In today’s New York TimesAdam Liptak writes that many U.S. prisons keep female prisoners shackled while they are in labor.
Shawanna Nelson, a prisoner at the McPherson Unit in Newport, Ark., had been in labor for more than 12 hours when she arrived at Newport Hospital on Sept. 20, 2003. Ms. Nelson, whose legs were shackled together and who had been given nothing stronger than Tylenol all day, begged, according to court papers, to have the shackles removed.
Although her doctor and two nurses joined in the request, her lawsuit says, the guard in charge of her refused.
“She was shackled all through labor,” said Ms. Nelson’s lawyer, Cathleen V. Compton. “The doctor who was delivering the baby made them remove the shackles for the actual delivery at the very end.”
This is absurd on its face, but only two states — California and Illinois — have laws forbidding the shackling of prisoners in labor. But this is my favorite part:
Corrections officials say they must strike a balance between security and the well-being of the pregnant woman and her child.
“Though these are pregnant women,” said Dina Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, “they are still convicted felons, and sometimes violent in nature. There have been instances when we’ve had a female inmate try to hurt hospital staff during delivery.”
Listen, Dina, laboring women who are not convicts have tried to hurt hospital and delivery staff during delivery. (A couple of hours before my daughter entered the world I tried to get out of bed to strangle a nurse. True story. She wouldn’t bring me ice chips! What was I supposed to do?)
However, women in labor rarely become homicidal or escape from hospitals by tying sheets together and lowering themselves out of the window. This is especially true once the contractions are two minutes apart or less. Two minutes or less doesn’t give you time to accomplish much.
The shackles really are cruel, because laboring women need to be able to move around, sometimes even walk around. It helps.
On the other hand I wouldn’t hand a loaded gun to a woman in labor — especially while the baby’s father’s in range.
Human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad now as they were under Saddam Hussein, as lawlessness and sectarian violence sweep the country, the former U.N. human rights chief in Iraq said Thursday.
John Pace, who last month left his post as director of the human rights office at the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, said the level of extra-judicial executions and torture is soaring, and morgue workers are being threatened by both government-backed militia and insurgents not to properly investigate deaths.
“Under Saddam, if you agreed to forgo your basic right to freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less OK,” Pace said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But now, no. Here, you have a primitive, chaotic situation where anybody can do anything they want to anyone.”
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said this yesterday: “I hope people don’t draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing. He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times.”
But where, then, is the first-hand evidence of this engagement? Where is the evidence of Bush’s leadership?
The government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was (and continues to be) a massive failure. The new videotape offers a visceral illustration of how some, if not a lot of the blame, lay in a leader who saw his job as expressing unjustified confidence and making empty promises, rather than taking action to make sure his people were safe.
Hurricane Katrina (as I wrote as early as Aug. 31 ) was the second great challenge of Bush’s presidency.
Which inevitably makes me think of how Bush responded, in a moment also “caught on tape,” to his first. After finding out that the nation was under attack on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush remained frozen in his seat in a Florida classroom for seven minutes.
The grainy video from that classroom, a hallmark of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” can be found at The Memory Hole.
A staff report from the 9/11 commission described that morning:
“The President was seated in a classroom of second graders when, at approximately 9:05, Andrew Card whispered to him: ‘A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.’ The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis.”
But even after he left the classroom, he didn’t call the Pentagon. He didn’t ask if there were other aircraft hijacked or missing. Instead, he and his staff worked on a statement to the press.
Faced with challenges like these — an attack on our nation or a natural disaster bearing down on our shores — we can reasonably expect that our presidents will stand up, demand answers and options, and lead.
If the White House insists that Bush did that with Hurricane Katrina, it is incumbent upon them to back up that claim up with evidence. Otherwise, the image of him mouthing platitudes threatens to become defining of his presidency.
Tuesday night, ABC Newsâ€™ Elizabeth Vargas asked the President about the administrationâ€™s response to Katrina, and the failures of the Homeland Security Department, an institution the president opposed until it became politically impossible to do so. The President admitted, â€œThere was no situational awareness, and that means that we weren’t getting good, solid information from people who were on the groundâ€¦in many cases we were relying upon the media, who happened to have better situational awareness than the government.â€
Viewers must have been confused. Was that supposed to be an excuse or an explanation? How in the world was such a failure possible four years after 9/11? The President even offered DHS head Michael Chertoff his own â€œBrownieâ€ moment during the interview, saying that he thinks heâ€™s â€œdoing a fine jobâ€. Given the Presidentâ€™s assessment of Michael Brownâ€™s job in New Orleans and the Congressional Medals of Honor be bestowed on Paul â€œPace Yourselfâ€ Bremer and George â€œSlam Dunkâ€ Tenet â€“ one can only imagine what it takes to demonstrate genuine incompetence in this administration.
And the moral is, strutting around in a flight suit is not “leadership.” I think finally most people are catching on.
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Republicans representative of their permanent establishment have recently and quietly sent emissaries to President Bush, like diplomats to a foreign ruler isolated in his forbidden city, to probe whether he could be persuaded to become politically flexible. These ambassadors were not connected to the elder Bush or his closest associate, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, who was purged last year from the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and scorned by the current president. Scowcroft privately tells friends who ask whether he could somehow help that Bush would never turn to him for advice. So, in one case, a Republican wise man, a prominent lawyer in Washington who had served in the Reagan White House, sought no appointments or favors and was thought to be unthreatening to Bush, gained an audience with him. In a gentle tone, he explained that many presidents had difficult second terms, but that by adapting their approaches they ended successfully, as President Reagan had. Bush instantly replied with a vehement blast. He would not change. He would stay the course. He would not follow the polls. The Republican wise man tried again. Oh, no, he didn’t mean anything about polls. But Bush fortified his wall of self-defensiveness and let fly with another heated riposte that he would not change.
I hate to say I told you so — well, um, actually I get a charge out of saying I told you so, truth be told — but I predicted this. Late last year all manner of conservative pundits smugly assured us that Bush’s falling poll numbers didn’t mean nothin’. Lots of presidents were low in the polls going into the second term. All Bush had to do is make some staff changes, maybe launch some new initiatives, and he’d be back on track. But I wrote last November that no way was Bush going to make staff changes:
Bushâ€™s White House staff is not so much a staff as it is a coccoon of co-dependency, a team dedicated to the care and maintenance of Bushâ€™s mighty persona. New people might actually try to follow their job descriptions and be staff, rather than enablers. That would not do at all.
Bush needs his old gang around him, because they are extensions of himself.
Within the sanctum of the White House, his aides often handle him with flattery. They tell him that he is among the greatest presidents, that his difficulties are testimony to his greatness, that his refusal to change is also a sign of his greatness. The more is he flattered, the more he approves of the flatterer. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has risen along with her current of flattery. She is expert at the handwritten little note extolling his historical radiance. Karen Hughes, now undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, was a pioneer of the flatterer’s method. White House legal counsel Harriet Miers is also adept.
Bush the Bubble Boy is eatin’ this up. He’s persuaded himself that he is FDR, Harry Truman and Abe Lincoln rolled together into one package of presidential perfection. The entire United States of America, its people and institutions, exist only to give George W. Bush his glory fix.
But it is Vice President Dick Cheney who has sought and gained the most through flattery. While Bush is constantly and lavishly complimented as supreme leader, Cheney runs the show. Through his chief of staff, David Addington, he controls most of the flow of information, especially on national security, that reaches the incurious president. Bush seeks no contrary information or independent sources. He does not delve into the recesses of government himself, as Presidents Kennedy and Clinton did. He never demands worst-case scenarios. Cheney and his team oversee the writing of key decision memos before Bush finally gets to check the box indicating approval.
Addington also dominates much of the bureaucracy through a network of conservative lawyers placed in key departments and agencies. The Justice Department regularly produces memos to justify the latest wrinkle in the doctrine of the “unitary executive,” whether on domestic surveillance or torture. At the Defense Department, the counsel’s office takes direction from Addington and acts at his behest to suppress dissent from the senior military on matters such as detainees or the “global war on terror.”
Tightly regulated by Cheney and Bush’s own aides (who live in fear of Cheney), the president hears what he wishes to hear. They also know what particular flattery he wants to receive, and they ensure that he receives it
There’s a word for organizations like this — dysfunctional.
Last night I linked to the newly discovered pre-Katrina video that shows President Bush beng told Katrina could be bad. The Associated Press reported:
In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans’ Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.
Bush didn’t ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: “We are fully prepared.”
Referring multiple times to Katrina as â€œthe big one,â€ Brown also told Bush that the Louisiana Superdome, sitting 12 feet below sea level, might also fall apart and create, in the ex-FEMA chiefâ€™s words, â€œa catastrophe within a catastrophe.â€
Bush asked no questions during the briefing â€“ can you imagine Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter sitting silently with something of this scope about to happen in our country? â€“ and showed no evidence of grasping the magnitude of the hit New Orleans was about to take.
Then, four days after Katrina struck, Bush appeared on television and acted as if the hurricaneâ€™s potential for severe damage was a surprise to everyone. “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,” Bush said in an interview with ABC News.
Listen, here’s the problem that happened in Katrina. There was no situational awareness, and that means that we weren’t getting good, solid information from people who were on the ground, and we need to do a better job.
Translation: Nobody told me nothin’, so it ain’t my fault. And that was a lie.
As the tragedy of Katrina unfolded we heard a number of excuses for the President’s odd behavior, including the argument that disaster response isn’t really the federal government’s job. Whatever bad happened was entirely the fault of state and local governments. But here we see Bush telling those state and local government officials that the feds were “fully prepared” to respond and would send every resource at their disposal.
Hoping to counteract the damage of the story, the White House leaked Newsweek transcripts from daily noon FEMA conference calls during and after Katrina to show how engaged and concerned Dubya was. Trouble is, these are transcripts that they had initially refused to provide to congressional investigators.
Once again, we see that the Bushies are helplessly inept at responding to a crisis, but nobody can beat ’em at political damage control. Does this, perhaps, tell us something about Bushie priorities?
I’ll have more to say later today about the ongoing struggle between Bush and Reality. But let’s think a minute about the struggle between Bush and Competence. I’ve said before that I’ve had the misfortune of working for a lot of incompetent bosses, but even the dumbest among those understood that if some Big Bleeping Deal was going in they had to at least look as if they were busily engaged with it. Yet while corpses rotted on the streets of New Orleans, Bush was merrily traipsing around the country cutting cakes and playing rock star.
Another excuse is that his staff wasn’t keeping him informed. Even if that’s true, this says to me that the President feels absolutely no sense of responsibility for keeping himself informed. Before the hurricane he sat in a room with a bunch of experts who told him there could be devastating damage and loss of life. Yet he was so disinterested in the aftermath that it took him days to catch up to what everyone else in the country was watching on television.
According to Mark Hosenball of Newsweek, the transcripts the White House had initially refused to provide congressional investigators are supposed to show that the President really was engaged in the Katrina disaster but had been given conflicting information about the levee breach.
So instead of demanding better information, Bush traipses around the country cutting cakes and playing rock star. Yeah, I’m real reassured.
If the confusion had lasted only a few hours one might blame bureaucratic incompetence, which I’ll come back to in a second. But the hurricane struck on Monday and Bush didn’t grasp how bad the situation was until Friday (if then). And that was only because his staff put together a DVD of news reports and urged him to watch it.
Regarding the bureaucratic incompetence — the White House continues to have these little communications glitches, as the recent gun accident episode revealed (once again). Is Bush rattling the cages in the White House and demanding better performance from his staff? Has he ever? If so, it ain’t workin’.
Without knowing the man personally it is hard to know why the President is so disturbingly warped. Theories I’ve heard include brain damage from substance abuse and personality disorder resulting from emotionally unavailable parents. We might also reflect on the fact that in his whole life Bush has rarely if ever been in a position to have to work for someone else. Maybe on paper, on some Harken Oil organizational chart, Bush “reported” to somebody. But in reality whatever positions he was given came to him because of his family connections. He was never expected to perform any function except grace the boardroom with his presence. The work of the company just kind of happened without his participation. Maybe he doesn’t know that normally executives are supposed to do stuff.
Whatever. Bottom line, the boy ain’t right.
Maybe the Constitution needs a “twit” clause — a provision for removing a President who is pathologically out to lunch.