26 December 2005

Zhuang-zi quote

This is one of my favorite quotes from Zhuang-zi (Chuang-tsu), the most famous Taoist philosopher after Lao-tzu

"Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror -- going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win out over things and not bring harm upon himself."

24 December 2005

Get out of jail card

Following a fine Clintonian tradition, Shrub is handing out pardons to those who have paid the piper. It now evidently costs around half a million to obtain a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card:

One of those pardoned, Wendy St. Charles, is a lawyer for a Denver homebuilder, MDC Holdings, parent of Richmond American Homes, The Denver Post reported. St. Charles was convicted on drug charges in 1984 and sentenced to four years in prison. MDC's chairman, Larry Mizel, has contributed more than half a million dollars to Republican campaigns along with his wife, Carol, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The ability of the president to pardon people strikes me as an anachronistic practice from the divine right of kings. I say we do away with it. Either that or we should all get the right to grant clemency to a dozen or so people during our lives.

23 December 2005

Daschle: Congress Denied Bush War Powers in U.S

Does this surprise anyone? We now learn that Congress explicitly rejected the very powers that Bush claims were implicit in the agreement to go to war!

The Bush administration requested, and Congress rejected, war-making authority "in the United States" in negotiations over the joint resolution passed days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to an opinion article by former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) in today's Washington Post.

Those damn Democrats! Trying to prevent Shrub's cabal from making war on the citizenry! How unpatriotic of them!

Daschle's disclosure challenges a central legal argument offered by the White House in defense of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It suggests that Congress refused explicitly to grant authority that the Bush administration now asserts is implicit in the resolution.

The Justice Department acknowledged yesterday, in a letter to Congress, that the president's October 2001 eavesdropping order did not comply with "the 'procedures' of" the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, "except as authorized by statute."

In other words, Bush broke the law and is a criminal. (Add this to the growing tally of unprosecuted crimes.)

There is one other statutory authority for wiretapping, which covers conventional criminal cases. That law describes itself, along with FISA, as "the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . may be conducted."

Yesterday's letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, asserted that Congress implicitly created an exception to FISA's warrant requirement by authorizing President Bush to use military force in response to the destruction of the World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon. The congressional resolution of Sept. 18, 2001, formally titled "Authorization for the Use of Military Force," made no reference to surveillance or to the president's intelligence-gathering powers, and the Bush administration made no public claim of new authority until news accounts disclosed the secret NSA operation.

Funny thing about crime--it's all just dandy until people find out about it. I guess we need to go arrest the reporter or snitch who told the public about it lest people feel emboldened to uncover even greater administration crimes.

But Moschella argued yesterday that espionage is "a fundamental incident to the use of military force" and that its absence from the resolution "cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy." Such eavesdropping, he wrote, necessarily included conversations in which one party is in the United States.

Daschle's article reveals an important new episode in the resolution's legislative history. As drafted, and as finally passed, the resolution authorized the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons" who "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the Sept. 11 attacks.

Our poor left-behind president evidently missed the word "appropriate" when reading this resolution.

"Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words 'in the United States and' after 'appropriate force' in the agreed-upon text," Daschle wrote. "This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused."

And limit the war that is to be carried out everywhere against everyone until we've created Heaven on Earth?

Daschle wrote that Congress also rejected draft language from the White House that would have authorized the use of force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States," not only against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Republican legislators involved in the negotiations could not be reached for comment last night.

Alito: Like Bush, not fit to defend the Constitution

This alone is reason enough to oppose the Alito nomination:

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito defended the right of government officials to order domestic wiretaps for national security when he worked at the Reagan Justice Department, an echo of President Bush's rationale for spying on U.S. residents in the war on terror.

22 December 2005

Shrub's remark based on urban legend

Thanks to The Daily Curmudgeon, we now learn that Shrub's recent comment that Bin Laden was tipped off by the media that the U.S. was listening in to his cell phone communication was an urban myth. The article published by the ultra-conservative Washington Times (Aug. 21, 1998) appeared two years after Time magazine gave Bin Laden this startling information (that U.S. intel might be trying to listen to his calls!) Of course, how this justifies listening in on virtually any call by American citizens without a warrant (even a secret one by a rubber-stamp court) is beyond me. I guess I need to watch Fox News more often.

21 December 2005


King Shrub's war on America's privacy continues...

Impeach efforts continue

Congressman John Conyers has introduced three new pieces of legislation aimed at censuring President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and at creating a fact-finding committee that could be a first step toward impeachment.

Ask your Congress Member to support these efforts!
For more information on these bills, visit http://www.CensureBush.org

Federal Judge John Robertson resigns

The fall-out continues:

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources. U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation.

19 December 2005

More on the outrageous power grab

Attorney General Gonzales now claims (with a twinkle in his eye) that Congress essentially gave Shrub the authority for domestic surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks. Or to translate this into non-legalese for the proles living outside of the inner sanctum of DC--"What in the hell did you think this slimy dirtball mis-president of ours would do if we took him off his leash." Gonzales evidently believes that going through the normal channels would have tied the administration's hands, but we all know that the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was in charge of these things back in the days when we used to have a Constitution, was pretty much a rubber-stamp organization anyway.

Senator Feingold has rightly describes this as an "outrageous power grab" stating that "Nobody, nobody thought when we passed a resolution to invade Afghanistan and to fight the war on terror ... that this was an authorization to allow a wiretapping against the law of the United States." So now there will be an investigation . . . and another attempt to sweep the latest corruption of power under the carpet.

17 December 2005

Big brother: Making sure we don't read the wrong things

It's been discovered that the following story was a hoax perpetrated by the Dartmouth senior:

Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior
By AARON NICODEMUS, Standard-Times staff writer NEW BEDFORD

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book." Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program. The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said. The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further. "I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it." Although The Standard-Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repercussions should his name become public. He has not spoken to The Standard-Times. The professors had been asked to comment on a report that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002 in this country. The eavesdropping was apparently done without warrants. The Little Red Book, is a collection of quotations and speech excerpts from Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung. In the 1950s and '60s, during the Cultural Revolution in China, it was required reading. Although there are abridged versions available, the student asked for a version translated directly from the original book. The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said. Dr. Williams said in his research, he regularly contacts people in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other Muslim hot spots, and suspects that some of his calls are monitored. "My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think," he said. Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk. "I shudder to think of all the students I've had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that," he said. "Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless."

Lest anyone on the right feel compelled to comment that they think Mao is harmless, I'd just like to add that it's a sad sad day when people feel they have to defend their choice to read a book. My guess is that part of the true intent of the Patriot Act and audacious violations of the Constitution such as the Padilla incarceration is to simply get the public to cower, to think that the government has some God-given authority to intervene in every aspect of their lives. They don't. I'd like to remind you all--we hire them. They work for us. We shouldn't be defending our reading choices to them. Quite the contrary. They should be up in front of us explaining what in the hell they were thinking. And instead of spending our tax dollars investigating college students and protesting grandmothers, more money and tax-paid labor should go to uncovering the seemingly endless crimes of this administration. Bush shouldn't simply be fired. He should be in prison.

We don't pay YOU to spy on US

Some Democrats in the Senate have evidently figured out that they're supposed to serve some other function besides presidential lap-dog. Yesterday they blocked passage of the new Patriot Act, rightly claiming that the measure is a threat to the constitutional liberties of innocent Americans. Reading through other bloggers' comments, I came across the following well-written post by Library Bitch:

The way I've always understood this particular piece of legislation, it seems that essentially the document says, 'give us your liberties, trust us to protect them for you, even though you will no longer have them yourself.' Whenever I think of that, I always picture the greasy parking garage attendant in Ferris Buehler's Day Off, who of course drives off in the Corvette the moment he's handed the keys.That said, I am a librarian, so you can rest assured I'm just a tad biased on this one to begin with.But at least I'm not alone in my concerns.

Ten Billion Butterfly Sneezes had this to add:

So round one goes to the small government side. I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this. I shake my head at the thought that someone who went to flight training, and didn’t care to learn takeoffs and landings, but wanted only to learn to steer a plane, raised no suspicions. And since the Feds screwed that up so royally, they feel a need to examine library records, etc, on what amount to whims. And it got passed to begin with. Under the guise of “intelligence gathering”.

The government needs to get the message loud and clear. We don't pay you people our hard-earned tax dollars to spy on us. According to Political Briefs, the two Democrats who broke ranks to oppose the filibuster were Senators Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska (two idiots we need to fire during the next elections). The four Republicans with a conscience who supported the filibuster were Senators John Sununu of New Hampshire, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Larry Craig of Idaho and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Other blogments can be found a Sil's Babbling and Boing Boing.

16 December 2005

Hotdog power!

Now here's a wierd and possibly brilliant idea:

Norwegians, Dutch mix sea and river to make power
By Anna Mudeva

More than a century later in a world seeking clean alternatives to fossil fuels, Dutch and Norwegian scientists believe they can help turn Verne's dream into reality. The Dutch Center for Sustainable Water Technology or Wetsus, and Norway's independent research organization SINTEF, working with power company Statkraft, have invented devices that generate electricity by mixing sea and river water.

It might seem like an exercise in scientific theory destined only for high-tech laboratories, but the process' creators and the European Union, which funds the Norwegian research, believe the idea's time might have come. "There is huge potential in Europe to use this new way of producing electricity," Philippe Schild, scientific officer at the European Commission's energy directorate, told Reuters.

"It's a renewable source which does not cause any environmental damage and we think it can play a big role in helping meet our target to increase renewable energy," he said.
Global warming and high oil prices have renewed interest in sustainable energy, with solar, wind, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells, tidal and wave power getting most attention.
But researchers in Norway and the Netherlands, known for their water technology know-how, say there is room for other alternatives given the world's ever-growing appetite for energy.


The new devices are based on a natural process -- when a river runs into the ocean, a huge amount of energy is unleashed because of the difference in salt concentration.
"It's basically harvesting the energy that comes free from a natural process," Wetsus managing director Johannes Boonstra said in his agency's laboratory in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden.
"You have the fuel for free and it's very sustainable -- no greenhouse gas emissions."
The two projects use different methods to harness the electricity -- the Dutch apply something called reverse electrodialysis while the Norwegians use a kind of osmosis. Both methods rely on membranes or thin films made of special material used for chemical separation. In the Dutch project, separation is done by membranes using an electrical current. "It works like a water battery," Wetsus project manager Sybrand Metz said. The Norwegian device applies pressure to force the water through membranes. Its inventors liken the process to putting a hot dog in hot water. The skin of the hotdog acts as a membrane, allowing more water in than the amount of salty water it lets out. This increases the pressure inside and the hotdog bursts.

I predict that by 2020, we'll be able to produce energy in hotdogs and that baseball games will light up entire cities.

The principle behind the Norwegian device is that fresh water and salt water are channeled into a membrane module. The fresh water is transported through the membranes and over into the pressurized sea water. The pressurized mixture of sea water and fresh water flows out of the module and into a hydropower turbine that generates electricity. The two inventions, however, have still a long way to go before they can be applied commercially. The Wetsus project, supported by a consortium of Dutch companies, has yet to be tested in a pilot plant. The Norwegian project is more advanced. It started in the 1990s and its creators have already installed two small-scale plants, but have yet to build a bigger demonstration plant to boost production.


Like other alternative energy technologies, cost is the biggest hurdle. Power produced by mixing sea with river water is several times more expensive than wind or solar energy.
The idea of producing electricity from salt and fresh water was first explored during the energy crisis of the 1970s, but membrane technology was not sufficiently advanced and scientists dismissed the process as hopelessly expensive.

The membrane industry has matured since then and is now widely used in water and pollution treatment, power generation, production of medical, biotech and electronics devices.
The main challenge is finding membranes that are efficient and robust enough to boost production, but also cheap.

"We have to be competitive with electricity from coal or gas," Boonstra said. The scientists believe it will take at least 5 years to develop cheaper membranes, test them and be able to put the project on the market. Norwegian project manager Rolf Jarle Aaberg believes power-from-water will be ready to seriously challenge other renewable energy technologies between 2010 and 2015. The new power plants can be built wherever fresh water meets salt water, such as the outlets from existing hydroelectric power stations, and could even be placed underground.
Statkraft and the European Commission put the production potential in Europe at 200 terawatt hours a year, or nearly twice the electricity consumption of a country like Norway.
The potential in Norway alone is estimated at 10 percent of its annual power needs. The river Rhine, for instance, could deliver 3,000 megawatts of power where it flows into the sea in the Netherlands -- the equivalent of five big coal-fired plants.

The new technique has attracted some skepticism, the scientists say, but they find comfort in history. "When the first wind energy turbine was installed in Germany in 1985, the whole industry laughed," said Frank Neumann of the International Energy Agency's ocean energy program.

A few Cromagnons in this country still laugh...

"It was a big failure then and millions were lost. But look at it now and how fast wind energy is expanding."

15 December 2005

Bob Barr says military dictatorship close

by Paul Joseph Watson & Alex Jones, prisonplanet.com (my bolding)

Former Republican Congressman and CIA official Bob Barr says that there is a danger recent developments describe a trend of America slipping into a totalitarian society and that the Bush administration are doing everything in their power to see that this happens.

During a radio interview with host Alex Jones, Barr outlined where the country is heading.

"Basically, as long as you smile when you demand to see somebody's ID at gunpoint sitting on a bus I guess it's OK for the government, that's sort of the way they operate. It can be a totalitarian type regime."

"I think it's a real danger where we have the military becoming involved in all sorts of domestic matters and we have the government being able to seize very private personal records on people without any suspicion that they've done anything wrong. This is a dramatic turn of events that has accelerated greatly since 9/11."

Barr made comments very similar to those of current Republican Congressman Ron Paul in stating that natural disasters could be used by the government as a pretext to abolish posse comitatus.

"If we have the military involved whenever there's a windstorm, rain or tornado then what we are doing is that we are undermining the entire basis on what our constitutional representative democratic form of government was founded."

Barr said that legislation like the Patriot Act and its imminent re-authorization and expansion were more of a threat to the American way of life than any terrorist attack.

"Even when the leaders in Washington say we're not going to let the terrorists change our way of life, they are implementing policies that do precisely that."

Barr elaborated that the manipulation of fear was a key cornerstone in the government's coup de 'tat on constitutional liberties.

"They're using people's fear of another terrorist attack to move forward with various government programs that the government has wanted to gather and put in place for many many years. They're using the fear which is now driving public policy in this country which is very unfortunate and very un-American. Our leaders are shamelessly playing on that fear to implement and grab power."

Speaking on the topic of the second amendment, Barr said that his position as a board member on the NRA enabled him to judge the difference between how the Clinton and Bush administration's approached the issue. Barr echoed the sentiments of many other prominent conservatives in expressing his frustration about how the Bush administration was even more anti-second amendment than the Clinton office.

"It's my impression to be honest with you, and this is confirmed by a lot of folks who are involved very heavily in regulatory matters involving firearms, that it is more difficult dealing with this administration than it was dealing with the prior administration."

Barr is currently working with the ACLU and others in trying to prevent the sunset clauses of the Patriot Act from being renewed, which could happens as early as this week.

Click here for an interview of Barr on The Al Franken Show.

An insulting picture

I saw this picture over on Le Revue Gauche. Now I consider myself to be a leftist and I like to think that I've got a sense of humor and all but there's something about this picture that I find completely insulting. I mean think about it for a second--the way some people on the left, just to get a cheap laugh, stoop so low as to insult our innocent simian cousins.

Around the internets

Just a few posts I came across worth taking a look at:

Nashville Truth, a conservative blogger, has a post titled " I hope we lose in 2006" criticizing the Bush administration's conservative credentials.

Blog of the Grateful Bear asks "Where would Jesus Shop?"

On Braveneworld, Lansohn rightfully expresses concern over the Kingdom of Bush where the sovereign has granted himself the "authority to imprison anyone on the face of the earth, without bringing charges, without an indictment, without a trial, without evidence."

At the Kitchen Sink Collective, Sarah dismantles Shrub's latest mea culpa.

And last but not least, The Barking Dingo analyzes some of that "left-behind-children" math being used in the meme about Iraq being safer than California. (Starting next year, we're going to require all rightwing bloggers to take a course in statistics before they pick up a mouse and start unaccompanied blogging.)

14 December 2005


Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, is one of the more radical experiments in the use of broad horizontal networks to share knowledge. Of course, this open-access model has led many people to question the accuracy of the encyclopaedia's entries. Yet a recent investigation carried out by Nature, while finding errors in both Wikipedia and commercial encyclopedias, discovered that the difference in accuracy was not particularly great with the average science entry in Wikipedia containing around four inaccuracies whereas Britannica contained about three.

13 December 2005

So much for fundamentalism

Religious Left has put together a good side-by-side comparison of Bush's statements and actions with those of Jesus.

Boycott swiss cheese!

Can you believe this?! Swiss Senator Dick Marty has asked the U.S. to confirm or deny the allegations that it illegally transported abducted suspects:

"The elements we have gathered so far tend to reinforce the credibility of the allegations concerning the transport and temporary detention of detainees - outside all judicial procedure - in European countries," he said. . . . He went on: "Legal proceedings in progress in certain countries seemed to indicate that individuals had been abducted and transferred to other countries without respect for any legal standards."

How audacious! I can't believe a European diplomat actually expects the U.S. to follow trite conventions such as "laws" or "regulations"! Where's Senator Marty been the last few years? Doesn't he realize that the American people have handed over sovereignty to King Bush, who is perfectly able (with some heavy coaching by Rove and Cheney) of determining the right thing to do with all those crazy brown people over there who are trying to get us. What's this Marty character trying to say, anyway? That we actually hold people accountable for their actions in accordance with our Constitution and laws? That we actually be engaged in the political process? What nonsense! The only thing that can possibly save us people living in the heartland of the world's only superpower is to give a small clique of individuals with strong corporate ties the ability to arrest and incarcerate anyone anywhere at will. Laws are for wimpy European bureaucrats who aren't men enough to blindly follow leaders.

Choice blindness: Does this explain die-hard Bush supporters?

This following experiment shows that we often justify our preferences after the fact, even when we don't really get what we want. I think we've perhaps finally found a reason why a few people can maintain their support for the mis-President Bush, in denial of the fact that his administration has been a disaster.

Duped and Clueless: How Easily We Fool Ourselves
By Ker Than LiveScience Staff Writerposted: 06 October 2005

Do you always get what you ask for? A new study finds that when you don't, you might not even notice the difference. Swedish researchers showed a pair of female faces to 120 volunteers for 2 seconds and then asked them to choose which one they thought was more attractive. The researchers then asked the volunteers to explain their choice. The trial was repeated 15 times for each volunteer, using different pairs of faces. but in three of the trials the faces were secretly switched after a decision had been made.

Surprisingly, not only were a large number of the volunteers oblivious to the switch when ultimately allowed to take a longer look at their choice, they were actually able to gave detailed explanations for why they preferred the face that, indeed, they had actually rejected. It would be asking for an apple and then explaining exactly why you wanted the banana you got instead.

'She's radiant'

The researchers call the phenomenon "choice blindness." "She's radiant," gushed one male volunteer about a face he didn't choose. "I would rather have approached her at a bar than the other one. I like earrings!" Another female volunteer said that the face she chose (which in fact she hadn't) looked nicer than the other. Lars Hall, a researcher from Lund University, thinks the volunteers were sincere when giving their reports and somehow failed to notice the switch. "'Confabulation' is perhaps a safe term to use," Hall said in an email interview. "That is, the [false] reports were constructed after the fact.'" After the experiment, the volunteers were presented with a "hypothetical" scenario: Suppose they were involved in an experiment where the faces you chose were switched. Would they notice?

Doubly blind

Eighty-four percent of the volunteers said they would. The researchers called this "choice blindness blindness." When the volunteers were told the truth about how they had been duped, many expressed surprise and even disbelief. The researchers don't yet know how or why choice blindness occurs, but they think it gets to the very heart of how we make decisions. Some of the most popular theories about decision-making assume that people will notice when their choices and the outcomes of those choices don't line up. "But as our experiment shows, this is not always the case," Hall told LiveScience. "Therefore the concept of 'intention' needs to be reevaluated and scrutinized more closely."

Choice blindness experiments may also provide a way to study subjectivity and introspection, topics once considered by many scientists to be extremely difficult or even impossible to evaluate scientifically. "If someone insists on knowing their own mind, it is very difficult to progress beyond this point," Hall said. "[But] by using choice blindness we can create a very particular—and very strange—situation in which we actually can say that someone is wrong despite the fact that they might vehemently claim to know their own mind."

Tags: , ,

11 December 2005

The history no one wants to talk about

This article brings up a central question we should all be asking now that Saddam is on trial--"Who in the U.S. brought Saddam to power and kept him there, in spite of the atrocities?" [My comments in red. My bolding for emphasis.]

Rumsfeld's Handshake Deal with Saddam: History out of Media Bounds by Norman Solomon

Christmas came 11 days early for Donald Rumsfeld two years ago, when the news broke that American forces had pulled Saddam Hussein from a spidery hole. During interviews about the capture, on CBS and ABC, the Pentagon's top man was upbeat. And he didn't have to deal with a question that Lesley Stahl or Peter Jennings could have logically chosen to ask: "Secretary Rumsfeld, you met with Saddam almost exactly 20 years ago and shook his hand. What kind of guy was he?"

Now, Saddam Hussein has gone on trial, but such questions remain unasked by mainstream US journalists. Rumsfeld met with Hussein in Baghdad on behalf of the Reagan administration, opening up strong diplomatic and military ties that lasted through six more years of Saddam's murderous brutality.

As it happens, the initial trial of Saddam and co-defendants is focusing on grisly crimes that occurred the year before Rumsfeld gripped his hand. "The first witness, Ahmad Hassan Muhammad, 38, riveted the courtroom with the scenes of torture he witnessed after his arrest in 1982, including a meat grinder with human hair and blood under it," the New York Times reported Tuesday. And: "At one point, Mr. Muhammad briefly broke down in tears as he recalled how his brother was tortured with electrical shocks in front of their 77-year-old father."

The victims were Shiites - 143 men and adolescent boys, according to the charges - tortured and killed in the Iraqi town of Dujail after an assassination attempt against Saddam in early July of 1982. Donald Rumsfeld became the Reagan administration's Middle East special envoy 15 months later.

On December 20, 1983, the Washington Post reported that Rumsfeld "visited Iraq in what US officials said was an attempt to bolster the already improving US relations with that country." A couple of days later, the New York Times cited a "senior American official" who "said that the United States remained ready to establish full diplomatic relations with Iraq and that it was up to the Iraqis."

On March 29, 1984, the Times reported: "American diplomats pronounce themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the United States and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been restored in all but name." Washington had some goodies for Saddam's regime, the Times account noted, including "agricultural-commodity credits totaling $840 million." And while "no results of the talks have been announced" after the Rumsfeld visit to Baghdad three months earlier, "Western European diplomats assume that the United States now exchanges some intelligence on Iran with Iraq."

A few months later, on July 17, 1984, a Times article with a Baghdad dateline sketchily filled in a bit more information, saying that the US government "granted Iraq about $2 billion in commodity credits to buy food over the last two years." The story recalled that "Donald Rumsfeld, the former Middle East special envoy, held two private meetings with the Iraqi president here," and the dispatch mentioned in passing that "State Department human rights reports have been uniformly critical of the Iraqi President, contending that he ran a police state."

So Rummy was cozying up to Saddam at the same time that the U.S. government was telling him that Iraq was a brutal police state. So much for the argument that he didn't know what was going on.

Full diplomatic relations between Washington and Baghdad were restored 11 months after Rumsfeld's December 1983 visit with Saddam. He went on to use poison gas later in the decade, actions which scarcely harmed relations with the Reagan administration.
As the most senior US official to visit Iraq in six years, Rumsfeld had served as Reagan's point man for warming relations with Saddam. In 1984, the administration engineered the sale to Baghdad of 45 ostensibly civilian-use Bell 214ST helicopters. Saddam's military found them quite useful for attacking Kurdish civilians with poison gas in 1988, according to US intelligence sources. "In response to the gassing," journalist Jeremy Scahill has pointed out, "sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the US Senate that would have denied Iraq access to most US technology. The measure was killed by the White House."

The USA's big media institutions did little to illuminate how Washington and business interests combined to strengthen and arm Saddam Hussein during many of his worst crimes. "In the 1980s and afterward, the United States underwrote 24 American corporations so they could sell to Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction, which he used against Iran, at that time the prime Middle Eastern enemy of the United States," writes Ben Bagdikian, a former assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, in his book The New Media Monopoly. "Hussein used US-supplied poison gas" against Iranians and Kurds "while the United States looked the other way."

Of course the crimes of the Saddam Hussein regime were not just in the future when Rumsfeld came bearing gifts in 1983. Saddam's large-scale atrocities had been going on for a long time. Among them were the methodical torture and murders in Dujail that have been front-paged this week in coverage of the former dictator's trial; they occurred 17 months before Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad.

Today, inside the corporate media frame, history can be supremely relevant when it focuses on Hussein's torture and genocide. But the historic assistance of the US government and American firms is largely off the subject and beside the point.

A photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand on December 20, 1983, is easily available. (It takes a few seconds to find via Google.) But the picture has been notably absent from the array of historic images that US media outlets are providing to viewers and readers in coverage of the Saddam Hussein trial. And journalistic mention of Rumsfeld's key role in aiding the Iraqi tyrant has been similarly absent. Apparently, in the world according to US mass media, some history matters profoundly and some doesn't matter at all.

This concluding sentence really sums it all up. Why bother discussing history at all if we're going to just cherry-pick the facts we want? And without a fundamental change in the way the U.S. does things, how can we be sure that Saddam's replacement will be any better? It's ironic, isn't it? We're trusting Rummy, the same person who helped keep Saddam in power (while he committed terrible atrocities) to create a democratic government in Iraq!

10 December 2005

Russia kidnapped U.S. citizen!

Wow! This is amazing news!

Yesterday it was discovered that the Russian government recently kidnapped David Johnson, an American citizen, and flew him to Cuba where he was held in a prison for five months and tortured. Johnson was brought back to the U.S. when it was discovered that his arrest was actually due to confusion with someone with a similar name. Olga Rizonivich, the head of Russia's Department of State, recently visited the U.S. where she was questioned by reporters about how such a mistake could be made. Olga insisted that such actions were necessary in this new era of international terrorism and assured everyone that "we were all in this together." David Johnson's family could not be reached for comment.

Towards a more balanced reaction

A recent discussion with Glen over at Nashville Truth has gotten me thinking about the recent debate over America's use of torture and secret kidnappings. One common conservative meme I keep running across is that extreme actions are all justified by the extreme evil of the enemy. Conservatives frequently imagine a good-intentioned young American soldier somewhere dealing with an evil terrorist hell-bent on blowing up the civilized world, and the soldier being constrained by softy liberals who have no stomach for the realities of war.

There are some fundamental problems with this meme. I won't debate that evil people exist, or that war involves some unavoidable degree of moral ambiguity. But the fact remains that democratic civilized societies always strive to maintain a balance between the degree of threat and the willingness to give up freedoms to deal with the threat. Despite all the rhetoric, terrorism is NOT a significant threat to our lives right now. Terrorism is inherently a tactic of the weak. People who control the U.S. government, on the other hand, have real power. I see no reason why someone would want to give these people, or the CIA, a free hand to do as they wish without public oversight. In addition to terrorists, Americans working for the government are always a threat. Why should we always assume that these people can be trusted?

I've mentioned this before, but the Iraqi who is in the famous picture with a hood on and electrodes attached was arrested for being at a political rally and on suspicion that he may have stolen a car. Yet someone somewhere decided to torture this man. (He was even tortured in other ways before the photo was taken.) There's little chance that he was a terrorist but I can almost guarantee that his family is now sympathetic with those who kill U.S. troops. So balance is required. I suggest that we be very careful about handing over the keys to power.

9 December 2005

Off the deep end

A tragic flood this morning destroyed the personal library of President George W. Bush. The flood began in the presidential bathroom where both of the books were kept. According to on-the-scene reporters, both of his books have been irretrievably damaged. A presidential spokesman said the president was devastated, as he had almost finished coloring the second one. The White House tried to call FEMA but there was no answer.

This would almost be funny if it didn't hit so close to home.

7 December 2005

Doubted for why he would fight

A Pakistani English textbook has been withdrawn. The book contains a poem praising the virtues of an unnamed political leader, but it just so happens that the lines contain an acrostic that spells out President George W. Bush. Musharraf's critics have criticized it, saying that this proves the Pakistani regime is a U.S. puppet. Some lines from this great work:

Bracing for war, yet praying for peace
Using his power so evil will cease.

Going forward and knowing he's right
Even when doubted for why he would fight

Easy in manner, solid as steel
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real.

Personally, I doubt for why this would be included in an English textbook.

What's happening out West

Talk about a tale of the bizarre. Spokane Mayor James E. West is being tossed out of office this month after voters recalled him in a special election. He allegedly used a city computer to woo gay men over gay chatrooms. West, a former Boy Scout executive and sheriff's deputy, was elected mayor in 2003. He had served more than two decades as a conservative Republican in the state Legislature, where he voted against gay-friendly bills.

As hypocritical as all of this sounds, I must say that I find it strange that people would actually kick this fellow out of office in the middle of his term. How many of us can honestly say we haven't used a work computer for personal correspondance at some point in our lives? People in the U.S. need to heed the Biblical warning and not toss too many rocks unless they themselves are free of vice. This sentiment is frequently expressed in other religions too. Buddhists, for example, are always advised to concern themselves with their own ignorance and delusion instead of self-righteously attacking the shortcomings of others. In the current era of corruption, when we have people like the Republicon Cunningham in Congress taking massive bribes (2.4 million!) from defense contractors, we should be patient enough to wait a year or two to kick people like West out of office.

6 December 2005

Bush: Truly a uniter, not a divider

It's so rare for the country to have a president with such a knack for uniting the country--against him! With this thought in mind, I quote an excerpt from a post by The Left Coaster:

Historians are starting to believe that Bush will prove capable of outdoing James Buchanan as America's worst.president.ever.

[James Buchanan] was the guy who in 1861 passed on the mess to the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Buchanan set the standard, a tough record to beat. But there are serious people who believe that George W. Bush will prove to do that, be worse than Buchanan. I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents.

Out of 415 historians polled by the History News Network, 388 believe Bush is failing, 77 thought he was succeeding, and a total of 50 felt that he was clearly in the lead for worse president ever. Even conservative historians are impressed with his ability to screw up. Here's the criteria that is brought up by historians as why Bush is so high in these rankings:
  • He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;
  • He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;
  • He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;
  • He has repeatedly "misled," to use a kind word, the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;
  • He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);
  • He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;
  • He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;
  • He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

5 December 2005

Two centuries later . . .

All those who applaud Shrub's attempts to throw open every wild area to fly-by-night mining operations should consider a recent study reported in the November 17th issue of Environmental Science & Technology. The study found that the mercury used by gold miners from 1850 to 1900 is still leeching into SF Bay, ultimately finding its way into fish and airborne mercury concentrations. The good news (if it can be called that) is that the bay is getting cleaner and if taken care of, might reach a new equilibrium in about 50 years.

Why is our government hiding information?

We recently learned that the CIA has, on numerous occasions, kidnapped innocent people in foreign countries and then has moved them to other countries where it held them secretly. For example, there's the case discussed in a recent BBC article:

The CIA kidnapped him [Khaled Masri] in Macedonia on Dec 31 2003, and flew him to Afghanistan, where he spent five months in appalling conditions. After realising its mistake, the administration debated whether to inform "the Germans" of the blunder, eventually dispatching the US ambassador to Germany, Daniel Coats, to tell the government, the paper said.

The kidnapping of innocent foreigners is bad enough. But then the CIA and U.S. government did everything they could to prevent both the German and U.S. public from learning about this. So the burning question I have for all of you who pretend to believe in Democratic government is how in the hell the U.S. government can justify not telling us?

Think about this for a moment. The person taken was found to be completely innocent. So any information about him isn't a secret. So the only justification for keeping this whole episode a secret is that there was a mistake (or perhaps, that it was illegal). Since when is the government allowed to prevent public access to information solely on the grounds that the information is embarrassing? This is complete nonsense! If certain people in the government (e.g., ) or if entire government institutions (e.g., the ) make a regular practice of unnecessarily hiding information from the public, we need to get rid of these people and these institutions. They don't belong in a Democratic society.

Who's leading? Who's being mis-led?

I keep thinking that Shrub is going to tell the truth about something at some point just to keep us off guard, but I may be mistaken. Think Progress had the following on one of those gaping holes in the latest propaganda blitz:

Yesterday, President Bush claimed that Iraqi security forces “primarily led” the assault on the city of Tal Afar. Bush highlighted it as an “especially clear” sign of the progress Iraq security forces were making in Iraq.

The progress of the Iraqi forces is especially clear when the recent anti-terrorist operations in Tal Afar are compared with last year’s assault in Fallujah. In Fallujah, the assault was led by nine coalition battalions made up primarily of United States Marines and Army — with six Iraqi battalions supporting them…This year in Tal Afar, it was a very different story. The assault was primarily led by Iraqi security forces — 11 Iraqi battalions, backed by five coalition battalions providing support.

TIME Magazine reporter Michael Ware, who is embedded with the U.S. troops in Iraq who participated in the Tal Afar battle, appeared on Anderson Cooper yesterday. He said Bush’s description was completely untrue:

I was in that battle from the very beginning to the very end. I was with Iraqi units right there on the front line as they were battling with al Qaeda. They were not leading. They were being led by the U.S. green beret special forces with them.

Video Clip: (Quicktime Streaming)

Outlaw Christmas? How American!

I'm a bit of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I've even been known to take off on a winter hike rather than face the yuletide clamor. Don't get me wrong--families and friends finding an excuse to get together is great, but all this pressure to buy, buy, buy, buy gets old fast. So I was pleased to come across this interesting piece of historical trivia from The History News Channel (via Corrente):

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. … After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

3 December 2005

Squirrels kill dog!

The next time you decide to go out into the woods and toss rocks at squirrels, you might want to consider this story:

Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park, local media report. Passers-by were too late to stop the attack by the black squirrels in a village in the far east, which reportedly lasted about a minute.

I don't blame them. Who'd want to get in the middle of a full-on squirrel assault.

They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh. A pine cone shortage may have led the squirrels to seek other food sources, although scientists are sceptical. The attack was reported in parkland in the centre of Lazo, a village in the Maritime Territory, and was witnessed by three local people. A "big" stray dog was nosing about the trees and barking at squirrels hiding in branches overhead when a number of them suddenly descended and attacked, reports say.

"They literally gutted the dog," local journalist Anastasia Trubitsina told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "When they saw the men, they scattered in different directions, taking pieces of their kill away with them."

See what capitalism does to a nation? A few years and Chip and Dale are tearing up Lassie.

Mikhail Tiyunov, a scientist in the region, said it was the first he had ever heard of such an attack. While squirrels without sources of protein might attack birds' nests, he said, the idea of them chewing a dog to death was "absurd". "If it really happened, things must be pretty bad in our forests," he added.

Hopefully the experimental rats in U.S. laboratories (especially the genetically enhanced ones) won't get any ideas from this story. There's only so much room up here at the top of the food chain.

Komosmolskaya Pravda notes that in a previous incident this autumn chipmunks terrorised cats in a part of the territory. A Lazo man who called himself only Mikhalich said there had been "no pine cones at all" in the local forests this year. "The little beasts are agitated because they have nothing to eat," he added.

Ten dead

Days after hearing how the suicide bombings are quieting down, we hear this grim news:

A roadside bomb killed 10 Marines and wounded 11 others on a foot patrol near Fallujah, the U.S. military said Friday. It was the deadliest attack against American troops in four months.

1 December 2005

America's bringin' democracy to the Middle East?

Hmmmmm. I wonder what's happening in that Middle Eastern nation that has traditionally been the second greatest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel. (Egypt has received 50 Billion U.S. dollars in the last 3 decades.) After 30 years of America's friendly hand, I'm sure Democracy must have taken wing. So with elections being held, let's take a look and see how effective the U.S. has been in promoting democracy in this country . . .

. . . police interference has intensified in the later rounds, after the Brotherhood scored unexpectedly large gains, increasing its representation in parliament more than fivefold.

You have to hand it to the Egyptians. Not only do they import democracy but they improve on it. Now, the government even sends police to help the people not vote for the wrong party. (We need to send these people some Diebold voting machines.)

In some towns, such as the Delta city of Zagazig, where a Brotherhood candidate was favored, voting proceeded without violence or intimidation. But in several constituencies, The Associated Press saw that voters had been barred.

In Balteem, supporters of the Nasserite candidate Hamdeen Sabahi began pushing and shoving riot police who blocked them from the polling station. The police tried to disperse the crowd with night sticks and tear gas, but voters responded by hurling stones, el-Ashqar said. Finally, the police fired into the crowd, killing el-Zeftawi.

Damn insurgents, trying to infiltrate a polling station. We need to send the Egyptian military more money so they can guard against these unruly voters trying to vote.

Earlier Thursday, the Interior Ministry accused the Brotherhood of inciting violence and attacking judges in polling stations. It said heightened security measures were taken to prevent Brotherhood supporters from "terrorizing" voters for other candidates.

Hundreds of people lined up in front of a school used as a polling station in Sandoub, 75 miles north of Cairo - the hometown of Brotherhood candidate Saber Zakher - but they were prevented from approaching by lines of riot police, armed with sticks, rifles and tear gas.
A police lieutenant said "I don't know" when asked why both polling stations in the village had been cordoned off. An AP reporter was barred from entering to ask the judges in the polling stations.

So 30 years and 50 billion in aid pays for cordoned off polling stations. So how about those countries without America's moral guidance? If we look over at Iran, we have a country that has had U.S. sanctions instead of aid, yet in spite of considerable flaws in its electoral system, it's more democratic than virtually every state in the region.

And we're supposed to believe that the U.S. is seriously trying to bring democracy to Iraq? The U.S. has failed to do so in Egypt. And in Kuwait, the U.S. restored the monarchy. What makes people think Iraq, with its Chalabis and Allawis, will be any different?