington were unsuccessful.

“It is deplorable that al-Farhan has been held secretly without charge for more than two weeks. We call on Saudi authorities to release him at once,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Detaining writers and holding them for weeks without charge is appalling.”

In an e-mail sent to friends prior to his arrest, al-Farhan explained that he had received a phone call from the Saudi interior ministry instructing him to prepare himself “to be picked up in the coming two weeks” for an investigation by a high-ranking official.

“The issue that caused all of this is because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue,” al-Farhan wrote in the e-mail, which is currently posted on his blog. He wrote that the agent promised to detain him for only a short period if he agreed to sign a letter of apology. “I am not sure if I am ready to do that. Apology for what?” he asked in the e-mail, adding that he does not want “to be forgotten in jail.”

Al-Farhan is one of the few Saudi bloggers who does not use a penname while commenting on political and social life in the country. In one of his last posts before his detention, al-Farhan sharply criticized 10 influential business, religious, and media figures close to the Saudi royal family. His public support of a group of 10 Saudi academics arrested earlier this year allegedly for “financing terrorism” has apparently angered Saudi authorities, he reported on his blog.

“It’s really sad to see a blogger arrested and silenced for exercising his freedom of speech to condemn terrorism and promote political reform in his country,”Sami Ben Gharbia, a blogger close to al-Farhan and director of Global Voices told CPJ.

The media in Saudi Arabia is heavily restricted by the government. Since September 11, 2001, the government has somewhat loosened the shackles on the domestic press. Local journalists have seized the initiative to produce more daring reports on crime, drug trafficking, unemployment, and religious extremism, but journalists remain heavily circumscribed in what they can write and are subject to swift reprisal from the authorities.

The government frequently reins in criticism by banning newspapers, blacklisting writers, and pressuring journalists behind the scenes. Last year online writer Rabah al-Quwai’ was held for 13 days in retaliation for his writings about religious extremism. For information on press freedom in Saudi Arabia read CPJ’s 2006 special report, Princes, Clerics, and Censors.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Is Pakistan’s Musharraf the new Shah?

The Taliban is on the offensive in Afghanistan while the NATO allies are squabbling. Despite the lull in violence in Iraq there has been little or no progress on the political front to stabilize the country. And now the authority of U.S. backed General/President/dictator Pervez Musharraf is in shambles following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Of the multiple failures of current U.S. foreign policy, the failure in Pakistan is the one that can have the greatest adverse impact on the security of the south central Asia, the West and the United States. Pakistan has always been the main front for Al-Qaida-inspired terrorist actions against the region and the West. Al-Qaida and the Afghanistan Taliban operate quite freely in the western regions of Pakistan and there is now the emergence of a Pakistan Taliban. Despite all the lofty rhetoric about democracy, the administration has backed the Musharraf dictatorship and it’s very ineffective and half-hearted campaigns against the above terrorist groups while tuning a blind eye towards corruption and the crack-down on pro-democracy activists. It is all too reminiscent of how the United States previously centered its Middle East policy on the disintegrating authority of the Shah of Iran.

Here are Juan Cole’s thoughts in Salon:
The Bush administration backed military dictator Musharraf to the hilt as a way of dealing with U.S. security and al-Qaida on the cheap while it poured hundreds of billions into Baghdad. George W. Bush was entirely willing to let the Pakistani judiciary, the rule of law, and any real democracy be gutted by an ambitious general. For Washington, allowing Bhutto to return to Pakistan was simply a way to shore up Musharraf's legitimacy. Now Pakistan faces new turmoil, and Bush appears to have no Plan B. Since Pakistan is a nuclear power and al-Qaida extremists still use it as a base to plot against the West, this failure is inexcusable and threatens U.S. security in a way Iraq never did.

Pakistan's future is now murky, and to the extent that this nation of 160 million buttresses the eastern flank of American security in the greater Middle East, its fate is profoundly intertwined with America's own. The money for the Sept. 11 attacks was wired to Florida from banks in Pakistan, and al-Qaida used the country for transit to Afghanistan. Instability in Pakistan may well spill over into Afghanistan, as well, endangering the some 26,000 U.S. troops and a similar number of NATO troops in that country. And it is not as if Afghanistan were stable to begin with. If Pakistani politics finds its footing, if a successor to Benazir Bhutto is elected in short order by the PPP and the party can remain united, and if elections are held soon, the crisis could pass. If there is substantial and ongoing turmoil, however, Muslim radicals will certainly take advantage of it.

In order to get through this crisis, Bush must insist that the Pakistani Supreme Court, summarily dismissed and placed under house arrest by Musharraf, be reinstated. The PPP must be allowed to elect a successor to Ms. Bhutto without the interference of the military. Early elections must be held, and the country must return to civilian rule. Pakistan's population is, contrary to the impression of many pundits in the United States, mostly moderate and uninterested in the Taliban form of Islam. But if the United States and "democracy" become associated in their minds with military dictatorship, arbitrary dismissal of judges, and political instability, they may turn to other kinds of politics, far less favorable to the United States. Musharraf may hope that the Pakistani military will stand with him even if the vast majority of people turn against him. It is a forlorn hope, and a dangerous one, as the shah of Iran discovered in 1978-79.
You can read Cole’s entire article here.

Barack Obama: Our moment is now

Below is a condensed version of Senator Barack Obama’s remarks for the voters of America in the closing days of the Iowa campaign. The full text can be found here.

Ten months ago, I stood on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, and began an unlikely journey to change America.

I did not run for the presidency to fulfill some long-held ambition or because I believed it was somehow owed to me. I chose to run in this election - at this moment - because of what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now." Because we are at a defining moment in our history. Our nation is at war. Our planet is in peril. Our health care system is broken, our economy is out of balance, our education system fails too many of our children, and our retirement system is in tatters.

At this defining moment, we cannot wait any longer for universal health care. We cannot wait to fix our schools. We cannot wait for good jobs, and living wages, and pensions we can count on. We cannot wait to halt global warming, and we cannot wait to end this war in Iraq.

I chose to run because I believed that the size of these challenges had outgrown the capacity of our broken and divided politics to solve them; because I believed that Americans of every political stripe were hungry for a new kind of politics, a politics that focused not just on how to win but why we should, a politics that focused on those values and ideals that we held in common as Americans; a politics that favored common sense over ideology, straight talk over spin.

Most of all, I believed in the power of the American people to be the real agents of change in this country - because we are not as divided as our politics suggests; because we are a decent, generous people willing to work hard and sacrifice for future generations; and I was certain that if we could just mobilize our voices to challenge the special interests that dominate Washington and challenge ourselves to reach for something better, there was no problem we couldn't solve - no destiny we couldn't fulfill.


You know that we can't afford four more years of the same divisive food fight in Washington that's about scoring political points instead of solving problems; that's about tearing your opponents down instead of lifting this country up.

We can't afford the same politics of fear that tells Democrats that the only way to look tough on national security is to talk, act, and vote like George Bush Republicans; that invokes 9/11 as a way to scare up votes instead of a challenge that should unite all Americans to defeat our real enemies.

We can't afford to be so worried about losing the next election that we lose the battles we owe to the next generation.

The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result. And that's a risk we can't take. Not this year. Not when the stakes are this high.

In this election, it is time to turn the page. In seven days, it is time to stand for change.


For the first time in a long time, we have the chance to build a new majority of not just Democrats, but Independents and Republicans who've lost faith in their Washington leaders but want to believe again - who desperately want something new.

We can change the electoral math that's been all about division and make it about addition - about building a coalition for change and progress that stretches through Blue States and Red States. That's how I won some of the reddest, most Republican counties in Illinois. That's why the polls show that I do best against the Republicans running for President - because we're attracting more support from Independents and Republicans than any other candidate. That's how we'll win in November and that's how we'll change this country over the next four years.

In the end, the argument we are having between the candidates in the last seven days is not just about the meaning of change. It's about the meaning of hope. Some of my opponents appear scornful of the word; they think it speaks of naivete, passivity, and wishful thinking.

But that's not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task before us or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Yes, the lobbyists will fight us. Yes, the Republican attack dogs will go after us in the general election. Yes, the problems of poverty and climate change and failing schools will resist easy repair. I know - I've been on the streets, I've been in the courts. I've watched legislation die because the powerful held sway and good intentions weren't fortified by political will, and I've watched a nation get mislead into war because no one had the judgment or the courage to ask the hard questions before we sent our troops to fight.

But I also know this. I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most improbable changes this country has ever made. In the face of tyranny, it's what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire. In the face of slavery, it's what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist, and what allowed a President to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free. In the face of war and Depression, it's what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. In the face of oppression, it's what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause. That's the power of hope - to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before.

That's the change we seek. And that's the change you can stand for in seven days.


… I know that when the American people believe in something, it happens.

If you believe, then we can tell the lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.

If you believe, then we can stop making promises to America's workers and start delivering - jobs that pay, health care that's affordable, pensions you can count on, and a tax cut for working Americans instead of the companies who send their jobs overseas .

If you believe, we can offer a world-class education to every child, and pay our teachers more, and make college dreams a reality for every American.

If you believe, we can save this planet and end our dependence on foreign oil.

If you believe, we can end this war, close Guantanamo, restore our standing, renew our diplomacy, and once again respect the Constitution of the United States of America .

That's the future within our reach. That's what hope is - that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us around the corner. But only if we're willing to work for it and fight for it. To shed our fears and our doubts and our cynicism. To glory in the task before us of remaking this country block by block, precinct by precinct, county by county, state by state.

There is a moment in the life of every generation when, if we are to make our mark on history, this spirit must break through

This is the moment.

This is our time.

And if you will stand with me in seven days - if you will stand for change so that our children have the same chance that somebody gave us; if you'll stand to keep the American dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity and thirst for justice; if you're ready to stop settling for what the cynics tell you you must accept, and finally reach for what you know is possible, then we will win this caucus, we will win this election, we will change the course of history, and the real journey - to heal a nation and repair the world - will have truly begun.

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cannonball Adderley: “Straight No Chaser” (1974)

This is the Cannonball Adderley Quintet playing “Straight No Chaser” at the 1974 Newport Jazz Festival. Cannonball Adderley is on the alto saxophone, Nat Adderley (his brother) trumpet, George Duke piano, Walter Bocker bass and Roy McCurdy on the drums.

Adderley joined the Miles Davis sextet in 1957 when John Coltrane left to play with Thelonious Monk. Adderley formed his own group in the 1960’s which achieved much cross-over success.

He died from a stroke in 1975 at the age of 47.

Will justice ever prevail in the Cambodian genocide?

Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge murdered an estimated two million Cambodians. The horror ended when the Khmer Rouge were toppled from power by Vietnam in January of 1979 although the Khmer Rouge controlled parts of western Cambodia for years after the Vietnamese invasion.

The Cambodian Tribunal was set up in 1997 to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity committed by members of the Khmer Rouge. However, funding for the work has been a problem from the beginning and the whole process faces the possibility of grounding to a halt. The other problem, of course, is because of the long drawn out process the aging suspects and defendants will die of old age without ever facing justice.

This from the International Herald Tribune:

With five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge finally in custody awaiting trial — three decades after their murderous regime tumbled from power — Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal can credibly say it is on the road to justice.

But its future hinges on the generosity of foreign aid donors who, responding to reports of alleged corruption and mismanagement by tribunal officials, are demanding greater accountability before agreeing to give more money.

The process took a big step forward last month when Kaing Guek Eav, the head of a notorious torture center, became the first major Khmer Rouge figure to appear as a defendant in a public courtroom, appealing unsuccessfully for release on bail.

He and four other suspects — Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan — are being held in the tribunal's custom-built jail, awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But the tribunal says more work is needed to get to full-fledged trials to establish responsibility for the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians under the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

The tribunal is appealing for an unspecified additional sum on top of its budgeted $56.3 million, saying a heavy workload means that its operation, originally supposed to end in 2009, has to be extended through 2010.

Peter Foster, a U.N.-appointed spokesman for the tribunal, said the present funds may run out in about six months due to unanticipated costs.

"We're not talking about buying fleets of Mercedes and helicopters; we're talking about essential elements of an international court," he said.

For instance, said Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's Australian public affairs chief, the court needs to increase the number of translators to 40 from the current 14, and to create victim support and court transcription services.

Donors raised concerns after two U.N. reports this year painted a troubling picture of the tribunal's administration.

One of them, sidestepping allegations of corruption, accused the Cambodian side of serious mismanagement.

The other found problems in sharing responsibilities between Cambodian and foreign personnel, operating under Cambodian law.

To win more funding, the tribunal must show it can function "efficiently and devoid of corruption," David Scheffer, a former U.S. war crimes ambassador and a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, said in an e-mail.

"The worst-case scenario is that the international staff and administration would have to pull out and the trials would proceed in a strictly Cambodian-staffed court," he said.

Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, said the United States, which did not contribute to the original budget, is considering whether to pitch in. Washington harbors widely shared doubts about the competence and impartiality of Cambodia's courts.

"It would simply be irresponsible to suggest using American taxpayer money until we're sure that the administrative process is also fixed," he said.

In the meantime, hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns marched in Cambodia on Christmas day in support of the upcoming trials. The Khmer Rouge had targeted various religious institutions – churches, mosques and temples – for destruction. According to the BBC,

Muslim and Christian leaders joined the Buddhist monks and nuns to demonstrate their support for the tribunal.

They came from around the country and marched to the special courts on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.

The organisers said the trials would be crucial in helping Cambodia to forget its troubled past and look to the future.

The marchers were welcomed at the courts and granted a question and answer session with officials.

A spokesman for the tribunal said the marchers were told the courts were working for them.

The Khmer Rouge forcibly defrocked Buddhist monks - and closed their pagodas.

They also massacred Muslims who refused to renounce their faith, and destroyed Christian churches.

Cambodia is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

But holding the march on Christmas Day served to draw attention to the international nature of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Legal officials from around the world are working at the special courts. Next month, the tribunal will appeal to international donors for tens of millions of dollars in extra funding.

Without the cash, the long-awaited process could grind to a halt.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Oscar Peterson 1925 - 2007

The great jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson died in his home town of Toronto at the age of 82 this week. He made more than 200 albums and won eight Grammy awards including a lifetime achievement honor in 1997. He cut his first single at the age of 19. He performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Nat "King" Cole among other great musicians. He is considered one of the finest pianists in the history of jazz.

Above is the Oscar Peterson Trio performing in Holland approximately 1961. In addition to Peterson on the piano are Ray Brown on the bass and Ed Thigpen on the drums. He plays “Goodbye.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN HARLEM - Louis Armstrong (1955)

This is a classic Christmas song, handled to perfection by the legendary "Satchmo (or in this case, "Satchmo Claus"), Louis Armstrong.

Children conscripted into service of Congo’s warring factions

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the size of Western Europe and should prosper from a wide range of natural resources including gold, diamonds and minerals. Yet its seemingly never ending wars have resulted in 3.9 million dead since 1998 from war related violence, hunger and disease.

As in other countries in turmoil such as Burma and Afghanistan when the manpower needs of the warring armies cannot be met, the militias conscript children. Children often work in slave-like situations, are sexually abused and sometimes are even armed and put on the front lines of military operations.

The Congo is no exception. This week, Save The Children has complained that children are being abducted by armed groups for service.

This from Reuters:

Fighting in eastern Congo this month has led to a surge in child abductions by armed groups who force minors to fight, carry ammunition or become their sex slaves, Save the Children said on Monday.

Children's rights campaigners including the British-based charity say most of the factions fighting in a complex web of conflict left behind in eastern Congo after the vast country's 1998-2003 war have used child soldiers.

Save the Children says it has demobilised nearly 7,000 children over the past three years, but some of them are being forced back into armed groups by a wave of recruitment since a government advance and rebel counter-offensive this month.

"The situation for children in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is catastrophic. Fighters from all sides are using children as frontline fodder, raping young girls and attacking houses," Save The Children Country Director Hussein Mursal said in a statement.

Some children were kept captive in small holes in the ground as punishment or after being captured by enemy groups, it said.

Mursal told Reuters his organisation had received more than 100 children in the last two weeks who had run away from armed groups, but could not estimate the total numbers involved.

"It's very difficult to know. What we see is the tip of the iceberg," he said.

This month's violence was mainly between the government army and rebel forces loyal to dissident Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda in North Kivu province.

But various other armed groups including traditional Mai Mai militia and Rwandan Hutu rebels accused of leading their country's 1994 genocide also roam Congo's eastern provinces.

President Joseph Kabila's government has called a peace conference for Thursday in North Kivu's provincial capital Goma, but after a string of failed peace initiatives optimism is in short supply, and Nkunda has yet to say whether he will attend.

The fighting has forced tens of thousands of civilians from their homes, adding to an estimated 800,000 displaced people -- around half of them displaced by this year's fighting alone.

"In the last week Save The Children aid workers have seen groups of children marching as part of militia forces, carrying weapons and bags. The charity continues to take in high numbers of boys and girls escaping from armed groups, who have been forced to kill on the front line or act as porters, spies or sex slaves," the statement said.

Children previously rescued from armed groups are at greater risk because commanders seek out battle hardened youths, as many of them fail to reintegrate into family and community life due to lack of resources for care and schooling, Mursal said.

Mursal said some children had gone along with government forces to help carry weapons at a time of widespread pro-government sentiment when the army gained ground against Nkunda early in December.

"That is also a new phenomenon. I don't believe that they chose -- they were coerced," he said.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Have a Merry Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa

"Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa" by Roy Zimmerman.

Nativity is a legend according to Archbishop of Canterbury

It seems Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th after all and that little holiday that has come to be known as Christmas was timed to coincide with Solstice celebrations. And apparently that ubiquitous nativity scene that clutters courthouse lawns across the country is simply a legend. That’s according to no less an authority than Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Here is what he says in today’s Telegraph:
The Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men was nothing but a 'legend'.

Dr Rowan Williams has claimed there was little evidence that the Magi even existed and there was certainly nothing to prove there were three of them or that they were kings.

He said the only reference to the wise men from the East was in Matthew's gospel and the details were very vague. Dr Williams said: "Matthew's gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that's all we're really told. It works quite well as legend."

The Archbishop went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story, adding that there were probably no asses or oxen in the stable.

He argued that Christmas cards which showed the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men, were misleading. As for the scenes that depicted snow falling in Bethlehem, the Archbishop said the chance of this was "very unlikely".

In a final blow to the traditional nativity story, Dr Williams concluded that Jesus was probably not born in December at all. He said: "Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival."
Now, about that virgin birth….

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Walling off Baghdad and the “success” of the surge

The White House has touted the dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq during the past few months as a success for the military’s surge strategy in Iraq. (Of course, “success” keeps getting redefined. Remember when it was argued the whole point of the military surge was to buy time for political reconciliation? The administration doesn’t talk about political reconciliation anymore.) If this lowered level of violence can be maintained will depend on how a variety of political problems are worked out over then next several months.

One major factor for the decrease in violence has been the segregation of religious and ethnic groups in Iraq. Baghdad, the center of much of the violence from Iraq’s overlapping civil wars, is definitely more peaceful. However, there has been a price for that peace. The ethnic and sectarian cleansing that occurred under the noses of the occupying forces has now been set in concrete – literally. Part of the strategy to control the violence has been to build walls between neighborhoods with only a handful of heavily guarded passages between them. This replicates the highly guarded Green Zone in Baghdad – the fortified base for occupation forces and the Iraqi central government. The walls have become so much a part of life in Baghdad that local artists have used them for murals.

But while the walls help keep the peace they also keep neighbor from neighbor. This enforced segregation destroys the sense of community and restricts freedom of movement. According to a retired Iraqi Army officer quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, ""We are not free, our neighborhood is barricaded … and our officials are over there in the Green Zone.”

Rosa Brooks considers the “success” of the walls of Baghdad in today’s L.A. Times:
… In Baghdad, 12-foot-high walls now separate Sunni and Shiite communities. Broken by narrow checkpoints, the walls turn Baghdad into dozens of replica Green Zones, dividing neighbor from neighbor and choking off normal commerce and communications.

The military isn't building walls as a training exercise, of course. The walls are meant to make it harder for militias, insurgents and death squads to coordinate and reach their intended victims. With enough troops and enough concrete, the theory goes, you can keep the bad guys from operating effectively and gradually reduce the sectarian violence that has been tearing Iraq apart.

So far, it looks as if the wall-building strategy is paying dividends. Civilian deaths in Iraq are down significantly. And though 2007 has been the deadliest year of the war for U.S. troops, attacks on them have dropped sharply in recent months. After so many years of escalating violence, it's almost eerie.

How do Iraqis feel about the walls springing up around their neighborhoods? Mixed, unsurprisingly: relieved by the lull in violence but dismayed by the cost. "Iraq is a prison, and now I live in my own little prison," one Iraqi told the Christian Science Monitor. "We are not free; our neighborhood is barricaded," complained another.

It's against this backdrop that we should evaluate the success of the Bush administration's troop "surge" in Iraq. Yes, violence is down. Some of that is because of the surge itself: More troops -- and smarter counterinsurgency tactics -- have indeed translated into a reduction in violence. But violence also is down because the process of "sectarian cleansing" is nearing completion: Sunnis have been driven out of Shiite neighborhoods, Shiites out of Sunni neighborhoods, the Kurds have retaken their own historic territories and smaller minorities have been shoved to the side.

Over the last year, sectarian cleansing has often occurred with reluctant American connivance. Our troops have watched helplessly as neighbors have driven out neighbors, and the walls that U.S. troops build help freeze the new sectarian boundaries in place. In Washington, the administration still speaks of a unified Iraqi central government and "national reconciliation," but in practice, we've gained a respite from violence in part because we've given up on reconciliation and accepted sectarian segregation as the new status quo.

In other words, for all the early rhetoric about benchmarks, "political progress" and reconciliation, the truth is that most Washington insiders accept that we're heading toward a different and much grimmer version of Iraq. As Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group comments: "Iraq is moving in the direction of a failed state, with competing centers of power run by warlords and militias. The central government has no political control whatsoever beyond Baghdad, maybe not even beyond the Green Zone."

We used to say we wanted freedom and democracy. But these days, we'll settle for more warlords, more segregation and fewer bodies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Édith Piaf- La Vie En Rose - 1954

Today is the birthday of Édith Piaf, shown here performing “La Vie En Rose” in 1954. This from the Writer’s Almanac:

It's the birthday of singer Edith Piaf, born Edith Giovanna Gassion, in Paris (1915). Piaf's mother was a cafe singer who abandoned her at birth, and her father was an acrobat who took her with him on tours and encouraged her to sing on the streets and in cafés. In a few years, she was singing in the top music halls of Paris and she had recorded two records. The passion and depression Edith Piaf's velvety voice conveyed earned her many famous admirers. Jean Cocteau wrote a play for her. To aid the French Resistance in World War II, Piaf traveled to German prisoner-of-war camps and sang for the French inmates. During these tours, she would be photographed with the POWs and those pictures would be enlarged and put on false ID cards, which she would distribute on the next visit. Today, there's a plaque in Paris where she was born that says, "On the steps of this house... was born into the greatest poverty Edith Piaf, whose voice later stunned the world."

UN calls for “child safety zones” in Somalia war

All sides in the current war in Somalia have disregarded the well being of the civilian population. The result has the creation of a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is calling for the establishment of safety zones for families with children.

This from the BBC:
The UN children's fund has called for the creation of safe zones in Somalia for about 1.5m children whose lives have been affected by conflict.

Persistent battles in the capital between insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government forces have created Africa's worst humanitarian crisis, the UN says.

"We have reports of both parties recruiting child soldiers," Unicef's Christian Balslev-Olesen told the BBC.

It is estimated that 60% of Mogadishu's residents have fled their homes.

Insecurity has cut off food supplies and access to clean water and medical assistance. The BBC's East Africa correspondent Adam Mynott says outside the capital, Mogadishu, where families have sought shelter from the fighting, the situation is equally precarious.

Unicef's Ann Veneman said "an immediate cessation of the conflict" was necessary to enable humanitarian workers to access those in need.

"Safe zones must be created where children and families can find assistance and stability," she said in a statement.

She said that not only were the children malnourished and at a high risk of disease, but they were also suffering from exhaustion and emotional trauma.

A mother and her three children were among the latest casualties of the ongoing conflict in the capital, Mogadishu, killed in shelling on Tuesday.
Mr Balslev-Olesen, Unicef's representative in Somalia, suggested that the few schools open in Mogadishu could act as the "safe havens" as the conflict was intensifying.

"This is an escalation of the conflict that we have not seen in the past... we have reports of insurgents simply using children to plant roadside bombs and so on," he said.

Last December, Ethiopia helped the transitional government end the Union of Islamic Courts' six-month rule over large parts of southern Somalia, but Mogadishu has been a battleground for insurgents hoping to oust the Ethiopians.

Ethiopia says it wants to withdraw its troops, but only when they are replaced by peacekeepers. So far only 1,600 Ugandan peacekeepers have been sent to Somalia, of a planned 8,000-strong force.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government since 1991.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan

Police, private militias and the Taliban are using Afghan children in their fights against one another. The dysfunctional nature of society in Afghanistan as a result of the war has left children in many regions of the country very vulnerable to exploitation.

Conscription of children often takes place in countries in great turmoil. Recent reports of this activity have included places such as Burma or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children often work in slave-like situations, are sexually abused and sometimes are even armed and put on the front lines of military operations.

This report from IRIN (via Alert Net):
Children are being recruited and in some cases sexually abused by the Afghan police and/or various militias that support the police, as well as by private security companies and the Taliban, according to human rights and provincial officials.

At least 200 boys under 18 are serving in the Afghan National Police (ANP) and a semi-formal auxiliary police force in insurgency-torn Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, said Abdul Qader Noorzai, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kandahar Province.

Some children are recruited for military and non-military purposes by local militias who are paid by the government to supplement the fledgling ANP in volatile southern provinces. However, due to lack of proper monitoring and accountability mechanisms, and the informal nature of the auxiliary forces, the use and abuse of child soldiers remains undocumented.

"Children are used for different purposes," Noorzai said. "The majority of them experience sexual abuse, others do all kinds of jobs such as cooking, cleaning, day patrols and even fighting," he said. Saeed Aqa Saqib, chief of police in Kandahar, told IRIN that over the past nine months a number of police officials had faced dismissal, change of duty station or other disciplinary measure because children were discovered as their immediate subordinates.

"We take this issue [child soldiers] very seriously and will not let it happen within our ranks," said Saqib. In at least two separate incidents in August and September, two under-age soldiers recruited at the Kandahar police headquarters were sacked by the provincial office of the AIHRC. "I told those kids to go home and stay away from military personnel," recalled Noorzai, adding that the recruiters had not been punished.

Under-age males have also been seen working for private security companies, particularly in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, said a senior government official who insisted on anonymity.

"The auxiliary police and private security contractors widely use child soldiers while the government and the AIHRC do not have the capacity to monitor, investigate and stop them," the official said.

Both the chief of police and the head of the AIHRC in Kandahar Province acknowledged that auxiliary forces and private security firms had remained immune from formal investigations and monitoring with regard to the use of child soldiers.

At least two non-government security companies declined to comment on the subject and turned down requests by IRIN to visit their headquarters.

The basic factor driving the recruitment of under-age recruits - mainly boys aged 10-17 - is poverty and unemployment, as well as a certain sense of glamour afforded by the bearing of arms.

Afghan officials also accuse the Taliban and other anti-government elements of deliberately using children for various military and illegitimate purposes. The Taliban use boys as foot soldiers and force children to engage in violent acts, they say.

Taliban rebels allegedly used a six-year-old child for a suicide attack on the Afghan National Army in Ghazni Province, in June 2007, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

In a Taliban video released in April, Taliban gunmen helped a young boy to behead an adult accused of anti-Taliban activity, according to the US State Department.

"UNICEF is very concerned about the increasing use of children and youth to commit violent acts in times of conflict," Patrick McCormick, a UNICEF spokesperson in New York, told IRIN.

Over 7,500 child soldiers went through Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes between April 2003 and June 2006 under Afghanistan's post-Taliban peace building arrangements, according to the UN.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Herbie Mann: Jungle Fantasy

Herbie Mann and Dave Valentin on flute with Tito Puente on percussion.

Saudi rape victim pardoned for her “crime”

King Abdullah has pardoned a Saudi woman convicted of adultery after being gang raped. She was in an automobile with a man she was not related to when the two of them were abducted by several men and raped. She was convicted of violating Saudi religious laws enforcing the segregation of men and women and sentenced to receive 90 lashes. She appealed her conviction and the higher court increased the number of lashes to 200, added a six-month jail sentence and suspended her lawyer from representing her.

The case has highlighted gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia causing an international outcry. The King’s pardon has resulted in controversy as conservatives complain he is breaching the rules of religion in order to appease the West. The King made clear his move did not mean the sentence was wrong but that the pardon was simply to serve the public interest.

This from the BBC:

The Saudi king has pardoned a female rape victim sentenced to jail and 200 lashes for being alone with a man raped in the same attack, reports say.

The "Qatif girl" case caused an international outcry with widespread criticism of the Saudi justice system.

The male and female victims were in a car together when they were abducted and raped by seven attackers, who were given jail sentences up to nine years.

Press reports say King Abdullah's move did not mean the sentence was wrong.

Quoted by the Jazirah newspaper, Justice Minister Abdullah al-Sheikh said the king had the right to issue pardons if it served the public interest.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to mix with men who are not close family members. The custodial sentence plus 200 lashes was imposed after the woman, who has not been named, appealed against an earlier sentence of 90 lashes.

The Saudi king frequently pardons criminals at the Eid al-Adha festival which takes place this week, but correspondents say that is usually announced by the official press agency.

The BBC's Heba Saleh says the king's decision to pardon the woman victim is already arousing controversy with some contributors to conservative websites, who say he has breached the rules of religion in order to appease critics in the West.

The US had called the punishment "astonishing", although it refused to condemn the Saudi justice system.

Human rights groups had been calling on King Abdullah, who has a reputation as a pro-Western reformer, to change it.

The justice ministry recently rejected what it saw as "foreign interference" in the case and insisted the ruling was legal and that the woman had confessed to having an affair with her fellow rape victim.

Earlier, the woman - who is a Shia Muslim from the Qatif area - had reportedly said she met the man in order to retrieve a photograph of them together, having herself recently got married.

She says two other men then entered the car and took them to a secluded area where others were waiting, and both she and her male companion were raped.

The woman's companion was sentenced to 90 lashes. It is not known if his sentence was also lifted.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Miles Davis & John Coltrane- SO WHAT

Miles Davis and John Coltrane play "So What" in 1958.

States opting out of federal funding for “abstinence-only” sex (mis)education

States are turning down federal funding for the discredited “abstinence-only” sex education program. The abstinence-only sex education program emphasizes complete abstinence from sex until marriage. Discussion of contraceptives is restricted to their failure rate.

A growing number of state governments are just not interested in programs that do not work. According to the Washington Post:

The number of states refusing federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education programs jumped sharply in the past year as evidence mounted that the approach is ineffective.

At least 14 states have either notified the federal government that they will no longer be requesting the funds or are not expected to apply, forgoing more than $15 million of the $50 million available, officials said. Virginia was the most recent state to opt out.

Two other states -- Ohio and Washington -- have applied but stipulated they would use the money for comprehensive sex education, effectively making themselves ineligible, federal officials said. While Maryland and the District are planning to continue applying for the money, other states are considering withdrawing as well.

Until this year, only four states had passed up the funding.

"We're concerned about this," said Stan Koutstaal of the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the program. "My greatest concern about states dropping out is that these are valuable services and programs. It's the youths in these states who are missing out."

The number of states spurning the money has grown even as Congress considers boosting overall funding for abstinence-only education to $204 million, with most of it going directly to community organizations.

The trend has triggered intense lobbying of state legislators and governors around the country. Supporters of the programs are scrambling to reverse the decisions, while opponents are pressuring more states to join the trend.

"This wave of states rejecting the money is a bellwether," said William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a Washington-based advocacy and education group that opposes abstinence-only programs. "It's a canary in the coal mine of what's to come."

"We hope that it sends a message to the politicians in Washington that this program needs to change, and states need to be able to craft a program that is the best fit for their young people and that is not a dictated by Washington ideologues," Smith said.

Smith and other critics said they hoped that if enough states drop out, Congress will redirect the funding to comprehensive sex education programs that include teaching about the use of condoms and other contraceptives.

"I think this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back in terms of continued funding of these programs," said John Wagoner of Advocates for Youth, another Washington advocacy group. "How can they ignore so many states slapping a return-to-sender label on this funding?"


The jump in states opting out follows a series of reports questioning the effectiveness of the approach, including one commissioned by Congress that was released earlier this year. In addition, federal health officials reported last week that a 14-year drop in teenage pregnancy rates appeared to have reversed.

"This abstinence-only program is just not getting the job done," said Cecile Richards of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "This is a ideologically based program that doesn't have any support in science."


The program was started as part of the 1996 welfare reform. California, however, dropped out in 2000, forgoing more than $7 million it was eligible to receive, and Maine opted out in 2005, giving up $161,000. Most states, however, did participate. New Jersey decided to opt out last year, rejecting more than $900,000 in funding, and others followed.

"The governor has often stated that abstinence-only education does not show any results," said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who announced plans to give up the funding last month. "It doesn't work. He's a firm believer in more comprehensive sex education."

Colorado also decided this fall not to seek about $450,000 that it is eligible to receive.

"Why would we spend tax dollars on something that doesn't work?" asked Ned Calonge of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. "That doesn't make sense to me. Philosophically, I am opposed to spending government dollars on something that's ineffective. That's just irresponsible."

The reasons given for passing up the federal money vary from state to state. Some governors publicly repudiated the programs. Others quietly let their applications lapse or blamed tight budgets that made it impossible to meet the requirement to provide matching state funds. Still others are asking for more flexibility.

"The governor supports abstinence education," Keith Daily, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D). "What he does not support is abstinence- only education. We are asking to put the money toward abstinence in the context of a comprehensive age-appropriate curriculum."

It had been hoped the new Democratic leadership would eliminate the program from the budget this year but last June the House Appropriations subcommittee for Labor, Health & Human Services increased funding for the program. The subcommittee’s members saw the passage as a compromise in order to push through other legislation. The funding proposal then went from the subcommittee to the committee and into the budget later passed by Congress.

Philosophically, the bottom line of the abstinence only education approach is that knowledge is bad and ignorance is necessary for the preservation of innocence. This line of thinking simply runs counter to the Enlightenment concept that knowledge is power.

Abstinence only education is not education; it is indoctrination…that doesn’t work. Sexual abstinence for teenagers is desirable but the reality is significant numbers of teens are sexually active and need to know how to protect themselves and their partners. And regardless of whether they are sexually active or not they need to know what is going on with their bodies and the changes brought on by puberty. Common decency demands comprehensive sex education for our kids.

Perhaps with the President’s veto of the budget the Congress can cut this program once and for all.