Archive for January, 2007|Monthly archive page

Busted – um – Warranted (Updated)

Speigel-Online (International version) is reporting that German prosecutors have issued warrants for 13 people in connection with the “rendition” of Khaled el-Masri at the end of 2003.

German prosecutors have issued 13 arrest warrants in connection with the alleged CIA abduction of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, Munich-based Bavarian senior state public prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld said in a statement Wednesday.

Schmidt-Sommerfeld said the warrants had been issued in the last few days. He refused to give more details, saying a statement would be made later Wednesday.

Munich prosecutors investigating the case have said in the past that they received the names of several United States intelligence agents believed to be involved in the abduction from Spanish investigators. However it is not clear whether they are the people named in the arrest warrants.

The LA Times is also running the story. Here the information get’s a little weirder. According to the Times the agents involved in the operation were under major pressure to get a break in a terrorism case…

Legal documents, credit card receipts and hotel records show that those allegedly involved in the Masri abduction stayed at a luxury resort on the Spanish island of Majorca before flying to Skopje, Macedonia, on Jan. 23, 2004. When checking into the hotel, some of the operatives gave aliases, such as Kirk James Bird and James Fairing. The covert team’s charges in Majorca included a food bill of $1,625 and an $81 charge for a massage.

Well, they were getting a break of some kind at least.

For those who haven’t been following the el-Masri case, I would recommend the recommend the online film “Outlawed” and the press release on Breakthrough.tv.

I’ve also written about this case a couple of times. Once commenting on the video and once talking about the most important factor of all – that CIA agents are finding mal – um – rendition insurance a little difficult to get. Almost like getting flood insurance in New Orleans.

Update
In other rendition news, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, the coolest Supreme Court watcher ever, has two stories in one. One is about the case of Maher Arar the other about Wesam al-Delaema.

Arar is a household name around the world. The Canadian software engineer was grabbed during a stopover at JFK Airport in 2002 and subjected to 10 months of “extraordinary rendition” in the care of our good friends in Syria. He was tortured until he falsely confessed, then sent home without explanation. A two-year inquiry by a prestigious Canadian commission determined that it had all been an awful mistake. The Bush administration refused to cooperate with that commission and still refuses to remove Arar from the American security watch list, claiming to have secret information that he’s still dangerous although the Canadian authorities dispute that.

Last Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Arar a public apology and $8.9 million in compensation while the Bush administration has blocked his lawsuit, citing the executive branch’s “state secrets privilege.” The conclusions of the Canadians, admitting his arrest was a mistake, are disregarded. No concessions, no apology, no transparency, and no regard for our Canadian allies. Arar wins a permanent entry under A in the world’s Dictionary of Reasons To Hate Us.

But the case of Wesam al-Delaema is different. This is a bad guy. This is the kind of terrorist watchlists and prosecutors dream about. The only problem? You never hear about them. In it’s rush to never ever say anything substantial about the GWOT, the administration also manages to keep quiet when they actually do hit the jackpot. Lithwick’s article is well worth the read.

But, since el-Masri’s civil case was thrown out of US courts due to national security problems “state secrets privilege,” I find this step by the German prosecutors at least warranted.

The Science Debate is Heating Up

The intertubes are on fire this morning about the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) about the governments manipulation of global warming data in reports from at least seven different federal agencies.

This story was carried yesterday in the Washington Post and the New York Times and, with a minor delay, today in the Christian Science Monitor and even Spiegel Online (German). Today the blogging world will start talking. Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice got started and used the CSM article to highlight the issue; I’ll quote the Washington Post.

U.S. scientists were pressured to tailor their writings on global warming to fit the Bush administration’s skepticism, in some cases at the behest of a former oil-industry lobbyist, a congressional committee heard on Tuesday.

“Our investigations found high-quality science struggling to get out,” Francesca Grifo of the watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

A survey by the group found that 150 climate scientists personally experienced political interference in the past five years, for a total of at least 435 incidents.

To policy watchers interested in science, this is nothing new. Science and the Bush administration are about as friendly as Saddam and the Bush administration. (I just hope we won’t see any more hangings.) But the anti-science history is rather long.

There was the smackdown report from the UCS in 2004 (article, executive summary) about the administration’s anti-science meddling. That report got so much attention that the White House felt compelled to attempt an official rebuttal. The UCS responded with an update.

Then there was the brouhaha about George Deutsch, the twenty something NASA press hack, telling one of the worlds top climate researchers not to use global warming in press releases. This caused Michael D. Griffin, NASA chief administrator to issue a rather stern e-mail warning: “It is not the job of public-affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA’s technical staff.” Of course Mr Deutsch only got fired resigned when it was discovered that he had lied about his degree from Texas A&M . (He dropped out to – um – help the Bush campaign. Imagine that?)

The list goes on and on. For those really interested in ‘science,’ one only has to read The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. While I find the book slightly fairly slanted and would have probably called it The Politician’s and Lobbyist’s War on Science, it outlines most of the recent misdeeds.

But that’s not the end of the story.

While Michael Bachmann hasn’t gotten the memo yet and Senator James Inhofe would be spinning in his grave if someone would just get around to killing him, Bush has finally backed down from the alternate reality where there is no climate change.

He included the science surrender monkey statement in the SOTU address while talking about alternate energy sources, “These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.” Pushed during the NPR interview by Juan Williams, he went the final two yards and uttered the death blow to Republican polar bear haters…

MR. WILLIAMS: Now, also in the State of the Union, you talked about the – quote here – “the serious challenge of global climate change.” Were you talking about global warming there?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Absolutely, and it’s a serious challenge. And one of the things that I am proud of is this administration has done a lot on advancing new technologies that will enable us to do two things – strengthen our economy, and at the same time, be better stewards of the environment. In 2002, I talked about an energy efficiency standard, which says new technologies will enable us to grow our economy, and at the same time, improve the environment, and we’re meeting certain standards that I set for the country. [my emphasis]

…before drifting off into another scientific never-never land and babbling on about renewable nuclear power. Whatever.

So all better? The UCS is working with ‘old’ and ‘out-of-date’ data? Democrats are putting on the superhero tights – um – skirts to solve the problem? Not so fast BATMAN!

Just yesterday the New York Times also pointed out that Bush signed a new directive.

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats. [my emphasis]

Oh. I feel better.And of course the Washington Post talked about those conflict ridden Democrats.

Several [Democrats] with mixed feelings about drastic carbon regulations — including Rep. Rick Boucher, who represents a coal-heavy Virginia district and chairs the subcommittee on energy and air quality — discussed working with Republicans to defeat the new committee on the House floor.

The strict emissions cuts that Pelosi supports had no chance in the GOP Congress, but they still face an uphill climb. Carbon-reliant industries including coal, oil, agriculture and manufacturing will resist any strong legislation, a position that will pose serious dilemmas for Democrats in districts where those industries and their unions hold sway. Some representatives of low-income minority districts are also concerned that a climate bill would slap heavy energy costs on their constituents.

Even if Pelosi manages to finagle a bill through the House, there is the problem of the Senate, where global-warming skeptic James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) has lost his chairmanship to climate-conscious Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) but has threatened a filibuster. And President Bush seems unlikely to sign anything too far-reaching

So, where are we?

There was something about warming? Or was it heating? Oh yeah! Frying pans! We are soooo cooked!

Even More Iran Chatter

Even after George W. Bush’s ‘reassuring’ interview yesterday, the stakes get higher.

Now the Washington Post is reporting that the traditional Middle East allies are seeking distance to the US.

    Kuwait rarely rebuffs its ally, the United States, partly out of gratitude for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But in October it reneged on a pledge to send three military observers to an American-led naval exercise in the Gulf, according to U.S. officials and Kuwaiti analysts.

“We understood,” a State Department official said. “The Kuwaitis were being careful not to antagonize the Iranians.”

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

It is becoming increasingly clear that not only was Iraq a complete failure but that the ramifications of that failure have yet to play out. President Bush continually repeats that losing isn’t an option in Iraq. I would say America has lost Iraq. The regional increase in Iranian power is becoming more and more public. If one adds an American military stretch to if not past the breaking point, one has to wonder, what now?

That’s the question the politicians and strategists in Iran are asking. And increasingly the answer is coming up in favor of expansion and muscle flexing. The Iraqi civil war is quickly becoming irrelevant because the conflict has already spread. It has spread to the streets of Palestine and to the Kuwaiti military. The largely rhetoric filled bluster coming from Washington is as ineffective in the Middle East as it was in New Orleans.

Thanks to the Freedom Fry/Surrender Monkey foreign policy used to get America into Iraq,  the Europeans and the UN aren’t going to be very willing to jump in to the rescue. Russia and China can sit back and watch (or conduct ASAT tests) while watching the former Superpower called America spiral into irrelevance.

What’s next? Will someone start proclaiming the that Kermit the Frog is gay? *Sigh*

Line Item Veto

The banging you may have just heard was my head on my desk.

If I ever needed any evidence that I was masochistic, I just found it. I listened to Bush’s interview with Juan Williams on NPR. What an incredibly stupid thing to do! My blood pressure doubled and I will probably be grumpy for days. But what got me so mad?

One of those little talking points Bush snuck into the interview was the comment on a line item veto. I just thought I’d react in kind. So, Mr. President, my line item veto for some of the more outrageous comments you made. It probably won’t lower my blood pressure or de-flatten my forehead, but I might feel better.

PRESIDENT BUSH: In other words, they’ve got to make it clear to the 12 million people that made a conscious decision to vote and say, we want a unity government, to reach out to disparate elements. They’ve got to make sure that oil revenue, for example, is available to all of the people and not just a faction that may happen to be in power. […]

Let me just get this right. This is George W. Bush arguing for a public distribution of profits made selling oil in Iraq. Um. Sir. Is that really an idea you want the American public to think about? Do you really want to go there?

[…] They’ve got to make sure that those who were involved with the Saddam government in the past, so long as they weren’t killers or terrorists, have a chance, for example, to be reinstated as school teachers.

Oh. So having J. Paul Bremer fire all the school teachers as one of his first actions wasn’t such a good idea? But Rumsfeld said the idea came from the White House and Cheney usually doesn’t talk, he grunts or shoots. Wouldn’t the reverse situation have been marginally more appropriate? You could have kept them as teachers, then you would have known how to find them, you would have known where they worked, remember? But that was a bad idea, an example needed to be made early; a marker needed to be set, like a lion marking it’s territory. Like America urinating on Iraq.

But through the cacophony of voices, ideas and plans President Bush manages to keep his laser sharp decision making skills.

In other words, there’s a lot of things politically that can happen, Juan, and – you know, I made a decision that – and, listen, I listen to a lot of folks here in Washington. I listen to the military people, I listen to people who are critical of the policy, I listen to Republicans, I listen to Democrats, and I listen carefully for which strategy would yield – would most likely yield success, and the one I picked is the one I believe will.

This I almost buy. I do believe that Bush listens. He has an amazing ability to hear but not process information. That is sooo cool. I wish I could spend as little time reflecting on what I hear as Mr Bush; deciding what’s right and not choosing an appropriate course The problem is I suspect the voice Bush really listens to wasn’t mentioned in the above passage. It’s the little red guy with horns white-robed guy with a halo sitting on his shoulder.

I won’t even go into the whole joined-at-the-hip Cheney/Bush lovefest thing. Cheney sees the world through the sights – um – eyes of a soon-to-be-grandfather of a child born of love in a lesbian relationship. A child, like many children, loved by Dick, hated by the religious right.

In response to Juan Williams’ plea that President Bush give some reason the public might find to support his policies in Iraq, Bush dumped a bag of dominos in his lap.

See, the difference, Juan, between other conflicts in the past and this one is that failure would endanger the homeland. In other words, the enemy isn’t going to be just contained in the Middle East if they succeed in driving us out or succeed in wrecking the Iraqi democracy. The enemy would be likely to follow us here. And that’s why I tried in my State of the Union speech, why I reminded people that September the – the lessons of September the 11th need to be remembered. It is a – and look, September the 11th changed my attitude about a lot of things. It really did. And I recognize that the world we live in is one where America cannot be isolated from the ills in other parts of the world. As a matter of fact, those ills can come home to haunt us.

As a response here, I’ll just present another presidential interview, a few years ago, back on April 7, 1954 with Eisenhower.

Q. Robert Richards, Copley Press:

Mr. President, would you mind commenting on the strategic importance of Indochina to the free world? I think there has been, across the country, some lack of understanding on just what it means to us.

The President.

You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things.

First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs.

Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world.

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.
[...]
So, the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world.

Oh, well, that strategy worked out just fine. I’m glad we haven’t learned anything about foreign policy since 1954. Thumbs up Mr. President. But remember he’s understands (sharp, focused),

[…] It is a – I’m optimistic, I’m realistic, I understand how tough the fight is, but I also understand the stakes, and it’s very important for our citizens to understand that a Middle East could evolve in which rival forms of extremists compete with each other, you know, nuclear weapons become developed, safe havens are in place, oil would be used as an economic weapon against the West. […]

Let’s see. Where to start. How about stakes, sacrifice; like the answer during the Tom Lehrer Interview on PBS? “Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.” While it is unclear whether the nuclear ambitions being followed in Iran could have or can be controlled using diplomatic measures, the nuclear weapon produced in North Korea was built on your watch Mr. President, your diplomatic fallout – um – failure. And the fact that just about every Islamic religious faction is pissed off at the US just happens to be the maraschino for Sunday.

In response to one solder’s question, Bush felt the need to do the obligatory obsequious grovel to those actually doing the work, people like National Guard Specialist Ryan Schmidt (sp) from Forest Lake, Minnesota.

And let me also say to Ryan, thanks for serving. I mean, one of the amazing things about our country is that we have people who volunteer to go. And one of the things I look for is whether or not we’re able to recruit and retain, and we are. And it’s a remarkable country, Juan, where people are saying I want to serve. And I appreciate that soldier, and I hope this message gets to him that not only do I appreciate him, but a lot of Americans appreciate him.

Now I have a feeling he is probably with 1/34th BCT. Perhaps Mr Bush would like to spend some time reading about how they feel about spending more time in Iraq? Or about becoming the longest serving military unit in Iraq? Bla, back-up plans are like badges and we don’ need no stinkin’ badges!

Then the sabre rattling got under way. Yesterday the Iranian Ambassador gave an interview with the NYT. Bush retaliates in kind.

If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly. We – it makes common sense for the commander-in-chief to say to our troops and the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government that we will help you defend yourself from people that want to sow discord and harm. And so we will do what it takes to protect our troops.

One of the things that is very important in discussing Iran is not to mix issues. Our relationship with Iran is based upon a lot of different issues. One is what is happening in Iraq. Another is their ambitions to have a nuclear weapon. And we’re dealing with this issue diplomatically, and I think this can be solved diplomatically. And the message that we are working to send to the Iranian regime and the Iranian people is that you will become increasingly isolated if you continue to pursue a nuclear weapon.

Go back and read that again. The part about helping Iraq but we will do what it take to protect our troops. But President Bush goes on, one sentence later to tell us that we can’t mix issues. Has he been hitting the bottle again? I mean let’s at least remain on talking point for at least two paragraphs! I’m still trying to figure out where he is going to get the troops to fight Iran.

Asked about the minor oversight in the SOTU address, President Bush moved on into his alternate reality.

If there’s bureaucratic slowdowns in Washington, we’ve got a man named Don Powell who is working to address them. But no, our response to the Katrina recovery has been very robust. And I appreciate the taxpayers of the United States helping the folks down there in Mississippi and Louisiana.

This robust response is why Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has been blasting Washington in her campaign. Why the democrats are promising to ‘fix disaster recovery’ and why one can find quotes like this in yesterday’s Times-Picayune.

Fed up with waiting for federal help, a coalition of neighborhood groups is pushing to establish a new taxing district that could generate millions of dollars to improve drainage in flood-prone sections of Old Metairie and Old Jefferson.

Remaining in alternate realities, why don’t we just move over to parallel dimensions. After fighting the fact that global warming was an issue or even a reality, President Bush has finally caved in to the science monkeys only to drift off into what can only be a science fiction space opera.

And what kind of technologies? Well, if you’re really interested in global warming and climate change, then it seems like to me that we ought to promote technologies to advance the development of safe nuclear power. It’s a renewable source of energy, and at the same time has no emissions to it. But also, we’re advancing clean-coal technologies. The goal is to have a zero-emission coal-fired plant. And then, in the State of the Union, I talked about another aspect of economic security and environmental quality, and that is changing the habits – or changing how we power our cars. [my emphasis]

Just a couple of questions sir. What exactly is renewable on nuclear energy? Uranium and plutonium just grows on trees? Oh – stars. Just have to figure out how to harvest it with out getting our buns burned? Got it. And emission free? What do you call that pesky radioactive waste. Grapefruit? We could declare it to be the Iraqi national currency, make coins out of it and ship it overseas. Solve two problems at one fell swoop! Give a whole new meaning to the abbriveation COIN.

But at least we got a Bushism!

I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it

But it’s not his legacy Bush is worried about, it’s his mirror image .

And so, the other thing is, is that, I think it’s very important for people – for a president to make decisions based upon principles. You know, you can be popular, but you may be wrong. And I would rather, when it’s all said and done, get back home and look in the mirror and say, I didn’t compromise the principles that are etched into my soul in order to be a popular guy. What I want to do is solve problems for the American people and yield the peace that we all want.

I’m reminded of the Star Trek episode Mirror/Mirror. The only problem I have is figuring out which Bush we are talking to. Of course with faux klingons vulcans in the White House, what should I expect?

In a way, Bush has done something for the American people. Remember all the problems facing America in the year 2000. Yeah Neither do I. Nice job George.

This is your unprincipled flat-foreheaded surrender monkey signing off.

Rules of Engagement

Rule 1: Stay alive

Rule 2: Keep the enemy from doing whatever he was planning

Rule 3: Capture or kill the enemy in order  to avoid a continuous repeat of Rule 2.

Rule 4: Capture or destroy enemies weapons and supply depots in order to avoid a continuous repeat of Rule 3.

Rule 5: Sometimes, to accomplish Rules 2, 3 and 4, Rule 1 must be ignored.

Rule 6: Sometimes you’re just shit out of luck anyway.

Rule 7: War sucks.

Cobwebs of thought (Updated)

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently, reading not about the present situation in Iraq, but how the American government, the media and the American public came to think that an invasion might be a good idea.

Hopefully, I will be able to pull all that information into a couple of posts giving the perspective of someone outside the loop (or the beltway for that matter).

But that isn’t what’s bothering me today. The number of comments and discussions on Iran in the political/military/media blogs I read have skyrocketed in recent months. It should be noted, that although I don’t read the hardcore right-wing American-hegemony/empire-building-is-a-good-thing blogs, I do try to keep up on what realistic threats there are.

That’s why the recent spike in Iran chatter is starting to worry me.

I think one of the reasons for invading Iraq was a ‘heads-up forward-looking smack them before they smack us groupthink.

Largely generated and supported by people who developed worldviews and thought processes during the surrogate conflicts during the cold war, the idea of an international anti-American movement not being directly supported by a nation was inconceivable. Some country must be behind the attacks and after the fall of Afghanistan the only countries actively providing anti-American rhetoric were Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Thus, an example must be made, fear sown in the hearts of those who would hurt us.

The choice to attack Iraq was bolstered by the thought that we had been there and done that and that Iraq was widely perceived to be a disruptive influence in the area and, of course, Iraq was the weakest target. But I think perhaps the most important feeling being acted upon was one of pre-emptive protection.

Today, my morning blog reading presented me with the following stories,

Iran’s “Sat Launch” No Sure Thing
Iran and IAEA Cooperation
Two Can Play at This Game
What the Iranians detained in Hakim’s compound last month were doing

These are all fairly ‘liberal’ if realistically militaristic sources.

I wonder where the extra 250,000 thousand troops for the invasion of Iran will come from? This is starting to look like major sabre rattling on both sides of the border. Iran feels America isn’t strong enough to stop Iranian expansion and is pushing. The American government is starting to push back. But as we know the current American government isn’t really reality good at appropriately applying pressure, too much (Iraq) or not at all (North Korea).

It doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or whether the proposed solution has a realistic chance of success, a solution must be found and implemented. Once implemented, the soulution was, is, and will be correct. Period (or Full Stop). But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Iran isn’t pushing, I think Iran might becoming a threat to regional and international stablitiy; it is simply unclear what the world can realistically do about it. What can be done without making the situation worse and not better.

I also think we need to keep an eye on the hawks in the Democratic party. What kind of anti-Iranian information will start to appear through those channels?

This was a fairly rambling post. I’m not even sure I believe what I am writing and perhaps I am only putting these words to keyboard to clear the ideas from my mind.

Like cobwebs, these thoughts are annoying – but there. I just wanted to clear them out for a couple of days.

Update:

I’d just like to point out that I wrote this without having read this morning’s NYT headline.

Iranian Reveals Plan to Expand Role in Iraq

Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq — including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital — just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran’s plan, as outlined by the ambassador, carries the potential to bring Iran into further conflict here with the United States, which has detained a number of Iranian operatives in recent weeks and says it has proof of Iranian complicity in attacks on American and Iraqi forces.

The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called “the security fight.” In the economic area, Mr. Qumi said, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for Iraq reconstruction, an area of failure on the part of the United States since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago.

You rattle our cage, we’ll rattle back. *sigh*

Dead Supremacist Walking

The phrase used to proceed a death-row inmate on his final journey, “Dead Man Walking” takes on a rather macabre meaning in the case of James Ford Seale. According to the Herald Sun, Seale pleaded not guilty yesterday to the 1964 killings of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.

A former Ku Klux Klan member pleaded not guilty today to charges in the 1964 murders of two black teenagers in Mississippi, in a case that highlights violence used by white supremacists during the civil rights era.

Marshals escorted James Seale, 71, to and from federal court in Jackson for an initial hearing on kidnapping and conspiracy charges.

A three-count indictment says Mr Seale trained a shotgun on the teenagers while his companions beat them. Then they attached heavy weights to the pair and threw them alive into the Mississippi River.

Although Mr Seale doesn’t face the death penalty, his case does somehow remind one of the Day of the Dead. You see reports of Mr. Seale’s premature demise were somehow slightly overstated.

The story starts at the height of the civil rights movement. Two black, 19 year old teenagers were hitchhiking in rural Mississippi in May 1964; unfortunately the wrong Volkswagen stopped. According to the June 2000 story in the Clarion-Ledger, the teens were then taken into the forest; beaten or in Klan jargon “whipped”; driven to the Mississippi; tied to an old Jeep engine block and drowned. The only reason for not shooting them first was because shooting would have gotten the boat bloody. Nice.

Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner PosterIn rural Mississippi in 1964, this probably wouldn’t have caused much of a ruckus, it was par for the course. But one month later, 3 civil rights activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, disappeared. These weren’t poor black Mississippians, 2 were activists from New York and that was news, national news. The FBI got involved and the story of the search for Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner became the stuff movies are made of.

But during the search for the three men, a the lower half of a body was found in the Mississippi river. A more through search was made and a second body was found. Dee and Moore had been found.

Based on information from a Klan informant, James Ford Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested and interrogated by the FBI. The Clarion-Ledger story then goes on to quote the rather Kafkaesque questioning,

According to FBI documents, authorities confronted Seale and told him they knew he and others took Dee and Moore “to some remote place and beat them to death. You then transported and disposed of their bodies by dropping them in the Mississippi River. You didn’t even give them a decent burial. We know you did it. You know you did. The Lord above knows you did it.”

“Yes,” Seale is quoted as replying, “but I’m not going to admit it. You are going to have to prove it.”

When authorities arrested Edwards, he “admitted that he and James Seale picked up Dee and another Negro in vicinity of Meadville, Miss., and took them to an undisclosed wooded area where they were ‘whipped,’ ” a Nov. 6, 1964, FBI document says. “States victims were alive when he departed the wooded area.”

The FBI didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute the case and turned it over to the local District Attorney Lenox Foreman. Foreman promised to bring the evidence to a grand jury, but despite repeated failures to communicate attempts by the FBI to jump-start the case, Forman never did and the case dropped into obscurity.

It was 35 years later that reporters from the Clarion-Ledger, while going through over 1000 pages of documents found a bullethole loophole missed in the original proceedings. It became likely that the two teenagers had been on federal property when the beating took place. This moved the case from the local to the federal prosecutors office. They chose to follow up.

There was only one problem. At least according to James Ford Seale, Jr. The story as related by the Associated Press in 2005 could only take place in rural Mississippi or perhaps Hollywood.

In 2000, a Jackson newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger, uncovered documents indicating that the beatings might have occurred in the Homochitto National Forest. Claiming jurisdiction, the Justice Department reopened the case.

Not long after, Mr. Seale “died.”

The Los Angeles Times published an article on the case in June 2002, which said Mr. Seale had died the previous year.

In 2003, The Clarion-Ledger ran a series on unsolved cases from the civil rights era. An item on the Dee-Moore case included comments Mr. Seale had made “before his death.”

While filming a documentary on the 1964 killings, the brother of one of the victims, Thomas Moore, discovered that Seale Sr was still alive and – um – kicking . Probably still hating as well. The case has finally come to trial and yesterday Seale Sr entered a plea of not guilty. Now he will be tried by a jury. The AP has also published an excellent summary of the story.

In other current white supremacist news, it seems Kevin Alfred Strom, the founder of National Vanguard and one of the leading “intellectuals” in the neo-Nazi movement, has been arrested and charged with child pornography and witness tampering. Strom’s former and current wife seem to be publicly agreeing to the charges. But not all the rats are abandoning ship. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center,

One other woman spoke up, too. April Gaede, a long-time National Alliance activist who quit that group to help Strom form National Vanguard, told the VNN web forum that Strom had called her in March 2006, four months before he took his mysterious leave of absence. Strom “told me that [Elisha] had found some porn on his computer and that it was of adult females but that she freaked out and called him a pervert,” Gaede wrote. “Then he told me that she had threatened to ‘get even’ with him and that he was afraid that she would plant something on his computer.”

Unmentioned by Gaede was the role Strom has played recently as promoter at concert after concert of Prussian Blue — the folk-singing, neo-Nazi duet comprised of Gaede’s two daughters, pretty blonde twins who recently turned 15.

(Hat Tip and obsequious grovel to Trees/AnomalousData for that.)

One can only hope that these people are finally either dying out, being prosecuted or simply self destructing.

Maybe it’s a case of Dead Supremacist Walking.

Feeding PETA

Sure, like many, I enjoy the occasional Supermodel PETA no-fur-just-skin publicity stunt. But, although I have more hair on my legs than on my head and I have a weakness for grumpy-faced Land-Lobsters, I can’t stand People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – the organisation. I’m sorry but I just can’t go there.Land Lobsters

PETA and their more extreme cohorts from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are now campaigning against Oregon researcher Charles Roselli. The story of misunderstanding leading to distortion leading to lies is being run in today’s New York Times.

Charles Roselli set out to discover what makes some sheep gay. Then the news media and the blogosphere got hold of the story.

Dr. Roselli, a researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University, has searched for the past five years for physiological factors that might explain why about 8 percent of rams seek sex exclusively with other rams instead of ewes. The goal, he says, is to understand the fundamental mechanisms of sexual orientation in sheep. Other researchers might some day build on his findings to seek ways to determine which rams are likeliest to breed, he said.

But since last fall, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals started a campaign against the research, it has drawn a torrent of outrage from animal rights activists, gay advocates and ordinary citizens around the world — all of it based, Dr. Roselli and colleagues say, on a bizarre misinterpretation of what the work is about.

The story of the gay sheep became a textbook example of the distortion and vituperation that can result when science meets the global news cycle.

Perhaps most vile is the article run in the British broadsheet, The Sunday Times, in December of last year. They spun the story not only to include gay sheep but mind control. In what can only seen as a very strange form of journalistic excess, the Sunday Times reporters imagined bizarre experiments on sheep brains.

The scientists have been able to pinpoint the mechanisms influencing the desires of “male-oriented” rams by studying their brains. The animals’ skulls are cut open and electronic sensors are attached to their brains.

By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain, they have had “considerable success” in altering the rams’ sexuality, with some previously gay animals becoming attracted to ewes.

Likely the sheep were dead and the sensors were measuring something like hormone levels but that wasn’t important to the reporters at the Sunday Times. Properly packaged anything can be both true and false and sensational enough to sell papers.

Of course the Sunday Times isn’t the institution it used to be. It’s one of the cogs in Rupert Murdoch’s media machine.

Perhaps it’s worst journalistic faux pas was publishing the faked Hitler Diaries ‘discovered’ by the German magazine Stern in 1983. That episode also clearly pointed to the Murdoch philosophy. According to Robert Harris’s Selling Hitler, subscriptions to the Sunday Times rose by almost 50,000 during the early hype. After the fakes were exposed, subscriptions remained 20,000 above pre-hype levels. A win-win situation for Mr Murdoch. (Of course for some reason the Sunday Times never did a book review on the bestselling Selling Hitler. I wonder why?)

Murdoch realizes that sensationalism, true or false sells papers, books and ‘news’ channels. He isn’t concerned with moving information, he is concerned with moving money. And, he does a very good job.

While homosexual behavior in animals is well documented and even the religious right has toned down the “Crime Against Nature” hype in anti-gay rhetoric, the underlying cause for the seemingly anti-evolutionary behavior is still largely unclear. That is the reason people do research.

But there is a language barrier to be overcome. When a scientist talks about discovering the controls for homosexuality in sheep, it doesn’t mean he wants to control the sheep, he wants to understand the mechanism. The activist wants to see evil. The NYT article continues,

In an interview, Shalin Gala, a PETA representative working on the sheep campaign, said controlling or altering sexual orientation was a “natural implication” of the work of Dr. Roselli and his colleagues.

Mr. Gala, who asked that he be identified as openly gay, cited the news release for a 2004 paper in the journal Endocrinology that showed differences in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual sheep.

The release quoted Dr. Roselli as saying that the research “also has broader implications for understanding the development and control of sexual motivation and mate selection across mammalian species, including humans.”

Mr. Newman, who wrote the release, said the word “control” was used in the scientific sense of understanding the body’s internal controls, not in the sense of trying to control sexual orientation.

So scientists are “naturally” trying to control Mr Gala. Note some fairly normal people think the government is naturally trying to control our minds, but that’s something for a different post…and wardrobe. People like PETA and ALF want to see evil everywhere. It is how they generate support; it is how they generate funding.

An excellent example of misplaced activism was the attack on a deer farm in Scotland last year when ALF tore down fences to free the enslaved herbivores. The herbivores were quite happy where they were, thank-you-very-much.

Fences were cut in four fields at Reediehill Deer Farm near Auchtermuchty and graffiti including “Scum” was spray-painted on the ground.

However, none of the 50 to 60 red deer tried to escape.

The farm, run by Fletchers of Auchtermuchty, is free-range and Nichola Fletcher, who owns it with her husband John, said the wrong people were targeted.

The couple pride themselves on their animal welfare practices, and Mrs Fletcher said, “These people have made up their minds without coming to find out about us.

“I would love to invite them for a cup of tea and explain to them what we are trying to do here.

Great. Tea with the enemy. Where are all the dynamite carrying owls when you need them?

Although there are many species that exhibit homosexual behavior, for me, I always think ‘lion’ when I think of non-human gays. (I am also not alone.) So maybe we should just bring these two things together, PETA and gay lions. Preferably in a cage.

So, here’s my solution, let’s feed PETA to the lions.

(And yes, this post was totally about reposting the NRA Animal Terrorist picture again.)

Is God AWOL?

UPDATE: See below.

Wow. I didn’t even make it to the fluff part of the SOTU address.

I know better than to actually try to watch GW. I’d curl up into a ball and probably be catatonic for several days, thus I read the prepared text. Assuming he followed the teleprompter, (we now KNOW he can read), I suspect I got a good idea of what he was trying to say. The SOTU is a show and the text usually little more than visions and rhetoric.

But this SOTU is perhaps more notable for what is missing than what was included.

God has finally deserted America! At least he has finally stopped calling George W (or perhaps GW wouldn’t let him reverse the charges, national debt remember?) But don’t believe me? Check the transcripts of all the previous speeches. The last words of all his earlier SOTUs.

2001 – “Thank you all. Good night, and God bless. “
2002 – “Thank you all and may God bless.”
2003 – “May he guide us now, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.”
2004 – “May God continue to bless America.“
2005 – “Thank you. And may God bless America. “
2006 - “May God bless America.“

Contrast and compare with the end of last nights speech.

In such courage and compassion, ladies and gentlemen, we see the spirit and character of America — and these qualities are not in short supply. This is a decent and honorable country — and resilient, too. We have been through a lot together. We have met challenges and faced dangers, and we know that more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence — because the State of our Union is strong … our cause in the world is right … and tonight that cause goes on.

Oh! My! God!

Is this a hidden message to the religious right? Satan has entered congress with a Democratic mask and a skirt. (At least Nancy Pelosi didn’t wear red.) But the Democratic response included the obligitory god reference. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) ended his smackdown with “Thank you for listening. And God bless America.”

*sigh* Can’t anything stay normal! Which party am I supposed to support now?

All in all, the whole speech just made me sad and depressed. I think I’m going to go find my huge stuffed serpant and rock myself on my apple shaped beanbag for a while. The rhetoic was so bad, I’d just like to drop dead.

And of course, I’d be going to hell because God has deserted America. Thanks GW.

UPDATE A miracle has occured!:
The clever conservative trap for unwitting prerelease speech readers. The Whitehouse web site is quotes the end of the speech as follows

…because the State of our Union is strong, our cause in the world is right, and tonight that cause goes on. God bless. (Applause.)

See you next year. Thank you for your prayers.

And the WP updated the original link to include applause comments but cutting  the pitiful plea against impeachment and groveling for prayer support. Probably drowned out in the applause!

I was SO worried there for a second.

Do-Nothing Democrats

Senator Ted (Intertubes) Stevens is pissed!

This time doesn’t have to do with people just dumping e-mails on his e-truck or whatever. This is personal; this is family; this is about his wife Cat. According to the AP

At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, [Kip] Hawley[, head of the Transportation Security Administration] ran into inquiries from lawmakers with family members or friends who had encountered problems at airport checkpoints.

Among them was Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who complained that his wife, Catherine, was being identified as “Cat” Stevens and frequently stopped due to confusion with the former name of the folk singer now known as Yusuf Islam, whose name is on the list. In 2004 he was denied entry into the U.S., but officials declined to explain why.

Hawley explained that Secure Flight, the new passenger screening program, which he hopes will be running in 2008, would make such problems “a thing of the past.”

Ted isn’t the only person to have problems with the no-fly list. He’s not even the only Ted with the problem. He’s not even the only Senator named Ted who has gotten ruffled feathers over the N-FL. Back in 2004, the Washington Post very calmly (probably more so than Ted Kennedy) explained that,

U.S. Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy said yesterday that he was stopped and questioned at airports on the East Coast five times in March because his name appeared on the government’s secret “no-fly” list.

Federal air security officials said the initial error that led to scrutiny of the Massachusetts Democrat should not have happened even though they recognize that the no-fly list is imperfect. But privately they acknowledged being embarrassed that it took the senator and his staff more than three weeks to get his name removed.

Of course Republicans are nothing if not paradigms in organisation, fixes and problem solving. Thus this issue was quickly corrected and rectified. At least until someone at the TSA started reading about papal plots; confusing Congress with Parliament; 2005 with 1605; and Guy Fawkes with jihadist, terrorist NUNS!

Sister Glenn Anne McPhee is a busy woman.

As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretary for education, Sister McPhee oversees Catholic education in the United States, from nursery school through post-graduate. Her job includes working with the Department of Education, speaking frequently at conferences and scrutinizing religious textbooks to clear them with the teachings of the church.

For nine months in 2003 and 2004, Sister McPhee also took on the task of clearing her name from the government’s no-fly list, an endeavor that proved fruitless until she called on a higher power, the White House.

Ok, that was then. Any administrative organisation able to quickly correct and rectify personal problems like Heck-of-a-Job Brownie and under the dictatorship tight reigned control of Michael Chertoff would, more then 5 years after 9/11, finally have everything under control. Unless of course you keep someone like Donna Bucella, head of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center since it’s inception in 2003, on the job. She was interviewed by 60 Minutes last October,

Asked if she is confident that the list is complete and accurate, Bucella says, “It’s like painting a bridge. Once you finish one end, you gotta come back. So we endeavor to get the list as current and accurate and thorough as possible.”

She says there are people checking the names to make they belong on the list.

“We got a look at the No Fly List from March. And included on that list were 14 of the 19 September 11th hijackers. How do you explain that?” Kroft asks.

“Well, just because a person has died doesn’t necessarily mean that their identity has died. People sometime carry the identities of people who have died,” she says.

“What you are saying is that you have no information that this person is alive and poses a threat. It’s just a name in the database,” Kroft asks.

“In order fort the name to get in the data base there has to be information that they are a known suspected terrorist,” Bucella says.

“So you are saying it’s just a coincidence that there are 14 names in the computer that match the names of 9/11 terrorists. I mean, the people that are on the list have the same date of births as the people that were killed in the – that died in – the suicide bombers from 9/11. I mean, how do you account for that?” Kroft asks.

Bucella asked how recent this watch list was. When told it was from March, she said, “For some reason the agency might not necessarily want to have taken the name off the list. I can’t explain that.”

According to the article, other people on the list included Saddam Hussein, Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker, and Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. One has to wonder if Saddam has been crossed out yet.

Yes, the TSA will be cutting the no-fly list (N-FL) in half. From an estimated 350,000 to a mere 175,000 people (or down to 25,000, or 22,000 – who the f*ck knows; it’s secret!) People, who are so scary, you don’t want them sitting next to you. Of course some of these no-flyables might be preferable to George Carlin’s proverbial drunk guy with the Grateful Dead T-Shirt and the Fuck-You hat. Or the people who think up these wonderful ideas like the N-FL. Or even Ted Stevens for that matter. But perhaps Family Guy showed the biggest threat to American skies.

So, maybe the Do-Nothing Democrats (almost a month in office and what have they accomplished?) will finally get up off their asses and do something about the N-FL, the threat of singing terrorists… and Ted Stevens.

(For your daily news on the N-FL and other security related issues you might pop by Schneier on Security who does a really good blog on personal, data and general security. He was my source for the 60-Minutes article and the video.)

Hat Tip: Wonkette)

I’m Getting A Feeling

Phil Plait, Bad Astronomer, after getting back from The Amazing Meeting 5 dropped his telescope and picked up the story about the Sylvia Brown misstep.

For living in the US and with no access to – um – media or those living outside the US, Sylvia Brown is a self proclaimed psychic. (Of course with no access to media, how are you reading this? Are you psychic?) Where in Germany one can find psychics in the backs of cheap magazines and on late night television. Psychics in the US are of a different calibre. It is not unusual for psychics to get airtime on both daytime talk-shows and primetime specials.

But what’s special about this case?

James Randi has the rundown. The parents of the recently recovered kidnap victim Shawn Hornbeck consulted both Brown and psychic James Van Praagh while searching for their lost son. Brown claimed that the child (11 at the time) was dead and had been aducted by a “dark-skinned man, he wasn’t black – more like Hispanic.” She also claimed he wore dreadlocks and drove a car with fins. She also described where the body would be found. Needless to say, the person arrested for the abduction and captivity of Shawn, who is “still with us,” was white. dreadlock-less and not connected to any of the other bullshit she produced on that day. Another good source for the story is skeptico.

There is a nice wrap up done by Anderson Cooper. Phil presents the video and I thought I would just including it here for my click-lazy, non-sceptical reader(s).

What I find really interesting are the clips showing Larry King interviewing Sylvia Brown. One has to wonder if there will be a King / Cooper spat at CNN. I would however rather watch Cooper over King. (And Jon Stewart over both).

As best I can tell, Larry King is the ultimate talk show verbal slut. He’ll have almost anyone on his show who can create audible verbalizations, it isn’t terribly important whether those verbalizations have any basis in reality or fact. Larry King will simply claim to be presenting the opinions, offering people with something to say a forum to say it.

Of course I don’t know whether Larry King would deem it appropriate to interview Holocaust denial experts like Willis Carto, Mark Weber or white supremacist April Gaede (it would be interesting television) or whether he would ask National Vanguard leader Kevin Alfred Strom to appear. But he has no problem repeatedly inviting people like Sylvia Brown or James Van Praagh. The latter is entertainment, the former tasteless. Mr. King I beg to disagree; and I suspect Pam and Craig Akers would agree with me.

I have to applaud Anderson Cooper and of course James Randi and Phil Plait for continually bringing this kind of thing to light. I will also do my linkage good dead for the day and point readers and Google to Robert Lancaster’s page about all things Brown-ian. He has the myths, the misses and the videos. If you do nothing else, add this to one of your posts today. Maybe someday, we can get StopSylviaBrown above Sylvia Brown in Google searches.

Stop Sylvia Brown

Of course I’m a little psychic myself and I’m getting a feeling right now. A feeling that Cooper and King might not really like each other. And one of them has something to do with dreadlocks, and fins, near water, in the dark…

Express Lanes

There is a slight WTF! going through the foaming-at-the-mouth liberal community this weekend.

Alberto Gonzales (you remember the Attorney General without clear legal immigration records for his grandparents?) managed to leave the Republican Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) groping for words (not pages) or at least gasping for breath on Friday. But the topic being discussed wasn’t building fences to control immigration, but about who can be put behind fences and what rights those individuals have.

Mr. Gonzales points out, correctly I might add, that the constitution does not specifically grant habeas corpus rights. Indeed while that mythical right might be specifically taken away as per constitution during times of invasion or rebellion, it was never actually granted in the first place.

You can watch the video and the read the entire transcript over at ThinkProgress, but the money quotes follow,

SPECTER: Well, you’re not right about that. It’s plain on its face [the Supreme Court] are talking about the constitutional right to habeas corpus. They talk about habeas corpus being guaranteed by the Constitution, except in cases of an invasion or rebellion. They talk about John Runningmeade and the Magna Carta and the doctrine being imbedded in the Constitution.

GONZALES: Well, sir, the fact that they may have talked about the constitutional right to habeas doesn’t mean that the decision dealt with that constitutional right to habeas.

SPECTER: When did you last read the case?

GONZALES: It has been a while, but I’ll be happy to — I will go back and look at it.

SPECTER: I looked at it yesterday and this morning again.

GONZALES: I will go back and look at it. The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. But it’s never been the case, and I’m not a Supreme —

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can’t take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn’t say, “Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas.” It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by —

SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.

GONZALES: Um.

This for me is an Ah Ha! moment. Now I get it. All those liberal ideals I had thought were embedded in the constitution are just fantasies. The constitution isn’t about talking about what you have but about when the government can taking those things away that you didn’t have in the first place. I suspect Mr. Gonzales views habeas corpus like having a constitutional proscription that the right to having an express lane in diamond shops for those who have 8 items or less could be taken away in times of invasion or revolt.

Mr. Gonzales, for the record, I’d would like to expressly register my revulsion at this idea. Nice try. When will you start wearing Bagdad Bob’s beret? I’m sure there is an express lane open somewhere.

Reactions

There has been an ongoing online ‘discussion’ between Trees, of AnomalousData fame and Anne Liebermann from Boker tov, Boulder! The humor I use here gets far darker when I comment on Trees blog. As an example, I present the following exchange:

[Preface: this is heavily edited and snipped for effect. I chose not to identify the cuts because there would have been more ellipses than words. Just go read the original]

Trees: Given a choice between living under Shar’ia law as Anne believes we will have to do (She thinks the liberals are going to hand the U.S. over to the mullahs), or living with the Torah or the Bible, or the Zohar (or, more likely, all three together) as the imposed religious law of the country…
… well, I imagine that beheading is faster and less painful than stoning or burning, but I’d probably just learn French and go help Canada defend it’s borders.

Anne: Help Canada defend its borders… from what?

Trees: The hostile theocracy on it’s southern border, of course. :-)

Me: But wouldn’t they start with Mexico first?

Trees: Why would they start with Mexico? Global climate change models have the American grain belt shifting north into Canada by 2025. All the food will be in Canada

Me: Hadn’t thought of global climate change…excellent point that.

Anne wondered if we, the mouth-foaming liberal dregs, could really be serious. Trees gave her answer explaining a very small part of her belief system in a measured voice; clearly stating her case in what I found a nicely moderated tone. *golf-clap* My response got long enough, I thought I’d use my own damn bandwidth. So here’s my response Anne.

If there is anything I worry more about in the world, it is intolerance. I really don’t care whether it is religious, racial or political. My experience has been that in moving from culture to culture, the only way forward is to integrate, adapt and accept. It probably isn’t realistic to think most people could live that way, but I try. While I would consider myself to be a-religious as opposed to anti-religious. I would also argue that I am probably genetically missing the “God antenna;” the lack is in me, not the belief systems of others and therefore I am not in a position to judge; I can only learn.

Perhaps most troubling for me is the thought that any idea can be used to justify persecution. Race is a nice marker. Should the Latinos be driven out of the southwest America and didn’t those populations displace the original Indio populations? Were there cultures destroyed before the Indio settlement of Mesoamerica? Nationalism, often coached using the euphemism Patriotism in America, is another way to separate and divide the them from the us. And, increasingly, groups are using religion (what an innovation!) to divide and disrupt.

Anne, I live in Germany and notice you post often about topics and things happening in Germany. One of your recent posts was about a rabbi who hides his kippa under a baseball cap in Germany. This leaves me rather uneasy. Where you don’t understand the dark, gallows humor Trees and I use, I can’t imagine your understanding of the current German culture. Anti-Semitism isn’t rampant in Germany; intolerance is rampant in the world. I could point to the Paris riots this summer where the frustration of being marked outsider for whatever reason is enough to limit or destroy chances and that frustration boiled over. I could point to examples in Germany like the Rütli school [German] in a disadvantaged part of Berlin (Neuköln). The teachers sent an SOS because of the violence. German kids chose not to speak ‘proper’ German because the racial situation with about 35% immigrants (primarily eastern European) and 25% Turkish, was so dramatic, it was better to ‘pretend’ not to speak German. Thus the gutter linguafraca was adapted. Misunderstanding breeding intolerance breading ignorance. Bravo!

Anne, one of the questions you asked was “When was the last time a fundamentalist Christian blew him/herself up in order to murder a crowd of innocents?” Trees pointed out the bombings of abortion clinics, the bomb in the Olympic Park etc. The only difference between current the Judeo/Christian viewpoint and the Islamic practice is that the Judeo/Christians believe one should sacrifice one’s self at the front of an army and not as a sole individual; thus we have hero worship and posthumous Congressional Metal of Honor ceremonies. But don’t get me wrong I am not foolish enough to believe that Buddhists only immolation themselves in crossroads and that all Hindus would like peace on earth and good will to cows, but let’s stay in our cultures shall we? The dead opponents probably don’t appreciate the difference whether it was a suicide bombing or a suicide attack.

Anne, in your answer you wondered about my reference to American labor camps; the idea isn’t that far fetched. We are only 150 years from slavery; about 90 years from the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918; about 90 years from a president who re-segregated the White House and cursed what he called hyphenated Americans. We are only 60 years from the Japanese internment camps, 53 from McCarthy, 48 years have passed since My Lai. We are only 3 years from Abu Ghraib. The organised abuse of power is neither purely American nor is it foreign to US shores. It is something lurking around the periphery of any society – American, Western, human. If religions can use traditions reaching back centuries and millennia, am I so off-base by choosing behavioral characteristics seen not just through history but in recent decades?

Anne, if I, from this side of the Atlantic, were to use your knack for finding news snip-its, than yes, I could say the labor camps are being built. I would argue Guantanamo and Diego Garcia are only the cases that have leaked to the press. I don’t believe it is happening but I could probably make a case for it and convince some people. But after consideration, I guess you are probably right on one part, the camps would be for internment and not labor. We can’t have anyone taking jobs from the “good” and “righteous.”

Anne, today division is accepted and allowed. Separation is celebrated. It doesn’t matter whether you are locking the bad guys in or simply keeping them out using privileged schools and gated communities. Today having a hyphen is politically correct. African-American, Mexican-American, Jewish-American. We claim to celebrate integration while highlighting and exploiting the differences.

So Anne, I ask you, am I a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal? Is a liberal one who thinks peace not conversion is acceptance; someone who realises that there are too many people, good and bad, adept and disabled, advantaged and disadvantaged for true equality and that while life isn’t fair, one must treat each person fairly? Is a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal someone who wishes for peace but is pragmatic enough to have lost faith in that hope? Someone who thinks equality is best championed using words and not bulldozers, fairness best advanced in tone and tolerance and not in rhetoric and hostility?

If yes Anne, than I am a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal. But Anne, I would argue there is one thing I hope not to be – intolerant. Reading your writing, I get the feeling that you perceive the world as a place of injustice and intolerance and you react in kind.

Perhaps you might just forget the reactionism and just try the kindness.

“Achmed and Julia”

This is a public service announcement running in German Television right now. My translation follows.

That’s Julia. She thinks foreigners suck.

That’s Achmen. He thinks Germans suck.

Since Julia thinks Achmed sucks, and Achmed thinks the same about Julia, they decided to meet in person.

And because they immediately killed each other, they’ll never think anything else.

Candor = Getting Out of Jury Duty

Just a quicky.

David Shuster, at HardBlogger (or MSNBC?)  points out the trials and tribulations of trying to find a jury in Washington.

This is day #2 of jury selection, and it has become another bad day for a few of America’s elite universities.  This morning, a young woman with degrees from Swarthmore and Emory University said she had no opinion about the Bush Administration’s case for war with Iraq.  She also said she never watches the news or reads the paper, and said she would consider Vice President Cheney “a perfect stranger.”  Yesterday, a potential juror with two degrees from Northwestern, including one in journalism, said she thought she knew something about the CIA leak case but “couldn’t recall anything.”  When asked about the types of stories she covered as a graduate school journalist, that woman repeatedly said, “I don’t really remember…just stuff at the court, stuff at the city council.”  Asked what else?  She said, “Other stuff.”  Asked to be more specific, she said “I don’t remember.  It was a bunch of stuff.”  This exchange prompted endless teasing of one of my journalism colleagues covering the trial who is a Northwestern graduate.  “Stuff happens,” noted one of the other reporters here.
[...]
Just a few moments ago, the 12th prospective juror to be questioned on the witness stand noted that she had read a Washington Post article on Monday previewing the Libby trial after the woman learned she would be a possible juror in the case.  Asked by the judge, “You read the specific article?”  The 60ish woman said, “Absolutely.”  When the judge asked the woman if she had “any opinions” about the Bush administration that might affect her ability to focus solely on the evidence and statements made in court, the woman replied:  “I certainly have an opinion that I can’t believe any statement by the Bush administration.”  The judge immediately asked attorneys to approach the bench, flipped on an audio switch so nobody, including the prospective juror, could hear the conversation above the electronic static.  About ten seconds later, the judge flipped his microphone on and said to the woman, “I appreciate your candor, but we will have to excuse you.”

You should really read the whole thing, it’s terrific.

(Hat Tip: Laura Rosen/WarAndPiece)

WWWMD?

You weren’t using that satellite, were you? According to Aviation Week,

U. S. intelligence agencies believe China performed a successful anti-satellite (asat) weapons test at more than 500 mi. altitude Jan. 11 destroying an aging Chinese weather satellite target with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile.

The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other government organizations have a full court press underway to obtain data on the alleged test, Aviation Week & Space Technology will report in its Jan. 22 issue.

If the test is verified it will signify a major new Chinese military capability.

Jeffrey Lewis, ArmsControlWonk, looks closely at what might have happened and wonks his way right to the heart of the matter.

Looking at the data at Heaven’s Above, NORAD hasn’t updated the orbital elements for FY-1C since Friday—all the other candidate Russian or Chinese satellites have been updated since then.

(Oh, and if you look at the SPACETRACK data, there are lots more reasons to think this is the one. But that is about all I can say on that subject.)

My guess is that when NORAD updates the data again, we are going to seeing LOTS of debris. (Keep checking Heaven’s Above.)

I spoke with a couple of wonky types who tell me that one of the passes on Thursday—before the satellite dramatically changed orbit—would have taken the satellite over central China during what was early evening on the US east coast—about the same time a visible murmur ran through the Forum on Space and Defense in Colorado Springs.

So is this a real problem or just sabre rattling on either the Chinese (look what we can do!) or on the American side (look what they can do!)? According to my favourite defense/technology blog – maybe. Noah Shachtman also points out that the Chinese might have tested an anti-satellite laser back in September.

“China has fired high-power lasers at U.S. spy satellites flying over its territory in… a test of Chinese ability to blind the spacecraft,” Defense News is reporting. And, at least in theory, those lasers might be able temporarily take offline America’s most powerful orbiting spies, like the giant electro-optical Keyhole spacecraft or radar-based satellites like the Lacrosse.

But he goes on to update the story about the laser test and say that “Theresea Hitchens, the Center for Defense Information’s resident spacewar guru, [was] ‘not convinced – nor impressed.'” The ramifications of last week’s test are less than clear. One could hope for diplomacy but Bush is in the White House.

There is that little thing about the changed National Space Policy (NSP) published by the White House back in October. You don’t remember that? That was sort of the idea. The NSP was American sabre rattling par excellence. Basically it claimed “America can use space for whatever they damn well want including for national security. But other countries, um – no.” Tony Snow claimed it was an “old thing…inherited from Uncle Bill.” Who do I believe? *chin rub*

You remember the “Axis of Evil,” Iraq, Iran and North Korea, builders of WMD, the worst of the worst (outside of the innocent puppets being held in Guantanamo)? Well the war-mongers in the White House seem to have left one country out of the equation. China.

To be honest, being one of the “Axis of Evil,” really wasn’t that much of an honor. Iraq wasn’t; Iran is openly working on being evil – playing with that silly enrichment equipment and denying the Holocaust; and the North Koreans were kind enough to send a seismic present to declare their evilness. And you have to be rogue (= small) to be on the axis. Thus China got left out. But are they really that bad?

Perhaps the biggest thing that points against short term political problems with China is the economic factor. Instead of asking what Jesus would do if there was a war with China, one would be forced to ask What Would Wal-Mart Do (WWWMD)? What would happen to the American economy of Wal-Mart’s entire production capacity was on the wrong side of a war?

All this leads me to my philosophical pondering for the day…Jesus = Wal-Mart?

Looking forward to the Super-Bowl?

Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh has good news for you if you think football players play with a deck a few cards short (and let’s face it TheSmokingGun would probably be out of work if it wasn’t for sports-person faux pas).

In, what is likely to become a controversial article in today’s New York Times, Dr. Omalu is sited as showing that the November suicide of ex-NFL player Andre Waters is linked to concussions he got during his career.

The neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh and a leading expert in forensic pathology, determined that Mr. Waters’s brain tissue had degenerated into that of a 85-year-old man with similar characteristics as those of early-stage Alzheimer’s victims. Dr. Omalu said he believed that the damage was either caused or drastically expedited by successive concussions Mr. Waters, 44, had sustained playing football.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Omalu said that brain trauma “is the significant contributory factor” to Mr. Waters’s brain damage, “no matter how you look at it, distort it, bend it. It’s the significant forensic factor given the global scenario.”

He added that although he planned further investigation, the depression that family members recalled Mr. Waters exhibiting in his final years was almost certainly exacerbated, if not caused, by the state of his brain — and that if he had lived, within 10 or 15 years “Andre Waters would have been fully incapacitated.”

This will be bad news for the sports industry because, let’s face it, knowing that you might be basically brain dead at 55 isn’t a real lifetime goal for most people (unless you’re Paula Abdul). This tidbit will line up with all the information about brain damage caused by sports like hockey, boxing, soccer etc. But hey, it’s sport! If you aren’t destroying your joints or obliterating brain cells through hypoxia (oxygen starvation), you’re probably banging your head too much. Since I don’t play sports, my biggest risk is usually listening to George Bush. I often find myself banging my head against something. After six years, I’m probably already hopelessly lost.

The two truly sad things about this story are those effected, cases like Andre Waters; and the fact that the sports lobby will kick into full-speed denial in the next couple of days. I’d keep my eye on Seed’s ScienceBlogs; this right down their alley.

According to the article, Waters was severely depressed before his suicide. He might have seen taking his life as one of the last acts he could manage. I am sure he is not alone; it’s just that other former players simply fade from the limelight.. Mohammed Ali is a pillar of hope despite the damage he sustained at the height of his career. The phrase punch-drunk is no longer often associated with it’s origin, boxing, but the cause is similar to that being discussed here.

The problem isn’t whether some sports cause brain damage, the problem is that too much money is involved to stop playing the dangerous sports. Not only the professional level is important. School sports are designed to encourage team spirit (or break the spirit of the free-willed, depends on the coach I suspect). School sports also generate an amazing amount of income per year; then comes the college stuff, the professional and the semi-professional and amateur stuff.

Band also encourages school spirt. Choir anyone? Chess club? But you’d ban sports because they are unhealthy? It’s not like it’s – um – trans-fats or something!

And let’s face it, how many parents would get fired up to go their kid’s golf match on Friday night? What do you do with the cheerleaders? Would they become golf-clap-leaders and wear baggy clothing? (Highside? No more water-kid; you’d have caddies!) But honestly. I. Don’t. Think. So.

So what will happen? Nothing. Why? Because the danger and the action are too far apart. Humans haven’t evolved to visualise dangers not temporally associated with the cause. (I wanted to use visceral-ise there, but that isn’t a word. It should be!) That’s the problem here (evolution not visceralisation) . It’s the problem with sports. It’s the problem with mass extinction. It’s the problem with global climate change. (It’s either that; or the Land-Lobsters are to blame, but I’m not the NRA.) People don’t have a long term bad feeling. Perhaps a little unease perhaps, but most people won’t get scared enough and therefore won’t care.

They give Super-Bowl parties. For many, the Super-Bowl party today is better than the hangover tomorrow. And football players should worry about reaching fifty? Players be damned.

Sisyphus needs Kim Possible

The Washington Post reported yesterday on the rather old news that, despite classifying more information than ever before, all those little gems that had been swept under the carpet 25 years ago have now been officially declassified. At least that’s the theory.

At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, something profound happened in the government secrecy system. With little fanfare, the paradigm of secrecy shifted.

The days when secrets would be secret forever officially ended that night. Some 700 million pages of secret documents became unsecret. No longer were they classified. They became . . . public. Imagine it: Some 400 million formerly classified pages at the National Archives, another 270 million at the FBI, 30 million elsewhere, all emerging into the sunshine of open government, squinting and pale, like naked mole rats.

This would seem a victory for freedom of information, just as President Bill Clinton envisioned when he signed Executive Order 12958 in 1995 (affirmed by President Bush in 2003), which mandated that 25-year-old documents be automatically declassified unless exempted for national security or other reasons.

Yes, one might have thought the odd history department in some SLAC (small liberal arts college and not the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) would have popped an extra Champaign cork on New Years. But the reality isn’t quite that great.

In what can only be a classic move, the government now has a huge vault of something like 700 million pages. This isn’t much for your normal hard drive. But for the team of workers sorting the information for release, FBI records, non-security related diplomatic efforts, perhaps the occasional bill of sale for weapons to Iran, it is a huge task. Each document must be looked at and determined if it remains in the comforting shadows of secrecy or whether the public will have a chance to see it. The nice part of this process is that there is no process. Depending on the origin (State, CIA, FBI, etc.) of the document, the process is different. Not only does each department have different classification schemes, some documents are ‘touched’ by several schemes.

Isn’t that nice? The article goes on to say,

Inside the boxes are documents that have to be scrutinized and processed according to the classification instructions written on them by staffers in any one of several agencies, which leaves archivists with a task not unlike deciphering a 25-year-old crime scene.

“It’s like ‘CSI,’ only it’s in records,” says Neil Carmichael, the supervisory archivist. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

The work, says Jeanne Schauble, is “esoteric,” all about arcane rules and layers of document review. She holds the rather Orwellian title of director of the Initial Processing and Declassification Division at the National Archives, which means she leads the beleaguered team of archivists faced with the task of making open government real.

So, in what can only be considered a masterful move, the government has managed to hide lots and lots of information simply by claiming it is in plain sight. At 1 document per second (let’s be nice, shall we?), we only have to wait 700 million seconds for everything to be available. Gee. That’s – um – just about 22 years to get everything back in the open. Oh. But that would mean working 24/7/365. If we try a 220 day work-year with 8 person-hours/day we are looking at 110 person-years. Of course if I have to look at a document for more than a second… it might take a little longer. And then there’s the backlog…

But I’m sure declassification is a top priority of the Bush administration. Or was that the classification of information? Didn’t I read something on Slate last year?

The government does a remarkable job of counting the number of national security secrets it generates each year. Since President George W. Bush entered office, the pace of classification activity has increased by 75 percent, said William Leonard in March 2 congressional testimony. His Information Security Oversight Office oversees the classification system and recorded a rise from 9 million classification actions in fiscal year 2001 to 16 million in fiscal year 2004. [my emphasis]

So basically we are looking at Sisyphus’s day job; verify government declassification 8 to 5, push rocks up hills as a hobby.

What we need here is a cartoon character. Someone who would find a really cool solution to this, some super secret machine to solve all these problems. I would probably look to my favourite modern cartoon spy, Kim Possible and her sidekick’s sidekick Rufus – the naked mole. Rufus can fix anything, he’s the perfect poster child and Kim just looks cool. But then again, with ideas like that, maybe I should go to work for the government. But I should probably keep that a secret.

It won’t be Iran – Cuba’s next

This from the Rocky Mountain News this morning. (um- last night)

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in “very grave” condition after three failed operations and complications from an intestinal infection, a Spanish newspaper said Tuesday.

The newspaper El Pais cited two unnamed sources from the Gregorio Maranon hospital in the Spanish capital of Madrid. The facility employs surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba in December to treat the 80-year-old Castro.

In a report published on its Web site, El Pais said: “A grave infection in the large intestine, at least three failed operations and various complications have left the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, laid up with a very grave prognosis.”

At least in Cuba, the rum and cigars are cheaper.

Watching Grilled Rice

Instead of blogging, I’ll be watching Condi Rice being grilled  at the on C-Span. I’ll probably catch Robert Gates at the House Armed Services hearing as well.  For some reason, I can’t listen and snark at the same time.

But at the same time, I can’t keep myself wondering, if Dr. Rice is one of the Post-Grad, Conservatives that believes in evolution. (Hat tip: Trees and check out the cool graphic at  Pharyngula.)

I’m sure if her belief is a problem, there will be a surge, an excalation, an augmentation to take care if it. Otherwise she’ll end up being grilled.

The Little President that Could

Just to preface this, where does the word “surge” come from? If it were ever a part of the speech, it seems to have been judiciously cut before last nights rendition. Considering how the President screwed up Katrina rebuilding efforts, does anyone else find the use of the word “surge“ by the media, bloggers and pundits slightly inappropriate? Is that just me?

And now to my (probably obligatory) post on George W. Bush’s he-does-have-a-plan-to-win-even-if-no-one-believes-him-any-more strategy speech.

The coverage of this is, of course, huge. You might listen the pre-speech Back Story at the New York Times. Of the overviews I read, I found the best to be from the Washington Post. I grabbed the text of the speech over at the LA Times because they had the coolest disclaimer. And back to the New York Times for the handy-dandy graphic.

While many may make much of George Bush’s minor mea culpa on Iraq, I find it less than convincing. He is taking responsibility in the same manner that Katrina’s buck stopped there. He’ll probably have to fire another FEMA chief. Bush will do the occasional sad looking photo-op and that will be that. At least that is the official Bush. I do think the war is taking a personal toll. Bob Woodward in State of Denial mentions several times that the husband and wife team George and Condi have spent a lot of non-reported private time in veterans hospitals. Bush is very aware of the pain American soldiers are going through. Whether he feels the pain of Iraqi mothers seeing their children die or the sadness of Iraqi fathers watching the country disintegrate is another story.

The most important part of the speech is the increase in troops. The analysis I have read up to now say that most generals think 20,000 soldiers are either not enough or not sustainable for any period of time. There are only two courses, out or reinstate the draft. One is diplomatic/geo-political suicide the other inner-political suicide. Bush, typically, chooses not to choose. He carefully explains that 20,000 troops spread over the country will actually accomplish something new. He hopes people will believe this. Since he is the decider and has decided, we will simply have to wait until this time in 2008 to watch the next cycle of spin.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of this ‘surge’ idea isn’t that George Bush is pushing it, but that John McCain is vocally supporting it. He seems to think it will help his 2008 Presidential hopes. But what is the political (we won’t even touch the human) cost of this kind of policy? What if, like those Cassandras in the Pentagon seem to think, it goes wrong? Senator McCain has that covered and can point to his soundbite “until we can get the situation under control, or until it becomes clear that we can’t.” Oh. We could also pound our collective heads against a wall until everyone agrees it’s a bad idea. But, um , WHY?

Phil Carter at Slate will greet the news of an increase in embedded advisors. From the speech

America will change our approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks. In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units, and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division. We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army, and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq. We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance. We will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams. These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen the moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance. And Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.

The second biggie is of course money. The Washington Post also give us a nice run-down on how some of the US funds will be distributed.

The United States will allocate more than $1 billion for three programs to create jobs and help reconstruction in neighborhoods secured by Iraqi and U.S. forces. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have been particularly concerned that any new deployment not happen in an economic and political vacuum.
[…]
The United States will also provide $400 million in quick-response funding to address urgent civilian problems, and add $350 million to the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows local field commanders to have discretionary money to help improve the lives of Iraqis.

The U.S. effort is designed to supplement a $10 billion reconstruction and infrastructure program, finally channeling an oil-revenue surplus into rebuilding areas. The administration has long pressed Baghdad to use its own resources, particularly in Sunni areas to prove that the Shiite-dominated government is sincere in wanting to take care of the country’s Sunni minority. Offering the Sunnis hope and inclusion is considered critical to helping defuse the insurgency and winning over loyalists to Saddam Hussein.

Paul Wolfowitz famously predicted that Iraqi oil sales would completely pay for the reconstruction. You remember Paul? He’s the financial genius who now runs the World Bank. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it? If only the Iraqis can produce enough oil. Paul would be vindicated and money no problem. The Middle East Times reported in December

Beyond those doors, beyond the walls of what is known as the Green Zone, a protected area in Baghdad and the only safe location aside from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in the north, about 1.9 million barrels of Iraqi oil is pumped daily.

This is below the 2.6 million barrels before the war; it is a tally only steady in that it can never be gauged or predicted.

We’re where we were two years ago as far as production goes,” said Erik Kreil, an analyst with the Energy Information Administration, the data arm of the US Energy Department.

Oil production [in 2006] really went up negligibly,” he said. “A whole year has gone by and production went up approximately on average 100,000 barrels a day.”

Oh. So that’s solved then.

While Bush agreed with the Iraq Study Group on embedding, the ISG stressed increased cooperation or at least diplomacy with Iran and Syria. This was criticised for being unrealistic and vague. The Bush administration has been using the stick on Iran and Syria for years. (I haven’t read whether the import of chocolate and iPods is illegal like North Korea, probably missed the article.) There really aren’t any carrots available. The biggest carrot available is Iraq and Iran is trying to get that on its own Thank-You-Very-Much.

Bush managed to completely reject any possibility of diplomacy with either Iran or Syria. Everything I have read does point to an increased use of Iranian made IEDs with up to four time the power of Iraqi jury rigged bombs. I personally find Bushes language on this point reminiscent of the “Axis of Evil” language.

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

And perhaps what I consider the most ill advised sentence in the speech. “Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.” No, There won’t be. Mr Bush tried something similar on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him. It wasn’t – otherwise that last nights speech wouldn’t have been necessary.

I can’t help myself thinking that the administration is stuck in a bizarre children’s tale. Not the one about goats; I’m thinking of the “Little Engine That Could.” Somehow Mr. Bush has confused “I think I can,” with “We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty* will guide us through these trying hours.” Since America “can not fail in Iraq,” Bush will never admit to a losing policy. He will continue to push this because he can not fail. But if the little Engine had tried to cross Mount Everest, all the platitudes and good wishes wouldn’t have gotten him over the mountain. Bush wil not win Iraq.
Thus I present a new children’s rhyme for George Bush.

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
Please leave office,
And I’ll pray for you.

* Note the clever godless God reference? “Our fathers’ God to Thee, Author of Liberty, To thee we sing, Long may our land be bright With Freedom’s holy light, Protect us by thy might Great God, our King.” America by Samuel F. Smith. David Quo would be proud.

Not Christmas Unless the Nazis Go Free

I was going to write a post about the fact that Deborah Lipstadt is blogging again but some of her first posts pointed me to a different topic.

In case you don’t know, Deborah Lipstadt is a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. One of her major research areas is studying holocaust denial and one of the biggest holocaust deniers is David Irving. When Professor Lipstadt published her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, she didn’t think too much about the occasional comment about David Irving. She assumed he was proud of denying history. That was until her book was put on sale in England.

Around the time Lipstadt’s book came out, bookstores in Britain had had just about enough of Mr. Irving’s right-wing Nazi (not neo-Nazi, he does the original stuff) propaganda. Therefore they refused to carry his then newest book work scribblings screed about Josef Goebbels. Irving smelled Jewish conspiracy and looked around for someone to blame. He found a target in Professor Lipstadt and her British publisher Penguin books.

British libel law is almost the exact reverse of the American version. If someone sues for libel, it is the defendant who must prove the truth of the matter and not the plaintiff to show untruth. Irving sued, represented himself (what was that comment about people who represent themselves having fools as clients?) and lost spectacularly. In a damning judgment, Judge Sir Charles Gray blasted Irving,

The charges which I have found to be substantially true include the charges that Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.

If you want to learn about Holocaust denial, what claims are made and how wrong they are, you can get everything for free at the Holocaust on Trial website, a project supported by Emory. The site includes almost all the expert reports produced for Professor Lipstadt, the trial transcripts and the complete judgement. (As entertaining and educational as the Dover judgement.) You could of course also buy either the book by Deborah Lipstadt or, for a slightly different perspective, you could read Michael Shermer’s excellent Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?

Why is any of this relevant now?

Over a year ago, David Irving was sentenced to 3 years in an Austrian prison for having denied the Holocaust in Austria. (Actually, it’s not quite that easy. Irving denied the Holocaust long ago at some neo-Nazi meeting in Austria; the Austrian state department declared him persona non grata and denied him entry into the country; he entered; about two years ago he was put on trial and put in prison. Phew!) Holocaust denial is a crime in many European countries including France, Germany and Austria and Irving is denied entry in these and a couple of other countries. Irving, after serving 13 months of his sentence, was released and, on December 21, sent back to England (who have to let him in). It was a repent David Irving that appeared before the Austrian courts. The Telegraph brought the following heart rending rendition,

The appeal court said it had made its decision to release Irving early due to the “exceptional long time since the crime”, as well as his defence that he no longer denied the Holocaust.

The judge, Ernest Maurer, said: “We expect Irving will leave Austria immediately. We don’t suspect he will commit another offence.”

Appearing handcuffed in court for the appeal verdict, Irving looked at the judge and said in German: “Thank you, your Honour.”

Of course, an almost unrecognizable, repentant David Irving isn’t something you see very often – or it appears – for very long. Shortly after landing back in Britain, Irving was also back in the business of anti-Semitism, racism; in short, all the things we recognize him for. The Guardian pointed out on December 23,

The discredited British historian David Irving came under fire last night for making racist comments a day after flying back to Britain following a year in prison in Austria for Holocaust denial.

Mr Irving, 68, who was released from a three-year sentence in Austria after undergoing what the judge said was an “impeccable conversion”, told a press conference that he supported the drunken anti-Semitic comments made by Mel Gibson that Jews were responsible for all modern wars. He also boasted about his success as an author during the 1970s by referring to his cash purchase of a “nigger brown” Rolls-Royce.

Well, at least he managed almost 24 hours.

According to the Austrian newspaper, Der Standard (German), the *cough* ‘activist’ judge involved in the case isn’t a completely unwritten page himself. He has close ties to the FPÖ, the far right political party run by Jörg Haider. As a matter of fact, he has made enough right-wing judgements, that he even managed to have a book written about one of his cases dealing with a neo-Nazi detractor. From the publisher,

The court battle handled [in this book] touches on the important themes, right-wing extremism, Social Darwinism [Biologismus] and national socialism. And the sole judge [as opposed to a panel] in the case, Ernest Mauer, is neither unknown nor uncontested.

So where all this does that leave us? Not far from where we started a couple of years ago. The judge in Austria is remaining true to form as is David Irving. Deborah Lipstadt is blogging again (although it is difficult to tell on which blog).

And Michael Shermer? Is there anything we can do for one of the leading sceptics of our age, one of the people who goes around bashing frauds and psychics, doing online debates with the likes of Deepak Chopra? Professor Lipstadt found a present for him too. You see there is this channeler in Florida who claims Anne Frank has forgiven Hitler…

So, I may have missed these Christmas doings last year, but hey, here’s a belated Merry Christmas to all. To all except the neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denying slugs out there.

Say Hi To Freckles

I’d like to introduce you to someone who commented on a couple of my posts. I asked her if she’d like me to do a profile of her so here goes.

Freckles is a 14 15 year old polit-blogger from Texas. She also has a lot of reasons for blogging; she is directly involved in almost every political controversy I can think of Iraq, economics, and I don’t know maybe even immigration. She is in Texas after all. What might surprise you is that she leans left and not right.

I had occasion today to spend some time arguing about the war with an air force captain today, and it was fascinating! At first he thought I was just a stupid kid, then I think he thought I was a stupid liberal. But by the end he said that about half my arguments were balanced, and that while he didn’t have time for left wing conspiracy theories, he would read material I sent him if it was from a real newspaper and not from a blog. A huge victory in my opinion.

I’ll start her story not with her, but with the war in Iraq. As the situation in Iraq started to go south, Bush needed more and more soldiers. Since not enough people were volunteering to go overseas and extend the interests of civilisation and Haliburton, the reserves were called up in increasing numbers.

Normally this probably wouldn’t be a major issue for a fourteen fifteen year old. Unfortunately Freckles mother has what is euphemistically called a ‘substance abuse problem;’ a problem Freckles names more directly – her mother is an addict. This landed Freckle’s mother in prison and Freckles in a rather untenable situation. Fortunately, in Texas, blood runs thicker than water and her older brother stepped in to support her, accepting legal guardianship. This had the advantage of keeping the family together and Freckles in her accustomed environment.

Oh, but remember that Bush thing and the reserves? Yeah, that part comes in here. Freckles brother is a corporal in the Army Reserves and was scheduled to be sent to Iraq. Despite her brother having legal guardianship, Freckles was once again looking at living in a foster home. And that’s were her political interests kicked in. As a long time listener of Air America, she called in a couple of times explaining the problem.

One thing led to another and she got some help from other listeners who, for example suggested she write to her congressional representative. (And no, that person wasn’t the dearly departed Vlad Shelly). Freckles wrote and her brother managed to get assigned not to Ramallah, but to a base in Texas. There is an old Arab proverb. Hell wasn’t bad enough so Allah made Mesopotamia and added flies. I don’t know if there is an Arab proverb about Texas. In this case it would have to be positive. I wonder if the reserves gives health care in a situation like this?

Her Air America connections also got her into blogging. She also started blogging. Not the usual MySpace or Blogspot teen angst blogs, she got recruited by the political blog Powers & Morrison. Now she does her own left of center blogging in an arena most people don’t manage after years of scribbling.

And the best part is that Freckles makes a real splash. She’s smart; writes well; she really tries to understand issues; and, I get the impression, would desperately like to learn to change the world. What can you say about a 14 15 year old who has Helen Thomas as her rolemodel? (Me, I’d probably pick Jon Steward and I have several decades on Freckles.)

If you’re interested, you can listen to Freckles tell some of her story during a radio call in last summer. Whether you listen to her or not, I would definitely recommend reading her blog, Political Teen Tidbits.

Sometimes you need to push the good. I hope Freckles has a long and illustrious career in blogging, journalism, politics or whatever she ends up doing. She certainly has an excellent start.

So why don’t you go over and say hi to Freckles personally.

One Quail Is Worth Two Bushes

Gee, this is potentially explosive. After the pre-Christmas graphic novel, one might have thought that the NRA had shot its load. Not quite. Land Lobsters

It seems the NRA members, those intrepid defenders of liberty and fighters of hairy-legged eco-terrorists, are pressuring for a little distance to the Bush administration. Blaine Harden (you can’t make these names up) of The Washington Post reported on Sunday,

After years of close association with the Republican Party and hard-nosed opposition to federal land-use regulation, the National Rifle Association is being pressured by its membership to distance itself from President Bush’s energy policies that have opened more public land for oil and gas drilling and limited access to hunters and anglers.

“The Bush administration has placed more emphasis on oil and gas than access rights for hunters,” said Ronald L. Schmeits, second vice president of the NRA, a member of its board of directors and a bank president in Raton, N.M.

The new emphasis on the issue of access to public lands, which Schmeits said is at the “discussion” level among the NRA’s directors, would represent a strategic shift for the NRA, whose leadership in Washington has long maintained that its 4 million members were not complaining or even asking questions about access to public lands.

The article goes on to mention that the NRA isn’t really doing all that well themselves. In what is apparently a mentally “politically challenging time” for the NRA, they are under (verbal) fire from the very base they claim to support, the hunters. The WP article continues,

“The core, the dream, the passion that drives gun ownership is hunting and getting out on the wide open spaces,” said a senior gun company executive who did not want to be quoted by name for fear of retribution from the NRA. “In the same way the Bush administration has overreached on Iraq, the NRA has overreached on gun rights. We are losing our grip on this green environmental thing.”

Careful readers of this blog will realise that the whole “green environmental” grip is totally in the claws of the dreaded jihadist land-lobsters and terrorist owls. But I do find it refreshing that it is a gun company executive giving the Post part of the back story. He did however have to remain nameless. Wouldn’t want to end up like a deer on Dick Cheneys front lawn, would he?

I admit, there were really only two reasons for this post. The first was to show the wonderfully neo-Nazi-classical image from the pre-Christmas NRA scare pamphlet and the second to give Moxiegrrl a huge hat tip for this tidbit.

But I still can’t help thinking. Is one bagged Quail worth more than a Bush in the White House? Maybe we should ask Dick Cheney… or Dan Q.

Total Recall Care

Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a new healthcare package for California. Both the LA Times and The New York Times headline the story.

While necessary, it also points to the rapidly regressing social structure in society today. The reforms that labor leaders fought and died for in the early part of the 20th-century are falling apart in the first decade of the 21st.

The scale of the problem is immense. This from the NY Times coverage,

A total of 6.5 million people, one-fifth of the state’s population, do not have health insurance, far more than in any other state. At least one million of the uninsured are illegal immigrants, state officials say.
[...]
The plan, which Mr. Schwarzenegger estimated would cost $12 billion, calls for many employers that do not offer health insurance to contribute to a fund that would help pay for coverage of the working uninsured. It would also require doctors to pay 2 percent and hospitals 4 percent of their revenues to help cover higher reimbursements for those who treat patients enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. [my emphasis]

Part of Schwarzeneggers motivation might come from his ‘old Europe’ heritage. Maybe he remembers his childhood in Austria where universal coverage is considered normal. I can’t think of any European country that doesn’t have universal healthcare systems. Not that many of those systems aren’t in financial trouble. In Germany, the debate isn’t about whether people should have healthcare or not but that the system slowly is devolving into two class system, healthcare for the rich and life support for the rest.

But from the looks of it, Schwarzenegger really does want the new system to work. He wants to try to attack the problem where it is worst and help those most in need. The LA Times points out

The governor also wants to ban insurers from refusing to offer coverage to some individuals because of their prior medical conditions. Insurers would also have to spend at least 85% of their premium revenues on patient care, a move that would limit the amount companies spend on administrative costs and profits.

In an effort to cover all Californian children, including ones in the state illegally, Schwarzenegger’s plan would expand the state’s Healthy Families program, providing insurance to children whose parents make less than three times the poverty level. That works out to about $60,000 for a family of four.

This will both make lots of people hopeful and probably piss off even more. Fortunately, Arnold has a plan. He has already figured out how to avoid being assassinated. Of course this picture from the New York Times does remind me of a movie…

Total Recall

Brave New World? No. 1984? No. Oh! I remember… Total Recall!

Update: For an excellent overview of the details of the program, you should head over to The Sentinel Effect where Richard Eskow has all the major points in one swell foop.

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