Saturday, October 27, 2007
Really, though, this is all overblown. Christianity is amazingly shallow yet broad in its mutability. Some believes that despite his position on the wealthy, Jesus nonetheless is happy to make people wealthy anyway. Then there are those for whom converting non-Christians is an imperative.
Andrew Belonsky: So, you’ve compiled these sixty scandals - everyone from Jack Ryan to John Paulk - do you have a favorite of those sixty?
Joseph Minton Amann: I have some favorite excuses. It’s hard to approach some these sex scandals in a humor book. Someone like Ted Haggard is pretty easy. When a pastor is doing crystal meth with a male hooker, that’s ideal. You couldn’t hope for better. But, you get into some of these child molestation things and it’s really hard to find a humorous approach. You’ll often find humors in those excuses: “That girl said I attacked her, but I actually tripped and fell on her”. My whole mentality is if you’re going to trip and fall on a young girl, you should probably pull your pants and underwear up first. Just as a general rule of thumb.
AB: Did you hear about the Reverend Gary Aldridge?
AB: That’s crazy. I’m sorry it didn’t make the book.
JMA: We’re launching a website: conservativesexscandals.com. It will be up next week. It’ll promote the book, but it will also be a way for us to deal with the scandals that we weren’t able to get in.. When we were doing this, we were looking for someone to write the forward and the first person who came to mind was Larry Flynt, because he has really taken a “let’s weed these people out” approach before they take office. When we asked him to write the forward, he said “Yes” right away. One of the notes he made when he was talking to us about it was “This isn’t a finite subject”. It’s not going to be over when we stop writing and it’s not going to be over when it publishes, so we decided to have a website to continually have updates.
AB: We have seen a surprising amount of political outings or sex scandals. Do you think it’s people like Larry Flynt and Mike Rogers who are asking for tips or do you think these people want to get caught? They’re just getting sloppy.
JMA: I think there is a little bit of that finger in dyke - which is a really horrible sounding metaphor. The concept that when repression builds - any kind of repression - when you really repress that, it comes out in a really unhealthy way. I think these people - what’s sad is that this is what they’re teaching their kids: “Don’t want that, don’t do that and everything will be okay”. Well, it’s not okay and it ends up coming out either people get hurt in the process or your family, your constituency… There are certain ones where it’s kind of fun to see the mighty fall. Ted Haggard was so pompous and talking about his “healthy” sexuality. When you have that pomposity about it and you look down on other people, I think a lot of people want to see you fall. I also think a lot of these people are - I don’t know if it’s that they want to get caught, but I think that they’re obviously getting caught up in self-destructive behavior, which catches up with them.
AB: In addition to taking these people’s careers and costing the Republicans elections, these scandals also perpetuate pretty gross myths about gay people.
JMA: Oh, like “That that’s what it means to be gay: to smoke crystal meth with hookers.” I think that helps gay people, because - I used to work for a furniture manufacturing company in Wisconsin and a lot of the people that I worked with, this was their first introduction to a gay person. What they start to see - I think that Ted Haggard-types help, because people who see healthy gay people around them, they start to realize that “Wow, when you don’t lead a healthy life style, you do act out in unhealthy ways”.
AB: But then you have people - like everyone who was in Washington this weekend for the Values Voter summit and people in Ted Haggard’s church - who think “Oh, well, this is exactly why homosexuality’s so wrong! It tempts you to do terrible things!”
JMA: Those people are kind of unsalvageable - really. If you’re going to see it that way. Chances are their kids are salvageable, but there are always going to be certain people that - it’s that way with racism, sexism, homophobia - there are always going to be people who are too far gone. You are not going to be able to show them that not all black people are trying to mug you and all women are trying to control their husbands. They’re always going to have those prejudices. Living in middle America, moving from Chicago back up into Wisconsin, it’s been very interesting to me to live in a town of 60,000 or something people and see that homosexuality is pretty accepted. It really is. You see little pockets of people who feel it’s immoral, but if you allow yourself to spend time with them, it kinds of dissipates when they see that you’re like everyone else.
AB: Do you think gay aspects of scandals matter? For example, nobody cares about Vitter anymore and his hookers, but everyone still cares about Larry Craig. Obviously they’re different cases, but it seems to me that there’s a gay tone to it makes it even more sensational. In the introduction to the book, you talk about what makes a really good sex scandal. Does homosexuality make it more sensational?
JMA: Yeah, it makes it more salacious. Had Larry Craig been a very liberal Republican who said, “Republicans need to lay off the gay issues” and then got caught in a homosexual affair, it wouldn’t be as big of a story as it is. I think the hypocrisy of it makes it big. That’s why I think that’s why Jim McGreevey and Larry Craig are so different. McGreevey got go on Oprah and say “I’m a gay American”. If you’re liberal, people will say, “Oh, he tried to apologize to his wife and -” People got over it. If you’re out campaigning against gays and against gay rights… Obviously guys doing it are more salacious than a man or a woman.
AB: How do you feel about the way the Republicans are treating Larry Craig?
JMA: It’s interesting. One of the key ones is how Romney’s been treating him. He had really done a lot for Romney and for Romney, the first thing to do was assume Craig was guilty and denounce him, because people will forgive that more than if he had supported Craig and then had egg on his face later. He took the safer approach, although it may have been the more callous and mean-spirited approach. I think the majority of Republicans were politically smart to instantly distance themselves and not do what they did with Foley. You know, I don’t know what I would do in their position. It’s hard when someone confesses and support them in changing their story.
AB: Do you think the Republicans have a chance?
JMA: I think everyone has a chance. I think their best chance is Giuliani and they don’t like it. They don’t like they would have to run a socially liberal guy who had done drag a lot and doesn’t want to get involved in gay issues. On paper, he’s probably a true conservative - have a federal government be small and let states deal with all the sex stuff - I don’t think they want that. They’re used to having the federal government push their social agenda. You know, I would like to Hillary to win, but I wouldn’t feel like the Republican winning would be the end of the world, either. I would love to have an election where I got there and say, “This is the guy that I’d like to win, but if the other guy wins I’m not going to puke”. That, to me, would be a victory.
AB: What do you want to accomplish with this book?
JMA: The main thing that I would like to see happen is that when people start - to move away from this party of family values. It’s such a load of bullshit. If projects like this can make it so that when people say that, people laugh at them, “You can say you’re the party of lower taxes, God love ya. You can say you’re the party of fast military action. Great. But don’t come back and say you’re the party of family values, ’cause you’re not.” That’s the best thing that could happen.
And you can find the book here.
1 out of 56 equals 'most'? No, it doesn't
During the Republican debate, Mike Huckabee said he believes one of the defining issues facing the country is the sanctity of human life. Arguing that the issue is of historical importance, he invoked the Declaration of Independence's rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and said that most of the signers of the declaration were clergymen.
Not even close.
Only one of the 56 was an active clergyman, and that was John Witherspoon. Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).
A few more of the signers were former clergymen, though it's a little unclear just how many. The conservative Heritage Foundation said two other signers were former clergymen. The religion web site Adherents.com said four signers of the declaration were current or former full-time preachers. But everyone agrees only Witherspoon was an active minister when he signed the Declaration of Independence.
One issue that may contribute to the confusion about which signers had a history in the clergy is that during the time the Declaration was written, people who studied at universities often received doctorates of divinity, a common degree designation, even if they were not working clergy, said Mary Jenkins of the Independence National Historical Park. As for religious affiliations, all of the signers were Protestant Christians with one exception, Charles Carroll of Maryland, who was Roman Catholic.
We'd like to give Huckabee every benefit of the doubt, but even if you consider former clergymen among the signers the best you could come up with is four. Out of 56. That's not "most," that's Pants-on-Fire wrong.
Fox Bidness Journal:
Countrywide Financial Corp.'s stock price rebounded sharply from its recent lows as the mortgage lender said it will eke out a modest profit in the current quarter after recording a $1.2 billion loss for the third period.And see how the lenders whine here.
Foreclosed real estate held by Countrywide totaled $676.1 million at the end of the quarter, up from $251.2 million at the end of 2006.
The damage has spread well beyond subprime loans, those made to people with weak credit records. One area of concern is the $26.8 billion of option adjustable-rate mortgages, or option ARMs, held as investments by Countrywide's savings bank. These loans, though classified as prime, are risky because they allow minimal payments in the early years but leave borrowers exposed to much higher ones later. Excluding loans made this year, payments were at least 90 days late on 3.3% of these loans as of Sept. 30, up from 0.3% a year earlier.
Like other lenders, Countrywide has had to become far more conservative after years of lax lending. It is demanding bigger down payments and adding restrictions to loans for investors and people who don't fully document their incomes or assets. Under the new guidelines, Countrywide said, 89% of the option ARMs granted in 2006 wouldn't be made.
Fresh foreclosure figures for California, Countrywide's biggest market, illustrate the challenge ahead. DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla, Calif., real-estate research firm, said the number of notices of default -- which can be filed when mortgage payments are 90 days late -- totaled 72,571, more than double the year-earlier level and topping the previous record of 61,541 in the first three months of 1996. About half of the defaults were concentrated in the region called the Inland Empire, which consists of two counties east of Los Angeles, and in the Central Valley, the heart of California's farm belt.
Fewer than half of the homeowners in default emerged from the foreclosure process by bringing their payments current, refinancing or selling their homes, compared with 81% a year ago, DataQuick said. Many homes had multiple loans, complicating negotiations with lenders. The number of California homes lost to lenders in foreclosure totaled 24,209 in the quarter, seven times as high as a year earlier and the highest level in DataQuick's statistics, which go back to 1988.
This can only be construed as an insult to the lap-dog press and, more importantly, the citizens:
Dana Perino said many words at today's White House press briefing. Here are some of them:A new low in the art, as it were, of lying:
"OK. Happy Friday. I do not have anything to start with ...
"Well, I'm not going to comment on market conditions or market movements. There's a lot of different factors that go into that ...
"Look, the problem here isn't the United States. It's not the international community. The problem is Iran ...
"You're going to have to ask FEMA ...
"Again, this is not -- the United States is not at fault. The international community is not at fault. Iran is at fault for not stopping its activities ...
"I'm not going to comment on it ...
"Iran has a choice to make. The problem is not with us; it is with Iran ...
"Well, I think it's a little bit more complicated than that, how sanctions work. And I'll have to refer you over to Stuart Levey at the Treasury Department for how all that works ...
"Well, I'm not an economist. And we could try to get you together with Eddie Lazear ...
"I'm not going to comment on the market movements ...
"Can I look into it?
"We'll get back to you on it ...
"Every time I come in here, you ask me about President Putin's comments and it's like you want me to say something derogatory or negative about another world leader on behalf of the president. And I'm not going to do it ...
"I am not saying that ...
"I didn't get a chance to sit down on that, but I'll check ...
"I can't remember exactly what our position is ...
"It's the first I've heard of it. And I don't know what the president's position is on it ...
"I'm not well-versed in all of the details ...
"But I'll ask Tony Fratto to get back to you on that ...
"I think it's too early to say ...
"I'm not going to comment on those press reports ...
"I'm sorry. I'm not well-versed in it, but we'll try to get you an answer ..."
Given what sometimes passes for journalism in Washington, it may have been just as well ... but did the folks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency really think it would be a good idea to have FEMA employees pose as reporters and ask softball questions during a FEMA press briefing on the California fires this week?
Well, yes, it appears that they did. And now that they've been caught, they still do.
As the Washington Post's Al Kamen reports, at least three and maybe four FEMA public relations staffers asked questions of FEMA deputy administrator Harvey Johnson during what was billed as a news briefing Tuesday. Fox and MSNBC both carried parts of the briefing live, apparently with no mention -- probably because they didn't know -- that the reporters asking questions weren't actually reporters at all.
Mike Widomski, FEMA's deputy director of public affairs, was one of the phony reporters and seems to be entirely untroubled by the episode. He tells Kamen: "If the worst thing that happens to me in this disaster is that we had staff in the chairs to ask questions that reporters had been asking all day -- trust me, I'll be happy."
Update: FEMA issued a statement this afternoon saying that it is "reviewing" its "press procedures" to ensure that its future communications are "straightforward and transparent." "The real story -- how well the response and recovery elements are working in this disaster -- should not be lost because of how we tried to meet the needs of the media in distributing facts," the agency says. "We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment."
At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino said that the White House didn't know about the phony briefing before it happened and does not approve of the concept. "FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error judgment when they were attempting to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regard to the wildfires in California," Perino said. "It's not something I would have condoned."
Friday, October 26, 2007
The government's terrorist watch list has swelled to more than 755,000 names, according to a new government report that has raised worries about the list's effectiveness.
The size of the list, typically used to check people entering the country through land border crossings, airports and sea ports, has been growing by 200,000 names a year since 2004. Some lawmakers, security experts and civil rights advocates warn that it will become useless if it includes too many people.
"It undermines the authority of the list," says Lisa Graves of the Center for National Security Studies. "There's just no rational, reasonable estimate that there's anywhere close to that many suspected terrorists."Link.
The exact number of people on the list, compiled after 9/11 to help government agents keep terrorists out of the country, is unclear, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Some people may be on the list more than once because they are listed under multiple spellings.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who plans a hearing on the report today, says "serious hurdles remain if (the list) is to be as effective as we need it to be. Some of the concerns stem from its rapid growth, which could call into question the quality of the list itself."
The Raw Story:
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann says the realistic threat of terrorism is being so overstated by the Bush administration -- and in turn, by Fox News -- that it's downright funny.
"What happens when the culture of fear begins to inspire not terror or outrage, but laughter?" asked Olbermann. "Am I being too optimistic, or has giggling now passed paranoia in response to the president and these macabre parrots working at Fox?"
Olbermann cited a report yesterday carried by Fox News which suggested that Al Qaeda may be the true culprit behind the rash of recent California wildfires. Basing their coverage on an article it said ran "five days ago" in the Arizona Republic, the Fox and Friends morning program discussed an FBI memo stating that an Al Qaeda detainee had brought up the possibility of such a plan.
Calling the the report "almost all wrong," the host took the network to task for grossly misreporting the age of the memo:
"The memo was reported not...five days ago, but six days ago -- plus 1,560 more days ago," said Olbermann. "The memo is from July 11, 2003. The Arizona Republic is a newspaper. Congratulations, Fox. But it has not been carrying the story...the guy who reported it doesn't even work there anymore."
Later in the program, Olbermann made up his own terror rumor about Al Qaeda's far-reaching powers:
"I heard Al Qaeda causes night to fall," he warned.
Something seems to have gone horribly wrong in an untold number of IT departments on Wednesday after Microsoft installed a resource-hogging search application on machines company-wide, even though administrators had configured systems not to use the program.Meanwhile, the Fox Bidness Journal readers speak:
"The admins at my place were in a flap this morning because Windows Desktop Search 3.01 had suddenly started installing itself on desktops throughout the company," a Reg reader by the name of Rob informs us. "The trouble is that once installed, the indexer kicks in and slows the machines down."
The blogosphere is buzzing with similar reports, as evidenced by postings here (http://sadjadbp.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!21F12BB61B822DFA!263.entry), here (http://dblume.livejournal.com/78836.html) and here (http://www.davidarno.org/2007/10/24/microsoft-update-strikes-again/).
"I'm slighly pissed of [sic] at M$ right now," an admin in charge of 3,000 PCs wrote in a comment to the first aforementioned link. "All the clients have slowed to a crawl, and the file servers are having problems with the load."
According to Reg tipster Rob, Windows Server Update Services (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/wsus/default.aspx) (WSUS) forced Windows Desktop Services (WDS) 3.01 on the fleet of machines even though admins had configured their system to install updates only for existing programs and the search program wasn't installed on any machines (well, until then, anyway).
It's been a rough several weeks for managers running Microsoft's auto update services. Last month, bloggers disclosed the existence of a Windows patch that silently and automatically installed itself (http://www.theregister.com/2007/09/14/microsoft_dispels_stealth_update_rumors/) even on Machines configured not to install updates. Critics cried foul on the principle that users should have absolute control over their machines. They also argued that the stealth update could hamper compliance requirements.
The revelation that Microsoft is pushing yet more installations not explicitly agreed to by administrators is not likely to sit well with this same vocal contingent. Redmond may want to don the asbestos suits now.
In January 1955, Homer Jacobson, a chemistry professor at Brooklyn College, published a paper called “Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life” in American Scientist, the journal of Sigma Xi, the scientific honor society.Link.
In it, Dr. Jacobson speculated on the chemical qualities of earth in Hadean time, billions of years ago when the planet was beginning to cool down to the point where, as Dr. Jacobson put it, “one could imagine a few hardy compounds could survive.”
Nobody paid much attention to the paper at the time, he said in a telephone interview from his home in Tarrytown, N.Y. But today it is winning Dr. Jacobson acclaim that he does not want — from creationists who cite it as proof that life could not have emerged on earth without divine intervention.
So after 52 years, he has retracted it.
The retraction came about when, on a whim, Dr. Jacobson ran a search for his name on Google. At age 84 and after 20 years of retirement, “I wanted to see, what have I done in all these many years?” he said. “It was vanity. What can I tell you?”
He found many entries relating to his work on compounds called polymers; on information theory, a branch of mathematics involving statistics and probability; and other subjects. But others were for creationist sites that have taken up his 1955 paper as scientific support for their views.
Darwinismrefuted.com, for example, says Dr. Jacobson’s paper “undermines the scenario that life could have come about by accident.” Another creationist site, Evolution-facts.org, says his findings mean that “within a few minutes, all the various parts of the living organism had to make themselves out of sloshing water,” an impossible feat without a supernatural hand.
“Ouch,” Dr. Jacobson said. “It was hideous.”
That is not because he objects to religion, he said. Though he was raised in a secular household, he said, “Religion is O.K. as long as you don’t fly in the face of facts.” After all, he said, no one can disprove the existence of God. But Dr. Jacobson said he was dismayed to think that people might use his work in what he called “malignant” denunciations of Darwin.
Things grew worse when he reread his paper, he said, because he discovered errors. One related to what he called a “conjecture” about whether amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein and a crucial component of living things, could form naturally.
“Under the circumstances I mention, just a bunch of chemicals sitting together, no,” he said. “Because it takes energy to go from the things that make glycine to glycine, glycine being the simplest amino acid.”
There were potential sources of energy, he said. So to say that nothing much would happen in its absence “is totally beside the point.” “And that is a point I did not make,” he added.
Another assertion in the paper, about what would have had to occur simultaneously for living matter to arise, is just plain wrong, he said, adding, “It was a dumb mistake, but nobody ever caught me on it.”
Vance Ferrell, who said he put together the material posted on Evolution-facts.org, said if the paper had been retracted he would remove the reference to it. Mr. Ferrell said he had no way of knowing what motivated Dr. Jacobson, but said that if scientists “look like they are pro-creationist they can get into trouble.”
“There is an embarrassment,” Mr. Ferrell said.
Dr. Jacobson conceded that was the case. He wrote in his retraction letter, “I am deeply embarrassed to have been the originator of such misstatements.”
It is not unusual for scientists to publish papers and, if they discover evidence that challenges them, to announce they were wrong. The idea that all scientific knowledge is provisional, able to be challenged and overturned, is one thing that separates matters of science from matters of faith.
So Dr. Jacobson’s retraction is in “the noblest tradition of science,” Rosalind Reid, editor of American Scientist, wrote in its November-December issue, which has Dr. Jacobson’s letter.
His letter shows, Ms. Reid wrote, “the distinction between a scientist who cannot let error stand, no matter the embarrassment of public correction,” and people who “cling to dogma.”
Well, plea copped two months after the bust -- hell of a long period to be too discombobulated to think, uh, straight.
And speaking of copping a plea in ignorance:
Turns he had an attorney (presumably not so discombobulated).
Query: Have Our Leaders and their enablers, really, included a single person of principal as opposed to nutjobs, whackos and thieves?
Remember how Larry Craig insists that he didn't talk to a lawyer before pleading guilty in the Minneapolis men's room case? Maybe that's true, but a report today in the Idaho Statesman adds a new wrinkle to that story: Four months before he was arrested in Minnesota, Craig hired criminal lawyer Billy Martin to advise him on whether he could sue the Statesman for investigating his sexual activities.
So let's make sure we have this straight. A U.S. senator is arrested for soliciting sex in a men's room after he's already hired a criminal lawyer to represent him in relation to allegations that he's solicited sex in a men's room -- and he doesn't think that it would be a good idea to tell the lawyer that he's been arrested?
Craig spokesman Dan Whiting says yes, indeed, that's exactly how this thing played out. "He never talked to counsel. He never talked to staff. He never talked to his wife. He didn't talk to anyone," Whiting tells the Statesman. "I absolutely guarantee it. I would bet my life on it."
The Statesman report contains another small amusement we hadn't seen before: On June 7, one of Craig's staffers -- a former trial lawyer himself -- wrote to the Statesman's publisher demanding that the Statesman and its reporter stop its investigation into Craig's sex life and "individually submit letters of apology to the senator and to his wife."
Craig was arrested in Minnesota four days later.
Maybe it's like the senator says.
"We're all creatures of habit," the senator explained in a completely different context -- a discussion about ways to avoid antibiotic-resistant staph infections -- earlier this week. "Habits are what we respond to daily, and we don't want to change our habits unless we're forced to, or unless knowledge tells us we ought to."
Well, birds of a feather....
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Look at these pandering nabobs of idiocy, if I may go somewhat Agnewesque; an embarrassment, each and everyone of them:
What struck me as particularly farcical was Senator McCain's post-debate assertion on Hannity & Colmes that America is a "right of center" nation.Link.
Republicans try to sneak this one by us quite a bit and, when it's repeated, the full implication is that the United States has always been right of center. It's a lie that fits nicely with the "America was founded as a Judeo-Christian Nation" lie.
The United States of America is composed of around 300 million mostly good people who are sometimes misguided, destructive, religious, arrogant, ignorant and self-important -- conditioned to consume everything. We're fat, prone to addiction and we love awful things like Steve Doocy and BK Stackers. We're a lot of crazy things, Senator McCain, but America is definitely not "right of center."
Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee (actual Microsoft Word spell check suggestions: chickadee, huskies, hoecake) tried to tell us this week that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were "mostly clergymen." That's another lie -- a corollary to the Judeo-Christian Nation lie. At most, five of the 56 signers of the Declaration were clergymen. And that's a generous accounting.
America was founded by men of the Enlightenment: a movement which emphasized reason, rationality, liberalism, anti-authoritarianism and political equality. The founders were revolutionary liberals who believed strongly in secular government. This is nowhere near "right of center" or indicative of a Judeo-Christian Nation.
Many of the founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, while claiming to believe in God, were deists and didn't believe in the resurrection or the divinity of Jesus Christ; they didn't believe in Christ's miracles or the holy trinity. Bill O'Reilly would've poked their eyes out with his pointy fingers.
Thomas Paine, whose writing inspired the Declaration of Independence, rejected all religions: "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." (The Age of Reason, 1794)
John Adams, as president, signed a treaty in 1796 which stated unequivocally: "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." There's no gray area there.
And, naturally, we have the First Amendment which includes that pesky Establishment Clause which separates church and state. That, and Article VI which forbids a religious test for holding public office. Clearly a section of the Constitution the Republican candidates have overlooked.
Make no mistake, the founders absolutely believed in the existence of a God or a Creator. George Washington often spoke of "Providence." But they were fighting and dying to escape the tyranny of a theocratic government. Why would they risk everything only to establish -- hell, to establish exactly what today's Republican Party wants: an imperial, conquering superpower fronted by a strong executive who legislates Judeo-Christian dogma?
The founders knew that theocracy and authoritarianism were the weapons of tyrants. Likewise, in establishing a constitutional democracy, they knew that if they sanctioned a national religion, then government would be able to tax and regulate religion -- suppressing religious expression. So the founders created a secular nation in which any and all religions would be free to prosper without government intrusion -- and vice versa.
As for the political and ideological views of the founders, you can't get much more liberal than instigating a rebellion and engaging in revolutionary warfare against a standing imperial army, a monarch (unitary executive) and a monopolistic mega-corporation (the East India Company, which received the most infamous corporate tax cut of all time -- triggering the Boston Tea Party).
Sorry Republicans. The founding fathers were secular liberals. And so are a majority of Americans right here and now. According to Gallup:
-Americans are pro-choice (67 percent)
-Americans support the Geneva Conventions with regards to torture (57 percent)
-Americans don't want the government snooping in their bank and internet records (67 percent)
-Americans want the USA Patriot Act changed or eliminated entirely (81 percent)
-Americans support protecting the environment at the expense of economic growth (55 percent)
-Americans believe that global warming is happening (86 percent)
-Americans believe that it's the government's responsibility to provide health care (69 percent)
-Americans support the decriminalization of marijuana (55 percent) and support the legalization of medical marijuana (78 percent)
-Americans think we've lost the war in Iraq (64 percent)
-Americans are opposed to attacking Iran (68 percent, according to a CNN Poll)
-Americans support labor unions (60 percent)
-Americans want government funding of embryonic stem cell research (56 percent)
-Americans believe that free trade hurts American workers (65 percent)
-Americans believe rich people and corporations aren't paying enough taxes (66 and 71 percent respectively)
-And overall party affiliation? 54 percent of Americans are Democrats (with leaners) and 39 percent are Republicans (with leaners).
That's "right of center"? I call bullshit aboard the Straight Talk Express.
And even if the numbers aren't so convincing, at the very least our political leaders are supposed to be well-educated, rational, reasoned, forward-thinking, progressive and, yes, secular... so we the people don't always have to be.
We can be religious zealots or we can be atheists. We can be rednecks, wingnuts, wonks, hoopleheads or layabout geeks. Just so long as our leaders aren't. Our American leaders ought to reflect not necessarily who we are, but who we ought to be. Senator Chris Dodd, for example, is representative of who we ought to be.
Before Reagan came along, Republicans were political moderates -- even liberal -- by today's standards. President Eisenhower established the Department of Education, Health and Welfare. And President Nixon, despite shitting all over the country, ended the war in Vietnam, established OSHA, the EPA and the first government affirmative action program.
Conversely, the most liberal of all modern presidents, Franklin Roosevelt, built the mightiest army the world has ever known. He built this army from scratch and used it to simultaneously defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
Yet somehow liberal is a bad word.
At some point in the last 30 years, the Republican Party totally flew off the rails, and in doing so must've sustained a blunt force trauma to the brain. The neoconservative movement decided that an imperialist, preemptive foreign policy combined with a deliberately moronic, Larry the Cable Guy, Wrestlemania, knee-jerk, warmongering, fearmongering style of politics would make the GOP more reflective of "Middle Americans."
And it's worked out, more or less. There are Republican voters watching FOX News at this very minute who, if they knew what the Enlightenment was, would probably think it was somehow "faggy."
I wonder what Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson or James Madison (a Christian who vetoed a faith-based initiative, by the way) would've said about a president who boasted that God told him to invade and occupy another country? Jefferson would probably convene an emergency meeting about authoring a brand new, shall we say, declarative document.
But I don't think Senator McCain, President Bush or Mike Huckabee would be allowed within a hundred miles of that meeting. Then again, I suppose they wouldn't have to be. They'd probably just wiretap the meeting and render the participants to secret overseas torture dungeons.
And God help those people so enfeebled that these panderers can restore their pride in America.
The Kurds are our favored Iraqis ('cause they have the oil, not that the war is because of oil or anything).
The Turks are our allies, if for no other reasons than they're NATO allies and not Islamofascists (yet).
But the Iraqis and Turks are ganging up on the Kurds and Our Leaders are cool with that?
Can someone explain this all to me? Can it be explained??
A litmus test: Wingnuts see this as treasonous or some sort prime sin; everyone else recognizes the simple truth:
“You don’t have money to fund the war or children,” Mr. Stark told Republicans last week. “But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.”Link.
And way more and a little context here.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Shameless fuck; what else can one say in response to this headline?
PREZ DONS DOG TAG OF L.I. HERO DURING MEDAL CEREMONYThe commenter claims that what the parents did was even more sickening. I report, you decide:
"What we were most touched by was that the presi dent immediately put that on under neath his shirt," Dan Murphy, who fought back tears during the cere mony, said of giv ing Bush the dog tag during an earlier private meeting in the White House.
"And when he made the presen tation of the Medal of Honor, he wore that against his chest."
James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize for his role in the
discovery of DNA, said that while he wishes everyone were
equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find
this is not true." Lynn Cheney announced that her husband
and Barack Obama are eighth cousins. "Every family," said
the Obama campaign, "has a black sheep."
During Burma's short-lived uprising late last month, young dissidents risked their lives to smuggle news of their peaceful protest to the outside world. They may have been up against Internet censorship software designed in America, if a connection found to exist in 2005 still holds.
Moreover, if a US firm wanted to sell Internet filters to Burma (Myanmar) today, despite several layers of economic sanctions against the government there, it would probably be legal to do so, say export lawyers.
Absence of federal regulation has allowed so-called censorware of at least four California companies to end up in the hands of foreign governments shown to block citizens' access to political, religious, and other websites.
Events in Burma provide new fodder for a censorware debate that had focused, until now, on China. Some experts note that repressive regimes might never have allowed Internet access at all if not for the filters, which tech-savvy citizens can overcome. But critics say US companies are breaking American values by abetting such censorship.
"Where the best and the brightest of Silicon Valley had been wiring the world, they are now, in these cases, doing the opposite," says Ronald Deibert, an investigator for the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaboration of Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge universities and the University of Toronto.
ONI researchers are conducting tests that have so far found censorship in 24 of 40 countries. Testing involves local users in each country trying to access various websites. Certain patterns and failure messages emerge, indicating which filtering system a country uses.
The software companies involved sell this technology primarily to private companies in the US and abroad. Companies use these tools to keep employees from accessing pornography sites and websites infected with viruses.
Repressive governments also turn to these American systems, not only to filter out porn and viruses, but also to block political, religious, and other websites.
Link + more.
The devastating fires continue to ravage southern California. At least one person has been killed, dozens have been injured, and hundreds of thousands have been evacuated from their homes, including a quarter-million people in San Diego alone.Link.Wildfires fanned by fierce desert winds consumed huge swaths of bone-dry Southern California on Monday, burning dozens of buildings and threatening hundreds more from Malibu to San Diego, including a jail, a hospital and nursing homes. […]And to hear CNN’s Glenn Beck tell it, that’s all right, because those people aren’t any good anyway.
Overwhelmed firefighters said they lacked the resources to save many houses.
“We have more houses burning than we have people and engine companies to fight them,” San Diego Fire Captain Lisa Blake said. “A lot of people are going to lose their homes today.”On the October 22 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, host Glenn Beck stated, “I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today.” Beck continued: “There are a few people that hate America. But I don’t think the Democrats are those. I think there are those posing as Democrats that are like that.”First, just in terms of his on-air comments, Beck is not only offensive; he’s incoherent. I’m left confused trying to understand who, exactly, he thinks hates America. Apparently, they are fake-Democrats who live in southern California?
And second, I’m equally confused about what kind of psychosis leads a person to look at the California wildfires and think about the political ideologies of those who are suffering. I mean, I’m a political guy, and have been for as long as I can remember. But when I see a family fleeing their home, en route to a shelter, because wildfires threaten their community, it just doesn’t occur to me to ask, “I wonder if those people hate America?”
I guess that’s what makes Glenn Beck special.
And of course San Diego is a known hot bed of lefty action. It's the base of the Comintern, no?
Wait, wait, wait!
Xeni says it better:
You stay classy, Glenn Beck. At least one person dead, ten firefighters injured, at least a thousand homes destroyed, 100,000 acres burned, 250,000 Jesus, HALF A MILLION people evacuated from their homes, 10% of San Diego population displaced, the largest internal evacuation in America since Katrina.
Nothing more America-loving than sneering at your fellow countrymen while they run fleeing with their children and families from giant wildfires destroying their homes.
And Beck's comment is particularly astute, given that some of the areas suffering greatest damage happen to skew conservative/GOP-voting, not to mention proximity to some of our nation's largest military installations. Link.
Don't bother visiting our scorched 'hood, buddy, because I suspect there are a bunch of Marines and firefighters here who'd like to offer you a tall, cold glass of whupass.
All these rescue oplans: They're to rescuer the lenders so they have more money with which to make wealth for themselves. As for the borrowers... well, no one who matters cares about them. They're just victims of greedy bullshit artists....
Another day, another letter, addressed to me, from Countrywide. Two weeks ago, the company wanted to sell a protection plan for my big-ticket home appliances. Today, the pitch is for car insurance. Yesterday, yet another "special invitation" to refinance my home loan. I've been writing checks to Countrywide for six years, but in all that time I've never been blessed with such an abundance of up-close-and-personal attention.Link.
Nonetheless, I just can't ignore the dour smell, the flop sweat of desperation that clings to every missive. Countrywide will be announcing their third quarter earnings this Friday, and the news is not expected to be good. It is beyond obvious that the corporate word has been laid down to every remaining employee: raise cash, now. If that means chopping down a forest to blanket the nation with mailings, no worries -- the forest products industry needs some love too, with all those saw mills idled by stillborn suburban developments.
Which all leads me to be skeptical of Countrywide's announcement on Tuesday that it will come to the rescue of at least 82,000 of its beleaguered subprime mortgage holders with a package of refinancing assistance and loan modifications worth a reported 16 billion dollars.
Countrywide executives are hoping that the move will be perceived as an example that the company is doing the right thing.
"We are determined to assist borrowers who have the willingness and wherewithal to remain in their homes, but need a little help to do it," said David Sambol, Countrywide's president and chief operating officer.
In some quarters, the move is being received precisely thus. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd called it "a welcome, if late decision" and Bruce Marks, chief executive officer of Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, labeled it "a big step," reported Bloomberg News. So maybe now we should all stop talking about CEO Angelo Mozilo's $136 million stock dump earlier this year, and tell the New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson to get off Countrywide's case.
Nope. Sorry. How the World Works isn't ready to move on. The rescue plan may well turn out to be a good thing for homeowners -- though the devil will be in the details, and so far all we've got is a press release to go by -- but, as CNBC's Diana Olick observes, "the company simply has to do this because there is no way it can survive otherwise." A continued swell of mortgage defaults and foreclosures will be a disaster for Countrywide. Already, reports the Financial Times, more than 13,000 properties are advertised for sale on Countrywide's Web site, up from 5000 in January.
As it sits on top of a growing stockpile of homes whose value is plummeting, in a market where no one wants to buy, with hundreds of billions of dollars of subprime ARMs yet to reset, yeah, sure, Countrywide is going to try and help you keep your home. Better you get stuck with it than them.
When George W. Bush said during his 2005 State of the Union address that "taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all," we vowed to pack those words away and pull them out again whenever the occasion warranted.And the serious analysis is here.
The occasion warrants.
As the New York Times reports this morning, the State Department cannot say "specifically what it received" for the $1.2 billion it has given to a company that was supposed to be building training facilities and deploying trainers for Iraqi police.
The problem is in the records -- they're in "disarray," the Post says -- and in the lack of oversight from State. The audit finds that State had all of two employees overseeing the $1.2 billion and 700 contractors in Iraq -- a level of supervision Iraq reconstruction inspector general Stuart W. Bowen Jr. calls "pretty weak."
How poor was State's oversight? This poor: As the Post explains, State initially told auditors that as part of its Iraq contract, DynCorp had billed the government $1.8 million for an X-ray scanner it never used and spent nearly $400,000 to put company executives in hotels rather than in existing living facilities. That's bad, but it gets worse: It turns out the expenditures weren't even made in Iraq; they were made in Afghanistan, which is, like, a totally different country.
But no worries now, because the State Department is totally on top of the problem -- and sometime within "three to five years," it says it will be able to square the payments it has made to DynCorp with whatever services it may have received from the company.
All of which reminds us of something else the president once said: Condi, you're doing a heck of a job.
Well, you know, it may not be Rudy after all. He still has plenty of time to implode....
Mitt Romney, campaigning in South Carolina Monday, seems to have had a hard time keeping his Obamas and Osamas straight.Yeah, well, he's busy looking for another couple of million bucks to contribute to himself....
"Actually, just look at what Osam -- Barack Obama -- said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq," Romney said. "That is the battlefield ... It's almost as if the Democratic contenders for president are living in fantasyland. Their idea for jihad is to retreat, and their idea for the economy is to also retreat. And in my view, both efforts are wrongheaded."
Romney's spokesman says the candidate meant to refer to Osama bin Laden, and that the two name slips were "just a mix-up."
Huckabee: But he drags his knuckles on the ground when he walks, no?
(Illo via Harper's.)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Anxious to avoid upsetting air travelers, NASA is withholding results from an unprecedented national survey of pilots that found safety problems like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than the government previously recognized.Link.
NASA gathered the information under an $8.5 million safety project, through telephone interviews with roughly 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots over nearly four years. Since ending the interviews at the beginning of 2005 and shutting down the project completely more than one year ago, the space agency has refused to divulge the results publicly.
Just last week, NASA ordered the contractor that conducted the survey to purge all related data from its computers.
The Associated Press learned about the NASA results from one person familiar with the survey who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss them.
A senior NASA official, associate administrator Thomas S. Luedtke, said revealing the findings could damage the public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits. Luedtke acknowledged that the survey results "present a comprehensive picture of certain aspects of the U.S. commercial aviation industry."
The AP sought to obtain the survey data over 14 months under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
"Release of the requested data, which are sensitive and safety-related, could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey," Luedtke wrote in a final denial letter to the AP. NASA also cited pilot confidentiality as a reason, although no airlines were identified in the survey, nor were the identities of pilots, all of whom were promised anonymity.
Among other results, the pilots reported at least twice as many bird strikes, near mid-air collisions and runway incursions as other government monitoring systems show, according to a person familiar with the results who was not authorized to discuss them publicly.
The survey also revealed higher-than-expected numbers of pilots who experienced "in-close approach changes" _ potentially dangerous, last-minute instructions to alter landing plans.
Officials at the NASA Ames Research Center in California have said they want to publish their own report on the project by year's end.
"If the airlines aren't safe I want to know about it," said Rep. Brad Miller, R-N.C., chairman of the House Science and Technology investigations and oversight subcommittee. "I would rather not feel a false sense of security because they don't tell us."
Discussing NASA's decision not to release the survey data, the congressman said: "There is a faint odor about it all."
Miller asked NASA last week to provide his oversight committee with information on the survey and the decision to withhold data.
We woke up last Monday morning to find the Washington Post reporting that the U.S. military believes it has "dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaida in Iraq in recent months." We didn't get too excited about the news; we've heard premature proclamations of victory before, and something told us that another shoe was still to drop.
We woke up this Monday morning to find the Washington Post reporting that the U.S. military believes that "Shiite extremists pose a rising threat to the U.S. effort in Iraq." The reason: By suppressing Sunni groups like al-Qaida in Iraq, U.S. forces have shifted the balance of power in favor of the Shiites.
The result of the realization: Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker have revised their plans for Iraq to focus more on combating the Shiite militias even as (1) they acknowledge that the U.S. military will never defeat all of its enemies in Iraq, and (2) they shift focus from the benchmarks they previously stressed to more "concrete, practical" -- read, "modest" -- steps they'd like to see Iraq's political leaders take.
Oh, and the troop drawdown that we're supposed to be seeing between now and July? The Post's report offers yet another reminder that it's not exactly a done deal. "Redeployments of U.S. brigades -- even of the surge forces -- are dependent on the security situation on the ground in Iraq," Petraeus advisor Col. John Martin tells the Post. "If Gen. Petraeus early next year sees the security situation deteriorating, he will have the courage to go back to the president and say he needs to keep forces that he had planned to send home."
He avoided the use of Bush's name again last night, but he wrapped his arms around the president nearly as tightly as he did during the 2004 campaign, when he said that he'd said after 9/11, "Thank God that George Bush is our president." Asked last night about his chances of beating Hillary Clinton, Giuliani said that if the polls had been correct in 2000, Al Gore would have been elected president.
Giuliani made it clear he preferred the alternative.
"I don't know, it might be a little colder -- I'm not sure," he said. "But I'm not sure we'd be any better off, right? We'd be in a lot worse shape, I think, with Al Gore. Thank you, Florida. Thank you. You saved us in 2000. That was a big one."
Monday, October 22, 2007
And there, of course, no such groups til we invaded.
An absolutely pointless war, another pointless death.
IT was one of those stories lost in the newspaper’s inside pages. Last week a man you’ve never heard of — Charles D. Riechers, 47, the second-highest-ranking procurement officer in the United States Air Force — killed himself by running his car’s engine in his suburban Virginia garage.
Mr. Riechers’s suicide occurred just two weeks after his appearance in a front-page exposé in The Washington Post. The Post reported that the Air Force had asked a defense contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, to give him a job with no known duties while he waited for official clearance for his new Pentagon assignment. Mr. Riechers, a decorated Air Force officer earlier in his career, told The Post: “I really didn’t do anything for C.R.I. I got a paycheck from them.” The question, of course, was whether the contractor might expect favors in return once he arrived at the Pentagon last January.
Set against the epic corruption that has defined the war in Iraq, Mr. Riechers’s tragic tale is but a passing anecdote, his infraction at most a misdemeanor. The $26,788 he received for two months in a non-job doesn’t rise even to a rounding error in the Iraq-Afghanistan money pit. So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for waste and fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. That doesn’t include the unaccounted-for piles of cash, some $9 billion in Iraqi funds, that vanished during L. Paul Bremer’s short but disastrous reign in the Green Zone. Yet Mr. Riechers, not the first suicide connected to the war’s corruption scandals, is a window into the culture of the whole debacle.
Through his story you can see how America has routinely betrayed the very values of democratic governance that it hoped to export to Iraq. Look deeper and you can see how the wholesale corruption of government contracting sabotaged the crucial mission that might have enabled us to secure the country: the rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure, from electricity to hospitals. You can also see just why the heretofore press-shy Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater USA, staged a rapid-fire media blitz a week ago, sitting down with Charlie Rose, Lara Logan, Lisa Myers and Wolf Blitzer.
Mr. Prince wasn’t trying to save his employees from legal culpability in the deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis mowed down on Sept. 16 in Baghdad. He knows that the legal loopholes granted contractors by Mr. Bremer back in 2004 amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card. He knows that Americans will forget about another 17 Iraqi casualties as soon as Blackwater gets some wrist-slapping punishment.
Instead, Mr. Prince is moving on, salivating over the next payday. As he told The Wall Street Journal last week, Blackwater no longer cares much about its security business; it is expanding into a “full spectrum” defense contractor offering a “one-stop shop” for everything from remotely piloted blimps to armored trucks. The point of his P.R. offensive was to smooth his quest for more billions of Pentagon loot.
Which brings us back to Mr. Riechers. As it happens, he was only about three degrees of separation from Blackwater. His Pentagon job, managing a $30 billion Air Force procurement budget, had been previously held by an officer named Darleen Druyun, who in 2004 was sentenced to nine months in prison for securing jobs for herself, her daughter and her son-in-law at Boeing while favoring the company with billions of dollars of contracts. Ms. Druyun’s Pentagon post remained vacant until Mr. Riechers was appointed. He was brought in to clean up the corruption.
Yet the full story of the corruption during Ms. Druyun’s tenure is even now still unknown. The Bush-appointed Pentagon inspector general delivered a report to Congress full of holes in 2005. Specifically, black holes: dozens of the report’s passages were redacted, as were the names of many White House officials in the report’s e-mail evidence on the Boeing machinations.
The inspector general also assured Congress that neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz knew anything about the crimes. Senators on the Armed Services Committee were incredulous. John Warner, the Virginia Republican, could not believe that the Pentagon’s top two officials had no information about “the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history.”
But the inspector general who vouched for their ignorance, Joseph Schmitz, was already heading for the exit when he delivered his redacted report. His new job would be as the chief operating officer of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company.
Much has been made of Erik Prince and his family’s six-digit contributions to Republican candidates and lifelong connections to religious-right power brokers like James Dobson and Gary Bauer. Mr. Prince maintains that these contacts had nothing to do with Blackwater’s growth from tiny start-up to billion-dollar federal contractor in the Bush years. But far more revealing, though far less noticed, is the pedigree of the Washington players on his payroll.
Blackwater’s lobbyist and sometime spokesman, for instance, is Paul Behrends, who first represented the company as a partner in the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group. That firm, founded by a former Tom DeLay chief of staff, proved ground zero in the Jack Abramoff scandals. Alexander may be no more, but since then, in addition to Blackwater, Mr. Behrends’s clients have includeda company called the First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Company, the builder of the new American embassy in Iraq.
That Vatican-sized complex is the largest American embassy in the world. Now running some $144 million over its $592 million budget and months behind schedule, the project is notorious for its deficient, unsafe construction, some of which has come under criminal investigation. First Kuwaiti has also been accused of engaging in human trafficking to supply the labor force. But the current Bush-appointed State Department inspector general — guess what — has found no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Both that inspector general, Howard Krongard, and First Kuwaiti are now in the cross hairs of Henry Waxman’s House oversight committee. Some of Mr. Krongard’s deputies have accused him of repeatedly halting or impeding investigations in a variety of fraud cases.
Representative Waxman is also trying to overcome State Department stonewalling to investigate corruption in the Iraqi government. In perverse mimicry of his American patrons, Nuri al-Maliki’s office has repeatedly tried to limit the scope of inquiries conducted by Iraq’s own Commission on Public Integrity. The judge in charge of that commission, Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, has now sought asylum in America. Thirty-one of his staff members and a dozen of their relatives have been assassinated, sometimes after being tortured.
The Waxman investigations notwithstanding, the culture of corruption, Iraq war division, remains firmly entrenched. Though some American bribe-takers have been caught — including Gloria Davis, an Army major who committed suicide in Kuwait after admitting her crimes last year — we are asked to believe they are isolated incidents. The higher reaches of the chain of command have been spared, much as they were at Abu Ghraib.
Even a turnover in administrations doesn’t guarantee reform. J. Cofer Black, the longtime C.I.A. hand who is now Blackwater’s vice chairman, has signed on as a Mitt Romney adviser. Hillary Clinton’s Karl Rove, Mark Penn, doubles as the chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, the P.R. giant whose subsidiary helped prepare Mr. Prince for his Congressional testimony. Mr. Penn said the Blackwater association was “temporary.”
War profiteering happens even in “good” wars. Arthur Miller made his name in 1947 with “All My Sons,” which ends with the suicide of a corrupt World War II contractor whose defective airplane parts cost 21 pilots their lives. But in the case of Iraq, this corruption has been at the center of the entire mission, from war-waging to nation-building. As the investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele observed in the October Vanity Fair, America has to date “spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan — an industrialized country three times Iraq’s size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs.” (And still Iraq lacks reliable electric power.)
The cost cannot be measured only in lost opportunities, lives and money. There will be a long hangover of shame. Its essence was summed up by Col. Ted Westhusing, an Army scholar of military ethics who was an innocent witness to corruption, not a participant, when he died at age 44 of a gunshot wound to the head while working for Gen. David Petraeus training Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in 2005. He was at the time the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.
Colonel Westhusing’s death was ruled a suicide, though some believe he was murdered by contractors fearing a whistle-blower, according to T. Christian Miller, the Los Angeles Times reporter who documents the case in his book “Blood Money.” Either way, the angry four-page letter the officer left behind for General Petraeus and his other commander, Gen. Joseph Fil, is as much an epitaph for America’s engagement in Iraq as a suicide note.
“I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars,” Colonel Westhusing wrote, abbreviating the word mission. “I am sullied.”
Sunday, October 21, 2007
The Republicans appear to have a tin ear for the national tragedy of widespread child sex abuse. Approximately 25% of girls and 20% of boys are sexually abused. Yet 90% of them never go to the authorities. The cost to society in healthcare (resulting from addictions, among other problems), lost productivity, and the deadweight of misery is mind-boggling. The Republicans, though, act as though it is one of those problems that will just go away. Leading Presidential contender Rudy Giuliani is merely the latest Republican to appear callous to the millions of sex abuse victims.
As I noted in a column written a year ago, the scandal over the inappropriate actions of Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) with congressional pages tarnished not just Foley himself, but Republican leaders too. Then -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and his staff failed to act on information about Foley's transgressions long before the rest of us learned about the way pages were being treated. Others who knew Foley was a potential problem, yet failed to act decisively, included House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-OH); John Shimkus (R-IL), head of the Page Board; Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA), whose page was involved; and Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY), chair of the House Republican campaign organization.
Over the year that has passed since then, these high-level Republicans have not been held accountable. Instead, the scandal disappeared from public view.
The Republicans had a moment when they could have been heroes to the millions of sex abuse survivors by allying against Foley and his practices. They could have initiated commissions, done studies, and held hearings on this national problem. Instead, after throwing Foley out (as they should have), they chose business as usual.
Is Rudy Giuliani any different? The evidence to date suggests the answer is "No."
Rudy Giuliani Has Strong Ties to Alan Placa, Who Has Been Accused of Sex Abuse and Covering up Others' Abuse by a Suffolk County, NY, Grand Jury
Giuliani currently has a tremendous opportunity to strike a blow for the millions of child sex abuse survivors by firing his lifelong friend Alan Placa, who is employed by his company, Giuliani Partners.
Column continues below ↓
Placa (referred to as "Priest F" in the 2003 Suffolk County, NY, grand jury report) is accused by the grand jury of both molesting boys and covering up others' abuse. Placa is on an apparently unlimited administrative leave from the Rockville Center Diocese, and has been ever since Newsday named him as a child abuser in 2002.
Placa was the legal advisor in the 1980s to the House of Affirmation, which provided psychological counseling services to priests accused of sex abuse. The grand jury report includes excerpts from a letter in which Placa brags about his ability to settle multi-million dollar clergy abuse claims for "$20,000 to $100,000." One person who worked at the facility called it a "pedophile boot camp," while an abuse survivor has called it a "breeding ground for sexual predators." Placa has co-owned property in New York with Monsignor Riordan - named in a sex abuse lawsuit against the Worcester, MA, diocese, which settled in the 1990s - and co-owned property in Florida with Rev. Kane, also accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit that also settled, with a non-disclosure agreement.
It does not take a genius to know that this is not just smoke - it's fire. Even so, Giuliani has defended Placa's employment on the ground that Placa has denied the claims and Giuliani believes Placa was "unjustly" accused. Right.
Giuliani Has An Opportunity To Stand Up for Sex Abuse Survivors
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse, more than anyone, know that lies and adult ties have kept them second-class citizens. What Presidential candidates, and not just Giuliani, need to understand now is that there is an emerging civil rights movement for children, as I have written before. Part of that movement is a demand that high-level officials in government, business, and religious organizations stop weaving falsehoods about child sex abuse for the public. They must deal only with the truth.
Here is what child sex abuse survivors are increasingly saying publicly: There is no honor in covering for a congressional colleague, a member of the clergy, or even a lifelong friend - despite the power and privilege involved. Adult ties that cover up abuse, and typically perpetuate it, are not ties worth honoring. These societal leaders should be leading the charge for survivors, not perpetuating the abuse through falsehoods and willed ignorance.
The Republicans fell far short of this standard in dealing with Mark Foley before he was outed to the public, and then after he resigned. Now, there is an opening for Giuliani.
There is an indisputable right and wrong side to this issue, and so far Giuliani has chosen the wrong side. He has a moment now to do what is right, and to let Placa go - before the other candidates figure out the reality: The millions of survivors of childhood sexual abuse are voting members of the public, no matter how silent they have been to date.
"I've got nothing to hide, so electronic surveillance doesn't bother me. To the contrary, I'm delighted that the Bush Administration is monitoring calls and electronic traffic on a massive scale, because catching terrorists is far more important that worrying about the government's listening to my phone calls, or reading my emails." So the argument goes. It is a powerful one that has seduced too many people.
Millions of Americans buy this logic, and in accepting it, believe they are doing the right thing for themselves, their family, and their friends, neighbors, community and country. They are sadly wrong. If you accept this argument, you have been badly fooled.
This contention is being bantered about once again, so there is no better time than the present to set thinking people straight. Bush and Cheney want to make permanent unchecked Executive powers to electronically eavesdrop on anyone whom any President feels to be of interest. In August, before the summer recess, Congress enacted the Protect America Act, which provided only temporary approval for the expanding Executive powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). These temporary powers expire in February 2008, so Congress is once again addressing the subject.
The FISA Amendments: The Administration Is Seeking Immunity for Miscreants
Because of the way electronic traffic is directed from foreign countries through the United States, the FISA Court had previously rejected requests to intercept certain foreign-person- to-foreign-person communications in the United States. It was a technical problem, arising from the fact that FISA was written before modern data routing had been designed, and FISA thus needed fixing. On this, everyone agreed.
However, when the Bush Administration asked for the necessary fix to FISA, it also requested much more, including immunity under the existing laws for all the telecommunications companies that have been assisting the government in its illegal warrantless surveillance. Significantly, this practice - justified by reference to the "war on terror" - apparently started well before 9/11 under the Bush Administration.
Ironically, in requesting this immunity, the Bush White House has refused to disclose exactly what type of activities Congress would be retroactively immunizing. Preliminary congressional inquiry has revealed that a massive amount of electronic surveillance of Americans has gone on under the Bush/Cheney Administration. For example, one of the telecom giants, Verizon, reported that between January 2005 and September 2007 they provided information on 94,000 occasions. These numbers suggest that Verizon was operating as merely another (and a secret) extension of the federal intelligence establishment.
Many of the companies appear to be violating a number of federal criminal statutes - such as 18 U.S.C. 2511, which requires a warrant for such surveillance and 18 U.S.C. 2702, which prohibits any "entity providing an electronic communication service to the public" from knowingly divulging "to any person or entity the contents of a communication" without a court order.
Currently, the telecoms are not likely to be particularly worried about being prosecuted by the very same government that instructed them to violate the law, and is leading the way in doing so itself.
But what about under the next Administration? The five-year statute of limitations will make them potentially criminally liable after Bush is gone - at least, unless the Bush Administration gains for them retroactive and future immunity. In a new Administration, the telecoms may be viewed not as cooperative patriots, but rather as criminal co-conspirators.
Civil Liability Appears To Be Driving the Immunity Request
Meanwhile, civil liability for these companies is also a realistic prospect. For example, in a San Francisco federal court, AT&T customers are seeking to protect their privacy with actions under laws like 18 U.S.C. 2520, which provides a civil remedy and hefty damages -- ranging up to $10,000 per day per violation. Since it is possible that, over five-plus years, there have been tens upon tens of thousands of such violations, the, if liable telecoms could be looking at hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars of damages.
The Bush Administration clearly wants to help its partners in crime; it also wants to avoid accountability for what it has done and is still doing. If the civil litigation proceeds - and one judge already ruled that the "state secrets" privilege does not prevent the plaintiffs from going forward - the Bush Administration faces the risk of a federal court's forcing it to disclose its unsavory surveillance activities.
Privacy advocates are horrified at the prospect of Congress's potentially protecting this activity through immunity legislation. Yet, in sharp contrast, most people could care less. Indeed few people seem to care about their loss of privacy, notwithstanding the fact that, like an invisible pollutant to our air or water, it is increasingly eroding our freedom. Unfortunately, it seems that the invasion of our privacy, like the destruction of our atmosphere, may be tolerated until it is too late to fix it.
One of the leading causes of both problems is ignorance. Privacy is a highly complex issue, so people easily accept the claims of those who assert that, if you are not doing anything illegal, you have nothing to be concerned about government surveillance, and if you are, you have no right to privacy to break the law.
Understanding the Misunderstanding about Privacy
For several years I have been reading the work of George Washington University Law School Professor Daniel J. Solove, who writes extensively about privacy in the context of contemporary digital technology. The current apathy about government surveillance brought to mind his essay "'I've Got Nothing To Hide' And Other Misunderstandings of Privacy."
Professor Solove's deconstruction of the "I've got nothing to hide" position, and related justifications for government surveillance, is the best brief analysis of this issue I have found. These arguments are not easy to zap because, once they are on the table, they can set the terms of the argument. As Solove explains, "the problem with the nothing to hide argument is with its underlying assumption that privacy is about hiding bad things." He warns, "Agreeing with this assumption concedes far too much ground and leads to an unproductive discussion of information people would likely want or not want to hide." Solove's bottom line is that this argument "myopically views privacy as a form of concealment or secrecy."
In his work, Solove addresses the reality that privacy problems differ: Not all are equal; some are more harmful than others. Most importantly, he writes, "to understand privacy, we must conceptualize it and its value more pluralistically." Through several years of work, Solove has developed a more nuanced concept of privacy that rebuts the idea that there is a "one-size-fits-all conception of privacy."
The concept of "privacy" encompasses many ideas relating to the proper and improper use and abuse of information about people within society. Privacy protects information not only because it would cause others to think less of the person at issue, but also simply to give us all breathing room: "Society involves a great deal of friction," Solove writes, "and we are constantly clashing with each other. Part of what makes a society a good place in which to live is the extent to which it allows people freedom from the intrusiveness of others. A society without privacy protection would be suffocation, and it might not be a place in which most would want to live."
Professor Solove's work - much of which he makes available online - helps clarify thinking about privacy in its fuller context, and helps explain what is wrong with reductive dismissals of privacy using the mantra, "I've got nothing to hide." Before rushing to give the Bush Administration more ways to invade our privacy, not to mention absolving those who have confederated with him to engage in the most massive invasion of America privacy ever, members of Congress should look at Solove's work. Too many of them have no idea what privacy is all about, and grossly underestimate the value of this complex and essential concept.
When the first baby boomer filed for Social Security, ABC News and the Washington Post's Dana Milbank led the pack in media scaremongering--pushing the widely disputed myth of a pending crisis while dismissing the less alarmist views espoused by many economists.
At the top of ABC's October 15 World News with Charles Gibson, the anchor declared this a "day of reckoning," later calling it "one of this country's greatest challenges." Correspondent David Wright called the first baby boomer filing for benefits "the raindrop that's about to become a tsunami," and warned that "paying for the baby boom's retirement may leave the next generation high and dry." The Post's Milbank (10/16/07) went further, claiming that baby boomers "will begin to bankrupt the nation."
The crisis claims in each report were more or less the same. According to ABC's Wright, "In 10 years time, Social Security will be paying out more in benefits than it takes in in taxes. And about the time the last of the baby boomers retires, the system will go bankrupt." As Milbank put it, "As the boomers retire, Social Security will go into the red in 2017 and become insolvent 24 years later, according to the system's trustees."
This rhetoric is profoundly misleading. Social Security has built up a massive surplus in order to pay for the long-anticipated retirement of the baby boomers. As FAIR reported in 2005 (Extra!, 1-2/05):
The Social Security Administration predicts the program will be able to fully pay all promised benefits through 2042, when most baby boomers will be dead--even using pessimistic assumptions about future economic growth. Annual productivity growth is forecast by SSA at only 1.6 percent through 2078; in the years 1913-1990 (including the Great Depression), it grew by about 2.3 percent, a rate that would more than wipe out any future shortfall (2004 Social Security Trustees' Report; The World Economy, OECD, 2001).
But for most of the media, no such context is allowed. The sole economic expert who appeared on ABC was David John of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, who likened the situation to a "horror movie." Milbank chided a Social Security commissioner for "whistling past the graveyard of entitlement insolvency" because he had the temerity to say, "There's no reason to have any immediate panic." Milbank even suggested that young people are "more likely to believe in UFOs than in receiving their Social Security checks"--a claim based on a misleading poll (Extra!, 3-4/97). Milbank offered the usual prescription--namely, "painful changes everybody knows will be needed."
But "everybody" does not agree with this assessment.
A few weeks ago, former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan--whose word the media usually takes as a kind of gospel--told Tim Russert on Meet the Press (9/23/07) that there was no urgent Social Security crisis at all. "Social Security is not a big crisis," Greenspan explained. "We're approximately 2 percentage points of payroll short over the very long run. It's a significant closing of the gap, but it's doable, and doable in any number of ways."
Renowned Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (New York Times, 12/7/04) has similarly debunked the notion that Social Security is heading into a crisis. The long-term financing of Social Security is "a problem of modest size....It's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come."
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic & Policy Research has written frequently about the overhyping of the system's long-term financial shortfall. (See Baker's co-authored book with Mark Weisbrot, Social Security: The Phony Crisis, 1998, and Baker's blog Beat the Press.)
ABC's Wright segued neatly from misleading about the problem to distorting the solution: "Of course, it's perfectly obvious how to fix it, either raise taxes or cut benefits. The politicians have been unwilling to do either." What is "perfectly obvious" is that in 1983, the Social Security Commission chaired by Alan Greenspan did raise taxes and cut benefits to create the surplus that now exists to pay for the retirement costs of baby boomers (American Prospect, 1/14/05).
With Americans' hard-earned Social Security money on the line, there is an urgent need for journalists to provide the public with accurate information, based on solid economic analysis. Yet instead of taking cues from economists, the media have decided to base their coverage on hyperbole from right-wing think tanks.
Encourage ABC and the Washington Post to stop inaccurate fear-mongering about Social Security, and expand their coverage to include experts who argue against the claims of an imminent Social Security "crisis."