Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Grammar Check

Click on image to enlarge

(From Get Your War On)


Just how big a disaster is the war in Iraq?

The war has already been lost. All that remains is determining the manner and timing of the American retreat. There is little chance that Iraqi forces can be bolstered for long enough to provide even a patina of success to cover up the reality of defeat. Even with increasingly indiscriminate air support, there is no popular support for the American backed government or its troops.

Military historian Martin Van Creveld thus argues the model of Vietnamization that the administration seems to be hoping for can not work.
What had to come, has come. The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon— and at what cost. In this respect, as in so many others, the obvious parallel to Iraq is Vietnam.

Confronted by a demoralized army on the battlefield and by growing opposition at home, in 1969 the Nixon administration started withdrawing most of its troops in order to facilitate what it called the "Vietnamization" of the country. The rest of America's forces were pulled out after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated a "peace settlement" with Hanoi. As the troops withdrew, they left most of their equipment to the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam which just two years later, after the fall of Saigon, lost all of it to the communists.

Clearly this is not a pleasant model to follow, but no other alternative appears in sight.

Whereas North Vietnam at least had a government with which it was possible to arrange a cease-fire, in Iraq the opponent consists of shadowy groups of terrorists with no central organization or command authority. And whereas in the early 1970s equipment was still relatively plentiful, today's armed forces are the products of a technology-driven revolution in military affairs. Whether that revolution has contributed to anything besides America's national debt is open to debate. What is beyond question, though, is that the new weapons are so few and so expensive that even the world's largest and richest power can afford only to field a relative handful of them.

Therefore, simply abandoning equipment or handing it over to the Iraqis, as was done in Vietnam, is simply not an option. And even if it were, the new Iraqi army is by all accounts much weaker, less skilled, less cohesive and less loyal to its government than even the South Vietnamese army was. For all intents and purposes, Washington might just as well hand over its weapons directly to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
However, the alternatives are not pleasant either. Van Creveld predicts that a classical withdrawal
probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties. As the pullout proceeds, Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge— if, indeed, it can do so at all. All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not.
And then we will still have to deal with the growing maelstrom we have set into motion.

Van Creveld ends his piece looking for a point of historical comparison. He argues that this is "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them." I think the description is a bit unfair to Augustus though. Losing the legions in Germany had little lasting impact on the power or stability of the Roman empire. The current war is much more catastrophic and will only get worse.

America is now set on a course of irreversible decline. Even if we were allowed to get a better set of leaders, the problems George III has created on every level are likely to prove intractable.

A better historical analogy is truly disastrous Sicilian expedition c. 415 BC. launched by the Athenian Empire at the height of their power. They lost the war, their empire and their democracy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Self Parody

(via Shakepeare's Sister)

Divine Mission

Seymour Hersh has an article in the latest New Yorker discussing the possibility of a drawdown of US forces in Iraq. These plans depend on two pure fantasies. First, that newly trained Iraqi forces can take over the fight and second, that the insurgency isn't growing.

What plans there are involve the use of increased airstrikes to support the Iraqification of the combat forces. This is highly unlikely to be effective against the insurgency but it almost guaranteed to increase the already unbearable levels of Iraqi casualties.

But Bush will hear nothing of the grim realities of the situation and will not even consider real withdrawal, regardless of what Murtha, fellow Republicans or the American people have to say, because he believes he is on a mission from god.
Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding

Bush's closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; "Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
By modern standards of rationality, this is simply insane. Bush is divinely incapable of recognizing that we are losing the war, that we have already alreadly lost the war. The top generals are now too afraid to tell him the truth for fear of retalliation. Hersh suggests that they are now using intermediaries such as congressman Murtha to make the grim reality on the ground more public. However, reality isn't making much progress by that route either. After Murtha called for a pullout, Bush just ramped up the rhetoric,
"The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. . . . If they're not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I'm going to make you this commitment: this is not going to happen on my watch."
And even senior defense officials describe his response in religious terms,
'The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,"” the former defense official said. "He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage 'People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.'" He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. "They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway."
The only thing about Hersh's description that does not quite ring true is his claim that Bush believes it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq. Bush fairly obviously does not have much interest in democracy even in this country. He famously joked, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." Looking at what he has done over the last five years, it hardly seems like he was joking. Still, I have heard Hirsch make this claim several times before. So perhaps Bush does use the word, but what can it possibly mean to him? Conquest and subjugation to the will of god of which he is the chosen instrument?

Certainly, Cheney and others in the administration do not share this religious fantasy. They are just in it for the loot and power, but like George, they lack any concept of limits.


Hersh also has a really good interview on today's Democracy Now!.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


(Steve Bell's latest from the Guardian)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

How to dissect Christopher Hitchens

Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb has an excellent, detailed article The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens in the most recent Monthly Review, which goes far beyond earlier analysis to show just how far round the bend this former leftist has gone.

The critique is well worth reading despite its overly florid prose, a defect apparently endemic to much of the writing of the British left. If Seymour could just tone it down a bit, following more the example of Chomsky than Hitchens, he could become a far more widely read and potentially even great political analyst.

The real virtue of political writing, like philosophical thinking, is clarity. And this is all the more true for those on the left where, one would presume, the goal of reaching the largest possible audience is paramount. The overuse of arcane vocabulary and poetic metaphor flatters the writer but limits the audience, setting up a hierarchy that contradicts the goal of active and critical mass participation in politics.

That said, it is the best analysis yet of what's the matter with Christopher Hitchens.

Also worth mentioning are this earlier piece by Norman Finkelstein and Christopher Hitchens Watch, a website devoted to cataloging the decomposition of Hitchens' mind.

Their latest post is on Hitchens' Thanksgiving Address in the Wall Street Journal, I kid you not. It is of course an ode to the unqualified greatness of America, utterly oblivious of that earlier genocide for which the holiday really stands. Here is a short taste of what a complete twit Hitchens has become:
You can have a decent quarrel about the poor return [genocide] that Native Americans received for their kindness in leading Puritans to find corn and turkeys in the course of a harsh winter. You may find yourself embroiled, as on Columbus Day, with those who detest the conquistadores [apparently Hitchens doesn't] or who did not get here by way of Plymouth Rock or Ellis Island [i.e. in slave ships]. ("Not for us it isn't," as the receptionist at Louis Farrakhan's Final Call once glacially told me, after I had pointed out that her boss had desired me to telephone that very day.) Even Hallowe'en is fraught, with undertones of human sacrifice and Protestant ascendancy. But Thanksgiving really comes from the time when the USA had replaced the squabbling confessional colonists, and is fine, and all-American, too.
A more flippant dismissal of our history of genocide and slavery is hard to imagine. How can anyone take this guy seriously any more?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Chomsky hating from beyond the grave

After the Guardian apologized for and withdrew the substantially fradulent Emma Brockes "interview" with Chomsky, reasonable people might have thought that the issue was settled. True, I did receive one overheated and frankly incoherent comment continuing to defend the Brockes piece as proof that Chomsky was intellectually corrupt and dishonest, but I had put this off to the writer being off his meds.

Apparently there are more of these Chomsky-hating dead enders out there and Brian Leiter takes one of them apart in an extrordinarily detailed, instructive and entertaining way. Earlier, Leiter also presented this interesting diagnosis of Chomsky haters.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Theocracy Watch

The Dec/Jan issue of Mother Jones is all about various threats from the christian right, including an article on the openly theocratic christian reconstruction movement, an amazing chart of the expanding universe of the christian right, the fight over intelligent design at Baylor University, the Jimmy Swaggert award for god abuse and much much more.

Elsewhere: the devil apparently didn't make them do it.

Christian Metal Kills

Photo of Pilar in concert (via Salon)
On the night of Oct. 6, David Ludwig, 18, and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Kara Beth Borden, went to church. There was no sermon, though -- at least not a traditional one. David and Kara were at the Lancaster Bible Church in Manheim, Penn., for a Christian rock concert. As the punishingly loud guitars of Audio Adrenaline and Pillar strained the limits of the church sound system, the kids screamed and pumped their fists and banged their heads. "Pillar and Audio A rock my face off!" David wrote on his blog the next day. Kara spent almost all the money in her pocket on a Pillar sweatshirt. She was wearing it the morning of Nov. 13 when, police say, David shot and killed her parents and fled with her at his side....

Pillar ended its Oct. 6 set with a song called "Fireproof." It must have struck a chord in David. He posted the lyrics on his blog:

I know where I stand and what'll happen if you try it
I know my heart and I just can't deny it
I tried to tell you but you wouldn't be quiet
I'll never bow down and you won't buy it

Like many edgier evangelical bands, Pillar specializes in battle anthems, composed on the premise that Christians are under constant spiritual attack.

What's for dinner, Dick?

Is it turkey?

or kittens?

or something else entirely?

How about a bit of priest?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Alien Imagination

Take me to your leader is a great slide show and talk about the history of alien invasion themes in New Yorker cartoons.

And Tony Blair has visions of making nuclear power respectable again.

Now why the heck was it that everyone hasn't been building more nuclear power plants? Oh, that. And that. And that. And of course then there is this:

Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanks for the wild turkey and
the passenger pigeons, destined
to be shit out through wholesome
American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil
and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and

Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen,
feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for
Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind the
own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the
memories-- all right let's see
your arms!

You always were a headache and
you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.

For the full experience of course, you need to hear Burroughs reading it.

UPDATE 11/24: Boing Boing now has a link to a video of Burroughs reading the poem!

And Robert Jensen has an excellent article about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin -- the genocide of indigenous people -- is of special importance today....
And a real authentic vision of Thanksgiving can be seen over at The Defeatists!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chemical Weapons

The lies just keep unraveling. Democracy Now has more revelations about white phosphorous as a chemical weapon
New evidence has emerged that the U.S. military used chemical weapons during the assault on Fallujah a year ago. Last week the Pentagon confirmed for the first time that it used white phosphorous as a weapon to attack Iraqi fighters. But the Pentagon rejected claims that white phosphorous is a chemical weapon. White Phosphorous is often compared to napalm because it combusts spontaneously when exposed to oxygen and can burn right through skin to the bone. While the Pentagon is denying white phosphorous is a chemical weapon, a newly uncovered Defense Department document, reveals that is just how the military described it when Saddam Hussein allegedly used it a decade ago. A declassified 1995 Pentagon intelligence document reads QUOTE "Iraqi forces loyal to president Saddam may have possibly used white phosphorous chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels." Meanwhile a British commander has admitted that he trained his troops in using white phosphorus as a weapon. Until now the British government has maintained it used white phosphorous but only for tactical purposes.
How a lie slowly becomes the truth:
  • We didn't use white phosphorous in Iraq.
  • Well, we did use white phosphorous, but only for illumination purposes or was it for obscuration purposes?
  • Well, okay we did target a few buildings
  • Well, and yes we did fire some rounds at insurgents but that's not prohibited and besides WP is not a chemical weapon
  • Oh, okay okay maybe it is a chemical weapon but it's not that bad...

Smearing Vonnegut

Just after we got the surprise apology and retraction of the Emma Brockes' doctored interview with Noam Chomsky from the Guardian, we get this miserable hatchet job* on Kurt Vonnegut in the Weekend Australian. Or there is the shorter and even worse version, titled US author lauds suicide bombers. First of all, the interviewer David Nason is some utterly shallow clueless boob who finds Vonnegut's world view viscerally distasteful and hasn't even bothered to read Vonnegut's work before interviewing him. Then the "interview is 75% Nason and 25% Vonnegut. To top it off, Nason spends most of the article measuring him against the standards of his own self-righteous emotional correctness.

Now this Vonnegut "interview" has already started to generate a predictable wave of Vonnegut bashing even on the left similar to the earlier rounds of attacks on Ward Churchill. Any understanding of why the insurgents are fighting us in Iraq, other than "they hate us for our freedom" must be attacked and the person expressing the view must be ritually cast out from the world of civilized discourse. Contrast this piece of crap with a real interview of Vonnegut in In These Times.

And speaking of Ward Churchill, there is a good interview with him, Racism is a cowering thing in the new issue of Briarpatch.

And there is still another interesting (but short) interview with Patti Smith in this week's Village Voice about the 30th Anniversary of Horses.

*Thanks to Counago & Spaves for the reference.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Still civilizing the savages

Weird. The New York Times published a review of a new book on Andrew Jackson right after I put up my last post. Coincidence or a sign of intelligent design?

Anyway, here are some snippets from what they have to say about his treatment of Native Americans:
Jackson's role in fighting Indians should be understood in light of the danger they posed on the frontier. [ed. tr. defending their homes and culture] But less easy to defend is the expulsion of Indians who had Americanized themselves, notably the Cherokees of Georgia who practiced agriculture, developed a written language and abided by the white man's law [ie. good tame Indians who abandoned their savage culture]... Brands rightly condemns Jackson for his hypocrisy in maintaining that expulsion was a humane solution, although he qualifies this by saying that nearly all white people agreed with Jackson that no good alternative to his Indian policy existed...

Expelling the Cherokees, and most of the other "Five Civilized Tribes," from their lands east of the Mississippi may have been popular but remains a crime against humanity... unlike George Washington, another and greater man with humble roots who became an entrepreneur, general and president, Andrew Jackson makes your blood run cold.
It is nice to see some small dim recognition of what a monster he was, but coupled with a complete obliviousness about the right of Native Americans to defend their homes and culture, it still makes me a bit ill. Racism against Native Americans is apparently not only alive and well in the 21st century, it is still respectable.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thanksgiving and Ethnic Cleansing

An excerpt from Andrew Jackson's speech to Congress 8 December 1830 in favor of the removal of all Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi to lands further west:
It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation...It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community...Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the conditions in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?

Worst President Ever?

This is a snappy new sticker that has been making the rounds lately. It raises a question that I have struggled with for a while. Is Dubya really the worst president ever?

It certainly seems so today, but it is hard to keep a clear historical perspective on things. Nixon killed a lot more people, untold millions in Vietnam and Cambodia. Reagan gave us the Contra War, Salvadoran death squads, and Guatemalan genocide. Even Kennedy brought us to the brink of global nuclear war in a fit of macho posturing.

I in no way want to minimize the horror of what Dubya has done and still less what he may have set in motion or yet stir up. But in terms of the pure physical damage and mass murder he is in no way the worst, at least so far. In terms of eroding basic human rights, however, he is no doubt a contender for the worst ever, though Andrew Jackson, who made bridles out of Indian skin for his horses, could give him a good run for his money.

I think the best case for Dubya as the worst president ever is in terms of the waves of destruction he has set in motion on virtually every front: from exacerbating the crisis in the Middle East beyond the point of no return to policies designed to accelerate global climate change to the rehabilitation of torture and disappearance as instruments of national policy to the accelerated dismantling of civil liberties in the US to attacks on science and education to the promotion of theocracy.

None of these converging vectors has reached full potential yet, but the wave is looming on the horizon.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Malice, ignorance and some fun

"This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there ... If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now."

Bush Advisor Richard Perle
lenin has an excellent analysis of what is at stake in the increasingly hair splitting discussions of whether the US use of white phosphorus weapons is a war crime.

The American Progress Action Fund is working to put some anti-torture ads on TV. The video is on line at the site.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a new documentary about torture at Abu Ghraib: A Few Bad Apples. The film "provides the context for understanding how rules were muddled, chains of authority confused and "forward leaning" interrogation methods authorized by the highest levels through the stories of the soldiers caught in the resulting chaos." It is supposed to be available for viewing on line later today.

And for a proper dose of skepticism see Chris Floyd on the Senate's sham rebellion against torture and tyranny.


Chris Mooney talks about the evolution of creationist strategy in the wake of their loss in Dover and victory in Kansas.

And Red State Rabble has an idea about how to recruit science teachers to Kansas

and some fun

Apparently, Scotty is having some trouble beaming up.

And Christopher Hitchens' worldview bursts into song.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Better late than never, I guess...

(via the Village Voice)

Some hawkish democrats are now finally turning against the Iraq war. So apparently is Bill Clinton. Principled or not, it is about fucking time. Of course they are opposing the war for the wrong reasons and drawing the wrong lessons but I will take what I can get.

That said, where the fuck were Clinton and the Democrats during the buildup to the war when we had a real chance of avoiding the bloody inescapable quamire we are in now. They were wrapping themselves in the flag, supporting Bush and criticizing the anti-war movement for its lack of patriotic resolve. And they still don't get it. The problem with the war was not that it was mismanaged. Anyone with any sense could see that Saddam Hussain was no threat to the US. Iraq's neighbors didn't believe it, demonstrators in the largest global prewar protests in history didn't believe it, and the UN weapons inspectors didn't believe it. It wasn't about not having the right intelligence, it was about not having the integrity necessary to risk their political careers to prevent mass murder and a world class disaster that just keeps on giving.

Nonetheless, welcome aboard.

Chomsky vindicated

As noted here earlier, the Guardian ran an "interview" with Noam Chomsky so wildly inaccurate it crossed the border from slander into disinformation. Today the Guardian has printed a full and unqualified retraction, acknowledging the egregious errors and distortions in the article. They have even gone so far as to delete the original interview from the website. This is what journalistic integrity looks like. My only quibble is that the retraction appears on the corrections and clarifications page, which is not something readers on the internet are likely to come upon by accident.

ZNet now has up a longer response by Chomsky to the original published interview.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A moment of beauty

Not an artist's rendition, a real picture taken by Cassini 9/22/05 of Saturn's Moons Dione and Tethys passing each other across the planet's ring system.

There is also an incredible picture of the birth of stars over at Bad Astronomy. Check out the high res version.

And now back to the horror...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

War Crimes (updated)

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. More torture, this time by our Iraqi clients:
Iraq's government said Tuesday that it had ordered an urgent investigation of allegations that many of the 173 detainees American troops discovered over the weekend in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in a Baghdad suburb had been tortured by their Iraqi captors. A senior Iraqi official who visited the detainees said two appeared paralyzed and others had some of the skin peeled off their bodies by their abusers...

An Interior Ministry statement said flatly that torture had occurred and that "instruments of torture," which it did not describe, were found in the building.
At least they seem to have gotten beyond the euphemism of "abuse," and the pretense that such barbarism might be justified... well, at least for the moment.

However, when it comes to war crimes committed by our own troops the art of implausible denial remains quite current.

Despite a series of earlier denials, more apparently definitive evidence has come out that the US forces used banned white phosphorus weapons, which burn through the skin down to the bone, in the assault on Falluja.
US forces yesterday made their clearest admission yet that white phosphorus was used as a weapon against insurgents in Iraq. A Pentagon spokesman told the BBC last night that it had been used as "an incendiary weapon" during the assault last year on Falluja in 2004.
This would seem to be fairly damning since,
... the use of incendiary weapons such as WP and napalm against civilian targets - though not military targets - is banned by international treaty. Article two, protocol III of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons states: "It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by incendiary weapons."
But the US government is continuing to deny that the weapons were banned and asserts that they were used against enemy combattants, not civilian targets. Now an Iraqi team has gone to Falluja to investigate.The US press reports on this issue have been uniformly poor and are often complicit in helping the government cover up its crimes, as in this atrocious article by William Arkin in the Washington Post.

Although criticizing the use of white phosphorus weapons as "a losing strategy," Arkin takes the curious tack of criticizing the critics of WP as hypocrites, perhaps in an effort to produce the appearance of balanced journalism.
But to the critics of white phosphorous and the U.S. military, I say: When have you ever been happy when the United States has only employed precision, when it has been scrupulously "legal" in the conduct of its military operations? To suggest that white phosphorus is illegal or illegitimate suggests that you are willing to accept that some use of military force and some weapons are perfectly legal. It is to say that there are laws of war, that fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just. I never hear this from certain quarters, and the inability to give credit where credit is due undermines any efforts to encourage the U.S. military -- and the rest of the world -- to systematize and strengthen constraints on weapons and methods of warfare that no longer accord with the public's conscience.
Huh? An amazing sequence of non sequiturs directed at a straw man. Credit for what? The war is illegal and unjust on entirely different grounds. That "fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just" does not in any way entail that anything undertaken in the invasion of Iraq is either honorable and just. What a hack.

In sum, we now have the US troops ferreting out torture by the Iraqi government just as the Iraqi government is investigating the use of chemical weapons by the US army. A nice symmetry.

No bears for oil

The Bush Regime announced today that it will take the grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park off the endangered species list. The AP gives the story without any context, simply suggesting that the grizzlies are being delisted because of the increase of the bear population over the last 30 years. The article goes on to say
Stripping the bears of protection could eventually clear the way for grizzly hunting. These three states [where Yellowstone is located] would assume management responsibilities from federal wildlife officials and have greater flexibility in dealing with the bears.

Environmental groups are split on the move. The National Wildlife Federation supports delisting, saying it highlights the success of the endangered species law. The Natural Resources Defense Council says that too many threats still exist for the bears.
I had to go to the Times of London to get the real reason for delisting the bears:
Lance Craighead, a bear biologist, said that many bears already live in areas outside the national parks. He said: "Development there has been restricted because of the bear's status. But once it's off, then the Bush Administration has nothing to slow down oil and gas development and timber harvest in those areas.
Taking the bears off the endangered list will put their survival in danger
"Federal protection is the only reason these bears exist in Yellowstone today, and they aren't ready to survive without it, Louisa Willcox, director of the NRDC's wild bears project, said. "Delisting the Yellowstone bear prematurely would drive it back to the brink of extinction." She added: "It would open their habitat to oil and gas drilling and would allow hunters to kill bears that roam outside the park."
The National Wildlife Federation, the one environmental organization that backs the plan, argues "that the bear numbers threaten landscape, livestock and people." It is certainly telling that their reasons for supporting the plan make no mention of the welfare of the bears--or of the ulterior motives for delisting.

UPDATE: The Natural Resources Defense Council and American Wildlands have more background information here: Planned Obsolescence: Greater Yellowstone Forest Plans Would Put Grizzly Bears on the Road To Nowhere.

And the Sierra Club has a factsheet summarizing problems with delisting the grizzly.

Monday, November 14, 2005

War on evolution, state by state

From NPR, a rundown of the current status of the war against evolution in nine states.

Scalito beyond the looking glass

The NY Times is maintaining the polite fiction that Alito's record on abortion rights is unclear. The paper's reporting so far has tended to make Alito appear more moderate than his record clearly shows he is, mainstreaming his extremism. So for example the Times argues, "...although groups on both sides of the issue expect Judge Alito to narrow abortion rights, his judicial record is hardly definitive."

This nonsense should be put to rest by a newly released document that provides clear proof of his categorical opposition to Roe v. Wade:
"I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." Judge Alito 1985
The Republicans are nonetheless continuing to deny that this is in any evidence at all about how Alito might rule on Roe.

On the other hand, the NYT reports that a coalition of liberal groups is planning a series of ads highlighting his reactionary positions on a range of other issues:
  • an employer's right to fire someone because he had AIDS
  • the right of police to strip search a drug dealer's female companion and her 10 year old daughter
  • votes against employment discrimination suits
  • a vote partially overturning the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Brian Leiter provides another very disturbing report from Frank Menetrez, a lawyer who had dealings with Alito, on Alito's utter contempt for defendants' rights. The cases basically involved Alito denying the use of potentially exonerating evidence as the basis for an appeal because the evidence was not really newly discovered given the fact that the client must have known he was innocent. This Through the Looking Glass argumentation is based on the confusion of a piece of evidence with the fact which the evidence tends to prove (innocence).
In so doing, the court has made it impossible for a wrongly convicted criminal defendant to bring a new trial motion on the basis of newly discovered evidence. No evidence will ever constitute newly discovered evidence of a defendant's innocence, because the defendant must have been aware all along of his or her innocence. That is now the law in the Third Circuit.

Alito did not author United States v. Jasin. But Alito did sign on to it, despite the fact that the egregious technical error at its core was pointed out, in a very diplomatic manner, in a separate opinion by Judge Ambro. Alito's approval of this mangling of the law, at the severe expense of wrongly convicted criminal defendants, should, in my view, disqualify him from serving on the Supreme Court.
This lack of concern for a defendant's actual innocence echoes one of the most infamous opinions of his role model and current Supreme Court Justice Scalia:
This 1993 case (Herrera v. Collins) involved a dubious claim of actual innocence, unsupported by scientific evidence. Scalia, however, offered an opinion that went beyond the issues under review in Herrera v. Collins. He indicated that he would reject any claim of actual innocence, including the irrefutable proof sometimes provided by DNA evidence, as grounds for reopening a previously tried case. "There is no basis in text, tradition, or even in contemporary practice ... for finding in the Constitution a right to demand consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction," said Scalia with Thomas' concurrence.
Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, stated on Sunday that the Democrats are keeping the possibility of a filibuster open, despite earlier indications to the contrary from Democratic Senator Joe Biden and other "moderate" Democrats.

And for a good summary of the earlier evidence against him, see Doug Ireland's Alito the Hun.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Random and Senseless

Sony has decided to suspend their nasty spyware assault on Macs and PCs but this is by no means the end of their campaign to violate your privacy. As boing boing, which has been doing a great job of covering this, notes: too little, too late. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation goes over the equally nasty legal fineprint that accompanies every Sony CD.

Quote of the week from This Week in God: On Anne Rice's new book Christ the Lord: "Novelist Anne Rice has gone from writing about people who want to drink your blood to a guy who wants you to drink his blood, Jesus." And Anne Rice actually responds to disappointed goth fans: "You may find this has more in common with the other books than you think."

And Jesus' General has a good picture of what Bush is doing to turn around his poll numbers.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Strategy of the weak

"A foreign national who is captured and determined to be an enemy combatant in the world war on terrorism has no more right to a habeas corpus appeal to our courts than did a captured soldier of the Axis powers during World War II," Senator Joseph Lieberman

"Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak, using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism." The Pentagon's National Defense Strategy, March 2005
There are two totalitarian aspects of our growing global network of "detention facilities": the physical abuse, torture and sometimes murder of detainees, and the lack of any legal recourse for those detainees to challenge their incarceration. These are facts. The legal status of these facts has however remained in limbo. The unlimited right to torture and abuse detainees has been forcefully challenged by the Senate. However, the right to hold prisoners forever without charge was ratified by the Senate earlier this week.

Five Democratic Senators, including the supposedly liberal Ron Wyden of Oregon, "provided the margin of victory on Thursday for a Republican-backed measure that would deny prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention in federal courts." Republican Senator John McCain, who led the Senate fight against torture, also voted for the measure. Since the Bush administration has already determined that they are "illegal combatants," these prisoners, unlike captured Axis soldiers in WWII, have no recourse to international law either. The Senate's elimimation of the right of habeas corpus thus reflects the view articulated in the Pentagon's National Defense Strategy that such legal protections are merely a "strategy of the weak" akin to terrorism itself.

UPDATE 11/13: A report on current conditions at Guantanamo

And Indymedia has begun a discussion of what to do about Senator Wyden.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Democrats need to come out of the closet on creationism

What is Democratic party policy on including intelligent design in the classroom? As far as I can tell there isn't one. I wasn't even able to find any national party leaders who have gone on record on the issue other than Howard Dean, and it is unclear to what extent, if any, he was speaking for the party. What Dean said (in August) was a good start
But the truth of the matter is, intelligent design is a religious perception and a religious precept. That's fine. That should be taught wherever religion is taught, if that's the desire of those people who are religious. Science is science. There's no factual evidence for intelligent design.
Now the good news yesterday in Dover was that 8 candidates who backed evolution threw out all the creationist incumbents on the school board. And the pro-evolution winners had all run as Democrats and won despite the fact that the district itself is heavily Republican. All very encouraging. But where is the national party? As far as I can tell, there was no comment on this or on the disastrous intelligent design victory in Kansas the same day. A search of google and various newspaper and congressional databases for "democrat" and "intelligent design" turned up nothing relevant but silence.

As obsessed as Democrats are about polling and triangulation, I suspect that they are afraid that it might hurt them at the ballot box to stand up for science, given that a majority of Americans apparently favor teaching creationism/intelligent design alongside evolution in science classes. However, this is clearly a case in which pandering to public ignorance involves abandoning the reality-based view of the world. And if you abandon that, then the theocrats have already won.

Besides, the victory of the Democrats in the Dover school board election indicates that if the issue is properly framed and intelligently discussed, there is at least a chance that the majority will realize that keeping science education scientific is in everyone's interest.


Noam Chomsky on Malignant Design
...the background of the current evolution/intelligent design controversy is the widespread rejection of science, a phenomenon with deep roots in American history that has been cynically exploited for narrow political gain during the last quarter-century. Intelligent Design raises the question whether it is intelligent to disregard scientific evidence about matters of supreme importance to the nation and world — like global warming...

In our time, the Bush administration’s hostility to scientific inquiry puts the world at risk. Environmental catastrophe, whether you think the world has been developing only since Genesis or for eons, is far too serious to ignore...Perhaps only the word "malignant" could describe a failure to acknowledge, much less address, the all-too-scientific issue of climate change. Thus the "moral clarity" of the Bush administration extends to its cavalier attitude toward the fate of our grandchildren.

And Jesus's General has a new map of Kansas.

And One Good Move has a hilarious video clip of Pat Robertson calling down the wrath of god on the residents of Dover for voting the creationists off of the school board. Over the top even for mad Pat. Pharyngula comments in Thugs for God.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Demonizing the French

The recent rioting in France has given the freedom fry patriots ample occasion to bloviate, posture and snear at the French again. They draw the ideological lesson that the riots are divine payback for failing to back our glorious war of civilizations or the inevitable consequence of a lazy and socialistic ecomomy.

Juan Cole has one good response.

Intelligible analysis of what is actually going on in France is impossible to come by in the mainstream media, but lenin has been doing a good job of covering it and Doug Ireland provides the essential background.

This is the matter with Kansas

In his book What's the Matter with Kansas Thomas Frank did a good job of showing what Democrats had done wrong in Kansas but he never fully explored the antediluvian depths of the fundamentalist revival in the state. Yesterday, the Kansas school board voted not only to abandon evolution and the Enlightenment but science itself.
Among the most controversial changes was a redefinition of science itself, so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations.
As usual Pharyngula has the best coverage of this. And there is more from Scientific American.

Chris Mooney certainly is getting plenty of material lately for a second edition of his superb The Republican War on Science, which I am about halfway through right now.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

And in a lighter vein...

CBS Producer Peddles 'Jesus Juice' Wine Label

A CBS producer who led the network's coverage of the recent Michael Jackson trial has been marketing a brand of wine under the label "Jesus Juice," complete with a logo of a Christ figure sporting a Jacksonesque red glove, fedora hat, white socks, and penny loafers has learned that Bruce Rheins, a high-level producer for such shows as the "CBS Evening News", and his wife, Dawn Westlake, began preparations for their marketing campaign while the Jackson case was still in court, registering a U.S. trademark for the words "Jesus Juice" in January of 2004, days after word got out that Jackson referred to wine by that term in allegedly attempting to seduce young boys.

A year later, the couple registered (under Westlake's name) the web domain, apparently with the intent of partnering with a wine maker to create a product line bearing the Jesus Juice name, in a partnership or by purchasing the trademark.

"Should you want to start something with us (i.e. you're a vintner with a sense of humor, but a seriously good line of wines, visit us here and drop a note…In the meantime, we'll be moonwalking over our own grapes.)" Westlake wrote in an online diary entry on her personal web site...
But there is of course the inevitable controversy about whether the label was in good taste. The site of origin, a right wing nut organization devoted to ferreting out "liberal media bias," is shocked, shocked that anyone could do something in such bad taste.

The original trademark application and a much larger image of the label can been seen over at the Smoking Gun. And Landover Baptist, always a fun site, actually came out with the same idea but not nearly as good a logo.

UPDATE 11/11 ...and then there is the miracle of the wanking Jesus (via Counago and Spaves).

The Torture Revival

Lawrence Davidson provides a short history of the earlier struggle to eliminate torture started during the Enlightenment in a fine article in the new issue of Logos. He then traces its rehabilitation by what he calls the "Realpolitik Majority."
The fact that, after September 11, 2001, polls showed that “only” around 39% of the American population was willing to endorse the torture of suspects known to have life saving information is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Beyond that tip is the willingness of a much larger percentage of people to accept the government’s general assertion that “tough interrogation,” “stress and duress,” and “fear up” techniques (all of which are official euphemisms for torture and abuse) are sometimes necessary to protect the nation...

In addition, we should be honest and admit that racism plays a significant role in the acceptance of torture when it is used against people we do not identify with. From the 18th through the 20th centuries the evolving rules of conduct that impacted the use of torture were most easily and consistently ignored when practiced against non-Europeans. This was the case in Europe’s extensive imperial holdings, as well as the abuse of non-white minorities in American jails. It is now the case with Iraqis, Afghanis, and Arabs in general.

As to those able and willing to commit torture, we must recognize that there has always been a subset of the population who actually like to abuse others and not all of them operate outside the law. The likelihood of an abuse of power is increased by the fact that those who self-select for police and military careers in which torture may become officially possible are sometimes personalities who find it easy to perform such acts. Conditions of war and crisis give such men and women license to act out in ways that, under normal circumstances, would be deemed criminal.
This rather pessimistic view is somewhat balanced by the fact that Cheney is not having a lot of success convincing people that torture should be legalized. Even former death squad coordinator, now US intelligence czar, John Negroponte apparently isn't willing to go on record supporting Cheney on this. Nor is the ethically challenged cat torturer and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Davidson's account is in any case nicely complimented by a new Frontline documentary The Torture Question which is online here in its entirety. There is a good summary and review in this week's Village Voice.

Ticky Ticky Time Bomb

Along with the documentary there is a discussion of the so called "ticking time bomb scenario", which the "Realpolitik majority" and occasionally even people on the left are so fond of citing as a justification for torture. Although some of the participants raise the right objections and for the most part reject this justification, there is a more concise and forceful response by Amnesty International on their website.

And just to add my own two cents on the issue, a key problem is that the scenario is hypothetical in at least two important senses: it has no credible historical precedent and it assumes perfect knowledge. And of course, perfect knowledge is never obtainable in the real world. So you end up potentially torturing the innocent. Look at how many people on death row were exonerated by DNA evidence for some sense of just how likely such "mistakes" might be. Or as Amnesty points out, you can just look at the evolution of Israeli torture policy.

More generally, using the most extreme unlikely hypothetical circumstances as a guide to policy can justify any atrocity or the most repressive dictatorship. The end justifies any means doesn't have a particularly good track record as a guide to policy or morality.

Torture unto others...

Moreover, the consequences of enacting a policy of torture can not be easily confined. The most obvious implication of this is that if we torture others, others will torture us in return. There are broader and less easily calculable consequences as well, since it would decisively affect the image of the country and how others are likely to respond to us in a variety of situations. Unfortunately, this is already to a certain extent a fait accompli.

The real goal of torture, if we follow the empirical method and examine the regimes that systematically practiced torture (Guatemala, El Salvador, Uzbekistan, the Catholic Church etc.), is terror and obedience, not information. And this kind of terror is a proven, albeit unstable, method of social control. It is obvious to me that that is in fact the goal of Cheney's policy.

Also in the New Yorker this week: A Deadly Interrogation: Can the C.I.A. legally kill a prisoner?

And from FindLaw a rundown of international and domestic laws that the CIA gulags may be violating.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Iraq is getting ready to open for tourism according to a story in today's Independent but "tourists should dress like locals and maybe dye their hair. And they should have armed guards and they should be always vigilant."
Iraq plans hotel and theme parks for a tourism boom

A £48m, five-star, 23-storey hotel rising in the city centre; an opulent palace complex being turned into a theme park; cheap flights to the picturesque "Venice of the east" - all the trappings of a country gearing up for a tourist boom.

Except the country in question is Iraq. With a new constitution and elections in the offing, officials insist there is a new beginning. The tourist board has 2,400 staff and 14 offices.

There has been a rise in the volume of travellers, with Iraqis either leaving or expatriates returning for visits. And there is also the continuous and steady number of foreigners, mainly contractors, coming in for the huge wages they can now command for working in such a risky environment.

The planned hotel is very much at an embryonic stage. The land - in the heavily guarded Green Zone - has been donated by the Iraqi government, and the finance is being provided by an Iraqi businessman.

Thair Feeley, of the Iraqi Commission for Investment, insists everything is in place. "It is not true that it will be a five-star hotel," he says with a flourish, "but a seven and half stars one".

The hotel is intended to have the usual accoutrements: plush suites, business centres, conference halls and a golf range. However, this is Iraq and Mr Feeley is not keen to make more details of the structure public for "security reasons". Nor is he willing to reveal the name of the businessman, again for "security reasons".

The building will have to be built to withstand mortar and rocket attack, just as the one major existing hotel in the Green Zone, Al Rashid, was built to do. Despite the carnage outside and its shabby appearance, the Rashid can still charge $150 (£86) a night.

Another plan is to turn Saddam Hussein's former palaces at his home town of Tikrit into a themed tourist destination. The complex, which contains 18 palaces and 118 other buildings, is surrounded by rolling gardens overlooking the Tigris.

Mohammed Abbas, a regional official, said: "Ordinary Iraqis were never allowed into these palaces. It will be an opportunity for them to see how their money was spent. International visitors will also be able to see the kind of lifestyle Saddam enjoyed."

Basra in the south has already officially declared itself open for tourism. But, says an official: "Tourists should dress like locals and maybe dye their hair. And they should have armed guards and they should be always vigilant."
The BBC had a similar but less optimistic story last year. Perhaps this is a sign that things are getting better.

McCain McDemocrats

Whereas the Democrats have been mostly missing in action on the torture issue, John McCain continues to courageously fight off the Bush-Cheney torture lobby and push for a complete ban on torture. The debate is more appropriate to the 14th century than the 21st, but at least McCain has been on the right side. (And, of course, it is all a moot point because the president again assured us today: "We do not torture.")

That said, it is important to also note that McCain is, at least in his current political incarnation, a complete right wing thug when it comes to a wide range of other issues. He has given strong support to the bigots against gay marriage, he is anti-choice, he advocates including "intelligent design" in the high school biology curriculum, and he is a militant supporter of the war in Iraq.

Perhaps this is why the Democrats kept wooing him as a possible crossover Democratic presidential candidate in the last election, or failing that, attempting to morph into him. And an influential segment of the Democratic party leadership would apparently have little problem with his positions on abortion, the war, gay marriage or even intelligent design.

This weekend for example, despite what Jon Stewart referred to as the party's "newly grown pair of donkey testicles," Joe Biden already publicly backed away from the idea of filibustering the fascist supreme court nominee Scalito.

UPDATE 11/8: Well, well. It turns out McCain is even less progressive that I thought. His opposition to torture is rather selective. David Bloom has an important article in Counterpunch on McCain's whitewash of Israeli torture. He apparently looks to Israel as a model for combatting terrorism without resorting to torture. The problem of course is that, despite official denials, they still do use systematic torture.

UPDATE 11/9: If you need any more evidence of what a prevaricating, warmongering asshole McCain really is, just check out his latest interview with Jon Stewart. He continues to defend the war on Iraq, claims that all intelligence agencies before the war thought there were weapons of mass destruction [what about those UN inspectors??], holds up Israeli torture policy as a model, defends Dick Cheney, and plugs a putrid pandering book of inspirational stories. What a wanker.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Gore Vidal

Doug Ireland reviews Dennis Altman’s Gore Vidal's America, a new intellectual biography of the incomparable Gore Vidal. In the course of the review, Ireland provides a excellent brief account of the highlights of Gore's career.

Gore Vidal, now 80, has been one of the most relentlessly honest critics of American culture. He played a significant role in bringing homosexuality out of the closet, he has been an insightful critic of American imperialism since the 50's, and he remains one of the most important figures in American secular culture.

See also The Gore Vidal Index a multi-media website with an extensive collection of written and audio-visual work by and about Vidal.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The face of Copernicus

The body of Copernicus, the father of modern Astronomy, was just identified, making possible a computer reconstruction of his appearance.

This face did a lot more than launch a thousand ships.
"Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind - for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic - religious faith? No wonder his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of."


In the Twilight of the Real 3 (a continuing series)

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has suggested that those who deface freeways with graffiti should have their thumbs cut off on television. (via the Defeatists!)

A new book on how to raise your daughters (via Pandagon)

And pirates attack a cruise ship.

UPDATE: the cruise ship fought off the pirates with high tech sonic blasts
The liner used a sonic blaster to foil the pirates. Developed by American forces to deter small boats from attacking warships, the non-lethal weapon sends out high-powered air vibrations that blow assailants off their feet. The equipment, about the size of a satellite dish, is rigged to the side of the ship.
(via Boing Boing)

Desperately smearing Chomsky

Ordinarily the Guardian is a fairly good source of information for a mainstream publication. You can certainly find a much wider range of information and opinion there than anywhere in the American press. So it was especially disturbing that they decided to publish such an unprofessional hatchet job as the Emma Brockes "interview" with Noam Chomsky.

The "interview" appeared fishy at first glance as lenin rightly noted. It is just the latest installment in a flurry of recent Chomsky bashing, The "hypocrite" charge Brokes tries to make against Chomsky was test driven in an awful article at Tech central. The argument is beautifully demolished by Stephen Downes as "a rather straightforward (and fairly boring) instance of the logical fallacy known as Ad Hominem Tu Quoque. "

But this "interview" is the worst piece yet. As lenin points out, Brockes seems afraid to even let him get out more than a couple of sentences without making some disparaging comment. I also suspected right away that her frequent descriptions of Chomsky's angry outbursts are simply made up. One of the striking things about Chomsky in all the interviews I have heard is his almost preternaturally calm demeanor even when talking about the most horrific atrocities. She likely added this detail to shore up her portrait of him as an "irrational' critic. Cockburn (below) finds a similar technique in one of her earlier interviews.

Now it turns out that more substantial sections of the published interview were simply falsified. More on this from Alexander Cockburn here.

This current wave of Chomsky bashing goes back to the days immediately following 9/11 when Christopher Hitchens, showing off his new found love of the Bush Imperium, launched a shameful attack on Noam Chomsky for what can only be termed emotional incorrectness. His attack on Chomsky contained little debate about facts, concentrating instead on the emotional weight Hitchens considered those facts rightly should have. Hitchens' comrade in arms David Horowitz even followed up with an Anti-Chomsky Reader again focusing on ad hominem attacks.

The desperate aim of all these attacks is plainly to divert the debate from Chomsky's arguments to his person.

UPDATE 11/7:. The Guardian "interview" was even picked up by Infoshop news, with only a rather belated and partial recognition that it was simply disinformation.

Senate rejects torture again

The face of torture

Poor Mr. Cheney is now less popular than cheating on your wife.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

EU to investigate gulag claims

Turns out Europe is not so sanguine about having secret detention camps on its soil. Rumors that CIA gulags have been established in Poland and Romania have endangered those countries' status in Europe. Although proudly touted as the stalwart new Europe by Rumsfeld, Poland and Romania are now scrambling to deny any connection with the secret detention program.
Human Rights Watch says the CIA used a secret detention centre to interrogate suspects outside the reach of US law and away from official oversight. Using the flight logs of a Boeing 757 jet, the New York-based group said the plane flew from Kabul to Szymany airport, north of Warsaw and close to a training base for Polish intelligence, then to a military airbase near the Romanian military port of Constanta...

Both countries have tried to dispel the reports, though their denials did not appear totally categorical. The Romanian Premier, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, said: "I repeat: We do not have CIA bases in Romania." An aide to the Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said authorities there had "no information" of such facilities on its territory...

Poland, as an EU member state, is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, and by the EU's governing treaty, whose Article Six demands respect for basic rights. In theory, a risk of persistent breach of these rights could lead to Poland being stripped of its voting rights in the EU, though that seems a remote possibility.

But Romania faces a more pressing problem because its bid to join the EU is at a delicate stage. Last week the commission warned that its accession might be delayed by a year from the planned date of 2007 because of problems that include failure to root out corruption. All countries wishing to join the EU must abide by the so-called Copenhagen criteria, which enshrine basic human rights. The new allegations could prove highly damaging to its prospects of joining. Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for the commission, said: "The Copenhagen criteria are clear. I don't think secret prisons would be compatible with this."
The US, of course, issued the standard comic book Rumsfeldian response:
In Washington, Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said Wednesday, "While we have to do what is necessary to defend the country against terrorists and to win the war on terror, the president has been very clear that we're going to do that in a way that is consistent with our values."
Other administration officials responded with pure doublespeak, insisting that the US will not tolerate the use of torture at home or in any foreign prisons, just as the White House pushes to exempt CIA agents from a Senate ban on torture.

The Bush administration seems well on its way to garnering the NCTE Doublespeak Award for the third year in a row. Despite their rejection of evolution, they just might be eligible for a Darwin award as well. Let's just hope we don't all join them on that one.

UPDATE: Following up the chain of command
Former Powell aide links Cheney's office to abuse directives

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, told National Public Radio he had traced a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff.

"The secretary of defense under cover of the vice president's office," Wilkerson said, "regardless of the president having put out this memo" - "they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to what we've seen." He said the directives contradicted a 2002 order by President George W. Bush for the U.S. military to abide by the Geneva conventions against torture.

"There was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of defense, down to the commanders in the field," authorizing practices that led to the abuse of detainees, Wilkerson said.
(via Billmon)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An American Gulag in Eastern Europe

In Afghanistan, the largest CIA covert prison was code-named the Salt Pit, above. The new location of choice is Eastern Europe.

In today's Washington Post, still more revelations come out about the network of secret prisons maintained by the US government in non-disclosed locations across the world.
The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.
"The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination."
The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.

While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad...

It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.

Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning...

The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination. Each has been trying to cleanse its intelligence services of operatives who have worked on behalf of others -- mainly Russia and organized crime...

Then came grisly reports, in the winter of 2001, that prisoners kept by allied Afghan generals in cargo containers had died of asphyxiation. The CIA asked Congress for, and was quickly granted, tens of millions of dollars to establish a larger, long-term system in Afghanistan, parts of which would be used for CIA prisoners.

The largest CIA prison in Afghanistan was code-named the Salt Pit. It was also the CIA's substation and was first housed in an old brick factory outside Kabul. In November 2002, an inexperienced CIA case officer allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets. He froze to death, according to four U.S. government officials. The CIA officer has not been charged in the death.

The Salt Pit was protected by surveillance cameras and tough Afghan guards, but the road leading to it was not safe to travel and the jail was eventually moved inside Bagram Air Base. It has since been relocated off the base...

In late 2002 or early 2003, the CIA brokered deals with other countries to establish black-site prisons. One of these sites -- which sources said they believed to be the CIA's biggest facility now -- became particularly important when the agency realized it would have a growing number of prisoners and a shrinking number of prisons...sometime in 2004 the CIA decided it had to give up its small site at Guantanamo Bay. The CIA had planned to convert that into a state-of-the-art facility, operated independently of the military. The CIA pulled out when U.S. courts began to exercise greater control over the military detainees, and agency officials feared judges would soon extend the same type of supervision over their detainees...The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.

By mid-2002, the CIA had worked out secret black-site deals with two countries, including Thailand and one Eastern European nation, current and former officials said. An estimated $100 million was tucked inside the classified annex of the first supplemental Afghanistan appropriation.
Although the story does not identify the Eastern European countries that are hosting these concentration camps, my guess is that Poland is one of the prime locations, given that Poland has been the biggest backer of the US in the region. That reminds me of something that happened earlier what was it...?

And the New York Times reports on a supposed discussion within the Bush administration about just how far to go in torturing suspects in our overt network of prison camps such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.
The Bush administration is embroiled in a sharp internal debate over whether a new set of Defense Department standards for handling terror suspects should adopt language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting "cruel," "humiliating" and "degrading" treatment, administration officials say...

The debate has delayed the publication of a second major Pentagon directive on interrogations, along with a new Army interrogations manual that was largely completed months ago, military officials said. It also underscores a broader struggle among senior officials over whether to scale back detention policies that have drawn strong opposition even from close American allies...

The document under discussion, known as Department of Defense Directive 23.10, would provide broad guidance from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; while it would not spell out specific detention and interrogation techniques, officials said, those procedures would have to conform to its standards. It would not cover the treatment of detainees held by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The behind-the-scenes debate over the Pentagon directive comes more than three years after President Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the fight against terrorism...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Scientists discovered two new moons orbiting Pluto and the Democrats actually did something interesting. I can't remember the last time that happened.

Update: Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's review of The Handmaid's Tale.