Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Primate

(Photo from Flying Monkeys)

Lie Down With Dogs

There is no question that Iran is pushing the envelope by capturing and continuing to hold the British sailors and marines. This event was clearly planned in advance, perhaps to give the Iranians a bargaining chip to get their own citizens currently being held by coalition forces in Iraq. Be that as it may, the rest of the world is clearly not as outraged and engaged as one would have thought they'd be. One possible explanation for the yawns from the rest of the world over this incident has been put forth by South Africa's Mail & Guardian.

In international relations, a reputation for recklessness has its advantages. Iran is governed by people who seek to make mischief for the West, and are largely indifferent to its consequences. More than that, because of Iraq (almost every twist of Western foreign policy is influenced by those fatal words) the British position is nowhere near as strong as it should be in haggling to get its people back.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows that most of the world questions the legitimacy of the Western military presence in Iraq and its claimed territorial waters. Whatever angry noises are being made by Britain, in many countries this incident is regarded with indifference, or worse. Their governments and peoples believe that British forces have no business on the Shatt-al-Arab in the first place.

Here is a new manifestation of the loss of moral authority resulting from the Iraq policies of George W Bush and Tony Blair. Iran is controlled by one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Its cruelties fall not merely on its opponents, but upon its entire female population. It is a proponent of international terrorism, committed to the illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons. Its president is a Holocaust denier.

Yet in dealing with Tehran, Washington and its allies must duck and weave. Iraq has drained from the international community any appetite for a showdown. Opinion polls show many people around the world are more fearful of Bush launching strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities than of the consequences of Ahmadinejad acquiring weapons of mass destruction. ...
[Emphasis added]

While I'm not so sure that the US and Britain ever really had any "moral authority," or even that such a concept can ever be applied to nation states, it is clear the behavior of both nations leading up to the war and in its prosecution has been such that the rest of the world has no sympathy for any awkward circumstance either country may find itself in vis a vis international matters.

That both countries have earned such contempt only makes it worse.

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Faced With Unspeakable Behavior, Speaking Out is Necessary

The complete destruction of the code of behavior this country had a right to be proud of is the worst thing the cretin in chief has done to this country, imho. Not even those who were stupid enough to vote for him deserve to have their name associated with torture. No one should have to be responsible for the fact that our own soldiers who are held prisoner in the future will have no claim to good treatment.

The prisoner who is claimed to have been involved in bombing the U.S.S. Cole has evidently recanted, saying that he made the admission under torture. David Hicks has been forced to keep silent about his treatment, under which treatment he also admitted training to fight against the U.S., thereby saving himself from a possible lifetime sentence.

The following was published on March 4 detailing several instances of inhumane and indecent behavior toward prisoners by our country;

A Bangladeshi man held at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay says he was tortured with electric shocks and accuses his guards of desecrating the Koran.

Mubarak Hussain Bin Abul Hashim, 32, was freed last Thursday after being returned from the United States in December and detained in Bangladesh for a further two months.

Describing his five years at Guantanamo as a "living hell," Mubarak, who denies any militant links, said his release was the "happiest day" of his life.

He was one of about 400 "enemy combatant" suspects detained at the base and later released after investigators there found no evidence he had links to Islamic militants. No terrorism charges were ever filed against him.

"I lived for five years in a perpetual state of fear but I thought Allah will save me because I am not a terrorist," he said, speaking to AFP at his middle-class family home in eastern Brahmanbaria district.

The former madrassa student echoed allegations by other former detainees about desecration of the Koran at the US camp.

"They (the guards) kicked the holy Koran and threw it in the toilet," he told AFP.

During interrogations, Mubarak also said he received electric shocks, was deprived of food and subjected to cold temperatures at Guantanamo.

"They used to give electric shocks, saying I had links with international terrorist groups. They gave electric shocks for a few seconds, several times in a day when they took me for interrogation," he said.

"There were air conditioners above the interrogation cells and they used to put us inside the cell at a cold temperature. Some prisoners used to be kept for months in those interrogation cells at low temperatures. I was kept for two days straight without food and without any clothes," he added.

Mubarak, who is single, said he did not have any immediate plans for his future and was still struggling to cope with the psychological strain of his detention.

"I still cannot sleep properly because these terrible memories haunt me," he said, adding he could not describe his happiness at finally being reunited with his family.

Other Guantanamo Bay detainees have made allegations of ill treatment. However, a US military probe into abuse allegations found no evidence of improper treatment of prisoners, US officials said last month.

In June 2005, 17 former prisoners returned home to Pakistan with some alleging that guards had desecrated the Koran.

One of the prisoners told AFP at that time he saw guards throw the Koran into a bucket full of urine and faeces. Another said guards had spat on the book.

A German-born Turk, Murat Kurnaz, in January told a German parliamentary committee that he was tortured with electric shocks while in US custody in Afghanistan.

The US Defense Department said in June 2005 an investigation it carried out found that overall US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay handled the holy book with respect, but added the Koran had been kicked and a copy sprayed with urine in separate incidents.

Mubarak was arrested in Pakistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks and flown to Guantanamo. Bangladesh police had said Muabark was picked up in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and then handed over to the United States.

The son of a Muslim cleric, Mubarak said he had gone to Peshawar to study at a madrassa.

Mubarak's father has said the US authorities "destroyed" his son's life. He said that his son was "a victim of the American war on terror."

Although Mubarak has not been indicted on an any terrorism-related offences in Bangladesh, he was charged in February with failing to produce a passport on his return to the south Asian country and is now on bail.

About 385 detainees are still being held at Guantanamo.

While it is possible that not all of these accusations are completely true, the reporter has done a service to us all by publishing a multitude of incidents. Not even the utmost right wingers can conclude that all of these accusations are entirely false.

The idiots who mistreat our prisoners are responsible for demeaning this country, and for future mistreatment of our own soldiers who will be held prisoner.

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The Wrong Message

One of the defining characteristics of this administration has been its penchant for secrecy. Every decision, every move is so hidden from view that no one has any idea of what is really going on. This penchant for complete opacity has enabled the White House to successfully cook intelligence to justify an illegal and immoral war, to set up vast systems for spying on its own citizens, and to roll back centuries-old legal protections. The White House has become very good at gaming our democratic system through its skill at hiding the truth.

This is why the deal Rep. John Conyers cut with the the Justice Department to interview various witnesses behind closed doors in the House investigation into the firing of the eight US Attorneys is so very disappointing. It sends the wrong message to the public. I think an editorial in today's NY Times got it right.

The House Judiciary Committee has begun conducting closed-door interviews with some of the key officials involved in the Bush administration’s purge of United States attorneys. The interviews may be harmless as long as they are merely a first step in the investigation. But they must not become a substitute for what this investigation really requires: sworn public testimony under oath by Karl Rove, the presidential adviser; Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel; and everyone else involved.

John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced an agreement with the Department of Justice to have at least eight current and former employees sit for transcribed interviews behind closed doors with House and Senate investigators. ...

Secret interviews are not a good idea. They do not help the public learn what happened or judge whether there were abuses.

While I can understand the desire on Mr. Conyers part to get the necessary information as quickly as possible without the necessity of judicial intervention, this is no time for "deals" and cutting corners even if the investigation is only in a preliminary stage. If the Department of Justice and the White House refuse to cooperate with the congressional inquiries, then the public needs to know this. Let the citizens draw their own conclusions: they are smart enough to wonder what the administration is trying to hide.

After six plus years of secrecy we are entitled to some transparency in government. That is a primary key to a healthy democracy.

I'm sorry, Mr. Conyers. I disagree with you on this one. Let the sun shine on the investigation to show the public what they've been missing.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

Spike likes that chair.

The MSM's Congressional Medal of Honor

Since the Medal of Freedom has been completely discredited by being awarded on the basis of loyal incompetence, the MSM must be looking for another award.

Not news anymore that the editorial staff of the WaPo seems not to read its own reporters' often excellent digging up of facts. But still it's sad that good hard work in reporting gets tossed out in favor of the rightward slant.

As the reports of actual happenings pointed out a very few days ago, Russia's leaders slammed ours for their warmongering and essentially warned the U.S. not to 'bring it on' when it comes to a first strike on Iran.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday criticized the United States for what it called over-reliance on force and warned Washington against military action against Iran.
Russia criticized what it called "the creeping American strategy of dragging the global community into a large-scale crisis around Iran," saying that Iran helps maintain stability in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Our recent efforts to return to diplomacy since we are failing miserably at the unilateral war we've committed in the the Middle East, we have a formerly friendly Saudi leader slamming into us for our illegal occupation of Iraq.

King Abdullah's harsh - and unexpected - attack on the US military presence in Iraq could be a Saudi attempt to signal to Washington its anger over the situation in Iraq and build credibility among fellow Arabs.

The kingdom has taken an aggressive leadership role to quiet Mideast troubles, and wanted to show other Arabs it was willing to put their interests above its close ties to the United States.

Holding hands on the primrose paths of Crawlforth Ranch seems to be well behind us in our relations with Saudi Arabia. They have fences to mend with their neighbors, and we are daily losing hearts and minds along with the rest of their bodies in Iraqi's streets and what primrose paths they may have left.

Our best efforts, or what with this cretinous White House bunch passes for the same, have been producing more tantrums from Kom Il Jong who has walked out of the six-party talks when freeing up frozen funds wasn't timely delivered.

The six-party talks came to an abrupt halt in Beijing on Thursday as North Korea boycotted negotiations until its US$25 million frozen at a Macau bank to be transferred to its account. The U.S. had agreed to unfreeze the money on March 19, and insisted that the delay was merely due to issues of a bureaucratic nature.

Too bad we started all this by the cretin in chief's favorite 'Axis of Evil' childish complaints that now diplomatic efforts aren't erasing.

Enabling words stream from the WaPo editorial staff, with a small admission to the reality of the situation.

Bush administration officials have been congratulating themselves on the relative speed and deftness with which the latest sanctions resolution was pushed through the Security Council. They are right, in a way: The diplomatic campaign against Iran has been pretty successful by the usual diplomatic measures. Not only has the United States worked relatively smoothly with European partners with which it differed bitterly over Iraq, but it has also been effective lately in winning support from Russia, China and nonaligned states such as South Africa.

Critics who lambasted the administration's unilateral campaign against an "axis of evil" a few years ago ought to be applauding the return to conventional diplomacy. We, too, think it's worth pursuing, especially when combined with steps short of a military attack to push back against Iranian aggression in the region. Still, two years after President Bush embraced the effort, it has to be noted: The diplomatic strategy so far has been no more successful than the previous "regime change" policy in stopping Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon.
[emphasis added]

Editorial 'great job, chimpies' are pretty discredited by the reality of our regime's cacophony of failures. Sad to see the news reports of able and insightful reporters go to waste in the face of editorial blinders. The Wall Street Journal has led the way, but WaPo is an apt student of the disassociation of drawing conclusions from gathering of facts.

Without the blogs for balance, a lot of people looking for apt analysis and adhesion to reality would be meeting a blank wall.

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Back to Interior

It looks like the Democrats in the 110th Congress are going to need plenty of klieg lights the next two years. Yet another Bush appointee has been caught using her government position to push the administration agenda rather than perform her job. From an AP report in yesterday's Sacramento Bee:

A government official broke federal rules and should face punishment for leaking information about endangered species to private groups, the Interior Department's watchdog said.

The department's deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks acknowledged releasing information that was not supposed to be made public to organizations such as the California Farm Bureau Federation and Pacific Legal Foundation, according to the agency's inspector general.

Environmentalists and other critics contend Julie MacDonald undermined federal endangered species protections. In the report by Earl Devaney, Interior Department officials describe MacDonald as a political appointee bent on manipulating science to fit her policy goals, which they said favor developers and industry.

The report said MacDonald:

-Removed more than 80 percent of almost 300 miles of streams that were to be protected to help bull trout recover in the Northwest's Klamath River basin.

-Tried to remove protections for a rare jumping mouse in the Rocky Mountains based on a questionable study.

-Pressured the Fish and Wildlife Service to alter findings on the Kootenai River sturgeon in Idaho and Montana so dam operations would not be harmed.
[Emphasis added]

Ms. MacDonald's qualification for her job?

MacDonald is a hydraulic engineer with a master's degree in management but no background in natural sciences. She joined the Bush administration in July 2002 as a senior adviser for fish, wildlife and parks. She was promoted to deputy assistant secretary in 2004.

Well educated, yes. A degree suited to this position, such as in one of the biological sciences, not so much. Obviously her qualifications lay elsewhere. She clearly is quite adept at bullying the scientists at the department and at feeding sensitive information via email to friends at Chevron. Those two attributes make her ideal for this administration.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thursday Birding

This wonderful western bird is so flashy, it's kind of strange that he's named the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher. This one was brought to my attention by Paul Rebmann, he of the Horned Owls. It comes from and reminds me that these birds will be back soon here, as we creep into the eighties.

My sister who is quite an attentive birder once asked me what this bird was as one flew dramatically by, and was just as disappointed as I am to find out what it's named. Quezacoatl seems so much better - but that name's taken.


EPA Supervision Finds ... Lack of Supervision by Energy Dep't.

EPA has under this maladministration become less than a guarantor of any standards of environmental safety itself, but it has at least taken action to prevent nuclear accidents. For the pot to be calling the kettle black is pretty amazing, though.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday fined the federal Energy Department $1.1 million over violations of an agreement to clean up the Hanford nuclear reservation, the nation's most polluted nuclear site.

The fine involved operations at a landfill that is the primary repository for contaminated soils, debris and other hazardous and radioactive waste from cleanup operations across the site.

After first shutting down operations upon discovery of the failures, the EPA has permitted the landfill to resume operations under strict oversight.

The EPA pointed out problems in a letter to the Energy Department on Tuesday, saying that workers did not perform weekly inspections that would reduce the risk of leaks in landfill liners and that operations did not comply with tests on compacted waste for structural stability.

The violations did not release any radioactive waste, said Nick Ceto, the EPA's Hanford Project Manager.

"Our cleanup agreement with the Department of Energy clearly defines what constitutes responsible, careful waste management practice," said Elin D. Miller, an EPA regional administrator. "Continued missteps at one of the country's most complex and difficult cleanup sites cannot, and will not, be tolerated."

Said Energy Department spokeswoman Colleen French: "We've said from the outset that we take these incidents at (the landfill) very seriously and are taking any and all actions necessary to make sure that nothing like this can happen again."

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. The site continued to produce plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal through the Cold War.

Today, it is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site. Cleanup is expected to top $50 billion and continue through 2035.

Reassuring to know that although the EPA has shown that it has no intention of taking any measures to prevent global warming eventually destroying the earth, it doesn't want any nuclear accidents on its watch. Whew.


A Hard Right

In today's Los Angeles Times, Joseph Rich (identified as "chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil right division from 1999 to 2005.") weighed in on the current Justice Department scandals. His description of what has been going on in this key department under the Bush administration is damning evidence of just what this cabal has done to our government.

I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

At least two of the recently fired U.S. attorneys, John McKay in Seattle and David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, were targeted largely because they refused to prosecute voting fraud cases that implicated Democrats or voters likely to vote for Democrats.

This pattern also extended to hiring. In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman's central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure.

This administration is also politicizing the career staff of the Justice Department. Outright hostility to career employees who disagreed with the political appointees was evident early on. Seven career managers were removed in the civil rights division. I personally was ordered to change performance evaluations of several attorneys under my supervision. I was told to include critical comments about those whose recommendations ran counter to the political will of the administration and to improve evaluations of those who were politically favored.

...Control of hiring went to political appointees, so an applicant's fidelity to GOP interests replaced civil rights experience as the most important factor in hiring decisions.
[Emphasis added]

If Mr. Rich's allegations are true, and they certainly should be investigated, then it is clear that the firing of the eight US Attorneys currently being looked into by Congress is just the tip of the iceberg. People really were trying to establish a Thousand Year Reich for the GOP.

To my way of thinking, November 6, 2006 now looms even larger than September 22, 2001. Five years is long enough for those kinds of crimes to be overlooked.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The End Of Justice As We Knew It

Since the AG has this taste for turning out U.S. Attorneys who aren't meeting standards of Gooperism, here's one that didn't make the cut. Next round, perhaps?

Poorly written Justice Department documents cost the federal government more than $100 million in what was supposed to have been the crowning moment of the biggest tax prosecution ever.

Walter Anderson, the telecommunications entrepreneur who admitted hiding hundreds of millions of dollars from the IRS and District of Columbia tax collectors, was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in prison and ordered to repay about $23 million to the city.

But U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said he couldn't order Anderson to repay the federal government $100 million to $175 million because the Justice Department's binding plea agreement with Anderson listed the wrong statute.

Friedman said he could have worked around that problem by ordering Anderson to repay the money as part of his probation. But prosecutors omitted any discussion of probation -- a common element of plea deals -- from Anderson's paperwork.

"I've come to the conclusion, very reluctantly, that I have no authority to order restitution," Friedman said. "I hope the government will appeal me."

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, which prosecuted the case in cooperation with Justice Department headquarters, said the government would bring civil charges against Anderson.

Seems the DoJ has too much on its mind what with calling up acting U.S. Attorneys to tell them not to enforce the laws. But at that level, to write court filings this poorly sure does seem to indicate that it's okay to be really dumb, as long as you leave the GOP criminals alone.

However, this Department of Justice flinging poo at any regulating of business is having its effect for sure;

European countries and Singapore have surpassed the United States in their ability to exploit information and communication technology, according to a new survey.

The United States, which topped the World Economic Forum's "networked readiness index" in 2006, slipped to seventh. The study, out Wednesday, largely blamed increased political and corporate interference in the judicial system.

We really, really need to get these people out of high places where they're doing too much harm to the (former) Rule of Law and the United States, in so many, many ways.

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Troubling the Waters

It doesn't require a tin-foil chapeau for one to be suspicious of the developments and their timing in the Persian Gulf. Iran's capture of fifteen British sailors and marines for allegedly intruding into Iranian territorial waters may very well have set off a chain of events that will be disasterous in all sorts of ways. Many of us feared that sooner or later the Iranians would be provoked into making a stupid and inflammatory response to some perceived slight, one that might be used as justification for a US military response. This incident certainly could qualify. So far, according to the Los Angeles Times, diplomatic efforts are not bearing any fruit.

A diplomatic standoff between Britain and Iran over the capture last week of 15 British sailors and marines threatened to escalate Tuesday as an intense new round of diplomacy failed to end the crisis.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned that his government was prepared to move to "a different phase" if Iran did not quickly release the 14 men and one woman being held since Friday for allegedly entering Iranian waters.
[Emphasis added]

The British Prime Minister's thinly veiled threat is worrisome, especially since Britain has maintained its presence in Iraq as the last effective US partner in that debacle. Lest we shrug this off as a strictly British-Iranian problem, an AP report from yesterday suggests the US is just as actively involved:

American warplanes screamed off two aircraft carriers Tuesday as the U.S. Navy staged its largest show of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, launching a mammoth exercise meant as a message to the Iranians.

The maneuvers with 15 warships and more than 100 aircraft were sure to heighten tensions with Iran, which has frequently condemned the U.S. military presence off its coast and is in a faceoff with the West over its nuclear program and its capture of a British naval team.

While they would not say when the war games were planned, U.S. commanders insisted the exercises were not a direct response to Friday's seizure of the 15 British sailors and marines, but they also made clear that the flexing of the Navy's military might was intended as a warning.
[Emphasis added]

It is no secret that the present administration has been increasing the naval presence in the Gulf for months now. The original excuse for the sabre rattling has been the refusal of Iran to halt its nuclear development, but the Iranians have just given the current administration a handy second excuse.

If recent history repeats itself, the US will use the United Nations for a bit longer and then strike out on its own unless diplomatic pressure is brought to bear on all three parties to the current crisis. Hopefully somebody has the presence of mind and the power to step in to cool things off.

We neither need nor can afford another war.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Confess, I Did It ... What Was It You Wanted?

Great, we have a confession! David Hicks did whatever you want him to have done. What is it that the sadists wanted? Why, of course, he was a fighter in the 'war on terra'. Proving that... the sadists want to show that torture is justified. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to reams of things, too.

The confessions we are getting from Guantanamo are pretty pitiful. The sadists are getting just the results they are interested in. They are proving... that torture can justify more torture.

József Cardinal Mindszenty — the stimulus for America’s early fascination with mind control — was released from prison in December 1956 and was allowed to take up residence in the US Embassy in Budapest to serve out his sentence. Mindszenty later told reporters that he was kept awake for 29 nights to force his confession. He called it ‘unspeakable brutality.’

Associated Press reporter William Oatis and American businessman Robert Vogeler also admitted to imagined crimes after days without sleep. One of the best descriptions of the effects of this torture comes not from these men, but from former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In the 1930s, Begin was also imprisoned by the Soviets and kept awake for days. According to Begin:

In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep, to sleep just a little, not to get up, to lie, to rest, to forget … Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger or thirst are comparable with it … I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them. He did not promise them their liberty. He promised them — if they signed — uninterrupted sleep!
As of November 2006, Australia’s David Hicks is still detained at Guantánamo Bay. In July 2006, his civilian lawyer, David McLeod, said Hicks was ‘very, very depressed.’ McLeod added:

He has to lie on the floor, the air conditioning is kept on full, he has very few clothes, and he shivers … All his letters and cards have been taken away from him and he’s not receiving any. He has no contact at all with the outside world.

Moazzam Begg, a former detainee who spoke with Hicks, recounted his poor mental state:

One of the things he said to me is, ‘Please, when you get out from here, please tell people that my sanity is at risk here.’ He used to tell me quite often that he felt like just banging his head so hard against the walls that he just ends up killing himself.

Mamdouh Habib told me that ‘there’s no way you’re gonna come out of Camp Five normal.’ Habib has sought treatment to deal with the psychological after-effects of the torture he endured. After several meetings with Habib, I was convinced that he still had a long way to go. While he looked down at his scarred right hand, he told me something I cannot soon forget.

‘I am here,’ he said, ‘but I am still not free.’

These are criminals. No, not the ones inside the cells. The ones who are using hideously inhumane and unacceptable methods to get the detainees to say that their methods are working. Anyone with any sense of decency would realize that torture is not a practice the world can use without destroying itself.

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A New Kind Of Principled Response

The words the administration has been scrambling for weeks to avoid being uttered have finally been said. Yesterday, Monica Goodling, counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, said them, and the first size twelve broghan hit the floor with a resounding thud. The words? "Fifth Amendment."

It is deliciously ironic that a member of this administration would seek the protection of a document that this administration has been hell-bent on trashing. What is even more delicious is the effect of invoking the Fifth Amendment. It seems to signify an admission that a crime has been committed, and that perception is what the Attorney General and the White House have been working furiously to avoid.

An editorial in today's NY Times implies that the administration has lost this round and would do well to change its tactics and timeline.

The news that Monica Goodling, counsel to the attorney general and liaison to the White House, is invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination takes the United States attorney scandal to a new level. Ms. Goodling’s decision comes just days after the Justice Department released documents strongly suggesting that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has not been honest about his own role in the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

As the liaison between the White House and the Justice Department, Ms. Goodling seems to have been squarely in the middle of what appears to have been improper directions from the White House to politicize the hiring and firing of United States attorneys. Mr. Gonzales has insisted the eight prosecutors were let go for poor performance, and that the dismissals are an “overblown personnel matter.” But Ms. Goodling’s decision to exercise her Fifth Amendment rights suggests that she, at least, believes crimes may have been committed.
[Emphasis added]

And that is why the issuance of subpoenas by Congress to the Department of Justice and White House officials was so necessary, and why the refusal by Congress to back down when the President demanded "private interviews" away from "klieg lights" and without transcripts was required.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Remember, They Are Still Dying In Darfur

Continuing in its tradition of looking the other way while black people die and are massively displaced, the U.S. is silent while the U.N. and E.U. are calling for sanctions against al-Bashir's government to try halting genocide in Darfur.

While we officially have declared the violence against Darfur a genocide, this government takes no direct interest and has even cited 'gains' in treaties between north and south Sudan - treaties that have been violated.

The U.S. engages in ongoing intelligence gathering from the al-Bashir government about Osama bin Laden. He was based in Sudan until 1996, and is well known and very connected there. We also have a powerful opponent to interference in China, which has determinedly developed economic relations with the Sudanese government.

China has emerged as the Sudanese regime's protector on the UN Security Council, and may use its veto to prevent the formation of a UN force in Darfur. China has been quietly active in Sudan for decades, developing a close relationship with the current regime. Sudan already provides 10 percent of China's petroleum imports. Any attempt by the "crusaders" to bring Sudanese petroleum reserves under Western control could cause friction with China.
The regime of President Omar al-Bashir has bought time to implement its Darfur policy by aligning itself closely with the United States in the war on terrorism. Sudanese intelligence provides valuable information to U.S. security services, knowing that the U.S. desire to protect its homeland overrides human rights concerns in distant states. It is a calculating approach that requires considerable finesse, taking what one can, but never going too far. Allowing al-Qaeda back into the country is not just a step too far, but a jump into the volcano, particularly at a time when Washington appears to be taking a harder line on Khartoum.

Tony Blair has called for a no-fly zone over the tormented region, and a new note has crept into press reports - the Sudanese military is directly connected with the janjaweed. While formerly, the janjaweed was given the benefit of the doubt about its relation with al-Bashir, that press convention has disappeared in recent reporting.

In need of aid are some 4 million people in Darfur whom the U.N. says have been caught in the midst of fighting between rebels, the government and the pro-government janjaweed.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced in four years of fighting, with janjaweed Arab militias held responsible for widespread atrocities against ethnic African civilians.

News from independent sources has long connected janjaweed directly with the al-Bashir government, and the delicacy the press has exercised in avoiding those accusations seems to be disappearing. Also disappearing is the world's neglect of the suffering people of the region.

Our continuing to ignore the genocide we acknowledge in Darfur is another disgrace to the U.S. While diplomacy is an unaccustomed practice to the maladministration, it is at least trying out that route in dealing with North Korea. In the case of Darfur, it looks suspiciously as if the lack of a direct economic relationship leaves this White House with no impetus toward considerations of humanity and decency.

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The New Data Mountain

Yesterday's Washington Post had a chilling article on the burgeoning data collection on American citizens and foreign visitors. The sheer volume is staggering, and it has quadrupled in a very short time. How that data is collected and how it is used should trouble all Americans.

Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world -- field reports, captured documents, news from foreign allies and sometimes idle gossip -- arrive in a computer-filled office in McLean, where analysts feed them into the nation's central list of terrorists and terrorism suspects.

Called TIDE, for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, the list is a storehouse for data about individuals that the intelligence community believes might harm the United States. It is the wellspring for watch lists distributed to airlines, law enforcement, border posts and U.S. consulates, created to close one of the key intelligence gaps revealed after Sept. 11, 2001: the failure of federal agencies to share what they knew about al-Qaeda operatives.

Once again 9/11 is being used as an excuse for the unprecedented governmental spying on Americans. A central clearing house for all the bits of information collected in secret by multiple agencies (many not in existence at the time of 9/11, or, if in existence, not allowed to operate domestically) may sound benign, but if the information is collected from "idle gossip" or from warrantless wire taps, then that central clearing house is nothing more than a snooper's paradise.

TIDE has also created concerns about secrecy, errors and privacy. The list marks the first time foreigners and U.S. citizens are combined in an intelligence database. The bar for inclusion is low, and once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it. At any stage, the process can lead to "horror stories" of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information, Travers acknowledged.

In 2004 and 2005, misidentifications accounted for about half of the tens of thousands of times a traveler's name triggered a watch-list hit, the Government Accountability Office reported in September. Congressional committees have criticized the process, some charging that it collects too much information about Americans, others saying it is ineffective against terrorists. Civil rights and privacy groups have called for increased transparency.

"How many are on the lists, how are they compiled, how is the information used, how do they verify it?" asked Lillie Coney, associate director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. Such information is classified, and individuals barred from traveling are not told why.
[Emphasis added]

The fact that those on any of these watch-lists are not told why they are on the list means that they have no way to contest the matter. This is bad enough. What is worse is that the raw data is collected in questionable ways and there appears to be absolutely no oversight on how it is collected and how it is used.

And each day that mountain grows.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Sarah Teasdale

A Winter Night

My window-pane is starred with frost,
The world is bitter cold to-night,
The moon is cruel, and the wind
Is like a two-edged sword to smite.

God pity all the homeless ones,
The beggars pacing to and fro,
God pity all the poor to-night
Who walk the lamp-lit streets of snow.

My room is like a bit of June,
Warm and close-curtained fold on fold,
But somewhere, like a homeless child,
My heart is crying in the cold.

Sarah Teasdale

Your Health Care Is Too Expensive for w

It's not a secret that the cretin in chief doesn't care about us common folk. That there has been no outcry about his plan to remove tax breaks for employer health insurance is pretty amazing.

The natural effect of making it more expensive will mean most employers will eliminate employee health plans and leave it in the lap of the individual employee.

Employer-paid health care
is exempt from federal and state taxes. That amounts to an average $2,778 subsidy per worker this year, or about $3,825 for a family plan, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

President Bush, calling health-care spending "unsustainable," has proposed eliminating the tax break for employer health plans because it has "hidden from employees much of the growth in insurance premiums."
Cost-shifting to individuals sweetened by a tax deduction won't make it affordable. Although you can deduct health-account contributions, it can obscure the real cost of medical care.

Health care is offered by every other industrialized nation, but in the U.S. we have an executive branch that wants to take away what we have.

It is time to let the class warmongers in the White House know that we won't let them cut out the basic care this country deserves. A klieg light should be shining very hard on the retreat from public interest that this maladministration is plotting against us.

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That Elusive Paper Trail

We're just over a year away from another presidential election, which means we're just over a year and a day away from more electronic voting machine mischief. The 110th Congress is trying to forestall that mischief, but some state and local officials aren't happy about the effort. From yesterday's Sacramento Bee:

Seeking to address concerns over the integrity of elections, a House panel is weighing controversial legislation requiring states to bring back the paper ballot as the official record.

Many, if not most, states are expressing concerns that Congress is moving too fast with pending legislation that would take effect in time for the 2008 national presidential elections, with primary balloting beginning in January.

Only 17 states have voter systems that would be in compliance with the proposed law.

...Only four state secretaries of state are backing the legislation to date, according to an aide to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, the elections subcommittee chairwoman.

Why are state officials so concerned? Apparently for a couple of reasons. The first one is that most states paid a lot of money to get the electronic voting machines required under the last federal law. Most of those machines don't have the capacity for the paper trail being sought. The proposed bill would require yet another round of new machines and state officials fear that Congress is going to make this another unfunded mandate. They may be right: so far, Congress is only talking about budgeting $300 million for the states.

Another reason is the closeness of the election. Surveying and selecting the best system for each state takes time. Plenty of mistakes were made the last time around, mistakes that showed up in the last two elections. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (who hasn't taken an official position on the proposed bill) is concerned that we'll just have a repeat in 2008 and the next Congress will be debating the same issue with new parameters in 2009.

While both concerns have some merit, having a decent and reliable election system is perhaps the most important function of a democracy and should take some kind of priority over other spending and administrative duties. Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, the state which started the whole voting system overhaul because of the 2000 debacle (repeated in some form every election thereafter), is committed to this ideal and is pushing his state legislature for a reliable paper system comparable to the federal proposal. Gov. Crist, a Republican, feels an optical scanner system with the paper ballot being the official ballot, will restore some integrity to the voting system.

If Congress doesn't fully fund the mandate (and they undoubtedly won't), the states will have to. They know this already and should be adjusting their budgets accoringly. State officials know which machines work and which don't, at least they should at this point if they've bothered to read their own newspapers. The research for the new machines should have already started.

State officials need to stop whining and start working on getting a new system in place. That's their job, and it looks like they're actually going to have to do it.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Polar Bear

Meet Knut.

(Photo from the BBC.)
















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What Wonders George Hath Wrought

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has purportedly confessed to every serious crime of the last twenty years including 9/11. The confession was so wide ranging as to be ludicrous. Either the man is evil incarnate, or he's delusional with a desire for martyrdom, or, and this certainly possible, he confessed to whatever his captors wanted simply to stop the torture. While the US press hasn't done too much in the way of analysing the confession, members of the world press certainly have. Germany's Der Spiegel has a brief summary of what other German news outlets have to say about the confession.

The sweeping confession of alleged al-Qaida mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has claimed involvement in 31 terror plots, has been met with skepticism from German commentators. Some editorialists have stronger feelings about the "show" trial against Mohammed than whether or not he is telling the truth.

German commentators criticize the conditions under which the confession was obtained, noting that Mohammed had been subjected to years of "rough" interrogations at the hands of the CIA. Apart from condemning a hearing that did not adhere to the laws laid out in the United States constitution, along with a transcript that was heavily edited, German papers also cite allegations that Mohammed was tortured while held in custody as a suspected terrorist. Can his testimony be trusted or was he coerced into giving it? ...

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung denounces the Pentagon's actions as a "farce" and warns that the world will "never know" if the claims made by Mohammed are true:

"We don't even know if this 'hearing' in front of a military tribunal at Guantanamo ever even took place. Apart from members of the military -- whose names are crossed out in the transcript so that nobody can ask them any questions -- nobody was allowed to attend: no lawyer, no reporter, not even family members."

"Rightful justice cannot be obtained under the wrong conditions. The so-called confession is worthless, the upcoming trials are nothing more than show spectacles -- the only irony being that there won't be any audience. Indeed, the manner in which the USA deals with terror suspects has nothing to do with rule of law or seeking to establish the truth. This would require a proper defense, prison conditions which can be monitored and the right to appeal. And the suspect should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court led by independent judges."
[Emphasis added]

While it is painful to be lectured on the current debased state of the American ideals of justice by another nation's press, it is more painful to have to admit that the assessment provided by Die Tageszeitung is accurate. The "show trials" of Soviet-era Russia have re-emerged, this time under the auspices of our own government.

The question implicit in the analysis is clear: what are we going to do about this?

A good start would be to turn on those "klieg lights" Mr. Bush is so frightened of and to shine them directly on the architects of this abomination.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

I get to sleep on the couch.

Abuse In Texas Prisons Calls For Functional Prosecutors

There have been pretty horrible revelations about abuse in the Texas Youth Commission prison facilities. The entire board has been required to resign, and allegations are that complaints have been ignored, and reports of officers who constantly kept individual inmates alone inside their locked offices for long periods of time were ignored.

The old adage that justice delayed is justice denied is hideously proved true in this case.

Perry spokesman Ted Royer said Tuesday that in June 2005 no one in the governor's office would have believed the prosecutor would sit on the case for 18 more months.

"From the communication we received, there was no reason to believe that due process was not moving forward as it should have," the spokesman said.

Turner's chief of staff, Alison Brock, said she contacted Royal after learning about the West Texas case because she thought he would pursue it. Brock on Tuesday said Royal told her he was unaware of the West Texas case when she called.

Royal at that point started calling the Texas Ranger who investigated the case, the Ward County district attorney and the state attorney general's office. He got the prosecutor to ask the attorney general's office to prosecute the case Jan. 17.
Perry did not designate a cleanup of the problems at the TYC until after news reports of sexual and physical abuse in the system started appearing Feb. 18. Perry has blamed Ward County District Attorney Randall Reynolds for not prosecuting the cases.

Today, the reports are coming out that prosecution was simply not happening in at least one of the facilities, leaving inmates defenseless and at the mercy of their abusers.

A West Texas prosecutor at the center of a scandal about sexual abuse allegations at a state-run juvenile jail has disputed contentions that his office has failed to prosecute felony cases.

In a written statement to the Pecos Enterprise, Randall W. Reynolds, whose office handles felony prosecutions in Reeves, Ward and Loving counties, said about half of the cases handled by his office from 2005 to 2006 resulted in plea bargains.

But an Associated Press analysis, showed that Mr. Reynolds did not prosecute about 90 percent of the 128 cases filed in Ward County and 83 percent of the 210 cases filed in Reeves County. In Loving County, the state's least populous, only one felony case was filed.

Mr. Reynolds has been criticized for failing to take action on allegations of sexual abuse at the West Texas State School in Ward County. He declined comment, saying he could not talk about a pending case.
[emphasis added]

There are long disgraceful traditions in the south of 'courthouse gang' behavior, and this fits the bill. Personal beliefs and prejudices should never keep the law from being enforced.

With the situation of this nature in mind, I would like to point out that our experience with the cretin in chief's firing of able and well-respected prosecutors appears all the more vile in view of the damage some of them appear to have done.

When we have the head of the Department of Justice and his boss using the mechanics of that justice system to promote politics, it is a sleazy operation. This instance of abuse points out in very real terms the kind of 'justice' that is involved.

We badly need to clean house in more places than the TYC. The White House has far more impact than this Texas abuse. Retirement of the governing officials in our Executive Branch would provide a great start for the cleanup we need at DoJ.

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My New Hero: Cathy Wright

She's 61, a grandmother, and she just started a 60 day jail sentence for trespassing. Cathy Webster is my new hero. Her story was reported in yesterday's Sacramento Bee.

Cathy Webster, a Chico grandmother of four, says she will not be silent. It says so on the black T-shirt she wore Wednesday as she reported to jail to begin a two-month federal sentence for trespassing at a military training facility in Fort Benning, Ga.

In November, Webster, a member of Grandmothers for Peace International in Elk Grove, slipped through a hole in the chain-link fence encircling the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. It's the site of yearly vigils protesting what Webster, 61, and other critics allege is a training center for Latin American military squads.

Outside the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center south of Elk Grove, she urged Congress to close the federal facility in Fort Benning, which occupies the same site as the now-defunct School of the Americas -- a training center accused of teaching military techniques to Latin American soldiers and law enforcement personnel who, protesters charge, then use the training against their own people.

The U.S. Army, which runs the facility, has denied the allegations. But in 1966, the Pentagon admitted that torture manuals had been used in the School of the Americas. The school was shut down in 2000, reopening a month later with its new name. Defense Department officials said the curriculum's focus would be on human rights.

The very idea that there is an organization named "Grandmothers For Peace" should give hope to those of us who are sickened by the current state of this country, with its approval of torture, its constant sabre rattling, its trashing of the Constitution. It should also give us a good kick in the backside. When the federal government has taken away everything that was good and decent about this country, civil disobedience is the last best hope for righting things.

Recent world history has shown the power that such people as Cathy Wright can generate. In Eastern Europe and in Lebanon, power mad and corrupt dictators have been turned out of power by the massive assembly of citizens protesting the wrongs those governments have perpetuated. It may now be our turn.

Thanks for the reminder, Ms. Wright, of our duties as citizens. Thanks for being such a good example.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday Bird Blogging

Hail to the common Brewers Blackbird. You probably don't notice this bird, although it is a survivor and common just about anywhere there are open places. It winters in the south. Why I am featuring it today, is that at Eschaton a poster was rejoicing in a bird that seemed to be singing fuckbush,fuckbush,fuckbush, and I just suspect he was hearing our Blackbird.

For another reason, Chicago Dyke was pointint out recently that black kittens seldom win the cuteness contests. She thinks people don't like the color black very much. I don't argue with that, it may be that black is associated with bad luck when it comes to cats, and of course, Ravens and other black birds traditionally carried bad omens. Probably this dates back to the times when it wasn't safe to be out at night as there were predators - so dark was associated with scarey things.

This bird, though, is lovely, and very innocent of any harm to you. Enjoy the blackbird, a pretty and enjoyable sight.


A Principled Response: Part 3

I knew that sooner or later some White House flack would bring up explicitly what has been implicit in the administration's decision to dig in its collective heels over Congressional investigation of the US Attorneys' mass firing. It's happened. The flack turns out to be former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. From today's NY Times:

Mr. Bush is also waging what he views as an even bigger war over presidential prerogatives. He has moved aggressively to expand presidential powers, claiming authority to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants and try terror suspects before military tribunals. To avoid divulging the membership of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, the administration even went to the Supreme Court. The president does not intend to backtrack now that Democrats are in charge. ...

Mr. Bush says he is willing to go to court. Mr. Fleischer says Mr. Bush is convinced that presidential powers have eroded since Watergate and that it is his duty to restore them for his successors.

“This is the White House that, under his leadership, didn’t give up the energy records and took a beating for it,” Mr. Fleischer said. “He’s willing to lose the politics of these things because he does have a longer view of the powers of the presidency and what it takes to protect them.”
[Emphasis added]

Oh, please, Mr. Fleischer.

The man who believes his power supercedes the US Constitution so that he has the "authority to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants and try terror suspects before military tribunals" isn't concerned about the powers of the presidency, only about the powers of his own personal presidency.

The only thing that hampered his unchecked drive for unlimited power was the only thing that ever stops a tyrant's drive for a thousand year reich: free and fair elections. If this president and his buddies ever truly figure out a way to stop those (and it appears they certainly have tried), this country is doomed.


Balance = Let The Crimes Alone, at WaPo

Some editorial staff member at the WaPo has an image of him/her self wearing a blindfold and holding a scale aloft. That's the only reason I can see for the editorial this a.m. of "Political Spectacle", advising that both Congress and the executive branch should back off.

Now that makes sense. A crime seems to have been committed, the cretin in chief makes a stand that he's not going to allow investigation of the crimes of his staff, and Congress ought to make nice? Sure, that would serve the country. We could just relax and enjoy it.

While admitting that the maladministration has given wrong and misdirected information thus far, your editorial pose of even-handedness can't give to the Congress its due role of enforcement. Instead, it wants to throw a sop to the urinary, oh, sorry, unitary presidency pretense.

Lawmakers would do well to demonstrate more understanding of the legitimate institutional concerns at stake here -- is the President not entitled to confidential advice on personnel matters? --and to remember that the tables could easily be turned, as they were not so many years ago, with a Republican Congress eager to rifle through the files of a Democratic administration.

So on the assumption that the GOP is always to be run like a street gang with no interest but to disrupt the operation of government, the Dems should bow to an absurdity, according to this reasoning. That the president claims he can't receive confidential advice if that advice doesn't include the potential to break the law sort of makes the point, that getting to the bottom of this will show that a crime has been committed. That a crime shouldn't be prosecuted because the GOP has shown it gleefully disrupts the country by, say, a preposterous impeachment medicine show, on the precedent set is to approve that childishness substituting for sound governing. Also, the precedent has already been set.

In the Clinton term, the president himself and his aides testified, under oath. The claims of this criminal regime that it has to have cover for its crimes has already been disproved.

While the backhanded slap at both sides concludes If Mr. Bush is serious about wanting the truth to come out, he will relent on this issue, the absolving of an argument that holds no water whatsoever doesn't give the 'balance' it's held out to give.

When an editorial staff has to blind itself to injustice to be even-handed, it is not performing its function as a purveyor of disinterested news. The WaPo staff needs to take a serious look at the role it has assumed, as apologist for the criminal regime.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Protecting and Defending Constitution Passed Off to Legislative Branch

Once upon a time, and long, long ago and far, far away ... there was a Constitution that gave the President the duty of enforcing the law.

Today at around 10:30 ET, the 110th Congress issued subpoenas with the intent of seeing that those powers are not being abused. Since it seems as if the power of the Department of Justice is being used to interfere with judicial process, we need to examine carefully how firings were used in the removal from office of U.S. Attorneys. Some were involved in proceedings at the time that make their firings look very questionable. Diane spoke about this earlier. At correntewire, Chicago Dyke has several references including this one; Study: White House Guilty Of "Political Profiling" from Bob Geiger.

Sadly, we have presently in power an element much more interested in a presidential role of suborning the laws rather than protecting and defending them. There is no pretense in the White House that the truth is respected. Campaigning on the promise that he would not indulge in Nation Building, the cretin in chief has made that a major object of his regime, even to the extent of committing unilateral warmaking to do it. Most recently in ongoing lies, the cretin in chief promised during the congressional campaigns that Rumsfeld would stay. Ooops.

A major lie was committed in engineering war, as the entire executive branch involved itself in convincing the public, and Congress, that WMD's were a threat from Saddam Hussein -which all good intelligence showed it was not. A very Big Lie had to be created and then used against us to make that point. Now the GOP major meme is that the cretin in chief was ill-advised.

It is hardly a surprise that 'the truth' would be a problem for the executive branch in its chosen functions. Its major exercise has been the creation of lies to support criminal activity.

When the legislative branch became Democratic, it became a real problem for the executive branch. The power of subpoena changed into hands with a real interest in the truth. Watching the war criminals dig in reminds me most especially of the Nixon years.

At the time of Watergate, crimes had been committed. The executive branch knew that letting the truth get out would be the end. The Nixon White House made a deal to let Nixon resign, with a pardon to come, to get out from under prosecution for those crimes. A few of the Nixon cabal went to jail, but not nearly enough. Some of them are still in high places, and still trying to make the world safe for their crimes.

We're at the first step in a constitutional crisis with the shrubbery. The presser last night was designed to make a show of cooperation - an exercise which gives cooperation a bad name. Today's subpoenas are the right response to that evasion of the process for getting sworn testimony.

The conditions for 'allowing' aides to testify ensure that any story, no matter how ludicrous, will be accepted instead of a true detailing of the actual grounds for firing U.S. attorneys. Even more important, the grounds for establishing that their loyalty ranked above their oaths of office for the remaining U.S. Attorneys will be protected. There are many instances in which investigations appear to have been interfered with. Lambert's very excellent post yesterday gave a very chilling one in which a North Carolina congressman was protected from justifiable investigation in crimes against this country.

Crimes against the country are not the proper function of the executive branch. They are, however, increasingly the object of this one's functions and the modus operandi of its officials.

As Lambert at correntewire points out, this is a watershed. Once the obstacles thrown up by the cretin in chief have been trashed, the way is clear for the Democratic Congress to demand the truth from industrial strength liars. If we still have a functional judicial branch despite the liars' best efforts, the subpoenas will bring out testimony under oath and the inevitable punishment for crimes.

I am not entirely alone in thinking it will be a far, far better thing that this test comes now. We still have time to straighten out the executive branch, and wipe up after the war criminals. Our standing in the world is probably forever greatly damaged, but at least we can make the three branches of government function passably again.

The die is cast. (For you who love teh Latin, "Alea Jacta Est" - from the writings of Julius Caesar, of the original Long Knives.)

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A Principled Response: Part 2

Last Saturday, I posted on the delaying tactics being used by the White House in Congress's demand for documents on the US Attorneys firing matter. My conclusion in that post was a hope that the Democracts would stand firm:

If the White House decides to fight the subpoena process and thereby provoke a Constitutional crisis, so be it. That will be one battle well-worth waging.

I appear to be getting my wish.

Last night the President made it clear that the White House staffers would not testify under oath in open hearings. They would only be made available for informal "interviews" behind closed doors with no transcripts being made of whatever those staffers might say. Last night's Los Angeles Times covered the President's speech.

Responding to Congress' rejection of the White House offer to let senior administration aides testify informally in private interviews, Bush accused Democrats of playing politics with the issue, noting that a president has "broad discretion" to replace political appointees. ...

He added that he was trying to protect a president's ability to get advice from top officials without fear they would be subjected to "the klieg lights" of congressional inquiries....

"In the midst of this current debate, the president must remain faithful to the fundamental interests of the president and the requirements of the constitutional separation of powers," White House Counsel Fred Fielding said in the letter to House and Senate leaders.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Bush and his minions have become more than a little reminiscent of Lewis Carroll characters rather than the leaders of a democracy. That would be amusing if it didn't have such a deadly impact on that democracy.

Yes, the president has some discretion to replace political appointees, unless that replacement is done to obstruct justice by halting an honest investigation into possible corruption by other government officials. Then it becomes a crime. At that point, the oversight function of Congress requires the "klieg lights" of congressional inquiries into the operation.

Mr. Fielding's letter to congressional leaders inadvertently pointed to the heart of the matter. You will notice that he refers to the "fundamental interests of the president," not the fundamental interests of the presidency. For the past six years we have seen what the interests of this president involve: a broad usurpation of power at all levels, accomplished through the machinations of secrecy and cronyism.

It's long past time for Congress to turn on those "klieg lights."

It's time to issue those suboenas and to prepare for the battle.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The World Press Photo Award Picture/ The Story

This picture was in a post I did earlier this year, and since finding the story behind this picture printed at BBC, I thought you would like to know more, too.

It was awarded the first prize in the prestigious World Press Photo awards.

The award sparked a debate in Lebanon. The picture appears to neatly summarise Lebanon's contradictions - glamour amidst the destruction, seemingly careless rich kids on a voyeuristic trip.

But there is much more to the picture than these cliches.

Spencer Platt took his picture on 15 August, a day after the ceasefire, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, as thousands of people flocked back to homes they had fled during the Israeli shelling.

The original caption accompanying the picture read: "Affluent Lebanese drive down the street to look at a destroyed neighbourhood 15 August 2006 in southern Beirut, Lebanon."

World Press Photo jury chairwoman Michele McNally said: "[It's a] picture you can keep looking at. It has the complexity and contradiction of real life, amidst chaos. This photograph makes you look beyond the obvious."

The picture was picked up by magazines and newspapers around the world and passed around by e-mail in Lebanon.

The picture challenges our notion of what a victim is meant to look like. These people are not victims, they look strong, they're full of youth

Spencer Platt

One Dutch newspaper published it under the heading: "The Cool People VS Hezbollah."

In Beirut, some people laughed or shrugged their shoulders at the picture - it seemed so Lebanese. Others were horrified it won such a prestigious prize because of what it said about their country.

Some photographers criticised it, describing it as just a snapshot, without much depth or great composition.

Talking to the BBC over the phone from New York, Spencer Platt said his picture was not meant to show any Lebanese in a bad light.

The person who was helping me with my work while in Lebanon, Wafa, looked like she could have stepped out of that car. But she was certainly not rich and her life had been turned upside down by the war.

The picture challenges our notion of what a victim is meant to look like. These people are not victims, they look strong, they're full of youth.

Only in Lebanon can you find a Mini Cooper against a backdrop of bombed out buildings. Lebanese people are very hard to classify. There were many other pictures of the war, but this one started a conversation.

Four of the young people in the group are actually residents of the area and had to flee during the shelling.

This was the first time they returned to the suburbs and they were eager to check on their apartment and their belongings.

The driver was Jad Maroun, his sister Tamara, is the blond girl sitting in the front, in the winning picture.

The friends in the car got to know each during the summer's conflict
She isn't in this group picture. She couldn't make it to the interview because she was getting ready for her engagement party.

Bissan, Jad's other sister, pictured here second from the right, was sitting in the back of the car in the winning picture, taking pictures with her mobile phone.

She recorded a short video of their drive. On it you can hear people commenting on their appearance and the girls screaming back: "We live here!"

Although Christians, the Marouns actually live in the dominantly Shia southern suburbs and their apartment block is now surrounded by flattened buildings.

Liliane Nacouzi, on the left, is a friend. A Christian, she's the only one who had never been to the area before.

She held a tissue to her face in the winning picture because of the fumes from the fires still burning in the rubble.

Nour Nasser, the only Shia in the group, is wearing a pistachio green top here but was hidden behind Liliane in the car. She also lives in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

All the people in the picture, except Lana Khalil (second from left), were displaced by the war and were put up by their employers in the same hotel in the centre of Beirut, where they became friends.

The convertible orange Mini in the picture belongs to Lana Khalil. She lent the car to her boyfriend, Jad, so he could take his sisters and Nour to the suburbs and find their house.

On the dashboard, there's a sticker for Samidoun, a grassroots relief organisation to which Lana belongs.

This car has a story. This isn't just a bourgeois, trendy, tourist car, this car played a big role in the war.

It was used throughout the war to help deliver medication to refugees who had taken shelter in schools in central Beirut.

We also took medication to people in the southern suburbs who refused to leave their homes or simply couldn't, people needed hard medication, like for diabetes.

Lana Khalil, owner of the famous Mini (Photo: Jeroen Kramer)

Enlarge Image

The relatives of a friend of mine were stuck in the suburbs, two or three days into the war, I went with him at night to pick them up, under the bombs.

It was very scary, that trip from central Beirut, usually takes about 15 minutes, it took 7 minutes that night.

The picture that won the award is very digestible as a war photo, it's something the people in the West can relate to.

It's an interesting picture, but there were so many more that reflected what really happened here.

The war was not fun, it was full of blood and gore and this picture trivialises what happened here. It makes you wonder how truthful a picture can be.

But it's true that there were people who did come to the area just to have a look at the destruction. It's also true that some people didn't really live through the war.

I took one day off during the whole war, and went up to the mountains for a break. I was surprised to see people partying up there, as though nothing was the matter.

It's the caption that went with the picture that made it famous and that's what's upsetting, the caption reinforces the cliche. We're frustrated by the generalisations that people make about Lebanon and Lebanese society.

A 29-year-old bank clerk and former model, Bissan Maroun says she had no idea that the award winning picture was being taken and that she was too focused on the destruction around them.

Driving into our neighbourhood was shocking. We had seen it on television but it wasn't the same as in real life.

The smell was terrible, for weeks, there was no rain, the fumes just hovered over the area. I don't understand why Israel had to destroy so much for the sake of two soldiers.

You have to remember that in Lebanon, everyone tries to look glamorous, the poor and the rich

Bissan Maroun
Our building escaped destruction but everything around it was flattened.

After the war, we considered leaving the area because we weren't sure how quickly we would be able to live a normal life again amidst all the destruction but things improved very quickly, so we're staying.

My parents live in our hometown in the north, because my father has to be near the hospital for medical treatment.

During the war, we gave shelter to nine families, around 40 people, in our home. We are not rich kids, we are really middle class, so the impression the picture gives is wrong.

You have to remember that in Lebanon, everyone tries to look glamorous, the poor and the rich. Appearances are very important.

Jad Maroun, is a 22-year-old, studying management.

When we were in the area, driving around in the open car, I thought it maybe wasn't very appropriate.

But we didn't have much of a choice. There were too many of us in the car, so we needed to roll the top back to make more space. Also there are no windows in the back, so Bissan, Liliane and Nour couldn't see anything.

My problem with the winning picture is that emphasises some of the misconceptions people have

Jad Maroun
It was very hot and they were suffocating from the fumes.

In some way I think I like the fact this picture won, it says a lot about Lebanon.

My problem with the winning picture is that emphasises some of the misconceptions people have - that it would be unusual for people who look like us to be in the area, they expect the area to be full of veiled women, to be dirty and impoverished.

But we live there and everybody makes us feel welcome even though we're Christian.

In the winning picture, Nour Nasser, a 21-year-old journalism student, is sitting in the back seat and is hidden.

We didn't tell our parents we were going to the suburbs that day. They wouldn't have let us go. There were still fears that the Israelis might strike again, or that there would be unexploded bombs everywhere.

I'm not a Hezbollah supporter. I'm a liberal but I'm not bothered by them

Nour Nasser
But we wanted to go see our houses, get hold of some of our stuff.

Seeing the streets that we walked on every day, seeing it all destroyed like that, was very tough. I've lived in the area for eight years, on the outskirts of the southern suburbs, closer to central Beirut.

I'm not a Hezbollah supporter. I'm a liberal but I'm not bothered by them.

I don't like my neighbourhood though. I don't' have any friends there, people look at you, they gossip.

I understand why the picture won. It's about the contrast between destruction and glamour. But it's the wrong image of the war and it sanitises it.

Also, it reflects only part of Lebanon. We are part of the working middle class and we can afford some things, like nice clothes or sunglasses but not everybody here can.

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Science is Golden

Forgive me my puns, I can't help it.

However, the above concept is getting a brush off at the White House, where for the past six years goons have been installed in the halls of science so that the truth wouldn't get out. Hearings held yesterday, (tomorrow joint hearings on energy to feature Al Gore), brought out the sleazy story.

Here is really good account; and I hope you get a chance to hear some of the hearings at CSpan.

A former White House official accused of improperly editing reports on global warming defended his editing changes Monday, saying they reflected views in a 2001 report by the National Academy of Sciences.

House Democrats said the 181 changes made in three climate reports reflected a consistent attempt to emphasize the uncertainties surrounding the science of climate change and undercut the broad conclusions that man-made emissions are warming the earth.

Philip Cooney, former chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, acknowledged at a House hearing that some of the changes he made were "to align these communications with the administration's stated policy" on climate change.

The extent of Cooney's editing of government climate reports first surfaced in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist, left the White House to work at Exxon Mobil Corp.

"My concern is that there was a concerted White House effort to inject uncertainty into the climate debate," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

Cooney's appearance before Waxman's committee Monday was the first time he has spoken publicly, or was extensively questioned, about the issue.

Cooney said that many of the changes he made to the reports -- such as uncertainty about the regional impact of climate change and limits on climate modeling -- reflected findings of a 2001 National Academy of Sciences report on climate.

Waxman's committee also heard from James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the country's leading climate scientists, who said the White House repeatedly tried to control what government scientists say to the public and media about climate change.

"Interference with communications of science to the public has been greater during the current administration than at any time in my career," said Hansen, who was one of the first to raise concerns about climate change in the 1980s.

Hansen's battles with NASA and White House public affairs officials are not new and resulted in an easing of NASA's policies toward scientists talking to the media about their work.

But that was not always the case.

Hansen said that in 2005 he was told by a 24-year-old NASA public affairs official he could not take part in an interview with National Public Radio on orders from senior NASA public affairs officials. Instead, three other NASA officials were offered for the interview.

The young press officer, George Deutsch, now 26, sat next to Hansen at the witness table Monday and told the committee he had simply been "relaying" the views of higher-ups at NASA that Hansen was not to participate in the interview.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., suggested that Hansen was not being muzzled at all and that there is nothing wrong with government scientists being subject to some limits in what they say.

"You're speaking on federal paid time. Your employer happens to be the American taxpayer," Issa lectured Hansen. He said a Google search had shown Hansen cited on more than 1,400 occasions over a year in interviews and appearances.

Hansen said he accepted only "a small fraction" of the requests for interviews and appearances and that, as a matter of free speech, government scientists should not be restrained in their remarks or have public affairs officers listening in on interviews.

"It doesn't ring true," said Hansen. "It's not the American way. And it's not constitutional."

I had the pleasure of hearing some of this earlier, on CSpan, this morning and took great pleasure in it. Henry Waxman was a treat, and hearing him refuse to give the GOP'ers extra time - in return for their attempts to critique him for using the chair to make remarks to witnesses about their gall in trying to falsify statements of fact - was worth any amount of lost sleep. He also made no bones about the fact that Democrats were refused the witnesses they requested many times during six years of GOP dominance.

Sadly, the truth is an enemy to the cretin in chief and he is doing all that he can to keep it from the public. As usual, the truth only serves honest people.

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The Story That Won't Die

Yesterday afternoon, the Department of Justice delivered over 2,000 documents to the Congressional committees investigating the firings of eight US Attorneys. The unusual dump (on a Monday, no less) had been delayed by the White House over the weekend. Although apparently some of the documents tend to buttress the official DOJ line that the firings were for performance reasons (failure to prosecute more obscenity cases and/or border crime cases), those documents also clearly show a department scurrying to retake the publicity spin. From today's Los Angeles Times:

The documents show that Justice Department officials have been scrambling over the last two months to control the amount of damaging fallout and negative publicity from the widening scandal, even lamenting at one point that "we just want the stories to die."

"The attorney general is extremely upset with the stories on the U.S. Attys this morning," Brian Roehrkasse, a department spokesman, e-mailed to his boss, Scolinos, and D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff before he abruptly resigned this month.

Roehrkasse added that Gonzales "also thought some of DAG's [McNulty's] statements were inaccurate…. He wants to know what we can do from a comms [communications] perspective. I suggested a clearly worded op-ed and reaching out to ed [editorial] boards who will write in the coming days."

"I think from a straight news perspective we just want the stories to die."
[Emphasis added]

That is, after all, the most important thing: that this administration control the news given the public. Confirmation of this tactic came in the Libby trial when an aide to Vice President Cheney admitted that whenever things got too hot, the right people (including Mr. Cheney himself) were carefully positioned on Meet the Press, where Tim Russert could be counted on to assist in getting the proper message out.

This time, however, the tactic doesn't appear to be working, at least not yet.

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