Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Congress banned from Wikipedia

Jim Lippard has the details.

Malkin's methodology

Michelle Malkin thinks that "the left" (people who disagree with Malkin) is unhinged. Here's an example of how she makes that case.

Speaking of unhinged, here's a choice comment left at the Washington Post Supreme Court blog
See, she found a comment somewhere, from someone who said something nasty, thus, an entire class of people - "liberals" - are unhinged because the individual is representative of the whole, in her mind. Michelle only applies this device to people she doesn't like, however. Similar comments from people who hold views near to her own do not mean that "the right" (here defined as people who agree with Malkin) are unhinged, or even that the comments themselves are unhinged.

Otherwise, something like this would certainly meet Malkin's standard of proof that "the right" is unhinged.

John Yoo thinks the President can crush children's testicles

Seriously. John Yoo, who when in the Justice Dept. authored the doctrine which holds that the President's war powers are above and beyond any law, believes that the President can crush a child's testicles if he thinks it will help yield intelligence. From Nat Hentoff's "Liberty Beat" column

On December 1, Doug Cassel, director of Notre Dame Law School's Center for Civil and Human Rights, debated John Yoo, who, while at the Justice Department in 2002 and 2003, was the most influential adviser to George W. Bush on establishing his limitless powers as commander in chief in the war on terrorism. The December 25 New York Times noted that John Yoo's memoranda to the highest reaches of government "became the underlying justification for . . . the order to try accused terrorists [charged with no crime and imprisoned indefinitely] before military tribunals; the secret overseas jails operated by the Central Intelligence Agency . . . and the use of severe interrogation techniques."

In Yoo's debate with Doug Cassel, the Notre Dame law professor asked: "If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?"

John Yoo: "No treaty."

Doug Cassel: "Also no law by Congress—that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo [while Yoo was a Justice Department attorney]."

John Yoo: "I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that." (Emphasis added.)
But of course, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere had nothing to do with men like John Yoo arguing that crushing children's testicles is part of the President's war powers.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Memes cross borders, too

The Green Knight on the birth of the paranoid "cultural Marxism" meme in Canada. This point is particularly telling about the mindset of proponents of this idea.

[Pat] Buchanan's location of the origins of "CM" all the way back before the French Revolution should demonstrate to us just how far back some right-wingers want to go: before Rousseau, before Locke, before the Enlightenment.
And I noted in the comments over at GK's that views like this - which originated in fringe groups like the John Birch Society - have been making their way mainstream with help from "transmitters" like Michelle Malkin, who shift political discourse their way by redefining mainstream as fringe, and by presenting these paranoid views to the public in a palatable form. See here, for a recent instance

Irrefutable: The unhinged fringe is the mainstream of the Democrat Party.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Quotes of the day

"The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse." - Edmund Burke

"The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts" - Edmund Burke

Update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Today's addition to the New American newspeak dictionary is:

Terrorist Surveillance Program: warrantless domestic spying

Worrisome quote of the day

From the Jacob Weisberg Slate article I linked to in the previous entry

Simply put, Bush and his lawyers contend that the president's national security powers are unlimited. And since the war on terror is currently scheduled to run indefinitely, the executive supremacy they're asserting won't be a temporary condition.

This extremity of Bush's position emerges most clearly in a 42-page document issued by the Department of Justice last week. As Andrew Cohen, a CBS legal analyst, wrote in an online commentary, "The first time you read the 'White Paper,' you feel like it is describing a foreign country guided by an unfamiliar constitution." To develop this observation a bit further, the nation implied by the document would be an elective dictatorship, governed not by three counterpoised branches of government but by a secretive, possibly benign, awesomely powerful king.

When blogging makes a difference

Two weeks ago I linked to Glenn Greenwald's legal blog Unclaimed Territoy. Glenn has been acutely parsing every excuse that has been put forth for the NSA warrantless domestic spying, and more generally, has been pointing out that this administration claims to have expanded unreviewable executive powers which are outside the rule of law (the Yoo doctrine.)

Greenwald has only been blogging since October, but he's already made a difference. Last Tuesday he uncovered the fact that General Hayden's defense of the NSA spying contradicted previous statements by James A. Baker of the Justice Dept, and now the Washington Post and the LA Times have picked up the story (although the Post, to it's discredit, doesn't credit Greenwald for his work.)

In the LA Times article, the spin is that the administration lied about wanting the FISA standards for obtaining a warrant reduced so as to avoid a public debate which might reveal the scope of the program. I find this to be a very feeble attempt at justification, as it is based on the silly presumption that terrorist would not be expecting to be spied on. Here's what Baker had to say in 2002 when he opposed the reduced FISA standards:

The reforms in those measures (the PATRIOT Act) have affected every single application made by the Department for electronic surveillance or physical search of suspected terrorists and have enabled the government to become quicker, more flexible, and more focused in going "up" on those suspected terrorists in the United States.

One simple but important change that Congress made was to lengthen the time period for us to bring to court applications in support of Attorney General-authorized emergency FISAs. This modification has allowed us to make full and effective use of FISA's pre-existing emergency provisions to ensure that the government acts swiftly to respond to terrorist threats. Again, we are grateful for the tools Congress provided us last fall for the fight against terrorism. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

How Bible class made me an atheist

Ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration. Bible class didn't make me an atheist, but it certainly contributed. Here's how.

I attended public school for grades K - 12, but before that I spent a brief year or so of pre-K education at a Catholic parochial school, where daily Bible class was part of the curriculum. In this class we were taught stories from the Bible as historical facts, but in me this backfired and had the opposite effect.

This was achieved via the story of Samson and Delilah. The basic gist is that Samson, an Israelite hero with incredible strength (the source of which is his long hair) falls in love with a Philistine woman, Delilah, who seduces Samson into revealing the secret of his power. After which, Delilah has Samson's hair cut in his sleep, thus robbing him of his power, and then blinds him and puts him to work doing forced labor. Eventually, Samson's hair grows back and his strength returns, and at a festival where Samson is being shown off as a prize captive he snaps his bonds and pulls down the pillars of the temple resulting in the death of himself and 3,000 Philistines.

Despite the presentation of this tale as objective fact, my young mind could not help but immediately recognize Samson for what he was - a superhero. At this time I was an avid reader of comic books, and Samson's super human abilities sounded to me not much different than the powers of Superman, The Incredible Hulk, or Thor the God of Thunder (who perhaps doubly makes the point existing as both a Norse God and Marvel character.) And if these stories were obviously fiction, was not the story of Samson also probably fiction?

This was not enough to drive me to full blown atheism, as I would remain an agnostic/deist for some years yet, but it was enough to make me seriously doubt the historical veracity of the Bible, especially in regards to claims of the supernatural.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Random thought of the day

Evidence of the supernatural has always been in reality evidence of the unknown or unexplained, and, historically, the "super" is dropped soon after knowledge or an explanation is arrived at.

Auxiliary thought: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of The Future

Monday, January 23, 2006

Quote of the day

"A civilised society is one which never ceases having a discussion with itself about what human life should best be." - A.C. Grayling, Life, Sex, and Ideas: The Good Life without God

You may have noticed that Grayling has made several appearances as the quote of the day. This is a consequence of Grayling being possibly my favorite living philosopher.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The sanctity of life

I'm going to critique President Bush's National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2006 speech, but with some help from The New York Review of Books review of Jimmy Carter's new book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. The reason why I'm using the review is that Carter, although a devout Christian like President Bush, has drawn from his spirituality some dramatically different views on how to protect the sanctity of life, and the review contains several passages that contrast specifically with points in the President's speech. For the sake of clarity, when I quote from the President's speech I'll use blue; when from Carter's book review, green.

Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we underscore our commitment to building a culture of life where all individuals are welcomed in life and protected in law.
Unless they don't have health insurance, are poor, or are on death row. Incidentally, all three correlate. The review notes, "Carter argues that a 'pro-life' dogmatism defeats human life and values at many turns." This will become apparent in a moment.

America is making great strides in our efforts to protect human life. One of my first actions as President was to sign an order banning the use of taxpayer money on programs that promote abortion overseas.
What he actually did was cut funding completely for any organizations that "promote abortion" i.e. sexually educate people. First, this is an abuse of Presidential power - President Bush is using his position to promote his religious views by cutting funding for a procedure (or education about a procedure) that is legal in this country. Secondly, by cutting funding to these places he is taking away access to medicine, contraceptives, and sexual/medical education, making the likelihood of death and disease higher rather than lower.

Over the past 5 years, I also have been proud to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, my Administration continues to fund abstinence and adoption programs and numerous faith-based and community initiatives that support these efforts.
Two acts which seem, to me, to be designed to help make the legal case for arguing abortion is murder; one act which flirts with banning a procedure that is used in the vast majority of cases to protect the health of an expecting mother. The adoption programs are commendable as far as I know, but the other programs are programs that don't work. Programs that at best are ineffective, at worst increase the risk a child will contract a sexually transmitted disease. The Carter book review answers

Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance.

Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes:

Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

The result of a rigid fundamentalism combined with poverty and ignorance can be seen where the law forbids abortion:

In some predominantly Roman Catholic countries where all abortions are illegal and few social services are available, such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, the abortion rate is fifty per thousand. According to the World Health Organization, this is the highest ratio of unsafe abortions [in the world].

A New York Times article that came out after Carter's book appeared further confirms what he is saying: "Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions." This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraception—demonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program.

By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s.

Back to Bush

When we seek to advance science and improve our lives, we must always preserve human dignity and remember that human life is a gift from our Creator. We must not sanction the creation of life only to destroy it. America must pursue the tremendous possibilities of medicine and research and at the same time remain an ethical and compassionate society.

No stem cell research, is what he's saying. The embryos that would be used are already going to be destroyed, discarded, or stored indefinitely; this puts the "human dignity" of a clump of cells that has not differentiated enough to be distinguishable from that of a mouse (or any other vertebrate) embryo at higher value than the well-being of fully developed humans who suffer from disease and illness.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day is an opportunity to strengthen our resolve in creating a society where every life has meaning and our most vulnerable members are protected and defended including unborn children, the sick and dying, and persons with disabilities and birth defects. This is an ideal that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts within us, and this is the America we will achieve by working together.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 22, 2006, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to reaffirm our commitment to respecting and defending the life and dignity of every human being.
I think an appropriate way to honor the day would be to protest the policies of this administration. I find it odd to hear a man who signed off on the execution of 152 of 153 death row inmates he was presented with while Governor of Texas say that he wishes for a society where every life has meaning. I'll let Carter and his reviewer, Gary Willis, conclude

Carter finds the same rigid and self-righteous—and self-defeating—policies at work across the current political spectrum. The pro-life forces have no problem with a gun industry and capital punishment legislation that are, in fact, provably pro-death. Carter, a lifelong hunter, does not want to outlaw guns and he knows that Americans would never do that. But timorous politicians, cowering before the NRA, defeat even the most sensible limitations on weapons useful neither for hunting nor for personal self-defense (AK-47s, AR-15s, Uzis), even though, as Carter shows, more than 1,100 police chiefs and sheriffs told Congress that these weapons are obstacles to law enforcement. The NRA opposed background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists and illegals, and then insisted that background checks, if they were imposed, had to be destroyed within twenty-four hours. The result of such pro-death measures, Carter writes, is grimly evident: "American children are sixteen times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun, eleven times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from firearms accidents." Where are the friends of the fetus when children are dying in such numbers?

Carter observes that "the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research reports that the rate of firearms homicide in the United States is nineteen times higher than that of 35 other high-income countries combined" (emphasis added). In the most recent year for which figures are available, these are the numbers for firearms homicides:

Ireland 54
Japan 83
Sweden 183
Great Britain 197
Australia 334
Canada 1,034
United States 30,419
[emphasis added]

Once again, Carter finds no support for the policies that make such a result possible in the US, in terms of either a loving religion or a just society.

Capital punishment is also a pro-death program. It does not protect life. It aligns us with authoritarian regimes: "Ninety percent of all known executions are carried out in just four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia—and the United States" (emphasis added). Execution does not deter, as many studies have proved. In states that abolished it, Carter writes, capital crimes did not increase:

The homicide rate is at least five times greater in the United States than in any European country, none of which authorizes the death penalty. The Southern states carry out over 80 percent of the executions but have a higher murder rate than any other region. Texas has by far the most executions, but its homicide rate is twice that of Wisconsin, the first state to abolish the death penalty. It is not a matter of geography or ethnicity, as is indicated by similar and adjacent states: the number of capital crimes is higher, respectively, in South Dakota, Connecticut, and Virginia (all with the death sentence) than in the adjacent states of North Dakota, Massachusetts, and West Virginia (without the death penalty).

The potential threat to the democracy of the net

The Washington Post today covered an important subject that has received virtually no coverage to date: the corporatization of the internet. Hat tip to Josh Marshall.

Do you prefer to search for information online with Google or Yahoo? What about bargain shopping -- do you go to Amazon or eBay? Many of us make these kinds of decisions several times a day, based on who knows what -- maybe you don't like bidding, or maybe Google's clean white search page suits you better than Yahoo's colorful clutter.

But the nation's largest telephone companies have a new business plan, and if it comes to pass you may one day discover that Yahoo suddenly responds much faster to your inquiries, overriding your affinity for Google. Or that Amazon's Web site seems sluggish compared with eBay's.

The changes may sound subtle, but make no mistake: The telecommunications companies' proposals have the potential, within just a few years, to alter the flow of commerce and information -- and your personal experience -- on the Internet. For the first time, the companies that own the equipment that delivers the Internet to your office, cubicle, den and dorm room could, for a price, give one company priority on their networks over another.

This represents a break with the commercial meritocracy that has ruled the Internet until now. We've come to expect that the people who own the phone and cable lines remain "neutral," doing nothing to influence the content on your computer screen. And may the best Web site win.
We've already been down this road with cable, radio, and print media. Let's see if we can avoid the same fate for the net.

John Adams writes an open letter to the New York Times in response to its NSA spying story

[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. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees ...

The stale, impudent insinuations of slander and sedition, with which the gormandizers of power have endeavored to discredit your paper, are so much the more to your honor; for the jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing. And if the public interest, liberty, and happiness have been in danger from the ambition or avarice of any great man, whatever may be his politeness, address, learning, ingenuity, and, in other respects, integrity and humanity, you have done yourselves honor and your country service by publishing and pointing out that avarice and ambition. These vices are so much the more dangerous and pernicious for the virtues with which they may be accompanied in the same character, and with so much the more watchful jealousy to be guarded against.

"Curse on such virtues, they've undone their country."

Be not intimidated, therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country; nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.
- John Adams, "A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law" (1765)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Somethings need not be said

"Haleigh wants to live" pontificates Michelle Malkin in one of the most hubris filled writings I've ever had the misfortune to read. Haleigh may indeed want to live. Haleigh might also want to die. She might possibly (and, sadly, most probably) already be gone, and all that's left of her is an artificially sustained organic husk that formally housed the consciousness that comprised her self. No one knows for certain, especially since the courts have kept her medical records sealed.

Haleigh did not indicate that she wants to live. Haleigh breathed on her own, something doctors anticipated she might be able to do. Malkin might not know this, but breathing is an automatic physiological function of the body and does not represent a volitional act. Doctors also reportedly were able to elicit a response, which might mean that her brain has become functional enough to allow her some basic reflexive actions which, again, are non-volitional. I say this not to be cruel or callous, but because this is the reality of the situation. If Haleigh recovers it will be a wonderful cause for celebration, but the likelihood of that seems quite doubtful.

The decision faced by Haleigh's mother, whether to keep her daughter alive or not, must be one of the most difficult decisions someone can make. I pity anyone in that position, especially if that person must suffer the pompous drivel of someone like Michelle Malkin, whose head is so far up her own ass she can't see or hear the hurt that she might inflict with her careless and thoughtless words.

I sincerely hope Michelle is never put in a position to have to decide the fate of a loved one. But if she ever is, I hope that she is afforded the respect and courtesy that she does not grant to others.

UPDATE - Malkin begins to set up camp.

This is a public case, and it is not only pro-life fundamentalists who ought to be concerned about the unchecked power that has been conferred on the State in the matter of whether Haleigh should live or die.
Apparently Malkin thinks we should be voting on whether Haleigh is "put to death" or not.

Blogger's Note - I wonder if people might think I'm being too harsh. For those that think so, consider that Malkin (as indicated by her previous blogging on Terry Schiavo and the links she provides in this entry) is suggesting that the State and Haleigh's mother are attempting to murder her. I find this suggestion, to say the least, highly objectionable.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More questions about the intelligence that Iraq sought uranium from Niger

Via Raw Story

A controversial neoconservative who occasionally consulted for the Bush Defense Department has confirmed that he was a contributor to the Italian magazine Panorama, whose reporter first came across forged documents which purported that Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium from Niger.

The bogus documents became the basis for the infamous sixteen words in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address, in which he detailed his case for war. Their origin has been one of the most persistent mysteries in how American intelligence on Iraq was so wrong.
The figure they refer to is none other than Michael Ledeen, and Raw Story believes there are enough coincedences regarding Ledeen and the appearance of the forged Niger documents (which the IAEA took one look at and knew were fake) to merit further investigation. I concur.

Blog recommendation of the day

Seeing as the Secular Web is one of the sites I have featured in the Links section, I feel compelled to link to The Secular Outpost, their new blog that corresponds to the site. I've only discovered the blog, myself, a few moments ago, and the first post I see of interest is one which links to another site which debunks the "ACLU only attacks Christianity" meme.

The blog's contributors have all previously written impressively for the Secular Web's modern library so I'm anticipating some interesting discussion in the future.

Skeptic quote of the day

"[I]f there really are extraterrestial beings visiting our planet, why do they use the machinery invented by science-fiction writers in the 1930's?" - A.C. Grayling, "Alien Abductions" from The Mystery of Things

Kenneth Blackwell ... theocrat? and more on Ohio '04

Remember the Patriot Pastors I blogged about a while back? Well guess who's closely aligned with this Christian Republican nationalist theocratic organization. Gubernatorial candidate J Kenneth Blackwell, the guy who did everything in his power as Sec. of State to see that Democrats could not vote in the 2004 election in Ohio.

And it appears that some statisticians think they've found the smoking gun evidence that the election was rigged. Well, that's nice. Too bad no one will ever hear about it, to either verify it or debunk it. Kind of like how no one knows that the Government Accountablity Office issued a report finding that there are signficiant flaws in our electronic voting system which have the potential to change the outcomes of elections since the press forgot to tell everyone.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

How to solve the problem of increased levels of mercury in our fish

Reduce the amount of mercury that makes it into the environment? No, that's not the PR way. The PR way is to run an ad campaign with the intended purpose of convincing people to ignore those pesky health advisories, even if you're an expecting mother and eating fish like tuna on a regular basis may increase the risk your child will be born with a birth defect.

From the Village Voice (via the Center for Media and Democracy)

On the radio ad the high-school-principal-like baritone booms: "According to the latest study, you should not eat any fish . . . and according to the latest study, you are a fish-faced idiot with an IQ lower than a tuna fish sandwich who will swallow the latest study—hype, line, and sinker . . . "

Part of notorious D.C. lobbyist Rick Berman's multimedia PR blitz, which includes an enormous midtown billboard and full-pagers in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, this ad played over the holidays on New York, Boston, and D.C. radio stations and is slated for rebroadcast on four New York stations. More sea-blue, three-sided billboards reading "Hooked on Hype? Fishscam.com" are also planned for cities in Texas and on the West Coast in the next couple of weeks.

Berman's latest campaign is to convince the public that fears about toxic levels of mercury in tuna are wildly overblown. According to a spokesman at the Center for Consumer Freedom, of which Berman is the executive director (he also heads the PR firm Berman & Co.), overly cautious federal agencies are to blame for understating the amount of mercury-tainted fish a pregnant woman would have to eat before putting her fetus at risk for brain damage. For years, the FDA and the EPA have cautioned children, pregnant women, and those who might become pregnant to avoid eating more than about one serving of white albacore tuna a week and to abstain altogether from four types of large, predatory fish that test high in mercury.

The website is funded by private (undisclosed) donors from the food industry, which reminds me, I really need to get around to reading Marion Nestle's Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.

New York Times editorial on the smearing of veterans

Well worth reading.

IT should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.

After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves.

Not unlike the Clinton "triangulation" strategy, the approach has been to attack an opponent's greatest perceived strength in order to diminish his overall credibility. To no one's surprise, surrogates carry out the attacks, leaving President Bush and other Republican leaders to benefit from the results while publicly distancing themselves from the actual remarks.

The editorial, written by James Webb, a former Marine platoon and company commander in Vietnam, goes on to note the links between Cybercast News Service and the Republican party, as well as to point out just how specious the questioning of Murtha's service is.

State Dept. memo doubted Niger uranium claims

Via the New York Times

A high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was "unlikely" because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department.

Among other problems that made such a sale improbable, the assessment by the State Department's intelligence analysts concluded, was that it would have required Niger to send "25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers" filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border.

The analysts' doubts were registered nearly a year before President Bush, in what became known as the infamous "16 words" in his 2003 State of the Union address, said that Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Fortunately for those who wanted to invade Iraq, President Bush, as revealed in Bush at War, doesn't doubt. According to Woodward, President Bush has a "secular faith" in his instincts. So if the President's instincts tell him Iraq is seeking uranium it must be the case that any intelligence saying otherwise is wrong.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Chris Hitchens sues NSA

Chris Hitchens, one of this administration's most ardent defenders of the "war on terror," is one of the plaintiffs in the case against the NSA for its warrantless wiretapping. Hitchens explains why

Although I am named in this suit in my own behalf, I am motivated to join it by concerns well beyond my own. I have been frankly appalled by the discrepant and contradictory positions taken by the Administration in this matter. First, the entire existence of the NSA's monitoring was a secret, and its very disclosure denounced as a threat to national security.

Then it was argued that Congress had already implicitly granted the power to conduct warrantless surveillance on the territory of the United States, which seemed to make the reason for the original secrecy more rather than less mysterious. (I think we may take it for granted that our deadly enemies understand that their communications may be intercepted.)

It now appears that Congress may have granted this authority, but without quite knowing that it had, and certainly without knowing the extent of it.

This makes it critically important that we establish an understood line, and test the cases in which it may or may not be crossed.

Sad figure of the day

According to the Jan. 2005 Harper's Index there is a 50% chance that a Japanese grade-school student will report never having seen either a sunrise or a sunset.

You probably shouldn't be the mayor of a major American city if you say things like ...

"I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be." - Mayor Nagin, on the rebuilding of New Orleans

Nagin also said that God sent Katrina because he's mad we're in Iraq, and because he is mad at black Americans.

Given that its been particularly cold, windy, and dismal the last several days where I live, it must be the case that my community has done something to make God slightly annoyed with us. I have a friend in Miami that reports everything is alright with God there, as the temperture is a pleasant 78 degrees.

Update: Pam's House Blend has a good post up on this subject. Pam insightfully identifies the underlying cause of Nagin's frustration

[W]hat's true about the undercurrent in Nagin's frustrations is that no one is working together effectively or honestly in the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans. Black, white and brown, rich, poor and middle class, fed, state, local -- all have stakes in what happens to this city. The reality is that all of this puts into clear focus that only a small segment of power brokers really have control over the final outcome. Many in the socioeconomically deprived communities of NOLA -- in this case, mostly blacks -- are finding out that they are going to be on the short end of the stick (again), with little final say in the matter.
Now this, I believe, is an important issue that should be addressed. Its a shame that Nagin couldn't manage to express himself without declaring that God wanted New Orleans destroyed or that God had a particular racial composition in mind for the city.

Also, it turns out that "Chocolate City" is an allusion to a 1975 Parliament album.

Sage advice

Religion. Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty and singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, and the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand, shake off all the fears and servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, etc. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, and that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended and reversed the laws of nature at will, and ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, and the second by exile, or death "in furea"....

Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, and that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision.
- Thomas Jefferson, from a letter to his nephew Peter Carr

Monday, January 16, 2006

Art of the Day

Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1818) - Caspar David Friedrich

Skeptic resource of the day

It just came to my attention that James Randi has made his An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural available online (here). Randi has been named by Skeptical Inquirer as one of the ten outstanding skeptics of the previous century and is famous for debunking claims of the supernatural and for the JREF million dollar paranormal challenge.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Max Cleland: fraud!

The Daily Doubter has discovered via some investigative journalism that there is reason to suspect that former Senator Max Cleland (D-Ga) did not deserve the Silver and Bronze stars he was awarded during his service in Vietnam. But what's even more shocking is new evidence indicating that the story that Cleland lost two legs and part of one arm by picking up a grenade dropped by a fellow soldier is false.

Like fellow critics of the Bush administration John Kerry and John Murtha who are now known to have faked their injuries in the hopes of furthering a future political career, a source has revealed to me that Cleland blew his limbs off on purpose so as to be able to sell himself as a war hero when he returned from his tour of duty.

Cleland should not be able to use his "combat" wounds for career profiteering. To enlist in the military, go to war, and put your life on the line just to get elected ... how despicable is that. People like Kerry, Murtha, and Cleland are the very definition of anti-Americanism. Having gotten enough mileage from their military service they each turned their back on the United States and openly supported the terrorists.

Blogger's Note - No, I'm not serious. The cynicism of this post is inspired by me just having seen this shameless drivel.

How industry shapes public opinion

Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, has been fired (see here and/or here) by Scripps Howard News Service for failing to reveal he had received payments from Monsanto (the same company that ran Jane Akre into the buzzsaw when she refused to lie for Fox News.) Fumento had written columns praising Monsanto's products.

For more information on the ties between think-tanks, p.r., and industry funded pundits and "experts" see Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Trust Us We're Experts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


In his most recent "Skeptic" column for Scientific American, Michael Shermer makes an interesting case for re-naming acts of suidice bombers 'murdercide.' Shermer explains:

Police have an expression for people who put themselves into circumstances that force officers to shoot them: "suicide by cop." Following this lingo, suicide bombers commit "suicide by murder," so I propose we call such acts "murdercide": the killing of a human or humans with malice aforethought by means of self-murder.

The reason we need semantic precision is that suicide has drawn the attention of scientists, who understand it to be the product of two conditions quite unrelated to murdercide: ineffectiveness and disconnectedness. According to Florida State University psychologist Thomas Joiner, in his remarkably revealing scientific treatise Why People Die by Suicide (Harvard University Press, 2006): "People desire death when two fundamental needs are frustrated to the point of extinction; namely, the need to belong with or connect to others, and the need to feel effective with or to influence others."

By this theory, the people who chose to jump from the World Trade Center rather than burning to death were not suicidal; neither were the passengers on Flight 93 who courageously fought the hijackers for control of the plane that ultimately crashed into a Pennsylvania field; and neither were the hijackers who flew the planes into the buildings.

Salman Rushdie on "extraordinary rendition"

Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, parses the newspeak of "extraordinary rendition"

BEYOND any shadow of a doubt, the ugliest phrase to enter the English language last year was "extraordinary rendition". To those of us who love words, this phrase's brutalisation of meaning is an infallible signal of its intent to deceive.


People use such phrases to avoid using others whose meaning would be problematically over-apparent. "Ethnic cleansing" and "final solution" were ways of avoiding the word "genocide", and to say "extraordinary rendition" is to reveal one's squeamishness about saying "the export of torture". However, as Cecily remarks in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, "When I see a spade, I call it a spade", and what we have here is not simply a spade, it's a shovel - and it's shovelling a good deal of ordure.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Excerpt of the day

Wife: Arrest him!

More: For what?

Wife: He's dangerous!

Roper: For all we know he's a spy!

Daughter: Father, that man's bad!

More: There's no law against that.

Roper: There is, God's law!

More: Then let God arrest him!

Wife: While you talk he's gone.

More: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law?

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
- A Man for All Seasons, Act 1: Scene 6 by Robert Bolt

Monday, January 09, 2006

An environment of neglect

Via Americablog

Since the Bush administration took office in 2001, it has been more lenient than its predecessors toward mining companies facing serious safety violations, issuing fewer and smaller major fines and collecting less than half of the money that violators owed, a Knight Ridder investigation has found.

At one point last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration fined a coal company $440 for a "significant and substantial" violation that ended in the death of a Kentucky man. The firm, International Coal Group Inc., is the same company that owns the Sago mine in West Virginia, where 12 workers died last week.

The $440 fine remains unpaid.
John asks if the Bush administration killed the 12 miners in West Virginia. No, it did not, and we should refrain from that sort of demagogery.

But we can legitimately consider to what extent an environment of safety regulation roll backs and lax enforcement contributes to these sorts of accidents occurring. We might also ask why people are being appointed to regulatory positions from the very same companies that they are supposed to be regulating.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Why does President Bush hate canaries?

The phrase "canary in a coal mine" refers to the practice of 19th century coal miners who would take canaries into the coal mine with them as a means of detecting dangerous gases. Since the canary is much smaller than a man it is more sensitive to gases such as methane. If the bird died, or stopped singing (as Kurt Vonnegut once put it), that was a sign you had better get out of the mine.

It is a tragic irony that the phrase has significance in relation to the recent Sago mine accident in which 12 men lost their lives. The mine had been cited with 270 safety violations in the last two years.

The relevance is that one of the Bush administration's first actions in office was to get rid of a canary who might warn of potential danger in a coal mine.

A word we still dare not utter

Revisting this post, I noticed that Genocide Watch has updated their genocide table for 2005. According to the table, there are 36 countries which are actively at one of the advanced stages (eight in all) of genocide.

Quote of the day

"Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant." - H.L. Mencken, Minority Report

Friday, January 06, 2006

A word to President Bush: you are not above the law

Via the Boston Globe (bold emphasis mine)

When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ''signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.
Basically, President Bush just said, "yeah, I signed the law, but it only applies when I say it applies, and I'll break it when I feel like breaking it." Glenn Greenwald says everything that needs to be said about this.

Shouldn’t we be having much more of a discussion than we have had about the fact that we have a President who believes he has the power to ignore laws? We have had all sorts of vigorous and sweeping debates lately about things like torture, habeas corpus, surveillance powers under the Patriot Act. But those debates are all just gestures. Like George Bush’s signing a "law" which he simultaneously claims he has no obligation to obey, the oh-so-heated debates we’ve been having are all just some sort of illusory role-playing, where we pretend that we have a representative Congress which makes laws. But what we actually have is a President who says he can violate those laws at will because such decisions are "his alone to make."

Maybe Americans want to have a President who has these powers and can operate without much restraint. Other countries at other times have decided that they want that, usually as a means for protecting themselves against perceived external threats. But shouldn’t we be having this discussion much more explicitly and with much greater urgency than we have had it thus far?

The "war" which is said to justify these extraordinary powers isn't going anywhere any time soon. The Administration itself constantly reminds us that it's a long struggle which could last decades. That means that whatever law-breaking powers we permit to be vested in the President are ones that George Bush, and then subsequent presidents, are going to wield for a long time to come. At the very least, such a radical shift in how our government functions should not be effectuated in secret and without real debate.
I can't help but think back to late 2004 when the Republican party made Arlen Specter take an oath of fealty to President Bush. That should have clued us all in as to how sad a shape the democratic spirit is in.

Addendum -This post would not be complete without a link to this article from Mother Jones.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

How far is too far?

Matt Welch asks some questions that I believe deserve to be answered. How far are defenders of the Bush administration's grab at expanded executive power willing to go?

And Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory (a legal blog I've recently discovered) has a question he'd like answered, as well.

Since the secret FISA court has always rubber-stamped virtually every warrant request, what possible legitimate reason could exist for bypassing it? That question has been largely forgotten, but it still has never been answered, by anyone.
Adding to the discussion, Nat Hentoff answers Ann Coulter's charge that the New York Times is guilty of treason for revealing the NSA's secret warrantless wiretaps by quoting Federal Circuit Court Judge Damon Keith, "democracy dies behind closed doors."

And I have an answer for Ann, too. She writes:

After all the ballyhoo about how it was duck soup to get a warrant from FISA, I thought it was pretty big news when it later turned out that the FISA court had been denying warrant requests from the Bush administration like never before. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the FISA court "modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than from the four previous presidential administrations combined."

In the 20 years preceding the attack of 9/11, the FISA court did not modify -- much less reject -- one single warrant request. But starting in 2001, the judges "modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for court-ordered surveillance by the Bush administration." In the years 2003 and 2004, the court issued 173 "substantive modifications" to warrant requests and rejected or "deferred" six warrant requests outright.

What would a Democrat president have done at that point? Apparently, the answer is: Sit back and wait for the next terrorist attack.

A possibility that Ann is either unwilling or incapable of entertaining is that the reason the Bush administration was the first administration to ever have a warrant rejected (and for the sake of argument I'm assuming Ann's facts are correct) might be because it was the first administration to attempt to misuse the wiretaps in a manner that was egregious enough to lead to the court's rejection. Unless Coulter can somehow show that the FISA court for some inexplicable reason seeks to undermine national security this would seem the most parsimonious (and reasonable) answer.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Truth in fiction

Over at his blog, Chris Mooney links to this article from CNN about how although "King Kong" (which is excellent, by the way) is fiction, it does illustrate an interesting truth of evolution: that islands tend to lead to gigantism and evolutionary oddities. The article also notes that the extinction of Kong is a fate that may soon face apes; for example, there are only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the world.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Quote of the day

"So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here—not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms. " - Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72