Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Poetry: Carl Sandburg

And They Obey

Smash down the cities.
Knock the walls to pieces.
Break the factories and cathedrals, warehouses
and homes
Into loose piles of stone and lumber and black
burnt wood:
You are the soldiers and we command you.
Build up the cities.
Set up the walls again.
Put together once more the factories and cathedrals,
warehouses and homes
Into buildings for life and labor:
You are workmen and citizens all: We
command you.

Carl Sandburg

Racist Remarks

Thank you, Shaw Kenawe, for some excellent research. Remarks in her comments section often are deranged, paralleling such rantings as racism charges from Rush Limbaugh. This set her off, and she found some interesting history of racist remarks by Chief Justice Roberts.

"Though the Supreme Court nominee [John Roberts] offered straight legal advice, and sometimes savvy political suggestions, he also expressed partisan views in the 35,000 pages released yesterday from his years as White House associate counsel from 1982 to 1986.

In some memos, for example, he made jokes about Hispanics and women. For a 1983 Reagan interview in Spanish Today, he said, "I think this audience would be pleased that we are trying to grant legal status to their illegal amigos."He also joked in 1982 about Kickapoo Indians, saying "a group of them made Newsweek by choosing to live in squalid conditions beneath the International Bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas, rather than their Mexican homeland."

And in a 1985 memo about a corporate scholarship program for women, Roberts said, "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good."


There are more revealing remarks unearthed in Shaw's post, well worth taking into account.

The tenor of voters on the right has long been of this ilk, but it's been kept under wraps by the more balanced members for aeons. Pres. Obama's election seems to have tripped the wire, and the racist, recidivist element has catapulted into the public face admitted on the right. Those of us who have worked with elements of society that still use the 'N' word, and feel threatened if their residual hold on primacy before the law is shaky, are not surprised. I guess, in a way, I'm pleased.

It's rather refreshing to see the office seekers try to shut up their venomous, unleashed, public representatives. Will the base succeed in keeping this essentially crazy persona on display? Oh, I hope so.

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Insisting Wrong is Right

The kind of discussion you get when you try to convince a die-hard believer is now typical of news releases from the representatives of what used to be the Republican party. I recall as a teenager pointing out to some one who insisted that Jonah (in the Bible) was swallowed by a whale, that the bible says 'big fish', not whale. The response was that it was, indeed, a whale, and nothing would change her mind. That sort of dug in adamant rejection of reason is becoming the standard in rightwinger claims.

It may be that 'becoming' is a false concept. It probably has always been the standard. As Frank Rich points out today at the NYT, Cheney's recent speech about torture - that wasn't torture - keeping us safe was easily torn apart, and while most media treated the lies as facts, McClatchy reporters did the job.

With selective quotations, Cheney falsified the views of the director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, on the supposed intelligence value of waterboarding. Equally bogus was Cheney’s boast that his administration had “moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and their sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks.” In truth, the Bush administration had lost Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, not least because it started diverting huge assets to Iraq before accomplishing the mission of vanquishing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. That decision makes us less safe to this very minute. (Emphasis added.)

As the misnomer 'the media' increasingly refers to a masquerade, right wing talking points paraded as the news, some of those who have taken responsible positions and still crusade for actual security for this nation are forced to speak out.

Richard Clarke, who served in the Clinton administration and in the recently ended maladministration of war criminals, spoke out today in a WaPo op-ed.

Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice may have been surprised by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- but it was because they had not listened. And their surprise led them to adopt extreme counterterrorism techniques -- but it was because they rejected, without analysis, the tactics the Clinton administration had used. The measures they uncritically adopted, which they simply assumed were the best available, were in fact unnecessary and counterproductive.

"I'll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities," Cheney said in his recent speech. But this defense does not stand up. The Bush administration's response actually undermined the principles and values America has always stood for in the world, values that should have survived this traumatic event. The White House thought that 9/11 changed everything. It may have changed many things, but it did not change the Constitution, which the vice president, the national security adviser and all of us who were in the White House that tragic day had pledged to protect and preserve.

The facts should be headlined, and presented as the major news, but I have heard more about Britain's Got Talent than about truths on the wrongheaded war on Iraq. The lies were treated as real news.

Irresponsible lies are the basis for the deaths of our troops, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. We will be supporting mind-numbing numbers of severely injured soldiers for the next generation. Those are some of the costs of allowing lies to stand, and form our policies.

This disaster wasn't caused just by reality-challenged criminals in our executive branch. It was caused just as much by our media, that kept its sources by ignoring the truth that contradicted them.

I repeat myself, but it's time to stop giving hits to the media pretenders who front for rightwing lies. "_blank">Avedon named several of them, and we see them constantly featured on news commentaries, repeating those same lies.

When we stop playing their numbers game by adding traffic to their sites, we are battling for the truth to be news, instead of a footnote. If you haven't thanked them yet, please join me in commenting at the sites linked above, with a thank you.

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The Wrong Kind Of Change

Last week we got treated to a real study in irony, something that was not lost on columnist Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe. Here's what she had to say:

PRESIDENT OBAMA had much to say about the glass ceiling he is smashing on behalf of Hispanics and nothing to say about the glass ceiling the California Supreme Court is reimposing on gays.

On Tuesday, Obama announced that he would nominate Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals judge in New York, to the Supreme Court. In nominating the daughter of Puerto Rican parents to become the nation's first Hispanic justice, Obama said that when she "ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court of the land, America will have taken another important step towards realizing the idea that is etched above its entrance: equal justice under the law."

Those are stirring words, and ironic ones, too, given the day's other momentous judicial news: The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, last year's ballot initiative prohibiting same-sex marriage.
[Emphasis added]

Stirring words indeed. That has been the ideal and the as-yet unattained goal of this nation from its inception. You would think that the first African American president introducing the first Hispanic American nominee to the US Supreme Court would have something to say about the devastating news from the California Supreme Court, but you would be wrong. His press secretary ducked the question when asked about the president's response to the news, and it's been crickets from the White House ever since.

President Obama wasn't always so reticent on the issue, however.

...Earlier this year, the political website produced a questionnaire Obama filled out in 1996 for a Chicago gay and lesbian newspaper. "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages," Obama wrote in a typed, signed statement.

But that was then. Now he has settled into the politically expedient and oh-so-comfortable "middle" on the issue, as he has on various issues:

In what is becoming a pattern, his thinking evolved to a less-liberal stance. As president, Obama has been less than eager to take up a campaign pledge to grant equal federal rights for gay couples; or to reconsider the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy.

In fact, he couldn't even be bothered to travel to California to speak to the issue of extending "equal justice under the law" to gays and lesbians. Apparently this state is important only for fund-raising, not consciousness raising.

That's not the kind of leadership we were promised.

Instead of emulating a Lyndon Johnson, who helped the country through the tragedy of John Kennedy's assassination by implementing Kennedy's dream of a more equitable nation via the civil rights legislation he pushed through (after being pushed by those who saw that need), President Obama appears to be satisfied with a Gerald Ford approach: the nightmare of the Bush Administration is over. Let's move forward by papering over the pain of the past. Here, have a bandaid.

That's not leadership, that's capitulation to the monolithic status quo.

I am gravely disappointed and disgusted, and I am becoming increasingly angry.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bonus Critter Blogging: African Elephant

(Photograph by Chris Johns and published at National Geographic.)

The Culture Of Fear

It's Saturday, which means I made a visit to Watching America. This week there was a wide range of subject matter: Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the US Supreme Court, President Obama's upcoming visit to the Middle East and his planned speech from Egypt, his stance that Israel must stop the proliferation of settlements in the West Bank, the role of the US if the global economy is to recover: all timely, all thoughtful.

However, the article that struck me most, an op-ed piece from Colombia's El Espectador, zeroed in on an issue that has yet to be adequately addressed by the current administration, the 111th Congress, and the American press, that of "the culture of fear" that this nation has operated under for nearly eight years. The author used the recent "dueling speeches" of President Obama and former Vice President Cheney to present the issue.

This duel between entering and exiting governments highlights the existence of two different perspectives on the way the United States should respond to threats to its national security. Cheney, through a recounting of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, again vindicated adopted policies and alluded to the grave threat still hanging over Americans. In addition to denouncing the “phony moralizing” of those who have criticized the “enhanced” interrogation tactics that were used, he pointed out that in the fight against terrorism, “There is no middle road.”

Obama criticized the idea, implied in Cheney’s speech, that “anything goes,” and related the use of that idea to justify practices like torture and the abuse of executive power. Instead, he argued that U.S. values, such as adherence to the rule of law, defense of civil liberties and the system of checks and balances, as well as accountability, constitute the best attributes of U.S. national security, and he criticized his predecessor for having abandoned them. Likewise, he condemned the fanning of fear and the manipulation of anxiety over terrorism in order to veto serious debate on issues like Guantanamo.

This last problem is not a minor one. The “war on terror” fostered a culture of fear that legitimized the adoption of methods that violated fundamental rights, spread intolerance and facilitated the mobilization of the public in favor of strategies that, in other circumstances, would have given rise to greater oversight. All this, according to President Obama, has made the U.S. less secure and has diminished its ability to combat genuine existing threats, among them, Al Qaeda.
[Emphasis added]

The author of this piece, Arlene B. Tickner, has analyzed the situation perfectly. As a result of the Bush administration campaign following the 9/11 attack, Americans willingly gave up liberties guaranteed under the Constitution. We allowed the federal government to illegally monitor our telephone calls and emails. We sat quietly by as the Great Writ of habeas corpus was trashed. By our silence, we condoned torture and kidnapping. We even have voluntarily subjected ourselves to intrusive video cameras at sporting events and theme parks, and we meekly took off our shoes at airport check points. We have tolerated the development of "lists" put together by the FBI which determine whether we can fly, enter, or leave the country, lists which are often comprised of those few individuals who have pushed back against such violations by marching for peace or constructing giant puppets.

Ms. Tickner concludes her piece by implying that she sees some change under the new administration:

...Slowly, Americans seem to be getting out from under the reign of fear that held them prisoner for eight years.

She may be right, but the pace is so glacial that I haven't seen it yet. President Obama is entertaining the thought of continuing "preventive" detentions of those some allege would do us harm. He has decided that military commissions, once a few cosmetic changes are introduced, are ok after all, his campaign promises to the contrary be damned.

Congress is fighting the closure of Guantanamo Bay, ostensibly because the president hasn't provided a detailed plan on what to do with those still being held there, but really because those still there are described as utterly dangerous and scary. There is no movement afoot, at least that I am aware of, to do away with the Patriot Acts, I and II, which are violative of everything that the 1st and 4th Amendment stand for. Nor is there any thought that maybe Congress went too far in the last revisiting of the FISA legislation.

And the press, well, it is still a stenographer for the powers that be, elected or not. When the Pentagon released its most recent report that those released from Gitmo have rejoined the Great Terrorist War Against America, the fact that the report claimed that 1 in 7 of those miscreants are back on the battle lines garnered all the headlines, while the questionable accounting techniques used by the Pentagon to reach those figures got only a few column inches in one major newspaper (see my post from yesterday). Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz, Rush Limbaugh, and Newt Gingrich (who?) are regulars on all the news channels and are quoted extensively and, by implication, approvingly, by the news wires and pundits.

I don't see the change that Barach Obama promised or that Arlene Tickner sees. In fact, I am seeing only more of the same, just given a little extra brushing and styling.

In other words, I am not optimistic. And I'm not quite sure at this point what to do about it.

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Popularity Above Probity

This morning I was listening to WaPo reporter Chris Cilizza on CSpan tell High School kids about his career in journalism. When he got to the point of insisting that although he constantly gets comments from readers telling him what an idiot he is, but the next day those same commenters are back telling him what an idiot he is, I realized that it is, indeed, the credo at that paper that reportage is not their purpose.

A few years ago, editor Hiatt claimed high popularity because of the number who comment on his editorials. Since that time, I have been very aware that the purposes of his editorial ventures was much different from what they claim.

Controversy is created by differences of opinion. What better way to produce controversy than to write what you know readers will disagree with? Since most of the readers of the WaPo region, and demographic, are educated and knowledgeable, how better produce disagreement than by making statements that are wrong, or at least ignorant?

Today, I went to WaPo to see a comment Avedon made on David Broder's op-ed there, that she accessed through Digby. The comment was highly worthwhile, though the op-ed itself was rightwing talking points.

Avedon wrote:
I don't understand this column. On most issues, this judge has proven to be remarkably conservative - not surprising since she was placed on the court by a conservative president.

Your definition of "liberal" seems to be "not vociferously opposed to Roe v. Wade." But that's not a liberal position, it's mainstream - most Americans do not oppose Roe v. Wade.

Why is overturning Roe of such import to you, and why do you think it is the defining issue for not being a raving crazy loony lefty?
5/30/2009 8:12:36 AM

As Digby pointed out yesterday, Broder represents the Villager hopes that Roe v. Wade will be overthrown. Having women and their medical options restricted by laws espoused by rightwing thought, rather than science, is promoted by the fading Villagers.

As Avedon points out, most of this country disagrees with that viewpoint. Still, the media continues to give the major voice to that minority view. The impetus of creating controversy, by disagreement with rational thought, has overwhelmed the media, mostly it seems because they produce high numbers of responses by rejecting true and rational thought.

Facts have that liberal bias that Colbert realized years ago. Rational thinkers get enraged and make the furor that the Villagers want, because we can't stand it that print and broadcast gets it wrong.

I think it's time to remove the rational community's support. We're promoting irrational viewpoints. As no matter how often we point out that they are wrong and ignorant, that only convinces them further of the drawing power of rightwing views. I believe it is time to reject the Villagers outright.

I've stopped reading WaPo editorials, and commenting in response to Fred Hiatt's editorialisms, even though reading the comments often is quite enlightening. It's my choice to remove the impetus of enlarged audience.

We as liberals know better than to believe, and want to enlighten the weak-minded. It's that impulse the Village idiots are using to convince advertisers that they are selling papers. It's our best qualities that are being used against us.

If it promotes support for idiocy, I'm not going there. Support for denying women medically sound advice and procedures is wrong. WaPo by publishing the Villagers encourages that. It makes profits for them. Personally, I am removing myself from that equation.

No more reading the Villagers.

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Unto The Least Of These

While the NY Times contains an editorial calling on the developed countries to increase aid to the world's poor, the Los Angeles Times contains an article detailing the cuts to social services to the poor proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here's a few examples of how our governor proposes to balance the budget by shrinking the government:

Administration officials said that for the most part, they did not have the luxury of considering the consequences -- financial or human -- of the plans they were making.

In an earlier proposal, they had suggested saving money by reducing fraud in the state's adult day-care program, which provides services at centers across the state to help the frail and elderly continue living in their homes rather than more expensive nursing homes.

Under the new plan, cracking down on fraud would no longer be necessary, said Ana Matosantos, chief deputy budget director, "because now we're looking at eliminating the program in its entirety."

The $117 million in presumed savings would be wiped out if 20% of the 38,000 elderly participants in California are shifted into nursing homes for care subsidized by the state, said Lydia Missaelides, executive director of the California Assn. for Adult Day Services. ...

Also eliminated would be a $10.5-million caregiver program that helps the severely disabled, including people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and traumatic brain injuries.

The state would reduce payments to counties by $550 million for foster care, welfare and other services. It would cut $230 million by ending home care for all but the neediest, such as those who can't breathe without machinery or move their limbs, officials said.

These cuts are accompanied by others which target the poor to middle class:

Schools would be hit by $680 million in new cuts to classrooms and by $315 million in cuts for transportation. The state's social safety net would lose $1 billion more in funding for the poor, disabled and aged. Cities and counties would lose an additional $242 million in transportation funding.

But, hey! That's better than raising the taxes by 1% of the wealthiest Californians or by reinstating the motor vehicle tax repealed by the Governator to get himself elected and which hit those who drove the big, expensive gas guzzlers a little hard in the wallet part of the human anatomy.

And what do the Republicans in the state legislature think of all these draconian cuts?

Schwarzenegger's fellow Republicans were generally supportive of his plans.

Grover Norquist must be so proud, or as Atrios put it so succinctly a while back, "Mission Accomplished".

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Catblogging

- Opal is a sweet 8-week-old Tortoiseshell kitten. She loves to play with her brother Omar, enjoys being held, and needs daily hugs and kisses. Opal and her brother were rescued by a Good Samaritan and brought them to Operation Kindness to find a forever devoted home. Pet ID 60109

Shelter Information

Operation Kindness was founded in 1976 and is the oldest and largest no-kill shelter in North Texas. We are a nonprofit animal welfare organization that cares for homeless or unwanted cats and dogs in a no-kill environment. We never euthanize an animal to make room for another. We care for all the animals we take in until they are adopted.

(972) 418-7297


Justification Isn't Justice

When the trial of the Holy Land Foundation was held in Dallas Federal Court, I had the opportunity to attend. It was something I wanted to do since what I had seen reported - that prosecution included witnesses who were unidentified, a practice contrary to our Constitution - had made me uncomfortable with what our Justice Department was doing.

The several times I did attend the trial showed that I had only had a dim idea of the extent to which the trial violated our laws. As I have written here previously, procedures were allowed that had jurors supposed to come to judgment on the charges by such illegal practices as hearing witnesses that had been encouraged to give their views on what people of Palestine thought and felt, and claims by a witness, an Israeli agent, that he could "smell" terrorism. A major witness admitted that his testimony would be factored into his own sentencing on unrelated charges. In his closing remarks, the prosecuting attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice claimed that Freedom of Speech did not obtain in this trial, for these defendants.

Today's editorial in the Dallas Morning News bases much of its finding that heavy sentences the defendants received were justified because most of the defense was about causes for support of the charities - charities that in Palestine are associated sometimes with groups whose members are sometimes terrorists. The defense showed abuse of the people of Palestine, something that the editorial was uncomfortable about, so condemned.

Regardless of the rationale behind the Richardson-based group's actions, anyone who helps fund groups that make bombs to blow people up deserves stiff punishment...
His (Shukri Abu Baker of Garland) statement was an appalling attempt to distract the public from the true effect of his crime: to collect money that helped Hamas kill, maim and fulfill its goal of wiping Israel off the face of the earth.

Have Israelis done their own share of killing and maiming? Absolutely. It is painfully obvious to the entire world that this cycle of retaliatory bloodshed must stop. To reach a peaceful solution, each side must acknowledge publicly and without equivocation that its militants have committed wrongs. Contrition seems absent from their vocabulary.

It's appalling enough that our constitution should be thrown out in the conduct of a trial, but being incensed by expressing an appeal to common humanity is as twisted as it gets. Being made to feel guilty is justifiable; the judgment was against acknowledged charitable activities. The connection with terrorism was made only by distant association.

Being mad about feeling guilty is a character flaw. That the News insists the defendants ought to be apologizing is a projection by those whose consciences would be assuaged if they could get some reassurance that this judgment is not deeply flawed.

That assurance would be admission of guilt, and the defendants do not admit that supporting charities is the same as terrorism. The admission the editors want is like the ex-Veep seeking to extract information contrary to fact, from detainees, by torture. The connection used to drag this country into war, that al Qaeda was associated with Saddam Hussein, was one that was not true.

Would the News want to suggest to their jailers that it would be much appreciated, that their consciences will be easier, if they get confessions, please, and waterboarding is known to produce this kind of result? Wanting the facts to conform - when they don't - is not a desire for justice, but for justification.

This case will be appealed, and hopefully the violations of law that occurred will be enough to show it was not conducted under our constitutional system.

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Cooking The Numbers

No wonder the Pentagon always has such a bloated budget: they handle numbers in all sorts of creative ways. A good example of just how the Pentagon plays around with basic arithmetic is given in a NY Times op-ed piece written by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation.

...a Pentagon report made public on Tuesday concluded that 74 of the 534 men who have been freed from Guantánamo were “confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist activities.” This is a recidivism rate of around 14 percent, which was up from the Pentagon’s previous estimate in January of 11 percent.

But are things this bad? While we must of course be careful about who is released, these numbers are very likely inflated. This is in part because the Pentagon includes on the list any released prisoner who is either “confirmed” or just “suspected” to have engaged in terrorism anywhere in the world, whether those actions were directed at the United States or not. And, bizarrely, the Defense Department has in the past even lumped into the recidivist category former prisoners who have done no more than criticize the United States after their release.
[Emphasis added]

Complicating any kind of fact check of the Pentagon report is the Pentagon's refusal to list all of the names of those released who have purportedly "returned to the battlefield." Only 29 of the 74 men are named for "security reasons," which, the authors point, may be reasonable excuse. That may be, but it's also an awfully convenient one. At any rate, the authors have found out just what some of those 29 men have been up to:

First, nearly half of the men on the new list — 14 of the 29 — are listed as being “suspected” of terrorist activities, which makes “recidivist” a fairly vague definition. Next, the acts that at least nine of the 29 are either known or suspected of having been involved with were not directed at America or at our immediate allies in our current wars, the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That brings the "recidivism" rate way down from the claimed 14%. In fact, it brings that rate to below the rate of US prison inmates who return to prison within three years. Now, any return to the terrorist battlefield is admittedly worrisome, but just how worried we should be cannot be determined from the Pentagon report, which was, I suspect, issued to thwart President Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay.

And that's the problem which this op-ed piece points out:

...our point is that the Pentagon should be as accurate as possible about how many of those released pose a threat to America. This is the only way that policy makers can make informed choices about closing Guantánamo, revising military commissions, deporting or repatriating prisoners or moving them to the United States, and keeping our nation safe.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Watching Monsters

How glad I am to be here at home watching Bill Kristol postulate, on a panel on interrogation techniques, that we will just kill suspects since we can't torture them. His preferred method is 'by drone'.

Human Rights First representative Gabor Rona is expressing wonderment at the concept. It would take a lot of practice for me to restrain myself to his level of mildness. He has interviewed Ali Souvane previously, and has passed on the practiced interrogator's opinion, that many years were wasted in chasing down bad leads from tortured suspects. If for no other reason, that should have kept it from ever happening. Sadly, not all of my fellow citizens are civilized, or in Kristol's case, even sane.

Had our highest office holders been reasonable and/or good public citizens, we would not be watching this horror, or hearing that the previous maladministration had reasonable methods and results, when only court orders pushed it back within the bounds of reason.

The present administration has a proposal that will move away from the worst of the mess, by changing administration of detention to the FBI. Leaving no indefensible history to defend, that should help to escape from the horrors they committed.

The FBI and Justice Department plan to significantly expand their role in global counter-terrorism operations, part of a U.S. policy shift that will replace a CIA-dominated system of clandestine detentions and interrogations with one built around transparent investigations and prosecutions.

Under the "global justice" initiative, which has been in the works for several months, FBI agents will have a central role in overseas counter-terrorism cases. They will expand their questioning of suspects and evidence-gathering to try to ensure that criminal prosecutions are an option, officials familiar with the effort said.

Though the initiative is a work in progress, some senior counter-terrorism officials and administration policy-makers envision it as key to the national security strategy President Obama laid out last week -- one that presumes most accused terrorists have the right to contest the charges against them in a "legitimate" setting.

The approach effectively reverses a mainstay of the Bush administration's war on terrorism, in which global counter-terrorism was treated primarily as an intelligence and military problem, not a law enforcement one. That policy led to the establishment of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; harsh interrogations; and detentions without trials.

The "global justice" initiative starts out with the premise that virtually all suspects will end up in a U.S. or foreign court of law.

Just as ex-Darth seems endlessly driven to defend his crimes as if they were the actions of a sane and reasoning official, the CIA will have to hold to its line that it was convinced that it was doing a reasonable act when it committed war crimes.

Punishment should follow crime. For now, this is one way at least of preventing further coverups.

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It's Still All About The Insurance Companies

Sen. Ted Kennedy, one of the last of the unabashed liberals in the US Senate, has an op-ed piece in today's Boston Globe on the health care proposal before Congress. As chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, his voice is a powerful one, so his summary of the five-part program currently in play gives us a realistic summary of what we can expect.

I am disappointed, both in him and the health care bill. It's clear that Congress and the president still don't get it. Worse, it's clear that they don't want to get it, that they are perfectly happy with a system that will continue to generate huge profits for private insurance companies and for-profit health care delivery systems, and that they expect citizens to pay for those systems. Here's Sen. Kennedy's summary for just the first part of the plan:

First, we will give Americans better choices for health insurance. ...

Our proposal establishes new gateways to better health across America. You can contact the gateways online, by phone, or in person to figure out what policy works for you. Through the gateway, we will facilitate choice by allowing consumers to compare the costs and benefits of different health insurance policies. We'll negotiate with insurance companies to keep premiums and copays low and help you with your premiums if you can't afford them. We'll make it illegal for insurers to deny coverage because of a preexisting condition or to impose other restrictions that keep you from getting the care you need. We're also hearing that some Americans want the choice of enrolling in a health insurance program backed by the government for the public good, not private profit - so that option will be available too.

If we succeed in providing good health insurance options and make them affordable to all Americans regardless of income, then people should have a responsibility to buy it for their families. That way insurance companies and hospitals will no longer have to tack the cost of uncompensated care to the uninsured onto the medical bills and premiums of those with insurance.

While I have to admit that I'm a little surprised that Congress is finally hearing that "some Americans" want a government-sponsored plan, I'm disappointed that such an option is tacked on almost as an after-thought with no explanation and no real support. The placement of the plan in the last sentence of the paragraph is telling: the option is a mere crumb for those of us who believe the government should be more about "public good" than about "private profit." Insurance companies will still be running the show, and that's apparently just fine with even Sen. Kennedy.

And the second paragraph is why the insurance companies are still at the table: we're going to continue to pay for coverage, only now it will be mandatory. The justification given for such a requirement is nonsense. Insurance companies aren't paying any more for procedures done in a hospital. What the insurance will pay is set by contract or by industry-wide standards ("Official Fee Schedules"). Because of that, the premiums paid by those who have insurance should never have been affected by the costs run up by the uninsured, which is not to say that insurance companies haven't been using this dodge for a long time.

No, the proposal described by Sen. Kennedy as "fixing what is broken" isn't health care reform, not really. It's all about the insurance companies and for-profit providers and their bottom lines, and you and I are about to be more directly responsible for those bottom lines.

We've been had.


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Thursday Birdblogging

Black-billed nightingale thrush;

The Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus gracilirostris) is a common species of the highlands of central Costa Rica, southeast into western Panama. It is the species of Catharus with the smallest distribution of any member of the genus, and is restricted to wet-montane forest and paramo areas from 1800 m up to timberline. Here it prefers to forage in the ground or at low vegetation, both in forested areas as well as human-disturbed habitats. Also it is a prolific singer, with males singing their highly melodic songs for long periods.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making Terrorists

(Thank you to TheImpolitic, while I'm on painkillers she did my thinking for me.)

No one could have predicted that incarcerating innocent men for years without charges and torturing them for information they didn't have would turn them into radicals.

One of the detainees whom a newly released Pentagon report says returned to the battlefield after he was released from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp told McClatchy that he was a local security leader in Afghanistan when he was arrested and became a radical Islamist only during his detention.

This in the context of the Pentagon's latest list of Gitmo releasees who "returned to the battlefield." Their criteria is, shall we say, flexible.

The report found that 27 were confirmed terrorism suspects and another 47 were suspected terrorists as of April 7.

The department defines suspected in part as "unverified or single-source but plausible" reported activities. In its 27 confirmed cases, the Pentagon said it has fingerprints, DNA, photos or reliable intelligence tying them to terrorist activity since their release.

Most of the confirmed and suspected terrorists the agency listed have either died in battle or in suicide attacks, or have been arrested by local authorities.

So in other words, it barely matters if they "returned to battle" because most of them aren't a threat any more. Not that anyone but McClatchy seems willing to mention this part. I swear, the vast majority of our media are a greater threat than terrorists.

Libby has hit on something here that we ought to use when developing policy, that we are by our violation of our own principles doing ourselves harm that is worse than the terraists are doing to us. Our national character is harder to get back than those twin towers, and more lives have been lost to those we made into our enemies than were on 911.

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Agribusiness As Usual

Right now the White House and a couple of Supreme Courts are getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. President Obama has just named his first nominee to the US Supreme Court, one that isn't nearly as controversial as the spittle flecked conservative cadre would have us believe. On the same day, the California Supreme Court ruled against itself and in favor of the passage of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ban. Both are very important stories for this nation to digest.

However, on the Hill, Congress is still in session (sorta kinda) and dealing with the more mundane issues of the budget, and there are some stories there which may, in the long run, have just as much of an impact on the future of this country. The Boston Globe delved into one of the budget issues yesterday in an editorial dealing with farm subsidies and who really benefits from them.

PRESIDENT OBAMA promised in February to "end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them." Ever since, farm-belt politicians and lobbyists have been trying to crop-dust him into backing off - a sad testament to the power of farming interests over basic budget sense. ...

...Agricultural lobbyists like to pretend that they are protecting small farmers from financial ruin. While some families continue to eke out a modest living from the land, American farming is now an industrial-scale business. According to a December report by the US Department of Agriculture, the 8 percent of farms with sales of $250,000 or more make up a whopping 76 percent of all sales.

Federal direct payments disproportionately help large corporate farmers. While 40 percent of farms with sales under $250,000 received direct payments in 2006, 65 percent of farms with sales over $1 million received subsidies. In other words, the money goes to the farms that need it least.

Obama's proposal is quite modest, and has nothing to do with small farms. Rather, he wants to end direct subsidies to farms with an income of more than $500,000 a year. The administration also wants to reduce bloated crop insurance subsidies - another form of welfare for big corporate farms. But as the agribusiness lobby mobilizes, the administration hasn't put enough emphasis on its own proposals.

Once again we see that the "have-mores" still don't think they have enough. The effort to characterize President Obama's proposal to end subsidies only for the large corporations who run farms as an attempt to beat down the small "family farms" is laughable on its face, but only when the facts are presented, something this editorial did nicely. That's what our free press is supposed to do. It's nice to see that some take that responsibility seriously.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009


This is a high point for justice, and I wish her well.

U.S. President Barack Obama tapped U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, officials said, making her the first Hispanic in history picked to wear the robes of a justice.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor, 54, would succeed retiring Justice David Souter. Two officials described Obama's decision on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made.

Administration officials say Sotomayor would bring more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years.

The court has descended to representing injustice and the powers of business, under the past terms of right wing representatives. It is past time for respect for law to retutn to this country.

The law, as the president has stated, is about people, not just paper and pencils.

{Sorry, am off line right now a lot, just had oral surgery. Ouch.}

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Caring For The Troops

An article in the NY Times described a Pentagon program in effect since the start of the war in Afghanistan, a program which is actually pretty sensible.

Since 2004, every service man and woman killed in Iraq or Afghanistan has been given a CT scan, and since 2001, when the fighting began in Afghanistan, all have had autopsies, performed by pathologists in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. In previous wars, autopsies on people killed in combat were uncommon, and scans were never done.

The combined procedures have yielded a wealth of details about injuries from bullets, blasts, shrapnel and burns — information that has revealed deficiencies in body armor and vehicle shielding and led to improvements in helmets and medical equipment used on the battlefield.

The full body CT scans are especially useful. Not only did this process alert the military to the deficiencies in armor and medical equipment, it also allowed for less invasive and time consuming autopsies because the CT scan pointed to what specific areas needed to be investigated more fully. Reports of the findings are then offered to the families of the fallen soldiers, and most families have requested the reports, even if those reports aren't actually read for years.

It's pretty hard to fault such a program, even given the expense involved. We do need to know what precisely killed each soldier and what can be done to reduce the number of future deaths of the same sort. That said, it would be even better if the Pentagon showed the same concern for those soldiers who are fortunate enough to walk away from the battlefield, but not so fortunate to do so without wounds, especially the invisible kind.

While the Pentagon is finally coming around to the fact that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very real consequence of battle, it still makes it incredibly difficult for those stricken to get the kind of treatment and support they need, as this op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times makes clear. Written by Catherine Whitney, whose own brother suffered from PTSD and died alone and poor because he didn't get the treatment he needed and deserved, the article paints a bleak picture of what most soldiers face when that wound makes it difficult to cope with even the simplest of life's activities.

The sad part is that it's not like the military couldn't actually do something to mitigate the horror earlier on in the process, as Ms. Whitney points out:

Imagine how different this bleak picture might look if professional mental health screening were required for all troops, both before and after combat -- along with an adequate force of trained psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to meet the demand. It's an obvious first step, but it would require an organizational and financial commitment from Congress, the VA and the current administration. Unfortunately, for most people, PTSD is an abstraction. The lonely battle of lobbying for better services is mostly left to independent veterans groups and families of the afflicted.

There is a significant disconnect between what we say about supporting our troops and what we actually do. We seem to despise the weakness of the wounded soldier, especially when it is manifested by mental illness, social alienation or undefined degenerative diseases. Today's war heroes too often become tomorrow's poor, many living in rundown apartment complexes around military bases, where they can squeeze out discounts for their essential needs.

If we insist on sending our young men and women into battle, the least we can do is keep our promise to care for them afterward. If the Pentagon can afford expensive full body CT scan machines and numerous skilled medical examiners to perform autopsies, then surely it can find a way to afford the kind of full scale treatment suggested by Ms. Whitman. All it has to do is ask. I find it hard to believe that Congress or the President would turn them down. I know the American public would approve of such an expense.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Trial And Error

It is some consolation that others agree with me that President Obama's decision to resurrect the military commission system for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay is simply wrong. It is, however, reassuring that one of those who agree with me is a columnist for Germany's Financial Times Deutschland. The piece was written by Fidelius Schmid and is titled "George W. Obama." Unfair? I think not. Obama wants to resurrect military tribunals, as well - the same ones the Bush administration, in defiance of every established Western principle of law, had wanted to use to try suspected terrorists. This decision is not just another intelligent application of knowledge, but rather a regrettable weakness of a man who inherited a catastrophe. ...

The tribunals Bush created are simply outrageous. They limited the rights of defendants to legal counsel, permitted hearsay as evidence, and allowed confessions extracted during torture. Anyone who defends these legal institutions should not criticize Islamic Sharia courts.

Admittedly, Obama does want to improve the tribunals. Statements that had been extracted with the aid of so-called waterboardings and other brutal interrogation techniques will no longer be allowed. This surely mitigates some of the outrage, but does not get him off the hook entirely. With all due respect and understanding for the tactics essential for domestic politics, his decision on the tribunals is counterproductive and unnecessary.

...there are only two options for these prisoners. Americans could either turn them over to Afghan or Iraqi authorities, or else just keep them in custody. Their concern is legitimate. But then these prisoners would have to be entitled to all the rights the Geneva Convention outlines for the protection of prisoners of war. ...

It is complicated and going to take a long time to issue a final sentence to anyone in a proper court. Can anyone be sentenced there without first having proven his guilt beyond any doubt? Could a guilty party inadvertently escape justice? Yes, this is true. And yes, this is not practical. But these are basic principles, and this is the best the U.S. and all Western-style democracies have. These principles distinguish Western democracies from dictatorships, quasi-democracies, and theocracies.
[Emphasis added]

Preach it, my brother!

Those are exactly the points which are in play here. I don't know Mr. Schmid's age or his ideological background, but it is clear he appreciates the difficulties and the successes of the Nuremberg Trials. In those proceedings, international law was as much on trial as the defendants, and international law came through brilliantly, primarily because the nations and prosecutors involved held the concept of the rule of law, not the rule of a man or men, to be paramount. Prosecutors were prepared to fail, but they were not prepared to accord those in the dock, many of whom were characterized as monsters, anything less than full legal rights.

It is easy to accord those rights to the guy down the block busted for driving under the influence of alcohol. It is harder to accord those rights to rapists and murderers, but it is possible. Hardest is according those rights to those who admit to wanting to bring an entire nation to its knees by terrorist acts. But if we truly believe in the rule of law, all of those defendants must be entitled to it. There can be no exceptions. None. That is where the rubber meets the road in democracies such as ours.

The real danger to this country is not the so-called terrorists or the actual terrorists being "detained" at the prison camp in Cuba, it is the loss of one of the most integral threads in the fabric of our democracy: the right to a fair trial, one in which all evidence is discoverable, all witnesses available for cross-examination, all charges known. Anything less is a "show trial," the kind the Soviet Union and Latin American countries in the last century were famous for.

Today we honor those who died in war. We are told that they died so that we could be free. If that is truly the case, then we dishonor their lives and their deaths by diminishing that freedom by turning our backs on the basic principles of our Constitution. I want no part of that dishonor.

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Some time ago I went to school in the Washington Elementary School here, and one of my classmates was poor. I remember that he smelled bad. We tried to be kind but only now I realize he had no indoor running water.

When I see him now he pulls a big wastecan that holds his earthly belongings. Sometimes we greet each other. He knows I am that girl in his class that once threw a rock in a puddle and it splashed him. He ran after me and hit me and I cried. He was punished but I wasn't.

I want you to read this and know that we don't know how much damage we do when we simply don't understand.

What I said about memorializing goes.

What I feel when I see Lewis needed to be said.

This is my other MEMORIAL.


I Haz A Sad

Memorial Day has been a sad day for me since my older brother died a few years ago. He was in his early sixties and succumbed to complications from Alzheimer's, the same disease that killed our father. In my brother's case, it was the "early-onset" version of the disease, and it moved swiftly, probably accelerated by all the junk he was exposed to during multiple tours in Vietnam. A week after his military funeral (he was career Navy/Sea Bees), his first grandchild was born, a child he never got to hold.

That's one of the reasons I so desperately want stem cell research to continue and to thrive as promised by President Obama during his campaign. I was thrilled that Mr. Obama kept that promise by lifting the inane restrictions imposed by the last administration, but this morning I discovered that the ethical guidelines proposed by the National Institutes for Health will have the opposite effect.

...many proponents have concluded that the plan could have the opposite effect, putting off-limits for federal support much of the research underway, including work that the Bush administration endorsed. "We're very concerned," said Amy Comstock Rick, chief executive of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which has been leading the effort to free up more federal funding for stem cell research. "If they don't change this, very little current research would be eligible. It's a huge issue."

The concern focuses on strict new ethics criteria that the National Institutes of Health has proposed. Advocates of stem cell research say that most of the work currently underway passed close ethical scrutiny but that the procedures varied and usually did not match the details specified in the proposed new guidelines.

"It's not that past practices were shoddy," said Lawrence S. Goldstein, director of the stem cell program at the University of California at San Diego. "But they don't necessarily meet every letter of the new guidelines moving forward. We'd have to throw everything out and start all over again."
[Emphasis added]

Here's one of the problems: the new guidelines are meant to be retroactive. They affect existing research because the rules now being suggested weren't met in precisely the way the rules require, especially when it comes to using stem cell lines from discarded fertility clinic embryos:

The guidelines, for example, require that the documents that couples sign when they agree to donate their embryos for research specify that they were fully informed of other options, such as donating their embryos to other couples instead. Although many clinics offered couples such options, that information was not usually laid out in detail in the written consent forms.

"That information might have been presented in another document. It might have been discussed with the couple but not written," said Sean J. Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology. "But it wasn't necessarily written in the consent document itself."

No one is certain exactly how many stem cell lines exist or how many would comply with the requirements in the guidelines. But a review of the 21 lines that Bush had approved indicates that perhaps just two would be eligible, and that most of the hundreds of others created since then would fall short, Daley and others said.

"If applied retroactively, the proposed guidelines would render ineligible most stem cell lines," said Patrick L. Taylor, deputy counsel at the Boston Children's Hospital, who critiqued the proposed NIH guidelines in a paper published online May 14 in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

In other words, the research of the past eight years would have to be chucked out and researchers would have to start all over again. That makes me crazy.

Do I think it was deliberate on the part of President Obama? Of course not. He has made it clear in all sorts of ways that he intends his administration to support real science, and his actions the past four months are evidence that he is serious in that intention.

I believe that what has happened here is that he has been overly sensitive to the pressure brought by the religious conservatives who want all stem cell research stopped because it requires the destruction of a cluster of embryonic cells. The rules as described in the cited article certainly accomplish that, even if that was not the original intent.

Fortunately, the rules are still in the public comment phase, and the scientific community has weighed in heavily. Hopefully NIH will heed the comments from that community and will redraw the rules so that the past eight years will not be thrown out. We've waited too long for the breakthroughs that research will bring.

It might be too late for my sister and I, should that familial disease hit either of us, but I've got a niece and four nephews who deserve better.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

The Low Road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction.
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Marge Piercy

(From "The Moon Is Always Female")

Memorial To Something Worthwhile

Today we are seeing all sorts of messages about the troops, and I keep hearing about those 'who made the ultimate sacrifice', and I want to know, for what? In my lifetime, the WWII in Europe ended, those troops came home who hadn't died, and back home they found a lot of gratitude.

They built up a country that was the strongest economy for the workers that ever existed. It was a country that was worth the struggle to maintain it. Since that time, policies that fought against living wage and adequate benefits for workers has turned it around, and we have economic disaster. The social security and unemployment programs to keep us through hard time, plans we have paid into, have been borrowed practically out of existence while we bail out the financial industry that has squandered what we earn.

In my lifetime, the wars have been diminishing into policy squabbles. Vietnam was about 'domino theory' and draftees encountered the realities that denied political dogma and turned the public into a war machine; the machine that ended an unproductive war.

Those who died in Vietnam, whose names adorn that dark solemn wall on the mall in D.C. are not claimed to have died to save liberty, or the country, or truth, justice and the American way of life. They died for a mistake. That mistake, and their deaths, would be worth a great deal if they have ended the warmaking push that followed, but they didn't.

We are extricating ourselves now from the War on Iraq, a.k.a. The Great War on Terror, that is a disgrace to our democracy. Lies were used to get a vote from Congress to authorize the ex-cretin in chief to use military power, votes given on the assumption that no one raised to the presidency would stoop to using troops' lives when the simple constraint on trade which was traditional in these events would suffice. The congress was wrong. We had in place as commander in chief some one whose ambitions were purely political, and a war was the way to get where he wanted to go.

When our troops died in Iraq, it achieved nothing for the country, but, rather, worked against it. Our obscene expenditures were death to the economy here at home, and did nothing for the working people here or in Iraq. Contractors reaped fortunes, while the troops received laggard assistance and inadequate arms, provisions, and equipment. Those who died because of these obscene misalocations certainly should be honored by an end to these practices. Yet there are many of the right wing shouting that we have to make sure they didn't die in vain. As that argument goes, we have to keep killing off the troops until we can declare victory. Victory is the establishment of a government in Iraq that represents our own puppet, a government that the Iraqis will never allow. This rorschach model of Iraqi government is a figment of the imagination, and would mean fighting and dying for troops who cannot give the wingnuts what they want without turning against the existing government that we have put in.

On Memorial Day, I would like to see us turn to a profitable use of troops for this country. We need to convert the wasted funds now being lost to public works here, and in service in countries that need assistance such as the Peace Corps represents. We need a commander in chief who will use our government and its forces for the good of this country. That has happened before. The CCC and WPA gave us roads, bridges, Riverwalk, the Providence Zoo: they trained workers to farm and feed themselves, to build their own farms and to sustain their lives. Peace Corps familiarized our own people with places and peoples that they learned to respect, whose institutions they bolstered, to our great credit. Troops do not have to destroy.

We lost few of the work trainees in the works programs of FDR's "New Deal", or in the Peace Corps. Their lives were enhanced, not lost or forever harmed by injuries. Our society gained, and our place in the world was raised.

There is no reason we have to continue a dishonor, a warring tradition that has led to nothing but loss. The powers that keep wars going are harmful to our world and its people.

For Memorial Day, we should dedicate our resources, and particularly human resources, to constructive works. We can be better, and we should start now.

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An End Around

It's no secret that the CIA and other US intelligence gathering agencies are smart enough to figure out ways to get around laws and court rulings that limit the way they prefer to do their business. An article in the NY Times gives yet another example of this intelligence. Because of the backlash against kidnappings, secret prisons, and the use of torture, the CIA is now handing over suspected terrorists to other nations for holding and questioning.

The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to current and former American government officials.

The change represents a significant loosening of the reins for the United States, which has worked closely with allies to combat violent extremism since the 9/11 attacks but is now pushing that cooperation to new limits. ...

Pakistan’s intelligence and security services captured a Saudi suspect and a Yemeni suspect this year with the help of American intelligence and logistical support, Pakistani officials said. The two are the highest-ranking Qaeda operatives captured since President Obama took office, but they are still being held by Pakistan, which has shared information from their interrogations with the United States, the official said.

The current approach, which began in the last two years of the Bush administration and has gained momentum under Mr. Obama, is driven in part by court rulings and policy changes that have closed the secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency, and all but ended the transfer of prisoners from outside Iraq and Afghanistan to American military prisons.
[Emphasis added]

That's quite a nifty arrangement, especially for the CIA. Agents have been forbidden to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the agency has had to shutter its secret "black" prisons in the Middle East and Europe, so now agents assist other countries' intelligence services by sharing information and providing logistical support so that those other countries can do the kidnapping and torturing for them. CIA agents now have clean hands.

Of course, the new arrangement assumes that the information gleaned from the interrogations will be passed on to the CIA by the other nations and that the information is reliable. Those are some shaky assumptions, especially when it comes to Pakistan. It has been clear that at least for the past six years the Pakistani military and its intelligence service has been infiltrated by Taliban sympathizers who obviously have no great love for the US and for the CIA. It's hard to imagine that the information being passed on will not be subverted in some way.

Furthermore, most experts continue to assert that information gathered through the use of torture is itself not particularly reliable. The CIA, using diplomatic channels, is supposed to get assurances from the foreign government that the interrogations will not involve torture, but there is no way to know whether those assurances have any substance to them. In other words, it's the same game, just different players and different stadiums.

What's the answer? Well, it's not really that hard. When, through legitimate intelligence channels, a plot to attack the US is discovered, those involved should be arrested. If that arrest takes place on foreign soil, the US should move for extradition of the miscreant under existing treaties. Once the alleged miscreants are on US soil, they should be charged with the crime (conspiracy, most likely) and given a fair trial in a civilian court with all the attendant legal protections.

I know, I know: that's pre-9/11 thinking. Still, it managed to work for over 200 years. It worked for the first World Trade Center bombing. It even worked for the Oklahoma federal building bombing. There is no reason it shouldn't work today.

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Something Media Just Can't Handle

Just was in a conversation with several commenters over at eschaton, and this was put up from a commenter in Delaware.

Community View by a friend of mine - Socialism Produces Happiness

"Socialism is better than capitalism. So say 20 percent of Americans, and another 27 percent say they can't say which is better, according to an April 9 Rasmussen poll.
There's hope.

When you consider that virtually no newspaper, broadcaster, well-funded think tank, teacher, or anybody's boss or commander ever said something nice about socialism, it's remarkable that only 53 percent of us still favor rule by the moneyed class. Perhaps folks are learning how capitalism sacrifices happiness for individual gain." ar...duces+happiness
Nancy Willing | Homepage | 05.24.09 - 7:03 am | #

The headline of that article Nancy quoted from is; "Capitalism produces rich bankers, but socialism produces happiness".

The reply from el (whose kittens were featured in Friday Catblogging.) -

Nancy, I am all for socialism, but maybe what Europe and other more civilized countries have is just rationalism.

Health care and housing denied to the poor while trillions shore up bad business deals, how can THAT be rational...
el | 05.24.09 - 7:09 am | #

Just think, the mogul horde is doing good just the way the previous maladministration did it. By demonstrating the kind of injustice they do economically, by slanting everything toward the moguls and away from the workers, the moguls show us that they can destroy our economy for themselves as well as every other element. Opinion turns toward positive solutions, away from conservatism's failed policies. It's all good.

Socialism seems to be a concept that the wingnuts think is associated with the violence of Soviet Union Communism, instead of the system that gives a cushion of support to members of society who aren't making it without help at a given time.

Social Security, something I now am collecting after years of paying into it, is one example of socialism. Unemployment insurance is another aspect I have appreciated, and both supported and benefited from.

The concept of taxes collected from everyone that are used to fund education, police, water systems, highways and other social needs - that is socialism. Without that function, we don't have a government. Ultimately, rejecting socialism involves gutting government, since it is the basis of the social contract that justifies our governments. That is the side of condemning 'big government' that the wingnuts try to overlook. Claims that we will lose the freedom to decide on medical treatment if it's supported by government overlooks the insurance companies' limitation of that treatment to what they approve, which is hackled by their profit motif.

It's nice that the electorate is waking up in Rasmussen's opinion taking. There's hope, indeed.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bonus Critter Blogging: Nile Monitor Lizard

(Photograph by Melissa Farlow/NGS and published by National Geographic. Click on the link to learn why these outlanders are causing problems for a Florida military base.)

Some Evidence Of Change

This week's jaunt over to Watching America was another educational excursion. Some of the issues covered include China-US relations, Russia-US movement toward nuclear weapon reduction talks, the swine flu epidemic, and the recent visit of Benjamin Netanyahu to the US.

It was that last issue which I found most interesting because the television coverage I saw earlier this week (the post-meeting "smiley-faces") seemed to imply business as usual between the two countries. My assessment, according to the various articles posted, was wrong. President Obama's policy towards Israel and the Middle East just might be moving toward a more balanced view of that region and its number one problem, something Israel's new Prime Minister must not appreciate.

The article with what I found to be the most cogent analysis of that meeting came from Germany's Berliner Umschau. Written by James Kling (and translated by Watching America), the article has a concise and accurate summary of the complicated issues facing this administration: the two-state solution, right of return, settlements, Jerusalem, and Iran. For that summary alone, the article is worth the read.

What interested me more, however, is Mr. Kling's assessment of what appears to be a shift in approach by the US when it comes to Israel, a shift which just might be possible because of a change in opinion in America itself when it comes to Israel.

Barack Obama is the first American president in a long time to acknowledge that America’s interests don’t necessarily always coincide with Israel’s, and that Israel’s latest hard-line government is now actually acting against America’s interests in the Near East. That fact was brought home to Israel’s new prime minister of six weeks when he visited Obama in Washington. ...

...Because Israel owes its very existence to the U.S., America can’t very well turn its back on it. If an American president were to even consider doing so, he would be committing political suicide. The pro-Israeli American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) openly admits to being a pro-Israel lobby, and it has enormous influence. More importantly, Obama would be unable to count on the Democratic Party, because many members of Congress would be running the risk of losing their seats in the next election if they supported him.

Gradually, however, the atmosphere is changing. People within the government now realize that it is America’s one-sided support for Israel that makes any agreement with the Arabs impossible. And things are changing across the nation itself: If the most recent opinion polls are accurate, a majority of Americans no longer sees U.S.-Israeli interests as congruent; they support a two-state solution, they support the right of return for displaced Palestinians (or at least compensation for them) and they are in favor of allowing Hamas to take part in peace negotiations.

If Mr. Kling is correct, and I do hope he is, President Obama has a real opportunity to move the difficult process along without being seen as sacrificing Israel's very existence. What it will take is real leadership, but, even with all my complaints with Mr. Obama as expressed here since January, I believe he has that quality. He certainly has the right policy team for the issue. Both Secretary of State Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell have the chops for the job and the ear of the President, something that can't be said for the last administration.

So, yes. I am hopeful. I am also cautiously optimistic.

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Stalling Anti-Immigrant Measure

In Austin, TX, the liberals are using a stalling tactic to get anti-immigrant wingers to the table to negotiate on voter ID proposals. In a modification of filibustering, the Dems are talking endlessly on non-controversial bills to waste time.

While the wingers stew, many sponsors of bills that are time sensitive are working to get the voter ID issue out of the way and get on to the business the legislature needs to get done.

Talkative House Democrats used stalling tactics Friday to prevent passage of a voter identification bill they oppose that's scheduled for debate this weekend.

Democrats — who'd warned they would put up a fight to stop the voter ID measure — began talking at length on non-controversial legislation to use up the clock as soon as the day's schedule began. The Legislature adjourns June 1, and a number of bill passage deadlines are arriving in the next few days.

Democrats later pushed to bring up bills out of order so that major legislation would not be jeopardized. Republicans refused and the House continued into the long night of stalling.

The Senate already passed a Republican-pushed bill requiring voters to show a photo ID or two non-photo ID alternatives when they cast a ballot. Democrats say that would prevent people without those forms of identification from voting and suppress turnout. If Democrats are going to stop the legislation, it will have to be in the House, where the chamber is almost evenly divided by party.

Veteran Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, said Democratic opponents of the voter ID bill were trying to pressure fellow lawmakers to negotiate the legislation, in turn threatening scores of unrelated bills. The delay tactic, using the rules to eat up time, is known as "chubbing."

"In lieu of the filibuster, the House chubs," Jones said. "It keeps a lot of bills from being considered, which puts a lot of pressure on the members who have bills they want to pass."

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, leader of the House Democrats, said members of his party were willing to compromise on key legislation but would continue to use parliamentary maneuvers to keep the voter ID bill off the House floor.

"We're not being obstructionists. We're not killing any bills. We're not breaking quorum," Dunnam said. "We're trying to get the House's priorities back in order."

Interestingly, the obstructionism that the wingnuts have used to keep the country from promoting public interests in this case is working in the public's favor. It took a runaway Democratic faction to keep the legislature from redistricting a few years back. If that tactic had succeeded, the public would have better lawmakers and better laws, a result the Gang of Nope just can't stand.

Hopefully, the wingers will take another look at their priorities, and let a little public interest prevail for a change. When working with ideologically hidebound elements such as exist in the flyover lands, sometimes reason is just counter-productive and makes them mad.

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Real World Change

The Secretary of Energy is struggling to get the U.S. going in the right direction after much too long spent with the powers of government aimed at a target of profits for oil company forces. His aims are those we all share, a better and more survivable world. To get there, he has to get through a congress that has long-established enemies of the popular interest ingrained in its innermost recesses.

My area representative in Congress is among the worst. Rep. Ralph Hall makes no pretense of putting his constituents' interest in the place of honor when he exercises the powers of congressional office.

To get through the gauntlet of oil company representatives, Secretary Chu is trying by starting with achievable goals. In a time when climate change is a growing threat, that has brought a lot of criticism.

The American political system is in the throes of a fierce battle over climate policy. President Barack Obama says he wants cuts in greenhouse gases but has left it to Congress to make the political running.

The House of Representatives is debating a climate and energy bill but even if it passes it may be rejected by senators, many of whom are funded by the energy industry.

Prof Chu is a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a world expert on clean energy. But he said it was impossible to ignore political reality.

"With each successive year the news on climate change has not been good and there's a growing sensation that the world and the US in particular has to get moving," he said.

If you could convert (with photovoltaic cells) 20% of the Sun's energy into electricity you would need 5% of the world's deserts. This is not much land
Steven Chu, US Energy Secretary

"As someone very concerned about climate I want to be as aggressive as possible but I also want to get started. And if we say we want something much more aggressive on the early timescales that would draw considerable opposition and that would delay the process for several years.

The US energy secretary said that awareness of climate tipping points had increased greatly only in the past five years. He added: "But if I am going to say we need to do much, much better I am afraid the US won't get started."
Damon Moglen from Greenpeace USA was alarmed by Prof Chu's comments. "Obama has had something of a honeymoon with environmentalists," he said.

"But we are getting very concerned. Professor Chu is a good man and a good scientist, but the science on global warming is clear and he should be guided by the science not the politics...When asked whether he was frustrated, he (Chu) said: "No, I am realistic about the politics and as in time we can make adjustments."

In the best of all possible worlds, considerations of personal gain would never come before the interests of humanity as a whole. Needless to say, this is not that world. Working within the bounds of reality may sometimes verge on defeat of the best. The new administration operates as an effective and rational voice for concerns that were shut out for the previous maladministration, and has much lost ground to make up for.

Trying to do everything at once would make our hearts glad, but would make the way rockier to achieving the ends we desperately need. Secretary Chu has the towering intellect to qualify for the office he holds, which has a huge struggle ahead of it.

Maybe Diane can lend him that Feng Shui kit I sent her when she had a broken arm.

This administration has many struggles ahead of it, and will need all the energy and intelligence we voted for to get through the obstacles which constitute the right wing.

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Growing The Numbers

Former Vice President Cheney, the man who spent most of the eight years of the Bush administration out of sight, has been quite visible the last several months. Mr. Cheney appears to be on some kind of crusade, one that will revise history to show that the Bush administration's repeal of basic civil liberties and its use of torture were justified. Such a crusade requires plenty of publicity, and the press has been quite willing to provide it. The problem is that Mr. Cheney keeps increasing the drama by citing numbers that cannot be verified, a problem that the press has finally noticed, as evidenced by this article in the Los Angeles Times.

Twice in the last two weeks -- including during his speaking duel with President Obama on Thursday -- Cheney has said that the Bush administration's approach may have saved "hundreds of thousands" of lives.

It is a claim that goes beyond anything Cheney or former President George W. Bush said while in office -- crediting their approach with preventing casualties on a scale that the United States has not seen since World War II.

But terrorism experts said that though it is possible to envision scenarios that involve casualties of that magnitude, no evidence has emerged about the plots disrupted during the Bush administration to suggest that Cheney's claim is true.
[Emphasis added]

The lack of evidence to back up his assertions certainly didn't stop Mr. Cheney from making even more outrageous claims: his second reference to six-figure casualties, Cheney went further, saying that those lives were saved as a direct result of the CIA's use of waterboarding and other so-called "enhanced" interrogation methods.

"The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results," Cheney said in his speech Thursday, "because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people."

None of those the US kidnapped and tortured provided the kind of useful information that Mr. Cheney is hinting at because they couldn't, as Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, pointed out:

"No matter how you slice this, it's very hard to get to the hundred thousand figure unless Al Qaeda had a nuclear weapon," Hoffman said. "Which they didn't."

It is unlikely that such facts will stop Mr. Cheney's crusade, however, especially since the media continue to provide the former vice-president and members of his family with platforms and microphones. At least now, fortunately, some members of the press are beginning to do their jobs by pointing to the emperor's state of undress.

Perhaps there are some grounds for hope after all.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Catblogging

el's pooch, Pumpkin, shows that guardian character in Sheltie blood, and guards those kitties. Of course, we hope the poor dear doesn't try herding them - which is also in character, but not for cats.

el's new kittens are practicing their aim, good kitties! And they all have homes in their futures.


Growing Families In Our Future

In times of pinched finances and meltdown of working people's budgets, what would make the State Legislature in Texas pump up the number of mouths to feed? In case you haven't guessed by now, the answer is right wing ideology.

In its usual courtship of the far right mantra - birth control is evil - our state has been cutting funding for family planning clinics. That doesn't include just those clinics that offer abortions in cases where it is a medical necessity. All that qualifies family planning as an object of aversion is its name. If Texans want to keep their family size within their budget, courtesy of their wingnut fellow voters, they won't have sufficient help from their own state funds.

Clinics that have been providing family-planning services find themselves on the losing end of a fight over how the state can best provide birth control, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and other services.

Patrice Capan said her Denton clinic was effectively performing complete physical exams on patients such as Azucena Perez - until the state cut her funding.

And many clinic operators and their advocates see anti-abortion politics at work, though lawmakers who have reorganized the state's family-planning budget say their goal is to provide more comprehensive health care, not push an agenda.

Over the last four years, lawmakers have diverted millions of dollars from the specialty clinics such as Planned Parenthood to expand family-planning services at community health centers, which provide a broader range of services. In the current legislative session, lawmakers may give back some money to the specialty clinics – but only what's left unused by the health centers.

That leaves clinic operators like Patrice Capan hurting. She's dedicated her career to providing reproductive health care to uninsured Denton patients. But since the budget changes were first implemented, she's had to slash services and shutter one of her two clinics, turning away hundreds of poor patients.

"This has been heartbreaking," Capan said. "It's just a constant hustle to see what I can offer – and then hope it works."

Many public health experts say clinics such as Capan's have a clear track record as providing more efficient and effective reproductive care.
Texas isn't the only state that's struggled over how best to fund family-planning services. A 2000 study on family planning in California – published in the Journal of Adolescent Health – found that women with many health care options continued to go to specialized reproductive care clinics like Planned Parenthood, saying they found them more convenient, comfortable and confidential.

Capan said her 21-year-old clinic, Denton-based Family Health Care Inc., was effectively performing complete physical exams – until the state cut her funding. Now, she can't afford to run urine, iron and blood sugar testing. And she's had to put patients on waiting lists for certain types of birth control, because she doesn't have the money.

Money that has been taken from us taxpayers - who would rather not see the number of families living in poverty grow - has been left unused by the community health clinics. While we can depend on those legislators vying for the spotlight to protect to the death the right to bear arms, now on campus, we will be granted even more impoverished families to support.

This is the state legislature at its finest, as in using stimulus funds the governor berates to repair the mansion he lives in; A total of $22 million — half of that in federal stimulus money — has been allocated in a budget compromise to restore the fire-gutted Texas Governor's Mansion, legislative leaders said Thursday. Somehow I doubt that the plaque thanking donors for funds to restore the burned building will attribute its restoration to President Obama's beneficence and/or public spirit.

The attacks on family planning in Dallas has led to increased numbers of those suffering from AIDs. As a result of this result of ideology's triumph over good sense, local government has backed off the nonsense and allowed health care workers finally to distribute condoms. Sometimes the expenses they burden the public coffers with are stupid enough to push back wingers' extremism. This would be a good time for that to happen on a statewide basis.

Do we really need to push the numbers of children born into poverty upwards? No one can see this as a benefit to society. When ideology interferes with the perception of reality held by those in power, we get disaster.

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A New Tool In The Tool Kit

Here's my nomination for the ugliest story of the day. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have found a new way to deport immigrants, one that abuses the court system to ICE advantage:

Fernando Arteaga appeared last week in Immigration Court as part of a lengthy battle to stay in the United States. But just before the hearing began, immigration officers removed him from the courtroom, arrested him and took him into custody.

Several hours later, agents deported him to Mexico -- even though his court case was still underway. ...

Arteaga, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was deported in 1988 based on an assault conviction and sneaked back across the border soon after. In 2003, he was arrested by immigration officials but was released from detention after paying a bond. The immigration agency gave him a notice to appear in court. For the last six years, he had been fighting to stay in the country based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. The couple have three U.S.-born children.

Arteaga's attorney, Mario Acosta Jr., said that moments after his client was arrested May 11, he went into the courtroom and explained what had happened. The judge issued a stay of deportation, Acosta said, but the immigration agency ignored the order and deported Arteaga anyway.

The chain of events is interesting. When Mr. Arteaga was arrested for illegally re-entering the US after being deported, he was allowed to post a bond, then ordered to appear in court in a case which ICE officials initiated. After years of fighting to stay in the US, Mr. Arteaga showed up for a court hearing, was arrested, and then deported even after the judge hearing the case issued a stay of deportation.

There are a couple of rather clear lessons here. The first is that if you are an illegal immigrant you only get due process once in a life time. After that, you are fair game for the government. It gets to do as it chooses, including manipulating the court system to set you up.

The second lesson flows from the first. The executive branch of the government, in this case ICE, trumps the judicial branch. The Unitary Executive theory of the last administration made that clear, and apparently this administration is going to operate under that theory if this episode is any indication.

Some change, eh?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday Birdblogging

Hairy Woodpecker, courtesy of 1Watt Hermit

The larger of two look alikes, the Hairy Woodpecker is a small but powerful bird that forages along trunks and main branches of large trees. It wields a much longer bill than the Downy Woodpecker's almost thornlike bill. Hairy Woodpeckers have a somewhat soldierly look, with their erect, straight-backed posture on tree trunks and their cleanly striped heads. Look for them at backyard suet or sunflower feeders, and listen for them whinnying from woodlots, parks, and forests.

Cool fact: Hairy Woodpeckers find their food by feeling the vibrations made by insects moving about in the wood. They also can hear the insects munch on the wood!

1Watt Hermit has a delightful Flickr site with many shots of the birds he watches through his window. I chose one but recommend them all, and recommend you try watching some in your own yard too.