Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Iraqi dam 'at risk of collapse'

The largest dam in Iraq is at risk of an imminent collapse that could unleash a 20m (65ft) wave of water on Mosul, a city of 1.7m people, the US has warned.

In May, the US told Iraqi authorities to make Mosul Dam a national priority, as a catastrophic failure would result in a "significant loss of life".

However, a $27m (£13m) US-funded reconstruction project to help shore up the dam has made little or no progress.
Iraq says it is reducing the risk and insists there is no cause for alarm.

However, a US watchdog said reconstruction of the dam had been plagued by mismanagement and potential fraud.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said US-funded "short-term solutions" had yet to significantly solve the dam's problems.

SIGIR found multiple failures in several of the 21 contracts awarded to repair the dam.

Among the faults were faulty construction and delivery of improper parts, as well as projects which were not completed despite full payments having been made.


H/T Elijah Zarwan who continues a tireless effort to keep the English-speaking world aware of news and conditions in the Levant. "Low-profile" reports and stories outside the popular news channels, many of which are literally of life and death significance.

Condoms for Keyboards

Boy, that title should get some attention!

Crawford Kilian at H5N1 blog points to common vector of bacterial transmission: keyboards.

Current stories about MRSA -- the deadly antibiotic-resistant infections -- should give legs to this story. (Excuse the image...I couldn't resist.)

A paper he received made the point.
The role of computer keyboards used by students of a metropolitan university as reservoirs of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci was determined. Putative methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant staphylococci isolates were identified from keyboard swabs following a combination of biochemical and genetic analyses.

His comment:

This evening I used a computer in my classroom; it had been used all day by other teachers. We have computer labs all over campus where scores and hundreds of students bang away on keyboards before leaving them to still other students.

And while I've long been aware of the unpleasant look of "plaque," the dirt and grease we see on so many keyboards, I hadn't thought about the possibility of picking up a serious infection from just another public computer.

This is like the famous pump handle in London whose removal is said to have ended a cholera epidemic in the 19th century. If computer keyboards are vectors of disease, we're going to have to develop some new habits. Fast.

I blogged about this a couple of years ago.

Here is a link for washable keyboards.

One solution may be a "virtual Keyboard" (PDF link).

A search for "vinyl keyboard covers" turns up a lot of results. Here is one that looks good to me. I never thought about it, but I noticed several products made to protect keyboards from children...sticky fingers, snack foods, etc.

And if you don't mind a few sideways glances, disposable surgical gloves may be the way to go. Next time my computer goes down and I have to use those in the public library, I think that's what I'll do.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reinhold Neibuhr -- Speaking of Faith

This week's Speaking of Faith program is dedicated to rediscovering the work of Reinhold Neibuhr. There is no way that a blogpost can scratch the surface of this iceberg of a subject. I post the link on the distant chance that some reader, somewhere, might find and listen to it.

Krista Tippett is one of the great journalists working today. She is putting together a body of work that will someday be one of the most reliable and important repositories of primary material assembled in our time.

Neibuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society was the title selected for this program. That work captures for me the most compelling of all of Neibuhr's writing. The summary of his contributions presented here, including his voice in sermons, is the most comprehensive and compelling I have found. The program is an hour long.

"Politics is the art of finding approximate solutions to basically insoluble problems."
Neibuhr quote by Paul Eli, author and editor

Hello Hulu

I don't watch much television but lots of people do, so this may be of interest to them.

Beta testing begins for Hulu

October 28th, 2007

Today marks the first day of Beta testing for the Hulu service.

We've been hard at work on a service that offers a great selection of television shows, clips, feature films and more that you can enjoy for free and on-demand. At Hulu, you'll find current hit shows like The Office, Prison Break, The Simpsons, Heroes, and many more. You'll also find a large number of classic television series, including Arrested Development, Miami Vice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The A-Team. We're also going into beta with an initial selection of feature films that includes Conan the Barbarian, Sideways and The Blues Brothers.

Starting today, we are sending out invitations which will allow users to access the private beta at If you haven't signed up, you can do so by visiting As well, this week we’ll start serving Hulu's content lineup to our distribution partner websites, which include AOL, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo.

I like to stay in touch with what's happening. But television is for me mostly a large time-waster. Sorry. I'm goofy that way. I also find sports talk, card games, AM radio and bars to be a mindless waste of time.

Boom Town has comments (and probably a mess of other places as well).

Wave the Flag Blog

Found a great new blog this morning by drilling into an old post. Tell about it later, but first catch yesterday's post:

Mortars overheard is freaky sounding

I'm out of cigarettes. Life has officially become miserable. Albeit I've gone back to smoking a pack and a hlaf a day, but still. I need menthol Cigarettes.

So we live here on our PB with some Iraqi Army soldiers and I gotta say, although I haven't been in a firefight with them, they're all around good people. They are some funny bastards. I've played an Iraqi version of dominoes which is a fun ass game, they've hooked me up with delicious fresh chicken and bread and good lord it's good. Here in my area we have the Concerned Local Citizen group, and for the most part, they're pretty helpful, All in all the locals around are decent seeming people, hopefully things don't take a turn for the worse.We should've done this kinda thing in the begininng, things would've been so different..

It's fun as hell watching outgoing mortar fire from the roof. But it sucks balls when you're inside trying to sleep. Loud as shit and shakes the whole house, waking you up.

That and being on the roof when outgoing mortars fly past me from our Battalion FOB is scary sounding as shit. The whistling is unnerving

One unexpected surprised however, is the quality of the food. Effing Delicious, that's all I gotta say. Like tonight we had a choice between shrimp scampi and chicken alfredo....I mean, seriously? In a shithole PB, with combat showers, and wag bags and burn pits, and random AK fire, we have this for dinner?

But ya, I need cigarettes.


Now that's what I call blogging. No nonsense, on the spot, in your face descriptions from a real soldier on the ground. Take it or leave it. I haven't read much, but I know in my heart this is a guy that knows what he's talking about. If I'm ever in trouble he's the kind of person I want covering me.

This is not the first time I have linked to this writer. He had another blog for a little while that he decided to stop maintaining in January. It was on my blogroll until then so I deleted it.

Last night someone hit Soldier memorials: still going on...from last July. That linked to A comrade says goodbye, another post from June the year before (2005), which has a moving description of a soldier memorial penned by this same writer. He left a comment at one of these links that made me want to shake his hand.

Welcome back to blogging, guy. Sorry I didn't catch the new blog when you started it the first of the year. When someone says they don't support the war but they do support the troops, you are exactly the kind of uniformed defender of the country I have in mind. In my mind, you are the real deal. Ready to do what has to be done and not putting up with a lot of shit. Keep up the good blogging and keep your butt down.

This is priceless:

One final thing. I hate ROTC shitbags, just seeing them makes me want to punch them in the face, fucking pissants.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lobbyists "shouldn't be able to buy a seat"

I still recall how surprised I was when a high school civics teacher told the class about lobbies and lobbyists. The whole idea struck me as suspicious at best and corrupt at worst. That was nearly fifty years ago and I have lived to watch the whole enterprise grow fat and slick. Arianna Huffington's Pigs at the Trough captured the story several years ago and the phrase gets a wonderful array of delicious reading from a Google Blog search. The image has become part of our definition of culture. Obesity will soon be a mark of patriotism, just like obscenely lavish lifestyles. Maybe that's why my Trojan commercial post keeps getting hits.

Senator Claire McCaskill, the Junior Senator from Missouri, noticed lines of people waiting for a seat in a public hearing...but the people in the line were not there to attend the hearing. They were paid "place holders" whose job was to get a seat for someone else. Lobbyists employ these people to stay close to the legislators who accept their largesse.

"Once I realized this was happening, I was really offended," she told reporters outside the hearing room. "This is the people's government and these should be the people's hearings. I have no problem with lobbyists getting into hearings, but they shouldn't be able to buy a seat."

McCaskill introduced legislation Wednesday to bar registered lobbyists from doing just that at hearings in the same way they're barred from buying senators a steak dinner. The penalty would be the same, too: up to $200,000 in fines and up to five years in jail.

"I think America believes that money runs this place, and unfortunately, I think sometime it does," McCaskill said. "I think this is a great way for us to put our foot down."

Last week a California State Assembleyman jumped on the sanctions-against-Iran bandwagon in support of a state move to remove any and all state investments in Iran, announcing with righteous indignation, "Money is the mother's milk of terrorism."

Do a search for "money is the mothers milk of" and you will find that "politics" comes up. It's true for terrorists and drug smugglers, of course, but terrorism is way down the list, if at all. The pigs at the trough come in first.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ariel Ramirez -- Misa Criolla - Gloria

Why this?
I dunno, except I was listening to some of my old links and noticed that when a March post was put together this video was not available for embedding.
Now it is...and isn't it wonderful?

As you listen, you might want to read my Lenten Reflections.
Two more videos at the link if you have time...

The richness of the Latino culture can and will be a proud addition to everything we call American. Heck, they don't call it SOUTH AMERICA for nothing, do they? Watch, listen and be open to what is happening. If the exercise makes you a little uncomfortable, that's okay. And if it makes you uncomfortable to the point of anger, hit the stop button and move on.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Muslims Against Sharia

Muslims Against Sharia is an old blog (in cyber-time) with new life.

A lot of non-Muslims will regard this group's recognition as long overdue. M. Simon put them in the spotlight.
I'm not excited about any outfit that says good things about Ann Coulter or Fox News, but they represent a move in the right direction.

Those of us who have personal experience with Muslims know well that they are not the devils being depicted by the loud and disrespectful voices that dominate the media. And I think most academic or professionsl types from a Muslim heritage consider it someone else's job to educate the chattering classes. They have more important priorities, like supporting their families, being the ordinary citizens they really are, and setting good personal examples in the communities and workplaces where they live.

So I add my welcome to this voice.

It is noteworthy that according to the archive the blog was started in 2002 with a single post. Three years of blog silence passed, then for 2006 seven posts are listed, including five videos taken from a PBS documentary. Finally last month, someone started posting regularly, and the place has come alive with commentary.

I am ecumenical enough to agree to disagree about a lot of things until we get to know one another better. That is the first step in non-violent conflict resolution.

Since the president himself now has the neologism Islamofascism in his famous vocabulary I suppose it takes on something like legitimacy. I still don't like it. If I may quote myself...

...the use of the word Islamofascism also has to be counterproductive to any civil discussion. And the president's use of the word is, from a diplomatic standpoint, obscene. It is the equivalent of a white bigot using the N-word while trying to reach agreement with a black adversary.

But these Muslim folks are admitting that the word exists and offer a constructive distinction between that word and others, less odious and inflammatory.

Internets Sideshow

This morning's best time-wasting entertainment item has to be yet another "Ten Most Dangerous" list, this one from Family Security Matters. (This link takes you to the home page. These people either don't know or don't like hyperlinks, so to find the "list" you will have to search among their "Must Read Articles" for the original. I noticed that even when I was at the source the address field still only displayed the HTML of the home page. Very odd, to say the least.)

Before revealing this wonderful list, here are a couple of observations.

►The list seems to cover the whole political spectrum, extreme left to extreme right. The "rationale," -- if it can be called that -- for each item appears at the site. In each case I can "see where they're coming from" but only in the same way that I understand how blindness affects someone discussing French impressionsts.

►It was necessary to drill three or four times into the links to bet to the source. All seemed reluctant to go directly.

►I have very mixed feelings about anyone, myself included, who looks down his nose at well-meaning groups. Although I find this list to be personally amusing, I recognize in myself a strong tendency to be a smug, rude, insensetive, tacky snob. We laugh at the ignorance of others at our peril.

That being said, here is the list.

10) ThinkProgress
9) Muslim Student Association
8) CodePINK
7) American Civil Liberties Union, National
6) Family Research Council
5) Center for American Progress
4) League of the South
2) Universities and Colleges
1) Media Matters for America

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hoots' Quick Guide to Naomi Wolf's Ten Points

Here is a quick reference list of Naomi Wolf's ten points. After grasping the thesis I find myself saying: Which point does this illustrate? or Which of the Ten Steps is that?

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Here is a narrative memory aid:

Internal and external enemy threats mandate the creation of a Gulag, supported by thugs and surveillance. By harassing groups and individuals using arbitrary detention and release, and targeting key people, the press [and reading public] can be controlled and manipulated. Dissent becomes treason and the rule of law is suspended.

This post has no meaning unless the reader is familiar with Wolf's book and the thrust of her thesis. Here are linkd to two rather lengthy posts that will take time to cover, even for a fast reader.

Naomi Wolf -- "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps"

Naomi Wolf and the defeat of the Dream Act

The first is copied directly from The Independent and is the work of Naomi Wolf prior to publication of her book. The second is a rant on my part relating how I got hooked. At this point I'm waiting for the rest of the world to take note.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Donald Sensing reports on Israel/Gaza

Sensing's credibility is unquestioned. I have been reading his blog from before I started my own. Anything he says you can take to the bank.

He just returned from a trip to Israel where he spent time in the area where rockets are launched daily from Gaza into Israel. This video shows what local authorities have collected in six months.

On Oct. 22, I took a video of the rack of recovered detonated rockets. This rack shows only six months worth of rockets launched. People in Sederot and surrounding areas have died from these attacks, including children. While “only” six rockets fell the day I was there, 20 were launched against Israeli civilians on Oct. 23, and six more the day after that.

More pictures and commentary at the site, including a picture of Donald Sensing. Now we have an image to go with his excellent observations.

Naomi Wolf -- "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps"

Here they are. (See end of post for a brief summary.)

Ten steps from representative government to fascism.

I am reminded of a political science class I took, "State and Local Government." The teacher was very clear about some of the foundational principles of what we like to call "democracy" which might more accurately be called representative government or representative democracy. The foundational ideas include "agreement on the general principles," a safeguard against "tyranny of the majority." My reading of history leads me to believe that fascism is an outcome of any "tyranny of the majority."

What follows is copied directly from the link...

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civilisation". There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an old trick. It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the nation's security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

2. Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") - where torture takes place.
At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or "criminals". Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can't investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: "First they came for the Jews." Most Americans don't understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People's Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.

3. Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode - but the administration's endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for "public order" on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station "to restore public order".

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens' phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.
In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about "national security"; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

5. Harass citizens' groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and harass citizens' groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.
Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 "suspicious incidents". The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track "potential terrorist threats" as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.
In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, "because I was on the Terrorist Watch list".

"Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that," asked the airline employee.
"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution."

"That'll do it," the man said.

Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of "enemy of the people" tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.
It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can't get off.

7. Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don't toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile's Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not "coordinate", in Goebbels' term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically "coordinate" early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that "waterboarding is torture" was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were "coordinated" too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

8. Control the press

Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s - all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened "critical infrastructure" when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy - a form of retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC's Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN's Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won't have a shutdown of news in modern America - it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

9. Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage'. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of "spy" and "traitor". When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times' leaking of classified information "disgraceful", while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the "treason" drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.
Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and "beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death", according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

In Stalin's Soviet Union, dissidents were "enemies of the people". National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy "November traitors".

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define "enemy combatant" any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at

Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually - for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. "Enemy combatant" is a status offence - it is not even something you have to have done. "We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model - you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we're going to hold you," says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests - usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn't real dissent. There just isn't freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

10. Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency - which the president now has enhanced powers to declare - he can send Michigan's militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state's governor and its citizens.
Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears's meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: "A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night ... Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any 'other condition'."

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act - which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch's soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias' power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.
Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere - while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are "at war" in a "long war" - a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president - without US citizens realising it yet - the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions - and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the "what ifs".

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani - because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.
What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.
We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.
Naomi Wolf's The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot will be published by Chelsea Green in September.


For my own reference and anyone who needs a crib list, here is the list without arguments.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag

3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals

8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Here is a narrative memory aid:

Internal and external enemy threats mandate the creation of a Gulag, supported by thugs and surveillance. By harassing groups and individuals using arbitrary detention and release, and targeting key people, the press can be controlled and manipulated. Dissent becomes treason and the rule of law is suspended.

Naomi Wolf and the defeat of the Dream Act

Last night Amanda Baggs posted a 45-minute video of Naomi Wolf giving a talk about her book, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. I watched a bit of it and continued reading while the audio continued to run, expecting to catch the gist of the thing and file it away for future reference. But the more she spoke, the more curious I became. A search tossed up Sunday night's Book-TV interview which I had watched for a few minutes. Watching that video, I recalled my initial reaction, basically the same as I was having to the other video: Here is a smart, passionate young woman peddling a powerful and timely idea that is sure to sell books and articles. She's from way out in left field, feels the market potential, and is selling cotton candy at the fair. I was in general agreement but since she speaks in generalities it is hard for me to send "non-believers" in her direction. Besides, she has a sharp edge ...not as odious as a Coulter or Malkin, but something like that... which can turn people off when they hear it. Pushy. That's what she is. Pushy with a smile.

This morning I am changing my mind about Naomi Wolf. After the last hour of reading I have come to the conclusion that her thesis is solid as a rock and if something is not done to curb a dangerous social and political drift our children and grandchildren will pay a penalty that none of us, conservatives as well as those of us left of center, really wants.

Amanda Baggs link. (video, 45 minutes)

Book TV link. (program takes an hour or more)

Ten points listed from The Independent. (Long reading. Save for later.)

Yesterday's post from David Neiwert does not make any connection with Naomi Wolf. Once again he talks about "sundown towns" and how the phenomenon is spreading . For those who don't know what is meant by the term, sundown town refers to a community that makes it clear, one way or another, that the good people of that place do not want anyone there who is not like them in every fundamental way. (Gives meaning to the word fundamental, by the way.)

I am familiar with the term from childhood. I never saw an actual sign, but my dad said there were places in Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee where signs were posted at the city limits that said "Nigger, don't let the sun go down on you in [town or county name]." The meaning was clear. If you were black you are not only unwelcome but likely to be at risk for injury or death if you were still there at sundown. It's one thing to visit, spend your money or work in a place. It's very different if you expect to live and be accepted there socially.

I was spoon-fed racial prejudice from an early age. I know what it feels like, tastes like and how it penetrates to the core of your very being. Thanks to an epiphany sometime in my youth, I left that part of my heritage behind. Unfortunately, like a reformed alcoholic or abuser, I was left with a higher awareness of the problem than normal, and so the rest of my adult life it has been my portion to point and inform every chance I get. This is the purpose of my post this morning.

(Flashback: as I wrote that last paragraph, I remember a story about my maternal grandmother. About 1959 I was listening to a record of someone reading short-stories by Somerset Maugham. There was a passing reference to "Blind Tom, a Negro half-wit who played the piano." We were living in Columbus, GA at the time which is where Blind Tom, a slave, also had lived. I noticed a historic marker about that which piqued my curiosity.

(My grandmother, who was in failing health, was living with us at the time, and I mentioned Blind Tom to her in conversation. She said that her father got a chance to see Blind Tom once while traveling on a train. He didn't hear him play the piano, but he met Blind Tom's master, or as she said, "the man who owned him." He asked permission to feel the man's head, which he did, because it was thought at the time that the shape and growth patterns of the skull had something to do with mental development. It was nothing more than a layman's interest in phrenology, but this great-grandfather of mine didn't want to miss the chance to feel for himself this remarkable man's head to see if he noticed it to be any different from anyone else's head.

(My grandmother told the story as dispassionately as if she were remembering a dress her mother had made. There was no hint that there was anything out of the ordinary, other than what we now call a savant's gifted ability to play the piano. No hint of racism, note. It was not necessary to mention that. The Brown decision was not yet five years past and a national movement was not to reach where we lived for a couple more years.)

Getting back to Naomi Wolf and Dave Neiwert...

At the end of Neiwert's post he referred to yesterday's defeat of the DREAM Act, a test vote in the Senate that once again reveals that the country is not yet ready to come to terms with what to do with illegal immigrants. That piece of legislation would have opened the doors of opportunity to the children of undocumented immigrants to start the slow, tedious process of becoming Americans the old-fashioned way: facing an uphill struggle like that which faced the progenitors of nearly everyone who lives here now. I remembered a great story from two years ago of some kids in Arizona who make the realization of the "dream" a possibility.

A blog search for DREAM Act is my wake-up call.
Scanning down the list of hits, I realize that the opposition to that piece of legislation is widespread and tight-knit. The angry rhetoric of shock-jocks, Fox News and journalists who claim to speak for the "conservative" side of American society is gripping the body politic in a way that makes Naomi Wolf's arguments sound a lot less shrill. Her credibility shoots way up when I come across one blog's commentary. Documenting statistics from Investor's Business Daily about widespread opposition to the DREAM Act, the blogmaster feels the need to add:

Please consider this: no matter how large or small the turd is and, no matter what color one paints said turd, the fact remains as follows; a turd is still a turd and no, you cannot pick up a turd by the clean end.

That language is not remarkable. It is an idiom not only understood but appreciated by a growing number of otherwise decent Americans. Lots of folks will think it's cute.

Nor is the Congress to blame. They know, both in the Senate and the House, that their jobs depend on not pissing off their constituencies too much. They can lean this way or that and call it leadership... but in the end, if they don't do pretty much what they were sent there to do, they will not be re-elected. Simple as that. Why else do earmarks outweigh common sense? The old-fashioned dilemma was "guns or butter" We now face "guns or bacon." Why else would a multi-billion-dollar war keep sucking up money when the price of S-CHIP is trivial by comparison? And yet, the bacon (earmarks) keeps coming home.

Link to Dave Neiwert's post.

End of rant. The day ahead beckons and I have other things to do. When I was young, I got radicalized by events around me. Now that I'm older, the same disease is returning. I don't know which is easier to take, a young person who doesn't know his head from a hole in the ground, or an old person getting ready to go into one.

Time permitting, here's another first-person contemporary account relative to this subject.

If anyone is still with me here, I urge you to give an ear to Naomi Wolf. She's on to something and I wish her Godspeed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Riverbend is now a refugee in Damascus

One of Iraq's most articulate and durable blogging voices is now posting from Syria. Those of us who have been following her posts have a human contact with the headlines that most readers seem not to have or want.

Here is the link. Josh Landis copied the post in toto and is attracting a few good comments.

I have given up trying to change minds about the war. Besides, it appears that events are set in motion at higher levels of power that no longer need the approval of ordinary people to take whatever steps they choose.

Bombs dropping on Iran sometime between now and the end of next year will come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention. Thanks to an amazing depth of indiffernce on the part of most Americans it won't matter much.

Michael Yon seems downright pissed that news from Iraq is not being accurately reported. He says the situation there has improved noticeably over the last few month and the details are not being reported. I have a high regard for his journalism so I accept what he says at face value.

...America seems to be under a glass dome which allows few hard facts from the field to filter in unless they are attached to a string of false assumptions. Considering that my trip home coincided with General Petraeus’ testimony before the US Congress, when media interest in the war was (I’m told) unusually concentrated, it’s a wonder my eardrums didn’t burst on the trip back to Iraq. In places like Singapore, Indonesia, and Britain people hardly seemed to notice that success is being achieved in Iraq, while in the United States, Britney was competing for airtime with O.J. in one of the saddest sideshows on Earth.

Whether or not events in Iraq are better or worse, it is clear that his analysis of America is exactly right. I rarely speak with anyone who can talk rationally, if at all, about the war. Domestic issues are more important to ordinary people. Discussions of foreign policy are akin to sports talk or celebrity gossip. Something to make conversation until something important comes what's on sale at Walmart, who's moving in down the street or where can you find the cheapest gas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fairness Doctrine Comment

Ever heard of the Fairness Doctrine?
Then you haven't been listening to talk radio. It's another conspiracy on the part of left-wing commies to take away freedom of speech.
I don't hear many voices advocating the idea, but it seems like
a scary idea to a lot of people.
Personally I never expect to see it in place, but Sara Robinson explains
why it should be.

Please: Why is this man still on the air?

Illegal aliens...What to do? What to do?

One of the satisfactions of blogging is posting something just because you want to, not necessarily because it is timely. This post is a re-run from two and a half years ago. It came up for one of my referrals last night and I had forgotten about it.

The immigration issue is one that the president and I agree about (as well as uncoupling health care from employment). I feel bad for him for blundering so badly in foreign policy, so it is time I said something positive. I don't want any new readers to think I routinely beat up the president for a pastime.

Come to think of it, the subject is not all that out of the news cycle. Opponents of universal health care advance the argument that "illegal aliens" are a burden on our otherwise wonderful health care system, causing those who pay (or have insurance paying on their behalf) face higher costs.

The effect of two million immigrants is incidental compared with the impact of forty million or so uninsured citizens, but this piece of arithmetic is not noticed in the debate.


La Shawn Barber has been complaining about Bush's plan to move illegal immigrant workers into a status where they can be kept better track of and abused less by the employers who illegally hire them. See also Sierra Faith, where I first saw this and commented before seeing it at La Shawn's site.
I agree with La Shawn on many things, but this is something I just can't come on board with.

Jeremy Pierce, writing at Parableman, picks up on an interesting point.
Read the whole post to catch the substance, but I want to copy here his reply to someone in the comments thread. This is inspired...

"It seems to me that coming into the country illegally should result in deportation, otherwise we may as well change our laws to avoid a lot of ballyhoo."

Bush was proposing a change in the law. Specifically, he was proposing that some of the consequences for entering the country illegally be removed. He never proposed that all of them be removed. If he had done that, given that it's bureaucratically easier to get in illegally than not, people will think it's easier to get in illegally than not, and therefore the same consequences for both would mean people would in effect be rewarded for illegal entry, simply because the illegal way would be easier.

Of course, that wouldn't be Bush rewarding illegal activity. For Bush to reward illegal activity, he would have to make things better for those who come in illegally than they are for those who don't. He hasn't proposed anything of the sort.

La Shawn, your point seems to be about fairness to different groups of illegal immigrants, not about the issues of this bill. Those who want to blow up our cities and government buildings aren't interested in permanent residency. They're interested in their goal. They're not interested in having someone be able to keep better track of them. They want to be invisible. There's nothing about this bill that weakens national security that isn't counterbalanced by the aspects of it that strengthen it.

"If George Bush wants to extend 'grace'to a 'frequently-abused' group, whatever that means, he may as well start extending it to everyone else. What right does he have to make up his own laws and ignore others?"

Um, he's the president, perhaps? He has every right to submit a law to the Congress for their consideration. That's in the Constitution. If it's a law that changes laws on the books, then that's what it does. That's how we change laws in this country, according to the Constitution. We write new ones that remove old ones.

It's hard for me to think of a civic leader's job as reduced to merely protecting the citizens, given the vast amounts of biblical material that says otherwise.

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. (Isaiah 10:1-4, ESV)

Like a roaring lion or a charging bearis a wicked ruler over a poor
people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 28:15-16, ESV)

It is not for kings, O Lemuel,it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously,defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:4-9, ESV)

If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields. (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9, ESV)

And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?—you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron....Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, "Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us." Therefore because of youZion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.(Micah 3:1-3, 9-12 ESV)

A careful read of Nehemiah alongside the Torah will show that he as governor had to apply the principles of the Torah in a new context, and what they had to do as a result was implement laws that were different laws, based on the same principles. His only way to follow God's law was to apply the statements given to Moses to his new situation. The laws Nehemiah was revising were directly from God regarding the wilderness situation or through Moses later in Deuteronomy regarding the new situation in the land, which even in that case involved revision. If you understand something new about a situation even when you don't get your laws from God, then aren't those laws open to revision, if even ones directly from God are?

Bush is aware, in a way that most conservatives choose not to be, that there's a serious injustice being perpetrated under his watch against those who did something wrong to be here. The fact that they did something wrong doesn't make it just for people to oppress them. Is the Christian thing in such a position automatically to go with the letter of the law against the oppressed while imposing piddling penalties in comparison against their oppressors, or is it to figure out if there's a better way to deal with the problem by changing the law? Maybe you disagree with the actual law. I wasn't trying to argue in this post one way or the other on how he was changing it. Clearly something is immoral about the current law, if the Bible is to be any authority in judging laws.

Jeremy Pierce is spot on with this comment.
I have nothing to add.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What's going on in Gaza?

This is either true or false. I have no reason to imagine it is made up. Something is very wrong with this picture.

...he was shot from his uncle’s house, just 50 meters away. The house was raided the night before, and transformed into a military site. The sniper was on the roof when he shot my cousin. This is how Israel legally and quietly harasses Gazans. They come in quietly from the border, whether its Sufa or Biet Hanoun or Khan Younis, and raid a house. They cut off all the phone lines and the electricity and lock the house residents into a room, declaring the house a military site. For the next day or so, they assess the area, and quietly plan. No one else in the neighborhood knows that the IDF has taken over that house, and it could be days before they leave. They come to arrest or kill so called militants, and raze trees and demolish homes of so called militant supporters. They then leave quietly, pulling back their tanks and bulldozers from Gaza, and sit at the Israeli-Gaza border until they decide on the next incursion.

H/T tabula gaza

Oldie from younger days

My buddy Catfish found an old favorite on YouTube. Listening to it carried me back....way a time when this was on the radio.
Am I the only one who liked to turn up the volume and sing along to myself alone in the car?
The second thumbnail on the You Tube menu links to Hair, another classic from the same era. The Cowsills may have known what they were singing about, but I doubt it. It was just another fun, cute song of the day....Riiight.

We were incredibly naive then.
We really believed all that stuff.
We have lived to see a day when our leaders no longer pretend to have dreams of peace.
And conflict resolution takes the form of preemptive strikes instead of diplomacy.

My friend Deborah White raises a scary question: What, if anything, might stop the president from bombing Iran after the election is over, before he leaves office?
Greg Djerejian listens to the Vice President and concludes it is as good as done. Just a matter of time.

Good Lord, deliver us.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Paul Krugman at Firedoglake

Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal is reviewed at FDL.
Jane Hamsher has set in motion a treasure among political blogs. It's been a while since I went there (choir members rarely pay close attention to the preacher) so I was blown away by how far my side of politics has improved. Inspires me to quit apologizing for being an old-fashioned Liberal.

Krugman begins by showing how middle class America was not a natural outgrowth of industrialization, but was constructed in a very short time by the policies of the Roosevelt era coming out of the Depression and World War II. Government raised taxes on the wealthy, created a public safety net for working families – Social Security, unemployment insurance – and fostered a private social contract – strong unions that exacted family wages, health care, pensions, paid vacations and more from corporations. This helped produce twenty-five years of prosperity in which America grew together (except for those who were locked out, like Blacks in the apartheid South)

That era ended, Krugman argues, not because of globalization or technology but because movement conservatives captured our politics and systematically succored the wealthy while skewering the rest of us. Tax burdens were shifted, corporations and capital deregulated, unions decimated, greed celebrated. By 2007, at a time of low unemployment and inflation, rising profits and productivity, most Americans thought the country was in or on the verge of a recession, even before the housing bubble burst.

How could a program designed to benefit the few win popular support? Krugman reviews the oft-told story of the rise of the right, the building of its infrastructure of politics and ideas, its use of national security, and social backlash to find a popular base.

But he cuts through much of the mystification to show how central racial prejudice — the white backlash to the civil rights movement – was to this project. It was Nixon’s southern strategy – race-bait politics that flipped the South – that enabled movement conservatives to capture and consolidate their hold on national power.

Now this conservative era is running on empty. The debacle in Iraq has stripped Bush of the security club he wielded against Democrats in 2002 and 2004. Race bait politics is turning Republicans into a white-only, reactionary regional party in a nation of increasing diversity and social liberalism. And as demonstrated in 2006, if Democrats stand up for working Americans, they have the opportunity to forge a new reform majority.

If they do, Krugman suggests their core agenda is clear. Start with universal, affordable health care, paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy. Raise the minimum wage, empower unions, particularly in the industries less exposed to global competition. Succeeding in these reforms will set the stage for more.

Krugman himself participates in the comments thread, commenting and answering questions, making that extremely long list (200+ at this writing) a motherlode of fascinating reading. My Sunday morning scanning got mired down for the better part of half an hour.


Question: Dr. Krugman, a serious question- wouldn’t universal healthcare be good for american businesses? Wouldn’t it help them to be more competitive?
Why doesn’t anyone ever make that argument? It seems so ridiculous to me- the republicans are against universal healthcare because government handouts are “against their principles” but they have no problem with industry bailouts.

Reply: yes, this is a real puzzle. The Big 3 auto makers are, in fact, enthusiastic supporters of single-payer health care — in Canada. (They send letters to the Canadian government warning that any tampering with the system would greatly hurt their competitiveness.) So why don’t they do the same here?
My take is that it’s two things. One, fear of retribution: as I wrote in my last column, for about a decade Tom DeLay and his friends did a pretty good job of turning K Street into an appendage of the GOP, not the other way around, and big companies were probably afraid to challenge the free-market line.
The other thing may be the difference between the interests of the company and those of its executives. Advocating universal health care might save GM, but get its CEO blackballed from the country club. Decisions, decisions.


Question: One of my lingering concerns about universal single-payer is that if we uncouple the cost of health care from individual purchasing decisions, people will come to see it as free and demand will spiral out of control.
I’m sorry, but that just makes no sense. Your children aren’t going to run out and get more measles and you’re not going to choose to have an extra heart attack because you have universal coverage.
Will people “choose” to get more preventative care? probably, which should reduce the demand for more expensive, late stage emergency treatment.
IMHO, anyway.

Reply: OK, on all this: the health care choices people make for themselves basically involve pocket change; visits to the doctor, minor surgery, are not where the money is.
The big stuff is in hugely expensive procedures: heart bypasses, dialysis, etc.. These things either get paid by insurance, or they don’t happen at all.
So making sure that everyone has insurance won’t lead to significantly higher spending on care — and it will save huge amounts on bureaucracy (Medicare has overhead of 3 percent; private insurance companies have overhead of 14 percent)
Conservatives love the “moral hazard” argument that people consume too much care because they don’t pay for it, but when you do the numbers it turns out to be basically nonsense.

Krugman believes the Healthcare debate was kicked into motion by Edwards. (►83) I think he's right. Elsewhere he mentioned that when Edwards opened the discussion then Obama and Clinton were obliged to join in.

He has the gift of snark (►117) as well as a refreshing take on the future of unions. (►129). But he wins my heart with this line from ►132: [T]he market system is a tool to be used when appropriate, not a deity to be worshipped without question.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Obama and Cheney: Cousins?

Senator Barack Obama and Vice-President Dick Cheney had a common ancestor...way long ago.

The wife of US Vice-President Dick Cheney has revealed that her husband is closely enough related to the Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to call him "cousin".

Lynne Cheney said that she had made the unlikely discovery of kinship between President George W Bush's hawkish deputy and the charismatic black Illinois senator while researching ancestry for her new memoir, Blue Skies, No Fences.

Oh, the temptation to one-liners...

Obama spokesperson Bill Burton couldn't resist:
"Every family has a black sheep,"

Thirty years in the food business has taught me the truth of something I heard from a prep cook long ago: We all got some soul behind us somewhere.

That's why Doc Searls is on my blogroll. I don't go there often because he has so much good stuff I get lost slogging around the Inernet. He is to the net what Sacagawea was to Lewis and Clark. How else other than
one of his links would I ever come across a video like this...???

(Noblesse oblige has come a long way.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Judith Warner: The Clinton Surprise

...The “we” world of Tucker Carlson knew what they knew about Hillary Clinton — right up until about this week, I think — because they spend an awful lot of time talking to, socializing with and interviewing one another.

What they don’t do all that much is venture outside of a certain set of zip codes to get a feel for the way most people are actually living.

Looks like the conventional wisdom is neither conventional nor wise. The rich get richer, the poor get children.

...America’s most wealthy earn an even greater share of the nation’s income than they did in 2000, at the peak of the tech boom. The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, the Wall Street Journal reported, earned 21.2 percent of all income in 2005 (the latest date for which these data are available), up from the high of 20.8 percent they’d reached in the bull market of 2000. The bottom 50 percent of people earned 12.8 percent of all income, compared with 13 percent in 2000. And the median tax filer’s income fell 2 percent when adjusted for inflation (to about $31,000) between 2000 and 2005.

Good column in this morning's NY Times.
Hundreds of comments if anyone has time to read them. And they're not the usual tripe. Some fluff but a lotta good stuff.

P.O. Box 1142 -- WWII Secret Intelligence

[Congressional Record: October 18, 2007 (House)][Page H11759]
Mr. MORAN of Virginia...

...from 1942 through the end of the Second World War, a top secret military intelligence service operated clandestinely on the shores of our own Potomac River. At Fort Hunt Park, along the GW Parkway, a secret installation operated silently in the shadows of our Nation's Capital.

Known only by its mailing address, P.O. Box 1142, the men and women at this post provided the military intelligence that helped bring an end to World War II and gave the United States an early advantage in the Cold War.

P.O. Box 1142 was an interrogation center. Throughout the war and its aftermath, the post processed and interrogated nearly 4,000 of the most important German prisoners of war.

The men who performed the interrogations were drawn from across the country. The shared attribute is that they all spoke fluent German to be able to interact with their captives. Many were Jewish, to ensure their loyalty to America's mission. And most had friends and family battling on the front lines against Nazi Germany. To them, the war was personal and would impact their lives forever.

Despite these circumstances, their interrogations never resorted to torture, used violence, or implemented cruel tactics to obtain the vital information required to support our Nation at war. Instead, their most effective interrogation technique was to start a dialogue to develop trust with their captives. They all talked with their captives, played card games, took walks, discussed their lives, and ultimately obtained the necessary information from their captives. Despite the apparent simplicity of these methods, these interrogations resulted in the discovery of most of Germany's secret weapons programs.

P.O. Box 1142 learned about research to develop the atomic bomb, the jet engine and the V-2 rocket, all technologies that became essential informational components in waging the Cold War. The detainment and interrogation of high-ranking German officials, such as Reinhard Gehlen, who ran the German intelligence operations, advanced our military intelligence operations well beyond the Soviet Union's capabilities.

In advancing the Nation's interests and uncovering vital secrets, the interrogators at P.O. Box 1142 never resorted to tactics such as sleep deprivation, electrical shock, or waterboarding. Their captives were never sexually abused, humiliated, or tortured. They never resorted to the methods that have recently branded our Nation so negatively. As a result of the war on terror, I'm afraid that America is now haunted by lasting images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The current intelligence community can learn from the men of P.O. Box 1142. For all our sake, I hope it's not too late.

Despite the vital work that the interrogators at P.O. Box 1142 performed, their activities remained closely held secrets by those who worked at the post. Many of these men never told family or loved ones. It wasn't until park rangers from the GW Memorial Parkway uncovered declassified documents and met former officers of P.O. Box 1142 that the operations that occurred at Fort Hunt Park during World War II became known.

Under the encouragement of the National Park Service, these park rangers identified veterans of P.O. Box 1142. They conducted professional oral history interviews. The deeper the park rangers dug, the more obvious it became they had discovered a remarkable story that had remained unrecognized by the officers because of their oath of secrecy.

A House resolution follows recognizing and thanking these men for their service. Since that time the bar has been lowered. modern terrorism is working wonderfully well. It is making otherwise decent people lose all sense of honor, decency, morality and propriety, sliding down a very slippery slope, redefining and expanding the meaning of torture to excuse behavior once considered unthinkable.

Link here to a Washington Post story about the men of PO Box 1142.

H/T Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News Blog

China and Iran Investing in Iraq

This is a problem???

Iraq has agreed to award $1.1 billion in contracts to Iranian and Chinese companies to build a pair of enormous power plants, the Iraqi electricity minister said Tuesday. Word of the project prompted serious concerns among American military officials, who fear that Iranian commercial investments can mask military activities at a time of heightened tension with Iran.

Looks like hearts and minds stuff to me.
Whaddya gonna do? Bomb the new infrastructure improvements?

The Lounsbury's comments are too good to skip.

Aside from providing a certain amusing lesson in economic interest, there are two key lessons here:

(i) That in high risk environments, private capital is cowardly (and rightly so),

(ii) that the US has and still is trying to "do" Iraq on the cheap and without real effort - not national mobilisation despite the Good & Evil rhetoric and calls to Second World War Hollywood imagery. No, drip, drip in billions of just enough for the moment to give the semblance of serious effort to the domestic audiences.

It makes the failure in Iraq sadder, but also more amusing to have the Chinese giving lessons in risk. It also makes more ridiculous the various ill conceived and half baked "economic initiatives" the Americans have launched in MENA, and Iraq - driven more by ideological wishful and magical thinking about magic entrepreneurship and private initiative springing full-formed out of Zeus's head than real effort to drive change, their "key word" parroted constantly and tiresomely in every bloody conference they bloody show up at.

Torture notes

It's a waking nightmare, this ongoing discussion of torture. Adult people...otherwise normal, loving, everyday people who think of themselves as Christian...are engaging in polite conversations that approve of torture. There is no easy way to say it. What in the world are we coming to?

This morning NPR reported on a CIA employee's reaction to Rendition, a movie depicting the torture of a US citizen (with "reason to believe" he was a terrorist, don't you know) by agents in a fictional third country in North Africa. The description was bad enough, but the reaction of the former CIA guy was chilling. Absolutely chilling.

In a neutral, clear, academic manner he betrayed no inclination to disapprove of what he had seen in the film, commenting that he was glad they got most of it right!

This is insane. Unspeakably crazy.

Hilzoy picks up a similar theme in a post echoing the Senate's initial examination of Alberto Gonzalez two years ago. His answers to their questions made him sound like an Eagle Scout.

“Senator, if I might respond to that, the president is not above the law. Of course he’s not above the law....I want to emphasize to the committee how important I think treaties like Geneva are for America, because they do represent our values, and in many ways and at many times, they have protected our troops. And it is true that part of winning the war on terror is winning the hearts and minds of certain communities.”

Comes now another nominee following the ignominious fall of the first. This time the Senators are falling all over themselves to embrace him. Maybe they think he can't cause too much trouble in the short time left in a lame duck administration. We'll see.

Emily Bazelon has reservations about the new nominee in
Rebound Relationship --The Senate runs into the arms of Michael Mukasey.

...the Mukasey-Senate love match doesn't go all that deep. Leahy next asks about the secret February 2005 memos signed by Gonzales, which re-loosened the reins on interrogators. (According to the New York Times, which broke the story, the memo approved tactics including head-slapping, freezing temperatures, and waterboarding again.) Unlike the Bybee memo, the 2005 opinions are still law. And here Mukaskey won't say he's planning to change that. "I'm certainly going to examine the underlying memos and the underlying facts," he answers. "But I have not been read in—I think that's the Washington expression—to any of the classified information" relating to interrogation.

This is a punt. It is also exactly the right move for him, because the senators can't do anything about it. Many such moments follow. etc., etc.

I feel like the kid in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. I've been pointing at a naked king for a long time.

Lindsay Beyerstein comments on the hearings...

I think it's safe to assume that Mukasey is lying when he says that he's "not familiar with the technique" of waterboarding--either that, or he's so sheltered as to disqualify himself for the job of the nation's top law enforcer.


October 22
A post at VC strains to minimize the importance of the film Rendition by undercutting the main theme with lawyerly rhetoric and prissy string of comments. Points are scored on both sides, but it's a smoking room discussion, more cerebral than visceral.