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June 24, 2005

Billmon:
Lost Cause

Now that Karl Rove's recent comments have been thoroughly chewed, swallowed and digested by the political blogosphere, maybe it's time to consider what they imply about America's prospects in the war on terrorism.

To me, they suggest it may be time to brush up on my Arabic.

If Rove really believes what he said -- and we've had absolutely no indication from the GOP politburo that he didn't -- then it would appear the Cheney administration has concluded the war is already lost. Logically, the White House should be considering what kind of surrender terms to seek from Osama bin Ladin.

Think about it. In effect, Rove has accused liberals of trying to undermine (to use Bill O'Reilly's term) the war effort, either out of their blind hatred of Cheney and his presidential surrogate, their secret allegiance to Al Qaeda, or both. And of course because of their loathing for America and freedom -- but that goes without saying.

This is taking an extraordinarily bleak view of the war situation. I'm looking at the results of the latest New York Times-CBS poll, which show that 20% of the Americans surveyed freely and voluntarily identified themselves as liberals. That's not too far below the 28% who identified themselves as Republicans (i.e. patriots).

Granted, the number of self-confessed liberals was down somewhat from the 23% who admitted to the same sin back in February. But that still means that approximately one in five Americans is a traitor and/or terrorist sympathizer!

By my rough calculation, that adds up to over 59 million potential spies and saboteurs (although that number admittedly includes young children, who might be useful as smugglers and suicide bombs, but probably aren't as dangerous as your hardcore liberal movie makers -- Michael Moore, for example.)

I don't think history holds any example of a nation that has survived for long with so many internal enemies plotting against it. Even in Germany, the number of dedicated Bolsheviks, Jews and Freemasons actively involved in stabbing the troops in the back probably never amounted to more than 15% of the population -- and I'm throwing the Gypsies into the mix, too.

Personally, I think it's reckless -- if not defeatist -- for Rove and the rest of the Republican high command to be talking about this perilous situation in public. If Americans learn the truth, if they realize that one in five of their fellow citizens (their doctor? their garbage man? their hairdresser?) is a liberal fifth columnist working for Osama, they could become demoralized. They might lose confidence in their leaders, in the party, and in America's ultimate victory -- despite the new miracle weapons that surely will turn the tide any day now.

Such a blow would be far worse than whatever damage the liberals themselves could do to the fatherland. In fact, if I didn't know better, I might suspect that Rove himself is deliberately trying to sabotage the war effort. I might almost think that he's a liberal mole, sent by bin Ladin to sow confusion and hatred and disunity among the American people.

Those liberal fiends really are capable of anything, you know.

Jeanne d'Arc:
Kidnapping in Italy

Well, this is getting interesting.

A few months ago, I wrote about a controversy in Italy over the CIA's apparent abduction of  an Egyptian imam in Milan. The man was rendered to Egypt, where he was reportedly tortured.

Today, an Italian judge's office announced that he has ordered the arrest of  13 CIA agents involved in the kidnapping. Newsday doesn't give any information about the identity of the agents, other than that they were all American, but Corriere dell Sera reports that one was the former head of the CIA station in Milan, identified in another article as "Bob" --  Robert Seldon Lady -- who in recent months was "improvvisamente sostituito" -- suddenly replaced.

You can't say the CIA didn't see this one coming.

Italian authorities are expected to ask for help from both the United States and Egypt in the case. I'm not exactly expecting to see any CIA agents extradicted, but the story itself says a lot, even if nothing comes of it.

Corriere also adds some interesting details:

  • An Egyptian woman witnessed the kidnapping and says that two men, who spoke Italian and wore Italian police uniforms, blocked Abu Omar. In one article, Corriere suggests that they were posing as Italians, in another that they may demonstrate Italian complicity.

  • After the kidnapping the cell phone of the presumed leader of the raid called the US consulate in Milan and the personal cell phone of "Bob." He later dialed a number of a colonel at the Aviano Air Base, apparently to avoid controls by Italian military.

  • That evening, at 6:20,  a plane presumed to belong to the CIA  took off for Ramstein, German. At 8:30, a second plane -- this one -- left for Cairo. At midnight, the leader of the raid called from Italy to a reserved number in Virginia (presumably Langley) and said that the mission was accomplished.

  • Robert Seldon Lady had previously been on a mission in Central America, but the article isn't clear about where. He was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He became section chief of the CIA in Milan in 2000.

  • He went to Egypt to observe the interrogation of Abu Omar at Al Tora prison. The Italian police have cell phone records of his calls from Cairo a few days after the kidnapping.

All of that comes from my rusty Italian, so I'm going to hunt for some reporting on this in English (or someone whose Italian is better than mine.) But this looks to me like a pretty damning story, if it gets reported.

Fasten your seatbelts. And keep your eye on the rear view mirror. Those concerns we left behind are getting closer.

Tom Tomorrow:
Hmmm...

Make of this what you will:

US acknowledges torture at Guantanamo; in Iraq, Afghanistan - UN 06.24.2005, 11:37 AM

GENEVA (AFX) - Washington has, for the first time, acknowledged to the United Nations that prisoners have been tortured at US detention centres in Guantanamo Bay, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, a UN source said.

The acknowledgement was made in a report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, said a member of the ten-person panel, speaking on on condition of anonymity.

'They are no longer trying to duck this and have respected their obligation to inform the UN,' the Committee member said.

'They they will have to explain themselves (to the Committee). Nothing should be kept in the dark,' he said.

UN sources said this is the first time the world body has received such a frank statement on torture from US authorities.

The Committee, which monitors respect for the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, is gathering information from the US ahead of hearings in May 2006.

Signatories of the convention are expected to submit to scrutiny of their implementation of the 1984 convention and to provide information to the Committee.

The document from Washington will not be formally made public until the hearings.

Update: this makes more sense when you read the entire article on Yahoo News, rather than Forbes' truncated version. Picking up where the above leaves off:

"They haven't avoided anything in their answers, whether concerning prisoners in Iraq, in Afghanistan or Guantanamo, and other accusations of mistreatment and of torture," the Committee member said.

"They said it was a question of isolated cases, that there was nothing systematic and that the guilty were in the process of being punished."

The US report said that those involved were low-ranking members of the military and that their acts were not approved by their superiors, the member added.

In other words, just a few bad apples...


Tom Tomorrow:
Weldon

I'm listening to Curt Weldon talk about his new Regnery tome on an NPR show called Radio Times, and I have to say, somebody needs to cut back on the caffeine. I've been shouted at by lunatics on the subway who sounded more rational than this guy.

Jeanne d'Arc:
Ethics in unethical places

Last summer, an article in the Lancet charged that doctors at Abu Ghraib knew about the abuse that was going on, and aided the process by not providing adequate care, and by helping to design physically and psychologically coercive interrogations. They also helped cover it up by falsifying medical records and death certificates.That aspect of the scandal is rarely mentioned, because it doesn't fit in the bad apple container.

At about the same time, the Washington Post reported that doctors at Guantanamo were sharing prisoners' medical records with interrogators. The Red Cross had complained that  the information was used to develop interrogation plans. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the prison at the time of the complaints, denied the allegations.

Next month, an article will be published in the New England Journal of Medicine charging that doctors and mental health professionals didn't just hand over the records, they used the information to help interrogators develop methods of interrogation:

All of the evidence is fitting together into a pattern: in a systemic fashion, health information and clinical judgment played a role in developing interrogation strategies that included some pretty harsh abuses," Mr. Bloche said.

According to the NEJM, there is a  standing order, dated August, 2002, and signed by Richard A. Huck, at that time Chief of Staff of the U.S. Southern Command, which says that there is no medical confidentiality for prisoners. The DOD memo requires medical personnel not only to hand over prisoners' medical information on request, but to volunteer any information that they think might be useful. The NEJM piece discusses how this policy differs from that in American prisons, and how it contradicts the laws of war:

Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions provides that medical personnel “shall not be compelled  to perform acts or to carry out  work  contrary  to  the  rules  of  medical  ethics.”  Although  the  protocol has not been ratified by the United States, this principle  has attained the status of customary international law. International human rights law (most  important,  the  1966  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) provides additional  protection  for  privacy  in  general  —  in  wartime  and  peacetime.  Although  this  protection isn’t absolute, exceptions  must  be  justified  by  pressing  public need, and they must represent the least restrictive way to  meet this need. Wholesale abandonment of medical confidentiality hardly qualifies, especially  when the “need” invoked is the  crafting  of  counter-resistance  measures that are prohibited by  international law.

In addition, the New York Times has interviewed former interrogators who backed up the journal's charges about the illegal blurring of the lines separating interrogators from doctors:

The former interrogators said the military doctors' role was to advise them and their fellow interrogators on ways of increasing psychological duress on detainees, sometimes by exploiting their fears, in the hopes of making them more cooperative and willing to provide information. In one example, interrogators were told that a detainee's medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate.

But there's a huge difference in emphasis between the NEJM piece and the NYT report. The Times focuses on how psychologists and psychiatrists are working with interrogators, but they fail to even mention the 2002 memo requiring medical professionals to cooperate. They only cite a more recent and vague "policy statement" that "officials said was supposed to ensure that doctors did not participate in unethical behavior." This is very odd because the NEJM emphasizes the memo.

The NYT also discusses the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (or BSCT, pronounced "biscuit" teams), which advise interrogators on techniques, or, in the cruder terms of an interrogator interviewed by the Times, "help us break them." But the Times leaves out an important bit of information: The teams were created in 2002, and approved by Major General Geoffrey Miller, who took command of Guantanamo at about that time, specifically because of the "growing frustration with the slow pace of intelligence production at Guantanamo."

Overall, the NEJM piece reads as a denunciation of a policy of making caregivers accessories to intelligence gathering, putting prisoners at greater risk for abuse. The NYT piece, in contrast, by focusing on more amorphous ethical debates, and failing to discuss the role of military officials in crafting this policy, leaves the impression that the problem is a few caregivers put into a sadly difficult ethical situation.

Conduct contrary to the laws of war is a bit more serious than a vague ethical dilemma, but this is so typical of the corporate press, which, even when it reports on abuses, manages to dance around the direct responsibility of high level officials for that abuse.

Greg Saunders:
Desecration Ruminations

Count me among those who think a ban on flag burning is both un-American and unnecessary, but the thing I find so fascinating is how untenable a ban would be as well. But let's take a step back for a second here. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that the amendment in question doesn't actually ban flag burning at all. Supposing that the amendment that made it through the House passes through the Senate and is approved by the state legistlatures of two-thirds of the states, the only change would be the addition of this sentence to the Constitution :

The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
So if everything goes as the conservatives plan, the only thing they've gained is the ability to pass a law that prevents flag desecration. Once that's done, they have to go back to square one and define the words "flag" and "desecration". For example, take this picture that was posted at BoingBoing :



Is this an American flag? Technically, no. The flag above the 49 stars and one circle. It's a snarky point since we can agree that the American flag has 50 five-sided stars on a blue field with 13 stripes alternating between red and white in color, but even given this rather strict definition, does that make this an American flag?



Well, it's got the correct number of stars and stripes and it's got the colors right, but the stars need to be in the upper left of the flag. Perhaps this is a flag then?



Nice try, smartass. That's a t-shirt with a picture of a flag. Even though we've got all the details right, the object in the picture above isn't a flag because what surrounds the red, white, and blue rectangular image makes it a shirt. How about this then?



There are flags with yellow trim, so I assume that doesn't disqualify the image above. But if we can conclude that this isn't a picture of a flag, but a patch, then would that mean the difference would be the material, the size, or the purpose of the object above? If that's the case, then does this let the President off the hook for this infamous bit of flag desecration?



I would say "no". Despite all the nitpicking about size, layout, shape, and material, the pictures above meet the common sense definition of flag desecration. Even then, should what the President did be considered a crime? That's where the two sides differ. Conservatives think that it's okay to arrest and/or fine someone for being disrespectful to our national symbols. Liberals on the other hand think that just because the President is acting like a jerk doesn't mean he's a criminal.

Even if the conservatives get their way with this stupid flag desecration amendment, they have to follow this bit of feel good pandering with the hard work of defining exactly what a flag is, what constitutes desecration, and what the penalties should be. That is, of course, unless Congres decides to punt the issue to the courts by passing a law that's incredibly vague. This is what they do with abortion laws in order to get some election year kudos without having to worry about crafting a law that actually works, but those of us who actually take this stuff seriously should be asking these questions now.

So for the time being, it's open season on flag burning. If you burn a flag around me, however, be prepared for a verbal or physical backlash. Unlike the babies in the Republican party, if somebody pisses me off by insulting our country, I'm not gonna go crying to the government for protection.

Billmon:
Punch Drunk

A few days days ago, over at the Whiskey Bar, I warned that the White House's desperate search for scapegoats to blame for its own failures was shifting into overdrive. And, right on cue, along comes Karl Rove to spew an (ample) belly full of bile into the public record:

"Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said we must understand our enemies."

Rove also denounced Sen. Dick Durbin's comments comparing interrogation at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to the methods of Nazis and other repressive regimes. He said the statements have been broadcast throughout the Middle East, putting American troops in greater danger. Durbin has since apologized for the remarks.

"No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals," Rove said.

Many on the left have reacted with predictable fury -- particularly those Democrats who thought that by surfing the Iraq war along with the Cheney administration, they could buy themselves some protection from such old-fashioned demagoguery, which reads like pages torn from Spiro Agnew's old speeches.

But I personally think Rove's rant should be seen as a somewhat encouraging sign. Rove and his idiot chorus aren't roaring at the top of their lungs to try to drown out the liberals -- that would be absurd overkill, given how effectively the corporate media has ridiculed and/or demonized the likes of Howard Dean and Dick Durbin. No, Rove's hate rally is aimed squarely at suppressing the growing doubts of the great silent majority -- and even, to a certain extent, those of the conservative true believers, some of whom are showing ominous signs of war weariness.

The rhetorical assault on the liberals, in other words, is the core of the PR counteroffensive the White House has been promising to unleash for the past week.

Having been advised by the "moderates" to level with the American people and explain just how badly things have gone off the track in Iraq, and how much time, treasure and blood it will take to redeem Bush's casual promises of victory, the Rovians apparently have decided they can't do it -- not without suffering unacceptable casualties on the home front. American troops, after all, are expendable. But Bush's political capital is both precious and increasingly scarce. Much too scarce, apparently, to waste on an exercise as frivolous as a presidential appeal for patriotic unity and shared sacrifice.

Cynically speaking, Rove may be right. Leaving aside the polarized wasteland the GOP machine has created out of the American political process, public disillusionment with the war in Iraq already may be too far gone to be turned around with eloquent speeches -- much less the kind of cheap publicity stunts favored by the Rovians.

Things are even worse, in fact, than I had thought. In a previous post, I misreported the results of the latest Gallup Poll when I wrote that only 39% of those surveyed by Gallup had answered yes to the question: "Do you think it was worth going to war in Iraq?" The question actually was much more straight forward (and forward looking): "Do you favor or oppose the war in Iraq?"

In other words, nearly 60% of the American people are now willing to say, flat out, that they oppose the war in Iraq. That's a remarkable statement. I'm not sure 60% ever opposed the war in Vietnam, even after it had been lost. You don't turn those kind of numbers around with PR spin -- the casualty lists now speak louder than the microphone, even one as powerful as the White House's.

Add to that the prospect of still higher gas prices, unfilled (and probably unfillable) economic expectations and the black ring of scandal widening around the DeLay-Abramoff-Reed-Norquist axis of weevils, and it's clear that recycled Reaganite optimism -- the "morning in America" brand of propaganda -- isn't going to cut it.

So Rove is falling back on his classic strategy of rallying the base. What's more, he's mainlining it a much rawer and more savage version of the conservative message than the White House usually permits itself. While the customary surrogates -- Fox News, Rush, the blogger hyena pack -- have snarled and snapped, the results apparently have been found wanting. Now Bush's "brain" is stepping into the ring himself.

But, like fellow psychopath Mike Tyson, Rove isn't just telegraphing his punches, he's also displaying the depths of his fear. The rhetorical ear chewing and head butting is a clear sign the champ doesn't have the juice any more, and knows it. Rove is trying to get by on sheer intimidation. He's pushing as many primordial conservative buttons as he can -- leaning on them, in fact -- in hopes he can once again make the dreaded liberals the story, not the march of folly currently sinking into the Iraqi quicksands.

So doing, Rove has set up an intriguing test. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson argued that Rovian attempts to make the anti-war movement the scapegoat for the Iraq debacle will fail for a lack of angry crowds of protesters in the streets -- the kind of long-haired "mob" that could be, and was, easily demonized by Spiro Agnew and his fellow felons in the Nixon administration.

Personally, I'm not so sure -- for reasons I've already discussed. The long, sad history of the human species has amply demonstrated that a scapegoat doesn't have to be credible in order to be believable, as long as the target audience is predisposed to believe it. Conservatives have spent the better part of the past four decades writing "liberals" -- a suitably abstract synonym for "enemy" -- into the same role filled in other times and places by the Elders of Zion. And two generations of Americans have absorbed the poisonous brew, either directly or indirectly. It is (along with dirty money) the bitch's milk of the modern GOP machine.

All along, the bedrock of Rove's political "philosophy" has been the conviction that propaganda will always trump reality -- as long as the desired message is consistent with existing popular myths and prejudices. And his preferred tool for meshing the two has always been the conservative base and the enormous gravitational pull it exerts on the weak-minded middle.

Now, finally, that strategy appears to be crashing onto the rocks of a losing (if not already lost) war in Iraq. But it's worth remembering that the Rovians have been right much more often than they've been wrong about the gullibility and ignorance of both the corporate media and the mushy middle. Maybe that time is past. Maybe, like Tyson, the propaganda machine has pounded itself into exhaustion -- its impotence exposed for all to see.

Maybe. Like I said, the sheer volume and (dare I say it?) shrill hysteria of the current conservative hate campaign is itself a positive sign. But I'll believe the machine is finished only when I see Rove's flabby carcass stretched out cold on the canvas.

And we're not there yet. Not by a long shot.

--------------------

June 23, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Housecleaning

FYI, I've got three rare Tom Tomorrow posters up for auction on eBay--here, here, and here. (My digital camera crapped out on me and I need a new one, so bid early and often.)

Tom Tomorrow:
Just like Houston

Here. (Warning: graphic photo.)

Tom Tomorrow:
Gulags

We've heard a lot about how the American secret prison system is nothing at all like the Soviet gulag. Well, Chris Floyd points us toward this excerpt from Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago describing KGB interrogation methods. No honest person can deny the shocking familiarity of many of the details. (Key word being "honest," I suppose.) Take a minute, go read it. It's rather stunning.

--------------------

June 22, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc:
An open letter to Senator Durbin

Dear Senator,

I'm not a constituent, but I should have written to you sooner. You've been doing holy work for quite awhile, trying to make sure that "American values" don't include torture, and excuses for torture. That made you a hero in my view long before you made your extraordinary speech last week. One section of that speech, one analogy, got the most attention, and however brave and true that section was, I'm afraid the controversy that was ginned up around it drew attention away from other virtues of the speech. I've been plowing through memos,  military reports, papers from human rights groups, news reports, and bloggers' rants for years and I've seen few instances of people laying out the case against this administration's detention policies that were as clear, as reasonable, as complete, or as honest. Your words were also hopeful and inspiring:

Many people who read history remember, as World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, a country in fear after being attacked decided one way to protect America was to gather together Japanese Americans and literally imprison them, put them in internment camps for fear they would be traitors and turn on the United States.  We did that.  Thousands of lives were changed.  Thousands of businesses destroyed.  Thousands of people, good American citizens, who happened to be of Japanese ancestry, were treated like common criminals. 

It took almost 40 years for us to acknowledge that we were wrong, to admit that these people should never have been imprisoned.  It was a shameful period in American history and one that very few, if any, try to defend today. 

I believe the torture techniques that have been used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and other places fall into that same category.  I am confident, sadly confident, as I stand here, that decades from now people will look back and say:  What were they thinking?  America, this great, kind leader of a nation, treated people who were detained and imprisoned, interrogated people in the crudest way?

It is not easy to face up to the truth about what America is doing today and at the same time look toward a future in which Americans will be deeply ashamed of this part of our history. I try, and I don't always succeed. The temptation is either to cling to a vision of a perfect country and never acknowledge the evil, or to sneer that this horror is what America has become, and give up. We need a Virgil to guide us through hell without despair.

I meant to write and thank you for that service. I'm sorry I didn't, because courage deserves acknowledgment.

There's an understandable assumption on the left now that your courage failed you, that you caved in to enormous pressure. If that's true, your second speech was not only cowardly, it was astonishingly foolish. Take a look at the response of some of the people who demanded an apology now that they have it. They have nothing but contempt for your "teary-eyed" and "blubbering" apology. You've given the kind of people who celebrate everything you've fought against one more victory. You've made it far easier for them to argue that there is no torture problem, the only problem is Democrats and their overheated rhetoric.

We must end this nightmare. You know that as well as I do. I hope you also know that you've set us back. We can't stand behind your words if you don't.

Reading over your statement, I'm not so sure you were responding to pressure from torture's apologists. I have a feeling you heard from some people who were genuinely hurt by your analogy (as opposed to the vast majority who feigned shock to draw attention away from the points you made) and were speaking mainly out of concern for their feelings. As someone concerned about what the glorification of militarism does to this country, who often risks having her attacks on military sentimentality come across as attacks on soldiers, I understand that desire not to have your words, even your twisted and distorted words, used to hurt innocent people.

But if that was the case, you should have addressed any "apology" directly to those people, not to the Senate, and pointed out that if what you said came across as an insult directed at them, that was not your intention. And then you should have come back all the harder on the main points of your original speech: We love this country, and we will not stand by while it takes up, bit by bit, step by step, the tools of its enemies. I hate to be so blunt, but this is how the game is played.

If you really care about this country, and about human rights -- and I sincerely believe you do -- you have to learn those rules very quickly. And you can't allow yourself the luxury of being afraid of your own words.

Greg Saunders:
Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Heh. My previous post was awarded with a mention on CNN's "Inside the Blogs" segment that perfectly sums up why reporting on blogosphere activity is such a stupid idea :

SCHECHNER:[1] Now, we should also mention that now there's outrage on the left because they say that Dick Durbin had nothing to apologize for and they're mad at him for being weak on this issue. One of those doing a little parody[2] is Greg over TheTalentShow.org. This is cross- posted at Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World, and he basically parodies, with an analogy that has to do with a statement saying, if I read this to you and didn't tell you it was a U.S. senator speaking, who would you think it was? So, a little play there, but they're not happy on the left, now, with Dick Durbin. Ed?
Jeez, they've done a brilliant job squeezing all the funny out of my original post. Not that I expect them to quote the whole thing verbatim, but this mention was about as meaningful as saying "In the comedy world, Chris Rock has some interesting things to say about race relations noting that black people often do things one way while white people do the same things differently. Funny stuff, Ed?"

Seriously though, this whole "Inside the Blogs" business is ludicrous. The fact that a professional worldwide newsgathering organization is devoting any time to an unpublished amateur like me should be seen as the equivalent of waving a white flag. If the opinions of bloggers are so valuable, invite Glenn Reynolds and Duncan Black to co-host a "Capital Gang" type show or something. I'm grateful to reach a larger audience, but for a company with the staff, experience, resources, and reach of CNN to go trolling around the blogosphere looking for content to fill five minutes of airtime every day is just sad[3]....


1 : The transcript notes that Schechner's title is "blog reporter". I've never been one of those people who thinks being a blogger makes me a journalist, but if paraphrasing what I said makes her a "reporter", doesn't that merit a de facto promotion of some sort? Perhaps "self-published columnist" or something.

2 : Since the primary purpose of my original post was to make a political point and not just score a cheap laugh, I think the term "satire" is more appropriate here, but whatever...

3 : Especially when the rest of the day is spent on live press conferences with the family of a little boy who isn't missing anymore or Larry King's multiple interviews with psychics.

Tom Tomorrow:
Unsolicited testimonial

I don't get too many freebies, but the best comp I ever received was a Sirius satellite radio. Especially now that I live outside of a major radio market, it's really become indispensable. Having used it every day for well over a year now, I just felt like I should mention that.

Tom Tomorrow:
Compare and contrast

Tom DeLay:

"You know, if Houston, Texas, was held to the same standard as Iraq is held to, nobody'd go to Houston, because all this reporting coming out of the local press in Houston is violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways," DeLay said.

"And if you took that as the image of what is a great city that has an incredible quality of life and an incredible economy, it's amazing to me. Go to Iraq. And see what's actually happening there.

"Everybody that comes from Iraq is amazed at the difference of what they see on the ground and what they see on the television set."

Iraqi blogger Riverbend:

The electrical situation differs from area to area. On some days, the electricity schedule is two hours of electricity, and then four hours of no electricity. On other days, it’s four hours of electricity to four or six hours of no electricity. The problem is that the last couple of weeks, we don’t have electricity in the mornings for some reason. Our local generator is off until almost 11 am, and the house generator allows for ceiling fans (or “pankas”), the refrigerator, television and a few other appliances. Air conditioners cannot be turned on and the heat is oppressive by 8 am these days.

Detentions and assassinations, along with intermittent electricity, have also been contributing to sleepless nights. We’re hearing about raids in many areas in the Karkh half of Baghdad in particular. On the television the talk about ‘terrorists’ being arrested, but there are dozens of people being rounded up for no particular reason. Almost every Iraqi family can give the name of a friend or relative who is in one of the many American prisons for no particular reason. They aren’t allowed to see lawyers or have visitors and stories of torture have become commonplace. Both Sunni and Shia clerics who are in opposition to the occupation are particularly prone to attacks by “Liwa il Theeb” or the special Iraqi forces Wolf Brigade. They are often tortured during interrogation and some of them are found dead.

There were also several explosions and road blocks today. It took the cousin an hour to get to work, which was only twenty minutes away before the war. Now, he has to navigate between closed streets, check points, and those delightful concrete barriers rising up everywhere. It is especially difficult to be caught in traffic and that happens a lot lately. Baghdad has been cut up into sections and several of them may be found to be off limits immediately after an explosion or before a Puppet meeting. The least pleasant situation is to be caught in mid-day traffic, on a crowded road, in the heat- waiting for the next bomb to go off.

What people find particularly frustrating is the fact that while Baghdad seems to be falling apart in so many ways with roads broken and pitted, buildings blasted and burnt out and residential areas often swimming in sewage, the Green Zone is flourishing. The walls surrounding restricted areas housing Americans and Puppets have gotten higher- as if vying with the tallest of date palms for height. The concrete reinforcements and road blocks designed to slow and impede traffic are now a part of everyday scenery- the road, the trees, the shops, the earth, the sky… and the ugly concrete slabs sometimes wound insidiously with barbed wire.

The price of building materials has gone up unbelievably, in spite of the fact that major reconstruction has not yet begun. I assumed it was because so much of the concrete and other building materials was going to reinforce the restricted areas. A friend who recently got involved working with an Iraqi subcontractor who takes projects inside of the Green Zone explained that it was more than that. The Green Zone, he told us, is a city in itself. He came back awed, and more than a little bit upset. He talked of designs and plans being made for everything from the future US Embassy and the housing complex that will surround it, to restaurants, shops, fitness centers, gasoline stations, constant electricity and water- a virtual country inside of a country with its own rules, regulations and government. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Republic of the Green Zone, also known as the Green Republic.

Yep. Sounds just like Houston.

--------------------

June 21, 2005

Greg Saunders:
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Due to the reaction he received to remarks that were wholly accurate and appropriate, a statement was released today that said :

"Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line...To them I extend my heartfelt apologies."
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was a United States Senator responding to critics who justify the use of torture, you would most certainly believe this must have been said by a coward, a wimp, or a chicken who has proven himself incapable of defending the truth against an onslaught of right-wing badgering. Sadly, that is the case. The quote above is from Sen. Dick Durbin, who won't stand behind his own words...even when they're right.

Greg Saunders:
Out Of Touch Elitists

In 1972, Pauline Kael's infamous quote "I don't know anyone who voted for Nixon." became a rallying cry for those who wish to paint liberals as out-of-touch northeastern elites[1]. Thirty three years later, the tables have turned and it's conservatives who don't understand the world outside their insular bubbles of influence :

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, responding to criticism from the vice president, said he doesn't "care if Dick Cheney likes my mother or not."

The vice president said in a recent interview that Dean was not the type of person to lead a political party and mentioned the chairman's mother.

"I've never been able to understand his appeal. Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does. He's never won anything, as best I can tell," Cheney said in an interview on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes."

Of course you don't understand his appeal, Mr. Vice President. People who love Howard Dean aren't the money-grubbing pieces of shit[2] who would spend $10,000 a plate for a "seat at the table". That's your constituency.


1 : Which is understandable. It's a really stupid thing to say.

2 : Pardon my "freedom".

--------------------

June 20, 2005

Billmon:
Duke of Churl

Josh Marshall has been doing a tenacious job of following the adventures of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, (R-Real Estate) -- a California conservative who has managed to get himself into several serious legal jams -- the most serious one being the "sale" of his house to a Beltway bandit for a price about $700,000 above its actual market value.

The San Diego real estate market may be hot, but not that hot -- although it's probably hotter than the air conditioned federal pen that's likely to be Rep. Cunningham's next forwarding address.

Do you think he'll get any lemon chicken?

Cunningham's sugar daddy is the same defense contractor who allowed the Duke to make a home away from home (or should we say bribe away from bribe?) on the Washington D.C. water front in the contractor's 42-foot yacht, the Duke Stir -- for a rental price that, for some reason or another, Cunningham has not yet made public, despite a public promise to do so. Well, you know how the lawyers are.

Ordinarily, the sordid and corrupt practices of one Republican lawmaker wouldn't rate a post (not unless they involve Tom DeLay and/or a chain of Indian casinos) but the Duke isn't just any GOP sleazeball -- he's one of the most openly fascistic wing nut sleazeballs in our entire Chamber of People's Deputies. A few of his greatest hits:

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (Calif.), whose plane was shot down over North Vietnam, said Kerry's 1971 remarks angered Cunningham and his comrades at the time. "We do not need a Jane Fonda as commander in chief," he said.
______________________
Cunningham recently told the Washington Post that Democrats blunting Republican legislation "ought to be lined up and shot. I'm talking about the liberal leadership." In February, Cunningham made similar remarks about Vietnam War protesters to a Blade-Citizen reporter. "I would have no hesitation about lining them up and shooting them," he said. "Those people should be shot for what they did to us over there."
______________________
Representative Randy Cunningham, a California Republican, said Republicans would retaliate against House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi if the attacks continue. "If they're going to go after Tom DeLay, we're going to go after Nancy Pelosi,'' Cunningham said after a weekly meeting of House Republicans today. "It's just what they did to Newt Gingrich. And we're not going to take it.''

Oh yes you will, Duke. And depending upon which federal prison you wind up in, you just might find yourself taking it up an orifice that is deeply offensive to your traditional moral values.

So, while my conscience won't allow me to gloat over the sight of the Cheney administration hopelessly impaled on its own Iraq lies, and I'm far too pessimistic to take much comfort in Shrub's falling poll numbers, I have no problems whatsoever with savoring the public humiliation (and, with luck, multiple felony convictions) of Duke Cunningham, conservative assclown extraordinaire.

And so that's what I'm doing -- as you can probably already tell.

Jeanne d'Arc:
The good news is, he got lemon chicken and pilaf

You might remember a horrific story that came out last year: Sean Baker, an MP at Guantánamo, was ordered -- or volunteered, according to some reports -- to pose as an uncooperative prisoner  in a training exercise. The trainees did not know he was an American soldier, and treated him the way they'd treat any other prisoner who didn't do exactly as he was told. They beat him. Badly:

"My face was down. And of course, they’re pushing it down against the steel floor, you know, my right temple, pushing it down against the floor," recalls Baker. "And someone’s holding me by the throat, using a pressure point on me and holding my throat. And I used the word, ‘red.’ At that point I, you know, I became afraid."

Apparently, no one heard the code word ‘red’ because Baker says he continued to be manhandled, especially by an MP named Scott Sinclair who was holding onto his head.

"And when I said the word ‘Red,’ he forced my head down against the steel floor and was sort of just grinding it into the floor. The individual then, when I picked up my head and said, ‘Red,’ slammed my head down against the floor," says Baker. "I was so afraid, I groaned out, ‘I’m a U.S. soldier.' And when I said that, he slammed my head again, one more time against the floor. And I groaned out one more time, I said, ‘I’m a U.S. soldier.’ And I heard them say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,' you know, like he wanted to, he was telling the other guy to stop."

He suffered a brain injury, and sometimes had as many as a dozen seizures a day.

The Army, of course, dealt with the matter immediately -- in its own way. First, the tape of what happened -- the drills are routinely videotaped -- conveniently disappeared. A military spokesperson said there probably was no tape, although two of the MPs involved in the drill told investigators that it was filmed.

Then there was another lie: The Army insisted that Specialist Baker's discharge was unrelated to his injuries, (They later backed down.)

No one has ever been punished for the assault. An internal investigation in 2003 concluded that no one was liable because the injuries were a "foreseeable consequence" of the drill.

My rough translation: This is no more than what anyone would expect in the treatment of an "uncooperative detainee." Moving right along.....

The story was back in the news this weekend because Sean Baker is suing the Pentagon for $15 million for violating his rights. To his enormous credit, Mr. Baker demonstrated early on that he understands that the scandal here is not that an American soldier was treated so horribly, but that anyone is treated this way. He understands that it would have been far worse if he had not finally been able to make it clear that he was American:

What does he think would have happened if he had been a real detainee? "I think they would have busted him up," says Baker. "I've seen detainees come outta there with blood on 'em. …If there wasn't someone to say, 'I'm a U.S. soldier,' if you were speaking Arabic or Pashto or Urdu or some other language in the camp, we may never know what would have happened to that individual."

His case reveals how routine such treatment is at Guantánamo, and elsewhere. Baker didn't have to do anything other than be labeled uncooperative to be beaten up. The Army saw no need for an inquiry because the MPs were simply doing what they were trained to do. By the end of this month, we're going to be seeing some visual documentation of how routine this treatment is. (Pause for black humor: The government's lawyer argued against releasing video and more photos from Abu Ghraib on the grounds that it would subject detainees to "additional humiliation.")

This is one story I really wish more Americans knew about, because it would slice right through the blankets of denial most people are wrapped in. And if it weren't for that denial, there's no way we would be talking about the time being ripe for promoting Ricardo Sanchez, something that seemed politically awkward only recently, but fine now, the Pentagon believes, because concern about torturing prisoners is "receding in the rear-view mirror of public opinion."

Objects in that mirror may be closer than they appear. We'll see when the Abu Ghraib videos come out.

Tom Tomorrow:
Save Elmo from the axe-wielding maniacs

Help MoveOn get one million signatures by the end of the day--go sign the petition now.

Tom Tomorrow:
Three stories from a morning newspaper

One:

The chief of the credit card processing company whose computer system was penetrated by data thieves, exposing 40 million cardholders to a risk of fraud, acknowledged yesterday that the company should not have been retaining those records.

The official, John M. Perry, chief executive of CardSystems Solutions, indicated that the records known to have been stolen covered roughly 200,000 of the 40 million compromised credit card accounts, from Visa, MasterCard and other card issuers. He said the data was in a file being stored for "research purposes" to determine why certain transactions had registered as unauthorized or uncompleted.

"We should not have been doing that," Mr. Perry said. "That, however, has been remediated." As for the sensitive data, he added, "We no longer store it on files."

Under rules established by Visa and MasterCard, processors are not allowed to retain cardholder information including names, account numbers, expiration dates and security codes after a transaction is handled.

"CardSystems provides services and is supposed to pass that information on to the banks and not keep it," said Joshua Peirez, a MasterCard senior vice president who has been involved with the investigation. "They were keeping it."

Two:

For Pam Alexson, the decision whether to have a potentially defective heart device removed and replaced was easy. Ms. Alexson, a former nurse in Rehoboth, Mass., who expects to undergo surgery tomorrow, has the same Guidant Corporation defibrillator that failed in a college student who died in March, as well as the same type of genetic heart disease that killed him.

But another heart patient with that Guidant unit, Douglas Parsons, said he was holding back, not because he did not want the device out, but because his history of infection pointed to a bigger risk from surgery .

"I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard spot," said Mr. Parsons, a 62-year-old retired high school teacher in Oneonta, N.Y. "I would like to have it removed but I can't take that risk."

In coming weeks, thousands of patients and their doctors will be weighing competing risks as a result of Guidant's decision last week, after urging by the Food and Drug Administration, to recall about 29,000 defibrillators that can potentially short-circuit when they are needed. Defibrillators emit an electrical jolt to restore rhythm to a chaotically beating heart.

Each assessment on surgery, doctors say, will be a personal one, based on a patient's age and health, how dependent the patient is on the device and the patient's attitudes toward risk.

Already, however, some patients like Ms. Alexson and Mr. Parsons are sharing a similar emotion: a sense of betrayal that Guidant did not disclose the problem earlier so that some people might have been spared the tough choice they now face.

Guidant did not tell doctors for over three years about the electrical flaw in one model, the Ventak Prizm 2 DR Model 1861, that it has recalled. It also kept selling older versions of it after developing a version not prone to short-circuiting.

Three:

WASHINGTON, June 19 - Law enforcement officials have made at least 200 formal and informal inquiries to libraries for information on reading material and other internal matters since October 2001, according to a new study that adds grist to the growing debate in Congress over the government's counterterrorism powers.

In some cases, agents used subpoenas or other formal demands to obtain information like lists of users checking out a book on Osama bin Laden. Other requests were informal - and were sometimes turned down by librarians who chafed at the notion of turning over such material, said the American Library Association, which commissioned the study.

The association, which is pushing to scale back the government's powers to gain information from libraries, said its $300,000 study was the first to examine a question that was central to a House vote last week on the USA Patriot Act: how frequently federal, state and local agents are demanding records from libraries.

The Bush administration says that while it is important for law enforcement officials to get information from libraries if needed in terrorism investigations, officials have yet to actually use their power under the Patriot Act to demand records from libraries or bookstores.


* * *
Perhaps the fiercest counterattack from the Bush administration on the issue came in 2003 from John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, who said in a speech in Washington that groups like the American Library Association had bought into "breathless reports and baseless hysteria" about the government's interest in libraries.

"Do we at the Justice Department really care what you are reading?" Mr. Ashcroft asked. "No."

What's the common thread here? Someone lied. We won't misuse your data. There's no problem with our defibrillators. We won't invade your privacy.

Trust us.

If there's one thing I learned from my father, and one thing I would hope to someday teach my child, it is that authoritative voices--experts, politicians, whoever--should not be trusted blindly.

This isn't to suggest that ignorance should be embraced. On almost any subject you can think of, there are people in the world who know far more about it than you do--and that's a good thing. We'd all be in trouble if, say, cartoonists were suddenly called upon to perform open heart surgery. Hell, we'd be in trouble if cartoonists were suddenly in charge of trash collection.

Nonetheless...how many times do we--as a society, as a species--have to learn and re-learn the same simple lesson: that when power and/or money are at stake, lies often result?

Tom Tomorrow:
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Saddam's methods: neither gone nor forgotten:

BAGHDAD — The public war on the Iraqi insurgency has led to an atmosphere of hidden brutalities, including abuse and torture, carried out against detainees by the nation's special security forces, according to defense lawyers, international organizations and Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights.

Up to 60% of the estimated 12,000 detainees in the country's prisons and military compounds face intimidation, beatings or torture that leads to broken bones and sometimes death, said Saad Sultan, head of a board overseeing the treatment of prisoners at the Human Rights Ministry. He added that police and security forces attached to the Interior Ministry are responsible for most abuses.

The units have used tactics reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's secret intelligence squads, according to the ministry and independent human rights groups and lawyers, who have cataloged abuses.

"We've documented a lot of torture cases," said Sultan, whose committee is pushing for wider access to Iraqi-run prisons across the nation. "There are beatings, punching, electric shocks to the body, including sensitive areas, hanging prisoners upside down and beating them and dragging them on the ground…. Many police officers come from a culture of torture from their experiences over the last 35 years. Most of them worked during Saddam's regime."

The ordeal described by Hussam Guheithi is similar to many cases. When Iraqi national guardsmen raided his home last month, the 35-year-old Sunni Muslim imam said they lashed him with cables, broke his nose and promised to soak their uniforms with his blood. He was blindfolded and driven to a military base, where he was interrogated and beaten until the soldiers were satisfied that he wasn't an extremist.

At the end of nine days, Guheithi said, the guardsmen told him, "You have to bear with us. You know the situation now. We're trying to find terrorists."

The hell of it is, there are plenty of conservatives who agree with those guardsmen: we don't have time for your little niceties, your so-called human rights--we're fighting terror here, goddammit!

--------------------

June 19, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc:
Yo' momma has a British accent

If you happen to be one of those eccentric Americans who considers the deaths of huge numbers of Iraqis something to be concerned about, you probably know all about the desperate attempts to tear apart the Lancet study of Iraqi civilian deaths.

I see that it hasn't stopped. Conservatives are oh-so-excited this morning to learn that, according to the London Times,  thirty British scientists from the Royal Society, including a pair of Nobel Prize winners, have accused the Lancet of "scaremongering" and "desperate headline-seeking." I guarantee you, if you bring up the Lancet study any time in the future, someone will inform you that it was discredited by eminent British scientists.

That is -- just so you know -- not true. First, the Lancet published an editorial last month criticizing the Royal Society, and this looks like whatever you call the British academic equivalent of playing the dozens.

More importantly, the Royal Society letter, which neither the Lancet nor the Times published, apparently focuses on three examples of research it considers seriously flawed -- a study of the link between the MMR vaccine and autism (and, by the way, let Dwight Meredith tell you more about vaccines and autism), a piece linking hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer, and an article on genetically modified crops. The Times mentions controversy over the Lancet's study of Iraqi deaths, but only as one of a few other controversies swirling around the journal, in addition to the ones the Royal Society brings up.

In other words, the Royal Society, wounded by being called a "shrill and superficial cheerleader for British science" looked for things published in the Lancet worthy of attack, and didn't land on the Iraqi research.

I don't know that that means they think the research was unassailable, but if they considered it weak, it would be the logical thing -- just because it's the best known piece published in the Lancet -- to make it the focus of their attack. They didn't, and I think that's telling.

Billmon:
Dubya Rocks the Vote

A couple of days ago, I said -- and not in jest -- that the best thing President Bush could do to promote political reform in the Islamic world might be to oppose it. And now we have the proof:

Until recently, voter apathy and a lackluster campaign had threatened to deliver the poorest turnout in an Iranian presidential election since Islamic clerics came to power in 1979. With increasing pressure from the West over its nuclear program and a flagging economy that has angered Iranians, a marginal turnout could have undermined the legitimacy of the government.

But harsh statements by President Bush on Thursday, denouncing Iran's elections as a sham because unelected clerics would continue to wield most of the power, allowed them to go on the offensive.

Iran's television and radio networks, run by the conservative leaders, repeatedly broadcast the U.S. pronouncements and urged voters to strike out at Bush by going to the polls.

Nearly two-thirds of the eligible 46.8 million voters responded, giving the clerics the public affirmation they sought.

Way to go, George! Now if the GOP can just coax the mullahs into giving a reciprocal endorsement to the Democrats in next year's congressional elections, the team might just be able to foil hopes for reform in both countries.

I'm just waiting for the White House and the neocons to denounce the Iranian elections as a complete fraud -- no doubt citing a serious discrepancy between the exit polls and the announced results, long voting lines in pro-reform neighborhoods, and the use of paperless ballot machines manufactured by companies with close financial ties to the ruling elite.

More at the Whiskey Bar.

--------------------

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