Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How we got our legs

This article from Scientific American is about how developmental evolutionary biologists have come to their current understanding about the way in which our tetrapod ancenstors moved out of the sea and began walking on land.

What's more, it demonstrates the process by which scientists construct an understanding of our world through interpretation of available evidence, and how they revise it accordingly in the face of new discoveries.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A "flaw" to be respected

From the LA Times article on Col. Ted Westhusing who committed suicide in Iraq

Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.
Right, what a terrible flaw, thinking that in time of war morals should be the determinant factor rather than monetary concerns.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."
Have we turned a corner here? This psychologist thinks there was something wrong with Westhusing because he believed that war profiteering was unethical, that the primary motivational factor in a time of war should be whether the action is right or not, not whether the action will make a profit or not.*

If I had assessed his case I would have possibly concluded that he was unable to cope with perceived ethical violations, but I would not have gone so far as to say there was something wrong with him for believing there is something fundamentally amoral about doing an action because it is profitable rather than because its right.

*My conscience won't let me say this without qualification. The psychologist did not explicitly say this. She specifically stated Westhusing's problem was that he was unable to get past the concept that rightness should be "the sole motivator for businesses." This strikes me as spin and rationalization, though, as I find it difficult to believe that Westhusing was unfamiliar with the basic prinicples of capitalism and that at age 44 he would be driven to suicide by the discovery that businesses don't operate with the sole motivation that their actions are good.

Baleful quotes of the day

"If Jose Padilla lives in a police state, then so do you." - Eric Alterman, from his Altercation blog

"The position of the executive branch is that it can be judge, jury and executioner" - Eric M. Freedman, defense attorney quoted in this New York Times article regarding the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla

Jose Padilla is a US citizen. The Bush administration has denied him his 5th Amendment right for two years.

"Throwing their own words back at them"

"There's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government" - Vice President Cheney, Jan. 22, 2004

"Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence, and were free to draw their own conclusion" - Vice President Cheney, in a speech at the Frontiers of Freedom Institute 2005 Ronald Reagan Regala

From the National Journal (via Media Channel)

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.


The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for the CIA assessment, the PDB of September 21, 2001, and dozens of other PDBs as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the run-up to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has refused to turn over these documents.

Indeed, the existence of the September 21 PDB was not disclosed to the Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, according to congressional sources. Both Republicans and Democrats requested then that it be turned over. The administration has refused to provide it, even on a classified basis, and won't say anything more about it other than to acknowledge that it exists.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A fair request, in my opinion

Don't Bomb US

This is the blog started as a protest by Al Jazeera staffers in response to allegations that George Bush wanted to bomb the Al Jazeera news station in Qatar (which is an allied nation) back in April of 2004. Since Prime Minister Blair has threatened to prosecute anyone who leaks the memo which allegedly details the conversation in which Blair talks Bush out of this idea we have no way of knowing to what extent it is true.

As usual, our media here has shown a lack of interest in the story, which is truly disheartening considering this is a matter relevant to the freedom of the press.

But what is perhaps most disturbing to me, is that I have heard people who believe that there would have been nothing wrong with bombing Al Jazeera, because Al Jazeera is "anti-American."

First, despite how the station is portrayed here in the States, Al Jazeera is a credible news agency. The Economist, possibly the most respected and middle of center news mag around, a few months back had a special feature detailing this, and how the station is fairer than they are credited with being.

*According to the Feb. 26 - March 24 edition of the magazine writes that Al Jazeera was the first channel to provide a diversity of voices for Arab peoples, and that it grants air time to contrasting opinions (at one point being accused of Zionism for interviewing Israeli officials.) And a Brookings Institution survey found that there was little difference in opinions towards Americans between al-Jazeera viewers and nonviewers.

Secondly, so what if they are anti-American? Are they not entitled to that perspective? I don't think it sets a terriby good example of spreading freedom and democracy to be blowing up news stations that broadcast things you find disagreeable. Nevermind that bombing a civilian news agency, disregardless of what propaganda they may or may not be disseminating, is illegal, as far as I'm aware.

*Section added Dec. 9th (as promised)

Paul Kurtz on "the pursuit of excellence"

Whenever I receive a new issue of Free Inquiry in the mail, the first thing I do is flip it open to that issue's editorial by Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Kurtz is, in my opinion, the most reasonable voice of humanism on the planet alive today. He manages to express his views and defend his values without resorting to vitriol and without insulting those he disagrees with.

Which is why everytime I hear someone like Bill O'Reilly talk about the way in which secular humanists are ruining this country I have to wonder if he knows any actual secular humanists or if he's ever read an issue of Free Inquiry.

Take for example, the latest editorial by Kurtz, "The Pursuit of Excellence." In it, Kurtz explains that although humanists value toleration and defend the right to privacy, that does not mean we necessarily condone or remain uncritical of vulgarity and violence in society. He suggests that humanists must encourage a cultural Renaissance and reminds that "caring for others is essential."

I ask, is there really anyone that disagrees with such sentiment?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Blogger's Correction

I ran the following correction in my post on the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah, but since most readers aren't going to be looking back at that post I'm recopying it here since I'd hate to think I had helped spread erroneous information.

This [citing 50,000 civilians remaining in Fallujah at the time of the seige] is an error on my part for using the first figure I saw without checking other sources, especially given the source I used for the 50,000 figure was Project Censored. I've since seen sources estimate that the civilians in Fallujah numbered as low as 5,000 at the time of attack, most notably by Middle East expert Juan Cole, so the number is likely somewhere in between those two estimates.

And to keep the discussion going, here is a link to Juan Cole's post on this subject which I referenced above. There's good debate in the comments of that thread, also.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Art of the Day

Don Quixote (1955) - Pablo Picasso

This is another painting from my youth. My parents had it up in our living room.

What impresses me about the style displayed here is that although it seems almost amateurish and "scribbly" it still manages to evoke amost perfectly the Quixotic feel of the novel it was commisioned as tribute to (Picasso painted this for the 350th anniversay of the publication of Part 1 of Don Quixote by Cervantes.) What is really neat about the picture, to me as least, was that I grew up with this picture not knowing what it was from, since, as I did not develop an appreciation for art until later in life, I was never inclined to bother to pay any attention to such a thing as that. But when I first was exposed to the novel I immediately recognized that the painting was about the novel. Good job, Picasso.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Blogging Hiatus

I'll be out of town visiting relatives for the holiday and will likely not being blogging again until next week.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Teddy Roosevelt's ghost responds to Dick Cheney

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." - Theodore Roosevelt, from a 1918 editorial for the Kansas City Star

Dick Cheney versus truth, decency, and democracy

At some point in the future I'd like my blogging to center around things like art, literature, science, philosophy, history, etc. but so long as there are anti-humanists in politics like Dick Cheney making speeches like this one then I feel compelled to respond.

The suggestion that’s been made by some U.S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city
The suggestion that the President and his administration misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is without question true. That Cheney, a man who on Sept. 8, 2002 said, "we do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to aquire the equipment he needs ... to build a nuclear weapon" and on Jan. 22, 2004 said that, "there's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government" would have the audacity to call anyone who questioned this administration's pre-war intelligence claims "dishonest and reprehensible" is beyond description.

Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence, and were free to draw their own conclusions.

The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out. American soldiers and Marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures –- conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers –- and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie.
Allright, now this is where I really start to get ticked off. Cheney is here saying that the deaths of our soldiers is the fault of persons who have criticized and questioned this administration. Of course, Cheney doesn't believe their deaths is the fault of the people who sent them to a country to fight a war driven by blind ideological belief and which was executed with utter incompetence. No. It's the fault of the people who excersise their democratic right of voicing discontent. If we would all just become loyal subjects who accepted the truth as handed down by our philosopher kings Iraq would turn into magic fantasy land.

The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone -– but we’re not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.
See? He's a bully. Democrats (and the few Republicans - Chuck Hagel) who stand up to him are without backbone. Real men don't question leaders, they follow. Or maybe, real men understand that to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs, or 30,000 to 100,000 lives.

And historal accuracy is now rewriting history? Cheney is well into Orwell territory here.

We’re going to continue throwing their own words back at them.
Please, do. So that perhaps they will throw his own words back at him so that Cheney will be crushed under the weight of his own lies. At any rate, the general American populace understands that this issue is not about whether Democrats or Republicans were right about the war or whether Democrats believed the intelligence or not, its about whether or not the administration was justified in making the claims it did or not.

And this nation will stand behind our fighting forces with pride and without wavering until the day of victory.
See the subtle insertion of Newspeak? If you're not on the look out for it you'd almost think Cheney was speaking regular English. "Without wavering" means without questioning our leadership or rethinking our policy. This administration would rather doom our soldiers to a decade of death and chaos than to tacitly admit an error by changing our strategy in Iraq.

And here I'm going to borrow my ending from the Rude Pundit's take on this speech (because I'm in a particularly foul mood)

And when it was over, Cheney was whisked away where he could give off his shape, melt back into the pool of vile, gelatinous savagery that is his true form, and be stored away until he is needed again.

Bush versus science

President Bush is one of, if not the most, anti-science presidents we've had in United States history. And the polls reflect that. Bush has a 6% approval rating among scientists/engineers and an 87% disapproval rating.

Meanwhile, the GAO recently released a report detailing the FDA's "unusual" behavior regarding its failure to approve the Plan B contraception pill.

Quote of the day

"When you are born, you are given the key to the gates of heaven. Unfortunately, the same key opens the gates of hell." - Unknown ancient Buddhist and physicist and Richard Feynman's favorite quote (as quoted in Dreaming the Future by Clifford Pickover)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Et tu Bob Woodward?

Bob Woodward was leaked the identity of Valerie Plame "more than two years ago" yet kept this information to himself. How sad is that? A man who had been one of the exemplars of the value of investigative journalism now appears to have fallen down to the level of being a shill for those in power - its almost operatic. That's the exact opposite reason to keep a source secret than when Woodward was protecting "Deep Throat." How could Woodward allow himself to fall into a position so similar to that of Judy Miller ... I would hate to think that what I said about Miller goes ditto for Woodward.

I would be more inclined to give Woodward the benefit of the doubt if he had simply remained silent about the case, but Woodward has been vocally critical of the investigation. Something just seems wrong to me about Woodward having insider information, withholding it from the public, requesting Walter Pincus keep silent about his involvement* so as to avoid being subpoened by Fitzgerald while at the same time taking the liberty to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Blogger's Note- After writing this I noticed that Rory O'Connor had drawn the same comparison (although in a much more detailed and thought out fashion), and beat me by a day.

*I had mistakenly written that Woodward made this request to his editor. In actuality, Woodward withheld this information from his editor, as well.

Remembering a leader in the area of religious freedom

Reason magazine on Roger Williams

Americans don’t know much about history. Polls regularly indicate that upward of 95 percent of us can’t even name the century in which we were born or say whether we fought the Nazis or the Soviets during the Battle of New Orleans.

None of which excuses our collective amnesia regarding Roger Williams, the first American explicator of religious tolerance and secular government. If ever there was a time to recover his legacy, it’s now, with Christian zealots at home pushing creation science in schools and, far more important, Islamic fundamentalists abroad swearing death to godless infidels.

It’s a national shame that Williams is remembered, if at all, as the namesake of a low-ranked law school and the founder of Providence, Rhode Island, the grim port town whose main growth industry is serving as the backdrop for gross-out comedies by the Farrelly brothers.
Read on to see how Williams was one of the first men in the colonies to argue for the property rights of Indians and to argue that civil magistrates had no business enforcing religious rules, and how Williams helped establish Rhode Island with the first fully secular charter granted by the English government.


Via Media Channel (from the Washington Post)

A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

The CIA's secret budget

Probably common knowledge to most, but I was unaware that the CIA budget is kept secret until recently. Now, when I heard that, my immediate thought was, "um, shouldn't the public have some idea of how much money we're spending on the CIA?" And looking at the Mother Jones blog today, it turns out that the answer is, "yes, we should." As Bradford Plumer points out, article 1, section 9, clause 7 of the Constitution says

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.
So the CIA's secret budget (44 billion - it was leaked this year) is in violation of the Constitution. But this is nothing new, Plumer notes, as government spending secrecy has been a norm ever since the days of George Washington.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Halliburton's new low

War-profiteering and illegal business with regimes under sanction wasn't making Halliburton enough money, apparently, so they've added a new profit making tool to their arsenal: not paying workers. Read about it.

Update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Via the Brad Blog, today's edition to the New American newspeak dictionary

Enhanced interrogation technique: torture

War is profit

From Corpwatch

Even without all the specifics, it is clear that Lockheed is supplying the U.S. war in Iraq with a vast range of both personnel and materiel. In addition providing interrogators, it is currently seeking retired Army majors or lieutenant colonels to develop short- and long-range planning at the biggest U.S. base in Iraq: Camp Anaconda, in Balad, northern Iraq. Also being courted for work in Iraq are "red switch" experts to run the military's secure communications systems.

On the materiel side, Lockheed's Keyhole and Lacrosse satellites beam images from the war back to the military; its U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, F-16, F/A-22 jet fighters, and F-117 stealth attack fighters were used to "shock and awe" the Iraqis at the start of the US invasion; and ground troops employed its Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and the Javelin portable missiles in the invasion of Fallujah last year.

The company's reach and influence go far beyond the military. A New York Times profile of the company in 2004 opened with the sentence: "Lockheed Martin doesn't run the United States. But it does help run a breathtakingly big part of it."

"Over the last decade, Lockheed, the nation's largest military contractor, has built a formidable information-technology empire that now stretches from the Pentagon to the Post Office. It sorts your mail and totals your taxes. It cuts Social Security checks and counts the United States census. It runs space flights and monitors air traffic. To make all that happen, Lockheed writes more computer code than Microsoft" writes Tim Weiner.

The national security reporter for the New York Times explains how Lockheed gets its business: "Men who have worked, lobbied and lawyered for Lockheed hold the posts of secretary of the Navy, secretary of transportation, director of the national nuclear weapons complex, and director of the national spy satellite agency."

"Giving one company this much power in matters of war and peace is as dangerous as it is undemocratic," says Bill Hartung, senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. "Lockheed Martin is now positioned to profit from every level of the war on terror from targeting to intervention, and from occupation to interrogation.
And sometimes War is Profit combines with War is Sell. For example, General Electic owns NBC. General Electric manufactures weapons parts for Lockheed Martin and itself has military contracts. GE stands to profit from a war. NBC news covers that war. Conflict of interest?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Asbestos "reform"

If you're like me, you may have been scratching your head when you heard President Bush cite the need for tort reform in the area of asbestos litigation last January in his State of the Union address. Although I did not doubt that there may have been need for preventing frivolous law suits, I could not imagine it was enough of a problem to merit mention in such an important speech.

That was, of course, before I spent approximately two minutes on Google and found that Halliburton inherited a bulk of asbestos claims (some 300,000) through its purchase of DII Industries in 1998 under CEO Dick Cheney. Yes, this administration is that shameless.

Checking Mass Media Funk over at the Skeptic's Refuge I see that Robert Carrol is skeptical of the tort reform movement, too, and has written on the asbestos issue. What Carroll asks is why should these companies be protected "from suffering serious financial consequences for their assault upon millions of Americans."

War is sell

First, a quick note - I've been a bit too occupied over the last several days to blog much, and the next few days look to be just as hectic. I'll try to fit some blogging in where I can.

Firm Helps U.S. Mold News Abroad

The Rendon Group, directed by former Democratic Party political operative John Rendon, has garnered more than $56 million in Pentagon work since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Those contracts list such activities as tracking foreign reporters; "pushing" news favorable to U.S. forces; planting television news segments that promote U.S. positions; and creating a grass-roots voting effort in Puerto Rico on behalf of the Navy, Pentagon records show.

The contracts, some of which were obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the Bush administration is engaged in a war of images and words with Al Qaeda and other radical groups.
This is why the Center for Media and Democracy is such an excellent resource. I'd heard of the Rendon Group well before seeing this article. Stauber and Rampton cited the PR work of this group in selling the war in Iraq in their book Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's war on Iraq.

Also in the world of spin, the Bush administration has launched its new war on history in order to resell the war with Iraq. Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan parses this new line of rhetoric.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Freethought quote of the Day

"Perchance you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it." - Giordano Bruno, on being sentenced to death for heresy

Friday, November 11, 2005

If I were Michelle Malkin

I found this quote at a forum discussion today

ACLU enemy within

They are the biggest barrier to decency and attack everything that is American. They are a communist organization and they are destroying this country. The defend terrorists, pedophiles, the one world government and get way too involved with the government. If I was President, they would have to be taken down. I seriously would round them up and put them in jail. It's actually legal you can do it under the sedition act. But rest assured that I wouldn’t do it with people that I just disagree with. They interfere with government time and time again and that is the main reason we couldn’t get the 9-11 terrorists because they defended them to the core.

It sounds drastic but it has to be done. Now I know I am going to get crucified for this but I see no other way. They completely hijacked our judicial system as you will see many judges side with the ACLU and are members. There is not much you can do except take extreme measures.
Now, if I were like Malkin I'd write a book alleging that conservatives are "unhinged" fascists. But I'm not, and I don't think that. See, unlike Michelle, I'm able to distinguish between a set of philosophical principles (conservatism in this case) and particular individuals with rude, ignorant, and/or hateful opinions.

For more on Malkin and her brand of "journalism" check out David Neiwert's posts on her (like this for example) over at his blog, Orcinus.

Bush versus reality

"We will never back down. We will never give in. We will never accept anything less than complete victory" George W. Bush in his defense of the war in Iraq

Unsaid, "we will never face reality. I will never admit a mistake. I will never acknowledge the death and chaos that has resulted from my administration's blind indeological drive to invade a sovereign nation in spite of the entire world's opinion to do otherwise. I will never apologize for my administration attacking, smearing, and firing any dissenting rational opinion in the lead up to the war who turned out to be right."

Quote of the day

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Dwight D. Eisenhower

I suppose this an awkward shift from my post on Fallujah to the Art of the Day back to this quote, but its appropriate I feel, since in today's political environment expressing this sentiment will likely gain one the label of a "liberal" pacificist, so its important to remember one of the first individuals to call attention to the threat to democracy that the military-industrial complex poised was a Republican president and general.

Art of the Day

A Girl with Watering Can (1876) - Renoir

(Because my grandmother had this painting in her house when I was growing up)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fallujah: What the hell did we do?

I just got done watching the video where the Italian RAI News alleges that the US military used white phosporous, an incediary device which melts away human flesh (to the bone), and MK 77, which is similar to napalm, during its seige on the city of Fallujah. The images are graphic and horrifying (scroll down.) In the video you see a US military helicopter spraying round after round of something into the city. Despite this, I hoped it wasn't true. Sadly though, it probably is true. What remains to be answered, is to what extent could their usage have impacted the civilian population who remained in Fallujah (around 50,000 individuals.*)

In 1980 the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons banned the use of such weapons against civilian targets. The US did not sign that treaty.

I expect this will be updated to Project Censored's account from its 2006 #2 story Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and Civilian Deathtoll. I still hold out hope that it isn't true, but if the media never digs into the story how will anyone ever know either way for certain?

EDIT: Here are two skeptical questions I would have for the film makers.
- If white phosphorous can burn through to the bone, why did the corpses still have clothing?
- Several of the corpses were covered in maggots and looked to be in advanced stages of decomposition, what distinguishes these corpses from corpses burned from white phosphorous or MK 77?

Update - It doesn't help that the US military denied using white phosphorous for anything more than illumination purposes, since as seen at the Daily Kos entry linked above, that is not true, as the March edition of the army publication of Field Artillery Magazine writes

WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.
Americablog points out that the government response to these allegations had been

Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.
*This is an error on my part for using the first figure I saw without checking other sources, especially given the source I used for the 50,000 figure was Project Censored. I've since seen sources estimate that the civilians in Fallujah numbered as low as 5,000 at the time of attack, most notably by Middle East expert Juan Cole, so the number is likely somewhere in between those two estimates.

Salon on torture

A common response I am given when I complain about the rule of law not being applied to detainees is, "why should we by sympathetic to terrorists," to which I reply, "how do you know that every detainee is a terrorist if they have not recieved due process?"Perhaps I'm naive, but abandoning the principles we aim to preserve in the name of protecting them just does not seem right.

A defense attorney who has been fighting the Bush administration on this very subject has written an editorial for Salon that is worth reading.

Since 9/11, I've found myself swept up in defending basic human rights and the rule of law against a relentless onslaught by the Bush administration. We've brought suit on behalf of 500 nameless "John Doe" prisoners held at Guantánamo in defiance of the Geneva Conventions; we've fought the indefinite detention of American citizens; we're challenging the Defense Department and private contractors over the horrendous abuses at Abu Ghraib. We've uncovered terrible stories about cruelty and torture carried out by our country, like that of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen kidnapped and "rendered" to Syria by American forces, who was kept an underground cell for over 10 months and beaten for weeks on end with a thick cable. I represented three young men from England who were released from Guantánamo when it was finally proved they'd made false confessions -- after being stripped, hooded, isolated, chained to the floor for 12 hours at stifling temperatures and threatened by snarling dogs.
And Ratner, the author of the piece, points out what the Bush administration is really saying by seeking to veto McCain's anti-torture amendment

But this administration is now openly and baldly saying that it claims the right to torture, at its discretion. All the fictions that sustained the war on terror -- that abuses were one-time mistakes by low-level grunts; that the rules about human rights weren't clear; that soldiers didn't understand the parameters when they beat and humiliated and tortured prisoners -- have been replaced by a clear declaration: The United States is going to torture people as it sees fit, to subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment wherever and whenever it decides to.

Thank you Ralph Nader

Check out this story from the archives of Mother Jones about Ford Motor Company's cost-benefit analysis which led them to conclude retooling their Pinto model's burn prone gas tank was not the most cost effective course of action. Nevermind the 500 or more people who burned to death during the seven years the car was on the market without revised safety standards.

  • Fighting strong competition from Volkswagen for the lucrative small-car market, the Ford Motor Company rushed the Pinto into production in much less than the usual time.
  • Ford engineers discovered in pre-production crash tests that rear-end collisions would rupture the Pinto's fuel system extremely easily.
  • Because assembly-line machinery was already tooled when engineers found this defect, top Ford officials decided to manufacture the car anyway—exploding gas tank and all—even though Ford owned the patent on a much safer gas tank.
  • For more than eight years afterwards, Ford successfully lobbied, with extraordinary vigor and some blatant lies, against a key government safety standard that would have forced the company to change the Pinto's fire-prone gas tank.
  • Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    Quote of the day

    "Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession." - Captain Ian Fishback

    When words and actions do not seem to match Pt. 3

    "We do not torture" - George W. Bush

    From the New Yorker

    The house belongs to Mark Swanner, a forty-six-year-old C.I.A. officer who has performed interrogations and polygraph tests for the agency, which has employed him at least since the nineteen-nineties. (He is not a covert operative.) Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner’s custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. His head had been covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe; according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he asphyxiated. In a subsequent internal investigation, United States government authorities classified Jamadi’s death as a “homicide,” meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes. Swanner has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency.

    Manadel al-Jamadi was captured by Navy SEALs at 2 a.m. on November 4, 2003, after a violent struggle at his house, outside Baghdad. Jamadi savagely fought one of the SEALs before being subdued in his kitchen; during the altercation, his stove fell on them. The C.I.A. had identified him as a “high-value” target, because he had allegedly supplied the explosives used in several atrocities perpetrated by insurgents, including the bombing of the Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in October, 2003. After being removed from his house, Jamadi was manhandled by several of the SEALs, who gave him a black eye and a cut on his face; he was then transferred to C.I.A. custody, for interrogation at Abu Ghraib. According to witnesses, Jamadi was walking and speaking when he arrived at the prison. He was taken to a shower room for interrogation. Some forty-five minutes later, he was dead.

    For most of the time that Jamadi was being interrogated at Abu Ghraib, there were only two people in the room with him. One was an Arabic-speaking translator for the C.I.A. working on a private contract, who has been identified in military-court papers only as “Clint C.” He was given immunity against criminal prosecution in exchange for his coöperation. The other person was Mark Swanner.
    No wonder the Bush administration is seeking an exemption from the ban on torture for the CIA. But that's not all, under the watchful humane eye of the CIA there was an:

    Iraqi prisoner who was forced head first into a sleeping bag, then beaten; and the 2002 abuse of an Afghan prisoner who froze to death after being stripped and chained to the floor of a concrete cell. (The C.I.A. supervisor involved in the latter case was subsequently promoted.)
    So how could this sort of thing be legal? No full fledged CIA operative has been charged with any crime. The New Yorker suggests:

    One reason these C.I.A. officials may not be facing charges is that, in recent years, the Justice Department has established a strikingly narrow definition of torture
    The Bush administration, which doesn't torture, yet has redefined torture in such a way as to make what was previously torture not torture, and created a legal framework in which prohibitions against torture - both international and domestic - don't apply to persons detained during the "war on terror", which has secret prisons, which "renditions" people to places like Uzbekistan where prisoners have been boiled alive, and which is seeking an exemption for the CIA against the prohibition of "cruel, inhumane, or degrading" treatment of prisoners, also sought to keep the memos in which it argued all this a secret.

    Andrew Sullivan evaluates this situation,

    Watching and listening to [President Bush], it seems to me we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American servicemembers. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging.

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    Art of the Day

    The Three Ages of Man (1513-14) - Titian

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    Nat Hentoff on "TheTorture Question"

    Previously I had commented (here) on the Frontline episode "The Torture Question" and the next day I had expressed dismay that there was not much buzz about this very important documentary detailing how the situation at Abu Ghraib came to be. So I was pleased today to see Nat Hentoff has called some attention to the documentary in his latest Liberty Beat column for the Village Voice. In it Hentoff focuses on the group of attorneys who created the legal framework for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield to unilaterally assert the right to ignore Geneva and Army field manual guidelines for the treatment of prisoners and asks why they have not been held culpable for the abuses that have since come to light.

    For those that still have not seen it I highly recommend viewing the episode which can be seen in its entirety at the PBS website linked to earlier in this post.

    Calvin and Hobbes

    Slate's slide show essay on Calvin and Hobbes is a must view for fans of the strip.

    "Tell me what I know"

    Mathew Yglesias has an idea as to why the Bush administration is so keen on being able to use "cruel, inhumane, or degrading" interrogation methods.

    It turns out that when you torture someone until he tells you Iraq was training al-Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare, he'll tell you want you want to hear even if it isn't true. Mark Kleiman and Kevin Drum both point to this sort of problem as the "pragmatic case against torture." It seems to me, however, that this is more like the pragmatic case for torture. The Bush administration, among many other flaws, has embraced confirmation bias with remarkable gusto. It seems to be their main epistemic method.

    And that's precisely the sort of thing torture is really good for. If you already know what the truth is -- perhaps because it can be deduced from regime-type rather than boring intelligence gathering -- but just need some more evidence in order to convince others, then torture is a really, really, really good way of getting that kind of evidence. That's always been the main historical use of torture -- you have your prisoner, you want a confession, so you torture him until he confesses. It's not, after all, as if the administration was genuinely wondering about Iraq/al-Qaeda ties. They knew what they wanted to prove and they needed to make the case. Torture was an excellent way to get the job done.

    1984 Watch

    From the Washington Post

    The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

    Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

    The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks -- and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined.

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    Short story of the day

    This is background reading for Paul Krugman's most recent New York Times column.

    The Emperor's New Suit
    Hans Christian Anderson (1837)

    Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. He cared nothing about reviewing his soldiers, going to the theatre, or going for a ride in his carriage, except to show off his new clothes. He had a coat for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other ruler, "The King's in council," here they always said. "The Emperor's in his dressing room."

    In the great city where he lived, life was always gay. Every day many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two swindlers. They let it be known they were weavers, and they said they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable. Not only were their colors and patterns uncommonly fine, but clothes made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.

    "Those would be just the clothes for me," thought the Emperor. "If I wore them I would be able to discover which men in my empire are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools. Yes, I certainly must get some of the stuff woven for me right away." He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.

    They set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms. All the finest silk and the purest old thread which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty looms far into the night.

    "I'd like to know how those weavers are getting on with the cloth," the Emperor thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the fabric. It couldn't have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he'd rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole town knew about the cloth's peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.

    "I'll send my honest old minister to the weavers," the Emperor decided. "He'll be the best one to tell me how the material looks, for he's a sensible man and no one does his duty better."

    So the honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty looms.

    "Heaven help me," he thought as his eyes flew wide open, "I can't see anything at all". But he did not say so.

    Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent pattern, the beautiful colors. They pointed to the empty looms, and the poor old minister stared as hard as he dared. He couldn't see anything, because there was nothing to see. "Heaven have mercy," he thought. "Can it be that I'm a fool? I'd have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can't see the cloth."

    "Don't hesitate to tell us what you think of it," said one of the weavers.

    "Oh, it's beautiful -it's enchanting." The old minister peered through his spectacles. "Such a pattern, what colors!" I'll be sure to tell the Emperor how delighted I am with it."

    "We're pleased to hear that," the swindlers said. They proceeded to name all the colors and to explain the intricate pattern. The old minister paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the Emperor. And so he did.

    The swindlers at once asked for more money, more silk and gold thread, to get on with the weaving. But it all went into their pockets. Not a thread went into the looms, though they worked at their weaving as hard as ever.

    The Emperor presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the looms he couldn't see anything.

    "Isn't it a beautiful piece of goods?" the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary pattern.

    "I know I'm not stupid," the man thought, "so it must be that I'm unworthy of my good office. That's strange. I mustn't let anyone find it out, though." So he praised the material he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful colors and the exquisite pattern. To the Emperor he said, "It held me spellbound."

    All the town was talking of this splendid cloth, and the Emperor wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the looms. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two old trusted officials-the ones who had been to the weavers-he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them weaving with might and main, but without a thread in their looms.

    "Magnificent," said the two officials already duped. "Just look, Your Majesty, what colors! What a design!" They pointed to the empty looms, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.

    "What's this?" thought the Emperor. "I can't see anything. This is terrible!

    Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people! - Oh! It's very pretty," he said. "It has my highest approval." And he nodded approbation at the empty loom. Nothing could make him say that he couldn't see anything.

    His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Emperor in exclaiming, "Oh! It's very pretty," and they advised him to wear clothes made of this wonderful cloth especially for the great procession he was soon to lead. "Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!" were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The Emperor gave each of the swindlers a cross to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of "Sir Weaver."

    Before the procession the swindlers sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the Emperor's new clothes. They pretended to take the cloth off the loom. They made cuts in the air with huge scissors. And at last they said, "Now the Emperor's new clothes are ready for him."

    Then the Emperor himself came with his noblest noblemen, and the swindlers each raised an arm as if they were holding something. They said, "These are the trousers, here's the coat, and this is the mantle," naming each garment. "All of them are as light as a spider web. One would almost think he had nothing on, but that's what makes them so fine."

    "Exactly," all the noblemen agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.

    "If Your Imperial Majesty will condescend to take your clothes off," said the swindlers, "we will help you on with your new ones here in front of the long mirror."

    The Emperor undressed, and the swindlers pretended to put his new clothes on him, one garment after another. They took him around the waist and seemed to be fastening something - that was his train-as the Emperor turned round and round before the looking glass.

    "How well Your Majesty's new clothes look. Aren't they becoming!" He heard on all sides, "That pattern, so perfect! Those colors, so suitable! It is a magnificent outfit."

    Then the minister of public processions announced: "Your Majesty's canopy is waiting outside."

    "Well, I'm supposed to be ready," the Emperor said, and turned again for one last look in the mirror. "It is a remarkable fit, isn't it?" He seemed to regard his costume with the greatest interest.

    The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn't dare admit they had nothing to hold.

    So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

    "But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.

    "Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?" said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "He hasn't anything on. A child says he hasn't anything on."

    "But he hasn't got anything on!" the whole town cried out at last.

    The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all.

    Friday, November 04, 2005

    I think Brad phrased it better than me

    I had written, here, that the mainstream media had responded "so what?" to the release of the GAO report two weeks ago which found that "[c]oncerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes." Well, I think Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog has put it better:

    Mainstream Media to American Democracy: Drop Dead!

    News of the landmark non-partisan report and bi-partisan news release was carried on a few Internet sites (here, here and here) in a few tech journals (here, here and here) and a couple of tiny independent newspapers (here and here). But there has not been a single wire-service (not AP, not UPI, not Reuters, not AFP etc.) nor a single mainstream American print newspaper (not NYTimes, not Washington Post, not any of them) to run even a paragraph on any of it. Not one.

    New qualification for drug approval: must be approved by reactionary religious leaders

    Ronald Bailey at Reason magazine points out the strange logic behind some religous figures (who happen to hold some influence over the FDA and this adminstration) disapproval of drugs administered as a result of sexual activity. The rationale is basically this: if you cure people who get sick as a result of sexual activity you take away the motivation not to have sex, so to keep them from having sex we shouldn't give them a cure for, say, HPV or allow them to take the morning after pill.

    But, as Bailey explains, this line of logic need not stop at drugs relating to sexual activity. Why not apply this logic to all morally questionable activity? No treatment for obesity, drug abuse, etc.

    Oh, what a wonderful world this would (not) be.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Book review: Inside the Wire

    Several weeks ago I finished reading Inside the Wire : A Military Intelligence Soldier's Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo by Erik Saar & Viveca Novak, the story of Army Sgt. Erik Saar's first person account of the six months he spent at Guantanamo as an Arabic translator. Saar had gone to the island with high hopes of helping his country gather intelligence, but he left with serious doubts about the manner in which our government was going about its "war on terror."

    When Saar first arrives at Gitmo one of the first things he notices is the relative inexperience of the MI's. Saar identifies several factors that dominated his experience at Gitmo:
    - Inexperienced interrogators
    - Pressure to gather intelligence
    - Confusion over what the boundaries of acceptable methods were once it was declared that the Geneva conventions did not apply
    - Guards were constantly told that detainees were "the worst of the worst" and terrorists responsible for 9/11

    Over the course of Saar's 6 month service he notices that tensions on the base seem to grow. The guards become increasingly short-tempered and aggressive towards the detainees, while the translators Saar is assigned to work with grow divided between Christians and non-Muslims versus Muslims who had started to identify with the radicalized detainees. And overall, there is generally a desire to just get off the base and never come back. (With Saar detailing the frustrating process by which many military personel were held on base longer than they were supposed to be there through back-door bureacratic methods.)

    One aspect of the detainee abuse scandal that I feel has been overlooked is the emotional stress placed on the interrogators and guards themselves. For example, Saar relates an incident where a female interrogator breaks down into tears after sexually exploiting herself (by rubbing her breasts on a detainee and smearing red dye from a marker on him while claiming it to be menstural fluid) in an effort to break one particular detainees religious faith.

    There is also the disturbing incident where a military riot unit (the IRF) beats a US soldier (Sean Baker) severely enough to hospitalize him during a training drill where the soldier posed (unknown to the riot unit) as a uncooperative detainee.

    Saar also sees that the base is having an undesired effect on the detainees, as well. The problem is that if the detainees were not radicals when they came into the base, there was a good chance they would be radicals when they came out. Detainees begin to attempt suicide more frequently either as a means to protest their treatment or to escape the (by design) hopelessness of their situation.

    Amidst all this, Saar comes to the realization that most of the detainees either don't belong there or are of little-to-no intelligence value. Indeed, at one point another officer reveals to Saar that the military knows that most of the detainees at Gitmo should not be there but is purposefully releasing them slowly and in small numbers because to do other wise would make the US look bad.

    Saar, either perusing detainee files or witnessing interrogations first hand sees much futility in the process, with inexperienced guards trying to force* or bully information out of detainees who simply become less likely to respond. He juxtaposes this sort of interrogation technique with a non-mp investigator he is assigned to work with who uses casual conversational techniques to patiently extract information from detainees.

    Despite the general uselessness and counterproductive nature of what Saar witnessed going on at Gitmo, the base commander, General Miller maintained that Gitmo was obtaining valuable information to help combat terrorism. The emptiness of this rhetoric is exemplified in this pointed passage recounting a conversation between Saar and visiting Major General Keith Alexander

    I gave him a quick highlight of what we did, highlighting the positive to the extent I could, per the drill, but then General Alexander asked me a pointed question. How many of a certain kind of classified report had we sent out from my office?

    He caught me off guard because I knew that he was referring to reports released thoughout the U.S. intelligence community worldwide. Our office, for all the intrigue General Miller liked to cloak it in, didn't do that. Frankly, the results of our work didn't merit that treatment. "Well, sir," I said. "We haven't issued any reports like that. Primarily our product is used internally here at Camp Delta."

    He stared at me blankly and seemed to wonder what General Miller was trying to sell him.
    But the ultimate point to be taken from the book, which Saar summarizes in his epilogue is this:

    To me, Gitmo represents failure on two fronts. The first failure is a moral one. Our government's dangerous dance around the Geneva Conventions and the use of questionable tactics on the detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere is morally inconsistent with what we stand for as a nation. We claim to honor the principles of justice and human rights. I didn't personally see anything that I would label torture as most people understand the word. But I saw many things that were dehumanizing, that degraded us all.

    When I took the oath of enlistment along with other fuutre soldiers back in 1998, I swore to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. I believe that there is an inherent promise given to every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine in turn who pledges his or her life in the country's defense: The country will only use you to defend the principles embodied in that revered founding document. Guantanamo represents a broken promise. We're accurately called hypocrites when we deny any sort of justice or due process to individuals in the name of protecting Americans.

    The second argument is more practical. The price we are paying for Gitmo is too high given the meager results we are getting. Guantanamo is a rallying cry throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and even some of our closest allies oppose us in this venture. The bottom line is this: the minimal intelligence we are gathering from those held in Cuba is not worth the harm we are doing to our international reputation. It's costing us our moral leadership in the world. How long until we pause, look over our shoulder, and find no one is following?
    *I had originally written "beat or bully" but I've since changed that since its misleading, as Saar never alleges to see any direct physical beating during interrogations.

    A reason to bookmark Human Rights Watch

    While President Bush prepares to use his first veto so that he can maintain the right to unilaterally torture people in one of the most anti-democratic moves in American history, Congress was preparing to vote on the Patriot Reauthorization Act which contains provisions that make it easier for the government to kill people. This had escaped my notice until I checked Human Rights Watch and saw their two recent briefs on this subject (here and here).

    Ok, we have a(n) (alleged) secret prison system operating without oversight. We have an administration that has fought tooth and nail for the right to declare someone a terrorist and then lock that individual up for ever without any oversight. We have an administration that says it needs to be able to torture people without oversight. And now we have proposed legislation that would make it easier for the federal government to kill people.

    My only response is to requote a previous quote of the day

    "... there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods ... These people don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you. Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists." - George Orwell, from The Freedom of the Press

    An admirable response

    A little known fact of American history was that blind, deaf, and mute heroine Helen Keller was a socialist activist who fought for the rights of factory workers and the right of women's suffrage. Say what you will about her politics, but one must admire the eloquence inherent in the response she gave when the Brooklyn Eagle wrote, "her [socialist] mistakes spring out of the manifest limitations of her development." Keller responded,

    Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! What an ungallant bird it is! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent ... The Eagle and I are at war. I hate the system which it represents ... When it fights back, let it fight fair ... It is not fair fighting or good argument to remind me and others that I cannot see or hear. I can read. I can read all the socialist books I have time for in English, German, and French. If the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle should read some of them, he might be a wiser man, and make a better newspaper. If I ever contribute to the Socialist movement the book that I sometimes dream of, I know what I shall name it: Industrial Blindness and Social Deafness.
    Source - A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present by Howard Zinn

    Cool site of the day

    The Herodotus Project (via Discover magazine's web picks)

    The site is a serialized translation of Herodotus's The Histories with photos of the locations and artifacts described by Herodotus. Herodotus is known as the "father of history" because the The Histories essentially created the discipline of historical narrative.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    We do have a secret CIA prison system, say anonymous officials

    From the Washington Post

    The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

    The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

    The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

    The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

    If these allegations are true, the question is no longer, "is America operating a Gulag prison system", but rather, "is America's Gulag as bad as Soviet Russia's was?" Regardless of the answer, the fact that this question even need be asked is an embarassment, and makes a mockery of the rule of law for which America is supposed to stand.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. is arguing with the U.N. that its okay for America to violate human rights treaties we've signed on to so long as we do it outside of the country.

    A response to Chris Hitchens

    Since I have the Christopher Hitchens Web in my links section I feel obligated to respond to Chris's latest editorial for the Wall Street Journal. I can understand Mr. Hitchens believing that Sadaam posessed wmd's or soon would, and I can understand Mr. Hitchens desire to see Sadaam removed from power, as there is no question that he was a monsterous dictator, but I can not understand Mr. Hitchens defense of the thoroughly despicable and anti-democratic behavior our government employed to achieve the war. And I can not excuse Mr. Hitchens inventing a fantasy reality to validate the war, a war which to date has cost tens of thousands of lives and which might continue to cost tens of thousands of lives as long as we "stay the course" since the course that has been set by President Bush's administration has been disastrous incompetence.

    The outrage of the left at any infringement of CIA prerogatives is only the least of the ironies in the indictment of Lewis Libby for discussing matters the disclosure of which, in and of itself, appears to have violated no known law.
    The outrage of "the left" is over the adminstration using anonymous leaking to reporters to discredit political rivals. Lewis Libby was not indicted (for outing an agent) because Fitzgerald could not prove he knowingly outed a covert agent, but it takes a great deal of naivety to think Libby and Rove and Cheney and the rest of the Iraq "cabal" did not know what they were doing when they outed Plame. If they didn't know she was covert they should have checked to see if she was covert before outing her. Regardless, anyone who had seen the State Dept. memo that circulated around the White House in 2003 would have known that Plame's status as an employee of the CIA was classified.

    But Hitchens is right, Libby's disclosure in and of itself violates no known law, but as he notes in his next paragraph, Fitzgerald provides an answer as to why it was not a violation - it could not be proven that Libby "knowingly" and "intentionally" outed an agent. This does not mean that he did not knowingly or intentionally out an agent, it just means Fitzgerald lacked the evidence to establish it. Not surprising, as Fitzgerald is not a mind-reader.

    The fact that is amazing to me is that Hitchens can remain so oblivious to the fact that what Libby was charged with, however, provides circumstantial evidence that he knew what he was doing when he outed Plame to reporters. Those five counts he was charged with were basically about him lying about how he came to know who Plame was.

    To judge by his verbose and self-regarding performance, containing as it did the most prolix and least relevant baseball analogy ever offered to a non-Chicago audience, Patrick Fitzgerald is not a man with whom the ironic weighs heavily.
    Judge for yourelf, reader. Here is the transcript of Fitzgerald's press briefing.

    As to the critical question of whether Ms. Plame had any cover to blow, Mr. Fitzgerald was equally insouciant: "I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert."

    In the absence of any such assertion or allegation, one must be forgiven for wondering what any of this gigantic fuss can possibly be about
    Interesting. Hitchens seems to have missed this part of Fitzgerald's speech

    Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community.

    Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.

    The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well- known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.

    Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003.

    Hitchens continues with utter nonsense

    George Tenet, in his capacity as Director of Central Intelligence, tells Dick Cheney that he employs Mr. Wilson's wife as an analyst of the weird and wonderful world of WMD. So jealously guarded is its own exclusive right to "out" her, however, that no sooner does anyone else mention her name than the CIA refers the Wilson/Plame disclosure to the Department of Justice.
    Right, Chris. Because Tenet telling the Vice President in private Plame's identity is the same thing as members of the VP's office telling reporters her identity anonymously in the hopes they'd run a story outing her. Same difference, in Hitchens fantasy world.

    Mr. Fitzgerald, therefore, seems to have decided to act "as if." He conducts himself as if Ms. Plame's identity was not widely known, as if she were working under "non official cover" (NOC)...
    Fact: Valerie Plame was under non official cover. I refer Mr. Hitchens to the last two issues of The Economist, for a reputable source on this matter

    However, what if one proposes an alternative "what if" narrative? What if Mr. Wilson spoke falsely when he asserted that his wife, who was not in fact under "non-official cover," had nothing to do with his visit to Niger? What if he was wrong in stating that Iraqi envoys had never even expressed an interest in Niger's only export? (Most European intelligence services stand by their story that there was indeed such a Baathist initiative.) What if his main friends in Niger were the very people he was supposed to be investigating?

    Well, in that event, and after he had awarded himself some space on an op-ed page, what was to inhibit an employee of the Bush administration from calling attention to these facts, and letting reporters decide for themselves?
    Well, for one, the classified status of Plame's identity would have prevented an employee of the Bush administration from calling attention to that fact. Regarding the substance of Wilson's claims, a member of the Bush administration indeed could have challenged him on the facts. They could have done that publically, and such an act would have been within the democratic spirit.

    But the leakers were not interested in doing that. The leakers wanted to generate a meme to discredit Wilson. That meme was Wilson was a lying partisan unqualified to comment, who only was sent to Niger because his wife pulled some strings to get him there. See, that's a form of the genetic fallacy, an ad hominem attack. Its red herring, Chris - and you bought it.

    All worthwhile information in Washington is "classified" one way or another. We have good reason to be grateful to various officials and reporters who have, in our past, decided that disclosure was in the public interest. None of the major criticisms of the Bush administration would have become available if it were not for the willingness of many former or serving bureaucrats to "go public." But this widely understood right--now presumably in some jeopardy--makes no sense if supporters of the administration are not permitted to reply in kind.
    The disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity was not in the public interest. It was in the private interest of the people within the administration that wanted a war with Iraq. I wonder if the people who have worked with Plame in the past who might still be operating in the field under cover think the outing of her identity was in their best interests.

    If those public officials who outed Plame were interested in the public interest they would have taken the debate truthfully to the public - they would have admitted that the documents cited had questionable intelligence value (the CIA and State Dept. had concluded in early 2002 the claims of Iraq seeking uranium in Niger were baseless) - instead of taking the more Machiavellian route (yes Chris, secretly spreading information to discredit an enemy without confronting the content of their objections head on is indeed Machiavellian.)

    Hitchens concludes that the legislation against outing an agent has "hallow[ed] out the First Amendment". I'm not sure how to respond to this line of reasoning. I suppose on some level not being able to out a covert agent's identity is an abrigement of the 1st amendment, but it would seem obvious why such was necessary.

    Again, I refer Mr. Hitchens to the latest issue of The Economist, which asks rhetorically what the White House could claim they were aiming to protect

    The right to leak confidential information to the press? The right to smear a critic of your policies? The right to tell half truths to a grand jury?
    Hitchens has unashamedly answered yes to all of these. Somehow, the following bit from Fitzgerald does not bother Chris. It bothers me, and it should bother any American who expects honesty and integrity from a public official.

    So that at least seven discussions involving government officials prior to the day when Mr. Libby claims he learned this information as if it were new from Mr. Russert. And, in fact, when he spoke to Mr. Russert, they never discussed it.

    But in addition to focusing on how it is that Mr. Libby learned this information and what he thought about it, it's important to focus on what it is that Mr. Libby said to the reporters.

    In the account he gave to the FBI and to the grand jury was that he told reporters Cooper and Miller at the end of the week, on July 12th. And that what he told them was he gave them information that he got from other reporters; other reporters were saying this, and Mr. Libby did not know if it were true. And in fact, Mr. Libby testified that he told the reporters he did not even know if Mr. Wilson had a wife.

    And, in fact, we now know that Mr. Libby discussed this information about Valerie Wilson at least four times prior to July 14th, 2003: on three occasions with Judith Miller of the New York Times and on one occasion with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.

    The first occasion in which Mr. Libby discussed it with Judith Miller was back in June 23rd of 2003, just days after an article appeared online in the New Republic which quoted some critical commentary from Mr. Wilson.

    After that discussion with Judith Miller on June 23rd, 2003, Mr. Libby also discussed Valerie Wilson on July 8th of 2003.

    During that discussion, Mr. Libby talked about Mr. Wilson in a conversation that was on background as a senior administration official. And when Mr. Libby talked about Wilson, he changed the attribution to a former Hill staffer.

    During that discussion, which was to be attributed to a former Hill staffer, Mr. Libby also discussed Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, working at the CIA -- and then, finally, again, on July 12th.

    In short -- and in those conversations, Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that other reporters are saying;" Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that I don't know if it's true;" Mr. Libby never said, "I don't even know if he had a wife."

    At the end of the day what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true.

    It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.

    More on 2004 Ohio election irregularity

    In the Media Jones section of the current issue of Mother Jones magazine Mark Hertsgaard investigates claims of Ohio election fraud cited in the Free Press's election coverage and later the Conyer's report and finds exaggerations and misleading information. Although over all he concludes there was enough suspicious activity to warrant closer scrutiny of the election, he does believe the case for Ohio being "stolen" is not as strong as skeptics such as Mark Crispin Miller make it out to be.

    Despite reader commentary on the Hertsgaard's review being largely negative (and overly harsh, in my opinion) I would recommend this read to anyone who is interested in the issue of vote fraud since it moves the debate forward by taking seriously the claims of fraud rather than dismissing them out of hand as most of the mainstream media has done.

    Full access to the article is restricted to registered users so you'll have to find a print copy to read the article in its entirety.

    Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    Voting system flawed, press says 'so what'

    That is what the press said, not with their words but with their silence, as indicated by the lack of coverage of the GAO report issued Oct. 21 that found that there are serious concerns over our electronic voting system that need to be addressed because identified flaws have the potential to change the outcomes of elections (let that sink in for a second ...) but that changes were unlikely to be affected before the 2006 election.

    Some examples of problems with the voting systems listed in the report include:

  • Cast ballots, ballot definition files, and audit logs could be modified.

  • Supervisor functions were protected with weak or easily-guessed passwords.

  • Systems had easily picked locks and power switches that were exposed and unprotected.

  • Local jurisdictions misconfigured their electronic voting systems, leading to election day problems.

  • Voting systems experienced operational failures during elections.

  • Vendors installed uncertified electronic voting systems.
  • Here is a highlight sheet of the report.

    How low must the press in this country sink before the public has had enough? A story about the potential loss of our franchise, the very right to exercise our citizenship and give the consent of the governed is found to have significant flaws and the press can't be bothered to inform the people of it? Does no one understand the implications of what it means if your vote is taken from you by fraud?

    You know, when I read Lewis Lapham's scathing satirical column On Message in the latest issue of Harper's I thought he was being too harsh. But considering the state of the media and how uninformed significant portions of the population are, perhaps not

    The Nazis in the 1930s were forced to waste precious time and money on the inoculation of the German citizenry, too well‑educated for its own good, against the infections of impermissible thought. We can count it as a blessing that we don't bear the burden of an educated citizenry. The systematic destruction of the public-school and library systems over the last thirty years, a program wisely carried out under administrations both Republican and Democratic, protects the market for the sale and distribution of the government's propaganda posters. The publishing companies can print as many books as will guarantee their profit (books on any and all subjects, some of them even truthful), but to people who don't know how to read or think, they do as little harm as snowflakes falling on a frozen pond.