Thursday, May 31, 2007

Trivia of the day

Question: When was it discovered that a porpoise is a mammal and not a fish? Who made the discovery?

Answer: In 1680 by Edward Tyson, having made the realization during the course of dissecting a porpoise.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cool site of the day

Discover Magazine

Ok, it might appear strange that I've made a site that is on my Links list as a cool site of the day, but if you click the Links you'll see that the link now leads to the Discover Credit card website (which I will change when I have more time). The reason is that Discover magazine has revamped its webpage, and for a limited time all of the magazine's content since 1992 is available for free without a subscription.

I'd take advantage of that while it lasts and browse around in the archives ... lots of great and interesting science stuff to find in there.

Classical music of the day

"Air on the G String" by Johann Sebastian Bach

If I believed in such a place as Heaven, I imagine this is what music would sound like there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Inspirational video of the day

"Instant Karma" by John Lennon

I don't know ... the post below where I mentioned the need for a grass roots democracy movement made this song pop into my head. So I posted it.


I haven't written hardly anything so far about Congress giving President Bush another blank check to continue waging disastrous war in Iraq. That's because I want to bash my head against a wall when I think about it. So instead I'll just link to two articles: one that explains why the Democrats won't end the war, and one that explains why President Bush hasn't been impeached.

- Democratic Spin Won't End the War in Iraq.

The only thing I would add to the above article is that I think we need more than a grassroots anti-war movement. I think we need a grass roots democracy movement. I'm not sure the author would disagree with me, however.

- Why Bush Hasn't Been Impeached

I agree with the author here, too, in that failure to impeach the President can't just be blamed on Democrats or the media, but must also be placed on we the American public. We have not pressured Congress for impeachment. Which ties into what I said above, we need a grass roots democracy movement.

Quote of the day

"The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government, whether Nazi or Communist." - Winston Churchill

As quoted by Al Gore in The Assault on Reason.

How ironic it is that a political movement which repeatedly invokes the image of Winston Churhill supports the United States executive doing precisely what Churchill identified as "the foundation of all totalitarian goverment."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Video of the day

It's that time again. A time to make a change. A time to impeach this president and this vice president before they do any further damage to this nation.

It's time for the sentiments of the American public to turn. An American public just betrayed by a Congress that gave this president a blank check to continue waging a war that appears more and more to be a staging ground for launching a war with Iran.

It is time to put a stop to the war. It is time.

On this Memorial Day, we must remember the troops. The troops and their families are the ones who will suffer the burden of having to fulfill the dominatorial war dreams of our unintelligent president and his amoral cretin of a vice president. It is our troops who will be put into harms way by an administration that has proven over and over again that the only thing that it is competent at is killing democracy and corruptly enriching its special interest constituents.

And we must remember the children and future generations of Americans who will inherit the rotten fruit of this immoral illegal war. They will inherit the burden of paying off a bankrupted nation. They will inherit a country with less civil liberty ... they will be born into an America in which the rights enshrined in our Constitution are no longer thought to be inalienable.

They will be born into an America where the American dream has died and been replaced with a reality of inherited wealth and privilege for the few, and diminished prospects for all the rest.

It's time to take an interest. It's time to make a change. It's time to make a difference. It's time to get involved. It's time to remind our leaders that the power rests with the people. The people are the only rightful source of authority ... and that we are a nation of laws, not of men.

It is time to restore the rule of law. It is time to impeach. We owe it to democracy and ourselves.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Art of the day

The Key to the Fields (1936) - Rene Magritte

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Satire at its finest

"A good labour union is of value because it keeps out radical unions, which would destroy property. No one ought to be forced to belong to a union, however. All labor agitators who try to force men to join a union should be hanged. In fact, just between ourselves, there oughtn't to be any unions allowed at all; and as its the best way of fighting unions, every business man ought to belong to an employers' association and to the Chamber of Commerce. In union there is strength. So any selfish Log who doesn't join the Chamber of Commerce ought to be forced to."

That quote is from the title character - George Babbit - of Babbit by Sinclair Lewis. If you haven't read the book, do your self a favor and give it a shot (the link above is an e-text). It was written in 1922, but you'll find that all that much hasn't changed since Lewis was inspired to write this satire about how an emerging business class would seek to manufacture American "values" and impose conformity on the middle class, and how such a dynamic can suck the life out of life. I've taken to calling Bill O'Reilly George Babbitt on steroids minus the crisis of conscience, so if for nothing else, you can read the book to get an appreciation of that insult.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The circle of hate

It didn't take long for someone to come along and prove the point that I made in the post I wrote recently about Hamas teaching children to be racist jihadists being a crime against humanity because it can only serve to make the world a more hate filled place and increases the likelihood that Palestinian children will in turn become the target of someone else's hate.

So here we see Pamela of Atlas Shrugs (previously the winner of the Unhuman quote of the day) calling for Israel to begin a genocidal carpet bombing campaign in the Gaza strip because "you must destroy the enemy" and "all is fair in love and war and these barbarians mean to kill us all." Please note that Pam has defined "enemy" to be every resident in the Gaza strip, including children. Now, you might be inclined to say that Pam's genocidal zeal sounds reminiscent of German fascism and if so, it's worth pointing out that Pam before she started her blog was a regular commenter at Little Green Footballs (click here to see other L.G.F. commenters sounding indistinguishable from "late German fascists") and is a huge fan of the blog's owner Charles Johnson.

But that's beside the point. Both Pam and Hamas are caught in the circle of hate, which is why the only solution that they can see is for the total elimination of the target of their respective hate. Both sides feed each other ... Pam cites Hamas calling for the end of Israel as justification for genocide, and Hamas can cite people like Pam as justification for the same.

And we can also consider how the passing of hate from one generation to the next plays into this. How many of the terrorists who are launching the rocket attacks into Israel that have led Pam to decide that genocide is the only recourse for Israel were themselves brainwashed into becoming vehicles of hate when they were children?

The circle of hate can not be broken by fanatics like Hamas or Pam. The circle of hate can only be broken by rational Israelis and rational Palestinians who recognize that they have a common enemy in anyone who advocates hatred and violence targeted at civilians. It is these people who stand to become the "collateral damage" of those who drink from the cup of Hatred and Wrath.

Quotes of the day ... and a comment

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man" - Thomas Jefferson

"Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America" - President Eisenhower

"We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason" - Edward R. Murrow

All great quotes, and they all have something in common. They're in Al Gore's new book The Assault on Reason which I began reading today. When I'm done I'll review it, but so far I've gone to say I'm incredibly impressed. Gore demonstrates his understanding of the role of reason and the marketplace of ideas in democracy, and how reason and open debate are now absent from that marketplace. The book is lucid, intelligent, eloquent, and substantial.

Which is what makes this so infuriating. Read the link and come back .... ok done?

Figures like Dowd, as journalists, have a civic obligation to democracy that they are supposed to fulfill. And yet they make a mockery of that duty (which they should view as sacred) by engaging in these inane and banal highschool like attacks on anyone who dares suggest that there is something wrong with the media and press in this country. News flash to the establishment press: when 7 out 10 Americans think Iraq had something to do with 9/11 (as they did when we invaded) YOU HAVE FAILED THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Center for Inquiry's Position Paper on Global warming

Global Climate Change Triggered by Global Warming

Executive Summary:
This paper will offer compelling evidence from a large body of research that global climate change caused by global warming is already underway and requires our immediate attention. The research in question appears in refereed scientific literature, and most of it reflects a broad consensus of the worldwide climatology community. The principal points of this position paper are summarized below and are considered in detail, with supporting references, in the text that follows.

Convincing evidence that the Earth’s climate is undergoing significant, and in some cases alarming, changes has accumulated rapidly in recent years, especially during the past three decades.

The conclusion that there is significant warming of the Earth’s surface is not based primarily on theoretical models, although these models do succeed in replicating the existing database with growing success. Instead, global warming is a fact confirmed by an enormous body of observations from many different sources. Indeed, the focus of research has now shifted from attempts to establish the existence of global warming to efforts to determine its causes.

Although the exact extent of harm from global warming may be difficult to predict now, it can be said with confidence that the harmful effects of global warming on climate will significantly outweigh the possible benefits.

The probability is extremely high that human generated greenhouse gases, with carbon dioxide the major offender, are the primary cause of well documented global warming and climate change today.

Much can be done now to mitigate the effects of global warming and the associated climate change. Difficulties in addressing the problem are not caused primarily by unavailable technology, but by the lack of sufficient incentives to implement the new technologies more aggressively.

After consideration of these points, the paper will end with a brief analysis of the role of the political process in addressing these issues. No detailed recommendations will be made, but some general suggestions will be offered. This final section will argue that any solution to this major global problem will require contributions from all major elements of our society, from the academic research community to American industry. Getting the science right is the critical first step, but implementation of solutions will need more broadly based cooperation that takes economic realities, and opportunities, into account. We will end this paper on that note, expressing the view that without a determined political effort, a successful attack on climate change is unlikely soon.
Read the entire paper ...

The case for worst President ever in U.S. history continues to grow

Hell, I'll let the title of the Washington Post article I'm linking to speak for itself:

Rules Skirted, Millions Wasted on Navy Boat Barriers

The men from al-Qaeda guided their bomb-laden skiff through the harbor and drew near the USS Cole, detonating a quarter-ton of C-4 plastic explosive that killed 17 sailors and tore a 40-foot hole in the side of the Navy destroyer.

Pentagon officials vowed that nothing like the Oct. 12, 2000, attack in the Yemeni port of Aden would happen again. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service embarked on a plan to shield U.S. ships around the world with rings of floating, rubberized barriers.

The investigative service is responsible for security and probing criminal wrongdoing, including fraud in Navy contracts. But auditors concluded that NCIS hired companies that did little or no significant work on the boat barriers yet collected millions of dollars in fees.

Invoices, e-mails and audit documents obtained by The Washington Post also show that the General Services Administration, the agency that awards and oversees federal contracts, allowed the Navy to sidestep federal procurement rules designed to ensure competition and protect taxpayers from abuse and fraud.

"Millions of taxpayer dollars went out the window, given to companies who did nothing in return," said Eugene L. Waszily, a former deputy GSA inspector general who reviewed spending under the boat-barrier contract. "This was particularly disturbing because it was a national security project."

Another problem emerged for the project, which cost at least $100 million. "Navy officials advised us that the barriers were prone to leaks, can deflate completely, and that defects caused barrier gates to remain open," the GSA auditors said in a 2004 report.
Boy, howdy, I sure am glad we got a President who is so keen on protecting us from terrorist threats.

Where's Neal Boortz? Is he out there somewhere? Boortz, I guess this proves you right ... you know what I'm talking about, right? Back in '04 when you said you weren't sure who was more dangerous: al Qaeda or John Kerry voters.

I mean, this top notch job that is being done to make sure our Navy is prepared, along with the 24 billion spent to make our Coast Guard less prepared to protect us from terrorists, is just another example of how right you were to make such a statement.

Skeptic quote of the day

"Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hudred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; and anybody would perceive that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would. I dunno." - Mark Twain, "Was the World Made for Man?"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who said it? A Nazi or a commenter from Little Green Footballs?

Via commenter L.W.M. at Greenwald's blog, take the:

Little Green Footballs? Or Late German Fascist? (Quiz)

I scored 85% (missed 2 out of 14).

So the next time you flip to Fox News or the AM radio and you hear some pundit hysterically (and untruthfully) pontificating about the "hateful" comments that are supposedly prevalent at sites such as Daily Kos or the Huffington Post, stop for a moment and ponder if the comments cited by these pundits remotely compares to the level of disgusting eliminationist racist hate displayed by the commenters from L.G.F in that quiz.

Edit - And I should point out, Michelle Malkin - an individual who has centered her career around asserting that "the left" is unhinged and that "conservatives zealously police their own ranks for extremism" - frequently links approvingly to L.G.F., has L.G.F. in her blogroll, and has promoted L.G.F. during her appearances on Fox News.

Re-quote of the day

Given the subject matter of the previous few posts, I thought it fitting to reuse the following previous Quote of the day.

"All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side ... The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." - George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism"

Edit - And in the context of the conservative movement, one might read Chapter 3 of The Authoritarians with this Orwell quote in mind.

A book recommendation

Yesterday Glenn Greenwald wrote a post - The Islamic Enemy Within - in which he observes

Pew released a new poll today regarding the political beliefs and attitudes of American Muslims and -- needless to say -- our right-wing warriors, within hours of its release, have exploded in shrieking alarm. These revelations about American Muslims are "hair raising!," and the warrior-pundits are working in unison to milk every ounce of anti-Muslim fear-mongering that can be squeezed from this new poll.

It is literally difficult to overstate the prominence that fear and hatred of Muslims assumes in the worldview of these right-wing war proponents. They frantically search every news story for any possible angle to seize in order to exploit anti-Muslim hysteria. It is the centerpiece, the animating "principle," of the vast bulk of their public commentary.
and after demonstrating the distortion and hypocrisy inherent in the fear-mongering of the "right-wing warriors", Greenwald states

The U.S. already has at least 14,000 people held in detention around the world without charges of any kind -- the vast, vast majority of them Muslim, many of whom have been tortured. And yet, there is a sizable portion of the country -- and clearly large portions of the GOP base -- which believe we have been too restrained against our Islamic Enemy, that we need more torture and more detentions and still fewer restraints, that the principal failing of the Bush administration is that they have been too meek and too compromising when dealing with the Great Islamic Threat.

The group that has embraced this worldview is a minority group, though a large and influential minority. But the danger of laying the foundation for policies of the type they have sought and continue to seek is that once they take root, once the premises on which they are based become accepted and lose their taboo, much larger-scale abuses are easily imagined.

For a country that has been primed to view Muslims, including American Muslims, as a mortal threat, and which has come to embrace policies of torture and arbitrary, indefinite detention as ordinary and normal -- really to lose any moral or political limits of any kind -- another terrorist attack or even general instability can easily generate all sorts of excesses, as can a new president who campaigns on an ethos of eroding still further our moral and legal limits. Exactly that has happened many times in the history of our country alone. The mix of mindless anti-Muslim hysteria and an open embrace of torture and limitless detention is truly toxic, and yet that has become the central, defining trait of the base of the Republican Party.
In a follow-up post today, Greenwald again demonstrates the bigotry and hypocrisy of Malkin et all

The hysteria over the Pew poll about American Muslims continues unabated, with the focus now on the finding that while 80% of American Muslims oppose attacks on civilians in all cases, 13% said they could be justified in some circumstances. The "discussion" illustrates some standard failings of our political discourse.

Michelle Malkin went to National Review to proclaim that the poll "should be a wake-up call, not another excuse for the mainstream media to downplay the threat of homegrown jihad." Mark Steyn said it demonstrates the existence in America of "a huge comfort zone for the jihad to operate in," and Jonah Goldberg warned how "significant" this is. On CNN last night, Anderson Cooper was horrified -- just horrified -- that "so many" American Muslims would support such violence.

The reality, though, is that it is almost impossible to conduct a poll and not have a sizable portion of the respondents agree to almost everything. And in particular, with regard to the specific question of whether it is justifiable to launch violent attacks aimed deliberately at civilians, the percentage of American Muslims who believe in such attacks pales in comparison to the percentage of Americans generally who believe that such attacks are justifiable.
Which brings me to the book recommendation - The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism by Haynes Johnson - a timely book about the parallels between the anxiety over communism in the 50s which led to abuses of civil liberties and the anxiety felt today over terrorism. I'll let the review from Publishers Weekly speak for itself and then I will quote a passage from another review; after which I think the point and importance of the book will be clear without needing further comment from me.

Pulitzer-winning journalist Johnson (The Best of Times) offers an engrossing account of the career of red-baiting demagogue Joseph McCarthy and a chilling description of his legacy for today. The focus is on the disturbing questions raised by McCarthyism: how could a little-known freshman senator, driven by Cold War paranoia, quickly amass the power to intimidate senior colleagues, bully the media, terrorize innocent citizens and even threaten two respected presidents? Why did fellow Republicans not reject his sleazy, dishonest tactics when they were personally revolted by them? Most urgently, are we seeing the birth of a new "age of anxiety," in which terrorism replaces communism as the bogeyman? Johnson's answer is clearly yes. He traces the current climate in Washington directly to the 1950s: "McCarthyism was a major factor in the rise of the radical Right and the polarization that plagues American life, pitting group against group and region against region, sowing cynicism and distrust, and manipulating public opinion through fear and smear." He reviews recent events,including the use of the Patriot Act to stifle dissent, the abuse and detention of thousands of American Muslims guilty of no crime, and politicians' readiness to impugn the patriotism of opponents without evidence. Johnson's own critique is not ideological; rather, his most important argument may be that ideological polarization continues to prevent us from rationally assessing and dealing with real threats.
And from the Christian Century review:

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of five national best sellers, Haynes Johnson has written what is not only a brilliant history of the McCarthy era but also a warning about our present fears and political caution and about right-wing demagoguery. He cites the most important studies of McCarthyism, from Thomas C. Reeves's The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy to Ellen Schrecker's No Ivory Tower to William Manchester's masterly history, The Glory and the Dream. And like Samuel Johnson, he has ransacked entire libraries in order to write his book.

Most of the volume is devoted to an account of the history and effects of the McCarthy era, but when Johnson finally draws parallels between that time and ours, the meaning of the title becomes clear: thanks to McCarthy and his present-day adherents, we continue to live in an age of anxiety. "Half a century later," Johnson writes, "a considerable bloc of Americans still bear allegiance to McCarthy's memory and remain devoted to his anticommunist (or, now, anti-liberal) cause."

Fears following September 11, 2001, for example, parallel those of the cold war. After September 11, Johnson writes, "Americans, the most optimistic of people, now faced unnerving official terror warnings.... Their television screens broadcasted alerts. Their newspapers published emergency preparedness articles full of alarming instructions on how to protect themselves from biological, chemical or radiological attacks. Their government authorities, already vastly expanding the surveillance and interrogation of citizens suspected of being security risks, advised them to be on the lookout for terrorists." Fifty-five years earlier America had been gripped by similar fears: fear of a cold war turning hot; fear of a Soviet Union that had detonated an atomic bomb, ending the U.S. monopoly on nuclear weapons; fear of traitors within who were stealing the fruits of victory. Civil defense shelters blossomed in American cities. Children were taught how to crouch under classroom desks, as if that would stave off the effects of nuclear attacks.
And from the conclusion

In The Irony of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out that Americans are never safe "against the temptation of claiming God too simply as the sanctifier of whatever we most fervently desire." Niebuhr demanded both modesty about our virtue and "a sense of contrition about the common human frailties and foibles which lie at the foundation of both the enemy's demonry and our vanities." Haynes Johnson awakens us anew to that prophetic call.

Quote of the day

"[T]oday dogmatisms feed and flourish on the dessicated corpse of reason" - Simon Blackburn, Truth: A Guide

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

80s video of the day

"The Promise" by When in Rome

The song had a recent resurgence when it was used to score the final scene in Napoleon Dynamite.

Various stuff (and lots of it)

There are a bunch of items in the news and around the net that I'd like to comment on so I'm going to group some of them into a single post or else I'm going to fall behind and lose track of all of them.

1) Eric Boehlert, author of the invaluable Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, has a column up today at Media Matters about how Murdoch's proposed purchase of the Wall Street Journal has raised discussion about Murdoch's habit of using his media outlets to disseminate his own views and/or promote his political agenda. Boehlert also notes that what isn't being discussed is that although the Journal does have a high standard for journalistic reporting, its Op-Ed page has for years now been the vehicle for conservative movement propaganda. It's a good read ... the only thing missing is Boehlert did not take the opportunity to raise the issue of how increased media consolidation has led to systemic flaws and failures of the press to fulfill their first amendment civic duty. Which leads into item ...

2) More on Noam Chomsky and the propaganda model. Danny Schecter at Media Channel reflects on the 20th anniversay of Manufacturing Consent. Schecter observes that the model is generally true, but that it doesn't quite capture what is going on with our press, suggesting pointing out that at a recent conference it was suggested that a more appropriate title might now be "manufacturing compliance" (a theme one finds in the aforementioned book by Boehlert) But then Schecter goes further and (echoing the point I made when I brought up Aldous Huxley's essay about the propaganda of the irrelevent) states

Even more distressing is the tend towards the depoliticalization of politics through the merger of showbiz and newsbiz to assure that much of the media agenda is noisy and negative, stripped of all meaning, superficial, often celebrity-dominated with little in-depth explanatory or investigative journalism. They would rather market American Idol as the American Ideology. To them, the only “hegemony” in Canada is its beer and hockey.

The people who run our media are, after all, in the end, promoting a culture of consumption, not of engaged citizenship. They want eyeballs for advertisers, not activists to promote change. The sound-bytes presented as substance are there for entertainment, not illumination. It’s heat, not light, all the way.

So truth be told, the real propaganda in an era with more pundits than journalists, is less real coverage. It is pervasive and invisible at the same time — omission more than commission. They want to dumb us down, not smarten us up. They foster passivity, skepticism and resignation. Forget beliefs of any kind — just buy, buy, buy. Why even use deception when distraction works just as well?

Yes, the lack of coverage of East Timor that Noam Chomsky railed against was atrocious, as is today’s war coverage, but so is the absence of reporting on the devolution of democracy and much of the suffering in our own country.

Perhaps the more appropriate title in what Detroit calls a “new model year,” is “Manufacturing Indifference.”

3) More on Chomsky. This time, from Sheldon Rampton of the Center for Media and Democracy, a site which does invaluable work in documenting the ways in which propaganda undermine democracy. Rampton's essay "Has the Internet Changed the Propaganda Model" I would call the definitive analysis of this subject. Rampton concludes that propaganda is very much a dominant force in media today and that much of the propaganda model still applies, except where the 5th Filter has changed from anti-communism to anti-terrorism. Rampton also notes disturbing trends in corporate media's encroaching efforts to inject propaganda onto the internet. Read the whole thing.

4) More incompetence and corruption from the Bush administration. From Alternet, an article about how FEMA trailers used in the wake of Hurricane Katrina containing high levels of formaldehyde are still trying to be used by FEMA.

5) If you missed it, this Sunday 60 Minutes did a report on how even after spending 24 billion dollars on a modernization program known as "Deepwater" the Coast Guard is actually less prepared to deal with Homeland Security than it was before 9/11. Surprise, surprise, the problem seems to have arised from outsourcing the project to a private contractor that got paid lots of money but didn't get the job done. Let's call this reason #23423423423 that the Bush administration is the worst in US history.

6) A Democratic leaning think-tank has concluded that the way to win for Democrats is to increase the number of US troops and to increase the amount of government propaganda. Which leads me to ...

7) I said a few days ago that my tone would be harsher because I sincerely believe that democracy is in danger ... that it is dying. My feelings on that have been heavily informed by the writings of Chalmers Johnson and Kevin Phillips. Both authors have been detailing how America seems to be on a course for collapse that has been paralleled time and again in history by other republics that developed overstretched empires. Johnson's latest book, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic I feel is the best of his so far and the most important (and I believe it will be more accesible to the reader than the work of Phillips.)

Unlike the think-tank above, Johnson suggests that the only way to save the America republic is for us to give up our military empire - which is bankrupting the nation and uniting/militarizing the world against us and eroding our liberties - and instead divert that money back into the infrastucture of our economy and into education and gov't programs that help the American public. In his Harper's magazine article "Republic or Empire" (I would classify this as a MUST READ article) Johnson outlines his thesis and introduces the concept of military keynesianism, which roughly means that ever since WWII the American economy has been sustained by perpetually growing the military-industrial complex, and how an ever growing military establishment has led to the expansion of Executive power to the point today where we have a president claiming for himself the powers of a dictator and engaging in virtually unchecked lawlessness. The outlook, according to Johnson, is bleak.

In his most recent article for TomDispatch, Johnson dileneates what he thinks would be neccesary to prevent the collapse of the American republic (from bankruptcy or worse.) I've already alluded above to what Johnson thinks is necessary to be done, but this article lays it out in full. Again, I would highly recommend reading this article, as well.

8) The revolving door continues. This is standard operating procedure for the Bush administration. Its a con, and US citizens are the mark. What the Bush does is run for office getting lots of campaign donations from corporation and special interest groups. While campaigning he says he's for the people. In office, he's for the corporations and special interests that gave him money. So someone who lobbied for relaxed regulations against a particular industry (usually one that donated to the campaign) gets appointed to a position overseeing the regulation of said industry, and lo and behold, the regulations get relaxed from lack of oversight.

It's a great scam. The company profits from its investment from the increased revenue it generates from the relaxed regulations and the President profits by becoming president. The only one who loses is the citizen who has bear the burden and costs of - in this instance - decreased consumer safety.

9) In my previous discussion of Dinesh D'Souza I noted how his criticism of the American "cultural left" was reminiscent of Qutb's critique of American culture. Over at Reason, Cathy Young points out that in D'Souza's book he actually is flat out sympathetic to Qutb. Young also observes that the book has not been well received by the conservative movement, primarily because they view it as a right-wing variant of "blame America first" mentality. Young is correct in this, but she also goes on to state that "some American social conservatives have long expressed guarded sympathy with the radical Muslim critique of Western 'decadence.”'" I think this gets at something significat, and something that will make sense when framed in terms of The Authoritarians.

Authoritarians find it very difficult to see double-standards and hypocrisy when viewing themselves. They can quite clearly see Islamic fundamentalists as anti-democratic and authoritarian, but they can not see similar (yet less extreme) authoritarian and anti-democratic behavior on their part. Which is where the backlash against D'Souza comes in ... it's not that he's critical of "the left" so much that they have a problem with, its that he would in anyway excuse the actions of a group that has been designated an enemy by their authority figures (e.g. Bush, Cheney, Limbaugh, etc).

10) Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason, is set to come out Thursday. The Center for American Progress has written an advance review of the book and its importance. I've got to say, I'm glad Gore left politics, because he has been doing invaluable work in defending science and reason from the forces of anti-intellectualism that are now surrounding us and eating away at democracy. First, with An Inconvenient Truth which helped raise awareness of the issue of global warming, and now with his latest book which is fiercely critical of the Bush administration's lawlessness and wreckless contempt for critical and empirical thinking. An excerpt of the book can be read here. Gore is sounding the alarm louder and clearer than most everyone else that democracy is in danger, as evidenced by the following passage

American democracy is now in danger—not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on Sept. 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.
That in itself shows us that half of the American public has been cut off from reality. Indeed, something has gone terribly wrong, and reason is under assault. I'm somewhat pleased to note that I've myself been working on an essay I've tentatively titled "Truth Under Siege: The Assault on Democracy" that I may or not get around to finally posting. But do take advantage of the online excerpt of Gore's book, it really is lucid and Gore has on-point ideas about what we can do to save democracy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Veronica Mars vs. the Lord's Resistance Army

I don't watch the tv show Veronica Mars, and the few episodes I have seen I did not find entertaining, but Crooks and Liars made note that at the end of the last week's episode they plugged the "Invisible Children" movement which is dedicated to helping the 19,000 children in northern Uganda who have been kidnapped by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army in the past 20 years, as well as the "night commuter" children who live in fear of Kony. I've previously written that I consider the LRA to be the most evil organization on the planet.

Given that I gave the abominable Pat Robertson a plug and praise when his CBN network dedicated a segment to the "night commuters" of Uganda, it's a given that I'll extend that courtesy to Veronic Mars.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Daily Doubter first!

I started this blog back in March 2005. Went on hiatus from Aug. 06 to April 07.

And it wasn't until now that I received my first death threat:


Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

President Bush thinks of another way to end democracy

From The Progressive

With scarcely a mention in the mainstream media, President Bush has ordered up a plan for responding to a catastrophic attack.

Under that plan, he entrusts himself with leading the entire federal government, not just the Executive Branch. And he gives himself the responsibility “for ensuring constitutional government.”

He laid this all out in a document entitled “National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51” and “Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20.”

The White House released it on May 9.

Other than a discussion on Daily Kos led off by a posting by Leo Fender, and a pro-forma notice in a couple of mainstream newspapers, this document has gone unremarked upon.
Well, swell. Next catastrophic attack we won't have to go through all the run-around of slowly having our liberties taken from us, we can just have the president transform into a dictator instantly.

And of course, the decision that the president should transform into a dictator should be made by President Bush without consultation of Congress or, say, altering the Constitution to actually make that legal and all that (hell, what do I know, maybe it already is - I'm sure John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez think it is.) And certainly the press shouldn't bother to inform the American people about it. Heck, we've got the American Idol final to worry about.

For more on the directive, and the background of such contingency plans that actually started during the Reagan years, here's the Washington Post's article about the directive.

Tomorrow I'll update this post when I have access to my bookshelf with some more information about the shadow government that was run after 9/11 and how Rumsfield (and I think) Cheney participated in shadow gov't drills during the '80s.


In John Dean's Worse than Watergate, he notes that after 9/11 President Bush became the first president in U.S. history to employ an actual secret government. Hours after the attacks on 9/11 Bush and Cheney (primarily Cheney) activated Continuity of Government plans (more on the history of COG plans in a moment) that had been dormant since the end of the Cold War and had never before been used. Dean writes

With little notice, and no announcement, men and women throughout the federal government in Washington - principally career people, plus a few select political appointees - were told shortly after the 9/11 attacks to pack up for a trip. They were forbidden - under the threat of criminal prosecution - from revealing where or why. They were transported by Military District Washington helicopters and buses to one of the two East Coast underground facilities. (The MDW is a unique command that protects the Capital City and provides a ceremonial military prescense at countles events.) This action was taken as a precautionary move, for the White House had no intelligence indicating the terrorists possessed nuclear capabilities. But no chances were being taken; it was the president's responsibility to be sure the executive branch could continue to function after such an attack. What started as a precaution soon became permanent.
The program ran in secret for 6 months before the Washingon Post uncovered it. Deans then notes that

While it is good to know that the executive branch will remain in operation, what kind of executive branch? Congress had not been advised of the extent of the COG operations, yet the Speaker of the House, Representative Denny Hastert (R -Ill), and then president pro tempore of the Senate, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), are in line ahead of members of a president's cabinet under the very dated presidential succession law.
Furthermore, Dean points out the Legislative and Judicial branches of goverment have their own COG plans, but that they depend on the executive branch to know when to execute them. If the executive was operating under its COG plans, might not have the other branches needed to launch theirs, "or did Bush and Cheney want only the Executive branch and the presidency to survive?" pondered Dean. Dean's overall concern was that if a catastrophe were to occur all that may remain of the US gov't (under the COG plans being operated by Cheney and Bush) would be a "cabal of right-wing zealots."

Dean speculates as to another reason the program may have operated so long without public acknowledgement (which sounds like something out of Dr. Strangelove)

But, of course, the COG program serves another purpose for Bush and Cheney. Operating in secret bunkers, they can hide "right thinking" people not just from terrorist attacks but from a curious public and an inquisitive press. And come an attack, that they could find no room in their shelters for any who disagree with them would be a moot issue - for decades.
Finally, Dean notes that the failure to openly discuss the execution of plan to run a secret shadow executive gov't is undemocratic, and that concern over questions surrounding current presidential succession laws led to the creation of the Commision on Continuity of Goverment (a joint effort of the AEI and the Brookings Institution.) For more on the commission's activities, you can visit their website.

Now about the history of the COG plans. In James Mann's group biography of the Bush administration's key advisors, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, Mann writes of the COG plans

At least once a year during the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield vanished. Cheney was still working diligenty on Capitol Hill, and Rumsfield remained a hard-driving busines executive in Chicago. Yet for three or four days at a time, no one in Congress knew where Cheney was, nor could anyone at Rumfield's offices locate him. Even their wives were in the dark; they were handed only a mysteriuos Washington phone number through which they might relay messages in case of emergencies.

After leaving their day jobs, Cheney and Rumsfield usually made their way to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. From there, in the middle of the night, each man, joined by a team of forty to sixty federal officials and a single member of Ronald Reagan's cabinet, separately slipped away to some remote location in the United States, such as a discarded military base or an underground bunker. A convoy of lead-lined trucks carrying sophisticated communications equipment and other gear made its way to the same location.

Rumsfield and Cheney were principal figures in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Under it, the administration furtively carried out detailed planning excercises to establish a new American "president" and his staff, outside and beyond the specifications of the U.S. Constitution, in order to keep the federal goverment running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Over the years a few details abou the existence of this Reagan-era effort have come to light, but not the way it worked or the central roles played by Cheney and Rumsfield.
Mann then notes that the aforementioned activities detailed by Dean were the fruition of this clandestine program and, like Dean, he points out that Cheney failed to acknowledge his previous participation in these COG drills.

He then explains that the program basically established a line of succession of "presidents" consisting of members of Reagan's cabinet who would be available to be flown out to different secret locations. In the case of an attack, 3 seperate teams would be flown to one of these locations ... each team would have a potential "president" and a team leader like Cheney or Rumsfield along with him who would act as a sort of Chief of Staff.

What counted was not experience in foreign policy, but simply that the cabinet member was available to fly out of Washington with the team. It seems fair to conclude that some of these American "presidents" would have served as mere figureheads for their more experienced chiefs of staff, such as Cheney or Rumsfield. Still cabinet members were the ones who would issue orders (or in whose name the orders would be issued.)
Pay attention to the above passage. We'll return to that in a bit.

The problem that this program was extralegal and extraconstitutional - that it established a process for designating a new American president that is nowhere authorized in the U.S. Constitution or federal law - is not merely a criticism manufactured by a law professor or an opponent of the Reagan administration. Rather, this problem was inherent in the Reagan-era program and was indeed part of the very rationale for the exercises.
The point of the excercises was to figure out a way to convince the world and the American public that Mr. X was now US President. The idea that was surfaced was for the "president" to order a US submarine to surface, a sign that he was in charge of military forces. This is a standard by which the US gov't uses to determine whether to deal or not with a foreign leader after some sort of coup has taken place.

Mann continues by noting that "Reagan's secret program set aside ... constitutional and statutory requirements under some circumstances; it established its own process for creating a new American president, ignoring the hierarchy of presidential succession established by law." One official who was questioned admitted that one of the questions considered was whether reconvene Congress or not, and that it was decided that "it would be easier to operate without them" Mann is careful here to state that there is no indication that Cheney or Rumsfield were privy to this level of the program's planning.

When George H.W. Bush became president, "members of the secret Reagan program rejoiced, because the senior Bush had been closely involved with the efforts from the start, wouldn't have to be initiated into the intricacies of the program and probably wouldn't reevaluate it." The program did continue, even after the Cold War ended. At this point the rationale was switched, and the program became contingent on the assumption of a terrorist inspired nuclear attack rather than a Soviet one. The program was abandoned during the Clinton administration which considered the scenario unlikely.

Now is the point you should recall the passage I suggested remembering.

Cheney was the dominant figure on September 11. It was he who urged the president to fly to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which had secure communications facilities. It was he who ordered that House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other congressional leaders be taken out of town to one of the Eisenhower-era bunkers built for use if America was under attack. In subsequent interviews explaining his actions on September 11, the vice president spoke blandly about the importance of ensuring presidential succession in a crisis. He never mentioned the clandestine exercises he and Donald Rumsfield, accompanied by scores of civil servants, had occasionally sneaked out of Washington in the middle of the night to practice, for several days at a time, how to run America during a nuclear war.
Ok, the passages I quoted from Dean already address the democratic issues this clandestine program raise, the following passage will raise a different one. This is actually the point to recall the passage about the clandestine team leaders being the real force behind the COG "presidents".

While Cheney was by nature uncommunicative, there was also political forces at work to keep him mute. Inside the White House, a number of powerful people - staff members like Karl Rove, Bush'a political advisor, and Karen Hughes, the communications director - spent their days ensuring that the president got full public attention and credit for being in charge of the battle against terrorism. After Cheney apeared on television on the Sunday after September 11 and gave an extraordinarily detailed, coherent account both of the events of that day and of the administration's emerging response, the vice president virtually disappeared from the airwaves for months. There were delicate suggestions that in the early days of the crisis he might have overshadowed the president.

Still, out of public view, Cheney was omnipresent, even when he was off in an undisclosed location and was participating in the administration's meetings only with his image and voice piped in on Secvid, the secure video teleconferencing system. It was Cheney's specter that hovered over the administration's policy deliberations, its internal wrangling, is decision making. Other administration officials could handle the TV interviews, the show business. But over virtually every foreign policy action the Bush administration took, whether on terrorism or Afghanistan, the Middle East or Iraq, there always loomed the ghost of this balding, white-haired slightly pudgy, bespectacled man of deeply conservative views who took government seriously and worked as the consummate inside operator.
So what it sounds like is that after 9/11 we were presented with a Potemkin president, while V.P. Cheney was running things from the shadows. Might be a decent idea to rewatch Frontline: The Dark Side which details how

After 9/11, Vice President Richard Cheney seized the initiative. He pushed to expand executive power, transform America's intelligence agencies and bring the war on terror to Iraq. But first he had to take on George Tenet's CIA for control over intelligence
Update 2:

I'm adding a comment I made in this post at Glenn Greenwald's blog about the fear-mongering and bigotry that is being directed towards American Muslims by the right-wing to sum the implications of this new directive.

I've been saying that the Yoo theory of an unitary executive is like Article 48 of the Weimar Republic's constitution, but with a lower threshold for the abrogation of the rule of law. By Article 48, the parliament had to vote to give Hitler dictator powers, which is what happened after the Reichstag fire.

The new emergency directive, in the context of the Yoo theory, is like the Reichstag fire situation, except Congress wouldn't even get the option to decide in the case of an emergency to make the President the dictator ... he'd just automatically assume that mantle for himself.

I really think we are in dangerous territory here. Another domestic terrorist attack on US soil and I think that would mark the end of American democracy.

Update 3:

Ok, you've just read the above update. Keep that in mind while you read this passage I will quote from the linked post by Greenwald

For a country that has been primed to view Muslims, including American Muslims, as a mortal threat, and which has come to embrace policies of torture and arbitrary, indefinite detention as ordinary and normal -- really to lose any moral or political limits of any kind -- another terrorist attack or even general instability can easily generate all sorts of excesses, as can a new president who campaigns on an ethos of eroding still further our moral and legal limits. Exactly that has happened many times in the history of our country alone. The mix of mindless anti-Muslim hysteria and an open embrace of torture and limitless detention is truly toxic, and yet that has become the central, defining trait of the base of the Republican Party.
It is at this point that I would also point out that KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton) already has a contingency contract to build mass "detention centers" in the case of a declared emergency. Is there really any doubt that in the case of a domestic terrorist attack that Muslims and Mexicans will start being rounded up and put into such camps ... oops, I mean detention centers.

Quote of the day

"A physician is not angry at the intemperance of a mad patient; nor does he take it ill to be railed at by a man in fever: just so should a wise man treat all mankind, as a physician does his patient, and look upon them only as sick and extravagant, let their words and actions, whether good or bad, go equally for nothing, attending still his duty even in the coarsest offices that may conduce to their recovery" - Seneca, "Of Anger"

And thanks to Google's e-book library, you can read the entire book this quote is from - Seneca's Morals by Way of Abtract: To Which is Added a Discourse Under the Title of an Introduction - online, if you're so inclined. And here's the specific page this quote came from.

Reading for the stressed

During my first session with a psychotherapist, after talking to me about my interests in philosophy and what not, my therapist recommended I read Siddartha by Hermann Hesse. I read the book (it’s brief) and can say that it was an excellent recommendation on her part. And so I’m extending the recommendation out to you the reader: if you’ve ever found yourself over-stressed or feel that existential dread is getting the better of you, then you might find this book may have a calming and centering effect on you (especially if you’re a fan of Stoic or Buddhist philosophy.)

The book is an allegorical tale about the title character Siddartha’s quest to find meaning in life. I won’t actually comment on the book anymore than that, because I believe it’s the sort of thing where if you’re going to take something spiritual from the reading, you’re better off approaching the material fresh without someone else pushing their interpretation of the meaning onto you.

I would add have also added a word of advice concerning the way to read this book, which is that I would like it first to be read rapidly in its entirety, like a novel, without the reader forcing his attention to much or stopping at difficulties which he may encounter in it, simply in order to hae a broad view of the matters I have treated in it. And after that, if the reader judges that these matters merit examination, and is curious to know their causes, he can read the book a second time, in order to notice the sequence of my reasonings. – Descartes, “Letter from the Author,” The Principles of Philosophy
I think Descartes advice above is excellent advice for reading Siddartha. But if you do finish the book and want to enrich your experience and understanding of it, then you can find yourself a copy of the book I consider a must have for any skeptic, Doubt: A History (previously the Daily Doubter 2005 Book of the year) and flip to the section on the philosophy of the Buddha. Reading that will add another level of depth and appreciation to the novella.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Unadulterated hate

Dave Neiwert's post at Orcinus about a town in Michigan that flew a KKK white power edition of the Confederate flag at a town picnic got my blood boiling a little bit. That flag is a symbol of pure hate. Anyone that can fly that flag and act as if it's no big deal ... well ...

To avoid flying off into a rage of profanity, I think I'll try this approach. To understand the hate that the flag represents, then watch this video. It's A & E's Skinheads USA: Soldiers of the Race War, a documentary from 1993 about a KKK/skinhead group based in Georgia and Alabama.

Watching that video, it's surreal. Its hard to imagine that those people actually exist. So backwards, so full of ignorance and hate. I look at them like an anthropological curiosity. They talk and dress like 20th century humans ... but they have the minds of pre-civilized man.

The revision of reality as a political strategy

I've written previously about the RNC hiring David Barton to spread his Christian Reconstructionist lies about US history and to encourage Christian nationalist "patriot" pastors to join the GOP fold.

Now, it appears that Barton's lies have made their way into JROTC curriculum. Ed Brayton blogs

Chris Rodda has an important post at Talk2Action showing that some of David Barton's lies about religion and the history of America's founding have found their way in to the Pentagon's JROTC curriculum, taught to about half a million kids in public schools every year. In particular, the lie that the Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson concerned that the Federal government "might someday attempt to regulate religious expression" and that Jefferson replied to assure them that the Federal government would not interfere. This is a baldfaced lie.

You can read the rest of Brayton's post to see where he explains the extent of the lie. What I'm concerned with is the implications of this sort of historical revisionism making its way into the public education system. It is deeply disturbing that we have a political party in the United States of America - a nation founded as the first secular liberal democracy - actively working with a Christian nationalist to revise US history to fit the worldview of Christian Reconstructionists and dominionists for the sake of garnering votes.

I'll be writing more about this in the future. But I can say that if you want to have an idea of where I'll be going with this subject, then you can go ahead and read a copy of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. You can click here for an interview with Chris Hedges (the book's author) and here for a review from Znet.

Transparency vs. the U.S.A.


A United Nations human rights official said he was barred from visiting an immigration detention center in New Jersey yesterday. It was the second time he was denied access to an American immigration jail on a weeklong monitoring tour.

The official, Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said he was informed over the weekend that his visit to detained immigrants in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in Freehold, scheduled for yesterday, had been canceled. Mr. Bustamante said he had received no explanation.

Mr. Bustamante was barred from a May 7 visit to the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Taylor, Tex., where illegal immigrant families, including children, are held. Officials of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency in charge of that center, said they canceled the visit because of a pending lawsuit over conditions there by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In a letter of protest yesterday to Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Bustamante said the State Department had approved his itinerary.

“My interpretation is that someone in the United States government is not proud of what is happening in those centers,” Mr. Bustamante said in an interview.

A representative for the New Jersey facility argued that it was Bustamante himself who had declined the visit by not accepting proposed "reasonable conditions" for the inspection.

Piggy back blogging

When one is feeling lazy, piggy backing the blogging of other bloggers is a god send. Here we go:

1) Over at Rationally Speaking, Massimo Piggliuci has a post up about Noam Chomsky about who Chomsky is and why you should at least be familiar with his work. I agree with pretty much everything Massimo says, except that I think Chomsky was being intellectually irresponsible with his involvement in the Faurisson affair.

If you find that entry piques your interest, then here is a link to an interview Chomsky did with The Humanist magazine a few months ago about humanism and secular nationalism. I've read a few of Chomsky's books and many of his articles, and I find that link to be the most succinct and dead-on analysis I've seen in Chomsky's work about the decline of secular nationalism and humanistic values along with the concomitant decline in the level of global democracy. I also found it interesting to note that one of the intellectual figures Chomsky most admires is Wilhelm von Humboldt.

And while we're at it, here's a link from Media Channel about a group of scholars and students at the University of Windsor revisiting the propaganda model described by Chomsky and Herman in Manufacturing Consent:The Political Economy of Mass Media (excerpt here) which was first published over 20 years ago. After witnessing the near complete failure of our press to critically examine the claims of the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq or the manner in which the fraudulent election in the Ukraine a few years ago was covered while the equally fraudulent election in Zimbabwe was virtually blacked out, it's hard not to give some serious consideration to the merits of the propaganda model. I believe a mistake many people make is in assuming that the model implies an overt conspiracy to manufacture consent, where as Chomsky and Herman argue more that the bias of the news is a systemic flaw that results from the way the press is structured (I touched upon this subject in my recent post on mediacracy).

For more on Chomsky, you can visit The Noam Chomsky Website which has a plethora of articles, interviews, and even entire Chomsky books that can be read on-line. And for good measure, here's a link to Chomsky's blog.

2) More Hitchens on Fallwell. This time Hitchens takes on uber-jerk Sean Hannity and manages to get in a few snipes at Ralph Reed for his ties to the Abramoff scandal. Notice how Hitchens absolutely refuses to let Hannity bully him and treat him like a cardboard prop onto which Hannity can project his own opinions, which is what Hannity usually does with his guests (same as O'Reilly.) Again, however, I have to take issue with something Hitchens says in the video. He says that Fallwell's 9/11 remarks were treasonous ... those remarks were absolutely despicable, but they were not treasonous. See here for a previous post I wrote about the founders intent to avoid specious charges of treason (such as the one Hitchens makes in the video.)

The video reminded me of a similar situation that occurred after the death of William Jennings Bryan when H.L. Mencken wrote a fiercely critical obituary of Bryan entitled "To Expose a Fool." Time seems to have vindicated Mencken on at least the following passage:

The evil that men do lives after them. Bryan, in his malice, started something that will not be easy to stop. In ten thousand country town his old heelers, the evangelical pastors, are propagating his gospel, and everywhere the yokels are ready for it. When he disappeared from the big cities, the big cities made the capital error of assuming that he was done for. If they heard of him at all, it was only as a crimp for real-estate speculators--the heroic foe of the unearned increment hauling it in with both hands. He seemed preposterous, and hence harmless. But all the while he was busy among his old lieges, preparing for a jacquerie that should floor all his enemies at one blow. He did the job competently. He had vast skill at such enterprises. Heave an egg out of a Pullman window, and you will hit a Fundamentalist almost anywhere in the United States today. They swarm in the country towns, inflamed by their pastors, and with a saint, now, to venerate. They are thick in the mean streets behind the gasworks. They are everywhere that learning is to heavy a burden for mortal works. They are everywhere that learning is too heavy a burden for mortal minds, even the vague, pathetic learning on tap in little red schoolhouses.
3) More on Fallwell. All I will say is read this post - Back to the Dark Ages - by Mrs. Robinson at Orcinus to see how truly antithetical to human liberty and reason the fundamentalist teachings of Fallwell were. The post contains a 24 point brochure from 1981 issued by the North Carolina Moral Majority which is nothing short of a deliberate attempt to cripple the mind of any adolescent who follows the points by seriously inhibiting their ability to think critically about ... well ... anything. The points are designed to do one thing: produce individuals who will blindly accept dogma as handed to them. Mrs. Robinsons sums succintly:

Science and history, between them, provide nothing less than our cognitive map of how the entire world works. The power and glory and horror, the inner and outer workings of the universe, the grand attempts and spectacular failures, the possibilities and dangers -- these understandings are essential to our ability to explain and predict the things that happen in the world around us. Our moral judgment depends utterly on clear foresight, which allows us to accurately analyze situations and foresee their likely outcomes. Thus, rules like these -- which deny cause and effect and inhibit pattern-making skills -- actually interfere with the development of effective moral navigation equipment, permanently maiming these students' ability to choose right courses of action.
4) I still assume that anyone reading this blog is also reading Glenn Greenwald's blog. If not I'd direct your attention over there for the coverage he's been doing on the implications of the revelations from James Comey's testimony about the NSA scandal. I'm a bit burned out on this administration's seemingly never-ending wellspring of corruption, lawlessness, and deception. The only thing I would add to any of Greenwald's commentary is: IMPEACH!


5) Speaking of propaganda ....

Perhaps the most important effort to provide oversight of ongoing U.S. wars was the April 24 Congressional hearing on battlefield misinformation. The hearing focused on the wounding, capture and rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq in March 2003, and on the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in April 2004. For more than four hours, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard a remarkable amount of information. There were often emotional first-hand accounts; analyses by a medical doctor, dedicated family members and military inspectors; and many questions from members of Congress.

Ideally, news media would have covered the hearing in depth and hosted wide-ranging discussions and debates of the issues raised. Instead, the overwhelming majority of news outlets only showed, quoted or described the opening remarks of the hearing's first witness panel, and then moved on to their next story.

What went unreported were shocking truths about the Lynch and Tillman incidents and the many remaining questions, as well as new insights into military misinformation. The exchanges highlighted below, drawn from testimony given throughout the hearing, fill in these blanks. For an analysis that places the hearing in the context of news coverage at the time of the incidents, see Robin Andersen's article, "'Mission Accomplished,' Four Years Later."
Click the link at the start for the rest of the sordid details.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A climate science resource for the confused

If you find yourself a bit confused about the science surrounding the issue of climate change (understandable, given the amount of propaganda and disinformation that is being put out by the manufacturers of uncertainty) then NewScientist magazine's "Climate Change: A guide for the perplexed" might be of some assistance. From the intro:

Our planet's climate is anything but simple. All kinds of factors influence it, from massive events on the Sun to the growth of microscopic creatures in the oceans, and there are subtle interactions between many of these factors.

Yet despite all the complexities, a firm and ever-growing body of evidence points to a clear picture: the world is warming, this warming is due to human activity increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and if emissions continue unabated the warming will too, with increasingly serious consequences.

Yes, there are still big uncertainties in some predictions, but these swing both ways. For example, the response of clouds could slow the warming or speed it up.
With so much at stake, it is right that climate science is subjected to the most intense scrutiny. What does not help is for the real issues to be muddied by discredited arguments or wild theories.

So for those who are not sure what to believe, here is our round-up of the 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions.

There is also a guide to assessing the evidence. In the articles we've included lots of links to primary research and major reports for those who want to follow through to the original sources.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Teaching hate is a crime against humanity

In a previous post I wrote that teaching children to hate is a crime against humanity and that

It transforms the child into a vehicle for the children of hate - bigotry, intolerance, cruelty, and violence. These can only serve to make the world a more miserable place. Hate begets more hate, and that child is likely to in turn become the target of someone else's hate.
Sadly, it appears that Hamas is determined to make the world a more miserable place for children. It was in the news last week that Hamas has been using a Mickey Mouse look alike character to teach children to become jihadists who will fight for Islamic dominion. The AP reported:

Hamas militants have enlisted a figure bearing a strong resemblance to Mickey Mouse to broadcast their message of Islamic domination and armed resistance to their most impressionable audience — children.

A giant black-and-white rodent — named "Farfour," or "butterfly," but unmistakably a rip-off of the Disney character — does his high-pitched preaching against the U.S. and Israel on a children's show each Friday on Al-Aqsa TV, a station run by Hamas. The militant group, sworn to Israel's destruction, shares power in the Palestinian government.

"You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists," Farfour squeaked on a recent episode of the show, which is calledTomorrow's Pioneers.

"We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers."

This is so despicable that I find it hard to know what to say. Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, points out that this tactic is similar to tacits employed by the Nazis to enculcate hatred of Jews in German youths.

To make someone else a prisoner of your hate, to brainwash a child into becoming a tool to execute your own hate ... it's so heinous that ... its just so damn infuriating. I don't know what to say, other than to reiterate what I said before:

It's just so terribly frustrating and disheartening to see children taught to hate other children. Those children are not the enemy of each other - their enemy is hate. They should be working together to put an end to hate. I'm reminded of another great speaker, Martin Luther King, maybe we can airdrop these words on the Middle East

In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.
Or perhaps we can hurry up and get an Arabic verision of Children of Men (plot spoilers contained in link) released.

What Hamas is encouraging is a cycle of perpetual hate and persecution ... where the innocents on all sides become "collateral damage" to their fanatical cause. And to take a child and sabotage his/her mind with that hate ... it is an evil beyond description.

What he said

Christopher Hitchens on Jerry Fallwell.

Edit - One point I disagree on with Hitchens, however, is where Hitchens says that Fallwell wasn't really a believer. I've never seen any evidence that would suggest that Fallwell doesn't believe the things he says.

Edit 2 - Another thing in the video that Hitchens said didn't quite sit well with me either, and that was where he said that he wasn't sure Fallwell was successful at mobilizing evangelicals in politics. This post from Mrs. Robinson addresses the role that Fallwell played in the rise of the Religious Right.

The destruction of truth as a political goal: Addendum

I've gathered my thoughts further on yesterday's post and would like to be more explicit about Ledeen's truth destruction. So here goes.

Ledeen was instrumental in helping to achieve the war in Iraq. Privately, he was advising (both as a consultant to Rove and as a member of AEI) the administration on how to execute the invasion of Iraq and covertly seeking to provide "intelligence" (read:bogus propaganda) that would justify said invasion. Publically, he was writing columns and appearing on television supporting the case for an invasion of Iraq in order to bolster public approval for an invasion by posing as an independent voice without revealing his personal investment in the planned invasion of Iraq. The Free Inquiry interview where Ledeen claims his only influence came from his public sayings and writings illustrates this lie.

Years later, when the war in Iraq had turned into a debacle, Ledeen attempted to claim that not only had he not had any special influence with the administration, but that he never advocated invading Iraq in the first place, but in fact had opposed the invasion - a flat out lie.

So first Ledeen lied about his involvement with the invasion in order to help achieve the invasion. When the invasion turned into a disaster Ledeen lied again, this time in order to preserve his own credibility.

Which brings us to the lie from Ledeen's blog about Woodward's bookwhere he attempts to suggest that the reason America is losing in Iraq is because we have not gone to war with Iran. This reality revision serves two purposes:

1. It shifts the blame for the war from himself, his neoconservative compatriots, and the White House onto Iran

2. It allows him to propagandize for his long dreamed of war with Iran.

The truth of why Iraq has turned into a disaster has been documented by now in any number of books - Blind into Baghdad, Fiasco, Hubris, Cobra II, State of Denial, The Assasins' Gate, Losing Iraq - and by multiple foreign policy experts. The notion that the reason we can't stabilize Iraq is because we haven't gone to war with Iran is pure nonsense and reality revision. It is not worth discussion.

This is why truth is an obstacle for Ledeen to destroy. And the reason why it means we should be weary is because if Ledeen is trying to destroy the truth in order to promote a war with Iran then that means that the White House is probably also considering a war with Iran in which it will also seek to destroy truth in order to achieve that war.

The Bush administration has made fighting the war on terror a centerpiece of its political strategy and has long had regime change in Iran as one of its central goals; selling Iran as the next phase of the war on terror might be something that Karl Rove believes would be able to rally the Republican base the way war with Iraq did. And if so, he and the White House would employ the same propaganda tactics that they used to sell war with Iraq while disguising the whole time their true intentions from the public. The only other course for the administration is to admit failure, and given that option, they are far more likely to try to recast the failure in Iraq as the fault of Iran rather than its own disastrous incompetence.

And considering President Bush just met with leaders of the Religious Right to discuss Iran - whose position can generally be described as such - they're for nuclear war with Iran because they think it will speed up their being Raptured - there is cause for concern.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The destruction of truth as a political goal

"If we recognized the horror and gravity of an untruth, we should more justifiably punish it with fire than any other crime." - Michael Montaigne, "On Liars" [Blogger's Note - this is a poor translation ... when I get home and can check my copy of Montaigne's Essays I'll revise this with the better quote]

Make no mistake, Montaigne was not putting forth an argument that liars should be put to the flame. He was simply tryng to express the degree to which he found lying deplorable and dangerous to social cohesion. What Montaigne seems to have anticipated was a theme that was central to the work of political philosopher Hannah Arendt; that being that sytematic lying has the power to destroy a society. Arendt pointed out in her work that for the nascent totalitarian, the destruction of truth - a concept she called "nihilistic relativism" - was a political goal.

Which brings us to the subject of this post: Michael Ledeen (who is most likely a fascist and an advocate of the principle of "creative destruction".)

In the June/July 2005 issue of Free Inquiry an interview with Ledeen was featured. The following exchange was part of the article:

FI: Do pundits like you and those at the American Enterprise Institute have an influence with the administration?

Ledeen: Whatever influence we have results from what publicly say and write. If we have more influence than others – and I have no reason to think we do – it is because we are more convincing.
Oh, really. Let's see how much untruth is contained in that single sentence.

First, I'd note that Mr. Ledeen was at one point (and as far as I know still is or was) the only full time foreign policy analyst hired by Karl Rove. Which leads into the second point, AEI and Ledeen had a bit more than "influence" - they were flat out dictating policy course for action in Iraq, but not publicly, as Ledeen claimed. To illustrate this, I quote from Salon's review of The Assassins' Gate : America in Iraq by George Packer:

Perhaps the most morally shocking revelation in "The Assassins' Gate" is that the real reason the Bush administration did not plan for the aftermath of the war was that such planning might have prevented the war from taking place. One example of this was the administration's rejection of an offer of help from a coalition of heavyweight bipartisan policy groups. Leslie Gelb, president of the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations, had offered to assist the administration in its postwar planning: He proposed that his group and two other respected think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, prepare a study. "'This is just what we need," Rice said. 'We'll be too busy to do it ourselves.' But she didn't want the involvement of Heritage, which had been critical of the idea of an Iraq war. 'Do AEI instead.'"

Representatives of the think tanks duly met with National Security Council head Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley. "John Hamre of CSIS went in expecting to pitch the idea to Rice, but the meeting was odd from the start: Rice seemed attentive only to [AEI president Chris] DeMuth, and it was as if the White House was trying to sell something to the American Enterprise Institute rather than the other way around. When Gelb, on speakerphone from New York, began to describe his concept, DeMuth cut him off. 'Wait a minute. What's all this planning and thinking about postwar Iraq?' He turned to Rice. 'This is nation building, and you said you were against that. In the campaign you said it, the president has said it. Does he know you're doing this? Does Karl Rove know?' "

Without AEI, Rice couldn't sign on. Two weeks later, Hadley called Gelb to tell him what Gelb already knew: 'We're not going to go ahead with it.' Gelb later explained, 'They thought all those things would get in the way of going to war.'"

In effect, the far-right AEI was running the White House's Iraq policy -- and the AEI's war-at-all-costs imperatives drove the Pentagon, too. "'The senior leadership of the Pentagon was very worried about the realities of the postconflict phase being known,' a Defense official said, 'because if you are Feith or you are Wolfowitz, your primary concern is to achieve the war.'"

Those involved in this massive deception have not been punished in any way. The officials who lied to get their war will never pay any price for their deeds. But one could make a legitimate argument that their actions constitute one of the greatest betrayals of the nation in its history.
Ok. I think that pretty much establishes Ledeen is a liar. But we haven't yet even scratched the depth of Ledeen's attack on truth.

Another level: Ledeen's daughter, Simone Ledeen, was given a job with the CPA in Iraq in October 2003.

Another level: Ledeen has suspicious links to the forged Niger documents that became the basis of the President's infamous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address.

Now let's get to the part where one can understand what Montaigne must have been feeling when he wrote the bit about punishing lies with flame. In Bob Woodwards's State of Denial, Woodward casually tosses out the following passage without seeming to notice the serious implications*:

At another point Kay got a cable from the CIA that the vice president wanted him to send someone to Switzerland to meet with an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifar.

“I recognize this one,” Kay said when he saw the cable. “This one I’m not going to do.”

Ghorbinafar had been the Iranian middleman in the Reagan administration’s disastrous secret arms-for-hostage deals in the Iran-contra scandal. Though he had been a CIA source in the 1970s, the agency had terminated him in 1983 and the next year issued a formal “burn notice” warning that Ghorbinafar was a talented

This time, Kay read, Ghorbinafar claimed to have to have an Iranian source who knew all about Iraqi nuclear weapons, but who wanted $2 million in advance, and who would not talk directly to the U.S., only through Ghorbanifar.

Kay discovered that the latest Ghorbanifar stunt involved Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former NSC colleague of Oliver North who had been involved with Ghorbanifar in the Iran-contra days.

Kay sent a cable to the CIA saying, “Unless you give me direct instructions to talk to him, I will not have any member of the ISG talk to this guy. The guy is a known fabricator-peddler, and it will ruin someone. If the DCI wants to send me direct instructions to do it, I will of course do. But it’s got to be direct.”

The idea was dropped. Cheney was acting as a kind of super-investigator, trying to ferret out the elusive WMD, Kay concluded.
Typical of this administration, the idea was dropped the moment that someone (in this case Cheney) would have to take responsibility for a covert action meant to be secret. I find Kay's conclusion to be lacking. I think a more likely answer was that Cheney was looking to make up some bullshit evidence that Iraq had WMDs and didn't much care if it was actually true or not. But a more sinister implication arises when one considers a point that was raised in George Tenet's new book.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, an article in the New York Times by Scott Shane picks out the following revelation from Tenet's book

In January 2002, George J. Tenet, the man who oversaw all American spy agencies, was asked by a visiting Italian intelligence official what he knew about United States officials making contact with exiled Iranian opposition figures.

"I shot a look at other members of my staff in the meeting," Mr. Tenet writes in his newly published memoir. "It was clear that none of us knew what he was talking about. The Italian quickly changed the subject."

The embarrassed Mr. Tenet, then director of central intelligence, had stumbled upon a quixotic effort by a few Pentagon officials working closely with a conservative Middle East specialist, Michael A. Ledeen, to meet with Iranian dissidents living abroad. It was neither the first nor the last time he would be surprised by intelligence efforts inside the Bush administration but outside official channels. . . .

Meanwhile, Mr. Tenet had learned about the contacts with Iranian exiles, organized by Mr. Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and involving two Defense Department officials. They seemed to be in touch with, among others, Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian exile who had been a middleman in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980s and who the C.I.A. believed was completely unreliable.

"What we were hearing sounded like an off-the-books covert-action program trying to destabilize the Iranian government," Mr. Tenet writes, calling such a program "Son of Iran-contra."
We do not know the extent of this covert activity or what its true purpose was. But we do know that Michael Ledeen is not above helping to facilitate illegal wars and that he has been advocate of war with Iran for a long time now. We also know that V.P. Cheney during the Iran-contra scandal was an ardent supporter of the Reagan administration believing that it was actually Congress that was in the wrong. Of course, this merits serious investigation by journalists and Congress ... whether either will do so remains to be seen.

But I think it safe to say that this pretty much establishes Ledeen as a ruthless liar. But yet again, we can go another level into Ledeen's truth destruction. As this post at Unclaimed Territory documents, Ledeen had the audacity to claim that he did not advocate for an invasion of Iraq. The truly Orwellian nature of that lie makes one ponder the possiblity, like Winston upon realizing that O'Brien might really believe 2+2=5, that Ledeen is capable of that "lunatic dislocation of mind" necessary to believe such things. The fact that at the time he was floating the idea that we should extend the "war on terror" to France as our next target doesn't help Ledeen's case.

So we've now established that Ledeen both personally and as a member of AEI was intimately and clandestinely involved with ochestrating the war in Iraq, as well as possibly working covertly to achieve a war with Iran (a long standing dream of Ledeen.) It goes without saying that Ledeen's answer to Free Inquiry that any influence he or AEI might have stems from what what they have publically said and written was an absolute untruth.

But to top this all off, let's take a look at this post from Ledeen's blog entitled "The Lies They Tell and Why" in which Ledeen begins:

Everybody lies sometime or other. Sometimes it’s necessary—it may save a life—and sometimes it’s humane—to ease the anxiety of a sick or wounded person, for example. Machiavelli noted that, in romance, lying is not only part of the game, but even admirable. And lying is part of politics and statecraft, to the point where “what else could he/she say?” is understood by all adults. But it should still be avoided. I remember when a senior figure in Washington (I think it was Moynihan but I can’t swear to it) remarked that “there are two kinds of liars, those who lie because it’s necessary and those who lie because it’s in their nature to lie…”

There’s a third category, the worst of all: those who lie to advance a personal ambition or, in government, a personal or corporate agenda.

Lo! What is this? Is Ledeen talking about himself?! Nope. That would be the truth, and Ledeen's political goals require that he destroy truth. So what he does in the rest of the post is argue that Iran has been at war with the United States since we invaded Iraq and that high level U.S. officials have been hiding this information for personal reasons. The post is pure propaganda for war with Iran, but it's important to consider how Ledeen goes about smashing the truth in order to promote his dream war.

You wouldn’t believe how often high officials lie to their superiors because they fear the policy consequences of the truth. That includes very high ranking officials, as Bob Woodward demonstrated in his recent book; he has at least three examples of high officials deliberately withholding evidence of Iranian complicity in attacks against Americans in Iraq. Why? Because the evidence documented acts of war by Iran against the United States, and they “knew” the president would react strongly, which they didn’t want.
What Ledeen does here is reference Woodward's book without giving specific examples. What's more, he has twisted and manipulated a somewhat truth into a falsehood. But like the good propagandist, he has done so in such a way that it takes quite a bit of effort to explain what is wrong with the above. For one, you'd have to have read the book. Too bad for Ledeen that I have.

The instances he was referring to were not withheld from the president. Instead, what actually happened was that although intelligence knew that Iran had been aiding insurgents by providing them with training and IED technology, the administration had tied its own hands with its tough rhetoric about regimes that aid terrorism because if it went public with the information they would be expected to get tough on Iran, yet if they did so Iran would be in position to make things for the US army significantly more difficult in Iraq.

Ledeen conviently leaves that out because all Ledeen cares about is going to war with Iran. The fact that increased pressure on Iran might lead to more dead US soldiers in Iraq is not a concern to Ledeen ... they are pawns to him.

Another point that I seem to recall from the book is that at one point it was discussed that Iran's role in Iraq was negative, but not overall that significant. My memory on this is vague however (and I could be wrong), so I would have to re-read the book to make sure I'm remembering correctly. That's part of the brilliance of Ledeen's bullshit ... it takes far more effort to present the truth than it does lies.

The rest of the post is full of more propaganda that I am not going to waste my time trying to unravel. The point Ledeen comes to is that "high officials" have deliberately prevented information that prove Iran is at war with the United States and that we can not win in Iraq until we go to war with Iran from the public and president because they "did not want trouble with Iran." After tossing off some more propaganda about Iran being at war with the US in Iraq, Ledeen closes with

The American people cannot properly judge our performance in this war unless they know its true dimensions. The president must provide us with that basic truth.

Faster, Please.

Spoken like a true madman. By "basic truth" does Ledeen mean mentioning that he was conducting covert activities behind the back of the CIA Director to destabilize the Iran regime? Nope. By "basic truth" Ledeen means for the president to present the public with more propaganda that Ledeen has been behind the scenes working on.

Ledeen also would conveniently leave out the fact that while Iran has been giving aid to insurgents in Iraq, there have been rumors (probably true) that the US has been aiding dissident groups to attack the Iran regime. And certainly Ledeen would like to leave the assertions of Scott Ritter that we have already began a war with Iran ourselves (Ritter cites the US backing of another dissident group as well as violations of Iranian air space.)

Of course none of that matters to Ledeen. Reality doesn't matter to Ledeen, either. As the reality is that the quagmire we're stuck in Iraq is bad enough, but extending the war to Iran would be insane. Iran could create havoc with our economy by pulling some strings and making the price of oil skyrocket, not to mention that we lack the military capacity to wage wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran at the same time. Not to mention that war with Iran would exponentially increase the risk of terrorist blowback in the United States.

But Ledeen - this madman - is the "Freedom Scholar" at AEI and is still a voice of influence with this administration. Ledeen's goals are the administration's goals, and this is why, like Ledeen, the administration must constantly seek to destroy truth, because if the American public was presented with the truth they would not be able achieve their political goals. Ledeen is just a microcosm of how this administration and, indeed, the entire conservative movement operates.

This is another post that didn't quite come out the way I wanted it to. I'm still having trouble focusing my attention on one subject and can only use the internet (where I do a lot of my research) in limited time chunks. Consider this as a sort of an open draft that I'm written to help get my thoughts down so that I can revise and incorporate them into future posts.


*One would think that coming upon the revelation that Cheney was trying to arrange a meeting through Ledeen of a known fabricator from the Iran-contra scandal with David Kay might have set off some alarm bells in Woodward's head and possibly led he or the Washington Post to begin investigating, rather than to mention it in passing in the book without delving into the issue's significance.