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June 18, 2005
June 17, 2005
Best website ever
Time, prepare to be wasted.
June 16, 2005
(Most of) my co-bloggers have sites of their own, where you'll often find things they haven't cross-posted here, so don't forget to drop in on them at home from time to time: Billmon, Jeanne, Greg, and of course Bob.
Kudos to Durbin
The wingnuts are in a tizzy because he had the courage to speak the truth:
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]--I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
Life's little mysteries
It's always amazing to me, how you can have all the connections laid out, all the conflicts of interest, all the reasons that what Expert X says or Study Y "proves" may actually not be all that trustworthy--and yet, people will refuse to acknowledge even the possibility of doubt, holding firm to their faith in Expert X or Study Y. Now, this is fine when it's a question of whether or not eating potato chips makes you fat, or whether blondes truly have more fun--but when it's a question of "knowing" that Saddam is developing nuclear weapons, or "knowing" that injecting children with mercury is perfectly safe...I can only scratch my head...
First, do no harm
An absolute must-read article by Robert Kennedy Jr:
In June 2000, a group of top government scientists and health officials gathered for a meeting at the isolated Simpsonwood conference center in Norcross, Ga. Convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meeting was held at this Methodist retreat center, nestled in wooded farmland next to the Chattahoochee River, to ensure complete secrecy. The agency had issued no public announcement of the session -- only private invitations to 52 attendees. There were high-level officials from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, the top vaccine specialist from the World Health Organization in Geneva, and representatives of every major vaccine manufacturer, including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Wyeth and Aventis Pasteur. All of the scientific data under discussion, CDC officials repeatedly reminded the participants, was strictly "embargoed." There would be no making photocopies of documents, no taking papers with them when they left.
And then there's this:
In fact, the government has proved to be far more adept at handling the damage than at protecting children's health. The CDC paid the Institute of Medicine to conduct a new study to whitewash the risks of thimerosal, ordering researchers to "rule out" the chemical's link to autism. It withheld Verstraeten's findings, even though they had been slated for immediate publication, and told other scientists that his original data had been "lost" and could not be replicated. And to thwart the Freedom of Information Act, it handed its giant database of vaccine records over to a private company, declaring it off-limits to researchers. By the time Verstraeten finally published his study in 2003, he had gone to work for GlaxoSmithKline and reworked his data to bury the link between thimerosal and autism.
This issue makes me unspeakably angry. It's been clear for some time that the possibility of a linkage between thimerosol and autism exists. Whether or not we have 100% absolute surefire proof of that linkage--if the possibility exists, then for god's sake, you don't take the risk with children's lives. You don't wait for absolute proof to stop this practice--you insist on absolute proof of its safety before it is allowed to continue.
But instead, some unholy alliance of bottom-line Big Pharma, lapdog politicians and arrogant physicians conspired to keep this information from the public.
From the parents of small children.
First do no harm, my ass.
* * *
So how has Doctor Frist responded?
The drug companies are also getting help from powerful lawmakers in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has received $873,000 in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, has been working to immunize vaccine makers from liability in 4,200 lawsuits that have been filed by the parents of injured children. On five separate occasions, Frist has tried to seal all of the government's vaccine-related documents -- including the Simpsonwood transcripts -- and shield Eli Lilly, the developer of thimerosal, from subpoenas. In 2002, the day after Frist quietly slipped a rider known as the "Eli Lilly Protection Act" into a homeland security bill, the company contributed $10,000 to his campaign and bought 5,000 copies of his book on bioterrorism. Congress repealed the measure in 2003 -- but earlier this year, Frist slipped another provision into an anti-terrorism bill that would deny compensation to children suffering from vaccine-related brain disorders. "The lawsuits are of such magnitude that they could put vaccine producers out of business and limit our capacity to deal with a biological attack by terrorists," says Andy Olsen, a legislative assistant to Frist.
In an accompanying article, a parent/activist further discusses Doctor Frist's response to the issue:
Although we met with Senator Rick Santorum briefly, his staff was condescending and patronizing, and made statements that were simply untrue, like there was no scientific evidence that linked mercury in vaccines to autism. And without telling us, they invited Senator Bill Frist's people into the meeting. They were observing the interaction very closely. Senators Frist and Santorum are co-sponsors of a new bill that, under the guise of protecting America in the war against terror, would go so far as to say that states cannot regulate vaccines or warn people of their potential dangers. It would shield vaccine makers from lawsuits.
So Doctor Frist doesn't believe that states should even have the ability to warn people of the potential dangers of vaccines. And as we now know, his diagnosis-by-video of Terri Schiavo simply couldn't have been more wrong. In both instances, Doctor Frist is putting politics, ideology and campaign cash ahead of his basic duties as a medical professional. So when does this son of a bitch get called out on the carpet by his fellow doctors?
Republicans are relentless
They're like the zombies in Dawn of the Dead. Stop one at the door, you've got five more clawing through the window. They just never give up. And of course, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is one of the things they've had in their sights forever, and as you're certainly aware, a relentless clawing zombie named Ken Tomlinson is currently doing his best to bring that institution down from the inside. And using CPB's own money to do it, apparently:
Investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are examining $15,000 in payments to two Republican lobbyists last year that were not disclosed to the corporation's board, people involved in the inquiry said on Wednesday.
June 15, 2005
There was a bit of a delay due to some production problems, but Sparky and Blinky are starting to ship.
Have I mentioned that they're huge?
(Blinky's not in this shot, obviously... I'll put up more photos of both when I get a chance.)
Getting Serious About Illegal Labor
It's a tough choice, but if I had to pick a favorite fire-breathing, immigrant-baiting blowhard, I'd have to go with Lou Dobbs. Why? Because if you can look past the way he sneers the words "illegal aliens" you can find the occasional story that really deserves more attention :
DOBBS: The influx of illegal aliens into this country has reached nothing short of a crisis as we report here almost nightly. Since the federal government has failed absolutely to deal with the issue of illegal immigration and border security, my next guest proposes his own plan to handle what he calls the imminent invasion from Mexico. Robert Vasquez is commissioner of Canyon County, Idaho. He wants to sue the people who hire illegal aliens. That plan would make Canyon County, Idaho, the only local government in this country to use federal racketeering statutes against people who employ illegal aliens.Damn right. Of course, big business loves the invisible hand as long as they're talking about cutting the costs of environmental and labor regulations, but there always seems to be a "pro-business" politician ready to save the day for a company that can't survive when they're forced to obey the law. Economic Darwinism gets about as much respect as the other kind these days....
More to the point, it's troubling that discussion of immigration issues is dominated by protectionists and xenophobes because there's a serious problem here that needs to be addressed. Of course, the President proposed his own solution last year :
Allowing undocumented workers, who make up an unknown percentage of the approximately 8 million illegal immigrants now in the United States, to work legally here would benefit all Americans, Bush argued. He said it would make the nation's borders more secure by allowing officials to focus more on the real threats to the country and would meet U.S. employers' dire need for workers willing to take the low-wage, low-skill jobs unwanted by many Americans.Don't get me wrong, I'm no immigration hawk. The way I see it, somebody who comes to a country where they don't know the language, lives in an overcrowded apartment with their extended family, and works for next to nothing in a horrible work environment has worked harder to achieve the American dream than I ever have. But at the same time, there does need to be a system in place to keep immigration at a reasonable level and ensure that people who "play by the rules" don't get screwed.
But that's not what the President proposed. His plan is just a sneaky attempt to legalize a whole segment of the labor market that should be illegal. Lou Dobb's guest, on the other hand, understands that when it comes to illegal workers, it's the employers who are the bad guys here. They're the ones who have been working around the system of worker protections that have been put in place over last hundred years. The workers themselves are generally making below minimum wage, aren't getting benefits or overtime pay, work in hazardous environments, aren't allowed to form a union, etc. These are the crappy jobs the President wants to legalize.
Conservatives love to write these jobs off as "unwanted by many Americans" as if to paint us all as a bunch of sissies who are afraid to get our hands dirty or break a sweat when the reality is that average Americans don't want these jobs because (a) we've got a greater awareness of our rights under the law than most illegal immigrants, (b) since we're here legally we're harder to blackmail, and (c) it's nearly impossible to make a decent living off a low-wage job. Beggars can't be choosers, after all, and the GOP elite hopes to keep it that way.
If you want to control illegal immigration, an important place to start is in disrupting the basic principle that provides for business demand for cheap, disposable labor with a supply of workers who enter this country illegally. If businesses were forced to adhere to the labor laws that are already on the books, this wouldn't be a problem. Instead, we've got a domino-effect where one employer breaks the law (ie. Wal-Mart) and is able to undercut the competition so much that the business community makes the argument that the need to break the law in order to stay competitive.
It's a bullshit argument, but don't forget that we're living in Bizarro world now. The best way to respond to rampant law breaking is to get rid of those pesky laws before they hurt anyone's feelings. You gotta problem with it? Well, write out your complaint in the memo portion of a check made out to the Republican party and cross your fingers.
1 : Yes, even more than Pat Buchanan.
2 : Which is, admittedly, a very difficult thing to do.
3 : This is a archetypical example, of course.
4 : If this all sounds familiar it's because I'm plagiarizing myself from this post.
5 : I've said it before and I'll say it again : Republicans are elitists.
6 : It's this "dire need" to break that law to which the President is so receptive.
Shooting the messenger
Just out of curiosity, why do conservatives think independent human rights and humanitarian organizations have suddenly and inexplicably become so anti-American? It can't, of course, be anything we've done, so what force has suddenly caused them all to lose their way?
Another way to outsource torture
I think it's safe to say that the main purpose of extraordinary rendition is to put some distance between us and the most heinous forms of torture, and still get its benefits (and the benefits, I believe, have more to do with intimidation than information.) But it's not just a matter of picking up Canadian citizens and shipping them off to Syria. It's pretty obvious that we're doing something very similar within Iraq, helping Iraqi security essentially conduct a dirty war -- but with enough distance between what they're doing and our involvement to create deniablity if no one looks too closely (and not many people will.)
That was the gist of Peter Maass's New York Times Magazine cover story last month on human rights abuses committed by Iraqi commandos -- some of them Saddam's retooled thugs -- working with American soldiers. If we can't get any accountability for crimes committed by the American military, how much harder is it when the crimes are committed by others while our soldiers conveniently look the other way?
The issue is back in today's Washington Post, which reports that minority Arabs and Turkomen in Kirkuk are being seized by security units led by Kurdish political parties, imprisoned and tortured. And it's not just suspected insurgents, but also political and economic rivals. In at least one case, the family of a prisoner claims the Kurdish police are holding their family member for ransom.The US military denies involvement. Indeed, the head American military adviser to the provincial government says he has tried to stop the abductions. And the State Department has expressed concern. But the abductions are being carried out by forces "closely allied with the U.S. military." The head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Kirkuk, who considers the illegal imprisonments a "normal procedure," says that they take place with the " complete cooperation" of the American military. According to a State Department cable, Turkomen in Kirkuk believe the U.S. tolerates the Kurds' actions; Arabs believe we're directly responsible.
One prisoner's story contains an odd and disturbing detail:
Civilian clothes and flak jackets? That sounds more like private "contractors" -- can we just be politically incorrect and go directly to the word mercenaries now? -- rather than U.S. military. Is it possible that when our military says it's not involved, it is, technically and sporadically, telling the truth, but that what is happening -- private armies, who basically answer to no one for crimes committed, working with Kurdish political parties bent on power and revenge -- is even more frightening?
We put warning labels on cigarette packs because we know that smoking takes one to two years off the average life span, yet we 'celebrate' a [gay] lifestyle that we know spreads every kind of sexually transmitted disease and takes at least 20 years off the average life span according to the 2005 issue of the revered scientific journal Psychological Reports. Something is wrong with this picture.
Rev. Bill Banuchi
(Via Rox Populi)
Nazi concentration camp badges, made primarily of inverted triangles, were used in the concentration camps in the Nazi-occupied countries to identify the reason the prisoners had been placed there. The shape was chosen by analogy with the common triangular road hazard signs in Germany that denote warnings to motorists.
The Cameron group has published its empirical research in academic journals with low prestige and, at least in the case of Psychological Reports, with a low rejection rate and a publication fee required from authors. Given the serious methodological flaws . . . it is reasonable to conclude that the Cameron group's papers would have been rejected by more prestigious scientific journals.
Dr. Gregory M. Herek
In Nazi Germany, national or public health — Volksgesundheit — took complete precedence over individual health care. Physicians and medically trained academics, many of whom were proponents of "racial hygiene," or eugenics, legitimized and helped to implement Nazi policies aiming to "cleanse" German society of people viewed as biologic threats to the nation's health.
New England Journal of Medicine
June 14, 2005
Not much blogging from your host, as you may have noticed--or maybe not, given the quality of the new co-bloggers. I don't have as good an excuse as Bob, though. Go wish him a speedy recovery.
Fish and cigarettes
Either Mr. Hunter is talking out of the wrong orifice, M.C. and both the guards and interrogators at Guantánamo are lying, or for some reason we're being terribly careful about the sensitivity and nutritional needs of terrorists, and focusing all our brutality on children.
You decide what makes the most sense.
UPDATE: Apparently they get chicken too. You absolutely must watch this video!
Lelyveld on torture
I fully intended to write about Joseph Lelyveld's Sunday New York Times Magazine piece on torture yesterday, but real life intervened, as it loves to do. But Chris, at bookof days, has written a long and thoughtful analysis of the piece, which will also work as a solid summary if you don't have time to read the whole of Lelyveld's long article.
Chris hits on exactly the things that I admired and appreciated about the piece, and the things that frustrated me. Of the former, the most obvious is the acknowledgment that a significant percentage of
I think it needs to be emphasized, though, that this isn't a matter of lack of professionalism, or interrogations out of control and hitting the wrong people. It's the nature of the beast. It's all well and good to say that this is a tool that will only be used on the most recalcitrant people in possession of the most urgently needed information, but that assumes that anyone really knows who those people are and what they know. The fact is -- and it's been true throughout history, but we've been given a crash course in the principle in the past couple of years -- once you give anyone this tool, once you say that you can do anything to a person if you think he or she knows something you need to know, it's inevitable that when the tool is used, it will have less to do with who the victim is and what he or she knows, than with the frustration level of the torturers and their bosses, or even the release of aspects of human nature that should never be released. Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with going after terrorists who possessed urgently needed information, and everything to do with frustration over the lack of actionable intelligence for fighting insurgents. Dilawar seems to have been arrested at a time when any poor schlump would do for a scapegoat, and murdered because he was held in a place where sadism was acceptable.
It is impossible to practice and encourage torture, including what Lelyveld calls "torture lite," without sadism becoming acceptable, without "the Monster" -- as one of the interrogators at Bagram, where Dilawar was murdered, was called -- becoming the local hero. The best in a profession stand out. That is not always a good thing.
In the face of that brutal reality, it seems seems bizarrely obtuse to focus much attention on the possibility that under some circumstances that as far as anyone can tell have never been faced, torture might be necessary. In an intriguing twist, idealists are honestly facing reality. It's the people who see themselves as hard-headed realists who are building a home in Cloud Cuckoo Land, fantasizing and philosophizing about what has never been.
And that's why ultimately I found Lelyveld's piece frustrating. I don't understand how you can acknowledge that torture is at least as likely to be used on the innocent as the guilty, and that -- as the
There's some subtlety there, and I hope I'm not misunderstanding Leleyveld's point, but it seems to be that since we can imagine a possibility in which breaking the law might be the right thing to do, the law should stretch itself to accommodate what is obviously both wrong and counterproductive -- just in case.
And in the name of that "just in case," a fourteen-year-old boy ends up hanging by his wrists, with a burning cigarette pressed into his arm.
Because in Cloud Cuckoo Land, anything can be imagined, and everything is possible.
I finally got around to reading Michael Kinsley's feeble attempt to dismiss the Downing Street Memo as a conspiracy theory pushed by the loony left -- i.e. by liberals who aren't domesticated enough to be proper corporate lap dogs. Not a charge anyone is likely to make against Kinsley.
At this late date I won't bother repeating or deflating Kinsley's points, except to note the complete contradiction between this passage:
Developing a paranoid theory and promoting it to the very edge of national respectability takes a certain amount of ideological self-confidence.
And this one:
You don't need a secret memo to know [the intelligence was being fixed.] Just look at what was in the newspapers on July 23, 2002, and the day before.
As I mentioned earlier, the latter argument is one the rest of the media poodles have been barking for weeks: "It was old news." "Everybody knew about it at the time." "We were having trouble with our flea collars."
Or, if you're the Associated Press: "We just never got around to it."
However, according to Kinsley, what everybody knew three years ago is a paranoid theory now, albeit one promoted to "the very edge of national respectability."
You have to admit: He's got us coming and going. By insisting that the media cover the story of Bush's illegal rush to aggressive war, we've demonstrated we're just a bunch of unreasonable extremists peddling a paranoid conspiracy theory -- one that "everybody" already knows is true.
How can you argue with logic like that?
June 13, 2005
Your Tax Dollars at Work
I have a very long post -- far too long to repost here -- up at Whiskey Bar that looks at some fairly creepy dealings in the Pentagon's propaganda budget for Iraq.
For some time now, one of my pet suspicions has been that the Pentagon's psywar budget is also a hidden piggy bank and R&D laboratory for the GOP's own political propaganda operations here at home. However, until now I've had absolutely nothing I could point at as evidence -- except for some veiled hints in Rumsfeld's original plan for an "Office of Strategic Influence," which in turn led to "Son of the Office of Strategic Influence."
That changed yesterday, though, after I read about the Pentagon's new $300 million propaganda contract for Iraq:
The Pentagon awarded three contracts this week, potentially worth up to $300 million over five years, to companies it hopes will inject more creativity into its psychological operations efforts to improve foreign public opinion about the United States, particularly the military.
When I did a quick background check on one of the three contractors involved (a firm I had never heard of before) I came across enough curiosities -- sinister curiosities -- to put at least a few scraps of flesh on the bones of my suspicions. To cut to the chase:
We have a tiny start-up venture, controlled by persons unknown, that suddenly materializes in late 2003 doing "private equity" deals in the middle of a war zone, and then obtains a huge PR contract from the Pentagon, and then hires a bunch of unemployed GOP campaign operatives to execute that contract, and then is absorbed by a shadowy DC company that specializes in corporate and political detective work and that may have close ties to both the Republican Party and the intelligence community, which then is awarded an even bigger contract to produce even more Pentagon propaganda.
Maybe that's just the way business is done in George Bush's government. But you don't have to have too much of a taste for paranoid conspiracy theories to imagine scenarios in which those kind of contracting relationships could prove very useful for the Bush administration and the GOP machine.
Details at the Whiskey Bar.
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