Notebook (February 7, 2005)

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THE RIGHT 'RACES' TO RICE'S DEFENSE

It is always amusing to watch conservatives, who frequently accuse liberals of using bogus charges of racism to silence their critics, attempt to use bogus charges of racism to silence their critics. By the time you read this, Condoleezza Rice will have been confirmed as secretary of state. But the inevitability of her confirmation didn't stop conservatives from crying racism over her treatment at the hands of Senate Democrats, who raised impolite questions about whether Rice had misled the American public and who dared to delay the vote on her confirmation until after President Bush's inauguration so that they could actually debate it. Niger Innis, the spokesman for the right- leaning Congress of Racial Equality, attacked Senator Robert Byrd, who helped delay the Rice vote, calling him a "racist" and "a nonreformed Dixiecrat." Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin wrote, "There's nothing the Left hates more than 'a person of color' who is a person of substance and stature and intellect and independence first." "It's racism any way you cut it," concluded MSNBC's Joe Scarborough.

Now let's review: As national security adviser, Rice has been accused of downplaying the threat of terrorism before September 11. She claimed that Iraq was in imminent danger of acquiring nuclear weapons, citing, among other evidence, a shipment of aluminum tubes whose purpose she knew to be in dispute. She has since refused to acknowledge that her remarks about Iraqi WMD were misleading, claiming instead that those who suggest she has been evasive are only out to "impugn" her integrity. She has refused to answer questions about U. S. policy on torturing terrorism suspects. In addition, critics have described her management style at the National Security Council as "dysfunctional." So yes, as you can see, if Democrats are being mean to Condi, it must be because she's black.

SADDAM LITE?

Bush didn't dare touch on the issue of torture in his inaugural address last week. But his speechwriter, Michael Gerson, did include an inspiring line about U.S. support for political prisoners: "America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country." Until that day comes, however, Bush is content to coddle leaders who consider a cattle prod an appropriate response to dissent. Like interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Given the chaos of Iraq, Allawi considers it politically beneficial to portray himself as a strongman. As The New Yorker recently reported, Allawi winked at a widespread Baghdad rumor that he had personally executed insurgents at a police station. Americans, an Allawi ally told the magazine, had taken to calling Allawi "Saddam Lite."

But it's not just a posture. This week, Human Rights Watch published the results of a four-month investigation concluding that Allawi's government is engaged in "grave violations of fundamental human rights," including "routine beatings to the body using a variety of implements such as cables, hosepipes and metal rods." It also used "kicking, slapping and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back," and electric shocks to the earlobes and genitals. The response of Allawi's government has been to blame Saddam, whose "terrible legacy" is the real reason for the abuse, according to Iraq's interim human rights minister.

In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush correctly described Saddam's torture chambers by saying, "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning." Yet he somehow can't find similar condemnation for torture committed by his allies (to say nothing of his own government). Now that Gerson has left his position as chief White House wordsmith, maybe Allawi can hire him.

OF MICE AND MEN

Just when you thought Bush's policy on embryonic stem-cell research couldn't get much worse, someone goes and leaves the stem cells out. And the mice get in. According to a study released this Sunday, all existing stem-cell lines eligible for federal research money have been found to be contaminated with mouse molecules, a problem that could take years to undo. If the president hadn't restricted federal funding for research to stem-cell lines created before August 2001, researchers could simply toss the bad batch and start work on another. Now, instead, research could come to a lengthy standstill as technicians try to clean up the problem. All of which just goes to show how unsound the president's "compromise" on stem-cell research was to begin with. About the only ones happy with the current outcome are, well, the mice.

CHEMICAL WARFARE WATCH

"Chemicals that attract annoying creatures to the enemy position and make the creatures aggressive and annoying." This somewhat less-than-not-redundant idea comes from a list of proposals by the U.S. Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. The document, titled "Harrassing, Annoying and 'Bad Guy' Identifying Chemicals," recently came to light thanks to New Scientist magazine, which apparently took the time to inspect newly declassified Pentagon records.

Some of the proposals have awakened particular interest, among them "a low toxicity compound of [redacted] that still retains the characteristics of [redacted] (severe and lasting halitosis) for those exposed to small concentrations." Also on the front line against terrorism could be chemicals acting to disrupt "discipline and morale in enemy units," such as "aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior." But, if the prospect of torturing Osama bin Laden and company with insatiable homosexual longings combined with hideous breath seems inviting, so, too, do some of the more sophisticated suggestions in the report, many of which center on exposing the enemy to chemicals to which only we would have the antidote, forcing them to surrender to us.

The only problem, though, is that few of these suggestions are currently in what one might call an advanced stage. Under the "New Discoveries Needed" section, the report lists, um, everything. Well, except for one thing: "Many chemicals are known that cause exposed personnel to stink badly." It is a relief, of course, to know we already have that under our belt. And, when we see B-52s dropping bushels of The Advocate into Waziristan, we'll know we're really making progress.

This article originally ran in the February 7, 2005 issue of the magazine.

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