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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Withdrawn Consent and Line Drawing 

Jessica links to a Maryland appellate decision that holds:
[U]nder Maryland law, the answer is "no" to the question, "If a female consents to sex initially and, during the course of the sex act to which she consented, for whatever reason, she changes her mind and the ... man continues until climax, does the result constitute rape?" (Op. at 35.)
This is a highly disturbing holding in that it suggests that consent, once given, may never be withdrawn (although continuation of intercourse after withdrawal of consent may constitute assault). It is more disturbing as it seems to follow the common-law view that "the initial 'de-flowering' of a woman [is] the real harm" of rape because, after penetration, "a woman could never be 're-flowered'" (Op. at 29-30).

I wonder if this terrible decision is an example of the law school maxim that "hard cases make bad law". In the case itself, the defendant did not, as the jury question might suggest, continue intercourse for a long period of time or to climax. According to the victim, he continued for 5-10 seconds and did not climax (Op. at 4), although defendant testified that he did withdraw immediately (Op. at 8-9). Also, defendant was a 16-year-old boy who had been smoking marijuana (Op. at 2). Even on the victim's version of events, I have to admit to a queasiness about sending a 16-year-old to jail for a period of probably years based on a failure for 5-10 seconds to respond appropriately to the withdrawal of consent. While giving consent should not deprive one of the right to withdraw consent, I do think it's fair, when consent is given and later withdrawn, to allow a few seconds to recognize the change in circumstances and respond accordingly (i.e., stop). Of course, it's possible that defendant actually contemplated, for a few seconds, that he could just go ahead and get away with it, and then stopped himself. That's a much less appealing case than if he was merely unintentionally slow in realizing or responding to the change in circumstances, but even in that case, I'm not sure that we want to treat a defendant who struggles for a few seconds with temptation and then rejects it the same as someone who willfully intentionally commits rape.

I find all of this troubling because the line-drawing is so problematic. The line drawn by the court is a disaster. Once a Maryland woman gives her consent to sex, she loses her core right to control her body until the man decides to terminate intercourse (subject to the possibility of an assault charge). The line proposed by the prosecution is equally disturbing, in that it threatens serious punishment for men (and in this case boys) who engage in consensual sex and then, when consent is withdrawn, stop within seconds but not immediately. Any intermediate line -- like allowing a "reasonable" amount of time -- invites judges and juries to turn their own personal notions of sexual propriety into principles of criminal law. After all, what is reasonable? Does the age or voluntary intoxication of the defendant matter? (It usually doesn't in criminal law.) Does expert testimony concerning cognitive psychology and decision making play a legitimate role? (The court notes that 5-10 minutes is unreasonable as a matter of law, but declines to address the issue beyond that (Op. at 36 n.9).)

I don't have answers to these questions. But if the Maryland court had articulated and tried to answer such questions, the opinion might not have been nearly so bad.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Last Minute Fundraising 

Many liberal bloggers are pointing out that today is the last day for contributions to be timely enough to have an impact on this year's race.

I picked Claire McCaskill for my last minute contribution.

Please consider picking someone for yours.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Michael J. Fox Ad 

The Republican-manufactured and idiotic mainstream media-supported controversy over Michael J. Fox's ads for various Democratic candidates who support stem cell research is really getting to me.

I cried when I first watched it on YouTube, and now I'm getting choked up just catching glimpses of the still shot on various websites. My dad died a few years ago, after suffering from Parkinson's for about 10 years. The symptoms Fox exhibited in the ad were painfully familiar, and they brought back not only the memories of what my dad went through physically, but also how incredibly difficult it was for him emotionally and socially to deal with a disease that made him feel conspicuous and freakish. He was a very quiet, private, low-key person, and he really hated the hyperkinesis (excess, uncontrollable movements) brought on by the medication that kept him from freezing up. Obviously, Fox was a public person to begin with, but it has still taken enormous courage for him to go out there and show his condition to the world as part of an effort to inform and educate others about the disease and about the small-minded idiots who may be slowing progress toward its treatment or cure. As a commenter somewhere indicated (and I'd link if I could remember where it was), the implication of the backlash against this ad seems to be that people with diseases that make other people uncomfortable should just go and hide, and certainly shouldn't dare appear in public to argue for their cause while showing those terribly unseemly symptoms...

And I think about poor Daddy, and how those symptoms made him want to hide... And then Fred just brought back butter pecan ice cream, which was Daddy's favorite as well as one of mine, and I'm pretty much a wreck.

Republicans are just plain evil.

More here from Digby via Atrios about Fox's interview with an ignorant, insulting Katie Couric. Ugh.

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Worst. Victim. Blaming. Ever. 

From Australia's senior Muslim religious figure:
In a Ramadan sermon that has outraged Muslim women leaders, Sydney-based Sheik al-Taj al-Din al-Hilaly also alluded to the infamous Sydney gang rapes, suggesting the attackers were not entirely to blame. ...

In the religious address about adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilaly said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it . . . whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat?

"The uncovered meat is the problem."

The sheik then said: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

He said women were "weapons" used by "Satan" to control men.

"It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa)."
On the bright side, Hilaly seems to have been widely condemned in Australia, both within and without the Muslim community. On the not bright side was his "apology":
Sheik Hilaly said he only meant to refer to prostitutes as "meat" and not any scantily dressed woman with no hijab, despite him not mentioning the word prostitute during the 17-minute talk.

He told The Australian the message he intended to convey was: "If a woman who shows herself off, she is to blame, but a man should be able to control himself".
Uh huh. Keep trying.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Compared To What? 

David Bernstein is shocked – shocked to discover that Jews are not “overwhelmingly liberal”:
Jews are thought by many to be overwhelmingly liberal, but they apparently don't perceive of themselves that way. According to a recent poll, here is how American Jews characterize their political views:

Extremely liberal 4%; Liberal 26%; Slightly liberal 12%; Moderate 32%; Slightly conservative 10%; Conservative 12%; Extremely conservative 3%; Not sure 2%

So, while self-described liberals outnumber self-described conservatives, it's by 42% to 25%, with 32% describing themselves as moderates. Put another way, self-described moderates and conservatives in the Jewish community outnumber self-described liberals by 57% to 42%.

I can think of two plausible explanations for these results, which show a far less liberal Jewish community than one might expect based on reputation....
Except that we are. Maybe 42% of Jews describing themselves as “liberal” doesn’t sound high to Bernstein, but the overall percentage of Americans describing themselves as liberal has held steady at 17-20%, while conservatives have been at 34-38% (for both, data from 1978-2002). Hell, only 32% of Democrats described themselves as liberals, and that’s up from 26% in 2002.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Segregation by Any Other Name Still Stinks 

The plan has been in the works in the Bush education department for some time, but I see in the Times today that they've now approved rules that will make it easier for public schools to segregate students by sex.
The Bush administration is giving public schools wider latitude to teach boys and girls separately in what is considered the biggest change to coed classrooms in more than three decades.

After a two-year wait, the Education Department issued final rules Tuesday detailing how it will enforce the Title IX landmark anti-discrimination law. Under the change taking effect Nov. 24, local school leaders will have discretion to create same-sex classes for subjects such as math, a grade level or even an entire school.
It has been several years since I did research on this subject, but I haven't seen anything since then to change the conclusion I came to at the time: This is a Very Bad Idea.

I am particularly strongly opposed to segregating students by sex for particular classes, such as math and science. From everything we know, the distribution of "learning styles" (much of which may just be socialization anyhow) between boys and girls, as well as the distribution of abilities, is such that the overlaps are greater than the differences. You know what's been found to be especially effective in helping both boys and girls learn better? Gender equity training for teachers. When teachers teach equitably, both boys and girls can learn well in the same classrooms. Segregating students for particular classes in a public school just reinforces a message too many are getting anyhow: that girls (boys) aren't as good at math (reading).

I also object to segregating for certain grades. This is generally done under the assumption that there are just certain ages at which kids' hormones "run wild" and they can't possibly be expected to behave themselves and learn anything in coeducational classrooms. Bullfeces. Kids can learn, and can behave appropriately, at any stage of development when the expectation exists and is enforced that they'll learn and behave appropriately.

Most of the pseudo-science behind the arguments for this is mired in all kinds of essentialism. This is a slippery slope, folks. Yet another area in which our undoing work is going to be cut out for us once this administration is over.

Full disclosure: I attended an all-girls high school & enjoyed it very much. I chose it not because it was all girls, but because it had horses, which were at the time the love of my life. However, educationally, I think I would have done just as well in a coed school that really cared about learning and wasn't apallingly sexist and anti-intellectual (that was not the case in the school I attended prior to high school). I have heard all of the arguments pro-sex segregation, including the ones that say that it's not fair that only those who can afford private/parochial schools can choose this. I'm still agin' it. Private clubs are also allowed to be segregated if they want to. What we're talking about here is public schools, and that alone makes it not okay. Add to that the shakey research and the negative message sent to kids, and it's not the right thing to do on any grounds.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ann Bartow Is Not A Bad Person 

This has gotten out of hand.

In July, Ann Bartow sent an email to Jill at Feministe in an attempt to get a message to Zuzu at Feminste. Bartow's intention was to give Zuzu a "heads up" that her real life identity was easy to discover and that, if Zuzu really was concerned about her anonymity, she should be careful about what information she reveals on the internet. Bartow had a similar exchange with the Happy Feminist, and Happy correctly "interpreted Ann’s email to me as a friendly reminder to be more careful about guarding my anonymity".

Unfortunately, Zuzu misinterpreted what Bartow wrote as a threat. I am on the record as a big fan of Zuzu's, and I don't think there was any ill will on Zuzu's part, but the consequences of this miscommunication have been large. Bartow has been attacked viciously in posts and comments at Feministe. Atrios -- who gets over 100,000 hits a day -- has picked up the story and called Bartow "the worst person in the world", without even bothering to find out the facts or consider that there might have been a misunderstanding. And Zuzu is taking a break from blogging.

At this point, I think we in the feminist blogosphere need to do two things:

First, we need to set the record the straight. Harmful and false things have been said about Ann Bartow, and I think we need to make clear that she did not make the threats she is accused of having made. Atrios should issue a retraction.

Beyond that, we need to stop pointing fingers. There was a miscommunication. That happens. We could try to figure out who did or said what to cause that -- but what would be the point? All that would accomplish is sowing anger and distrust in the feminist community -- and causing real distress to the real people involved in this, including Bartow, Zuzu, and Piny. As I wrote about a few days ago, let's try to focus our anger on those who oppose the goals of feminism and try at least to give the benefit of the doubt to our friends and allies.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I Am Red America 

A new book by Douglas Sosnik and Matthew Dowd posits that our political choices are governed more by lifestyle than by issues. Via NPR, they offer a quiz that predicts whether you are part of the the "red tribe", the "blue tribe", or a swing voter based on your consumer choices. In other words, we don't need to know what you think about choice, so long as we know if you'd choose Coors or Budweiser.

Some of the questions are pretty hard to answer -- I mean, I guess I'd pick a Pro Wrestling Match over a Monster Truck Show, but that's only assuming my dentist wasn't offering elective root canals that day -- but I scored an 8 of 12 (the higher the redder), which puts me in the "red tribe" (although I'm close to being a swing voter).

Of course, I'm an n of 1, so if you feel moved to take the quiz, please share your score in comments....

UPDATE: So far we're up to an n of 8 10 11. We have exactly one liberal polling as Blue America, and even she's on the borderline under the test but has political views that are to the left of the Democratic party.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Time Warner Thinks Misogyny Is A Big Joke 

Why is the "world's leader in interactive services" soliciting misogynistic jokes?



Previous creepy headlines from AOL Instant Messenger here and here.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas... 

... except who's the dog, and who's the flea?

From this week's New York Sun:
The attached [Republican National Committee] spreadsheet of 76 guests included category headings with Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and "race." The race of all but three were listed as "Caucasian." One was identified as "Asian," and the race of two others, Malik and Seeme Hasan, was listed as "Muslim."

The classification drew criticism from Mrs. Hasan, who founded a group called Muslims for Bush and who, along with her husband, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican committees and candidates in recent years.

"The only word I can think of is not very nice," Mrs. Hasan said yesterday in a telephone interview from her home in Colorado.
From Stone Court two years ago:
Who are the Muslims for Bush? Is it some grass-roots organization committed to the cause of Muslim-Americans? Well, not exactly.

It is an organization founded by the wife and son of Malik Hasan, a Bush pioneer who made his fortune in the HMO industry. Here's what PBS has to say about Dr. Hasan:
Dr. Hasan helped to form Qual-Med, a tiny HMO with 7,000 members in southern Colorado. He then started acquring other HMOs. As reported in George Anders' book "Health Against Wealth," after acquiring an HMO, Hasan would install an aggressive medical director with instructions to shrink the medical-loss ratio: "If an obstetrician wanted to keep a new mother in the hospital for a second or third day after delivery, Qual-Med directors would say no on the ground that it wasn't medically necessary. If an orthopedist wanted to order a second MRI, he was told no as well, on the same grounds."
Lovely.

Making a Killing has more:
Dr. Malik Hasan ... had the dubious distinction of making the Forbes magazine list of "overpaid" executives during the nineties, the group of corporate chieftains who "made out far better than shareholders since 1993." ...

Dr. Hasan also made no bones about profiting from the conservative's favorite health care idea, medical savings accounts. "We [for-profit managed care companies] would make out like bandits, but as a physician I have a serious concern about fragmenting the insurance pool…We are going into [MSAs] because these things are going to be a gold mine, let there be no doubt. They are a scam and we will get our share of that scam."
OK, so we know Hasan is with Bush in pushing medical savings accounts. But at least we can count on a health-care exec. like Dr. Hasan not to go crying to a "trial lawyer" when he has a problem -- unless of course he's not happy with investment losses at Goldman Sachs, or unless he hires Milberg Weiss, the biggest plaintiff's firm in the world, to pursue a derivative action against corporate management. Hasan v. CleveTrust Realty Investors, 729 F.2d 372 (6th Cir. 1984) (available on pay services).

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Civilian Deaths, World War II and Iraq War 

I don't have a great handle on the debate over the merits of the study estimating that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has caused over 655,000 Iraqi deaths, but

More (Bryan): The Lancet study would have us believe that 2.5% of Iraq has been killed by the war in the past three years. It would have us believe that more Iraqis have died as a result of a mid-sized insurgency than Americans died in World War II. Or the Civil War. Or Germans, who died in World War II, fighting against the combined might of the USSR, the British Empire and the United States, at a time when Germany was reduced to conscripting young boys and old men to resist those armies as they approached Berlin.

This study, in other words, is nonsense on stilts.

Actually, more like 7% of the population of Germany was killed in World War II. (It's true that something like .2% of Americans were killed in the war, but of course the war wasn't here. )

A better World War II analogy for Iraq might be Yugoslavia, which endured a lengthy occupation and violent resistance. Civilian deaths alone in Yugoslavia were around 1.3 million out of a population of 15 million, or almost 9% of the population. Obviously, the analogy is imperfect for a variety of reasons, but depressingly it suggests that overall magnitude of the 655,000 figure may not be far wrong.

UPDATE: Echidne has a clear and evenhanded post explaining how the study was conducted and what its strengths, weaknesses, and uncertainties are. Bottom line: The study was conducted with a recognized and appropriate methodology and gives us good reason to think the true number of Iraqi deaths caused by the invasion of Iraq is more than an order of magnitude larger that George Bush's estimate of 30,000 and is most likely between roughly 425,000 and 800,000, but there are uncertainties here that are greater than what one would expect in ordinary quantitative research outside of a theater of war.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Eating Our Own 

When I took freshman sociology, back in the 1980s, the professor outlined a list of different categories of feminism. The only one that, so many years later, I specifically remember her discussing was "conservative feminism", which she associated with figures like Phyllis Shlafly. While I understood her point, that "conservative feminists" were interested in gender issues from a conservative point of view and there might therefore be some point to categorizing them as "feminists" from an academic perspective, I remember thinking, That can't be right. Phyllis Shlafly is so antithetical to principles of feminism that we can't include her without stripping the word of its essential meaning. And, in fact, "conservative feminism" has not caught on as a descriptive term.

This discussion came back to me because of what seems like a recent spike in blogosphere vitriol among feminists. Just in the past week or so, we've had bitter exchanges over: Amanda's making a point with the image of a burqa, Amanda's receiving favorable press from Playboy, Jill's "confession" to wearing high heals and getting Brazilian bikini waxes, and Amp's selling his domain name to a pornographer a google search optimizer linked to pornography. (I haven't pulled together all the links, since the discussions seem to have occurred across many sites, but if you read this blog you've probably also seen all of these.)

These are all legitimately topics about which feminists will have strong (and potentially divergent) views. I have views about each of them. But I am dismayed by the tone of these exchanges. There has been far too much anger, distrust, and shunning of those with different views. Sometimes anger, distrust, and shunning are completely appropriate responses, but all too often they have been a first rather than a last resort.

This all reminds me of that sociology lecture because, if feminism is to mean anything, the feminist community does need to be able to define some views as out of bounds. Phyllis Shlafly is no kind of feminist, even if she (or an academic) claims otherwise. At the same, however, we need to remember that people bring a wide variety of viewpoints and opinions to feminism, and that feminists can hold a range of views that are nonetheless consistent with core feminist values. Our differences may seem large, but they are, for the most part, tiny compared with the majority of Americans, who consider feminism to be irrelevant or downright destructive.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Veiled Criticism 

Rachel S. has a thought-provoking post at Alas concerning the dispute over Amanda Marcotte posting a photoshopped photograph of Jessica Valenti in a burqa to make the point that criticism of Valenti's attire (backstory here) was similar in kind, if not degree, to a particular kind of oppression of women occurring in many Muslim nations. While ultimately, for the reasons discussed below, I think Marcotte's critics have it wrong in this instance, I think Rachel S. has it exactly right here:
The tension between feminism, cultural relativism, and ethnocentrism is real. Cultural relativism asserts that each culture should be judged by it’s own norms, and ethnocentrism is the idea that one’s own culture is normal, natural, and superior. On the one hand, as a feminist, I would like to be able to criticize the oppression of women everywhere, not just in my own culture, and cultural relativism in it’s most extreme form would not allow me to do that. On the other hand, I don’t want to be ethnocentric by ignoring the patriarchy in my own culture because it is so much more normalized to me....

My sense is that this is all about a balancing act. If we find it easier to critique patriarchy in other cultures or are so self absorbed that we don’t even have a clue what issues women in poorer countries are facing, then our ethnocentrism needs to be put in check. On the other hand, if we stand back and say well that’s just their culture who am I to judge, then we really need to question our feminist credentials.
Quite right. White American women who are feminists are often unfairly criticized for caring only about their own, narrow concerns (as if there is anything wrong with criticizing oppression merely because other oppression exists) -- yet they are also criticized if they try to address oppression in other cultures. Rachel correctly observes that we as feminists can and should criticize oppression in other cultures, but we also need to be especially careful to examine our own assumptions -- and the perspective of women in those cultures -- before doing so.

In the present situation, I would think in this case the body of Marcotte's work makes very clear that Marcotte is in no way hesitant to criticize patriarchy in her own culture, and her criticism of patriarchy in Muslim culture should be viewed accordingly. Quite simply, Amanda Marcotte calling out the Taliban for forcing women to wear burqas is in no way similar to Laura Bush doing so.

Perhaps more important, the idea that the forced wearing of the burqa is oppressive to women is not something that Western feminists invented. For example, and I'm sure there are many other examples, here's a recent painting by Laila Shawa, a Palestinian artist:


Impossible Dream
, by Laila Shawa

Here's what Shawa said about the painting:
Laila put her career on hold for 10-12 years during the Lebanese civil war as she was living between Beirut, London and Gaza. "I almost thought I lost it and that I was not going to go back to art."

But the revival of the Islamic movement in the Middle East motivated her to return. "I did a series on the re-veiling of women and the hypocrisy of that re-veiling, and the fact that it is a political rather than a religious movement. Women were being manipulated."

She says this caused great controversy because it was taken the wrong way. "I was not criticising women wearing veils, but the reasons behind it. I was criticising the escapism I see in women veiling themselves or accepting to be veiled in that manner. It caused quite a stir."

We err if we let the burqa requirement blind us to the fact of sexism in our own society, but we also err if we let sexism in our own society blind us to the burqa requirement.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ah, Selection 

Much as I would like to believe this...
Cuba's high number of centenarians say their longevity is down to laying off alcohol, but indulging in coffee, cigars and sex.

The findings are the result of a study that looked into the lives of 54 out of the more than 100 centenarians who live in Villa Clara province.

... even if it means substituting a cigar for a martini, I'm afraid this is the more salient finding:
More than 60% of them had parents who also lived to be over 100.
(In contrast, about 2.2% of Americans have at least one parent who lives to 100.)

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

This Is Not Free Speech 

Jessica Valenti reports a truly shocking email sent to the editors of Feminsiting:
Re: "last warning to you all feminists"

Now after hearing a lot about you from our American brothers, I strongly believe that each of you feminists deserved to be anal-fucked and gang-raped and then we will cut your boobs and empty whole magazines of 16 bullets into your vaginas. Then post live digital videos of the rape+executions on all men's sites around the world for our AAA entertainment.
This goes way beyond ordinary anti-feminism, misogyny, and hyperbole into the area of a serious federal crime:
Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 875(c).
This is serious business. Valenti and the Feministing editors are public figures who, in furtherance of their advocacy, often post public appearances on their website, something I at least would be reluctant to do if I were receiving death threats. Threats like this, even assuming the perpetrators have no intention of carrying them out, are very likely to chill their (or other feminists') ability to speak out for change.

According to the FBI, internet harassment and threats should be reported to the relevant local FBI field office. Conveniently, the New York office accepts emails....

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Stop The Presses! 

Donald Rumsfeld announces he is not resigning: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, coming under renewed fire for his management of the Iraq war, said Sunday he is not considering resigning and said the president had called him personally in recent days to express his continued support."

Say what you will about Rummy, no Secretary of Defense has ever not resigned like him:
April 2006: Financial Times (London, England), April 19, 2006, Rumsfeld digs in, rejecting calls to resign. (My personal favorite headline: The Frontrunner, April 18, 2006, Rumsfeld Says Calls For Resignation "Will Pass.")

March 2006: UPI, March 24, 2006, Rumsfeld won't resign, wants war suppor

December 2005: CQ Federal Department and Agency Documents, December 8, 2005, Rumsfeld Dismisses Resignation Rumors

June 2005: UPI, June 23, 2005, Rumsfeld rejects Kennedy resignation call

February 2005: The Weekend Australian, February 5, 2005, Rumsfeld reveals Bush rejected his resignation, twice,

December 2004: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania), December 21, 2004, Bush Defends Rumsfeld Against Resignation Calls

May 2004: The Houston Chronicle, May 08, 2004, Rumsfeld: it could get worse; THE TESTIMONY: Defense chief says he is accountable but won't resign, and warns of even more graphic images

October 2003: The Dallas Morning News, October 4, 2003, Critics of Iraq war taking aim at Rumsfeld; But defense secretary unlikely to succumb to calls for resignation

September 2003: World News Connection, September 11, 2003, UD Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Dodges Resignation Question
And, of course, the grand daddy of them all:
Capital Times (Madison, WI), September 10, 2003, Call For Rumsfled's Resignation Plays to Terrorists

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