Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Quote of the day

"In the past, a soldier caught waterboarding a detainee was subject to a court martial. These days, the defense secretary sanctions it." - Andrew Sullivan

The Bhopal disaster

I'm feeling lazy, so I'll try to make this point concisely.

In 1984 forty tons of methyl isocyanate was accidentally leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people and the injury of hundreds of thousands. The accident was the result of gross negligence on the part of the plant, having failed to take virtually any necessary safety precautions. Yet little in the way of compensation has reached the victims of this travesty; additionally, Bhopal is still contaminated.

The Bhopal disaster is what could happen in the United States if the safety and environmental regulations that we have were not in place.

Union Carbide, which contributed to Bush's campaign funds, would indeed like to be deregulated. And when Bush became President, one of the first things he did was to ask polluting industries which rules they would like to not follow, and then to proceed to try and eliminate or roll-back those rules.

Do you think this is fear-mongering on my part? If so, then read this.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Today's addition to the New American Newspeak Dictionary is:

Luntzspeak: environmental Newspeak crafted by pollster Frank Luntz

Quote of the day

"Before reading the report, I wouldn't have expected to find myself thinking that such a course of action was either likely or possible; after reading the report, I don't know why we would run the risk of not impeaching the man." - Lewis Lapham, on reading the Conyer's report on the way in which the American public was sold a war in Iraq

Broken Democracy Watch

In a democratic society, should the following ever be the case? From Yahoo

While technically all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for grabs in November, handicappers expect a mere 33 to be competitive, in part because many incumbents already have picked the voters they hope will return them to office.

Across the country, lawmakers will run for re-election in bizarrely shaped congressional districts carefully drawn to include voters who support them and exclude those who don't.

Case in point

Allright, I just got done saying the Bush administration should not be trusted on matters relating to the environment. So guess what I came across in today's Washington Post ... that's right, an article about the Bush administration distorting science in favor of generating profit for industry.

From the report

If fire ravages a national forest, as happened here in southwest Oregon when the Biscuit fire torched a half-million acres four years ago, the Bush administration believes loggers should move in quickly, cut marketable trees that remain and replant a healthy forest.

"We must quickly restore the areas that have been damaged by fire," President Bush said in Oregon four years ago after touring damage from the Biscuit fire. He called it "common sense."

Common sense, though, may not always be sound science. An Oregon State University study has raised an extraordinary ruckus in the Pacific Northwest this winter by saying that logging burned forests does not make much sense.

Logging after the Biscuit fire, the study found, has harmed forest recovery and increased fire risk. What the short study did not say -- but what many critics of the Bush administration are reading into it -- is that the White House has ignored science to please the timber industry. The study is consistent with research findings from around the world that have documented how salvage logging can strip burned forests of the biological diversity that fire and natural recovery help protect.

The study also questions the scientific rationale behind a bill pending in Congress that would ease procedures for post-fire logging in federal forests. This, in turn, has annoyed the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who has received far more campaign money from the forest products industry than from any other source, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
See, it would be one thing to look at the available evidence, admit that post-fire logging is not in the best interests of the forrest, but then decide that economic needs outweighed the benefit of allowing the forest to recover naturally. One may or may not agree with that choice, but that approach allows for an honest debate. Yet, that is now how the Bush administration operates. No. Instead we are told that an action that will benefit the timber industries that have contributed campaign money to Bush and Rep. Walden is being done in the interest of protecting the forests. That is dishonest and insulting, as the purpose of this approach is to side step discussion by tricking the public into agreeing to these acts.

But don't take my word for it, take a look at the advice that pollster Frank Luntz gave to Republicans about how to sell their environmental policy to the public.* Do numbers 4 and 8 sound familiar?

*I'd like to point out the section where Luntz writes about Michael Fumento exposing the legal holes in Erin Brokovitch's case. That's this Michael Fumento and this legal case.

DuPont to dump treated wastewater

I would be nervous if I was in any way dependent on the water of the Delaware River. Because:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won't oppose the U.S. Department of Defense and DuPont Co.'s plan to dump a wastewater byproduct of a deadly nerve agent into the Delaware River.

The agency said it's assured of a safe treatment for up to 4 million gallons of caustic wastewater created in the treatment for VX, a chemical weapon with a pinhead-size potency to kill a human. DuPont is treating VX for disposal at its Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana.

The agent, once neutralized, would be shipped to DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J., for discharge into the river.

I would be concerned for several reasons:
1. Its DuPont. They have a history of environmental disregard, and a history of trying to hide and spin the results of said environmental disregard.
2. Its the Bush administration. The Bush administration has a history of lax enforcement of environmental regulations.

Does this mean that the treated water won't be safe? No, it does not. Frankly, I know nothing about VX and the cleanup process; it could be the case that the new procedure developed by DuPont will render the water perfectly safe. But DuPont and the Bush administration have not acted in a manner that should give anyone the peace of mind to trust them. The people whose lives might be affected by this decision should be extremely weary, and should definitely look to inform themselves on this issue.

Remember, this is an administration that has sought to lower the value of a human life.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bagram: forgotten legal black hole

Is this the conduct of a nation that stands for the rule of law?

While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges

Pentagon officials have often described the detention site at Bagram, a cavernous former machine shop on an American air base 40 miles north of Kabul, as a screening center. They said most of the detainees were Afghans who might eventually be released under an amnesty program or transferred to an Afghan prison that is to be built with American aid.

But some of the detainees have already been held at Bagram for as long as two or three years. And unlike those at Guantánamo, they have no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as "enemy combatants," military officials said.

Privately, some administration officials acknowledge that the situation at Bagram has increasingly come to resemble the legal void that led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June 2004 affirming the right of prisoners at Guantánamo to challenge their detention in United States courts.

While Guantánamo offers carefully scripted tours for members of Congress and journalists, Bagram has operated in rigorous secrecy since it opened in 2002. It bars outside visitors except for the International Red Cross and refuses to make public the names of those held there. The prison may not be photographed, even from a distance.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The history of life

The universe is thought to be 13.7 billion years old. Matter and energy can not be created or destroyed - they can only change forms or convert from one to another.

By implication, that means you are 13.7 bilion years old. Or more precisely, the matter that comprises your body has existed, in some form or other, for 13.7 billion years old. This matter is constantly being recyled and replaced with new matter, matter that is also 13.7 billion years old. What your age represents is the length of time that the atomic pattern that is the blueprint of your being has been in the world.

At the start of the universe the only elements that existed were hydrogen and helium. All the other elements, including the organic elements that are the building blocks of life on Earth, were produced inside of stars. This means that at some point, the carbon and nitrogen and oxygen that is the bulk of your body (excluding hydrogen) was formed billions of years ago inside of a star by the process of nucleosynthesis. As Carl Sagan liked to muse, we are quite literally made of star dust.

The Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago. One billion years later, evidence of life first emerged. There currently is no accepted theory as to how life began, but I suspect time will bare out the finding that life began with some sort of autocatalytic process where proteins that filled the oceans began to self-replicate. If this turns out to be correct, this means we are the Earth come alive.

Speculation aside, you represent an unbroken chain of life stretching back to the time when life first appeared. It took 3.5 billion years of evolution to arive at you. You represent genes that have traveled billions of years, changing and evolving along the way, to arrive in combination at the production of you.

All life on Earth shares as a common ancestor that first life form that rose in the sea. That means you are related to every living thing on the planet. It is a favorite habit of Creationists to hang their argument of personal incredulity upon the notion that we evolved from monkeys (we didn't, we share a common simian ancestor with them) but I've never understood this, because if you're going to make such an argument (which is a logical error, anyways) one can find much more outrageous claims from evolutionary theory. Yet these claims are true.

The common ancestor of all multi-celled animals was probably something resembling a sea sponge. Yes, one of your great........great grandparents may have been a sponge. Strange but true.

Approximately 440 million years ago one of your grandparents was swimming in the ocean as a fish. Thankfully for you, he managed to not get eaten before reproducing and passing on the genes that would eventually become you along their billion years journey.

One hundred millions later - 340 million years ago - those genes had evolved and brought your ancestor out of the sea. This ancestor was some sort of amphibian.

Another hundred million years marked a tough time for your ancestor, as at the end of the Permian there was a mass extinction in which 90 - 95 % of life on Earth was wiped out. This grandparent was now a mammal-like reptile, probably something close to a therapsid. If he hadn't managed to survive the greatest extinction in Earth's history, you would not be here today.

More time passes. Its the age of dinosaurs. Your ancestor is now a small, shrew-like mammal. And around 65 million years ago, he manages to survive a meteorite strike that was so cataclysmic that 85% of all life went extinct. According to Richard Dawkins, the sound of the collision would have been so thundering that most life on the planet would have been struck deaf. Your possibly deaf, possibly blind, possibly burned ancestor dodged a proverbial bullet, fortunately.

This great .... great grandparent of yours survived and its descendents proceeded to evolve, slowly and slightly, so slowly and slightly that our minds, which have a habit of trying to view the world in discrete categories, have a difficult time grasping how such changes could ever occur. But occur they did, and around 40 million years ago - 25 million years after the great escape of your other ancestor - your ancestor was now swinging from a tree. He was something similar to a monkey.

It took another 40 million years of evolution to get from him to you. That's 40 million more years of your direct predecessors managing to win the game of life and successfully pass on their genetic material to the next generation.

If you think this is remotely interesting, then check out The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins. Its written as a backwards pilgrimage through time, with humans being joined along the way at rendevous points in history by other living organisms where they share a common ancestor (concestor) with us.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Working for change

In the post I did on our broken democracy I wrote the following in regards to what needed to be done in order to affect change.

I expect it will take the people making a lot of noise. The press has failed us in this matter, so firstly pressure needs to be put on media outlets to cover this issue. This can probably be accomplished at the local level more efficiently than at the national. After that, I'm not sure. But becoming aware of the problem is the first step.
Such a plan has been formulated, it appears. The plan is to get natives of Kansas to write letters to their local papers pressuring the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Patrick Roberts (R- Kan), to call for an investigation of the NSA surveillance program. I have my doubts about whether or not Roberts can be swayed to deviate from his history of partisan protection of the Bush administration, but I welcome the effort.

And for added fun, here is Glenn kicking me in the ass for being overly pessimistic. Which kind of got under my skin, so I think I'm going to have to write the best darned letter to the editor that our local paper has ever seen.

Art of the Day

Melancholy (1891) - Edvard Munch

Yeah, I'm in a bad mood (unrelated to politics, in case one was inclined to speculate.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Despicable argumentation

These pinheads running around going, "Get out of Iraq now," don't know what they're talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in World War II that were saying, "Ah, he's not such a bad guy." They don't get it. - Bill O'Reilly, Nov. 30 2005

Now, it's a small little thing, but I picked up on it, because here is the essential problem in Iraq. There are so many nuts in the country -- so many crazies -- that we can't control them. And I don't -- we're never gonna be able to control them. So the only solution to this is to hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible. Because we just can't control these crazy people. This is all over the place. And that was the big mistake about America: They didn't -- it was the crazy-people underestimation. We did not know how to deal with them -- still don't. But they're just all over the place. - Bill O'Reilly, Feb. 20 2006

Cognitive dissonance much Bill? Hm? See, maybe those people who thought we should withdraw from Iraq weren't like apologists for Hitler after all, or is it that they are but you are not?Does this suggest anything to you? Do you think maybe you should not be so cavalier about denigrating the character of people whom you disagree with in the future?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Quote of the day

Via Kevin Drum, Michael Shermer on the sentencing of David Irving for Holocaust denial.

Austria's treatment of Irving as a political dissident should offend both the people who defend the rights of political cartoonists to express their opinion of Islamic terrorists and the civil libertarians who leaped to the defense of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill when he exercised his right to call the victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns." Why doesn't it? Why aren't freedom lovers everywhere offended by Irving's court conviction?

Freedom is a principle that must be applied indiscriminately. We have to defend Irving in order to defend ourselves. Once the laws are in place to jail dissidents of Holocaust history, what's to stop such laws from being applied to dissenters of religious or political histories, or to skepticism of any sort that deviates from the accepted canon?

Our President, the King

From Reason

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says Congress approved the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic wiretaps when it authorized a military response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. He also has said President Bush later decided not to ask for congressional approval of the surveillance program (approval he supposedly already had) because Congress probably would have said no (even though, by Gonzales' account, it already had said yes).

Now the Bush administration is pursuing legislation suggested by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) that would provide the congressional blessing it says it always had yet never sought. But since the president apparently thinks he has unilateral authority to do whatever he deems necessary to prevent terrorism, any law that aims to regulate his conduct in this area may not accomplish much.


The administration's defense of the NSA's wiretaps suggests the PATRIOT Act's electronic surveillance provisions are superfluous at best. And if Bush thinks he has the authority to quietly disregard statutory restrictions on wiretaps, how can we be sure his administration is punctiliously following the legal requirements for seizing records or conducting physical searches? The president's secret exercise of undefined powers renders "clear red lines" invisible.

"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
This is one of the grieavances against King George III listed in the Declaration of Independence.

Broken democracy

The principle foundation of a democracy is that the people are governed by their consent, meaning that they have some recourse by which to remove a government that they no longer find exceptable. In the American system, that opportunity comes about via periodic elections.

Yet, here the '06 elections are fast approaching, and we have still not had any national dialogue about our flawed electronic voting system or the questionable nature of the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections. Then there is the matter of gerrymandered districts which have been redistricted in such a way as to all but fix the outcome of the election. On top of that, we have the wholesale of our democracy where our elected officals are more beholden to the people who give them money than they are to the people whom they are supposed to represent. And to make it worse, we have a press that fails to deliver "the information they need to be free and self-governing."

Do people realize the implications? We give our consent to be governed by the process of voting. If our vote does not count, then we have not given our consent. To be governed without consent, without recourse to remove unwanted officials, is the very defintion of tyranny. Obviously, we're not living under a system of tyranny at the moment, although perhaps it could be said America "leans in that direction." But the aforementioned problems should give us cause for concern, and steps should be taken to remedy the problem before it gets any worse.

What is to be done? I expect it will take the people making a lot of noise. The press has failed us in this matter, so firstly pressure needs to be put on media outlets to cover this issue. This can probably be accomplished at the local level more efficiently than at the national. After that, I'm not sure. But becoming aware of the problem is the first step.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Superman could really exist

Reductio ad absurdum:

is a mode of argumentation that seeks to establish a contention by deriving an absurdity from its denial, thus arguing that a thesis must be accepted because its rejection would be untenable. It is a style of reasoning that has been employed throughout the history of mathematics and philosophy from classical antiquity onwards.

1.God is Omnipotent.
2. Anything is possible for God.
3. Thus, God can will anything to exist.
4. Superman could exist.

Thesis: The attribute "omnipotence" is incompatible with the known physics of the universe.

Blogger's Note - I was in a rush when I first posted this and did not get to include the following commentary. I add it now.

I've often heard it said that positive atheism is an unjustifiable philosophical position because one can not prove with certainty that God can not (or does not) exist and that one must rest such a belief on faith alone, thus putting the atheist on equal grounds with the theist . Yet if you claim Superman can not exist no one will tell you that you are making a faith based decision regarding the existance of Superman. To admit one can not exist while claiming the other can is a form of special pleading, as there is no reason why the rules of physics should apply to one and not the other. If one maintains that it is possible for God to exist, it is of equal probability for Superman, or any other absurdity, to exist. And if you do that, the entire edifice of what we call knowledge comes crumbling down.

"Democracy dies behind closed doors"

From the New York Times

The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated after the Bush administration took office and especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to archives records.
Its killing me, absolutely killing me, to see the democratic institutions of this country slipping away like grains of sand falling through an hour glass. A functioning democracy is predicated on the notion that the public has the information neccesary to allow them to fulfill their civic duties, yet the public is now being denied access to information at an unprecedented rate.

Since President Bush took office the rate of classification has increased by 75% (as of March 2005) and this is part of a larger pattern of restricting access to information, regardless of whether its classified or not.

How can the public hold its representatives accountable for their actions if the public does not know what they are? How can citizens participate in the democratic process if they do not know what is going on?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Reminder to Austria (and Western Europe)

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
No nation that is party to that declaration has any business criminalizing thought.

Quote of the day

"If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America--even those designated as 'unlawful enemy combatants.' If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It's a transformative issue." - Alberto J. Mora

The creeping leader cult

The problem is partly a matter of style. Mr Barnes gushes over his “insurgent leader”—and then supports his gushing tributes with even more gushing tributes from Mr Bush's staff, as if they meant something. But a problem of style rapidly becomes a problem of substance. The political sage of the Weekly Standard does not go so far, say, as North Korean Communist hacks when they praise Kim Jong Il as a hero for the ages. Mr Barnes is at least open to doubt. But he leans in that direction. - The Economist
The fact that The Economist saw fit to state that a book on our President written by a leading figure of the conservative movement leans in the direction of hero-worship that is demonstrated for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is symptomatic of a growing problem in America, which is thus: there is a significant portion of the population who in the aftermath of 9/11 are now willing to give deference to a central authority figure. This is troubling, as the foundation of our country was based on the rejection of that very principle.

For instance:

Last week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference signaled the transformation of American conservatism into brownshirtism. A former Justice Department official named Viet Dinh got a standing ovation when he told the CPAC audience that the rule of law mustn’t get in the way of President Bush protecting Americans from Osama bin Laden.

Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, who led the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton, reminded the CPAC audience that our first loyalty is to the US Constitution, not to a leader. The question, Barr said, is not one of disloyalty to Bush, but whether America "will remain a nation subject to, and governed by, the rule of law or the whim of men."

The CPAC audience answered that they preferred to be governed by Bush. According to Dana Milbanks, a member of the CPAC audience named Richard Sorcinelli loudly booed Barr, declaring: "I can’t believe I’m in a conservative hall listening to him say Bush is off course trying to defend the United States." A woman in the audience told Barr that the Constitution placed Bush above the law and above non-elected federal judges.
Glenn Greenwald in his work at Unclaimed Territory has observed that there is a cultish nature to much of the defense that is being given for the Bush administration's grabs at extraConstitutional power, where self-styled conservatives are willing to cannibalize (metaphorically speaking) any conservative who is not willing to jettison his conservative principles in deference to George Bush (see here and here.) I believe Dave Neiwert correctly pointed out that the cult of Bush was a product of the movement, not vice versa. Afterall, Bush was chosen to be a Presidential candidate because his name could get him elected and because his family connections could raise large sums of campaign funds, not because he was any kind of a figure within the conservative movement - in essence, he was a viewed as a vessel that could be used to deliver a Presidential victory for the movement.

Neiwert comes to the conclusion that what we are seeing is the birth of a political religion.

Using this model to frame the discussion, I think what we can readily see is that -- as with pseudo-fascism -- the conservative movement is still in a somewhat nascent stage as a political religion. The examples of more mature religions provide us with a fairly clear picture of where it's headed, however.

And it won't necessarily be under the leadership of George W. Bush. The discrete conservative movement is structured such that it needs a "charismatic" figure at its head; it's essentially a psychological imperative for this kind of belief system.

So if the leader it elevates happens not, in fact, to actually be charismatic, as Bush really is not, then the movement will tailor its reality to make him so. True Believers -- having been steadily propagandized with Fox News and RNC talking points about Bush's superior character -- now really do see Bush as a charismatic figure, which leaves most non-believers shaking their heads.

But he is in essence disposable, an empty suit filled by the psychological needs of the movement he leads. He's sort of like a Fraternity President on steroids: Bush's presidency is all about popularity, not policy. He's a figurehead, a blank slate upon which the movement's followers can project their own notions of what a good president is about. And when his term is up, the movement will create a new "charismatic" leader.
And here's an example of where such a religion might one day take us.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Even the Devil deserves his say

It is not too much to require that what the wisest of mankind, those who are best entitled to trust their own judgment, find necessary to warrant their relying on it, should be submitted to by that miscellaneous collection of a few wise and many foolish individuals, called the public. The most intolerant of churches, the Roman Catholic Church, even at the canonization of a saint, admits, and listens patiently to, a "devil's advocate." The holiest of men, it appears, cannot be admitted to posthumous honours, until all that the devil could say against him is known and weighed. If even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted to be questioned, mankind could not feel as complete assurance of its truth as they now do. The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded. If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still; but we have done the best that the existing state of human reason admits of; we have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching us: if the lists are kept open, we may hope that if there be a better truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving it; and in the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach to truth, as is possible in our own day. This is the amount of certainty attainable by a fallible being, and this the sole way of attaining it.

Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being "pushed to an extreme;" not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

David Irving is a Holocaust denier. He's likely a racist, his audience most certainly is, his work is error ridden, and in a few days he will be going on trial in Austria for his Holocaust denial, a crime in Austria that is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

This is unacceptable. Irving has not done anything other than put forth the argument that standard history of the Holocaust is wrong. Whatever Irving's motivations are, or whether or not he's right, there is no excuse for criminalizing thought. No law can bade a man to betray his conscience, yet that is exactly what a law prohibiting the denial of the Holocaust does. All knowledge must be subject to challenge or review, otherwise, it ceases to be knowledge.

Austria, and the rest of Western Europe where similar laws have been implemented, should take care to remember that it was not because hate speech was permitted that the Holocaust occurrred. It was because free speech was not. It was because voices were not allowed to speak out in defense of the victims of the Nazis. It was because the people were not allowed to hear evidence against the claims of the Nazis. The Nazis came to power because the German people did not notice the erosion of their liberty. The answer to a bad argument is not to ban it, but to refute it.

In the past few days we have seen what the desire to enforce orthodox beliefs can lead to. How can Western society ask the cartoon protestors to respect freedom of conscience while putting a man on trial for exercising his?

"It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own." - Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush (1803)

UPDATE - Irving was sentenced to three years in prison. Incredible. In an effort meant to prevent something like the Holocaust from happening again, the government of Austria has acted like the Nazis whom this law is designed to stop. Whenever thought is criminalized, an injustice has been committed.

Pentagon warned of potential abuse two years before Abu Ghraib scandal

Via Washington Post

The Navy's former general counsel warned Pentagon officials two years before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that circumventing international agreements on torture and detainees' treatment would invite abuse, according to a published report.

Legal theories granting the president the right to authorize abuse in spite of the Geneva conventions were unlawful, dangerous and erroneous, Alberto J. Mora advised officials in a secret memo. The 22-page document was obtained by The New Yorker for a story in its Feb. 27 issue.

Quote of the day

"It is setting a high value upon our opinions, to roast men alive on account of them." - Montaigne

"Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain"

Killing over cartoons.

Nigerian Muslims protesting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad attacked Christians and burned churches on Saturday, killing at least 15 people in the deadliest confrontation yet in the whirlwind of Muslim anger over the drawings.

It was the first major protest to erupt over the issue in Africa's most populous nation. An Associated Press reporter saw mobs of Muslim protesters swarm through the city center with machetes, sticks and iron rods. One group threw a tire around a man, poured gas on him and set him ablaze.
What God that approves of death and violence committed because of a cartoon is worthy of the name "God"? Were these actions to be defended upon anything other than faith based fanatacism, there would be absolutely no rational justification for them. Can an infinite God be harmed by a cartoon? No. Then what is the problem? The problem is this: the orthodox are afraid someone might change their mind. That is it; freethought, to them is intolerable, as evidenced by the most despicable law of Islam, the one that makes apostasy punishable by death. Its a terrible, horrible, inhumane law. In fact, it is possibly the most cruel and malicious law ever created. It is a law designed to destroy a person's most valued possesion: their mind. It is a law designed to lock people into an internal mental prison where they are shackled by the bounds of orthodox beliefs. If a person can not live according to the dicates of their conscience, if they can not be free to think what thoughts they are compelled to think, then a person becomes a slave to their own beliefs and loses any true sense of autonomy. Is there anything more wicked than giving us freewill only that we would suffer eternal torture for using it? What a strange "gift." As Joseph Conrad once said, "all a man can betray is his conscience."

Any man who would deny another religious liberty is a hypocrite, because it is taken for granted that he expects religious freedom for himself.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The slow death of a free press

Image from Media Reform Information Center

From Media Channel

U.S. communications regulators should quickly relax ownership restrictions on the radio and broadcast television industry, Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications, said on Thursday.

Upton, a Michigan Republican, cited the proliferation of broadcast stations, cable, satellite television and radio and the Internet as evidence that consumers have sufficient choices to justify allowing companies to own more outlets.

"Common sense tells us that this explosion of media sources should eliminate any concern over a lack of diversity of views in the marketplace and competition," Upton said in a speech to the Media Institute.

"This growth (in sources) remains unabated and more than makes the case for regulatory relief in the broadcast sector," he said. Upton sent letters to U.S. Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin last week urging quick action.
Make no mistake, if these regulations are eased, the monopolization of the press will only accelerate. And when the means of disseminating information becomes consolidated in the hands of the few, democracy dies.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Some Founding Fathers discuss the Bush administration decision to bypass the FISA courts and its theory of a unitary executive

James Madison: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Alexander Hamilton: "Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free."

"[I]t is very difficult to prevail upon a people under such impressions, to make a bold or effectual resistance to usurpations supported by the military power."

Thomas Paine: "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right."

James Madison: "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."

John Adams: "[L]iberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right ... to knowledge ... and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers."

George Washington: "It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield"

John Adams: "There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

Thomas Jefferson: "
I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it."

James Madison: "
Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other."

George Washington: "
Over grown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty."

Thomas Jefferson: "
Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny"

James Madison: "
[I]t is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of [the] noblest characteristics of the late Revolution."

Dahlia Lithwick on Gitmo

From Slate

It's an immutable rule of journalism that when you unearth three instances of a phenomenon, you've got a story. So, you might think three major reports on Guantanamo Bay, all released within a span of two weeks, might constitute a big story. But somehow they do not.

Guantanamo Bay currently holds over 400 prisoners. The Bush administration has repeatedly described these men as "the worst of the worst." Ten have been formally charged with crimes and will someday face military tribunals. The rest wait to learn what they have done wrong. Two major studies conclude that most of them have done very little wrong. A third says they are being tortured while they wait.

No one disputes that the real criminals at Guantanamo should be brought to justice. But now we have proof that most of the prisoners are guilty only of bad luck and that we are casually destroying their lives. The first report was written by Corine Hegland and published two weeks ago in the National Journal. Hegland scrutinized the court documents of 132 prisoners—approximately one-quarter of the detainees—who have filed habeas corpus petitions, as well as the redacted transcripts of the hearings that 314 prisoners have received in appearing before military Combatant Status Review Tribunals—the preliminary screening process that is supposed to ascertain whether they are "enemy combatants," as the Bush administration claims. Hegland's exhaustive review concludes that most of the detainees are not Afghans and that most were not picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The vast majority were instead captured in Pakistan. Seventy-five of the 132 men are not accused of taking part in hostilities against the United States. The data suggests that maybe 80 percent of these detainees were never al-Qaida members, and many were never even Taliban foot soldiers.

So why are they still there?

The only real justification for the continued disgrace that is Guantanamo is that the government refuses to admit it's made a mistake. Releasing hundreds of prisoners after holding them for four years without charges would be big news. Better, a Guantanamo at which nothing has happened in four years. Better to drain the camp slowly, releasing handfuls of prisoners at a time. Last week, and with little fanfare, seven more detainees were let go. That brings the total number of releasees to 180, with 76 transferred to the custody of other countries. Are these men who are quietly released the "best of the worst"? No. According to the National Journal one detainee, an Australian fundamentalist Muslim, admitted to training several of the 9/11 hijackers and intended to hijack a plane himself. He was released to his home government last year. A Briton said to have targeted 33 Jewish organizations in New York City is similarly gone. Neither faces charges at home.

Guantanamo represents a spectacular failure of every branch of government. Congress is willing to pass a bill stripping courts of habeas-corpus jurisdiction for detainees but unwilling to probe what happens to them. The Supreme Court's decision in Rasul v. Bush conferred seemingly theoretical rights enforceable in theoretical courtrooms. The right to challenge a government detention is older than this country and yet Guantanamo grinds on.

It grinds on because the Bush administration gets exactly what it pays for in that lease: Guantanamo is a not-place. It's neither America nor Cuba. It is peopled by people without names who face no charges. Non-people facing non-trials to defend non-charges are not a story. They are a headache. No wonder the prisoners went on hunger strikes. Not-eating, ironically enough, is the only way they could try to become real to us.