Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blog upkeep

I'll be doing some guest blogging over at Unclaimed Territory while Glenn is out promoting his book, How Would A Patriot Act?, during the month of June.

In the meantime, there will be less political commentary here, as I'll be posting most of it there.

Update: My first guest post is up.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cool site of the day

This may be the coolest 'Cool Site of the Day' yet!

Skeletal Systems by Michael Paulus

Animation was the format of choice for children's television in the 1960s, a decade in which children's programming became almost entirely animated. Growing up in that period, I tended to take for granted the distortions and strange bodies of these entities.

These Icons are usually grotesquely distorted from the human form from which they derive. Being that they are so commonplace and accepted as existing I thought I would dissect them like science does to all living objects - trying to come to an understanding as to their origins and true physiological make up. Possibly to better understand them and see them in a new light for what they are in the most basic of terms.

I decided to take a select few of these popular characters and render their skeletal systems as I imagine they might resemble if one truly had eye sockets half the size of its head, or fingerless-hands, or feet comprising 60% of its body mass.
Visit the site to see the images. Imagine Da Vinci working for Hanna Barbera or Warner Brothers, and that should give you an idea of what to expect.

Question of the day

From Danny Schecter

Explain this to me: Why do so few of our TV “journalists” and political reporters seem interested in all the questions that have been raised about the integrity of our voting system?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ralph Reed and near-slave labor in the Mariana Islands

First this, now this. Ralph Reed is currently campaigning to be Lt. Governor of Georgia.

I call it propaganda

Because that's what this is. All three videos are factually challenged (also see here), but the "Energy" video is laughably bad. If one didn't know better, you might think you were watching one of those parodies of 1950s propaganda.

"CO2: They call it pollution, we call it life."

They can call it life all they like, but that wouldn't change the fact that elevated concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere contribute to global warming, which could potentially threaten life. As Jon Henke points out, water is also essential to life, but one would not say that a flood is equivolently essential to life.

This is of course the point, CEI does not want you to deliberate on the issue at hand because the facts of the matter are not in their favor, so they instead create a preposterous scenario by suggesting global warming proponents intend to eliminate CO2 .

Update: Reading this Washington Post article linked to at Think Progress, I came across another doozy from CEI's president, Fred Smith:

"Wilderness is the least natural part of this planet."

What Smith is trying to say is that the "natural" order of the Earth is for man to change and manipulate the environment, but even were that the case, it does not entail the conclusion that wilderness is the least natural part of the Earth. Smith's statement is non sequitur, actually. It is possible for wilderness to be natural even if it is natural for man to destroy it.

Smith means to say that it is unnatural for the environment to not be manipulated by man, but Smith is also falling into the is/ought fallacy. What is the case is not necessarily what ought to be the case. If it is the case that man has traditionally changed and manipulated his environment that does not mean it necessarily follows that it ought to be the case. We can assume Smith's premises to be true and his argument would still not be valid.

The Think Progress entry also contains another logically challenged statement. Dismissing Gore's environmental views, meteorologist Bill Gray stated, "Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews." The error of this is quickly illlustrated by the following sentence: Gore believed 2 + 2 = 4 almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews.

Gray's statement is rhetorical, but not logical. He means to say that like Hitler, Gore believes a proposition ardently despite that proposition being false, yet what he actually said only compares levels of belief, not the truth values of the respective beliefs.

An anecdote

Walking through the local college campus, one would be confronted on any given day around the student center by evangelists preaching the evils of the secular pursuit of knowledge. On one particular day, as one such individual took to shouting at me that I was going to Hell for "fornicating and drinking", I stopped and asked him a question. The conversation went as follows:

Me: Do you believe in faith?

Him: Yes.

Me: Do you believe in revelation?

Him: Yes

Me: Well, God spoke to me last night - I have faith it was Him. God told me if I was walking down the street and some asshole told me I was going to Hell to ignore him.

He jibber-jabbered some sort of response, but I was already walking off and had no further interest in hearing him.

Perhaps my tactic was a bit crude, but it illustrates an important point: faith and/or revelation can not be the basis of policy in a pluralistic society because it is not open to debate, there is no means by which to resolve dispute. The evangelist could not dispute my revelation because faith is by definition beyond dispute - it is belief despite evidence or inspite of contrary evidence. This is the reason government must be secular, it creates a forum where those of differing beliefs can meet on equal grounds and discuss the merits of policy; it creates a marketplace of ideas.

A reason governments based in orthodoxy (of any sort) tend towards authoritarianism is that a hegemony of ideas can only be maintained by suppressing contrary ones.

To see this position argued a bit more persuasively, read A.C. Grayling's brief essay "The Secular and the Sacred."

Quote of the day

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single minute before starting to improve the world." - Anne Frank

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Blog Recommendation of the Day

My previous post on Spinoza reminds me that I have failed to give a much deserved recommendation to 3 Quarks Daily.

From their About page

On this website, my guest authors and editors and I hope to present interesting items from around the web on a daily basis, in the areas of science, design, literature, current affairs, art, and anything else we deem inherently fascinating. We want to provide you with a one-stop intellectual surfing experience by culling good stuff from all over and putting it in one place. In other words, we are what has come to be known as a "filter blog".

Finding Spinoza

Click here to read an interview with Rebecca Goldstein about her new book, Betraying Spinoza (via 3 Quarks Daily).

I've not gotten around to reading Spinoza, myself, but I've read of him, and find him to be a fascinating figure. Benedict de Spinoza (1632 - 1677) was described by Bertrand Russell as:

the noblest and most lovable of the great philosphers. Intellectually, some others have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme. As a natural consequence, he was considered, during his lifetime and for a century after his death, a man of appalling wickedness.
As Russell coyly alludes to, it is easy to see why Spinoza was hated by the authorities of his day when one considers his philosophy. Spinoza was a naturalist, skeptical of the supernatural, who believed that there was no personal God. For Spinoza, "God" was the reason of the universe, a sum of matter and logic (see pantheism); he believed a godly life was one devoted to reason, to trying to understand our nature in a deterministic universe (in which there is no free will), while advocating the seperation of church and state. In addition, Spinoza believed that the human mind is an affect of the human body. These are positions that the authorities of Spinoza's day rejected, and as a result his work was censored or banned through most of Europe.

In Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Antonio Damasio writes that because Spinoza's work was banned or censored in most of Europe philosophers could not openly acknowledge or cite Spinoza, so that although his ideas lived on to influence the Enlightenment, his reputation did not. For example, he (Damasio) writes that Montesquieu, one of the intellectual fathers of modern democracy, was denounced for Spinozism and was made to publicly deny Spinoza's influence on his views.*

I'm not in the mood to review Damasio's book further, but I think I'll conclude by saying that it is a somewhat personal and humanistic effort to "find" the lost meaning in the work of a philosopher who Damasio views as a protobiologist who anticipated by several centuries the research in neurobiology that Damasio now does, and whom Damasio believes still offers valuable insight into how a human life might best be lived.

*One will notice in the Goldstein interview that she also sees a link between Spinoza and secular democracy, linking the publication of the Tractacus to the Declaration of Independence.

UPDATE: I was looking for a review of Goldstein's book and came across a Salon review which provides a more detailed look at her book, Betraying Spinoza, than the interview linked above. It's a bit amusing to see that the reviewer, Laura Miller, and I must have been on a similar wavelengths, because in her opening sentences she makes mention of both Russell's description of Spinoza and Damasio's book, while she also makes the protobiologist reference at the end of her review.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Quote of the day

"A ban on speech and a shroud of secrecy in perpetuity are antithetical to democratic concepts and do not fit comfortably with the fundamental rights guaranteed American citizens.... Unending secrecy of actions taken by government officials may also serve as a cover for possible official misconduct and/or incompetence. " - Judge Richard Cardamone, in his decision to uphold the unconstitutionality of the Patriot Act's National Security letters provision

Friday, May 26, 2006

Secrecy breeds conspiracy theory

One of the themes in John Dean's Worse than Watergate is that when leaders fail to address the concerns of the public, when their actions remain secret and questions remain unanswered, conspiracy theories begin to grow.

Checking WikiNews today I see that a Zogby poll released Monday found

Forty-five percent of American adults surveyed in a Zogby poll think that the September 11, 2001 attacks should be investigated anew. Poll results indicated that 42% believe that there has been a cover up (with 10% unsure) and 45% think "Congress or an International Tribunal should re-investigate the attacks, including whether any US government officials consciously allowed or helped facilitate their success" (with 8% unsure).
WikiNews also notes that a previous Zogby poll found that "nearly half of New Yorkers polled believed certain U.S. officials 'consciously' allowed the attacks to happen."

That the United States government let 9/11 happen is an unsubstantiated and absurd theory, but the Bush administration's lack of enthusiam for an investigation and obstruction of inquiry into the events that led to 9/11 only fuels the fire of wild speculations.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Random thought of the day

More important than the possession of the truth, is the desire to seek it; the pursuit. The former without the latter is a recipe for turning truth into dogma.

Quote of the day

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Jack Balkin on Congress protesting the raid of William Jefferson's home.

The Bush Administration has, over the past six years, detained American citizens without any of the protections of the Bill of Rights, engaged in cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, imposed new forms of secrecy to insulate itself from oversight both by the Press and by Congress, used the state secrets privilege to shut down any investigation into its mistreatment of detainees, hid and prevaricated about the evidence justifying, the reasons for, and the cost of Iraqi war, and begun a massive spying program on American citizens. Throughout all of these events, the United States Congress has been essentially supine, unable or unwilling to lift a finger to oppose an executive branch that was simultaneously incompetent, arrogant and out of control. And now, when the FBI catches redhanded a Congressman engaged in the most egregious act of corruption, *now* members of Congress are upset that the Executive is asserting too much authority.

They have their nerve.
The rest of Balkin's post is equally on point.

Ralph Waldo Emerson answers Da Vinci Code protesters

"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (1838)

Doesn't that say it all?

Don't get me wrong, I have my own problems with the The Da Vinci Code, but they have nothing to do with a perceived "attack" on Christianity. First, as a skeptic, I'm bothered by Brown's assertion in the opening pages of the book that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." That is misleading, because, well, it's not true. Secondly, I just don't like it. Call me an elitist, a snob, or whatever, but the book reads to me like the fast-food equivalent of a novel. I really can't understand why so many people love this book, but I have to suspect that it has more to do with the revisionism of the book than it does with the quality of the writing. If I've got to read something contemporary, I'll opt for some James Ellroy.

The Emerson quote was sourced by Laird Wilcox in The Degeneration of Belief: Quotations on Fanatacism and Dogmatism. Lots of interesting quotes in there.

Lobbying on pace to out pace 2004

Via MoJoBlog

The midterm elections this fall will supposedly be all about the "culture of corruption" in Washington, wherein noble-minded reformers—most of them Democrats, presumably—will rail against lobbyists who are perverting and distorting government. So far, though, lobbyists are just carrying on as usual. Public Citizen released a report today looking at donations by lobbyists and their PACs—in 2006, lobbyist donations to members of Congress are on pace to be about 10 percent higher than they were in 2004 (totaling $34 million), which were in turn 90 percent higher than they were in 2000 (totaling $18 million).

Interestingly, Jack Abramoff is only the 30th-ranked lobbyist donor. And not surprisingly, most of the money goes to members of the Senate and House appropriations committees, which ultimately decides how federal money gets spent. Supposedly this is different from the actual bribery that took place when Duke Cunningham was sitting on the House appropriations committee, but the dividing line here seems pretty hazy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Michael Shermer on why he's no longer a global warming skeptic

From his latest Skeptic column at Scientific American

Nevertheless, data trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic global warming. My attention was piqued on February 8 when 86 leading evangelical Christians--the last cohort I expected to get on the environmental bandwagon--issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for "national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions" in carbon emissions.

Then I attended the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, Calif., where former vice president Al Gore delivered the single finest summation of the evidence for global warming I have ever heard, based on the recent documentary film about his work in this area, An Inconvenient Truth. The striking before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world shocked me out of my doubting stance.

Four books eventually brought me to the flipping point. Archaeologist Brian Fagan's The Long Summer (Basic, 2004) explicates how civilization is the gift of a temporary period of mild climate. Geographer Jared Diamond's Collapse (Penguin Group, 2005) demonstrates how natural and human-caused environmental catastrophes led to the collapse of civilizations. Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006) is a page-turning account of her journeys around the world with environmental scientists who are documenting species extinction and climate change unmistakably linked to human action. And biologist Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006) reveals how he went from being a skeptical environmentalist to a believing activist as incontrovertible data linking the increase of carbon dioxide to global warming accumulated in the past decade.
Speaking of Gore's movie, I was somewhat surprised to see that The Economist, hardly a magazine that can be accused of global warming alarmism, gave an overall positive appraisal of the movie, writing:

Mr Guggenheim's film is a fascinating and alarming polemic that does, indeed, set out to speak to everyone. It was inspired by the lectures and slide-show on global warming that Mr Gore has delivered more than 1,000 times since he failed to become president. The former vice-president is shown talking about what he calls “our planetary emergency” to groups of concerned Americans, displaying the relaxed charm and sense of humour that he notably lacked as a political campaigner.
I hadn't planned on seeing the movie, but the review piqued my interest. Eric Steig of Real Climate offers his opinion of the science in the movie, here.

Same-sex marriage and the loss of the political soul

I got an e-mail alert from the Council For Secular Humanism a few days ago about a Senate Resolution to prohibit same-sex marriage. At the Council's take action page they write

Facing a midterm election with sinking poll numbers, conservatives are hoping to reach out to their base by renewing their push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Senate Resolution 13 declares that marriage "shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman" and prohibits state governments from allowing any other form of marriage. The proposed amendment cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in a party-line vote on May 18th and heads to the floor for a full Senate vote on June 5th.

This amendment attempts to define marriage according to religious terms rather than civil/secular terms and therefore violates the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution's First and Fourteenth Amendments. It diminishes the rights of millions of Americans and disgraces our Constitution by using it to legalize discrimination.

I think this "defense of marriage" codswallop has best been answered by David Englin, who as a freshman member of the Virginia House of Delegates, made the following speech on the third day of his first session back in January. (Via Orwell's Grave.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to this resolution. I'm not going to talk about same-sex marriage. I'm no fool -- although others might make a different judgement about a freshman delegate rising in this chamber on the third day of session. But I understand that on the issue of marriage, I'm in the minority, perhaps even in my own caucus. I also sleep very well at night knowing that at some point in the future of this great Commonwealth, those of us of my opinion will be judged to have been on the right side of history. But let's for a moment forget about the question of same-sex marriage, because this amendment addresses much more than that. We need to be clear and honest: This amendment also outlaws civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar private legal arrangements.

We have heard from the other side that this constitutional amendment is necessary to protect conventional marriage. I am blessed with a beautiful and brilliant wife who is the love of my life. In June, Shayna and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, and I would fight with every ounce of my strength anything that would threaten my marriage. So I would like to know, how exactly civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my marriage?

We have heard from the other side that this amendment will protect families. Shayna and I are blessed with a strong and bright six-year-old son, Caleb, and we have a strong family. My friend the gentleman from Rockingham County, Delegate Lohr, and I have discussed how we come from different backgrounds and different parts of this great Commonwealth, yet we share a deep and abiding commitment to our families. I want nothing more than to protect my family. I spent 12 years wearing the uniform of the United States Air Force to protect my family. I've been in harm's way to protect my family. So I would like to know, how exactly do civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my family? Because if they do, I will be the first one to stand up and fight, because nobody better threaten my family.

Moreover, we have heard from the other side that this amendment must pass sooner rather than later, as if there is some kind of crisis that is more important than issues like transportation or education or health care. Why else would this be our first order of business? Yet Virginia law already makes same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnerships illegal.

So if this amendment doesn't help protect my marriage, and doesn't help protect my family, and if it doesn't even change the status of same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnership contracts, then what exactly does this amendment do? I submit to my fair-minded colleagues that this amendment sends a message. And that message is, if you are gay, or lesbian, or even a man and a woman living together and committed to each other who are not married, you are not welcome in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And who are these people whom we are shutting out in the cold?

They are my dear friends Karen and Sue, who have been together for years and are as loving and committed to each other as any husband and wife.

They are my friend Lou, who served with me at the Pentagon, and continues to serve our country today.

They are Father Mychal Judge, the gay priest who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 while ministering to fallen firefighters.

They are Mark Bingham, a gay passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, who fought back against Al Queda hijackers and sacrificed his life to save others.

They are Ronald Gamboa and his partner Dan Brandhorst, who, along with their 3 year old son David, were killed when Al Quaeda flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center.

They are David Charlebois, the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon when Al Qaeda tried to kill me and my comrades who were on duty inside the Pentagon at the time.

They are friends and neighbors and teachers and doctors and soldiers and loving parents who want nothing more than to live life without fear that the government will tear their families apart.

I'm a student of history, and I find our Founding Fathers to be a great source of wisdom on many matters, so I want to close my remarks by reading from a letter that great Virginian named George Washington wrote more than two centuries ago:

"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind . . . a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, be strong and of good courage and vote down this resolution.
These are inspiring words, and it's obvious Englin was speaking from the heart. There is a sense of conviction in these words, of sincerity. These words have meaning.

But shouldn't this be the norm rather than an aberration? How often do you feel inspired by something a politician has said? Most of what we hear comes across as empty rhetoric designed by consultants and strategists; consultants and strategists whose goal is to garner votes, not to defend principles. When people fail to speak with conviction of their conscience, it shows. This marketing based PR approach to politics has drained the soul from politics.

Consider, for example, Al Gore in the 2000 election. Gore's passion was the environment and he wanted to make that a major focus of his campaign. But his consultants and strategists disagreed, and as a result the Gore we saw in the election came across as a passionless robot. If you can not campaign on the things that you believe in, how can you expect anyone to vote for you? If you can not get elected taking a stand for what you believe in, then you might not deserve to be elected in the first place.

More recently, Senator Feingold, displaying a political soul, called for President Bush to be censored for authorizing the NSA to violate FISA. Democrats, acting on the advice of their strategists, ran away from the motion, and even went so far as to scold the Senator for failing to check with them before he made his motion. And yesterday, Democrats still acting on the same advice, voted to approve the nomination of General Hayden, the man who ran the NSA surveillance program, to head of the CIA.

To be frank, who is giving them such idiotic advice? To see how ridiculous this strategy of inaction is, watch this Daily Show clip, where they lampoon the DNC's decision not to let Paul Hackett run for Senator in Ohio despite his popularity. That video perfectly epitomizes the DNC's approach to politics, especially the last line describing the party as "People who don't know what they're doing and are scared shitless to make strong choices."

You can't just say you're for something, and then act as if you're not, and expect to be taken seriously, but it happens all the time. John McCain says he's against torture, but a bill - with his name on it - passes that would allow torture and he approves of it. Democrats say that Republicans have brought a system of corruption to Washington, but they fail to put serious ethic reforms on the table, and when one of their own (William Jefferson) is caught with a 100,000 illicit dollars in his freezer they fail to take to take a strong stand against him (with notable exceptions like Nanci Pelosi.)

Most of what I have said has been directed at the Democrats, but the same goes for the Republican party, if not more so. Republicans like Arlen Specter, Lindsay Graham, Olypia Snowe, etc. say that they are deeply troubled by the President's warrantless surveillance program, but when it comes time to take action on it, they roll over and defend the administration. I have a difficult time believing that there are no Republicans that find what is currently being done in the name of the Republican party to be troubling. In fact, I know that there are (Paul Craig Roberts and Bob Barr, for example) but there are virtually none in Congress who will take a stand against this administration.

Anyone who feels troubled by what is going on, who believes in something but does not have the courage to speak and act on their convictions, has no political soul. And a person without a political soul does not deserve our respect, much less our vote.

Another "codswallop" sighting!

My new favorite term, codswallop, appeared in James Randi's latest newsletter to describe a course in parapsychology.

We'll rehabilitate this word yet.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Quote of the day

"Despite the burgeoning use of this privilege and the way it's been used to gut entire cases, the most disturbing aspect of the Bush administration's expansion of the state secrets privilege may well be this: More and more, it is invoked not in response to run-of-the-mill government negligence cases but in response to allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the government. These are not slip-and-fall cases. They are challenges to the administration's broad new theories of unchecked executive power. By using the state secrets privilege to shut down whole lawsuits that would examine government actions before the cases even get under way, the administration avoids having to give a legal account of its behavior. And if this tactic persists—if the administration continues to broadly assert this privilege and courts continue to accept it—the administration will have succeeded in creating an insurmountable immunity that can be invoked against pretty much any legal claim that the "war on terror" violates the law. The standard and winning response to any plaintiff who asserted such charges would be, quite simply, that it's a secret." - Henry Lanman, "Secret Guarding"

What does it mean to hate America?

"There is much I could say about America. There really is such a thing as freedom here and a strong feeling among many people that one cannot live without freedom. The republic is not a vapid illusion, and the fact that there is no national state and no truly national tradition creates an atmosphere of freedom or at least one not pervaded by fanatacism ... Then, too, people here feel themselves responsible for public life to an extent that I have never seen in any European country. For example, when all Americans of Japanese descent were locked up willy-nilly in concentration camps at the beginning of the war, a genuine storm of protest that can still be felt today went through the country. I was visiting with an American family in New England at the time. They were thoroughly average people - what would have been called 'petty bourgeouisie' in Germany - and they had, I'm sure, never laid eyes on a Japanese in their lives. As I later learned, they and many of their friends wrote immediately and spontaneously to their congressmen, insisted on the constitutional rights of all Americans regardless of national background, and declared that if something like that could happen, they no longer felt safe themselves (these people were of Anglo-Saxon background, and their families had been in this country for generations), etc." - Hannah Arendt, from a letter to Karl Jaspers, Jan. 29, 1946

Hannah Arendt came to the US after having fled Nazi Germany in 1933, fearing the persecution from the Nazis that would soon follow.

I find it very moving to consider that upon writing back to her mentor and friend Karl Jaspers, that she gave as an example of what is good about America individuals protesting the internment of Japanese-Americans. Those Americans who spoke out, who said to the government unequivocally, "what you are doing is wrong" are the ones that make me proud to be an American. I imagine those protesters Arendt spoke of wrote those letters of protest, not because they hated America, not because they wanted to undermine the war effort, not because they wanted Japan to defeat the United States, but because they loved America, and did not like what was being done in its name. They spoke out because they believed what was happening was wrong, and that it was their civic duty to say so. It took courage to speak out against these actions in a nation swept up by anti-Japanese sentiment, but looking back, we see that these brave Americans deserve our thanks for preserving the good name of America, and for defending the principles that we hold dear.

If you are starting to suspect a point to this then you are correct. Today when we speak out about some injustice or wrong that we feel has been committed by the government we are accused of hating America. We are accused of being traitors or are told we are guilty of treason. We are accused of undermining the war effort. But we do not hate America. Patriotism is not now, nor never have been, blind allegiance to people or policy. Patriotism is loyalty to an ideal - to principle. And when we feel that our ideals or principles have been betrayed, it is our civic duty to speak out in defense of them. We speak out to preserve what we feel is great. We speak out because of what we love about our country, not out of hate.

Those who seek to silence their fellow Americans, deport them, or kill them - that call us seditious for speaking the conviction of our conscience, are the ones I would argue who hate America. They hate America because they betray the principles that this country stands for. Their patriotism is a false allegiance. Their courage is a coward's courage. They are but "a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity."

So when our country kidnaps and tortures people and then asserts the right to do so, speaking out against it is not hating America. When we see the fundamental values of this nation being assaulted, when we see our moral authority slipping away, hating America is not speaking out. Hating America is remaining silent. Hating America is defending and excusing such actions.

Do not let anyone tell you otherwise, and do not be discouraged, nor intimidated. It's time for patriots who love their country to speak out.

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." - Thomas Paine

Word of the day

Codswallop: [n] nonsensical talk or writing

One of the e-mailers on the O'Reilly Factor used that word tonight. Bill is right, that's a great word! We gotta get that back in circulation.

Monday, May 22, 2006

AT&T's secret NSA spy rooms

"This shit is damning stuff, seriously." -Amanda Marcotte

That quote is from this post at Pandagon about AT&T setting up secret spy rooms for the NSA which "enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing," according to AT&T whistle-blower Mark Klein.

We have this information as a result of Wired magazine publishing it despite it being under a court seal. Wired explains their decision to publish it anyway, here.

I think we owe Wired our thanks. I fail to see how anyone can consider this information and not demand independent investigation of just who exactly the NSA has been spying on without any oversight.

Why the White House was so wrong about Iraq

In this article for Harper's, Ken Silverstein explains the political pressure that was put on the CIA to come up with the "correct" conclusions about Iraq.

A number of current and former intelligence officials have told me that the administration's war on internal dissent has crippled the CIA's ability to provide realistic assessments from Iraq. “The system of reporting is shut down,” said one person familiar with the situation. “You can't write anything honest, only fairy tales.”
Silverstein relates the story of two CIA station chiefs in Baghdad who were removed from their positions after they wrote field reports that reflected negatively on the situation in Iraq. Both were correct in their assessments, but the adminstration responded as if these reports were political attacks.

As has been the case with other people deemed to be insufficiently loyal, the White House went fishing for dirt on the two station chiefs, including information on their political affiliations. “I spent 30 years at the CIA,” said one former official, “and no one was ever interested in knowing whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. That changed with this administration. Now you have loyalty tests.”
They were replaced with a chief who came up with the "right" assesment.

The fate of those two station chiefs had a predictable effect. In 2005, I'm told, the Baghdad station chief filed but a single Aardwolf. The report, which one person told me was widely derided within the CIA as “a joke,” asserted that the United States was winning the war despite all evidence to the contrary. It was garbage, but garbage that the Bush administration wanted to hear; at the end of his tour, that Station Chief was given a plum assignment. “This is a time of war,” said one former intelligence official. “Every day American kids are getting killed over there. We need steady, focused reporting [from Baghdad] but no one is willing to speak out since they know they'll get shot down.”
Silverstein concludes by relating another incident where an offical had his career hurt by speaking the truth about the situation in Iraq, noting that "under this administration, anything less than cheerleading can be a career-ending move."

This sort of behavior has a significantly negative impact on the formulation of well-informed policy. For example, in Worse than Watergate, John Dean State of War, James Risen tells of a pre-invasion of Iraq program the CIA had in which family members, residing in the US, of persons who had worked on Iraq's nuclear program were sent covertly to Iraq to ask their relations about the state of Iraq's nuclear program. Thirty such persons were sent. All thirty came back to the US and reported that there was no nuclear program.*

This information was not passed on to the White House, however, because the officials who came up with the program were under pressure from George Tenet to confirm that Iraq did have a nuclear program, and were reluctant to pass on the "wrong" conclusion.

Confirmation bias and ideologically driven policy is a dangerous way to run a country. Remember Lysenkoism?

*I read State of War and Worse than Watergate on the same day, and got the two confused in my memory.

Putting journalists in prison

From the AP

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security.

The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.

"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected.
The statutes Gonzalez refers to are from the Espionage Act that were put on the books in World War I along with the Sedition Act by Woodrow Wilson. These acts were designed to inhibit the first amendment right of Americans to speak critically of the president. It's no wonder this administration would look to such un-American legislation to help put Americans behind a one-way mirror.

Greenwald on the threat this poses to the freedom of the press, and consequently, to democracy.

It really is hard to imagine any measures which pose a greater and more direct danger to our freedoms than the issuance of threats like this by the administration against the press. If the President has the power to keep secret any information he wants simply by classifying it -- including information regarding illegal or otherwise improper actions he has taken -- then the President, by definition, has complete control over the flow of information which Americans receive about their Government.

An aggressive and adversarial press in our country was intended by the founders to be one of the most critical checks on abuses of presidential power, every bit as much as Congress and the courts were created as checks. Jefferson said: "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter." The only reason the Founders bothered to guarantee a free press in First Amendment is because the press was intended to serve as a check against Government power.

And the only reason, in turn, that the press is a check against the Government is because it searches for and then discloses information which the Government wants to keep secret. That is what investigative journalism, by definition, does. The Government always wants to conceal its wrongdoing from the public, and the principal safeguard in this country against that behavior is an adversarial press, which is devoted to uncovering such conduct and disclosing it to the country.
As Greenwald notes, virtually all the information we have of the conduct of this administrations has come from leaks that the press has reported. If the administration has its way, it will control the flow of information in this country, and we will not have a free press, we will have government propaganda. This is another means by which the administration assaults the fourth estate.

Update - In the comments at Glenn's site, I quoted from Cato's Letter #15, which I'm linking to here since I feel it (the letter) is worth reading.

"Guilt only dreads liberty of speech, which drags it out of its lurking holes, and exposes its deformity and horror to day-light."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Quote of the day

"For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere." - Kurt Vonnegut, "Cold Turkey"

Delay, Abramoff, and near-slave labor in the Mariana islands

Read about it here.

Sunday morning art

The Ship of Fools (1490 - 1500) - Hieronymous Bosch

Book Watch

The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast - Through out the Hurricane Katrina crisis I saw historian and New Orleans resident Douglas Brinkley on television on several occasions. Each time, I was very impressed with him: he spoke eloquently, demonstrated a wealth of subject knowledge and came across as authoritative and objective. This is why I look foward to reading what I expect to be Brinkley's definitive account of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Click here to listen to an interview Brinkley gave on NPR (last September) about the book and why he wrote it.

How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok - Glenn Greenwald is the constitutional attorney who runs Unclaimed Territory (if you scroll down you will see several links to posts about the book and reviews of the book on the left-hand of the blog) where he has been detailing the radical legal theories that the Bush administration has been putting forth to justify expanding the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the Constitution and our democratic system of government. In this polemic, Greenwald makes the case that what is at stake are core American values, and that to protect our constitutional republic, we must guard against the adminstrations usurpations of unlimited presidential powers.

An excerpt can be read here, and the preface here. I would say more, since I feel this is a terribly important book, but I will most likely be able give a review within the next few weeks, so I will here defer to the already provided links (especially the preface, where Glenn recounts the way in which his initial post 9/11 support for the administration was betrayed, an experience many of us can relate to) until that point.

Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan - As I've noted previously, A.C. Grayling is probably my favorite living philosopher, so its no surprise that I plan on reading his latest book in which he tackles the topic of Allied forces bombing civilian targets during WWII to see if they can be ethically justified. This topic represents a significant moral dillemma which requires serious moral deliberation, as it is a subject that is still relevant to us today. Grayling is one of those rare individuals who is able to meet a challenging argument while presenting it at its full strenth, so regardless of what one's initial opinions about this subject might be, the discussion will likely be beneficial.

The Washington Post review is here. This is another book that I hope to be able to review with the next few weeks.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Is this a god worthy of worship or praise?

I fail to see how the following from Judges 11:29-40 (King James version) can be reconciled with the notion that God is good, wise, and just.

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man.
If this story is taken literally it's absurd. Most people either conveniently ignore passages like this, or believe they are not meant to be taken literally.

I highlight this to make a point - Dominionists and Reconstructionists take passages like this as literal truth. What's more, they believe that a God that will let a man sacrifice his only child as payment for being allowed to commit "a very great slaughter" is a just and good God. If one can rationalize such actions as just, any such barbaric acts can be justified. If this is the model one follows as an example of omnibenevolence, then one is following a moral system where cruelty and horrors may be called just and good.

The Temptation of St. Anthony

Karabekian slid off his barstool so he could face all those enemies standing up. He certainly surprised me. I expected him to retreat in a hail of olives, maraschino cherries and lemon rinds. But he was majestic up there. "Listen -" he said so calmly, "I have read the editorials against my painting in your wonderful newspaper. I have read every word of the hate mail you have been thoughful enought to send to Nw York."

This embarrased people some.

"The painting did not exist until I made it," Karabekian went on. "Now that it does exist, nothing would make me happier than to have it reproduced again and again, and vastly improved upon, by all the five-year-olds in town. I would love for your children to find pleasantly and playfully what it took me many angry years to find.

"I now give you my word of honor," he went on, "that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal - the 'I am' to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us - in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery."

"I just heard from this cocktail waitress here, this vertical band of light, a story about her husband and an idiot who was about to be executed at Shepherdstown. Very well - let a five-year-old paint a sacred interpretation of that encounter. Let that give-year-old strip away the idiocy, the bars, the waiting electric chair, the uniform of the guard, the gun of the guard, the bones and meat of the guard. What is that perfect picture which any five-year-old can paint? Two unwavering bands of light."

Ecstasy bloomed on the barbaric face of Rabo Karabekian. "Citizens of Midland City, I salute you," he said. "You have given a home to a masterpiece!"
- excerpt from Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Friday, May 19, 2006

Quote of the day

"Conservatives may have been able to dismiss Clinton-appointed Judge James Robertson's December 2005 resignation from the top-secret court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, days after The New York Times reported on the National Security Agency's unauthorized (by any court) domestic eavesdropping program ... Yet try as they might, pro-administration advocates cannot shake the reality that one of the most steadfastly conservative judges in the country publicly and contemptuously rebuked the Bush administration's unseemly power grab and manipulation in the 'war on terror.'" - Harvey Silverglate, "Why did Luttig quit?"

Read the article to hear about the judge who ruled in favor of the administration holding Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant resigning after he realized that "the government had disingenuously and manipulatively tried to evade Supreme Court review of its Fourth Circuit victory," and about how the administration responded in standard fashion: character attack.

Senator Pat Roberts: cowardly apologist for law breaking

Let's take a look at Sen. Pat Roberts' (R-Kan) opening statement yesterday at the confirmation hearing for Gen. Hayden's appointment to head the CIA.

The National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program became public last December as the result of a grave breach of national security. A leak allowed our enemy to know that the President had authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people reasonably believed to be linked to al Qaeda people who have and are trying to kill Americans.
Yes, that grave breach. Al Qaeda now knows that the United States intelligence agencies seek to intercept international communications of agents of al Qaeda, because, obviously, before the New York Times broke this story, al Qaeda would have never suspected that the National Surveillance Agency would attempt to gather intelligence on them.

Also, note Senator Roberts narrowing the issue - this is lying by the sin of ommission. The leak did not reveal "that that the President had authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people reasonably believed to be linked to al Qaeda." No, the leak revealed that the President authorized the NSA to engage in warrantless surveillance of US citizens. That is the "grave breach" that Sen. Roberts refers to, but won't acknowledge since it gets in the way of his fear-mongering and because he is unable to mount a substantial defense for presidential law breaking.

At that time, largely uninformed critics rushed to judgment decrying the program as illegal and unconstitutional.
The administration has admitted that it is violating FISA. That IS illegal. The administration is acting in defiance of a statute regulating electronic surveillance signed into law in 1978, by reason that the President has the authority to unilaterally void laws when he sees fit to do so. That IS unconstitutional.

Also, note the defense Roberts uses, that there is secret evidence that we are "uninformed" about that would justify this program. My, what a convenient defense. One is reminded of Abraham Lincoln's letter to a friend who believed that the president should be able to go to war without approval of Congress. Lincoln answered:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--"I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

That is what Sen. Roberts is saying, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't." Senator Roberts' argument would justify any and all presidential law breaking, always to be defended on the grounds of some secret invisible threat that Senator Roberts sees, if we don't.

Back to Sen. Roberts

In the interim, cooler heads have prevailed and there is now a consensus that we not only should be listening to al Qaeda communications, but we must be listening to them.
Is this man capable of honest discourse? This is asinine to the point that it is insulting that the Senator believes anyone will not see through this pathetic rhetoric. There is and always has been a consensus that we should and must be listening to al Qaeda. What there is not a consensus on, however, is that the President should and must authorize the NSA to spy on US citizens without a warrant in defiance of a law that was passed in 1978 to prohibit warrantless surveillance of US citizen. The Senator has yet to address what is at the heart of the matter.

Last week, in the wake of another story, those same critics reprised their winter performance again making denouncements and condemnations on subjects about which they know little to nothing.
"Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The result of this conundrum is that we quite often get accused of not doing our job. Such accusations, by their very nature, are uninformed and, therefore, inaccurate. Unfortunately, I have found that ignorance is no impediment for some critics. I fully understand the desire to know, but I also appreciate the absolute necessity of keeping some things secret in the interest of national security.
"Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

This business of continued leaks, making it possible for terrorists to understand classified information about how we are preventing their attacks, is endangering our country and intelligence sources, methods and lives. I believe the great majority of American people understand this. They get it.
Roberts is almost done with his statement and he has yet to address what the actual issue is, but is still engaging in fear-mongering. Could the Senator please explain in what way leaks that reveal illegal conduct on the part of our President and his administration help the terrorists? In what way does al Qaeda knowing that the President authorized the NSA to violate FISA help them? Is national security to be defined as the political interests of the President? Someone might remind the Senator that this is still a constitutional republic.

Al-Qaeda is at war with the United States. Terrorists are planning attacks as we speak. Through very effective and highly classified intelligence efforts, we have stopped attacks. The fact that we have not had another tragedy like 9-11 is no accident.
"Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

But today in Congress and throughout Washington, leaks and misinformation are endangering our efforts. Bin Laden, Zarqawi and their followers must be rejoicing.

We cannot get to the point where we are unilaterally disarming ourselves in the war against terror. If we do, it will be Game Set Match al Qaeda.

Remember Khobar Towers, Beirut, the USS Cole, the Embassy attacks, the two attacks on the World Trade Center and 9-11 and more to come if our efforts are compromised.
More fear-mongering. Not allowing the President to break laws = "unilaterally disarming." Let the President break laws when he sees fit to do so, or you'll get killed by a terrorist. Civil liberties and the rule of law are burdens that we can no longer afford, says Roberts. (Nice allusion to the Cold War and detente, by the way. Helps to agitate the base. Eh, Sen. Roberts?)*

I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But, you have no civil liberties if you are dead.
Translation: I am not a strong supporter of civil liberties, and I am willing to give up civil liberties if I might have to put my life on the line to defend them. You should do so too; the President will protect you, but he needs for you to give up civil liberties, and he needs to be free to act unaccountably.

One can imagine Senator Roberts, standing before the Continental Congress on the eve of the Revolutionary War, telling the members that "I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But, you have no civil liberties if you are dead." Or perhaps one could envision Senator Roberts in Vichy France, assuring the French people that, "I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But, you have no civil liberties if you are dead," as the Nazis seized control of the government.

Senator Roberts is a coward who would have us give up the core of what this nation stands for because he does not have the spine or character to defend liberty and democracy. Nevermind him presenting us with the false dichotomy of giving up civil liberties or dying at the hands of al Qaeda.

The rest of the Senator's statement consists of him saying that the program must remain secret, but that oversight is being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and that we should take his word that they are doing their jobs. This is a joke, unless, by doing his job, Sen. Roberts means acting as a vassal of the President.

At every turn, Senator Roberts stands in the way of the public gaining knowledge of the conduct of this administration. Every time there needs to be an investigation or an inquiry, Sen. Roberts trots out the same tired response: National security will be hurt, but I have secret information, that I can't share with you, that explains everything. Take my word for it and be silent: I see it, if you don't.

No, Senator Roberts, we will not take your word for it. You and your leige, the President, are public servants. You are accountable to us, not vice versa. If you were doing your job you would be presiding over an inquiry over the extent to which that our civil liberties may have been violated instead of attempting to scare us into forgetting the Constitution while asking us to defer to the President's fiat.

*During the '70s, hard-line Republicans and neoconservative Democrats argued that the policy of detente and bilateral treaties to bilaterally reduce nuclear weapons constituted "unilateral disarmament" on the part of the US, and as a result, the US had fallen behind the Soviet Union and opened up a "window of vulnerability." However, US intelligence estimates believed (correctly) that the Soviet Union was in actuality trailing behind the US in the arms race. The hard-liners and neoconservatives did not believe the intelligence,though, and created their own team of analysts, Team B (of which Paul Wolfowitz was a member), to prove the intelligence community wrong. Team B's team of "outside analysts" came to the (incorrect) conclusion that the US had fallen behind the Soviet Union, and their findings were cited to justify a more alarmist approach to Soviet relations and a massive arms build up. (Sound familiar?)

New definitions

Fair and balanced: anti-gay, presenting intolerance towards gays

This new definition brought to you by Tim Graham (via The Green Knight)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dominionist Youth

Nothing more American than a militant youth rally urging for the creation of an army of God, willing to fight the evils of secular society.

Might be time to grab yourself a copy of Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. From the Salon excerpt

A few days before Bush's second inauguration, The New York Times carried a story headlined "Warning from a Student of Democracy's Collapse" about Fritz Stern, a refugee from Nazi Germany, professor emeritus of history at Columbia, and scholar of fascism. It quoted a speech he had given in Germany that drew parallels between Nazism and the American religious right. "Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics," he was quoted saying of prewar Germany, "but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured [Hitler's] success, notably in Protestant areas."

It's not surprising that Stern is alarmed. Reading his forty-five-year-old book "The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology," I shivered at its contemporary resonance. "The ideologists of the conservative revolution superimposed a vision of national redemption upon their dissatisfaction with liberal culture and with the loss of authoritative faith," he wrote in the introduction. "They posed as the true champions of nationalism, and berated the socialists for their internationalism, and the liberals for their pacifism and their indifference to national greatness."

Fascism isn't imminent in America. But its language and aesthetics are distressingly common among Christian nationalists. History professor Roger Griffin described the "mobilizing vision" of fascist movements as "the national community rising Phoenix-like after a period of encroaching decadence which all but destroyed it" (his italics). The Ten Commandments has become a potent symbol of this dreamed-for resurrection on the American right.
Meanwhile, over at Orcinus, Dave Neiwert writes about the current buzz around the blogosphere over use of the term "Christianist" to describe this theocratic movement. There's some interesting talk in the comments of that post regarding the differences between Dominionism and Reconstructionism (see here for more info.)

And here was my response to a commenter who stated that "[we] want to take over American for secular humanism."

And what would that entail, exactly? Secular humanists want the rest of society to be secular humanists, but their efforts are confined to argument and reasoning.

Secular humanists believe in liberal democracy and the equality of human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They believe in leaving each individual free to pursue happiness, and in protecting that pursuit from abuse. Some differ as to what obligation the state has to facilitate that pursuit, with some believing the state should offer positive rights such as healthcare and such, and others believing in a more mininamilst night watchman state.

However, no secular humanist believes in exercising dominion over all aspects of human existence, as do Dominionists like D. James Kennedy, who would take away everyone else's right to be vote and heard if they were to come to power.

Do Dominionists have a right to vote and be heard? Yes. Do they have a right to enslave humanity to impose their theology? No.

Verizon and BellSouth deny turning over records to the NSA

Both BellSouth and Verizon have issued official statements denying allegations in USA TODAY that they had turned over their phone records to the NSA, although they would not comment on what relationship they might have with the NSA.

At this point, however, we can not afford to take these companies at their word. An investigation is necessary to sort this all out, and to ensure that our rights have not been violated.

Anonymous Liberal has more perspective.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The one-way mirror

"The liberties of the people never were nor ever will be secure when the transactions of their ruler may be concealed from them." - Patrick Henry

That quote can be found in John Dean's polemic, Worse than Watergate, in which he makes the case that the Bush administration is the most (dangerously) secretive government of his lifetime (Dean worked for the Nixon administration.) The book explains the systematic nature of secrecy in this administration, something the media has failed to properly communicate to the public.

The book was written before the '04 election, and in it Dean predicted that if President Bush were re-elected that his failure to govern openly would lead to scandals coming to surface since corruption and incompetence hide in secret, and because unanswered questions would have people digging for information. As we see from the ongoing investigation of the outing of Valerie Plame, the NSA warrantless surveillance, the secret prisons, the not "worst of the worst" at Gitmo, the manipulated intelligence before the invasion of Iraq, NSA domestic calls database, etc. Dean was correct in his prediction.

Today, ABC reports that

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.
Think what this means if it can be confirmed. It means the administration is seeking to curb the freedom of the press to report the conduct of our government, by preventing it from gaining access to that information in the first place.

The stories the administration seeks to stop are not matters of national security. They are matters that are politically damaging to the administration. They are actions that the administration does not feel confident would be approved were they to go through the normal democratic channels. The administration wants to see what we are doing, but we are not to see what it is doing.

A government that governs in secret is a government that can not be held accountable for its actions. And a government that rules without accountability is the definition of despotism.

"It is nothing strange, that men, who think themselves unaccountable, should act unaccountably" - John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato's Letter's #33

Update: ABC received confirmation from the FBI that their phone records are being investigated. The FBI is seeking these records by use of a provision in the Patriot Act that allows the agency to obtain this information with national security letters. One will recall that the Washington Post previously reported that "more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources," are issued by the FBI, representing "a hundredfold increase over historic norms." The Post also noted

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.
The article also states

Senior FBI officials acknowledged in interviews that the proliferation of national security letters results primarily from the bureau's new authority to collect intimate facts about people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.
This (and the other story alleging that the NSA is seeking to database all calls made in the United States) would seem to conflict with the President's assurance (h/t Orcinus) that, "We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."

In Worse than Watergate, Dean makes the point that the President has used Executive Orders to effectively rewrite legislation (a tradition not new to this president), which struck me as being a similar means of overstepping the legislative branch to the signing statements the President uses to issue vetoes without issuing a veto. I would be interested to see a journalist attempt to put these orders in the same sort of context as the Boston Globe did with the signing statements.

Update 2: Glenn writes that GOP Senators on the Judiciary Committee have dropped judicial review regarding the legality of the NSA program from legislation legalizing the surveillance, which would allow the President to side-step the judiciary, another means of avoiding accountability.

And consider the oddity of a Congress that rewards Presidential law breaking, and encroachment on their legislative powers, by legalizing the President's actions, which effectively serves to weaken the Legislative branch of government.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Quote of the day

"From the time I was capable of conceiving an idea, and acting upon it by reflection, I either doubted the truth of the christian system, or thought it to be a strange affair; I scarcely knew which it was: but I well remember, when about seven or eight years of age, hearing a sermon read by a relation of mine, who was a great devotee of the church, upon the subject of what is called Redemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was ended, I went into the garden, and as I was going down the garden steps (for I perfectly recollect the spot) I revolted at the recollection of what I had heard, and thought to myself that it was making God Almighty act like a passionate man, that killed his son, when he could not revenge himself any other way; and as I was sure a man would be hanged that did such a thing, I could not see for what purpose they preached such sermons. This was not one of those kind of thoughts that had any thing in it of childish levity; it was to me a serious reflection, arising from the idea I had that God was too good to do such an action, and also too almighty to be under any necessity of doing it. I believe in the same manner to this moment; and I moreover believe, that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system." - Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

Shoot the messenger

One would think the ethical thing to do if a journalist were to expose unpleasant truths about your industry would be to seek to reform the industy so that those unpleasant truths no longer existed. But,it would seem, ethical behavior is not a modus operandi for the comapanies that have launched a PR campaign attacking Eric Schlosser in an attempt to discredit him before his new children's book on healthy eating is released.

Schlosser had previously become the bane of the food industry with the publication of Fast Food Nation, which as Schlosser notes in the paperback edition, came under attack by the food industry, yet no one was able to challenge the book on its factuality.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Nothing to hide"

Alonzo Fyfe on the argument that only those with something to hide should be concerned by expansive government spying.

“If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear from government spying.”

Anybody who utters this statement has illustrated the full height of his stupidity.

The problem is, the common citizen does not always get to decide whether he has something to hide. Sometimes, somebody else makes those decisions for him.

In Nazi Germany, “having something to hide” meant being a Jew, homosexual, gypsy, or even willing to work for regime change in the country. Imagine how much easier Hitler’s job would have been if the government already had a practice of wiretapping phones without a warrant and a database of every phone call that had ever been made by anybody in the country.

In America, in the 1950s, ‘having something to hide’ meant how you would answer the question, ‘have you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party.’ Imagine the situation in this country if, instead of asking people to name names, McCarthy simply needed to access a database of who had been calling whom in order to get his list of suspects.

In the 1960s, “having something to hide” meant being a part of the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King was viewed as a threat. Many people in government would have loved to have been able to plug his phone number into a database and get a list of everybody he had called as well as when and how long they talked.

In the 1970s, Nixon had an official “political enemies project”'s_Enemies_List which involved a program of using government tools such as IRS audits and legal harassment against those who dared to speak out against him. I suspect that, if this database had existed while he was President, he would have made use of it.

Other times in which Americans had “something to hide” included being Japanese American in 1940, or German American in the 1910s. It included being an escaped slave or being somebody who aided in the Underground Railroad in 1850. In the 1770s, it included anybody and everybody who was fighting for independence from England.
At the end of that post, Alonzo brings up a very interesting point about the NSA surveillance of American citizens being a spiritual, if not actual, violation of the 3rd Amendment, an excellent point which I must say I'm envious that I did not think of myself.

Sunday morning art

La Seine a Courbevoie (1885 - 86) - Georges Seurat

Friday, May 12, 2006

"The innocent have nothing to fear"

Julian Baggini explains the logical fallacy of "the innocent have nothing to fear" argument.

The argument is a particular species of false dichotomy. You are presented with a simple either/or choice. Either you’re guilty, and so should be exposed; or you are innocent, in which case nothing will be exposed, and so you have nothing to worry about. Either way, you have no legitimate reason to be concerned. Like all false dichotomies, the problem is that there is at least one more option than the two offered in the either/or choice.

In the case of “The innocent have nothing to fear” argument, the key point is usually that our objections have nothing to do with our guilt or innocence, but with our right to privacy. We don’t want to be scrutinised at every turn because constant scrutiny is an intrusion into our privacy. Consider, for example, that what we get up to in our bedrooms may be nothing to be ashamed of, but most of us still wouldn’t want others to stand around and watch. Potential voyeurs would not have a very strong case if they simply said, “Why not let us look? Doing something you shouldn’t be?” “The innocent have nothing to fear” is therefore usually an example of a red herring: the fact that we are not doing anything wrong is beside the point.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Quote of the day

"The government doesn't lightly relinquish the spoils of power seized under the pretexts of apocalypse. What the government grasps, the government seeks to keep and hold, and too many of its reformulated purposes fit too neatly with the Bush administration's wish to set itself above the law. Often when watching the offical spokespeople address a television audience, I'm reminded of corporate lawyers talking to a crowd of recently bankrupted shareholders, and usually I'm left with the impression that they would like to put the entire country behind a one-way mirror that allows the government to see the people but prevents the people from seeing it. " - Lewis Lapham, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Honestly debating the NSA Surveillance Program

David Limbaugh has written a column asking for honest debate of the NSA surveillance program. I believe his request deserves an answer, so I will attempt one as best I can.

Does anyone really believe President Bush wants to spy on innocent old ladies or any other group of innocent Americans?
What anyone believes the President's motives are for his authorization of spying that violates the FISA law is irrelevant to a discussion of whether or not the President has the unilateral authority to violate laws when he sees fit to do so.

Does anyone -- besides the loony left and unwitting dupes they have convinced -- really believe President Bush has a sinister desire to consolidate executive power, make himself a dictator and eviscerate the Fourth Amendment? These are some of the things the knee-jerk opponents of President Bush's selection of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA apparently believe.
Again, what anyone believes the President's motives are is not pertinent. The President's motives might not be sinister, but that would not change the fact that his actions do indeed consolidate executive power, implying for himself dictator like powers while eviscerating the Fourth Amendment (and the rest of the Bill of Rights). It is actions that are a matter of primary concern.

Gen. Hayden is considered to be one of the architects of the administration's NSA warrantless surveillance program, so critics and skeptics of that program have jumped in to oppose him for that reason alone, though other objections have also surfaced, such as that a military leader shouldn't run a civilian intelligence organization.

Political leaders, even certain Republicans like Sen. Arlen Specter, have promised to exploit the Hayden confirmation hearings as an opportunity to inquire into the propriety of this controversial program.

Like some other people, it occurred to me that President Bush is more than ready to have a public debate over his NSA program. Otherwise, he surely wouldn't have chosen a man whose intimate connection to the program is well known and vulnerable to political posturing.

If the President were "more than ready" to have a public debate over his NSA program he would not have secretly authorized it. He would not have told members of Congress that were briefed on the program that this information was classified and that they were not allowed to discuss what they had been told with anyone. He would not have asked the New York Times not to run a story revealing that he had authorized the NSA to engage in warrantless surveillance and he would not suggest that discussion of this program helps our enemies.

I, too, welcome this debate, though proponents of the program begin at a bit of a disadvantage because security concerns preclude them from producing evidence that would vindicate their decision to implement the plan. But philosophical and practical arguments, apart from the specifics of evidence in particular "searches" will be fair game.

I won't rehash all the arguments for and against the program, except to say that its opponents have shamelessly mischaracterized it as "domestic" spying when one of the parties to the communications must be outside the United States. They've tried to create the impression that the privacy of innocent civilians will be violated in these "broad sweeps." And they've portrayed the program as an important part of an overall pattern of the Bush administration to trample on civil liberties and expand presidential powers.
No, they've accurately described that the President authorized the NSA to engage in surveillance of domestic targets without getting a warrant, which FISA expressly prohibits. I agree with the last part, though. Opponents have characterized this program as part of a larger pattern of the Bush administrations trampling civil liberties and expanding presidential powers. Mr. Limbaugh seems to be suggesting that is simply absurd to suggest, but it is unquestionably true that the President has expanded presidential powers while trampling civil liberties. Take for example, the administration claiming the right to unilaterally void an American citizen's 5th amendment rights as this administration has done with Jose Padilla, whom was held without charges until it appeared that the administration would have to defend itself before the Supreme Court, at which point Padilla was transferred out of military custody.

But the only communications intercepted under the program are those where at least one party is a terrorist, a suspected terrorist or has ties to terrorists. Absent cases of mistaken identity, which can also occur with warrants, it's hard to imagine that many innocent people will be the subject of such surveillance.

Mr. Limbaugh can not know that the only communication intercepted under the program are those where at least one party is a terrorist, a suspected terrorist or has ties to terrorist because the program is conducted without judiciary oversight in secret. He finds it hard to imagine that innocents will be targeted under such surveillance, but he is begging the question. Of course, I also do not see how innocents would come under surveillance in the scenario he describes. But the scenario he describes is 1) beyond our current ability to confirm or disconfirm given the knowledge we have and 2) contradicts what we do know about the program.

If opponents of the surveillance program were acting in good faith, why would they mischaracterize the program as domestic spying?
Because it is domestic spying. Were it foreign spying we would not be having this debate, as the President already has the authority to conduct that without going through the FISA court.

I can certainly understand a strong public reaction against a president violating civil rights of American citizens, especially for his own purposes, like Richard Nixon was alleged to have done with his enemies list. In those cases, the president would have a personal or political motive to abuse the civil rights of citizens.

But what sinister motive would President Bush possibly have for eavesdropping on non-terrorists? Does anyone really believe he has anything to do with micromanaging the intercepts, much less selecting the targets of the surveillance? Does anyone really believe the United States has the resources to waste time spying on innocents?
I repeat, what the President's motives might be is not relevant to this debate. He authorized the NSA to engage in spying that violated the law. We can not determine the scope of that spying unless it is investigated, and I would remind Mr. Limbaugh that the argument he is presenting as a defense of this program would have equally served to have protected Nixon from investigation. Indeed, Nixon used the very same defense.

Moreover, does anyone really believe that President Bush, Gen. Hayden, Secr. Rumsfeld or any other major player would support this warrantless surveillance program if it were not necessary? That is, propaganda aside, does any reasonable person truly believe that if we could always accomplish the necessary surveillance by going through the sometimes laborious and time-consuming warrant process, the administration would insist on the right to do it without warrants?

What anyone believes does not matter. What matters is what the facts tell us, and unless we peal back the veil of secrecy which the administration is using to defend its actions, we will not know whether or not the program was "necessary." Secondly, if this program is necessary, the President is obligated to take the proper legal steps to make the program legal. If it is to be decided that warrantless surveillance upon American citizens is necessary, then that is a decision that the public must have some say in, especially when their representative passed a law in 1978 which expressly forbid warrantless surveillance of US citizens. The President does not have the authority to make laws the subject of his fiat.

The only people who believe that are those inclined to believe the president wants power for the sake of it, or for the sake of abusing the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens. Folks, that's just silly and absurd on its face.
I thought Mr. Limbaugh was interested in honest debate? Here he has just hand-waved the entire issue on the grounds that the President can't possibly have non-noble motives. I believe this is best answered with a proverb: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I am confident the administration would not be conducting warrantless searches unless it believed the delay involved in obtaining a warrant in many cases would jeopardize our national security and possibly American lives. Why is this so difficult to comprehend in an age where terrorists have unlimited access to disposable cell phones and other high-tech communication devices?
Mr. Limbaugh is entitled to his confidence. But as Thomas Jefferson once said, "in questions of powers, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." What is at issue here is whether or not the United States president will be bound by the Constitution. The FISA law allows for 72 hours of warrantless surveillance before evidence must be presented to FISA court in order to continue surveillance. If the President believes he needs more time than that, he should ask Congress to revise FISA. But as we know, when just that was proposed, the administration answered that it was not necessary.

The president is not playing war games here, but some of his opponents are playing political games. Fortunately, it appears the American people instinctively understand that the naysayers are long on civil liberties hysteria and short on national security concerns. Let their posturing continue as this public debate unfolds. It is time to have this out and to expose the privacy charlatans for who they are.
Now we see what Mr. Limbaugh means by "honest debate." Apparently, it means dismissing the concerns of opponents of the programs as "political games" by "charlatans" who lack concern for national security. Were Mr. Limbaugh interested in honest debate he would leave such speculations aside, and would address the arguments of critics without resorting to poisoning the well.

Update: As GSJ notes in the comments, USA TODAY is reporting that:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
The NSA was never supposed to be used to spy on Americans, yet according to this report, Americans have come under its surveillance, with one source alleging that the NSA's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" in the United States.

Glenn Greenwald explains the significance of this new revelation, focusing on the administration's efforts to avoid judicial review and inquiry (another story today is that the NSA killed an investigation).

Meanwhile, the argument is surfacing that the "NSA [is] doing its job" by gathering a database of your phone calls and that you have nothing to worry about if you aren't a terrorist.

This defense assumes that we can take the government at its word that only terrorists will be targeted by this program and that it will not be abused. These supporters believe that the NSA can be trusted with the Ring of Gyges, it would seem. But were that the case, we would have no need of a Bill of Rights, we could simply trust that our rights will be protected. I had thought we settled that matter in 1791 when our young nation decided otherwise and voted to ratify the Bill of Rights.

As Madison noted in Federalist #48, "power is of an encroaching nature, and ... it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." "[A] mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments, is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands," he concluded. It is not enough to point to our Constitution and say that the rule of law is still in effect. Encroachments of power must be turned back, lest they tend to turn government, in the words of Washington, into "a real despotism."