Monday, October 18, 2004

Soldiers Saw Refusing Order as Their Last Stand

By Neela Banerjee and Ariel Hart
The New York Times

Monday 18 October 2004

JACKSON, Miss. - What does it take for a man like Staff Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year veteran of the Army and the Reserve who was a soldier in the first Persian Gulf war and a reserve called up to fight in the current war in Iraq, to risk everything by disobeying a direct order in wartime?

On the morning of Oct. 13, the military says, Sergeant Butler and most of his platoon, some 18 men and women from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, refused to deliver a shipment of fuel from the Tallil Air Base near Nasiriya, Iraq, to another base much farther north.

The Army has begun an inquiry, and the soldiers could face disciplinary measures, including possible courts-martial. But Jackie Butler, Sergeant Butler's wife, and her family in Jackson say he would not have jeopardized his career and his freedom for something impulsive or unimportant.

The soldiers, many of whom have called home this weekend, said their trucks were unsafe and lacked a proper armed escort, problems that have plagued them since they went to Iraq nine months ago, their relatives said. The time had come for them, for her husband, to act, Ms. Butler said.

"I'm proud that he said 'no,' " Ms. Butler said. "They had complained and complained for months to the chain of command about the equipment and trucks. But nothing was done, so I think he felt he had to take a stand."

Other soldiers completed the mission the platoon turned down, the military kept functioning, and the Army has cast the incident as isolated.

But as the soldiers involved in the refusal in Tallil and others begin to speak out, it is growing more apparent that the military has yet to solve the lack of training, parts and equipment that has riddled the military operation in Iraq from the outset, especially among National Guard and Reserve units.

Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commander of the 13th Corps Support Command, which the 343rd reports to, said at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday that he had ordered two investigations into the incident and the concerns expressed by the 18 soldiers "regarding maintenance and safety.''

General Chambers said preliminary findings showed that the unit's trucks were not yet armored and were among the last in his command to get such protection, because they usually functioned in less dangerous parts of Iraq. None of the trucks in his command were armored when they arrived in Iraq, General Chambers said. He told reporters that he had ordered a safety and maintenance review of all trucks in the 343rd.

"Based on results of this investigation other actions may be necessary,'' the general said, but he added, "It's too early in the investigation to speculate on charges or other disciplinary actions.''

General Chambers described the episode as "a single event that is confined to a small group of individuals.''

A number of Army officers contacted in recent days said such an apparent act of insubordination was very unusual, particularly among such a large number of soldiers in a single unit and especially since the military is all volunteer.

The incident has prompted widespread interest among military families who have complained in months past of inadequate equipment and protection for their soldiers.

Nancy Lessin, a leader of Military Families Speak Out, which opposes the war, said she had been flooded with calls and e-mail from families with a simple message: What had happened to the reservists echoed the conditions their own soldiers experienced in Iraq: a shortage of armored vehicles, especially for part-time soldiers' units; convoy missions through dangerous stretches without adequate firepower; and constant breakdowns among old vehicles owned, especially, by National Guard and reservist units.

"This is absolutely striking a nerve," Ms. Lessin said. "People are saying, 'This is the same thing that happened to my son,' and if the Army tries to spin this as 'just a few bad apples,' people need to know that these are common problems and what these soldiers did required a tremendous amount of courage."

Nothing seems to separate the men and women who defied their command in Tallil from the tens of thousands of others now in Iraq, their families say. The 343rd was drawn mainly from Southern states like the Carolinas, Alabama and Mississippi, and the military said Friday that the 343rd had performed honorably during its tour in Iraq.

The soldiers in the platoon are described as devoted to the military and unabashedly patriotic. A wall of Sergeant Butler's living room is covered with certificates and citations from the Army. Another member of the 343rd, Specialist Joe Dobbs, 19, of Vandiver, Ala., had his bedroom painted the dark blue of the American flag. And another soldier in the unit, Sgt. Justin Rogers of Louisville, Ky., liked to walk around town in his uniform when he was home on leave, said Chris Helm, a 14-year-old high school student and his first cousin.

When Sergeant Rogers went home for a two-week leave in July, his brother Derrick asked whether the war and all the deaths were worth it. "His answer was simple," Derrick Rogers said. "He said, 'If I didn't feel like it was worth it, I wouldn't be there.' ''

Ms. Butler did not want to speak for her husband on his feelings about the war. Better he should do that when he is finally home, she said, which is scheduled to be sometime next year. But Sergeant Butler knew he would be called up, once the war against Iraq was begun in March 2003. Late last year, he reported to Rock Hill, and quickly, his confidence was shaken, his wife said. He saw that the equipment to be shipped with his unit was "not very good," Ms. Butler said.

Once the unit arrived in Iraq, the inadequacy of the platoon's equipment and preparedness was thrown into sharp relief against the dangers the country posed. Although the unit is based near Nasiriya in the Shiite-controlled south, which is not as volatile as Sunni-dominated areas, the whole country has been convulsed by battles and uprisings during most of the 343rd's tour of duty. "This is not the first time that there has been a problem with these charges and stuff, with them not having armor, not having radios," said Beverly Dobbs, mother of Specialist Dobbs. "My son told me two months ago - he called me, he said, 'Mom I got the scare of my life.'

"'I said what's wrong?'" Ms. Dobbs said. "He said, 'They sent us out, we come under fire, our own people was shooting and we didn't even have radios to let them know.' They're sending them out without the equipment they need. I don't care what the Army says."

Families that spoke to the soldiers this weekend received slightly differing accounts of what happened the morning of Oct. 13. They all said, however, that fuel the soldiers had to deliver was unusable because it had been contaminated with a second liquid. They all said the soldiers were under armed guard. General Chambers denied both assertions. Relatives say that Sergeant Butler, Sgt. Larry McCook of Jackson and Specialist Scott Shealey of Graysville, Ala., have been identified as three of five "ringleaders" of the incident and reassigned to other units on the air base. Specialist Shealey's parents said their son said in a telephone call that he was going to be discharged.

"He'll be home in three to four weeks, that's what he's being told," said Ricky Shealey, Specialist Shealey's father, a retired Postal Service supervisor and former sergeant in the Army. "He's depressed," Mr. Shealey said. "He just can't believe it's happening."

Ms. Butler said her husband did not know what he might be facing and had heard nothing about a discharge. Other families said the military had yet to contact them to explain the situation. The families have not hired lawyers yet, in large part because they are uncertain what charges might be brought against their relatives.

Some families are reaching out to one another through e-mail and phone calls, offering help and discussing strategy. They have contacted their members of Congressmen. Others, like Ms. Dobbs and her family, are glued to television news, awaiting some clarification of the incident.

Ms. Butler has her big family to lean on, and on this Sunday, the day after the phone call from her husband, they went to church and turned to their neighbors, friends and faith. Ms. Butler went to the altar rail of Zion Travelers Missionary Baptist Church and told the congregation: "My husband has been in the Army more than 20 years, but refused to take those men in that convoy. He said it would be suicidal.''

"So, I'm going to ask you to pray for me," she said, "because he is not going to take no other men's children into the land of death."

She bowed her head, and so did everyone else. "Lord, Sister Butler needs you," the Rev. Daniel Watkins said, shutting his eyes tight. "Her husband, he needs you. All the soldiers in Iraq, they need you."


Monica Davey contributed reporting from Chicago for this article, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Dexter Filkins from Baghdad.


Go to Original

U.S. Mutiny Soldiers Say Army Ignored Complaints
By Sue Pleming

Monday 18 October 2004

WASHINGTON - U.S. soldiers who staged a mutiny and refused to go on a convoy in Iraq (news - web sites) felt commanders ignored their plight when they complained about the safety and condition of their vehicles, their relatives said on Monday.

Ricky Shealey, father of one of 18 soldiers who face discipline for refusing an order to go on a convoy last week, said his son's commanders dismissed complaints they were being asked to transport contaminated fuel in broken-down trucks.

"The command just totally ignored them when they told them this fuel was contaminated and they were still gonna send them out on this mission with contaminated fuel. They were completely aware of this situation and I believe it's a command issue, not a soldier issue," Shealey told CBS' "Early Show."

Refusal to obey orders, especially in a combat zone, is a serious military offense.

Anxious to squash any suspicion of U.S. troop morale or discipline problems in Iraq, the Army said on Sunday it was investigating the "isolated incident" and preliminary findings indicated the soldiers were worried about maintenance and safety.

Last year, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, complained to the Pentagon (news - web sites) his supply situation was so poor it threatened the Army's ability to fight, said an official document revealed by The Washington Post on Monday.

Army officials said most of Sanchez's concerns had been addressed and they were keeping a close eye on the situation.

Civilian and military convoys in Iraq, where more than 1,000 U.S. troops have died and thousands have been wounded since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, are frequent targets for roadside bombings and other ambushes.

Frantic Call

The 18 soldiers refused to accompany fuel tankers on a supply run from southeastern Iraq to Baghdad on Wednesday, arguing the fuel was contaminated and their unarmored vehicles were in bad shape.

The tankers had previously been carrying jet fuel and had not been cleaned before the new cargo of diesel fuel was loaded, said Teresa Hill, who received a frantic telephone message from her daughter Spec. Amber McClenny.

"Hi mom, this is Amber. This is a real, real big emergency. I need you to contact someone, I mean raise pure hell. We yesterday refused to go on a convoy. ... We had broken down trucks, non-armored vehicles and we were carrying contaminated fuel," said McClenny in the message aired on U.S. networks on Monday.

Hill told NBC's "Today" show her daughter referred to the convoy as a suicide mission.

"She felt like the Army was just leaving them out there to drown," said Hill, who said her daughter feared the contaminated fuel might be put in a helicopter that could ultimately crash and add to the U.S. death toll in Iraq.

In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" show, Johnny Coates said his son complained in one instance his truck broke down four times on the way to delivering fuel.

Like other relatives, Coates called his son a good soldier who felt he had to take a stand. "I think he did the right thing. He lived to talk about it for one more day."


Lloyd Kahn: Alternative Shelter

October 14, 2004
If I Had a Hammer? What Do You Mean If?


BEFORE McMansions, before the counterculture was granite and marble, there was Lloyd Kahn, champion of the hand-built house, a road-kill-skunk skin warming his chair, a chin-up bar suspended from the rafters.

For 35 years, Mr. Kahn, 69, has been a steadfast chronicler of offbeat owner-built shelter: straw and mud houses, solar-powered houses, geodesic domes beloved by hippies (of whom Mr. Kahn was one) and made from chopped-up cars pounded into submission and bent into triangles.

From his head (covered with a visor to conceal a receding hairline) to his toes (dusty and protruding from Birkenstocklike scandals he made by taking a drywall knife to his running shoes), Mr. Kahn is a believer in, and an appreciator of, homemade architecture, as varied as floating homes in Hong Kong and Mongolian yurts. In the 1970's, he was a hero to "back to the landers," who drew inspiration from his first book, "Shelter," an ebullient homegrown survey of alternative housing around the world that grew out of the "Whole Earth Catalog," where he was the shelter editor.

Now, from his home down a brambly dirt road with no name in Bolinas, the self-consciously reclusive coastal village in Marin County, comes "Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter" (Shelter Publications, 2004), his latest ode to humankind's ability to create, often virtually out of nothing, expressive and in some cases profoundly bizarre dwellings.

"The process makes you different," Mr. Kahn said of building one's own house, which he has done four times. "Anything you make yourself is your own."

In a sense, Mr. Kahn and his wife, Lesley Creed, a gifted gardener and quilter, have stepped out of the pages of his own book. Their woodsy compound, where bantam chickens roam, is presided over by a 30-foot-tall hexagonal tower, its windows plucked from chicken coops. It is the lone remnant of a geodesic dome — "the most beautiful dome ever built," as Mr. Kahn put it, which he constructed in 1971, heady with the ideas of the visionary builder R. Buckminster Fuller. He dismantled the dome four years later in disenchantment and eventually renounced domes altogether in a diatribe titled "Refried Domes," self-published on newsprint and distributed throughout the dome underground.

Life magazine had featured the dome in a 1972 article titled "Room Galore but Hard to Subdivide." Mr. Kahn told the magazine, "In an ordinary square house, vitality sits down and dies in corners."

"I was young and foolish," he now says, citing the leaks that the domes were prone to, and their impractical shape. "You shouldn't make building a house a trip."

Nevertheless, "Home Work" is rife with trippy 1960's-style characters, who seem to have spent the interim marinating in formaldehyde. Perhaps only Mr. Kahn, a specialist in obscurity, whose bookshelves are lined with titles like "African Spaces: Designs for Living in Upper Volta," could discover people like Louie Fraser, whose house on the Mendocino coast is approached by swinging on a cable over a river. Or Ian MacLeod, a Scotsman living in South Africa, who was inspired to build his house while entirely in the nude because his hillside adjoined a nudist resort.

Then there is the potter who is also a massage therapist and runs a belly dance troupe on the side. (She lives in a tepee, natch.)

But for every zome — a house in the shape of a rhombic viacontahedron — Mr. Kahn also celebrates unsung vernacular structures like Kickapoo wigwams and Nepalese monasteries. He implicitly makes connections between handmade dwellings, wherever they may be and regardless of maker, and those put up by people who opt out of the mainstream, linking the structures through the warmth and character he sees in them.

Though unheralded by scholars, Mr. Kahn "kicked off the appreciation of the worldwide vernacular," said Peter Nabokov, a professor of world arts and cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. "He combined 60's values, especially an appreciation of appropriate technology, with ethnic cultures — the esthetic pleasures of the found, ignored and jury-rigged."

By bearing witness to the communal values of the 1960's and editing the countercultural classics "Domebook One" and "Domebook 2" in the early 1970's, Mr. Kahn also became, perhaps inadvertently, a social historian. In "Shelter," he invited the Red Rockers, a dome commune, to reflect on their second thoughts. "After years of lying in a heap," they wrote, "most of us have decided that in order to keep becoming new people, to keep growing and changing, we need more privacy."

His latest book showcases numerous homes destined to make Park Avenue decorators weep, among them Timolandia near San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, an undulating concrete fantasy house with the architectural intensity of a ravenous boa constrictor.

Mr. Kahn's inclusive spirit grew out of the literature of the Whole Earth period, along with books like "What Color Is Your Parachute?" and "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot," by John Muir.

"There is so much zest and Darwinian knowledge lodged in this stuff," Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth organization, said of vernacular structures championed by Mr. Kahn. "He basically disintermediates the profession by taking away the architects and the builders, who often lead you away from what you really want."

Mr. Kahn spent the 1980's publishing running and fitness books. At 65, he taught himself how to skateboard. He recently kayaked solo from Bolinas to San Francisco, a journey of more than five hours. On the road scouting architecture, he camps in a Toyota Tacoma pickup with a solar heating system. A wild-turkey feather dangles from an air vent, and on the dashboard a note reminds him, "Don't Skate When You're Tired."

"When you learn a physical skill when you're old," he said, "you have to pay attention. It's good for your brain." He remains, at 69, the quintessential do-it-yourselfer, donning a wet suit and paddling out on his surfboard to harvest seaweed for nori omelets. He has taught himself how to play the jug, demonstrating: "woomp boooop booop woom woompadoop."

"I believe in utilizing what's there," he said.

This philosophy applies especially to his house, set in organic gardens, which, as his wife, a self-described Victorian, put it, include "one of everything." Several buildings, including a studio that is the headquarters of Shelter Publishing, are built of wood recycled from Navy barracks. He gathered the shingles in the 70's at high tide, combing the beach for driftwood, levering the logs into the water and paddling them over to his truck.

The Kahns' outdoor sauna and shower are solar-heated. "The heat is provided by the sun, and it's free, so it feels different," he said. "It's similar to the way food tastes better when cooked over wood. Water feels better heated by the sun."

MR. KAHN developed an enthusiasm for building at 12, shoveling sand into a concrete mixer and nailing decking to the roof of the family's weekend house in the Central Valley. "I loved the smell of sawdust and putting things together," he said. He joined the Air Force in 1958. There he edited a military newspaper. Upon returning to the Bay Area, he constructed a sod-roof house, the first house he built. He joined his father in the insurance business in 1960, when San Francisco was starting to percolate. "It was the era of organic gardening and of dolphins' communicating," he said. Realizing that he identified more with younger people than with insurance brokers, "I left my generation."

He moved to Big Sur, where he built houses and became a dome proselytizer, eventually supervising the building of dozens of domes at a "hippie boarding school" near Santa Cruz. "Domes were the ultimate outlaw fantasy," said Bob Easton, a Montecito architect, who edited the Domebooks and "Shelter" with Mr. Kahn. "There was a sense that you could live with freedom, that imagination and expression were mainstream. These were folks who were able to bust out."

In the 1970's, the Kahns, who now have two grown children (he has an older son by a previous marriage), strove for self-sufficiency here in Bolinas, raising goats, bees and chickens. "Nobody's totally self-sufficient," he said. "Self-sufficiency is just a direction you're moving in. It's about finding the right balance."

They added to the house and garden as needed, putting up an adobe greenhouse with handmade bricks (one part cement to two parts sand). "The quality of an owner-built house may not be at the level of a professional," he said, "but you have a different relationship to it. It's like having a baby."

Next month, Mr. Kahn is publishing "Wonderful Houses Around the World," a children's book about family life in unusual dwellings like Tunisian underground houses, with photographs by Yoshio Komatsu.

He clearly believes fervently that the renegade spirit of domes, zomes and other mortgage-free hippie oddities remains relevant. "You save hundreds of thousands of dollars and get the house you want," he said. "What you build for yourself is better quality, just like the tomatoes you grow or the quilts you make."

Kevin Kelly, the founder and editor of Wired magazine, said that the Internet has made Mr. Kahn's vision of handmade and home-built more accessible and powerful than ever. In some ways he is the progenitor of the new do-it-yourself movement, which manifests itself every Labor Day weekend at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. "The fringe often moves center," Mr. Kelly said. "Technology increases the options and customability of a house, and the material world is now hackable. What Lloyd provides is the sense of recasting your space to suit your own specifications. He's saying money alone doesn't get you character."

An abandoned orange and white Volkswagen van sits in weeds on a gravel road leading down to the Pacific near Mr. Kahn's house. It would seem a quaint period piece. except for a lone survivor in the rust: a bumper sticker that reads, "Home Is Heaven on Earth."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

In White AmeriKa

October 18, 2004
Study Says White Families' Wealth Advantage Has Grown

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 (AP) - The enormous wealth gap between white families and black and Hispanic families grew larger after the most recent recession, a private analysis of government data has found.

White households had a median net worth of greater than $88,000 in 2002, 11 times that of Hispanic households and more than 14 times that of black households, the Pew Hispanic Center said in the study, being released Monday.

Blacks were slowest to emerge from the economic downturn that started in 2000 and ended early in 2001, the report found.

Net worth accounts for the value of items like a home and a car, checking and savings accounts, and stocks, minus debts like mortgage, car loans and credit card bills.

Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said the accumulation of wealth allows low-income families to rise into the middle class and "have some kind of assets beyond next week's paychecks."

"Having more assets enabled whites to ride out the jobless recovery better," Mr. Suro said.

According to the group's analysis of Census Bureau data, nearly one-third of black families and 26 percent of Hispanic families were in debt or had no net assets, compared with 11 percent of white families.

"Wealth is a measure of cumulative advantage or disadvantage," said Roderick Harrison, a researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington research organization that focuses on black issues. "The fact that black and Hispanic wealth is a fraction of white wealth also reflects a history of discrimination."

After accounting for inflation, net worth increased 17 percent for white households from 1996 to 2002 and 14 percent for Hispanic homes, to about $7,900. It fell for black households by 16 percent, to roughly $6,000.

The median net worth for all American households, representing all races and ethnicities, was $59,700 in 2002, a 12 percent gain from 1996.

Only white homes recouped all their losses from 2001 to 2002. Both Hispanics and blacks lost nearly 27 percent of net worth from 1999 to 2001; the next year Hispanics gained it almost all back (26 percent), while blacks were up only about 5 percent.

Mr. Harrison said Hispanics were more insulated from the downturn than blacks, so they suffered less. For example, Hispanics made employment gains in lower-paid, lower-skilled areas like service and construction.

Blacks were hit hard by job losses in the manufacturing industry and in professional fields, where they were victims of "last hired, first fired" policies, he said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Our Next Supreme Court Under George W. Bush

October 18, 2004
Imagining America if George Bush Chose the Supreme Court

Abortion might be a crime in most states. Gay people could be thrown in prison for having sex in their homes. States might be free to become mini-theocracies, endorsing Christianity and using tax money to help spread the gospel. The Constitution might no longer protect inmates from being brutalized by prison guards. Family and medical leave and environmental protections could disappear.

It hardly sounds like a winning platform, and of course President Bush isn't openly espousing these positions. But he did say in his last campaign that his favorite Supreme Court justices were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and the nominations he has made to the lower courts bear that out. Justices Scalia and Thomas are often called "conservative," but that does not begin to capture their philosophies. Both vehemently reject many of the core tenets of modern constitutional law.

For years, Justices Scalia and Thomas have been lobbing their judicial Molotov cocktails from the sidelines, while the court proceeded on its moderate-conservative path. But given the ages and inclinations of the current justices, it is quite possible that if Mr. Bush is re-elected, he will get three appointments, enough to forge a new majority that would turn the extreme Scalia-Thomas worldview into the law of the land.

There is every reason to believe Roe v. Wade would quickly be overturned. Mr. Bush ducked a question about his views on Roe in the third debate. But he sent his base a coded message in the second debate, with an odd reference to the Dred Scott case. Dred Scott, an 1857 decision upholding slavery, is rarely mentioned today, except in right-wing legal circles, where it is often likened to Roe. (Anti-abortion theorists say that the court refused to see blacks as human in Dred Scott and that the same thing happened to fetuses in Roe.) For more than a decade, Justices Scalia and Thomas have urged their colleagues to reverse Roe and "get out of this area, where we have no right to be."

If Roe is lost, the Center for Reproductive Rights warns, there's a good chance that 30 states, home to more than 70 million women, will outlaw abortions within a year; some states may take only weeks. Criminalization will sweep well beyond the Bible Belt: Ohio could be among the first to drive young women to back-alley abortions and prosecute doctors.

If Justices Scalia and Thomas become the Constitution's final arbiters, the rights of racial minorities, gay people and the poor will be rolled back considerably. Both men dissented from the Supreme Court's narrow ruling upholding the University of Michigan's affirmative-action program, and appear eager to dismantle a wide array of diversity programs. When the court struck down Texas' "Homosexual Conduct" law last year, holding that the police violated John Lawrence's right to liberty when they raided his home and arrested him for having sex there, Justices Scalia and Thomas sided with the police.

They were just as indifferent to the plight of "M.L.B.," a poor mother of two from Mississippi. When her parental rights were terminated, she wanted to appeal, but Mississippi would not let her because she could not afford a court fee of $2,352.36. The Supreme Court held that she had a constitutional right to appeal. But Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented, arguing that if M.L.B. didn't have the money, her children would have to be put up for adoption.

That sort of cruelty is a theme running through many Scalia-Thomas opinions. A Louisiana inmate sued after he was shackled and then punched and kicked by two prison guards while a supervisor looked on. The court ruled that the beating, which left the inmate with a swollen face, loosened teeth and a cracked dental plate, violated the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. But Justices Scalia and Thomas insisted that the Eighth Amendment was not violated by the "insignificant" harm the inmate suffered.

This year, the court heard the case of a man with a court appearance in rural Tennessee who was forced to either crawl out of his wheelchair and up to the second floor or be carried up by court officers he worried would drop him. The man crawled up once, but when he refused to do it again, he was arrested. The court ruled that Tennessee violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by not providing an accessible courtroom, but Justices Scalia and Thomas said it didn't have to.

A Scalia-Thomas court would dismantle the wall between church and state. Justice Thomas gave an indication of just how much in his opinion in a case upholding Ohio's school voucher program. He suggested, despite many Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, that the First Amendment prohibition on establishing a religion may not apply to the states. If it doesn't, the states could adopt particular religions, and use tax money to proselytize for them. Justices Scalia and Thomas have also argued against basic rights of criminal suspects, like the Miranda warning about the right to remain silent.

President Bush claims to want judges who will apply law, not make it. But Justices Scalia and Thomas are judicial activists, eager to use the fast-expanding federalism doctrine to strike down laws that protect people's rights. Last year, they dissented from a decision upholding the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees most workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one. They said Congress did not have that power. They have expressed a desire to strike down air pollution and campaign finance laws for similar reasons.

Neither President Bush nor John Kerry has said much about Supreme Court nominations, wary of any issue whose impact on undecided voters cannot be readily predicted. But voters have to think about the Supreme Court. If President Bush gets the chance to name three young justices who share the views of Justices Scalia and Thomas, it could fundamentally change America for decades.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company |

A War Without Reason

October 18, 2004


Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
- President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002

There should no longer be any doubt that the war in Iraq is an exercise in lunacy. It was launched with a spurious rationale, the weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be a fantasy relentlessly stoked by obsessively hawkish middle-aged men who ran and hid when they were of fighting age and the nation was at war.

Now we find that we can't win this war we started. Soldiers and civilians alike are trapped in the proverbial briar patch, unable to move around safely in a country that the warmongers thought would be easy to conquer and then rebuild.

There is no way to overstate how profoundly wrong they were.

Our troops continue to die but we can't even identify the enemy, which is why so many innocent Iraqi civilians - including women and children - are being blown away. The civilians are being killed by the thousands, even as the dreaded Saddam Hussein is receiving first-class health care (most recently a successful hernia operation) from his captors.

Last week, in a story that read like a chapter from an antiwar novel, we learned that members of an Army Reserve platoon were taken into custody and held for two days after they refused to deliver a shipment of fuel to Taji, a town 15 miles north of Baghdad. They complained that the trip was too dangerous to make without an escort of armored vehicles. Several of the reservists described the trip as a "suicide mission."

The military said that was an isolated incident, but there is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the troops, many of whom feel they are targets surrounded by hostile Iraqis -insurgents and ordinary civilians alike - in a war that lacks a clearly defined mission.

Even the heavily fortified Green Zone, which contains the U.S. embassy and the headquarters of the interim Iraqi government, was penetrated by suicide bombers last Thursday. At least five people, including three Americans who had been providing security for diplomats, were killed in the attack.

As the pointlessness of this war grows ever clearer, the president's grand alliance, like some of the soldiers on the ground, is losing its resolve. When John Kerry, in the first presidential debate, mentioned only Britain and Australia as he mocked Mr. Bush's "coalition" in Iraq, the president famously replied, "You forgot Poland."

Poland has 2,400 troops in Iraq. But on Friday the prime minister, Marek Belka, announced that he will cut that number early next year, and then "will engage in talks on a further reduction."

Mr. Belka has a political problem. He can't explain the war to his constituents. And that's because there is no rational explanation.

As for the rebuilding of Iraq, forget about it. Hundreds of schools were damaged by U.S. bombing and thousands were looted by Iraqis. It's hard to believe that an administration that won't rebuild schools here in America will really go to bat for schoolkids in Iraq. Millions of Iraqi kids now attend schools that are decrepit and, in many cases, all but falling down-lacking such essentials as desks, chairs and even toilets, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

Military commanders are warning that delays in the overall reconstruction are increasing the danger for American troops. A senior American military officer told The Times, "We can either put Iraqis back to work, or we can have them shoot [rocket-propelled grenades] at us."

The president and his apologists never understood what they were getting into in Iraq. What is unmistakable now is that Americans will never be willing to commit the overwhelming numbers of troops and spend the hundreds of billions of additional dollars necessary to have even a hope of bringing long-term stability to Iraq.

This is a war that never made sense and now we are seeing - from the troops on the ground, from our allies overseas and increasingly from the population here at home - the inevitable reluctance to forge ahead with the madness.

The president likes to say he made exactly the right decision on Iraq. Each new death of a soldier or a civilian, each child who loses a parent to the carnage, each healthy body that is broken or burned in this war that didn't have to happen, is a reminder of how horribly wrong he was.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company