Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brownback proves Orwell still prescient as ever

This has already been a quote of the day, but given Sam Brownback's inability to see a similarity between the Chinese government paying telecom companies to spy on citizens and the American government paying telecom companies to spy on citizens, I'm quoting it again.

"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

[Edited 8-01-08]: Originally I had written "Brownback's inability to see a difference ..." which is the opposite of what I meant to say.

Update: This too.

"This Republican Congress"

Digby catches Nancy Pelosi blaming Republicans for rubber stamping President Bush's assertion of domestic surveillance powers.

Stewart: You'll rubber stamp?

Pelosi: No rubber stamp. And in terms of, say, for example, domestic surveillance, no president, Democrat or Republican should have the power that this president wanted to have. So it isn't -- and the Congress of the United States has to assert its prerogatives. And this Republican Congress has been a rubber stamp for so long, but that will change.
In reality, Congress is now Democratically controlled and has been so since Jan. 07 (one would presume the the Speaker of the House would be aware that her party is, in fact, the majority party). And it was, in fact, this Democratic Congress which just rewarded President Bush for illegally voiding the 4th Amendment for the entire nation by giving him precisely the powers he wanted and by denying citizens access to the courts to protect their rights by granting telecom companies retroactive immunity for helping the government to illegally spy on them - something which President Bush was unable to obtain from the previous Republican Congress.

Sorry, Speaker Pelosi. When it comes to rubber stamping domestic surveillance powers, you and the other Democrats who voted away a significant chunk of the Fourth Amendment have become part of the problem.

Digby also observes

And, by the way, one thing she says is undoubtedly true: the Democratic congress will give President Obama a much harder time than they ever gave Bush. No rubber stamps, that's for sure. The only time Democrats ever put up a fight is against their own.
That certainly was the case made by Walter Karp in Liberty Under Siege. And recall the asymmetry of Democrats who voted to censure Bill Clinton for lying about a sexual affair with another adult not voting to censure George W. Bush for lying about illegally have authorized spying on American citizens.

Fox "News" identifies Osama bin Laden as Barack Obama

h/t News Hounds

Here's a tip for the next person to get ambushed by one of Bill O'Reilly's twerp producers. When he asks why you won't go on the Factor, tell him because Fox "News" is an arm of the Republican Party* which engages in vile and reprehensible propaganda tactics.

*Two nights ago, after telling his audience how much of a non-partisan he is, O'Reilly did a segment on an ad attacking Obama for not supporting the troops (an untrue smear). For analysis, O'Reilly had on Fox News "analyst" Karl Rove. Could there be any clearer indication that Fox News considers Republican spin and propaganda to be "news" than that it presents one of the most amoral Machiavellian partisan political figures in the country with a history of being involved with smear campaigns - who happens to have been an integral part of the current administration and a central figure in multiple on-going scandals - as an objective analyst.

[Edited 7-31-08]

Update: Glenn Greenwald points out that these sorts of attacks (the one in the footnote, not the image) from McCain on Obama began after the McCain campaign opened up its doors to veterans of Karl Rove orchestrated Bush campaigns, further illustrating how absurd and without journalistic principle it is to pretend Karl Rove is giving "analysis."

Atheist rapper raps about evolution and critical thinking

"Rational response" by Greydon Square

This week's episode of Skepticality features a discussion with Square.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On scapegoating and the politics of resentment

From The Christian Science Monitor

"There's a whole category of mass killers who are seeking vengeance against a group of people who they feel are taking away their birthright, their opportunities, and making it difficult to succeed," says Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, author of "Extreme Killing." "They don't see themselves as criminals, but ... as striking a measure of justice, winning one for the little guy. This case may show that [Jim Adkisson] perceived that society has been bending backward to favor disenfranchised groups so they're trying to get some justice for their own victimization."

Police say Mr. Adkisson, an unemployed mechanical engineer, left a note listing his own inability to find a job as one reasons for his attack. He also railed against the Unitarian Universalist denomination as being "liberal," including the church's advocacy for gay rights. The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.

"This is not just violence in a vacuum," says Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. "When they perceive themselves to have played by the rules, they will lash out indiscriminately not just at innocent people, but innocent people who symbolize what they believe has done them wrong."
And from a post I wrote about propaganda in relation to the estate tax

Our tax system has been rigged to flow wealth upwards to the richest 1 percent of the country like Niagra Falls in reverse, yet the middle class, feeling the squeeze of an increased tax burden, votes to restore a system of wealth transferance that harkens back to feudal aristocracy. I expect that in the future anthropologists are going to look back on this "Death tax" craze like we look back on witchcraft crazes. Funny thing is those served as a means of redirecting people's attention away from the source of their troubles, too. In the words of anthropologist Marvin Harris:

The principal result of the witch-hunt system was that the poor came to believe that they were being victimized by witches and devils instead of princes and popes. Did your, roof leak, your cow abort, your oats wither, your wine go sour, your head ache, your baby die? It was the work of the witches. Preoccupied with the fantastic activities of these demons, the distraught, alienated, pauperized masses blamed the rampant Devil instead of the corrupt clergy and the rapacious nobility.
The conservative movement's Devil is the "tax and spend" Liberal. The Limbaugh's Youth I was talking to calls them Socialists. Saint O'Reilly, savior of Christmas, prefers S-P.

And unless the Democrats stand up and start developing a narrative explaining what's happening to the country, we're going to have economic mad Hatters like Grover Norquist telling the public that the principle behind the estate tax is the same one that was behind the Holocaust.

And as things get tougher for the average American, with the Democrats having failed to explain to them what's happening, they're already going to know which witches to burn.
I listened to Sean Hannity's radio program today for approximately two minutes and was informed by Hannity - whose book Let Freedom Ring was found in Adkisson's home - that:

1) Liberals are to blame for high gas prices.

2)Obama's tax policy will trigger another Great Depression.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I reiterate: it is going to be bad

I previously said, in response to having witnessed Glenn Beck ask, seriously, of John Hagee if he thought Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ*:

If a Democrat becomes president expect to have our public discourse overtaken and overwhelmed with the most extreme, insane, and rotten attacks and smears from the conservative movement that you can possibly imagine ...


Belief that Bill Clinton was the anti-Christ was a principal belief of militia movement extremists. If either Obama or Clinton becomes president look for a resurgence in the patriot movement, with these folks going off into the woods, stockpiling weapons, and preparing to wage war with the anti-Christ.

But excluding some sort of national catastrophe, the real threat is not going to be them. (Although the families of those killed by Timothy McVeigh might beg to differ.) The bigger threat is the one Hofstadter recognized, that this kind of endless mindless drivel that comes from the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh axis of misinformation will create a political climate in which rational pursuit of our well-being and safety is impossible.
Ok, now from Media Matters

SUSSMAN: You know, emperor of the world. You hit it on the head, my man. Now, I will wax religy for just a moment. As I was watching that speech, I could have sworn [Obama] was running for Antichrist.


This is what we're looking for in terms of the Antichrist. That's what he's running for, in my opinion.
And from Orcinus

Slowly but surely, the old extremist right of the 1990s -- the ones who saw Bill Clinton as the New World Order Antichrist and formed militias to stop him -- has been crawling back out of the woodwork in response to Obama's looming presidency.

Now they're replaying one of their old favorites: the fake "body count" e-mail. Gavin M at Sadly, No! has the details


The source of these mails is indeterminate. But you may recall that the similarly spurious "Clinton body count" e-mails that flooded our inboxes in the '90s was the product of the black-helicopter militia crowd:
So how long do you think it will be before this sort of conspiratorial extremism becomes regular mainstream fodder? This may originate with extremists, but it is only a matter of time before Rush Limbaugh, Neal Boortz, and Sean Hannity are speculating about the mysterious deaths surrounding Obama like they still do with the Clintons.

*Hagee answered "no chance," given he considers it a doctrinal necessity that the Anti-Christ be Jewish.

When T-Warriors attack

"I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus -- living fossils -- so we will never forget what these people stood for." - Rush Limbaugh

I was all set to write a post tonight about the hypocrisy of Bill O'Reilly and all his friends in the Fox News alternate reality universe. Of course, the subject was going to be the obviously mentally troubled and self-described "Confederate" (according to a neighbor) shooter who went into a church and killed people because of his hate for the "liberal movement." I was going to ask Mr. O'Reilly if he was going to denounce Sean Hannity as a vile Nazi/KKK esque hate-monger -- like he routinely does with people at Media Matters, Daily Kos, Huffington Post, etc. -- given that maybe this guy thought he was "delivering us from [the] evil" of liberals like one of Hannity's books hopes for on the cover. Or maybe he was trying to make friend-of-the-O'Reilly Factor-Ann Coulter happy by killing some of the "Godless" liberals she's always "joking" about killing.

Before I even started writing I came across this:

From (h/t dday)

Police found right-wing political books, brass knuckles, empty shotgun shell boxes and a handgun in the Powell home of a man who said he attacked a church in order to kill liberals "who are ruining the country," court records show.


Adkisson targeted the church, Still wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."

Adkisson told Still that "he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office."


Inside the house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.
Did that sanctimonious windbag even address this tonight? No, of course not. But this is the same fool who has been saying over and over again that he fears violence resulting in death is going to occur because of the supposed hatred being fomented at Daily Kos or HuffingtonPost.

The same delusional deranged hate-laundering generic Joe McCarthy who fantasizes about the deaths of S-Ps like his T-Warrior "traditional American" pal Pat Robertson does.

You think O'Reilly might have the decency to address this since he's been writing books about and saying that godless communist homo/immigrant loving Nazi "S-P"s have been trying to destroy "traditional" white America and that people should become "T-Warriors" to fight them and what not. As Jeffrey Feldman put it

O'Reilly uses a vast majority of his political commentary to frame liberals as a dangerous threat to American citizens. To achieve this, O'Reilly does much more than simply describe readers of liberal websites as 'Nazis.' He renames them 'Secular-Progressives' or 'S-Ps' and then proceeds to equate these terms with supposed guerrilla programs to seize control of the United States.
Maybe this killer was just trying to "bring horror into the world of" liberals like O'Reilly said he wants to do with "S-P"s.

Let's take a look at something I wrote a few years ago about the "jokes" of Ann Coulter and co. that former regular O'Reilly Factor guest host Michelle Malkin finds so amusing

The rhetoric against goverment no longer predominates the airwaves. Now, the biggest target of talk radio is liberals, who have been deemed the "enemy within." How long might it be before we see the results of the seed of hate that is being planted by the people who "joke" about the elimination of liberals?
Do you think the commenter who on 4.10.08 responded to my post linked above about former O'Reilly Factor guest host Michelle Malkin loving the hate-mongering of friend of the O'Reilly Factor Ann Coulter (bold emphasis mine):

"All liberals should be killed, pronto. The sooner the better. DIE NOW ASSHOLES!"

is happy to see the seed of that hate apparently come to fruition?

For all I know, that commenter could have been the killer.

Adkisson targeted the church, Still wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."
And given his reading list, it's easy to see where Adkisson got the idea that Democrats are losing the "war on terror" and that the media is biased for "liberals." This is standard dogma of the conservative movement. Case in point and case in point.

Additionally, it is a dynamic that lends itself to proto-fascist sentiment. Adkisson was clearly scapegoating "liberals" for perceived societal ills and economic woes.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sinking boats amidst a rising tide

The following are my notes from the chapter "Not Since Hoover" of David Cay Johnston's Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)

Income share

In 2005, the richest 300,000 Americans had almost as much income as the bottom 150 million.

Since 1980, the income pie (the total amount of income) has grown 74%, with population increasing only by a third during the same period.

In 2005, the bottom 90% of tax payers had about 1/2 (51.5%) of the income pie, down from 2/3 in 1980 (65.3%). The income share of this "vast majority" of tax payers has not been this low since 1928, when it was 51.7%.

From 1980 to 2005, the income share for the top 10% of tax payers grew from 1/3 (34.6%) to 1/2 (48.5%). For the bottom half of that top 10%, their income slice was unchanged (11.5% to 11.4%) but the top half - the 95th to 99th percentiles - grew from 13.2 to 15.3

The income share for the top 1% of tax payers increased from 10% to 21.8%.

To give some idea of the disparity within this percentile: The threshold to make it into the top 1% of taxpayers in 2005 was $348,400. At the very top, several persons earned a billion dollars. It would take 3,000 years to get from the threshold to the top.

For the top tenth of that 1%, the income share increased from 3.4% to 10.9%. For the top hundredth, 1.3% to 5.1%.

This income concentration is virtually identical to the numbers for 1928-29.

Income earned

Since 1980, the economy has effectively increased by 2/3 yet income for the bottom 90% dropped from $29,495 to $29,143. But if you go back to 1973 the picture is even worse: that 90% earned $33,001 in '73. Despite 3 decades of growth the vast majority of Americans are earning less.

For the bottom half of income earners, income dropped from $15,464 (1980) to $14,149 (2004).

From 1975 to 2005 average annual income:

For the bottom 90% of taxpayers (270 million people in '05) - income decreased from $29,968 to $29,143; a 3% decrease.

For the top 1% (3 million people in '05) - income increased from $359,501 to $1,111,560; a 209% increase.

For the top 0.01% (30,000 people in '05) - income increased from $3,430,164 to $25,726,965; a 650% increase.

Adjusted for inflation, the threshold increase from 1980 to 2005 for:
the 90th rung - $84,080 to $100,714
the 99th rung - a 71% increase
the 99.9th rung - $1 million to $1.7 million
the 99.99th rung - $2.5 million to $9.5 million

The average income for the 99.99th rung of the income tax ladder increased from $5.2 million to $25.7 million.

Comparing ratio of income growth between eras
"for each additional dollar going to each person in the vast majority [the bottom 90%], how many went to each of those in the top 1%?"

90% vs. 1%
1950 to 1975 - $4:1
1960 to 1985 - $17:1
1981 to 2005 - $5,000:1

90% vs .01%
1950 to 1975 - $36:1
1960 to 1985 - $459:1
1981 to 2005 - $141,000:1

And for the top 400 richest Americans (quoted from here):

Under the Bush tax cuts, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes - a minimum of $87 million in 2000, the last year for which the government will release such data - now pay income, Medicare and Social Security taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000.

and "... because of the Bush tax cuts, those earning more than $10 million a year pay a smaller share of their money in income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes than those making between $100,000 to $200,000."

Johnston also points out that these 400 richest taxpayers received a larger effective tax cut under Clinton (8%) than Bush (5%).

For more on the book and its subject matter:
Johnston at Bill Moyers Journal
Johnston at Fora tv
Johnston interview with Reason
How the Rich Get Richer at NPR
Johnston at Democracy Now

[Blogger's Note] - Edited 7-29-08: I had erroneously confused the richest 400 with those making over $10 million a year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Rising and falling

From The Political Mind by George Lakoff

Those who are thorough going progressives hold to American democratic ideals on just about all issues. They are the bedrock of our democracy. But, when seen metaphorically on a left-to-right scale, the bedrock of our democracy is on one side - the "extreme left." The left-to-right scale metaphor makes it look like the bedrock of our democracy is "extreme." And conservatives have been characterizing defenders of traditional American ideals like civil liberties, the welcoming of immigrants, and public education as extremists.

Accordingly, the left-to-right scale metaphor creates a metaphorical "center" with about a third of voters located between the two "extremes" - even though their views vary every which way and don't constitute a single mode of thought at all.

Metaphor is a normal, and mostly unconscious, mechanism of thought. It is sometimes harmless, and at other times can be used for good or ill. The left-to-right scale metaphor is not harmless. It is being politically manipulated to the disadvantage of American democratic ideals.

From Glenn Greenwald

When Jesse Helms died last month, there was a discussion about Helms in an online email group of prominent liberal Beltway journalists, and one participant asked whether the Left has any equivalent to Jesse Helms, and a well-known "liberal" journalist responded: "Yes -- the ACLU extremists." Time's Joe Klein said last year that objections to the Senate's warrantless eavesdropping bill were merely "fodder for lawyers and civil liberties extremists" -- a phrase which GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra then praised in National Review.
It would seem that a significant portion of our political press have turned into relativists. Given that Jesse Helms was a racist bigot who sought to deny civil rights to a portion of American citizens and the ACLU is a non-racist organization dedicated to preserving the civil rights of all American citizens, the only measure by which both can be considered "extreme" is if you're judging commitment to either cause. In which case, it certainly is a sad reflection on the state of political discourse in America that not really caring all that much about the rights guaranteed Americans in their Constitution and Bill of Rights is considered being "moderate."

"Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations." - Joseph Pulitzer, The North American Review (May 1904)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Inside the brain of a Fox employee

Via Think Progress

On today’s Brian and the Judge radio show, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade twice confused Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Osama bin Laden — within five seconds. Even after catching himself, Kilmeade immediately makes the mistake again:

KILMEADE: Michael, first off, is Bin Laden — excuse me, uh, is Osama — uh, is Barack Obama right when he says the central location of the war on terror is in Afghanistan?
It's fairly easy to see how Kilmeade made this mistake. B Obama and Osama B sound sort of the same so when one is thought about networks of association in the brain activate the other. Then you have the Afghanistan part which also activates brain association with Bin Laden.

Factor in the world of propaganda Kilmeade resides in, where Bin Laden is described as a Democrat, and Obama as a terrorist fist jabber and this further level of association gets you to the point where you make this sort of tongue slip which reveals Kilmeade's difficulty with not associating Barack Obama with Osama Bin Laden.

Which is another reason why I don't think that New Yorker cover is going to help Obama. I expect that it will reinforce these sorts of networks of association rather than counter them.

Update: For more on networks of activation, see the video below and then go back and watch chapter 13 of the talk it came from.

Ben Stein: proof positive that ideology rots a brain

Fresh off of making an attrocious anti-science propaganda film that equates evolutionary science with Nazism, Ben Stein went on CNN HN's Glenn Beck show to participate in the usual Beck cartoon conservatism

STEIN: I want -- I'm glad you brought up this Denver thing. I don't like the idea of Senator Obama giving his acceptance speech in front of 75,000 wildly cheering people. That is not the way we do things in political parties in the United States of America. We have a contained number of people in an arena. Seventy-five-thousand people at an outdoor sports palace, well, that's something the Fuehrer would have done. And I think whoever is advising Senator Obama to do this is bringing up all kinds of very unfortunate images from the past.

BECK: Well, yeah, you know what? I've been -- I've been saying that we're headed towards a Mussolini-style presidency forever.

STEIN: Well, I think --

BECK: I mean it's crazy.

STEIN: It's a scary situation. I mean, I think he has to recognize some bounds on his own ego. I understand politicians are politicians because they have ego deficit problems and they try to cure them by having lots of worshipand adulation and adoration. But 75,000 people screaming at an outdoor arena, that's just too much. It's just -- it's scarily authoritarian.
You know what I find scarily authoritarian? The President of the United States of America asserting the right to abrogate any law or the Constitution itself as a matter of national security at his discretion. I find the President asserting the right to designate American citizens "enemy combatants" and then lock them up indefinitely scarily authoritarian. I find the President and his lawyers saying that national security concerns make previous law obsolete and therefore torture is now legal scarily authoritarian. And I find the totalitarian illogic of this administration scarily authoritarian.

Of course, we must remember that conservativists like Beck and Stein don't believe in the rule of law. They believe in the rule of a Leader. Which is why Beck and Stein don't have a problem with Bush or Nixon (see here for Bein Stein being a lunatic in regards to Nixon) making a mockery of our laws and violating the civil liberties of administration critics. But the prospect of having an Other - The Liberal Fascist Communist S-P enemy - in power is unacceptable. That spells tyranny!

So it doesn't matter that Obama's speech isn't going to be one in which he rallies the crowd to nationalistic furor while directing their emotions against a scapegoated domestic enemy. It is merely a function of the fact that he is not a movement conservative that Beck and Stein take alarm.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cheerfully burned alive for "atheism"

I've had this bit in my notes ever since reading Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius by A.C. Grayling, but just noticed that the exact section of the book I took the notes on is on-line in the form of an article Grayling wrote for The Independent about the 17th century libertine movement.

In fact the "libertine crisis" began when, in 1619 at Toulouse, an itinerant teacher of philosophy and medicine called Giulio Cesare Vanini was burned at the stake. His crime was "atheism" (but also, by implication, homosexuality). His name became a byword throughout Europe for atheism and the "naturalism" that accompanied it - that is, the view that nature is the ultimate reality and source of all things.

Vanini started as a monk, studying theology and medicine in Italy before travelling throughout Europe, working as a tutor or secretary in noble households. He got into trouble for homosexuality and for killing a man in a brawl, and therefore escaped to England for a time, where he abjured his Catholicism. On returning to France he earned his keep by giving private lessons. In Toulouse, an ardently orthodox city, one of his pupils denounced him for teaching that men had no souls but died as other animals did, and that the Virgin Mary was an ordinary woman who needed to have sex in order to get pregnant. The city authorities decided that he was attracting too many youths to his lectures, so to get rid of him they put him on trial and condemned him to death. While being led to the stake Vanini cried out in his native Italian, "I die cheerfully as befits a philosopher!"
That is certainly a Socratic sounding death.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quote of the day

'This is why you need to pay careful attention when you hear about John McCain claiming that he's going to "look at entitlement program" waste as a means of solving the budget crisis, or when you tune into the debate about the "death tax." We are in the midst of a political movement to concentrate private wealth into fewer and fewer hands while at the same time placing more and more of the burden for public expenditures on working people. If that sounds like half-baked Marxian analysis... well, shit, what can I say? That's what's happening. Repealing the estate tax (the proposal to phase it out by the year 2010 would save the Walton family alone $30 billion) and targeting "entitlement" programs for cuts while continually funneling an ever-expanding treasure trove of military appropriations down the befouled anus of pointless war profiteering, government waste and North Virginia McMansions -- this is all part of a conversation we should be having about who gets what share of the national pie. But we're not going to have that conversation, because we're going to spend this fall mesmerized by the typical media-generated distractions, yammering about whether or not Michelle Obama's voice is too annoying, about flag lapel pins, about Jeremiah Wright and other such idiotic bullshit.' - Matt Taibbi

h/t Mike the Mad Biologist

Monday, July 21, 2008

Donald Rumsfield denounces Halliburton for potential war profiteering ...

... in 1966.

From Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq by T. Christian Miller

Halliburton's aversion to the government was cast aside in 1962, when the company bought out Brown and Root, a Texas engineering and construction firm with a political past. Brothers George and Herman Brown had built their company through government contracting, thanks in large part to their connections to a young Texas Democrat named Lyndon Johnson. Johnson played a critical role is shuttling legislation through the House of Representatives to guarantee Brown and Root's first big project, a dam in the Texas Hill Country. And Brown and Root's contributions played a critical role in Johnson's first big political triumph. In his tumultuous run for Senate in 1948, which resulted in a razor-edge victory, Brown and Root made sure that several grocery bags filled with thousands of dollars quietly made their way to Johnson's campaign. As Johnson rose politically, Brown and Root rose financially. The company won an impressive list of federal contracts, from military bases abroad to shipbuilding during World War II to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. By 1969 Brown and Root had become the largest contruction company in the nation, with sales of 1.6 billion.

The Vietnam War gave Brown and Root its final boost to the top. After being bought out by Halliburton, Brown and Root joined a consortium of four companies in Vietnam that built $2 billion worth of airfields, hospitals, and military bases between 1965 and 1972. By 1967 the General Accounting Office (GAO) had faulted the "Vietnam builders" for massive accounting lapses and allowing thefts of materials. Brown and Root became a target of antiwar protesters, who dubbed the company Burn and Loot. The controversy even prompted a denunciation from a young Republican congressman from Illinois, an exact echo of the remarks that Democrats would make about the same company forty years later. "Why this huge contract has not been and is not now being adquately audited is beyond me, " he said. "The potential for waste and profiteering under such a contract is substantial." The congressman's name was Donald Rumsfield.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

This will warm your heart

To quote the great philospher Wayne Campbell - not.

Is Stalin or Nicholas the Greatest Russian?

Via normblog, the Russians are having a national poll on who's the greatest Russian of all time. The first of the two front runners, Nicholas II, was a racist and a bigot who regularly blamed Jews for his governments failings and incited pogroms throughout the empire. The other, Joseph Stalin, developed the model for a totalitarian regime that murdered countless millions.
I'd encourage you to click the 3 Quarks Daily link above, as it excerpts an article which explains further.

Surreal, yet priceless

If you're at all familiar with the excellent Butterflies and Wheels website, then you ought to find these e-mails fairly amusing. How someone (an "unrepentant Marxist") can browse the site and conclude it is a "rightwing publication" run by "neocons" is just surreal.

It also goes along ways towards demonstrating how absurd it is that so many movement conservatives consider Democrats and Daily Kos type liberals to be socialist extremists and what not.

Friday, July 18, 2008

One nation under "God"

"By and large, rejectionists are the most evil sect of the nation and they have all the ingredients of the infidels." - Sunni Saudi cleric Abdul Rahman al-Barak

The "rejectionists" al-Barak speaks of are Shiite Muslims, whom he considers "more dangerous than Jews and Christians." For al-Barak, being a nation "under God" means being a nation under his Sunni Muslim conception of God.

Considering the sectarian civil war that has been going on in Iraq, what would we tell the people of Iraq if they decided to adopt "one nation under God" as their national motto?

Does this suggest any reason that the phrase "one nation under God" should not be allowed as a wedge to suggest to religious authoritarians that we are a nation under their particular conception of "God?"

From Chapter 6 of The Authoritarians

One of the easiest mistakes to make when judging a threatening movement is to perceive it as being more unified and monolithic than it really is. So let’s do a little speculating here. Let’s suppose the Religious Right gains long-term control of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of the federal government and accomplishes its common agenda ...

Would the victors then all clap each other on the back and live happily ever after in Taliban America? Maybe they would. But recalling what we know about the dominance drives and prejudices of Double Highs, wouldn’t a subsequent Catholic versus Protestant struggle for control be just as likely? Coalitions last only as long as the common enemy [e.g. godless "liberals" or S-Ps] does, and few things provoke animosity the way religious differences do among the very religious. And if the Protestants subdued the Catholics, would that be the end of religious warfare, or the beginning of the next round? After all, Baptists and Pentecostals don’t really like each other all that much.
And as James Madison put it (bold emphasis mine)

The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Like I was saying

I wrote:

The problem with the New Yorker cover is that it isn't satire. It isn't satire because it quite simply is an accurate representation of the way that authoritarian movement conservatives view Barack and Michelle Obama. If I didn't know better I'd assume it was a cover of Newsmax or National Review or something.
Jonah Goldberg writes (bold emphasis mine):

What I find interesting about the New Yorker cover is that it's almost exactly the sort of cover you could expect to find on the front of National Review. Roman Genn could do wonders with that concept. Of course, if we ran the exact same art, the consensus from the liberal establishment could be summarized in words like "Swiftboating!" and, duh, "racist." It's a trite point, but nonetheless true that who says something often matters more than what is said — and, obviously, that satire is in the eye of the beholder.
Meanwhile, Alonzo Fyfe at Atheist Ethicist has written about the subject.

The vast majority of the people who will see the cover of the New Yorker magazine will not think too deeply about it. They will glance at the cartoon, which will generate an instant emotional reaction. They will then attach that emotion to Barak Obama and, over the next four months, interpret further information through the lens that this cartoon generated.

This instant, unreflective, shallow interpretation of the cartoon for a lot of people will be the idea that the Michelle and Barak Obama hold pro-terrorist/anti-American sympathies who are trying to gain control of the White House. The cartoon ends up reinforcing the very ideas that the author intended to ridicule.
And Chet Scoville at The Vanity Press has written a post which makes a point nearly identical to the one I made, except he articulates it better (not surprising given that he's a English professor)

A portion of the U.S. population actually believes all of those things about the Obamas. The New Yorker cover does not work as satire because there's no exaggeration. Because everyone always references Swift on occasions like this, let me just point out that nobody thought that the solution to Ireland's troubles was to start eating children. "A Modest Proposal" worked because it was a logical exaggeration of what people actually believed: namely, that free markets were the way to go and that people should be seen primarily as resources (haven't come too far since then, have we?). But the New Yorker cover reflects things that people actually say, and in
many cases have come to believe. That's a different set of circumstances altogether. Because it's styled as an in-joke for the cognoscenti (as New Yorker cartoons usually are), it does not make itself clear to those who are outside its orbit. In other words, like most in-jokes, it reinforces both the self-satisfaction of those already in the know and the misunderstandings of everyone else.

It might have been effective satire, say, forty years ago when this sort of paranoia was confined to blurry mimeographs produced in someone's basement -- when there was in fact something hidden that would have wilted upon being exposed to a critical mass media. That, however, is not how things are anymore.
Precisely. Which is why I wrote in the comments that:

The New Yorker considers the cover self-evidently absurd, but were the self-evident absurdity of noise machine smears sufficient to rebut them then they wouldn't be as effective as they are.An image like this is going to activate the networks in people's brains that will play on any prejudicial fears they have without doing anything to change those beliefs.

Plus, we have a media that has granted legitimacy and normalcy to views that are self-evidently absurd. Millions of people take seriously Rush Limbaugh when he says that Osama bin Laden is a Democrat, while the New York Times magazine does a white-wash cover story on him. Ann Coulter can talk about needing to kill John Lindh so that "liberals" know they can be killed too and she gets a white-wash cover story in Time magazine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Better and cheaper

Health care in the Netherlands is better and more cost effective than health care here in America.

When "free market" rhetoric fails

How anyone can read or watch something like this and still go on and on about the evils of regulation is beyond me.

KERRY HALL: She had been working on a conveyor belt. She was grabbing boxes. And she didn't want to get behind in her work so she tried to grab two boxes at the same time and her right arm ended up getting caught in the conveyor belt. It grabbed her arm, broke her arm and amputated the tip of her, uh, one of her fingers.

FRANCO ORDOƑEZ: you know, she gets rushed to the -- to the hospital, uh, you know, she doesn't know what's going on…

KERRY HALL: While she was at the hospital she says the plant nurse came and visited with her and fed her but also told her that she was expected back for the next shift. Patrick Scott: So she wound up going to work and saying that she was -- wanted to go home. She had asked to go home, that she was crying at work because she couldn't deal with the pain of the physical loss of her finger and her broken arm and the pain of having your body altered.

NARRATOR: Jaime Hernandez worked at Columbia Farms. He saw Cornelia Vicente the day after her she returned to work. The next day when she got there she went around, trembling, sad, crying like she wasn't even there. She wasn't there. Physically yes, but in her thoughts no. She was out of it, gone. I felt like crying with her.

NARRATOR: The Columbia Farms log revealed that Vicente would spend over nine weeks on what it known as "job transfer," given tasks away from the conveyor belt.

KERRY HALL: She said at one point they asked her to sweep and she said it was -- she described it as an impossible task given her broken arm and the pain she was feeling.

NARRATOR: When the reporters compared Vicente's account of her injuries and her medical records with what House of Raeford Farms had reported to regulators they found the company had mentioned the broken arm…but not the amputation.

KERRY HALL: That wasn't noted on this.

NARRATOR: And, the OBSERVER would report, because Vicente didn't miss a complete shift, the accident wouldn't have to be counted as a lost-time injury.

KERRY HALL: She was on job transfer for 64 days. No days away from work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The problem with the New Yorker Obama cover

From Chapter 3 of The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer

The need for social reinforcement runs so deeply in authoritarians, they will believe someone who says what they want to hear even if you tell them they should not. I have several times asked students or parents to judge the sincerity of a universitystudent who wrote arguments either condemning, or supporting, homosexuals. Butsome subjects were told the student had been assigned to condemn (or support) homosexuals as part of a philosophy test to see how well the student could make up arguments for anything, on the spot. Other subjects were told the student could chooseto write on either side of the issue, and had chosen to make the case she did.

Obviously, you can’t tell anything about the real opinions of someone who was assigned the point of view of her essay. But high RWAs believed that the antihomosexual essay that a student was forced to write reflected that student’s personal views almost as much as when a student had chosen this point of view. In other words,as in the previous experiments, the authoritarians ignored the circumstances and believed the student really meant what she had been assigned to say--when they liked what she said. Low RWAs, in comparison, paid attention to the circumstances.
And from earlier in the same chapter

They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:

All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.

The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right. Or to put it another way, they don’t “get it” that the reasoning matters--especially on a reasoning test.

This is not only “Illogical, Captain,” as Mr. Spock would say, it’s quite dangerous, because it shows that if authoritarian followers like the conclusion, the logic involved is pretty irrelevant. The reasoning should justify the conclusion, but for a lot of high RWAs, the conclusion validates the reasoning. Such is the basis of many a prejudice, and many a Big Lie that comes to be accepted.
From Media Matters

On the July 14 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, G. Gordon Liddy said of the image of Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, on the July 21 cover of The New Yorker: "It's got Obama in his Muslim dress with a turban, and he's there with his wife. His wife has a 'mad at the world' afro, circa 1968, she -- she's got bandoliers and an assault weapon, and there in their fireplace is burning the American flag. The New Yorker finally got it right."
And also from Media Matters

In a July 13 online poll, the conservative website asked readers to "[s]ound off on the New Yorker's cover with turban-wearing [Sen. Barack] Obama, gun toting wife [Michelle Obama]" by choosing one of 12 options, including the factually baseless options: "Funny, because there's some truth in it" and "The image isn't too far from the dangerous truth about the Obama family." While the New Yorker said in a press release that its cover "satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama's campaign," for a majority of respondents to WND's poll, the cover apparently provided support for their false perceptions of Obama's religion and patriotism: As of 10:07 a.m. ET on July 14, the most popular option in the poll -- selected by 60 percent of WND respondents -- was "The image isn't too far from the dangerous truth about the Obama family." The second-most popular option was "Funny, because there's some truth in it," which was selected by 11 percent of respondents.
The Mirriam Webster dictionary definition of satire

1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2: trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
The problem with the New Yorker cover is that it isn't satire. It isn't satire because it quite simply is an accurate representation of the way that authoritarian movement conservatives view Barack and Michelle Obama. If I didn't know better I'd assume it was a cover of Newsmax or National Review or something.

Granted, I can understand why the New Yorker would think that the image is satire. Most reasonable people would view that as self-evidently absurd and ludicrous. But the problem is that absurd and ludicrous views have been granted respectability, normalcy, and legitimacy in American political discourse.

Satire is supposed to ridicule or scorn or make views look ridiculous. The New Yorker seems to think that the depiction itself is sufficient to accomplish that, but the bar for what constitutes satire in America has been raised because views that are self-evidently ridiculous have been elevated to mainstream respectability. Dear god, I flipped to CNN HN one night to see Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Beck informing me that Captain Planet is fascist propaganda which is part of the Liberal Fascist plan to created a one world government!

As such, the cover can be said to be informative rather than satirical. In which case, it would have been more effective to do something like a split cover with half being "Reality" and the other half being the image with the caption "What the Right sees" or something like that. At least that might have mitigated somewhat the possibility of this image having the unintended consequence of creating a negative association in people's minds (sorry, for those saying this is insulting people's intelligence - that's the way the brain works.)

Daniel Larison at Eunomia raises a similar point.

Um, shouldn't fake money scams be illegal?

About an hour ago I saw, for the first time, the commercial featured below.

Ok, this should set off all kind of skeptic alarm bells ringing. Liberian currency? Wow! That means this "legal tender" is (supposedly) worth a whole 32 US cents. This is a transparent scam designed - by an American company - to exploit one of the most tragic events in US history for profit.

Which isn't surprising, given that the company responsible for this has already been found guilty of fraud and deception in relation to 9/11.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Quote of the day

"Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long, for all of human experience so far, that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on. It is now their turn to guess and guess and be listened to. Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right. It isn't the gold standard that they want to put us back on. They want something even more basic. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard." - Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"I don't want to hear about that anymore"

Instead of voting to strip Americans of their 4th Amendment rights and denying them justice by disallowing them access to the courts in order to avoid the label of being "weak" on national security, perhaps Barack Obama and other Democrats should start focusing on explaining to America that the Bush adminstration approach to terror is, in fact, the weak position on national security. The reason why this should be done is explained at book length by Drew Westen in The Political Brain, but more recently was succinctly expressed by Glenn Greenwald

The central problem is that if Democrats embrace the GOP framework of National Security — that “Strength” means what the GOP says it means — then that framework gets enforced and perpetuated, and it’s a framework within which Democrats can’t possibly win, because Republicans will always “out-Strength” Democrats within that framework. It’s only by challenging and disputing the underlying premises can Democrats change the way that “strength” and “weakness” are understood.
And I can't think of any better place to start challenging that framework than here.

In [Jane Mayer's] telling, a major incentive for Mr. Cheney’s descent into the dark side was to cover up for the Bush White House’s failure to heed the Qaeda threat in 2001. Jack Cloonan, a special agent for the F.B.I.’s Osama bin Laden unit until 2002, told Ms. Mayer that Sept. 11 was “all preventable.” By March 2000, according to the C.I.A.’s inspector general, “50 or 60 individuals” in the agency knew that two Al Qaeda suspects — soon to be hijackers — were in America. But there was no urgency at the top. Thomas Pickard, the acting F.B.I. director that summer, told Ms. Mayer that when he expressed his fears about the Qaeda threat to Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general snapped, “I don’t want to hear about that anymore!”
The whole op-ed is worth reading, as it is full of examples of the Bush administration being anything but strong on national security. But just look at that last quoted sentence while remembering how tepid, lukewarm, lame and nonexistent Democratic challenges to the Bush administration on matters of national security have been for the last 7.5 years. Given that Republicans have been bashing Democrats over the head with national security fear-mongering for 4 straight election cycles, you would think they might start pointing out that Republican governance is responsible for the event that Republicans say is the reason Republicans need to be elected.

Democrats appear "weak" on national security not because they haven't voted away enough of our rights, but because they allow Republicans to engage in the Orwellian strategy of defining failure and weakness as "strength."

Why did Ronald Reagan hate America?

John Holbo at Crooked Timber noticed this quote from Jonah Goldberg

Barack Obama talks about making America better by remaking it, by reinventing it. The aesthetics of his campaign are about a revolution. Well, it seems to me that if you believe this country needs a revolution, if you believe that it needs to be remade, then your love for it isn’t that profound.
This is oh so typical of one of this nation's leading cartoon conservatives. The instant I read the quote I knew it was phony bullshit that Goldberg's brain had manufactured in order to help him arrive at the axiomatic principle of conservative movement theology: Republicans (conservatives) good, Democrats (liberal communist fascists) bad.

You want to know why I knew it was bullshit? Because I remember the content of Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Go ahead, read it. After paragraphs of bashing the Carter administration for ruining America and what not, Reagan has this to say:

Everywhere we have met thousands of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans from all economic conditions and walks of life bound together in that community of shared values of family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom. They are concerned, yes, but they are not frightened. They are disturbed, but not dismayed. They are the kind of men and women Tom Paine had in mind when he wrote—during the darkest days of the American Revolution—"We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
Yes, Thomas Paine did say that. In Common Sense. You know, the pamphlet that inspired the colonists to declare their independence from the British Crown.* I don't know about you, but that sure seems like Reagan's campaign aesthetics were explicitly revolutionary.

So I'm sure that you can find tons of articles at National Review about how much Reagan hated America, just like Obama does. Good luck with that. What you will find is stuff like this article from Goldberg

To summarize why I admired the Gipper: He was put on earth to do two things: kick butt and chew gum, and he ran out of gum around 1962. The rest is commentary.
So why doesn't Goldberg think Reagan hated America? Because Reagan was a conservative movement "ideologue" (which Goldberg considers to be not a pejorative label but a point of praise). Again, it's axiomatic: Reagan = conservative therefore Reagan loves America. Obama = Liberal Fascist therefore Obama hates America.

Case in point.

I can understand why Bradford Delong is so frustrated at having to be "balanced" by fools like these. People so transparently unserious should not be treated by our media as if they are, in fact, people with serious things to say.

*Common Sense was not written "during the darkest days of the American Revolution" - more like the start. These words, however, were (as indicated by Washington ordering them read to his troops before Trenton):

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Liberal commie eco-fascist coral reefs trying to fool us into believing the "global warming" hoax

(Reuters file) 1998 Image of dying coral from bleaching at Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

At Island Of Doubt, James Hrynshyn recounts a recently released study about the alarming rate at which global warming is killing off the world's coral reefs (bold emphasis his):

The authors selected 845 species of reef-building corals, discarded 141 on which the data were insufficient, and took a look at the conservation status of the rest.

Of the remaining 704 species, 231 are listed in the threatened categories, while 407 are in threatened and Near Threatened categories combined .... The only species that do not fall within threatened categories are those that inhabit deeper, lower reef slopes and those not solely dependent on reef habitats.
That is truly frightening. And before someone objects that the threatened and near-threatened labels are less worrisome than "endangered" or "critically endangered," or that the Earth has seen mass coral extinctions before, the really disturbing trend is not the fact that a third of all corals are in trouble, but the speed at which corals are being added to the lists of species at risk.

Our results indicate that the extinction risk of corals has increased dramatically over the past decade. Using the values from previous reports of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, it is possible to determine extinction risk levels prior to the 1998 massive bleaching events. Before 1998, 671 of the 704 data-sufficient species would have been categorized as of Least Concern, 20 as Near Threatened and only 13 included in threatened categories.

"We've come to this ignoble moment"

And here's the article which prompted Jonathan Turley to lament that:

I never thought I would say this, but I think in fact it might be time for the United States to be held internationally to a tribunal. I never thought in my lifetime that I would say that, that we have become like Serbia, where an international tribunal has to come to force us to apply the rule of law.
Update: Glenn Greenwald explains why the Rule of Law is so important.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Is your life worth more than it was five years ago?

Actually, no.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to demonstrate that it holds democracy, the Constitution, Rule of Law and everything this nation is supposed to stand for in contempt.

By the way, Philippe Sands points out in Torture Team that the reasoning seen in that link is similar to the reasoning Nazi legal theorists gave for abrogating the rule of law in Germany (e.g a new situation has created a new paradigm which renders previous law obsolete.)

Of course, that's not surprising, given how much John Yoo sounds like Carl Schmitt.

Update: This Washington Post article is a detailed examination of the process by which the Bush administration fought the EPA in order to avoid at all costs doing anything to ameliorate the risk that greenhouse gases pose to America (and the world). As always, the interests of the administration's energy industry friends comes before and at the expense of the rest of the country.

Ah, memories. Remember back in 2000 when George W. Bush sold himself as the honest Washington outsider and Al Gore as the serial liar Beltway corrupted politician? And do you also remember Bush pledging to regulate CO2 emissions on the campaign trail?

Book review - Still Broken by A.J. Rossmiller

Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, From Baghdad to the Pentagon

A.J. Rossmiller wanted to serve his country. Already interested in a career in intelligence and/or law enforcement, the events of September 11, 2001 eventually led Rossmiller to a job as an intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency shortly after graduating college circa 2004. And not long after that, his conscience led him to volunteer for a minimum 6 month deployment to do DIA counterinsurgency intelligence analysis in Iraq. He had left hoping to make a contribution to the stabilization of Iraq, but after a dissapointing and frustrating experience there he returned to the States to continue doing intelligence analysis, only to have the remaining optimism he had left dashed against the reality of an intelligence system that is still broken from the top to the bottom.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, then you might be thinking of the review I wrote of Inside the Wire, which similarly offered an on the ground view of the way that our intelligence system is dysfunctional. I haven't searched around the net to see if anyone else has made this point, but these two books work really well as companion pieces, with both offering first hand accounts of how and why our approach to terrorism is counterproductive and ineffective. If you can find the time to read one, I recommend reading the other one as well.

In the Inside the Wire review I listed four main factors that the primary author noted for the problems in intelligence gathering at Guantanamo. For Still Broken I can narrow the factors down to two main categories: bureaucracy and ideologically driven/determined intelligence analysis.

At nearly every step of Rossmiller's journey he encounters some form of bureaucratic inefficiency. Teams were constantly in flux with assignments changing or up in the air. There was in-fighting between mid level management about who should be doing what. Reports wouldn't make their way to where they would be needed. Problems got passed around and ignored; rarely were they addressed and solved.

He watched his hard work -85 hours per 6 days - of critical and careful intelligence analysis turned in the field into Anyone who's picked up gets sent to prison. "Are you fucking kidding me?" was the response Rossmiller had when first informed of this procedure. Rossmiller expected that if those detained hadn't been setting IEDs off before they were sent to prison, they would certainly be more likely to do so after getting out.

The "screening" interrogations that Rossmiller watched amounted to inexperienced debriefers yelling and shouting repeatedly at detainees (some, or many, of which were randomly rounded up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time) that they were an insurgent and needed to confess what they were doing.

To give you an idea of this process, here's a passage from right after Rosmiller watched a detainee ask in futility what his crime was.

I turned away as the interrogator called for an escort to take the prisoner to the holding area for later transport to the prison. No evidence, no charge, no reason. What the hell were we doing? When he was gone, I asked the team if they couldn't have used the intelligence files to ask him about specifics.

"Oh, you mean this file?" The debriefer opened up the folder in front of him, exposing a single sheet of paper with the detainee's name and ID number on the top. "We don't have shit on these guys. They were in a spot with insurgent connections, so they're either insurgents or facilitating insurgents. Fuck it, just send 'em to Abu G and they'll sort it out there."
Can you already guess what the bureaucratic wrinkle is going to be? That's right! The people working at Abu Ghraib assumed that anyone sent to them was guilty. In Iraq (as it did at Gitmo), the U.S. has managed to make Kafka's vision of a bureaucratic hell in The Trial a reality.

Disregarding the injustice of such a policy, Rossmiller expresses how terribly stupid this is from a practical view

Considering that the single most vital element in fighting an insurgency is to eliminate popular support for the fighters, rounding up and incarcerating as many people as possible is exceptionally counterproductive. An occupying force can establish a secure environment in one of two ways: Either the citizens must be so fearful of the occupiers that they don't dare transgress, or the citizens have to believe the occupying force is better than the alternative.
Given that even were we to set aside the moral repercussions of attempting to make the Iraqi populace fear us to such an extent that they dare not engage in insurgency, it would still be practically impossible to achieve. So that leaves you with the second option, and incarcerating at random without any due process large segments of the population is not the way to achieve that goal.

Rossmiller also succinctly expresses the problem with those who lament that the press is not doing enough good news reporting about Iraq:

[S]uch criticism mistakes the micro for the macro. That is, building a school in the midst of a civil war is like planting a tree in the midst of a forest fire: a nice gesture, and intrinsically good, but not likely to provide much help overall.
At the end of his 6 month tour in Iraq, Rossmiller returned to the States and began work at the Pentagon in the Office of Iraq Analysis. Despite his having developed grave doubts about the way the occupation of Iraq was being conducted and retaining a frustration that the work he and his team did there was never properly utilized, he still maintained an optimism that he would be able to contribute to improving the situation. That would not last long.

There was still a problem of bureaucracy but Rossmiller managed to get the hang of the system and work around it to the best of his ability. However, something that really was holding him back was a lack of resources. Rossmiller was doing intelligence for the war in Iraq in the DIA’s main office but had no desk!

Of course, I still didn’t have a desk, and as the rest of my Baghdad companions began to filter in, space and resources got even tighter. Of the tons of problems with the office and with the analytical process in general, including fairly shocking examples of analytical modifications, terrible human resources, and atrocious morale, the thing that bothered many of us most frequently was the lack of material resources in the office. We simply could not believe that three years into a major war, the most significant military and foreign policy effort in decades, and with American soldiers dying on a daily basis, the main Department of Defense Iraq intelligence shop was in temporary office space without the resources we needed to succeed.

The office was budgeted for roughly a hundred people, and due to deployments, rotations, and a backlog of candidates for open slots, we actually had about eighty. For those eighty, we had approximately sixty computer stations. At any given time, there were people who simply could not do their jobs because we didn’t have enough computers, and the ones we did have were undersupplied.
The work Rossmiller did required 3 operating systems: Class A, Class B and Unclass (internet capability.) All the systems were necessary but only Class A was on all of the computers. Class B was available on 15 computers and Unclass on 12. They were in an office that didn’t even have internet on all the computers!

Yet the room adjacent to the OIA was empty and most of the computers there had all of the systems up. Rossmiller was given a bureaucratic reason for not using the space (i.e. belongs to another unit). Meanwhile, his team had to utilize shifts because of the lack of computers.

The adjacent space had been empty for months before I arrived; it remained so throughout the time I spent at OIA, and, according to friends still in the office, it’s unoccupied as of this writing. There still aren’t the computer resources we needed to do our job properly, and leaders are still telling personnel that it’s “in progress.” I suppose it’s not surprising that DoD and administration leadership who failed to provide proper armor for troops and transportation in Iraq would neglect the intelligence operation driving the war effort, but one despairs despite the predictability. I wonder how many operations we could have helped, how many better predictions we could have made, and, most important, how many lives might not have been lost if we just had the same number of computers and desks as people.
Rossmiller got some inkling of the DoD priorities by the fact that his office did have “about a dozen enormous flatscreen TVs blaring Fox News nonstop from the walls.”

Before the Dec 05 election the Bush administration was saying the election would lead to unity and stability. Rossmiller and colleagues disagreed. Their analysis indicated that the election would break down along ethnic and sectarian lines and that secular and centrist leaders would be shunned. Leadership in OIA reprimanded them for being “too pessimistic.” As the election approached, leadership continued to press for alterations in the analysis – for more positive assessments that better reflected the administration rhetoric. Rossmiller notes that office supervisors spoke directly to them rather than his supervisors, leaving him and other analysts with little to no options.

“This is too pessimistic. Again! Why are you guys always off message?”

When his bosses challenged their office bosses, they were ignored or attacked. When his bosses didn’t challenge them, they instead criticized Rossmiller and friends for not following the chain of authority (in other words, for not manipulating intelligence like they were told to.) Rossmiller explains what seperated this process from a normal process of debate

Two crucial elements differentiated the intelligence manipulation from healthy debate. First, while we analysts supported our assessments with reams of documentary evidence and citations of related previous accuracies, our leadership generally failed to engage us on the issues, instead questioning our analytical rigor and proffering the ubiquitous “too pessimistic” accusation and making appeals for “balance.”

Second, the changes were virtually always in the same direction: toward a more favorable evaluation of what Bush administration officials were hoping for.

One of the leaders in his office was willing to challenge intelligence manipulation. After receiving an e-mail criticizing his analysts for failing to come up with analysis that matched the stated goals of the Bush administration, Rossmiller's supervisor Major Nimick wrote back that their job was to assess facts, not to assess whether or not their findings are on message and noted that he was amazed that leadership would receive a briefing on Iraq and instead of figuring out how to deal with the truth they would attempt to change it.

Within months of sending this e-mail, he was stripped of his leadership position and put in an out-of-the-way administrative post. That demonstrated to the rest of us the danger of speaking truth to power.
Rossmiller and his team would get advance copies of speeches from administration officials (e.g. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, etc) and would be able to pick out the lies and false statements. But for this analysis to reach the top it would have to go through every person in the hierarchy without being vetoed.

Analysis could and would be overturned by superiors with zero analytical basis just to make it more optimistic. Example: Rossmiller had judged an Iraqi leader to be weak, and his coworkers and superiors agreed. He was ordered to change the assessment to say that the leader was strong, however, by a higher up J2 who had no knowledge of or experience with Iraqi issues. A few months later this “strong” leader was ousted in an “unpredicted" event.

Rossmiller sees two possibilities:

1.Despite constantly being wrong, administration leaders believed their analysis was too pessimistic.

2. The Bush administration has created an atmosphere of political loyalty to allies and ideology rather than truth where it is considered a stab in the back to report "bad” news.

Either way, the intelligence process is broken - it rewards failure and punishes success - with the second being the worse scenario. Rossmiller worries that these actions are becoming habits of bad intelligence analysis that will become institutionalized long after Bush is gone.

As a result of this manipulation, analysts who could think about finding work elsewhere started to drop out of the office. This problem also happened in the counterrorism unit, so the two most important offices to the mission in Iraq were the places that were the least desirable to work in.

Finally, after watching assessment after assessement get overturned for political reasons only to later turn out to have been right, Rossmiller reached a breaking point and quit his job. But he didn’t simply quit and leave, he attempted to make his leaving an effort to improve the situation by explaining precisely why he was leaving to his bosses so that the problem would at least be brought into the open.

Regardless of the impact that made on his office, this book is an important step towards galvanizing an effort to fix our still broken intelligence apparatus.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Democratic Congress votes to end Rule of Law as favor to the most unpopular Republican President in history

The Fourth Amendment

Civil libertarian Michelle Malkin is thrilled.

Hey, but good news! Democrats (including the Democratic presidential nominee) can now say they aren't "weak" on national security because they cynically and without principle traded away one of the basic foundations of the liberty and security of American citizens - one of the very things that the United States of America was brought into existence to protect. Expletive expletive expletive ... what the hell? Is it possible that Democrats could be anymore daft? They've been doing this dance for years. When, when are they ever going to realize that the only reason they appear "weak" on national security measures is that they continue to capitulate and let Republicans define "national security."

And who suffers? The American people who lose more and more of their rights to a goverment filled with plutocrats who claim and pretend to work for We the People but who in fact work for the rich and the powerful.

How much does it cost to kill the 4th Amendment? Ask the telecom lobbysts, because that's what they just bought.

We live in an America where a President - if a Democrat - can get impeached for lying about a consensual sexual affair with an adult, but a Republican President can wage an illegal covert war and lie about it, e.g, "We did not--repeat, did not--trade weapons or anything else for hostages" or can commit 30 felonies by violating a law duly passed by Congress and (what used to be) the Fourth Amendment rights of the entire nation and lie about it, e.g. ""[a]ny time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires ... a court order"; and his "punishment" is to have the Democratic Congress legalize it.

Quote of the day

"Under conditions of peace, the warlike man attacks himself." - Nietzsche

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Americans' health less important than Exxon's profit

Via Wonk Room

Last fall, as the Environmental Protection Agency worked to satisfy its Supreme Court mandate to protect the American public from the threat of greenhouse gases, White House officials took steps to prevent such action. In a letter responding to questions by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, former EPA official Jason K. Burnett implicated the Office of the Vice President, Dick Cheney, as well as the White House Council on Environmental Quality for censoring “any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change” in testimony to Congress.

Although Burnett refused to assist in the efforts, the October testimony of Dr. Julie Geberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was “eviscerated,” with ten pages detailing the specific health threats of global warming — ranging from heat waves to floods — eliminated. After initial denials of White House interference, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino later claimed that the Office of Management and Budget had redacted testimony that contained “broad characterizations about climate change science that didn’t align with the IPCC.”

In fact, Burnett tells Sen. Boxer that the reason for the cuts was to “keep options open” for the EPA to avoid making an endangerment finding for global warming pollution, which would trigger immediate consequences for polluters.
For movement conservatives like Dick Cheney, the purpose of government is not to "promote the general welfare" but to protect the interest of and enrich a select few wealthy clients at taxpayer expense.

How can anyone possibly vote for more of this rank corruption?

New Thomas Frank book on the way

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule

In his previous book, Thomas Frank explained why working America votes for politicians who reserve their favors for the rich. Now, in The Wrecking Crew, Frank examines the blundering and corrupt Washington those politicians have given us.

Casting back to the early days of the conservative revolution, Frank describes the rise of a ruling coalition dedicated to dismantling government. But rather than cutting down the big government they claim to hate, conservatives have simply sold it off, deregulating some industries, defunding others, but always turning public policy into a private-sector bidding war. Washington itself has been remade into a golden landscape of super-wealthy suburbs and gleaming lobbyist headquarters—the wages of government-by-entrepreneurship practiced so outrageously by figures such as Jack Abramoff.

It is no coincidence, Frank argues, that the same politicians who guffaw at the idea of effective government have installed a regime in which incompetence is the rule. Nor will the country easily shake off the consequences of deliberate misgovernment through the usual election remedies. Obsessed with achieving a lasting victory, conservatives have taken pains to enshrine the free market as the permanent creed of state.

Stamped with Thomas Frank’s audacity, analytic brilliance, and wit, The Wrecking Crew is his most revelatory work yet—and his most important.
Chet Scoville has excerpted bits of the book that have been adapted for an article for Harper's.

Bill O'Reilly: dumber than a sack of rocks

Bill O'Reilly has responded to the sinister distortion of a photo of a New York Times reporter by Fox and Friends that the New York Times is being hypocritical because they caricatured him and added horns to his image.

The "caricature" he speaks of are accurate cartoon depictions of him in varying states of anger* (ever look in a mirror, Mr. O'Reilly?) and the "horns" are in fact the pointed ends of dialogue bubbles that are standard to comic books. And as Media Matters notes, there is nothing in the Fox and Friends segment to indicate that the doctored image of Steinberg was a caricature - it was presented as his genuine image.

Back when a diarist at Daily Kos put up an offensive and suggestive phony image of Joseph Lieberman unzipping President Bush's pants, Bill O'Reilly said that action makes Daily Kos no different than Nazis. Yet O'Reilly doesn't have a problem with Fox and Friends running a distorted image -presented as an actual image - of a Jewish New York Times reporter that resembles the caricatures of Jews traditional to anti-Semitic propaganda.

*I'm not sure Media Matters intended to do this or not, but if you look at the image of O'Reilly in the video screenshot on the right of the screen it is almost identical to the central cartoon "caricature" image of O'Reilly, with minor difference (e.g. mouth open, mouth closed).