best when viewed in low light

4.30.2007

Apologize, Damn It!

A tipster reports that Queen Elizabeth has been asked to make a formal apology to the United States for its role in suppressing colonists in the United States...or was it slavery? Anywho, post a link, please.

And in other news: the Virginia House & Senate passed a resolution apologizing for Virginia's role in the African slave trade.

Some of the problematic wording in the resolution:
"...the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history, and the abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding."

Present tense, bitches.

"Inappropriate Thoughts"

Users of Tetrahydrocannabinol please note: Serious side effects, like the thinking of (and perhaps - egads! - acting upon) inappropriate thoughts may occur as a result of your usage.

Crazy is a point of view, ok? What some may call crazy, I like to call "inventive" or "risky", sometimes even "genius".

So maybe you can't distinguish between your multiple personalities? Who cares? You know you're the only one who's not functioning as a drone in society's increasingly-complex and alienating beehive! Really, you should feel sorry for the people that only have one personality to use, because really, how nice does it feel to stretch out that homicidal instinct every once in a while? Especially after a long morning of self-inflicted victimhood and a good long draught of self-deprecation and deception? It just lets everything fall back into place, right?

I feel you.

Know what I love after a long day of pretending to be someone I'm not?

A nice, phat joint.

Does A Vagina Really Make You THAT Insecure?

What a male fantasy!

The horror? Women will buy it!

Years later, you will realize that your increased sex drive and decreased body mass are only clouding your insight. What you were really looking for all along was a man who loved you for who you are (not who you made him believe you were). And, rarest of rare, a man who can actually fuck a woman (instead of an undermined, insecure girl with hips the size of a 14-year-old boy and an ego the size of a pea).

Once you figure that out, maybe you'll drop these pills and get yourself a real man.

Gentlemen, please stop fooling yourselves: It's not them, it's you.

4.27.2007

Conspiracy Shmonspiracy


Warning! This is not actually about "the news" per se. Or even inspired by some media I've recently absorbed.


Actually, I had a very entertaining dinner conversation last night, and it's kind of set me on a particular train of thought. It's a great treat to sit around a table with a group of smart, opinionated, totally insane people, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.


But, much of our conversation seemed to revolve around the same idea: conspiracy of control, and conspiracy of power.


I distinguish between these two things because, in the former case, we're talking about political and social management - groups like the Illuminati and the Freemasons would fall into this category. In the latter case, we're talking about language, image, symbol and media influence used in service to one person's (or one group's) agenda - no one person or group falls into this category all the time, but applies to many at certain times: Tom Cruise, Osama bin Laden, Paris Hilton, Anna Wintour, and Salman Rushdie all fall into this category (along with an endless list of others).


We navigated away from discussions of a New World Order pretty quickly, but the one thing that stuck in my mind is this:


Can you believe in conspiracies even when you observe how chaotically, desperately, irrationally and inconsistently the human species evolves?


Because if you can, I challenge you to create a logical, linear map of connections between the motives and actions of the practitioners of these conspiracies. I believe it can be done, but I've never seen it.


The other thing that I find fascinating about conspiracy theorists (if not the conspiracies themselves) is their desire for an explanation of things that they can not, or do not control. I can totally relate! Who the fuck elected George W Bush, when I would have made a much better President? It must be a conspiracy.


Ultimately, I fall on the side of not really caring either way. Here's why:


- If some group of superemely powerful individuals is controlling the planet, they're doing a terrible job, and need to be ignored or overthrown - whichever will contribute to more people getting what they want out of life sooner.


- If said group is controlling the planet, I have a hard time calculating exactly how they are gaining from all the wars, diseases, economic volatility, environmental degradation, religious fundamentalism and simultaneous decline, independent and corporate media, exhaustion of resources and social dysfunction that they are apparently planning and executing for their own benefit.


- Most people never control shit anyway. Most people don't want to be in control, of their own lives, even. So, great, there's a group of megalomaniacs telling those people what to do. Good for them.


- I'm either destined to be in this group or I'm not. Until I get "tapped" or threatened with death for my rebellious and revolutionary actions, I'll never know. But that's not going to stop me from taking every possible opportunity to make this world a better place for everyone.


- Get over the entitlement that life is fair, that "the people" have a say, that we all have the right to a more rewarding life experience.


Are you kidding? Wake up and smell the reality. Life sucks, and it's still up to you - New World Order or no - to make it what you want. Don't waste your opportunity complaining or pointing fingers. Fucking DO SOMETHING!

Lost In Space

It's an interesting argument: the human species must go into space to survive because...



Well, see, that's where the argument gets interesting. Because...why?



Don't get me wrong, I'm all for space travel. The deeply ingrained desire to expand human consciousness beyond our known physical and intellectual limitations is what makes our species so interesting (and so arrogant). Of course we want to go into space - we've been obsessed with darkness and the infinite unknown since the beginning of time. And I really mean the beginning of time, which, according to Daniel Boorstin, occurred somewhere during the development of Ancient Egyptian culture. And is, like the concept of "space", a totally human-centric means of defining and classifying fluidity in discrete, understandable packets.



But exploration and the desire for knowledge is different than a last-ditch effort to ensure the survival of the species (as if that was actually possible in space, or anywhere else). And here's where Stephen Hawking and others in the Space Ho! camp appear to be completely disconnected from themselves and any coherent understanding of the universe - even the concepts that he developed and promoted: the problems of the human species will not be solved by the easiest path to universal imperialism.



Ever seen Star Wars? Ever notice that the introduction says "A long time ago..."? To most people, these are just words that set the stage, an alternative to the standard "Once upon a time", but George Lucas thought long and hard about that phrase, and there's more to it than that. He sets his dark/light conflict in an ancient setting - just because they have huge flying machines, lasers and lightsabres does NOT mean they are living an evolved experience. In fact, it's the opposite. They are struggling through the exact same duality that humans do today, both individually and collectively. And the significance of this happening a long time ago, in a world of Emperors, Princesses and prodigal heroes, is simply to draw our attention to the cyclical, anti-evolutionary nature of humans.



Space travel does not equal the future.



Stephen Hawking is undeniably brilliant, and in many ways represents the future of human potential - a complete reliance on technology to provide the physical stability that we have neglected to nurture, in preference for a super-expanded brain. (His is a special case, certainly, and doesn't reflect a literal translation, only a symbol or template for what I'm suggesting.) For him, the severing of ties to our planet is a release, not a sacrifice. He is in bliss without his body.
But let's not be so quick to deny who we are and where we come from. This Earth is our home, not because we haven't figured out a way off of it yet, but because it gave birth to our species amidst chemical and physical upheavals, after a multi-million year gestation, and a long (though numerically disputed) infancy. Arguably, the human species has just made it into its "terrible twos" - just recognizing that we are separate from our mother and ready to forge our identities through the painful recognition of other-ness. We must do this by rejecting the umbilical hold of this Eden and scraping our living from the hostile outside universe.


I'm being overly metaphorical, but you get the point: we can't leave now just because we've fucked up the planet so much we may not be able to survive here. That's a cop out. And, of course, the dangers of the planet have existed for the entirety of human history, so the fear that is motivating us to leave now is just that - fear. We understand our own mortality - now that we have recognized our singularity - and we want to escape it.

How far are we going to go?

What happens when the sun expands into a supernova and devours our solar system? Mars isn't far enough to escape that.

One of the funniest things I've ever heard was in a college-level astronomy class. So, we're talking about the sun's evolution as a star, and the professor says something like:

"...and in about 5 billion years, the sun will expand so much that it will absorb our solar system, so it will be up to you and future generations to figure out a way to colonize other planets before that happens."

Here's what strikes me as funny about this:

- If humans haven't evolved in 5 billion years, please kill us.

- If humans haven't evolved past the desire to colonize, please kill us.

- We're talking astronomy here, people. This is the history of the universe, and it doesn't give a shit about us, because all we are is a collection of atoms that can and will be recreated in many other forms. Just be grateful for the collection you have now. Don't try to anticipate or control the future.

But what about the human soul?

What about it? Based on my observations of our actions, the existence of a soul is questionable, but let's assume it exists. Humanity is trapped between knowing the higher path and walking the animal path through the jungle of our existence. We are still living in caves, though some have electricity. We are still killing each other for dominance, though we cloak it in ideology and righteousness. Maybe when we start acting human, we'll have a shot at evolving.

So, in a round-about way I come to my point: just because some day we will be able to eke out an existence on other planets, doesn't mean that is the direction that our evolution will take. Or that it should.

Happy floating Dr. Hawking!

4.25.2007

Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

Talk about adding insult to injury. The UN is getting down on the Iraqi government for HUMAN fucking RIGHTS violations???!!!

Ummm, this is like the pot, no...more like the caldron calling the fucking kettle "black". The UN, though it is certainly supposed to represent the interests of all its member countries, is basically the "multilateral" arm of the Western powers. And, the UN has deployed troops to places all over the world in the interest of sustaining peace...

Let me take a moment here to interject. I'm all for peace, even though it's a human fantasy. We live in a world of violence, from the day we are born until we die. Our birthing is violent, our eating is violent, our force-based social hierarchy is violent, our internal and external race-, gender- and culture wars are violent. Get over the peace thing. And that's different than being a warmonger, it's called being realistic. Anywho...

The UN has sent troops (funny that an international diplomatic organization has troops, huh?) to places all over the world in an attempt to sustain peace, but always from the perspective of one party or another. Most often, it is to protect the status quo.

The only people attached to the status quo are the people who benefit from it. In this case, we're talking about the US and Europe (for the most part).

So, the US and Europe sent in the UN to evaluate the human rights status of Iraq, a country that had no weapons of mass destruction (we do), and a relatively stable government in place when we boldly INVADED. So, if we're talking about violating rights, I think we need to start this conversation from another point entirely.

Power to the People!

I just started watching the first in a four-disc set of Black Panter Party history, called "What We Want, What We Believe", and released by AK Press. It has everything: pro-Panther propaganda films, recent interviews with former (although I'd like to think that the old adage applies here: "Once a Panther, always a Panther") Panthers like Field Marshal Donald Cox, Free-Huey-P.-Newton protest footage... and much, much more!

This is a must-see, even for people that are anti-Panther philosophy. Or, especially people that are anti-Panther.

I don't agree with everything the BPP thought or did, but I honor the motivation, and I know that contemporary US culture would not be the same without them.

Some lessons from the Black Panther Party to keep in mind now:

1. Grassroots works. It's all about putting your "money" where your mouth is.

2. Force is used by the power structure to maintain its place in the social hierarchy and keep order, and it is the Constitutional right of every citizen of this country to protect him or her self from the unfair use of that force.

3. Anger is a powerful motivator.

4. You never get what you ask for unless you have something to offer in exchange (this is one that the BPP may not have learned, or not had time to apply).

5. If no one is going to give you what you want, you do what you have to do to take it.

6. Some day, the Revolution will come, and you will be part of it. Which part will you play?

4.24.2007

What's News? 4/24/07

Time for a quickie:

The "new" plan in Iraq isn't working according to plan. (BBC News)

Hamas gets bored and decides to fuck shit up in Israel. (Al Jazeera)

President Bush is (still) delusional. (NYT, 1st text item)

Yeltsin, the father of Communist-run capitalism, dies at age 76 [that's above average in Russia] (NYT, 2nd item)

Va Tech goes back to class. (Wash Post)


April 24, 2007
At Least the Boss Was Satisfied by Gonzales’s Answers

By
JIM RUTENBERG and NEIL A. LEWIS

WASHINGTON, April 23 — President Bush said Monday that the Congressional testimony of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales last week, roundly panned by members of both parties, had “increased my confidence in his ability to do the job.”

Speaking during a short question-and-answer session in the Oval Office, Mr. Bush said of Mr. Gonzales’s performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment, and answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer.”

Mr. Bush has repeatedly asserted his confidence in Mr. Gonzales, a longtime adviser, as criticism has mounted over the dismissals of eight
United States attorneys.

But his statement on Monday was his first direct comment about Mr. Gonzales since the attorney general appeared before the committee, and it was at considerable odds with an overwhelmingly critical assessment of his testimony by members of both parties. It indicated that Mr. Bush, at least for now, has concluded his attorney general can weather the challenge to his leadership at the Justice Department, barring any evidence of wrongdoing.

That challenge had seemed all the more daunting as of Sunday, when Senator
Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee whom both sides view as a barometer of support for Mr. Gonzales, appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and said, “The attorney general’s testimony was very, very damaging to his own credibility,” and that his continued tenure was “bad for the Department of Justice.”

Asked to comment on Mr. Bush’s assessment of Mr. Gonzales’s testimony on Monday, Mr. Specter said in a telephone interview, “I’m not going to get involved in evaluating the president’s decision to retain the attorney general.”

Mr. Specter added, “I will continue to work with the attorney general as long as he has that position.”

Several other Republican senators who have been critical of Mr. Gonzales, including Jeff Sessions of Alabama,
John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

With many lawmakers working in their home districts, it was unclear whether their unresponsiveness was a result of busy schedules or a concerted effort to avoid a running, tit-for-tat debate with the White House over Mr. Gonzales’s future.

One senior Republican Congressional aide at work in Washington on Monday, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, called Mr. Bush’s statement that his confidence in Mr. Gonzales had grown after his testimony “curious”; another senior Republican aide asked, “Was he watching the same hearing as everyone else?”

White House officials were confronted Monday with questions about whether Mr. Bush’s statements of confidence would ultimately be followed by a resignation, with reporters recalling that Mr. Bush had pledged support for
Donald H. Rumsfeld shortly before his ouster as defense secretary. “He’s staying,” the White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said of Mr. Gonzales in one such exchange on Monday morning.

Later, asked if Mr. Bush had seen all the testimony, Ms. Perino said the president had been traveling but had received updates from aides and had seen some of it on television news reports.

Pressure to push Mr. Gonzales out is likely to continue. Although Mr. Gonzales has sought to maintain the impression that the country’s legal business is going on without interruption, several Justice Department officials say that the attorney general and his advisers have been greatly distracted by the uproar.

Some administration allies had even voiced optimism last week that Mr. Gonzales would resign and spare Mr. Bush the discomfort of standing by him as support erodes even within his own party.

Speaking at a news briefing on Monday after announcing an initiative to fight identity theft, Mr. Gonzales indicated he had no such plan.

“I will stay as long as I can be effective, and I can be effective,” Mr. Gonzales said in response to questions about his plans.

He said he “can’t just be focused on the U.S. attorneys situation.”

“I’ve also got to be focused on what’s important for the American people,” he said.

Mr. Gonzales said he needed to spend time on his priorities, like combating terrorism, drug abuse and the danger to children from the Internet.

Emphasizing the point, the White House released a statement late Monday commending Mr. Gonzales and the Federal Trade Commission chairwoman, Deborah Platt Majoras, for their work on identity theft.

Asked how he knew he was still effective, Mr. Gonzales responded: “I think a cabinet secretary or the head of an agency every day should wake up and ask themselves that question: Am I still effective in this position? I think that’s a question that all of us should ask, every day.”

“And as long as I think that I can be effective,” he said, “and the president believes that I should continue to be at the head of the Department of Justice, I’ll continue serving as the attorney general.”

Mr. Gonzales added, “I’ve already indicated that I’ve made mistakes, and I accept responsibility for that.”

Mr. Bush has said all along that he would leave it to Mr. Gonzales to regain his credibility with Congress. And Mr. Gonzales’s testimony was viewed within both parties as a sort of screen test of whether he could remain in his job.

Members of the Senate committee expressed exasperation as Mr. Gonzales invoked a faulty memory more than 50 times when pressed about his involvement in the removal of the United States attorneys, saying he could not say how the idea of dismissing them originated or remember the details of a late November meeting with senior staff members at which the plan for the dismissals was discussed — and which he had attended, according to administration documents.

“If the attorney general’s hearing performance increased the president’s confidence in his ability to lead the Justice Department, then he’s setting the bar fairly low,” said Senator
Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in a statement on Monday.

He repeated his suspicions that the White House had removed the prosecutors because of partisan concerns that they were either not doing enough to prosecute Democrats on voter fraud charges or going too far in pressing corruption charges against
Republicans. The White House denies those accusations.

In defending Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Bush said the Justice Department was fully within its rights to replace the prosecutors, who serve at the pleasure of the president. And, he and other officials said, after releasing thousands of internal documents and submitting to questioning in the Senate, no evidence of illegality on Mr. Gonzales’s part had surfaced.

“The attorney general broke no law, did no wrongdoing,” Mr. Bush said. “And some senators didn’t like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could. This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence.”

Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor, said in an interview that as far as the White House was concerned, the public was not paying much attention to the debate over Mr. Gonzales and that there was “a disconnect” between what he termed Washington’s fascination with the issue and the public’s interest in it.

“There’s no traction with the public because there is no serious allegation of wrongdoing,” Mr. Bartlett said.
And, if Mr. Gonzales were to step down, officials argued, it would wrongly lead the public to conclude that he had done something wrong.

David Johnston contributed reporting.


April 24, 2007
Boris N. Yeltsin, Who Buried the U.S.S.R., Dies at 76
By MARILYN BERGER

Boris N. Yeltsin, the burly provincial politician who became a Soviet-era reformer and later a towering figure of his time as the first freely elected leader of Russia, presiding over the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Communist Party, died yesterday in Moscow. He was 76.

His death, at a hospital, came at 3:45 p.m., the Kremlin said, making the announcement without ceremony, a reflection of the contradictory legacy of Mr. Yeltsin’s presidency in the view of many Russians, including his successor, the current leader, President Vladimir V. Putin.

Medical officials told Russian news agencies that Mr. Yeltsin had died of heart failure after being admitted to the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow. He had suffered heart problems for years, undergoing surgery shortly after his disputed re-election as Russian president in 1996.

In office less than nine years, beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and plagued by severe health problems and an excessive fondness for alcohol, Mr. Yeltsin added a final chapter to his historical record when, in 1999, he stunned Russians and the world by announcing his resignation, becoming the first Russian leader to give up power on his own in accordance with constitutional processes. He then turned over the reins of office to Mr. Putin on New Year’s Eve 1999, and after that was out of the public eye.

Mr. Yeltsin was at once the country’s democratic father and a reviled figure blamed for most of the ills and hardships after the Soviet collapse. The last Soviet president and, for a time, his rival for power, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, speaking yesterday, called Mr. Yeltsin’s “a tragic fate.”

“I express the very deepest condolences to the family of the deceased on whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country, and serious mistakes,” Mr. Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency.

Mr. Putin released a statement late Monday declaring that Mr. Yeltsin had given the country democracy as the first elected president of Russia. “Under this title, he has taken his place in the history of this country, and of the world,” Mr. Putin said. He made no mention of Mr. Yeltsin’s role in his own rise to power. He declared April 25 a day of national mourning.

Mr. Yeltsin left a giant, if flawed, legacy. He started to establish a democratic state and then pulled back, lurching from one prime minister to another. But where Mr. Gorbachev sought to perpetuate the Communist Party, Mr. Yeltsin helped break the party’s hold over the Russian people. Although his commitment to reform wavered, Mr. Yeltsin eliminated censorship of the news media, tolerated public criticism and steered Russia toward a free market. The rapid privatization of industry led to a form of buccaneer capitalism and a new class of oligarchs, who usurped political power as they plundered the country’s resources.

But Mr. Yeltsin’s actions ensured that there would be no turning back to the centralized Soviet command economy, which had strangled growth and reduced a country of talented and cultured people and rich in natural resources to a beggar among nations.

Not least, Mr. Yeltsin was instrumental in dismembering the Soviet Union and allowing its former republics to make their way as independent states.

His leadership was erratic and often crude, and as a democrat he often ruled in the manner of a czar. He showed no reluctance to use the power of the presidency to face down his opponents, as he did in 1993, when he ordered tanks to fire on a Parliament dominated by openly seditious Communists, and as he did again in 1994, when he embarked on a harsh military operation to subdue the breakaway republic of Chechnya. It began a costly and ruinous war that almost became his undoing and that was ferociously revived in 1999 and still being waged when he resigned that year.

His relationship with the United States was a complicated one. President Clinton seized on the fall of the Soviet Union as an opportunity to advance American interests, and he and Mr. Yeltsin maintained a strikingly good rapport. In his dealings with Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Clinton was protective, careful not to tempt old-line Communists to try to turn the clock back to dictatorship. There was some success between the two countries on nuclear issues, the removal of Soviet troops from the Baltic states and Moscow’s cooperation with NATO as it expanded toward the borders of Russia itself.

Yesterday, expressions of condolence poured into Moscow. Tributes to his democratic leadership were tempered by criticism of the corruption and lawlessness of the 1990s, the two devastating wars in Chechnya that began on his watch and, perhaps most of all, the feeling that Russia had lost its stature on the world stage.

Still, Mr. Yeltsin received grudging praise even from old enemies, like the nationalist leader and presidential challenger in 2006, Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, who said the country was never freer than it was under Mr. Yeltsin. Boris E. Nemtsov, a liberal politician who was a deputy prime minister under Mr. Yeltsin, described him as “a very rare leader” in Russian history who believed in open political competition.

Although Mr. Nemtsov criticized parts of Mr. Yeltsin’s legacy, like the wars in Chechnya, he noted that Mr. Yeltsin had listened to dissent. “What is a pity is that his successor killed his initiatives and his successes,” Mr. Nemtsov said.

Heroism and Weakness

The Yeltsin era effectively began in August 1991, when Mr. Yeltsin, as president of the Soviet republic of Russia, clambered atop a tank to rally Muscovites to put down a right-wing coup against Mr. Gorbachev, a heroic moment etched in the minds of the Russian people and television viewers around the world; it ended with his electrifying resignation speech on New Year’s Eve 1999.

Those were Mr. Yeltsin’s finest hours in an era marked by extraordinary political and economic change. To turn around the battleship that was the Soviet Union — with its bloated military-industrial establishment, its ravaged economy, its despoiled environment and its antiquated health and social services system — would have been a herculean task for any leader in the prime of life and the best of health.

But Mr. Yeltsin, a dedicated but imperfect reformer, was a man in precarious health whose frequent disappearances from public life were attributed to heart and respiratory problems, heavy drinking and bouts of depression. These personal weaknesses left a sense of lost opportunity.

Still, a former United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack F. Matlock Jr., said that Mr. Yeltsin, along with Mr. Gorbachev, deserved credit for what he called a “tremendous achievement.”

Together, he said in an interview, “they destroyed the most monstrous political system in the history of the world, a regime with extensive resources to keep itself in power.”

Mr. Yeltsin was the most populist of politicians. He rejected the notion of forming a political party, insisting that he was elected by “all” of the people. But it was a position that left him weak at the task of building coalitions to further necessary reforms. He sometimes played with the truth and surrounded himself with cronies.

Then, in failing health and under suspicion of enriching himself and his inner circle at the expense of the state, he resigned. In a speech that surprised the world, he asked forgiveness for his mistakes and turned over the government to Mr. Putin, a loyal aide and former officer of the K.G.B. In return, Mr. Yeltsin — and, it was rumored, his family — received a grant of immunity from criminal prosecution and credit for leaving the Kremlin voluntarily.

Mr. Yeltsin left with his fondest wish for the Russian people only partly fulfilled. “I want their lives to improve before my own eyes,” he once said, remembering growing up in a single room in a cold, communal hut.

In fact, in the chaos that accompanied the transition from the centralized economy he had inherited from the old Soviet Union, most people saw their circumstances deteriorate. Inflation became rampant, the poor became poorer, profiteers grew rich, the military and many state employees went unpaid, and criminality flourished.

Mr. Gorbachev had sought to preserve the Soviet Union and, with his programs of glasnost and perestroika, to give Communism a more human dimension. Mr. Yeltsin, on the other hand, believed that democracy, the rule of law and the market were the answers to Russia’s problems.

A big man with a ruddy face and white hair, he was full of peasant bluster — what the Russians call a real muzhik — and came to Moscow with a genuine warmth and concern for his countrymen. On a visit to the United States in 1989, he became convinced that Russia had been ruinously damaged by its state-run economic system, in which people stood in long lines to buy the most basic needs of life and more often than not found the shelves bare. Visiting a Houston supermarket, he was overwhelmed by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans.

A Russia scholar, Leon Aron, quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote that Mr. Yeltsin was in a state of shock. “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands,” Mr. Aron wrote in his 2000 biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life.” “ ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.”

Mr. Yeltsin became a hero to the Russian people and a world figure that day in August 1991 when he climbed atop a Soviet Army tank and faced down right-wing forces who were threatening to overthrow Mr. Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Long a thorn in Mr. Gorbachev’s side and soon to become his most powerful rival, on that day Mr. Yeltsin was Mr. Gorbachev’s ally. “Citizens of Russia,” Mr. Yeltsin declared. “We are dealing with a right-wing, reactionary, anticonstitutional coup d’etat. We appeal to citizens of Russia to give an appropriate rebuff to the putschists.”

Thousands of Muscovites came out in the streets to support him, and the coup was defeated. But not long afterward he became the instrument of Mr. Gorbachev’s downfall and with it the dissolution of the Soviet state.

Mr. Yeltsin’s accomplishments are all the more remarkable given the odds against him. Bill Keller, who covered the Soviet Union for The New York Times from 1986 to 1991 and is now the paper’s executive editor, observed that when “Yeltsin emerged in the mid-1980s as the Communist Party boss of Moscow, a rambunctious, crowd-pleasing reformer, Western officials viewed him as an uninvited guest at the Gorbachev honeymoon.”

“What a flake!” Secretary of State James A. Baker III was said to have remarked after meeting Mr. Yeltsin. “He sure makes Gorbachev look good by comparison.”

To scholars on the left, he was an irksome distraction from the attempt to humanize Communism; to scholars on the right, his origins as a Communist functionary in the hinterlands made him suspect. “A typical provincial apparatchik” was the judgment of Dmitri K. Simes, a leading Russian scholar.

Yet Mr. Yeltsin had apparently been underestimated. He survived expulsion from the Communist Party Politburo in 1987, the Communist coup attempt in 1993, a failed effort to subdue Chechnya in 1994, a new challenge from the Communists in 1996, economic collapse in 1998 and a Communist-led drive to impeach him in 1999.

He also survived frequent bouts of influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia, quintuple bypass surgery in 1996, continuing heart problems, a bleeding ulcer, uncounted missed appointments and even the spectacle of toppling over at official ceremonies, due, it was widely believed, to overindulgence in vodka and bourbon.

Mr. Yeltsin may well be remembered less as a builder of institutions than as a destroyer of them. He dismantled the Soviet Union and the Communist Party, put an end to the centralized Soviet economy and crushed the putsch that threatened to return the country to the old ways.

But he could only begin the transition to a democratic, capitalist Russia based on the rule of law. The system he put in place, after fending off both legislative and military challenges, remains fragile, often incoherent and based on personality.

Nevertheless, Mr. Yeltsin brought about fundamental economic change: a market economy, however distorted and corrupt; an emerging younger class of business executives; and, in the last years of his presidency, a gradual reduction in crime.

Politically, too, his reforms had impact. The legislature began to shape politics, the news media kept most of their newly acquired freedoms, and political rivals competed openly in elections.

In his lifetime, the worst that many in Russia and the West had feared — a Communist revival or new fascism built on chaos — never materialized, although press freedoms have been curtailed under Mr. Putin and fears about the fragility of democracy in Russia have been stirred.

But Mr. Yeltsin failed when it came to the undramatic work of hammering out the political and economic framework needed to consolidate the new Russian state. His refusal to establish a new political party left him without a structure for his reforms.

“Yeltsin’s understanding is a tabula rasa,” said Vitaly T. Tretyakov, editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, one of Moscow’s most respected newspapers. “In economics, his knowledge is nil — nil. In how to construct a state, zero. It’s really the same in all fields. It’s not his fault, of course. To come to power, he had to contest everything. But leading is a different matter.”

Stymied by War and Resistance

Mr. Yeltsin was an adept politician, regarded as better than Mr. Gorbachev. But perhaps because of an embarrassingly boisterous style, he never received the respect and affection in the West accorded Mr. Gorbachev, who was loved for his Western manner and his willingness to end the cold war’s nuclear standoff.
Mr. Yeltsin was more of a democrat than his predecessor, but drawing on old habits from his years as a Communist Party boss, he surrounded himself with acolytes. They rarely told him what he did not want to hear, and led him into adventures like Chechnya.

Mr. Yeltsin’s evolution as a politician was ultimately stymied by the fierce opposition to the changes he brought and by the unpopular war he began in Chechnya, which he was unable to win and was unwilling to end.

His campaign to subdue the secessionists in Chechnya, starting in December 1994, left as many as 80,000 people dead. It undermined his moral authority and threatened his hold on power. It exposed the breakdown of the once-vaunted Russian military machine. And it raised concern about the stability of a country still holding a huge nuclear arsenal.

The killing of civilians and widespread human rights abuses in Chechnya tainted the image of a democratic Russia in the West.

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin first came to public attention in 1985, when Mr. Gorbachev brought him to Moscow from Sverdlovsk (now once again called Yekaterinburg), where he was party chief. He breezed into the capital, a bumptious provincial, and was soon jumping on trolley buses and demanding to know why they were not running on time and charging into stores to harangue managers over empty shelves.

When he was appointed by Mr. Gorbachev as head of the Moscow City Party Committee, Mr. Yeltsin declared war on bribery and corruption, fought against the privileges the party elite considered its right, and worked to get food — particularly fresh vegetables — into stores and private markets.

He sought to make the city more attractive and livable, with street cafes and fruit stalls. He encouraged a freer press.

It was when he brought his brusque manner and open criticism to the inner workings of the Communist Party that he fell afoul of his mentor, Mr. Gorbachev, creating a rupture that was never healed.

Mr. Yeltsin took the unusual step at a closed party plenum in 1987 of launching a personal attack on his conservative rival, Yegor K. Ligachev, and denouncing the lethargic pace of reform. His speech was not published, but his words percolated into the Moscow rumor mill.

Mr. Yeltsin’s break with the party had begun, and it was that moment that Mr. Gorbachev chose to humiliate him. He called Mr. Yeltsin away from his sickbed to face criticism from the Moscow Party, which then dismissed Mr. Yeltsin as Moscow Party leader and forced him to resign from the Politburo. Mr. Gorbachev gave him to a job in the construction bureaucracy.

Though Mr. Yeltsin was never rehabilitated by the party, Mr. Gorbachev and the party unwittingly provided the vehicle for his resurrection, by establishing an elected Parliament, the Congress of People’s Deputies. Mr. Yeltsin saw his chance and ran for office as an underdog and victim. Campaigning on television, he denounced the privileges of the party elite and in 1989 won a Moscow citywide seat in the Congress with a remarkable 90 percent of the vote.

Once in the Parliament, Mr. Yeltsin won the admiration of pro-democracy intellectuals, built alliances with nationalist leaders and established himself as the vital voice of Russia’s future, while casting Mr. Gorbachev as the ghost of the Soviet past.

Then in the spring of 1990, in another landslide, Mr. Yeltsin was elected to the Russian legislature, which voted him president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. But Mr. Yeltsin wanted a popular mandate and called for elections. He stunned his fellow delegates when he resigned from the Communist Party and still won the popular vote for the presidency on June 12, 1991.

That vote made him the first legitimately elected leader in the thousand years of Russian government, and provided him with an extraordinary forum for attacking Mr. Gorbachev’s policies.

It was two months later, in August 1991, that Mr. Yeltsin strode from his office in the Russian republic’s headquarters, the White House, to thwart a right-wing coup, an act of heroism that saved Mr. Gorbachev but also sealed the Soviet leader’s doom. From atop a T-72 tank, Mr. Yeltsin declared: “The legally elected president of the country has been removed from power. We proclaim all decisions and decrees of this committee to be illegal.”

His ability to rally Muscovites that night suggested that a democratic spirit was taking hold in a land that had known nothing but czars and commissars. Five days later, Mr. Gorbachev effectively closed the Bolshevik era when he resigned as general secretary of the Communist Party and dissolved its Central Committee.

Mr. Yeltsin saw himself as a man with a mission. “The system gave birth to me, and the system changed me,” he once said. “Now it is time for me to change the system.” Toward that end, days after he thwarted the coup, Mr. Yeltsin signed a decree suspending the activities of the Communist Party. And he created a Constitutional Court as a guarantee against the arbitrariness of the Soviet system, though the court later proved a pliable reed and revived the party.

But even as Mr. Yeltsin had taken for Russia the mantle of Soviet power, he entered uncharted territory, and his country was already in a shambles. He had to build a state in a country where the people with experience had been loyal to the system he had just destroyed. “I can’t say that we had to start from scratch,” he wrote, “but almost.”

Russia had moved from too strong a state to too weak a state. It had moved from autarky to dependence on goods from abroad. Under enormous pressures of economic disintegration and political disarray, Mr. Yeltsin set about to negotiate the dismantling of the Soviet Union and its republics.

Mr. Yeltsin first let the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia go their own way, ending Mr. Gorbachev’s increasingly violent efforts to keep them tied to the Soviet empire.

By the end of that year, with the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine, he broke the Soviet Union apart and negotiated what became the Commonwealth of Independent States. But the grouping, dominated by Russia and plagued by ineffectiveness and lingering suspicions, was eventually all but abandoned as a useful instrument.

Faced with an embittered Russian nationalism at home, Mr. Yeltsin reasserted Russian economic rights and tried to defend the rights of Russian nationals left stranded and unhappy in the new countries.

And under his command, Russia organized an independent (if demoralized) army and took control of most of the Soviet nuclear inheritance as well as the Soviet Union’s seat on the United Nations Security Council.

He also took on the Soviet debt. Mr. Yeltsin continued to pursue Mr. Gorbachev’s policy of cooperation with the West, not least because economic aid could come only from that direction. He reaffirmed Russia’s adherence to arms control treaties and to extensive arms reductions.

In his second term, despite resilient opposition from nationalists, he acquiesced in an expansion of NATO toward Russia’s western border.

But his critics complained that he had ceded too much autonomy to the West and that he had been outmaneuvered by Ukraine, which gained control of much of the Black Sea fleet and its share of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal.

Cronies, Cars and Country Houses

In time, the Boris Yeltsin who was admired for showing he could grow with each new responsibility seemed to become less flexible as president, more impulsive, less democratic, ever more reliant on cronies. It was said, for example, that he frequently took the advice of his longtime bodyguard, Aleksandr A. Korzhakov, a former K.G.B. officer and mysterious √©minence grise, who had access to top-secret information and monitored everything that went in and out of Mr. Yeltsin’s office.

In 1995 Natalya Ivanova, editor of Znamya, a highly regarded journal of literature and comment, said in an interview, “Some people learn all their lives, and some people stop learning. Sadly, Yeltsin stopped learning in 1991.”

At that time, when Mr. Yeltsin at first moved into the Kremlin office of the party general secretary, he said he felt uncomfortable in the lush surroundings. He explained in the second volume of his 1994 autobiography, “The Struggle for Russia,” that the move to the Kremlin was required for security purposes. But the luxurious trappings of office contradicted the populist platform on which he had been elected.

What was more, the abandon with which his subordinates parceled out the old perks of office — the cars, the country houses, the resort vacations — suggested that for all the talk of change, things were looking very much the same. The bureaucratic elite that ran the Soviet Union had gotten over its shock and had begun to re-establish new ties to Mr. Yeltsin and the government. With that, the intellectuals became alienated.

Ordinary Russians chafed under the steep price increases he ordered in the initial phase of his bold economic gamble, and many questioned the competence of the people he chose to carry out his reforms.

In December 1991, Mr. Yeltsin backed a young economist, Yegor T. Gaidar, and eliminated price controls in early January 1992. This was shock therapy, Mr. Yeltsin acknowledged in his autobiography. “They expected paradise on earth,” he wrote, “but instead they got inflation, unemployment, economic shock and political crisis.”

To say nothing of crime and corruption. But shock therapy was applied for only a few months. When Mr. Yeltsin decided that Russia could take no more strain, and in the face of severe criticism from the holdover Parliament, he replaced Mr. Gaidar as prime minister in December 1992 with Mr. Chernomyrdin, a more reassuring industrialist who ran the natural-gas monopoly.

Nevertheless, the fight with Parliament continued, with the opposition soon led by the man Mr. Yeltsin himself had chosen as vice president, Aleksandr V. Rutskoi. Mr. Yeltsin again put himself and his policies before the people, in a referendum in April 1993, and again he won a big vote of confidence. But by the autumn, he was forced to defend himself and his reforms in a bloody confrontation with more conservative nationalist legislators.

The struggle became a serious fight for power and ended with the indelible image of tanks firing at the Parliament building itself.

A Bloody Standoff in Moscow

In September 1993, Mr. Yeltsin dissolved the Russian legislature, declaring that the “irreconcilable opposition” of its large number of Communist holdovers had paralyzed his reforms. He acted after a member of the opposition, in a gesture Russians understood, indicated with a flick of the index finger that Mr. Yeltsin was drunk. But there was also strong evidence that the Parliament’s leaders intended to remove him under the old Soviet constitution and empower Mr. Rutskoi, whom Mr. Yeltsin had summarily dismissed.

Mr. Yeltsin announced elections to a new Parliament. The Supreme Soviet, the Parliament’s day-to-day policy-making arm, responded by voting overwhelmingly to depose him. Mr. Yeltsin then ordered the police to surround the Parliament and cut off the electricity, setting the stage for the violent confrontation.

It came two weeks later, in October, after parliamentary supporters, urged on by Mr. Rutskoi, broke through police lines and rampaged through Moscow. With Mr. Yeltsin at his dacha and the government inattentive, the demonstrators could probably have taken the Kremlin if they had tried.

Mr. Yeltsin was in a panic. He called in elite troops. In a 10-hour barrage by tanks and armored personnel carriers, Mr. Yeltsin routed his rebellious opposition, leaving dozens dead and the vast White House a burning, windowless shell. It was the worst civil strife in Moscow since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

This time a different Yeltsin emerged. He imposed an overnight curfew and banned extremist opposition parties. He briefly closed down Pravda and other newspapers that had supported the rebels. Mr. Rutskoi and other leaders were jailed, only to be soon pardoned by the new Parliament. The Yeltsin optimism was gone.
“Do not say that someone has won and someone has lost,” the shaken leader warned his people. “These are inappropriate, blasphemous words. We have all been scorched by the deadly breath of fratricide.”

By 1996, the threat of a Communist resurgence behind his chief rival for the presidency, Gennadi A. Zyuganov, energized Mr. Yeltsin. He threw himself into the campaign, flying all over the country, shaking thousands of hands and performing everything from peasant dances to a much-televised version of the twist.

To ensure his victory, Mr. Yeltsin sealed a dramatic election pact with Aleksandr I. Lebed, a gruff former general he had fired. Mr. Yeltsin identified Mr. Lebed as a likely successor and made him chairman of the powerful National Security Council. But to ensure that Mr. Lebed would not become a rival, he then saddled him with trying to find an honorable end to the Chechnya fiasco.

Just before the final round of voting, Mr. Yeltsin had what his doctors later acknowledged to be a heart attack, and he nearly disappeared from sight. It seemed the end of the Yeltsin era. But the latest setback to his health was hidden from voters by compliant Russian news media.

Mr. Yeltsin later admitted that he had reached the point where he was prepared to scuttle democracy completely and outlaw the Communist Party. In his “Midnight Diaries,” published in 2000, the year after he stepped down from the presidency, Mr. Yeltsin wrote that he had gone so far as to have the decrees prepared. But a daughter, Tatiana Dyachenko, and the former Prime Minister Anatoly B. Chubais convinced him that a power grab would backfire.

Though frail, he beat back the Communist challenge of Mr. Zyuganov and won the election by a substantial majority. Afterward, an aide described him as “colossally weary.”

Mr. Yeltsin’s poor health rendered him unable to start off his second term with the energetic recommitment to reform sought by Russia’s Western supporters, especially President Clinton. Mr. Yeltsin then underwent quintuple bypass surgery. As his health worsened, politicians maneuvered to succeed him.

He responded with his own maneuvers, appointing and firing four prime ministers in two years as he sought to deal with severe financial crisis. It was not until 1997 that Mr. Yeltsin got rid of the shadowy figure of Mr. Korzhakov. In August 1998, the ruble collapsed taking the Russian stock market with it. The government announced a moratorium on the repayment of some foreign debt and a restructuring of ruble-denominated debt.

Meanwhile the crisis worsened as the government started printing money, contributing further to inflation.
A brutal campaign was resumed in Chechnya after Chechen bandits invaded the province of Dagestan in 1999, followed by a series of bombings of Moscow apartment houses that were attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Chechen terrorists. Although the war in the Caucasus was unpopular in 1994, it was now seen as an issue of Russian territorial integrity and self-defense.

When Mr. Clinton criticized Russia’s bombardment of civilian areas in Chechnya, Mr. Yeltsin, in his last month in office, intemperately brandished his nuclear arsenal. It seemed, he said, that Mr. Clinton “had for a minute forgotten that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Yeltsin’s health continued to decline. On a visit to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in Central Asia, he appeared to nearly fall over as he listened to a band. At a dinner, he gave a confused version of a speech, reading from the beginning, then the end; apparently realizing he had finished too quickly, he finally reverted to the middle section.

In 1999, the Communists in Russia’s Parliament led a drive to impeach Mr. Yeltsin. In addition to waging what was called an illegal war in Chechnya, the charges against him included illegally dismantling the Soviet Union in 1991, staging the violent coup against rebellious Communists in Parliament in 1993, destroying the Russian military and committing genocide by allowing living standards to plummet, leading millions of Russians to an early death. The impeachment effort failed when 100 members of the legislature boycotted the vote.

During his last month in office, Mr. Yeltsin, with the help of the popularity of his chosen successor, Mr. Putin, was able to win enough votes in the Parliament to pursue economic reform and break the Communist hold on legislation. But Mr. Putin was soon making alliances with the same Communists who had gone down to defeat.

Mr. Yeltsin was a moody man subject to pessimism and lassitude. In his autobiography, he wrote of the burdens he carried: “The debilitating bouts of depression, the grave second thoughts, the insomnia and headaches in the middle of the night, the tears and despair, the sadness at the appearance of Moscow and other Russian cities, the flood of criticism from the newspapers and television every day, the harassment campaign at the Congress sessions.”

Raised in a Peasant Hut

If Mr. Yeltsin was unable to fulfill his vast promise, it was due more to the immensity of the task than to any lack of desire for change, for he knew first-hand the misery of the Russian people under Communism.
Boris Yeltsin was born on Feb. 1, 1931, to a peasant family in Butko, a village in the Sverdlovsk district of the Urals, the oldest of six children. When his father moved to the town of Berezniki as a laborer, during what Mr. Yeltsin called “Stalin’s so-called period of industrialization,” the family was allocated a single room in a communal hut. He recalled in 1990 in the first volume of his autobiography, “Against the Grain,” that they lived in that hut for 10 years.

“Winter was worst of all,” he wrote. “There was nowhere to hide from the cold. Since we had no warm clothes, we would huddle up to the nanny goat to keep warm. We children survived on her milk.”

He was still a boy during World War II when he lost the thumb and forefinger of his left hand; he and some friends had stolen a grenade and were trying to take it apart to see what was inside when it exploded.

At the Urals Polytechnic Institute he studied civil engineering and played volleyball. On graduation, he returned to Sverdlovsk, where he was offered the job of foreman at an industrial building site. He refused, insisting that he work in each trade so that when he was in a position to give orders, he would know what he was talking about.

He did not join the Communist Party until 1961, when he was 30, an age at which Mr. Gorbachev was already well on his way up in the party hierarchy. For Mr. Yeltsin, membership was a move to further his career in the Sverdlovsk construction agency, not an expression of belief in Communism.

Fifteen years later, after serving as a secretary of the Sverdlovsk provincial committee, Mr. Yeltsin became party chief for the region and stood out in the stagnation of the Brezhnev era as an activist less interested in the perquisites of office than in rooting out bureaucratic corruption.

When Mr. Gorbachev became general secretary of the party in 1985, he sought out regional leaders, among them Mr. Yeltsin. But he may have gotten more than he bargained for. Seeking a Mr. Clean image, Mr. Yeltsin turned down an offer of a government dacha. “We were shattered by the senselessness of it all,” he wrote, after he and his family were taken to see a “cottage” of enormous fireplaces, marble paneling, chandeliers and grand furniture.

Mr. Yeltsin had found a subject he could ride and he later used it, often, as a blunt club, at one point tartly enumerating all of Mr. Gorbachev’s houses and dachas as he decried “the leadership’s privileges.”

“I believe the fault lies in his basic cast of character,” he said of Mr. Gorbachev. “He likes to live well, in comfort and luxury. In this he is helped by his wife.”

To this he contrasted the simple tastes of his own wife and his daughters, Yelena Okulova and Tatiana Dyachenko, who, along with three grandchildren, survive him. But as Russia’s new rich started dotting the countryside, Mr. Yeltsin, too, was soon enveloping himself in comfort and relative luxury, enjoying life at a state dacha, playing tennis, wearing trendy Western fashion, using more limousines than Mr. Gorbachev ever had, and allowing those officials around him to live equally well, if not better.

At a time when state employees, army officials and pensioners went unpaid, a reported $823 million was spent to restore palaces, churches, offices and Mr. Yeltsin’s Kremlin residence to czarist splendor. By 1999, Mr. Yeltsin and his family were being accused of accepting kickbacks.

Living as a ‘Great, Bright Flame’

It was Mr. Yeltsin’s personal excesses that made him particularly vulnerable. In his 1989 visit to the United States, he acted like an American politician in the middle of a campaign. But reporters also noted his thirst for bourbon. In his autobiography, Mr. Yeltsin attributed his slurred speech during that visit to the effects of a sleeping pill and exhaustion from jet lag.

In a still-puzzling incident before he became president, he turned up soaking wet at a police station near Moscow. According to one version, a jealous husband pushed him off a bridge. Mr. Yeltsin intimated that the K.G.B. was trying to kill him.

Mr. Yeltsin denied reports that he drank too much, although he acknowledged that he turned to alcohol to relieve stress. “I am not an ascetic,” he told Barbara Walters in a televised interview in 1992.

“Athletic activity and alcohol are two things that are incompatible with each other,” he continued, speaking through an interpreter. “I’m very actively engaged in sports, an hour and a half every Tuesday and Saturday, athletic exercise morning and night, a cold shower, and very intensive work for 19 to 20 hours a day.”

Some attributed his aberrant antics and his puffy face to the pain medication he took for a severe back problem stemming from a 1990 airplane accident, and the way such medication might mix with alcohol.
There was no such explanation for his erratic behavior some years later when an embarrassed Chancellor Helmut Kohl had to help him down the steps after he played the buffoon, boisterously picking up a baton to conduct the Berlin police orchestra.

Mr. Yeltsin was stung by criticism of his drinking and tried to clean up his image for awhile. But he was soon stumbling and slurring his words again and repeatedly disappearing again for long holidays.

There were also signs of worsening heart disease, including a hospitalization in July 1995. For the first time, the Kremlin admitted there was a diagnosis, myocardial ischemia, which is a shortage of oxygen to the heart muscle because of narrowed arteries. He was out of the Kremlin for four weeks and then took a monthlong vacation.

He had another attack of ischemia in October 1995, after a visit to France and the United States, and was hospitalized again. “A man must live like a great, bright flame and burn as brightly as he can,” Mr. Yeltsin said in March 1990. “In the end he burns out. But this is better than a mean little flame.”

After anointing Mr. Putin as his successor and being granted immunity from prosecution, Mr. Yeltsin largely withdrew from public life, devoting himself to his favorite pastime: tennis.

He did occasionally weigh in. In 2004, he rebuked Mr. Putin’s plans to eliminate direct elections for regional governors and individual members of Parliament in the wake of the terrorist attack on the school in Beslan, in southern Russia, where more than 300 hostages died.

More often, he praised Mr. Putin’s stewardship and kept his concerns, if any, to himself. “I am glad that I was not mistaken in choosing Vladimir Putin,” he said in a magazine interview in 2006. “I understand that a rapidly developing Russia needed a young president. I tried to find someone for whom the ideals of liberty and the free market, and an understanding of the need to move forward together with the civilized nations, would be the most important values.”

No one recognized more than he how far short he fell of his goal. In his resignation speech, he told the Russian people: “I ask forgiveness for not justifying some hopes of those people who believed that at one stroke, in one spurt, we could leap from the gray, stagnant, totalitarian past into the light, rich, civilized future.”

At the end, he was a man worn down. “I feel like a runner who has just completed a supermarathon of 40,000 kilometers,” he wrote in his memoir. “I gave it my all. I put my whole heart and soul into running my presidential marathon. I honestly went the distance. If I have to justify anything, here is what I will say: If you think you can do it better, just try. Run those 40,000 kilometers. Try to do it faster, better, more elegantly, or more easily. Because I did it.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Moscow.

4.20.2007

Morality...I Mean, Majority Opinion

Useless talent #36: Reading and analyzing the logic of US Supreme Court cases.

From Gonzales v. Carhart
Argued November 8, 2006 - Decided April 18, 2007

Quote: "In deciding whether the Act furthers the Government's legitimate interest in protecting fetal life, the Court assumes, inter alia, that an undue burden on the previability abortion right exists if a regulation's 'purpose of effect is to place a substantial obstacle in the [woman's] path,' id., at 878, but that '[r]egulations which do no more than create a structural mechanism by which the State ... may express profound respect for the life of the unborn are permitted, if they are not a substantial obstacle to the woman's exercise of the right to choose,' id., at 877."

What I have to say about it: (This quote comes from the Summary, in which the Court reviews precedents and central case holdings that they will either affirm or dispute in the opinion. The internal quotes come from the opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southern Pa. v. Casey, in which the Court began to separate parts of the pregnancy into abortion and abortion-free zones.)

1. Does the Government have a more legitimate interest in the life of my potential-future-child than I do? At the present rate of global overpopulation, I'd have to say no.

2. If the aim is to prevent the murder of children, why draw the line at viability? The Court has attempted to reason this out repeatedly, and there is no satisfying conclusion. If it's inside my body, it's mine. If it's not, it's not. And then, if the line is drawn based on the potential existence of this collection of cells as a child, well then, shouldn't the line of viability be drawn at the point of self-sustaining survival? So, really, child murder should be legal until the age of, say, 4 or 5, right?

3. Since when does "the State" "express" anything? "The State" is a political construct, and therefore has no opinions, feelings, or profundity of its own. This is linguistic lunacy at its best.

4. Does "the State" have a more profound respect for the future of my potential-child than I do? Or, given the weight of having to choose between my own survival and his/hers, I choose myself. Is that really that bad? How does "the State" know what kind of life I'm facing if I bear this child? How does it know that I will be a good parent?
All these questions really boil down to one issue: having a baby is not the same thing as raising a child into an adult. If "the [motherfucking] State" showed any interest in supporting the development of this fetus into a healthy, well-educated, productive individual AFTER the point of birth, I might view this as slightly more consistent. Until there's universal housing and healthcare, fully subsidized education, and continuous job training and upgrades, this is a moralistic, ill-thought-out, socially- and economically-draining dictate.

Quote: "Casey reaffirmed that the government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman."

My reaction: ... but not the life that is the woman.

Quote: Congress determined that such [partial birth] abortions are similar to the killing of a newborn infant. This Court has confirmed the validity of drawing boundaries to prevent practices that extinguish life and are close to actions that are condemned.

Umm: Except when sanctioned by the state itself. So, we DO allow capital punishment.

Quote: The Act also recognizes that respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in a mother's love for her child. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision, ... , which some women come to regret. In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the abortion procedure used. It is, however, precisely this lack of information that is of legitimate concern to the State.

I think: They almost have a point. Transparency of information is a key goal - for someone undergoing any kind of health-related procedure, of course, and for the State as well. Problem is, the State ain't so hot on full disclosure when it comes to other things that put people in danger, like... terror suspects, any human under the age of 18, pharmaceutical usage...

I'm bored with this now, and too busy to finish, so I suggest you continue on your own.
Back in a flash with the Dissenting Opinion

Bigger Than Abortion

The decision announced by the US Supreme Court on Wednesday to uphold federal legislation that bans "intact dilation and evacuation" method abortions is not really about abortions.

Well, the decision is about abortions, and it will certainly impact future legislation (first article below). Though, given the current political environment, especially on the state level, it's impossible to predict how.

But this ruling is bigger than abortion. It's about freedom. If what you mean by "freedom" is the ability to make independent, individual choices, even if sometimes those choices are destructive to you and, arguably, others.

I aim to parse through the opinion itself, and most definitely its dissenting opinion (p 49), by the end of the day. I'll get back to you with a full analysis of the horror later.

(Fuck that Gonzales guy, like we should be surprised by now that the Bush administration has found a lame duck and is lining it up like a midway prize game - dead in the water. And don't get me started on the Republican party - they're lost.)

In the meantime, I'd like to alert you, Dear Readers, to one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen reported in national news.

Here's the quote (the rest of the article is below, 2nd item):

"Most notable was the emphasis in the majority opinion, by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, on the implication of abortion’s “ethical and moral concerns.”
“The act expresses respect for the dignity of human life,” Justice Kennedy said."

I have a response to that, Justice Kennedy. A few responses, actually:

1. A court of law is NOT the place to decide the ethical and moral concerns of anything.

2. Whose life are we dignifying? Cause it sure ain't the future mothers of these unborn children.

3. If it's about morality, it's not about respect. Morality is a control mechanism. It suppresses the autonomy of individual actors by dictating a course of right action. This reflects a lack of respect for the individual, for circumstances, and for freedom (and by "freedom" I mean...).

4. Your job, Justice (ha!) - because you seem to have forgotten - is to decide whether the appellate courts interpreted the law correctly. That's it. No morality required.

And you call yourself a conservative jurist?! You should be ashamed of yourself!

From The New York Times:

(Article 1 of 2)
April 20, 2007
New Push Likely for Restrictions Over Abortions
By KIRK JOHNSON

DENVER, April 19 — Both sides of the abortion debate expect a new push for restrictions as state lawmakers around the country digest the implications of the Supreme Court decision Wednesday upholding a federal ban on a type of abortion.

But such legislation could face headwinds in states where voters in the last election sent large numbers of Democrats — many of them abortion rights advocates — into office for the first time.
Seventeen houses or senates in the states shifted position on abortion after the November elections — 15 toward more abortion rights and 2 toward greater restrictions — according to an analysis by Naral Pro-Choice America. The group says six new governors supporting abortion rights were elected, compared with one who had voiced strong views against abortion.

“Something this drastic is going to energize both sides,” said Katherine Grainger, the director of the state program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights legal advocacy group based in New York. The organization represented some of the doctors involved in the Supreme Court case decided Wednesday.

The reasoning of both the court’s majority opinion upholding the restrictions and the dissent gave encouragement to opponents of abortion. The ruling, they said, will bolster their argument that the issues raised by abortion — among them defining fully informed consent by women who want to end pregnancies and the question of when a fetus feels pain — are legitimate topics for state legislation.

“The case does not give us a new issue, it reinforces the issue and gives us an opportunity to use it,” said Mary S. Balch, the director of for state legislation at the National Right to Life Committee.

Ms. Balch and other legislative experts said that North Dakota, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Alabama, where legislators are still meeting and anti-abortion legislation is on the table, were probably the places to watch for now.

Only hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling, a lawmaker in Alabama introduced a measure that would ban almost all abortions in the state. Most states have adjourned their legislatures for the year or passed the deadline for introducing new bills.

Some scholars of the abortion debate say that all the tilting and jousting of politics and the technical legal issues raised by the Supreme Court in upholding, by a 5-to-4 vote, the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act are beside the point.

What the court really did, said Anne Hendershott, a professor of sociology at the University of San Diego, was reframe the debate about how abortion should be discussed.
The court did not talk about big concepts and issues like privacy, but about the small, gripping details of how abortion works, said Professor Hendershott, author of “The Politics of Abortion” (Encounter, 2006).

Focusing on such details, she said, is how so-called “incrementalists” are trying to chip away at the availability of abortion. These opponents try to make women, doctors and other health professionals talk more, in some cases a lot more, about the actual consequences and mechanics of abortion.

With the court’s ruling and the new fuel it gives to the strategy of encouraging those discussions, Professor Hendershott said, the incrementalists have won the debate — if not over abortion, then at least over how to fight it.

“This case changes the conversation,” she said. “The battle between the incrementalists and those who wanted a constitutional amendment was won by the incrementalists.”

Some lawmakers who are backing anti-abortion bills in their states said the ruling helped them by declaring that some specific restrictions are constitutional. The Supreme Court has never before upheld a ban on a specific kind of abortion.

The emphasis in the court’s ruling was also much less on the health or well-being of the pregnant woman, but on the risks and consequences of an abortion to her and her fetus. This makes discussion of an abortion’s potentially negative consequences easier, the lawmakers said.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt,” said James Mills, a Republican state representative from Gainesville, Ga. Mr. Mills is the chief sponsor of a bill in the Legislature that would require doctors to offer patients seeking abortions the choice of viewing an ultrasound image of the fetus.

In South Carolina, lawmakers are also debating a law involving ultrasound. One approach would have required a woman to view the ultrasound image of her fetus before the abortion could be performed. The other says the option must be offered to the woman by her doctor.

State Senator Kevin Bryant, a Republican from Anderson and a sponsor of one of the bills, said abortions of the sort addressed by the Supreme Court were already illegal in South Carolina. But Mr. Bryant said the ruling could provide some momentum to other restrictions.

“We may also look down the road and end up seeing some other procedures that should be restricted too,” he said. “We don’t want to do too much at one time.”

Legislators in North Dakota are looking at legislation that would immediately ban abortion statewide if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that made abortion legal, is overturned.
The Mississippi Legislature passed just such a bill earlier this year, banning nearly all abortions if the ruling is overturned. The law was signed Thursday by Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican.
But some winds are blowing the other way.

In Oklahoma, the Democratic governor, Brad Henry, vetoed legislation Wednesday that would ban state facilities and workers from performing abortions except to save the life of the pregnant woman. Mr. Henry, who has supported some restrictions on abortion in the past, said the bill went too far. Supporters of the bill, which passed overwhelmingly in both houses, hope to override the veto.

Last month, Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would have created a new category of homicide if a pregnant woman was murdered and her unborn fetus died. Mr. Freudenthal said in his veto message that he thought the bill was probably unconstitutional.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, a Democrat, told an abortion rights group Thursday that he would fight to keep abortion legal in his state.

Some opponents of abortion said that, until the Supreme Court’s ruling, this had not been a particularly good year for their cause.

In part this may have been because of the changed composition in state legislatures and in part because of what many politicians saw as a backlash when South Dakota tried to ban most abortions last year. The Legislature passed a sweeping ban, only to see the public repeal it in a statewide referendum.

“This particular legislative session was a tough year for us,” said Ms. Balch of the National Right to Life Committee. “We had some victories, but we would have liked more.”
She said lawmakers in South Dakota seemed to be taking a year off after last year’s defeat. Virginia, often a hotbed of anti-abortion discussion, has been quiet too, she said.
Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver.


(Article 2)
April 19, 2007
Justices Back Ban on Method of Abortion
By LINDA GREENHOUSE

WASHINGTON, April 18 — The Supreme Court reversed course on abortion on Wednesday, upholding the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in a 5-to-4 decision that promises to reframe the abortion debate and define the young Roberts court.

The most important vote was that of the newest justice, Samuel A. Alito Jr. In another 5-to-4 decision seven years ago, his predecessor, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, voted to strike down a similar state law. Justice Alito’s vote to uphold the federal law made the difference in the outcome announced Wednesday.

The decision, the first in which the court has upheld a ban on a specific method of abortion, means that doctors who perform the prohibited procedure may face criminal prosecution, fines and up to two years in prison. The federal law, enacted in 2003, had been blocked from taking effect by the lower court rulings that the Supreme Court overturned.

The banned procedure, known medically as “intact dilation and extraction,” involves removing the fetus in an intact condition rather than dismembering it in the uterus. Both methods are used to terminate pregnancies beginning at about 12 weeks, after the fetus has grown too big to be removed by the suction method commonly used in the first trimester, when 85 percent to 90 percent of all abortions take place.

While the ruling will thus have a direct impact on only a relatively small subset of abortion practice, the decision has broader implications for abortion regulations generally, indicating a change in the court’s balancing of the various interests involved in the abortion debate.
Most notable was the emphasis in the majority opinion, by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, on the implication of abortion’s “ethical and moral concerns.”

“The act expresses respect for the dignity of human life,” Justice Kennedy said.
The decision was a major victory for the Bush administration and its vigorous defense of the law, which President Bill Clinton had vetoed twice before President Bush signed it.

Mr. Bush welcomed the ruling, saying: “The Supreme Court’s decision is an affirmation of the progress we have made over the past six years in protecting human dignity and upholding the sanctity of life. We will continue to work for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law.”

It was also a vindication for the strategic choice the anti-abortion movement made 15 years ago, when the prospect of persuading the Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion seemed a distant dream. [Page A23.]

By identifying the intact procedure and giving it the provocative label “partial-birth abortion,” the movement turned the public focus of the abortion debate from the rights of women to the fate of fetuses. In short order, 30 states banned the procedure.

The decision on Wednesday came seven years after the court struck down one of those state laws, from Nebraska. Justice Kennedy was a strong dissenter from that decision. With Justice Alito’s vote, he was in a position this time to write not for the dissenters but for the new majority.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also voted in the majority. Justices Thomas and Scalia also filed a brief concurring opinion reiterating their opposition to the court’s abortion precedents and expressing their continued desire to overturn them.

Neither Chief Justice Roberts nor Justice Alito signed this statement. There was no way of knowing whether their silence meant they disagreed with it or whether, not having previously expressed their views as Justices Thomas and Scalia had, they had no need at this point to stake their ground.

The court did not explicitly overturn any of its precedents, although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the four dissenters, said the decision was “so at odds with our jurisprudence” that it “should not have staying power.” Justice Ginsburg called the decision “alarming” and said the majority’s “hostility” to the right to abortion was “not concealed.”
Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer signed Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, portions of which she read from the bench at a slow pace that caused every syllable to resonate.

Justice Kennedy took pains to describe the decision as faithful to the court’s earlier rulings, including the one in the Nebraska case. He said that by defining the prohibited procedure more precisely, the federal law avoided the vagueness the court had found in the Nebraska statute and thus did not place doctors at risk of violating it inadvertently.

Congress passed the law in response to the court’s ruling in the Nebraska case, responding specifically to the majority’s insistence in that case that the law must include an exception for circumstances when the banned procedure was necessary for the sake of a pregnant woman’s health. Congress provided an exception only to save a pregnant woman’s life, as Nebraska had, declaring that the procedure was never necessary for a woman’s health.

Justice Kennedy, in addressing the need for the health exception, said on Wednesday that it was acceptable for Congress not to include one because there was “medical uncertainty” over whether the banned procedure was ever necessary for the sake of a woman’s health. He said that pregnant women or their doctors could assert an individual need for a health exception by going to court to challenge the law as it applied to them.

Justice Ginsburg said that this approach was unrealistic and “gravely mistaken.” She said that requiring “piecemeal” litigation “jeopardizes women’s health and places doctors in an untenable position.”

Clarke D. Forsythe, president of Americans United for Life, a leading anti-abortion group, said approvingly that while the court did not technically overturn the Nebraska decision, the new ruling “effectively gutted it.”

Dr. LeRoy H. Carhart, the Nebraska doctor who challenged both the state law in 2000 and the federal law in this case, Gonzales v. Carhart, No. 05-380, said that “those who support this law are trying to outlaw all abortions, one step at a time.”

In his discussion of the court’s precedents, Justice Kennedy went so far as to suggest that the new ruling was in fact compelled by the court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 case that reaffirmed the basic holding of Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to abortion. Justice Kennedy supported that result and helped write the decision’s unusual joint opinion.

On Wednesday, he said that “whatever one’s views concerning the Casey joint opinion, it is evident a premise central to its conclusion — that the government has a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life — would be repudiated were the court now to affirm the judgments of the courts of appeals” that struck down the federal law.

In describing the federal law’s justifications, Justice Kennedy said that banning the procedure was in fact good for women, protecting them against terminating their pregnancies by a method they might not fully understand in advance and would come to regret later.

“Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child,” he said, adding: “It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form.”

Justice Ginsburg objected vehemently that “this way of thinking reflects ancient notions of women’s place in the family and under the Constitution — ideas that have long since been discredited.”

She cited century-old Supreme Court cases that upheld a paternalistic view of women’s place in society and contrasted those with more recent cases, including one she successfully argued to the court in 1977 and one in which she wrote the majority opinion in 1996, that rejected “archaic and overbroad generalizations” and assumptions about women’s inherent dependency.

One law professor, Martin S. Lederman of Georgetown University, commented after reading Justice Ginsburg’s response on this point that Justice Kennedy’s opinion “was an attack on her entire life’s work.”

In her opinion, Justice Ginsburg said the majority had provided only “flimsy and transparent justifications” for upholding the law, which she noted “saves not a single fetus from destruction” by banning a single method of abortion. “One wonders how long a line that saves no fetus from destruction will hold in face of the court’s ‘moral concerns,’ ” she said.

In the past...