Archive for March, 2007|Monthly archive page

Heads Up – Homemaker

I’d like to a quick heads up to Lizard Eater for her support of the much abused term ‘homemaker’.

I’m coming up on 9 years of being a full-time homemaker. I am at odds with the other 99% of liberal women who are mothers and not employed outside the home, in that I call myself a “homemaker,” not a stay-at-home-mom. But after about 5 years of being a SAHM, I came to think that a) “stay-at-home-mom” is a perjorative, and an incorrect one — I WISH I could just “stay home,” but we’re far too busy and b) SAHM is a demotion. I don’t just stay home with my kids, and I’m not just a mom. At present, old-fashioned as it sounds, I make a house a home. I make wholesome meals and try to keep the house clean, and repair things and even occasionally sew something. And I spend time tending to the spirituality of our home, planning family rituals and opportunities to talk about our values. But it’s just semantics. Whatever you want to call yourself, go right ahead. And by the same token, I call employed mothers “working mothers.” I don’t feel that it implies I don’t work. Sometimes, I refer to myself and others as “full-time mothers.” That doesn’t mean I think working mothers cease to be mothers at 8 am.

Go read it in full. Bravo!

Neo-Hope

Andrew Sullivan posted a reader comment to his blog yesterday. It was a mixture of mea culpa and cheerleading to a football team down 7 to 28 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The comment started with a standard neo-con statement of fact. A statement of fact that with just a little editing becomes a far left wing call to arms. Let’s see…

The basic liberal premise for going getting the Republicans out of office is to effect democratic political and social change in Washington and in America, where the ruling kleptocracies and totalitarian evangelicals have crushed all hope in the general population and created a rancid environment in which hate and extremism is rampant. This basic premise – that the root of the problem in America lies with its dysfunctional ruling classes – is correct as far as it goes. It of course, needs to be more honest and further note that much of the present structure of Washington is rooted in its historical culture and social development going back literally hundreds of years, and is one in which Christianism and its lack of a church/state divide is a major contributing factor. Nevertheless, the intervention into Washington politics is being made with the prospects of bringing, by demonstrations and by softer means, a change in this governing ethos in America.

Now look at the original.

I’ll make a neo-conservative critique of Iraq that is honest. The basic neo-conservative premise for going into Iraq was to effect democratic political and social change in the Arab world and in the Middle East, where the ruling kleptocracies and totalitarian states have crushed all hope in the general population and created a rancid environment in which hate and extremism is rampant. This basic premise – that the root of the problem in the Middle East lies with its dysfunctional ruling classes – is correct as far as it goes. It of course, needs to be more honest and further note that much of the present structure of the Middle East is rooted in its historical culture and social development going back literally thousands of years, and is one in which Islam and its lack of a chuch/state divide is a major contributing factor. Nevertheless, the intervention into Iraq was made with the prospects of bringing, by force and by softer means, a change in this governing ethos in the Middle East.

Interesting huh? Neo-con blathering – indeed political blathering of any color – is simply a case of effective search and replace with the correct wording. * Sigh * Politics and content –the two shall n’er meet.

But the commenter tries to point out that he while he was a little naïve in thinking that a change in policy would be easy, the basic premise was sound.

The reader argues that there were a couple of factors that created the current quagmire. First, years of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein destroyed any infrastructure and any real opportunity for success. That coupled with failures in the current administration caused the current chaos. It was Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush, their incompetence and lack of realistic post conflict planning that lead the great “Iraq experiment” astray.

A couple of things this reader seems to have completely forgotten.First, calls for a realistic post conflict plan were few and far between, not just from the right but from the left. Any attempt to inject realism into the political process in that pre-election, post 9/11 wave of nationalism, excuse me, patriotism were quickly hushed. The poster comments that General Shinseki, chairman of the JCS, was sacked for giving a realistic estimate of the number of troops (“several hundred thousand”) necessary for rebuilding Iraq. He (she?) forgets that the reluctant comment was only in response to the pointed probing from a single Democratic senator, Carl Levin. The next day Wolfowitz, (neo-con extraordinaire) casually dismissed the idea. None of the neo-con pundits questioned the idea that nation-building would be necessary.

The Free Republic analysed the situation on February 28, 2003 thusly –

All of this points at a core problem. The Bush administration’s desire to make Iraq appear a stand-alone operation, without any strategic purpose behind getting rid of a very bad man, is highly vulnerable to attack from many directions. It’s only virtue is that it keeps the administration from getting involved in complex questions that can complicate the war. It also makes officials look — at one and the same time — simplistic, devious and incompetent. When the deputy secretary of defense and the chief of staff of the Army cannot, within 48 hours of each other, provide Congress with consistent information — and Wolfowitz must cover the strategy by making Shinseki look like he doesn’t know what he is doing — the situation is getting out of hand.

Once the war is concluded, if it is concluded well, these contradictions will be forgotten and the next strategic steps will unfold — or so the administration’s theory goes. That may be correct, and indeed, much of this is simply Washington chatter, of no consequence outside of Washington. Nevertheless, the intense strains of unarticulated strategic plans are showing.

Sullivan’s reader conveniently ignores the classic neo-con plank – that nation-building as such is wrong. That the military should not be used to rebuild democracy. The reader simply forgets those heady days in the 1990’s when democracy would just pop into existence – Poland, Germany, Hungary.

Oh. Yeah. There was that Kosovo thing. From James Baker’s classic “We don’t have a dog in that fight” to Bush “I’m worried about an opponent who uses nation building and the military in the same sentence.” There would never have been support for an ‘Iraq experiment’ if more than a few troops were involved and nation-building a strategic objective.

Hindsight now is like saying that you shouldn’t have been wearing that blindfold while driving. Mea culpa? Yeah right. I just get tired of the same ol’ – same ol’. “Wrong place, wrong time”? No WRONG REALITY! The world doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to a few soundbites, pundits and Power Point presentations. The real world is messy. The ‘experiment’ could never have worked because democracies don’t flower – they evolve.

Why does this person still stake a claim to any hope for the future after having been so blind in the past? The current debate of whether America should leave Iraq is flawed. Iraq is lost. A very few Americans are paying the price for this chaos now. The current moves by Saudi Arabia in recent days show a realistic attempt to keep the region under control while isolating Iraq (and the US) show just how far the situation has deteriorated.

It took Germany many tries, each more bloody and damaging than the previous, to finally reach some measure of Western democracy. The Middle East and Iraq specifically is no different.

It would do the neo-cons or post-cons or mea-cons good to remember that.

GSA = Global Straightforward Amnesia?

Oh. Poor Lurita Doan.

All she did was go to lunch (brown bagging it – wasn’t the Administration able to even get salaries that would let these people afford to be able to send out for Chinese? ).

Now she has to answer questions about a little power point presentation held during government office hours using government equipment. One slide titled “2008 House GOP Defense” does seem just a little parisan but it was lunch!

Watch the poor woman squirm.

Or watch the whole hearing at the GSA website here. (I think Henry Waxman is having a ball holding all these hearings.)

On the other hand, the Democrats now know what the White House is worried about.

(Hat Tip: Paul Kiel/TMPMuckraker.com)

A Defense of Faith

I finally got around to reading [Sam] Harris’s End of Faith.

On the one hand, it is an astounding document, a frontal assault on religion and faith. On the other, it is clear that Harris is writing from the heart. (I am sure he would resent my using the phrase ‘with heart and soul’ but it would reflect my opinion.) He seems most concerned that the irrationality of religious beliefs is not only dangerous but the most fearful threat facing mankind today.

He spends half the book with broadside after broadside directed at religion; Christianity and Islam being the primary targets. Judaism is attacked primarily as a precursor to these two and Hinduism is only mentioned in passing. Buddhism as a belief structure is left largely unscathed and Apollo, Zeus and Athena merely dismissed as myths. Wiccans are left unmentioned.

I found this part of the book to be the least balanced. Perhaps I will devote another post to the problems I see in that part of the book, problems which are far too numerous to be listed here. His main attacks seem based on a literal reading of the various holy works. He therefore makes the connection, since the scriptures are not consistent, not only are beliefs based on them irrational, but any idea taken from them dangerous. He seems fascinated by the more graphic portions both of the Bible and the Koran and dedicates page after page to debunking any belief that could use these works as a basis. Fine.

In the second half of the text, Harris looks at the connection between ethics and religion and asks the important question of whether research will be able to find a science of good and evil; a clear delineation between what is right and wrong without discourse to holy books (or constitutions). Further he looks at the connection between spiritually and consciousness arguing that spiritually and mysticism are possible without the fetters of religion. These chapters are designed to show a path out of the horrors of dogma and into a more structured and intellectual understanding of the world.

This part of the book was more balanced and less polemic; he wants to reconstruct the social order torn down by the removal of religion. I found Harris treading well understood ground here, he studies neuroscience. In the acknowledgements, he mentions two chapters on the brain that were cut from the final version of the book. While I think this would have explained both Harris’s impatience with religion and his hope for the future, they were probably too complicated and erudite for the audience Harris reached otherwise.

As a bridge between the attack and the reconstruction, Harris shows two of examples of how dangerous religions can become – the Inquisition and the Christian origins of anti-Semitism as a precursor to the Holocaust. I think both of these examples show Harris’s distortion of truth and use of polemic to make marginal or invalid points.

He describes the Inquisition as an example of the tortures used to extract confessions from innocent, religious prisoners while leaving out the fact that similar methods were used to extract information from secular prisoners as well. The idea that pain and suffering might induce people to give incorrect or misleading information wasn’t religious doctrine but common knowledge at the time. Trial by fire was not merely a platitude in the middle ages. The only thing particularly spectacular about the Inquisition was its targeting of a relatively peaceful and prosperous segment of the population. And note, the emphasis is on prosperous. Most pogroms were carried out for financial and not purely religious reasons.

Harris’s explanation that Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in Christian faith is as true as it is trivial. The Nazi’s were chasing a mythical racial purity that had nothing to do with faith as such. Indeed one of the principal goals of the Nazi’s was to replace existing religions with a new (or as they pretended – old) religion. This wasn’t out of any dogmatic belief but because the Nazis knew the power of using that from of emotion. The racial discrimination that has been and is being carried out in the United States is arguably not of religious nature. The concentration camps set up in Colorado during the Second World War had little to do with Christianity but a lot to do with race. While the group selected by the Nazis was based on age old religious predudices, the problem wasn’t the religion but the predjudice.

Harris might be described as a neocon to religion looking for dogmatic WMDs wherever they might be found and disregarding any evidence to the contrary.

The neocons were certain Sadaam and Iraq presented a threat and played up every possible hint of danger while passing over any evidence that it might not be so. While getting Sadaam out of power might have been a good idea, the neocon ‘strategy’ was focused on the destruction of a dangerous regime and on the democracy that would bloom in its place. The fuzzy part was the path from dictatorship to democracy and it is that fuzziness that is what is ending life after life in the Fertile Crescent today.

Harris makes a similar mistake. While he points to a proud new world, a world of science of ethics and an understanding of how and where feelings of spirituality can be nurtured and supported, he makes no concession to reality. Not only does he not tell us how to achieve these goals; it is unclear whether there is a ‘there’ there. In a sense Harris sees religion as a kind of social WMD. Extremists driven by frenzy of religion will seek not metaphorical WMD’s but real ones and the world will be destroyed. I would argue that lacking religion, any of the other traditional excuses – race, nationality, etc. – will be used to foment hate and dissent.

The book makes a startling and excellent case for the danger the world is in today. Wherever peoples with differing religions come into conflict, the religion will be used to magnify and define the suffering. But if the only option is to condemn all religious thought, to ‘outlaw’ beliefs and myths, then we are doomed and no book can save us; not Harris’s, not the Bible, not the Vedas, not the writings of Confucius – none. We are doomed.

We live in a world where we are permanently bombarded with the message that, we should be satisfied with our lives (but are not) and that dissatisfaction is a condition to be combated, something to be exercised – preferably through conspicuous consumption and greed. The feeling that dissatisfaction is ‘curable’ leaves the human mind open for anything that offers relief. There are those few blessed with the ability to fill that void with intellectual pursuits: Eugenie Scott, PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins to name a few. There are others less fortunate who use alcohol and other substances to deaden the ache. But nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, and religion and belief are used by many to fill the gap.

If Harris does not offer a substitute for belief, his attempts at dismantling organised faith, if successful, would leave a chaos making Baghdad look like a children’s party.

There is no doubt that spirituality and belief are experiencing a renaissance in the world today. Not only are religions growing, but belief in New Age silliness like Integral thought and Therapeutic Touch are increasingly trusted despite the rational arguments of scientists.

I would argue the true danger to the world is not religion per say but the use of extremism in any form. To portray religion as the driving factor in all the world’s woes and conflicts, either implicitly or explicitly, is mendacious. Dogma did not drive Napoleon to Waterloo; the American Civil War was not a conflict driven by faith; neither WWI nor WWII were set in motion by theological discourse; the Soviet purges and the McCarthy show trials were not done for God.

For me, someone who is firmly in the strong agnostic camp (not only do we not know whether God exists, I feel the question is unanswerable as such), I would have to say I found Harris’s book reprehensible

I found his descriptions of religion to be cartoonish and his use of exaggeration, polemic, and a combination of truth and well spun opinions presented as truth distasteful. Harris discounts all theological activities performed in the last 300 years. He carefully mixes generalisations about the beliefs held by splinter groups with the larger group of moderates.

His rhetoric is often flawless, attacked on any specific point he can truthfully explain that no, go back and read that passage exactly – any resemblance to what you understood and what he wrote is solely the responsibility of the reader. I felt I was reading denialist literature of the highest calibre.

But I did have a personal revelation while reading Harris’s book – don’t take a break and watch cable news. During a report about the latest Iranian/UN tug of war, the CNN announcer pointed out that Iran claims that all its nuclear efforts are peaceful. Then, in a tone dripping in irony, he pointed out that Iran also “claims that CNN is simply a propaganda arm of the American government.” I found myself yelling at the screen “But you are an American propaganda tool!” Harris’s book and tolerance do not mix.

I believe the CNN announcer would have as little use for my comment as Harris will for the rest of my comments. But both are only beliefs. And I will hold faithfully to them.

The Wrong Recruit

This is priceless.

What happens when an Army recruiter sends an offer to a person who has posted his resume on CareerBuilder? Well sometimes Sergeant Marcia Ramode might get a nibble leading to a new, oh-so-needed Army recruit. Sometimes she gets a response like this

Awesome! Sounds great! The US Military has so many vacant positions and opportunities. I had no idea. I’m seriously considering contacting you. One thing, I’m not up [on] current politics but since it’s 2007, I would imagine also that I am now able to serve in the US military as an openly gay man, right?

Oh! Snap!

This would usually then plead a response to the now former recruitee to the effect that, no unfortunately the US Military has a ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy and bla, bla, bla. It usually should not lead to the recruiting sergeant, responding with

WELL IFYOU ARE GAY WE DON’T TAKE YOU YOU ARE CONSIDERED UNQUALIFIED. [caps, spelling and punctuation in original, my emphasis]

Ping! That was a recruiting person losing it.

At this point, the resume poster, Corey Andrew, did what any red blooded American, liberal, gay or lesbian might do. He started pulling her chain. Hell, at this point I’d be pulling her chain. The exchange heats up with the former recruitee pushing button after button and the recruiter completely losing control of the caps lock, her language skills and any hint of decorum.

Insult begat insult with Ramode at one point admitting to being Native American to which Andrew ended his next response with “So take that to your next rain dance.” You can read the entire exchange here and the right wing response here (Hint: it’s all a homosexual plot to bait harmless recruiters into making fools of themselves. Oh! Right!)

Now the whole thing is under investigation and the recruiting sergeant will probably get a ruffle and a keyboard with the capslock disabled.

But the money quote. The thing that really conjured up an image that will give me nightmares for weeks. It didn’t come from the homophobic, etiquette challenged sergeant who managed

GO BACK TO AFRICA AND DO YOUR GAY VOODOO LIMBO TANGO AND WANGO DANCE AND JUMP AROUND AND PRANCE AND RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE HALF NAKED THERE.

No the money quote came from Mr. Andrew.

Most disturbingly, you have the nerve to suggest that you’d send all the gays off to Iraq to be killed first if you could? Well let me round up some of my gay boys and give it a shot. We could do no worse than President Bush’s whole administration of liars that put us there in the first place. In fact the gays would have had Osama by now; with his shirt off, nipples pierced, peace driven and dancing to Abba’s Greatest Hits! Whereas you dudes can’t even find him!

Osama? Pierced Nipples? Abba!

I won’t sleep for weeks.

(Hat Tip: Pam’s House Blend via Andrew Sullivan/Daily Dish)

Be Our Guest

In the last six years there have been few issues where I would have agreed with George W. Bush’s rhetoric: his incessant harping about things in Iraq being merely illusions created by a misguided media; his refusal to admit to mistakes of any form; his belief that all power should be in the hands of the president.

Thus when he spoke of increasing the guestworker program in America to create a legal mechanism to alleviate the pressures of illegal immigration, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with much of what he said. I should have know better.

Newspapers and pundits have occasionally commented that the war in Iraq and the other minor problems with the administration (a hostile Congress, convicted White House aides, and most currently that pesky little issue surrounding Alberto Gonzales) all seem to be conspiring to keep George W. Bush from achieving the central domestic theme of his second term, restructuring the immigration system. (His landmark issue of the first term the No Child Left Behind legislation is also starting to crumble but that’s a different issue.)

Bush has repeatedly argued that there must be a legal safety valve to ease the pressures on American borders. I’d agree with that position; having low wage workers is important for the American economy and the likelihood of any other system working in the near future are slim.

The problem is that Bush also claims that an expansion of the current guest worker programs (H2 and H3) represents just such a safety valve. I beg to differ.

There is a new report out by the Southern Poverty Law Center discussing the current guestworker program and highlighting the problems associated with it. Indeed, the current system is so flawed it was deemed by Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel to be “the closest thing I’ve ever seen to slavery.” And that is the title the SPLC chose for their report.

The report does not make for comforting reading.

While it should be read in its entirety, the abuses documented show a consistent disregard of basic human rights – of basic human dignity. If we worry about how inmates are treated in Guantanamo, we should be equally concerned about the treatment ‘legal’ guest workers receive in “the land of unparalleled opportunities.”

The abuses show that workers mortgage their futures to obtain low-paying jobs under false pretences; are held captive sometimes virtually – sometimes literally – by employers and labor brokers; are often forced to live in squalid conditions; are routinely cheated out of wages; and are denied medical benefits for on-the-job injuries.

These abuses are not simply sporadic but systematic.

Even worse; it is up to the employer to obtain the visas necessary for employees to enter the US as a guest worker. They must show that they are unable to hire American labor and, in the case of agricultural workers, submit to a number of specific regulations. Even if it is proven that the employer has not met the minimum standards and is fined for violations by the Department of Labor, there is no mechanism to deny that employer from doing the same thing one year later – and the year after that – and the year after that.

The SPLC also documents a case where Del Monte used its employees to act as ‘labor brokers’ to hire guest workers. The workers were paid by Del Monte, lived in Del Monte housing but should problems arise, the workers could only legally sue the Del Monte employee, someone with no capital leaving the workers with absolutely no protection.

The introduction to the report apply summarizes the horrors that follow,

The H-2 guestworker system also can be viewed as a modern-day system of indentured servitude. But unlike European indentured servants of old, today’s guestworkers have no prospect of becoming U.S. citizens. When their work visas expire, they must leave the United States. They are, in effect, the disposable workers of the U.S. economy.

This report is based on interviews with thousands of guestworkers, a review of the research on guestworker programs, scores of legal cases and the experiences of legal experts from around the country. The abuses described here are too common to blame on a few “bad apple” employers. They are the foreseeable outcomes of a system that treats foreign workers as commodities to be imported as needed without affording them adequate legal safeguards or the protections of the free market.

The H-2 guestworker program is inherently abusive and should not be expanded in the name of immigration reform. If the current program is allowed to continue at all, it should be completely overhauled. Recommendations for doing so appear at the end of this report.

Thus, perhaps one can only hope that the current problems confronting the Bush administration remain insurmountable. We can only hope he does not get a chance to push his vision of reforming the immigration system by creating disposable slaves.

Perhaps that is the highlight in the scandal surrounding Alberto Gonzales. Bush does not have the free room to create legislation to exploit those who still live in the land of Gonzales’ forefathers. But if people can keep him tied up in his own scandals, all I can say is, be my guest.

Quantifying Suffering

It was a warm, summer evening in August 2006 as authorities in Denver attempted to finally get a grasp on a problem that is almost impossible to measure – homelessness.

One of the biggest problems, both in helping the homeless and in combating the effects of homelessness (the militancy of language often determined by the effect of homelessness on personal economic security or worldview of the author) is in determining whether any measure actually helps or hurts in the long run.

Any ‘project’ to help the homeless usually has at least one of three objectives. The first aim is purely individual, an attempt to get that person or family off the streets and ideally into a situation where they will neither be homeless nor threatened by it. The second goal is at a community level. Not even the most dedicated social worker can truthfully deny the negative effects that homelessness has on the areas where it is concentrated. Finally the economic consequences, not only the direct impact on city budgets, but the indirect effects on health care systems, law enforcement efforts and tax bases, are usually targeted for improvement.

But one of the biggest problems with homelessness is merely getting a handle on the numbers. In order to know whether any project has been successful, there needs to be a metric to measure that success. While it might be easy to determine the current city budget for dealing with homeless issues, other factors are far more difficult to quantify.

By definition, it is impossible to find the homeless at any given address because they move from shelter to shelter; find and lose housing; migrate from place to place. The yearly cost to hospitals and health care clinics, the reduction in property values, the necessary personal needed in ambulance and security services to handle the load are almost impossible to determine.

An additional issue is that homelessness, while extremely personal at one level, is not merely a local issue. Rousting the homeless from the local park does not automatically place those individuals in housing and gainful employment; they have simply moved to the next city or county where the current measures are less restrictive.

It was against this background that the Colorado Interagency Council on Homelessness (CICH) decided to try a more comprehensive approach at finding out how many homeless there are, who these people are and how they might be helped. In order to avoid inaccuracies involved in earlier studies, this survey was carried out state wide with the support of numerous agencies and volunteers. Surveys have a tendency to undercount the homeless because many people without a permanent place of residence are either staying with relatives or “couch-surfing” with friends. But in order to reduce double counting and increase accuracy, the Colorado survey was carried out in a single 24-hour period.

The results were revealing.

On August 28, 2006 an estimated 16,203 people were homeless in the state of Colorado; this against an estimated 2005 population of over 4.6 million. The number of homeless includes families, women in domestic violence shelters and estimates of unsheltered homeless. A disproportionally high percentage of these people were minorities.

Children and teens make up approximately one-third of Colorado homeless with six in ten homeless a member of a family with children. In addition, one quarter of the unsheltered homeless are families with children and most newly homeless are women with children.

Half of the all respondents to the survey had one or more of the following disabilities: serious mental illness, serious medical or physical condition, alcohol or drug abuse, developmental disability, or HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless of the reasons given for homelessness, housing related costs, loss of job and at least one serious disabling condition were mentioned.

Almost two-thirds of the homeless mentioned that either they or another family member needed a service they could not obtain – it is perhaps obvious that the most commonly mentioned was permanent housing.

Of the over sixteen thousand homeless, one in ten were chronically homeless with the majority being male. Men and households without children were more likely to have experienced several episodes of homelessness in the last three years.

This type of survey is only one step towards rationally approaching a solution to homelessness. As opposed to “solving the problem” by legislating the homeless to hunger like the Las Vegas mayor attempted or a radical cleansing of Skid Row like Los Angeles is staging, knowing where the problems are and finding long term appropriate solutions, while not fast and perhaps not achievable during a four year political term, is the only way to reduce suffering at the lowest level of our society.

Colorado has taken a first step in trying to fix the problem. One can only hope that the current efforts are not undercut when the problem becomes less visible and thus funding to support systems slashed from the budget.

It would be interesting to compare these numbers with a survey taken in January, a month without jobs in construction and farming. A month forcing people out of cars and vans and into shelters. But maybe next time.

But solving these problems is an important way to ease suffering in America today. And at less then one-half of a percent of the total population of Colorado is it too much to ask that this suffering be relieved.

A level of suffering that until recently, wasn’t even appropriately counted.

Secrecy – Not Just at the Pleasure of the President

Do you ever wonder what your Congressperson reads? What kind of non-partisan information the government supplies to the legislative branch? Information about silly little issues like Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recent Developments?

Stop wondering. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides all kinds of reports to Congress.

What is the CRS? From their web page

Congress created CRS in order to have its own source of nonpartisan, objective analysis and research on all legislative issues. Indeed, the sole mission of CRS is to serve the United States Congress. CRS has been carrying out this mission since 1914, when it was first established as the Legislative Reference Service. Renamed the Congressional Research Service by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, CRS is committed to providing the Congress, throughout the legislative process, comprehensive and reliable analysis, research and information services that are timely, objective, nonpartisan, and confidential, thereby contributing to an informed national legislature.

And one might think that with a budget of about $100 Million, this information would be shared. Ah – you dreamer you.

You see, the CRS might want to contribute to an “informed national legislature” but not to an informed nation. Not because some of this information wasn’t available, it just won’t be available anymore to you.

At least not if the current director of the CRS, Daniel P. Mulhollan , has his way.

The CRS is a non-partisan organisation, but non-partisanship only goes so far. It might extend across party lines but not (banish the thought!) across branches of government or even to the public. You see in the interests of – um – whoever seemed to think this was a really good idea, it has been determined that this information has just been too available to those wild and crazy people in other branches of government.

According to a March 20th memo put out by the director of the CRS, Daniel P. Mulhollan, this free sharing of information has to stop!

The dissemination of CRS products to the public has historically been controlled by the Congress. Statue as well as policy guidance from making any broad publication of its products. Products have generally not been made available to non-congressionals directly from CRS, with notable exceptions. For example, specifically identified individual products have been furnished by the Inquiry Section to executive and judicial branch offices and employees, and state and local government officials. The research divisions have also distributed products to such entities when it has been deemed to enhance CRS service to the Congress. Additionally, CRS products have been furnished by the Inquiry Section to members of the media and foreign embassies on request, but only if the requester can make specific reference to the product number or title of the report. Product requests can also originate from other non-congressional sources including individual researchers, corporations, law officies, private associations, libraries, law firms and publishers. The Inquiry Section typically declines these requests, and most often refers the caller to his or her congressional representative’s office. However, research divisions have on occasion both received and responded to product requests from these same public sources, and have, on occasion, provided products at their own initiative.

In summary, to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals. Assistant and deputy assistant director questions about the policy should be directed to the Office of the Associate Director for Congressional Affairs and Counselor to the Director.

Perhaps they are starting to work like the administration. Say Nothing!

Now in this case, it doesn’t look like the Bush administration has anything (directly) to do with this. Mr Mulhollan has been director of the Service since 1994, so he is probably not exactly a loyal Bushie.

But this will slow down a already cumbersome process of attempting to recover this information. There are a few places where a subset of the reports can be accessed, like OpenCRS, the Federation of American Scientists and the State Departement of all people, do have some of these reports available for download.

But the process just got a little more complex, the world a little more secretive.

Because secrecy. That’s not just at the pleasure of the president. Congress can get involved too.

(Hat Tip: Noah Shachtman/Danger Room)

He Wrote WHAT!?

Try to identify the source and person referenced in the following quote.

“One gets the impression that [the administration] values its survival more than most people want justice and thus will delay without qualm. But as the clock ticks, the public’s faith in [the president] will ebb away for a simple reason: Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold the rule of law.”

Who wrote it?

DailyKos about “The Bushwackers” and George W or Tony Snow about “Team Clinton” and Bil.

Answer here.

(Hat Tip: Eschaton via Laura Rosen/War and Piece)

Sharia Court

Imagine your husband beats you. Imagine you have had enough and file for divorce. Imagine requesting an expedited divorce because your husband has made death threats. Imagine the judge turning down your petition, not because the secular law isn’t clear – but because the Koran allows husbands to beat their wives.

Sad case right?

A case from the Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan? No. Germany. According to Spiegel Online [German],

The case sounds too bizarre to be true: a 26-year old mother with two young children wanted to free herself from the captivity of her [abusive] marriage. After a physical altercation in May 2006 in their joint apartment, even the police had determined that her husband, who comes from Morocco like she does, was abusive. The husband had to leave – but the terror continued. After separation her still-husband threatened to kill the young mother.

An expedited divorce seemed the only escape – the twenty six year old didn’t want to wait through the legally required one year separation. She hoped that as soon as she wasn’t married, her husband would stop harassing her. Together with her attorney, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, they filed a motion for expedited divorce proceedings with the Frankfurt district court in October last year. That the violence and death threats presented a hardship case, the only foundation for an expedited divorce, seemed clear to the attorney and client.

But then came a letter from the judge assigned to the case. And with the letter the scandal was perfect: using a reference to the Koran, the judge rejected the divorce motion. “The use of corporal punishment is not unacceptable cruelty under paragraph 1565 of the BGB [the appropriate civil code],” was to be read in the letter from the judge. One needs to bear in mind that both partners come from the Moroccan culture. [my translation, my emphasis]

Basically, since the Koran allows men to beat their wives, women should accept this as a part of marriage. At least if the woman is Muslim and comes from Morocco.

The passage being used here is from Sura 4:34 which has been translated to English as follows.

Husbands should take full care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in the husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. [Oxford University Press (2004)].

While this seems pretty clear to me (and hey – what do I know?), there seem to be other translations and interpretations. It’s religion after all. You have to interpret everything. It seems people have determined that you don’t have to beat them. (It’s probably only optional.)

This doesn’t mean that the judge is being excused from a little verbal ‘beating’ herself. (Yes, it’s a she-judge.) For some reason, people don’t seem to think this judgement was a terribly good idea. The judge recused herself (or was recused) on Wednesday after this case became public. The case will be re-examined and it can only be hoped that 26 year old woman will have a more settled future.

The future of the judge might not be that clear. Politicians are already very grumpy over this issue. (Of course the politicians are already under fire for not doing more to stop and prevent forced or arranged marriages in Germany but that’s a different story.) But getting rid of German judges is not an easy thing to do.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts.

One only hopes it’s not a Sharia Court: Germany.

Michael Egnor Google Bomb

You know the GoogleBomb the ScienceBloggers started against Michael Egnor?

It seems to be working.

googlebomb_michael-egnor.JPG

8-O

Heads up: Monkey See, Monkey Deny

There is a new blog up called Denialism.Com which hopefully will turn into a one stop source for denialist BS. God knows they have enough stuff to write about.

Denialism (n): the practice of creating the illusion of debate when there is none.

Head over and check it out. It will be worth the time keeping an eye on it.

(I do however hope they find a new web-designer. Black and white is just so pre-postmodern guys.)

(Hat Tip:BlogAroundTheClock via Teresa/AnomalousData)

It’s A Shark Eat Shark World

Boy is the Department of Justice having a bad hair person excuse week.

First the firing backfired. Then the reasons for firing all those people got zapped. NOW it turns out they can’t even make up good reasons for choosing the replacements.

According to ThinkProgress 

In a Dec. 26, 2006 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse explained that they “temporarily” appointed Griffin, rather than Bud Cummins’ deputy Jane Duke, because Duke was pregnant:

He noted that often, the first assistant U.S. attorney in the affected district will serve as the acting U.S. attorney until the formal nomination process begins for a replacement. But in this case, “the first assistant is on maternity leave,” he said, referring to Jane Duke, who gave birth to twins earlier than expected the same week of the announcement.

On Jan. 11, Pryor wrote a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and took issue with the Justice Department’s excuse:

I am astonished that the reason given by your office for the interim appointment is that the First Assistant U.S. Attorney is on maternity leave and therefore would not be able to perform the responsibilities of the appointment. … This concerns me on several levels, but most importantly it uses pregnancy and motherhood as conditions that deny an appointment. While this may not be actionable in a public employment setting, it clearly would be in a private employment setting. The U.S. Department of Justice would never discriminate against women in this manner. [emphasis in ThinkProgress post]

You know. I just don’t understand why Kyle Sampson was fired. I mean didn’t he warn of political fallout. Didn’t he want everyone on message.

*sigh* You just can’t appoint good help these days.

Paper Trails

How do you do solve a problem shown through an uncomfortable paper trail demonstrating a misuse of power and possible overreach?

You eliminate the paper trail.

In all the recent headlines about blame babes (Plame) and politically fired political appointees (AGs), the FBI overreach ‘scandal’ has lost its grip on first page and slipped somewhere into the middle of the paper. (And who remembers the curfuffle about that Walter Whatever hospital?)

The FBI story surfaced about two weeks ago when it was revealed that the government was using so called “emergency letters” to request telephone records. The “emergency letters” were to precede a court ordered subpoena and were only to be used in – well – emergencies. It doesn’t seem to have worked out quite like that. An audit of the practice by that oh-so-politicized Department of Justice turned up misuse. From the Washington Post,

The audit by the department’s inspector general detailed widespread abuse of the FBI’s authority to seize personal details about tens of thousands of people without court oversight through the use of national security letters.

It also found that the FBI had hatched an agreement with telephone companies allowing the agency to ask for information on more than 3,000 phone numbers — often without a subpoena, without an emergency or even without an investigative case. In 2006, the FBI then issued blanket letters authorizing many of the requests retroactively, according to agency officials and congressional aides briefed on the effort.

The disclosures prompted a public apology from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and promises of reform from Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who was the focus of a new tide of criticism from Democrats and Republicans already angry about his handling of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The problem was that during the audit (the download 34 MB),the inspector general found a paper trail showing the abuses. Management promised to address the problem.

Yesterday’s Washington Post carried the administration’s solution. Simply remove the paper trail and stop using letters – just ask for the information.

The FBI, which has been criticized for improperly gathering telephone records in terrorism cases, has told its agents they may still ask phone companies to voluntarily hand over toll records in emergencies by using a new set of procedures, officials said yesterday. In the most dire emergencies, requests can be submitted to the companies verbally, officials said.
[…]
Under past procedures, agents sent “exigent circumstances letters” to phone companies, seeking toll records by asserting there was an emergency. Then they were expected to issue a grand jury subpoena or a “national security letter,” which legally authorized the collection after the fact. Agents often did not follow up with that paperwork, the inspector general’s investigation found.

The new instructions tell agents there is no need to follow up with national security letters or subpoenas. The agents are also told that the new letter template is the preferred method in emergencies but that they may make requests orally, with no paperwork sent to phone companies. Such oral requests have been made over the years in terrorism and kidnapping cases, officials said.

Now the Patriot Act spelled out that the “emergency letters” were only to be used in “emergencies.” The Patriot Act spelled out that “emergency letters” were to be followed up with supoenas. But as one FBI person interviewed described in the original story (and sorry can’t find the reference), once you have the documents the urge to do paperwork goes way down. But hey, this new plan – no paper, but an auditable trail (of what breadcrumbs?) I’m sure that will work much better. Bravo.

We don’t need no paper anymore. (Hey FBI, do you even have working software yet?!)

According to the article there will be an audit trail. FBI Assistant Director John Miller says so and we just have to believe him. Because even if the FBI is wrong and the telephone records weren’t needed, the government will never tell you they requested it. And if they forget to write it down, no one can prove they asked for it. Neat huh?

But perhaps more interesting is that this story got bounced back from the front page to page A06 in yesterdays WP. It got covered almost nowhere else.

Whereas Reagan was known as the Teflon president, Bush has developed a completely new strategy: produce so much shit that the press is simply overloaded. After all, there are only 30 minutes (or subtracting fluff, sports, weather and advertising about 10 minutes) on the evening news and the cable news shows manage about the same average spread over 24 hours (but with pundits!) In recent years the newspapers have been getting thinner and smaller and the journalistic staffs cut.

The Bush administration has finally managed to tweak spin to a fine art. You don’t need to spin a story for more than three or four days if you can toss another headline grabbing scandal on the fire. Brilliant. Don’t spin, scandal!

And who says Bush isn’t smart. After all, hasn’t he proven he knows where the library is in the White House? Now if we could only find the record of his library card to find out what he is really reading.

Oh. Yeah. Forgot. No paper trail

Reprehensable Darrell Issa Hearts Car Thieves

During his ‘questioning’ at the House hearing (or ‘earing’ according to the CSpan feed) on Political Influence of Climate Science Reporting, Reprehensible Darrell Issa finally admitted the truth. He hearts car thieves. Or at least he holds no anamosity towards them. After all, they used to make his old company money.

This came out during yesterday’s hearings while he was questioning a former lobbyist.

Before coming to the White House, witness Philip Cooney worked for the American Petroleum Institute which is a kind of Mecca for Global Climate Change Denialists (Islamofascist – Sciencenazi it’s all the same really). Of course he isn’t a scientist, Mr Cooney was a lawyer/lobbyist.

Anyway, during questioning Rep. Issa asked Mr Cooney whether he still held allegiance to ‘big oil’ or to the president. Mr. Cooney gave the impression that if the president is green Mr. Cooney would start singing like Kermit the Frog (It’s not easy being green…).

He agreed that his views were like totally those of the president and he didn’t bring any actual intelligence to the job. A point the two gentlemen apparently share.

While kissing ass agreeing, the elected public servant (California?! WTF?) came up with the following money quote.

I don’t see a conflict there. I came from and industry that produced car alarms. And I have no loyalty to car alarms nor anamosity to car thieves that exist in Washington today. I’ve moved on. [Check out the C-Span feed yourself. Minute 51. ]

A Republican congressman turns car thief lover and a former API lobbyist turns green.

What’s next? Will the earth start heating up?! Oh. Yeah.

Heads Up: Mark CC=Woo Killing?

Mark Chu-Carroll has an excellent post up over at Good Math/Bad Math.

He manages to roll a precise and coherent definition of tautology together with an anti-creationist smackdown, an explanation of why all scientific theories can be described to be tautologies and a personal explanation of why all this means so much to him.

Perhaps the best part is how well he points out the fallacy of using tautologies to attack evolution.

The theory of gravity? If you let go of something, it will fall – therefore, if you let go of something, it will fall.

Relativity? Light bends when it passed through a gravitational field – therefore, if I shine a light through a gravitational field, it will bend.

Evolution? The things that survive to reproduce are the things that survive to reproduce.

All true statements and the last, a classic creationist canard.

The question is about trying to describe why and how things survive and not simply claiming they have survived. The theory of gravity isn’t as much about saying that something will fall but rather in predicting how it will fall.

But creationist attack scribblers like Casey Luskin or ‘Dr’ Michael Egnor don’t ever seem to understand this. I present medicine á la Dr. Egnor. If you give a patient a remedy, they will get better, therefore, if you give the patient the appropriate medication they will get better. (Saves research costs – just give the patient what they need to get better.)

Why are you still here? You should be there reading his stuff.

Heads Up: Daniel Jackson Bashing?

Oh, Oh. Bill Poser is going to need to put on something warm.

His recent post at the Language Log about the linguistic origins of Stargate the movie is really going to irritate obsequious Daniel Jackson fangirls.

Soon after the team arrives on the planet, they climb up over a sand dune and are met by a bunch of the inhabitants, who prostrate themselves and cry out [natʃuru]. I understood this immediately, as would, I think, anyone who has ever learned Egyptian. One of the first and most common words that one learns is nt̠r [ntʃr] “god”. (Egyptian writing did not represent most of the vowels.) The masculine plural is formed by adding [u]. That the people were crying out “gods!” seemed pretty obvious to me. Yet Daniel Jackson doesn’t understand this at first. It seems very odd that the makers of the film would set up such an obviously Egyptian context, characterise a character as a genius at linguistics and decipherment, use a word that is just what we would expect in a relative of Egyptian, and then have that character fail to understand it.

She will probably overlook the gaffe though. After all. In the movie it was the überwimp James Spader and not the far more hunky Michael Shanks from SG1.

Not Secular Humanist = Depression?

OK. I admit it. I think online quizzes are a bit of meme silliness. (Obsequious grovel to Richard Dawkins)

This one was kind of cool. The Belief-O-Matic™ over at BeliefNet. (And if you are wondering what I was doing there. I was reading this ‘conversation‘ between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan trying to answer the question “Is Religion ‘Built Upon Lies’?”)

Anyway before ‘I show you mine,’ I would like to share the warning label even though suing after the fact and after the life is a real bitch. (Where do you find the lawyers? What? Oh yeah. Right. I forgot.)

Warning: Belief-O-Matic™ assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul.

And my beliefs are most closely aligned with…

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (99%)
3. Secular Humanism (97%)
4. Neo-Pagan (96%)
5. Taoism (89%)
6. Nontheist (82%)
7. Theravada Buddhism (79%)
8. Orthodox Quaker (77%)
9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (76%)
10. New Age (73%)
11. Mahayana Buddhism (70%)
12. Sikhism (70%)
13. Bah�’� Faith (68%)
14. Jainism (63%)
15. Reform Judaism (60%)
16. Scientology (54%)
17. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (50%)
18. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (50%)
19. Hinduism (48%)
20. New Thought (48%)
21. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (43%)
22. Seventh Day Adventist (43%)
23. Eastern Orthodox (36%)
24. Islam (36%)
25. Orthodox Judaism (36%)
26. Roman Catholic (36%)
27. Jehovah’s Witness (10%)

I hang my head in same. I am not a pure secular humanist.

Oh for shame. For shame.

Credulity Circles

The 56th Sceptics Circle is up at Scientia Natura.

Enjoy.

A Jihadist Toy Story

UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles better known as drones are becoming pervasive on modern battlefields.

Until fairly recently, this kind of technology was only available to the military due to the high investment costs.

Chris Anderson doesn’t feel it should stay that way. His report, posted at Noah Shachtman’s blog Danger Room, points the way out of the military laboratories and into toy stores and children’s bedrooms. He presents his latest UAV construction with a remote controlled aircraft that flies using the computational intelligence supplied by a Lego Mindstorms NXT.

I took this first step this eve, throwing together the world’s first Lego autopilot.

HiTechnic is releasing a gyro sensor for the Lego Mindstorms NXT — which I haven’t received yet. So I’ve got a light sensor standing in for it in the picture, but the mechanicals are pretty much in place. Cool fact of the day: According to Google, this is the first time the phrase “Lego autopilot” has ever been used. I own this space!

This autopilot only controls the rudder, keeping the plane flying level when engaged and returning to the launch area. While the autopilot is disengaged, the servo arm controls the rudder under manual radio control as usual. But when you engage the autopilot (a third servo presses the “start” button on the NXT controller brick), the NXT servo drives the gear assembly above to move the entire R/C servo back and forth, while the R/C servo arm remains stationary. The effect is the same as if the R/C arm was moving, but the rudder is under Mindstorm control, not R/C control.

This is both really cool in a geeky way, it is also more then a little worrying.

How will the Bush administration react to this kind of news? Do we need to wonder and worry whether our teenage boys (and girls) are under FBI observation because they have ordered possible jihadist toys? Oh help me great God of conservative thought. WWDRD. What would Donald Rumsfeld Do?!

Great, Lego Drones. What’s next, armed robots in Israel? Oh, yeah. *sigh*

Heads Up – Discovery Institute Distortions

Casey Luskin, attack typist at the Discovery Institute, has yet another fair and balanced snit about an anti-intelligent design op-ed by Dave Thomas.

The op-ed is about current efforts in New Mexico to finally pass legislation that will last long enough to be brought before the Supreme Court. (Dover failed in this sense.) Thomas points out rather strange wording in the bill and the fallacy behind it.

The carefully crafted “academic freedom” measures made no specific mention of intelligent design. But it was clearly the driving purpose behind these, which would have permitted and encouraged teachers to present so-called weaknesses of evolution science in biology classes.

The measures would have also have given students the “right and freedom to reach their own conclusions about biological origins.”

We don’t encourage students to “reach their own conclusions” on how to add fractions. Why should we suddenly do so with the biosciences? [my emphasis]

PZ Meyers, professor, lover of squid and spritely starting of his 5th decade of existence, has pointed out just how foolish Luskin’s attacks on this op-ed really are.This is well worth the read for all those who were under the impression that the Discovery Institute is an honorable group.

(Hat Tip: Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy)

Heads Up: Global Climate Change Denial Bashing

What a wonderful post!

This individual manages to do a wonderful job at doing three things.

First he does a reasonable, measured smackdown on a global warming denier ‘Jack’. In calm measured tones (and with graphs), he points out that while measurements from the Vostok ice cores do show a variation in temperature over time, they are only part of the picture.

Yes, the chart does show that CO2 and earth’s temperature have risen and fallen over the past 400,000 years. No one is claiming that these variations were caused by humans, in fact how the Earth manages to stay within this narrow range of temperatures and CO2 concentrations is the subject of a great deal of debate and research. The point here, is that even with natural variation, these values have stayed within the range shown above for 400,000 years.
[...Image deleted]
This is where global warming comes in. Early in the 20th century the atmospheric CO2 passed 300 parts per million and just kept on rising. In 400,000 years the natural variation never topped 300 ppm, yet in the last few decades CO2 has gone 25% above that. And amazingly enough, this rise coincides neatly with humans dumping CO2 into the atmosphere at ever increasing rates. This is human caused global warming, and this is what increasingly cannot be explained away as “natural variation.”

Second, he manages to do a wonderful job of showing the inane stupidity in the following comment,

What do you think? Is it possible that those people who think the Iraq war was a good proposition could actually be right on the global warming issue? Or are they a related subset of each other?

And, perhaps as a piece d’resistance, he has both cats and a really cool mustache.

Enjoy

Dr Jail and Mr Bail

South Carolina might just be going into the organ business. At least if the current legislation being considered by the State legislature is passed. According to the Sun-Sentinel

Lawmakers are considering legislation that would let prisoners donate organs or bone marrow in exchange for time off their sentences.

A state Senate panel on Thursday endorsed creating an organ-and-tissue donation program for inmates. But legislators postponed debate on a measure to reduce the sentences of participating prisoners, citing concern that federal law may not allow it.

“I think it’s imperative that we go all out and see what we can do,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic Sen. Ralph Anderson [RA@scsenate.org]. “I would like to see us get enough donors that people are no longer dying.”

The proposal approved by the Senate Corrections and Penology Subcommittee would set up a volunteer donor program in prisons to teach inmates about the need for donors. But lawmakers want legal advice before acting on a bill that would shave up to 180 days off a prison sentence for inmates who donate.

And perhaps most interesting. The text of the bill itself doesn’t seem to mention any sentence reduction at all. That isn’t part of the law although it might be included in sentencing guidlines or whatever.

Sean Aqui argues out that this is a rather slippery slope and points out that the organs of people executed* in China are regularly harvested (his word) for use. He continues

I’d be very, very wary of taking this step. I don’t have a problem in principle with compensating donors. The problems are all practical. It only works if the entire transaction is fully transparent, and everyone is fully informed and truly a volunteer. The possibilities of abuse are high. And it exploits a vulnerable population. It’s one thing to donate a kidney or bone marrow, even though both operations have their risks. What about muscle tissue or nerves or things like that? Suddenly we’re in a grey area where we’re mildly crippling prisoners. Do we really want people to start thinking about what body part they’re willing to trade for freedom?

Um Sean. Wary? Slippery slope? Compensating Donors?

About compensation, there was an article recently about tsunami victims selling organs because they didn’t get enough help after the ocean destroyed their world. Will that be SC’s next move? Organ donation for state aid after hurricanes. (Let’s offer new homes to those in New Orleans if they just donate an organ.) Compensation? Donor? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

No. This is insane. Like something out of bad science fiction movie.

While legislators increasingly push for longer sentences and stiffer penalties, this kind of legislation will only hurt those members of the population least able to sustain it. Not only are there immediate risks involved in donating an organ, there are long term risks.

Should one of these prisoners later develop problems in the remaining kidney, it is unlikely they will be able to afford the necessary healthcare. With a prison record and the American heathcare system in the wonderful shape it is, how many of these people who go out on bail will be insured? They better not work at Wal-Mart. Of course the job opportunities for people on bail are just immense. Right?

And they better not stay in a Red State. Wouldn’t want these people to start sucking cash out of Medicare. They should have known better and stayed healthy in the first place. Americans do not pay taxes to cover the medical bills of lawbreakers. The American government is not there – um – to take care of it’s citizens right?

And remember[pdf], America has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world.

That’s right. Apparently, the ‘Christian Nation,’ while policing world peace, has the highest rate of prisoners in the world. Congratulations.

That makes this not just a social issue but an economic issue. The prisons are too full (look at California) and cost too much. Therefore you need to empty the prisons. This legislation would offer prisoners bail using only body parts as bait.

Think about it. Is this about helping people or a bizarrely evil way to ease penitentiary bills while pretending to help others? How many of the SC legislators have organ donation cards? How many of the SC legislators have appeared in organ donation public service announcements?

I think this the latest installment in a government becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Cutting funding for crime prevention programs which leads to an increase in crime. We lengthen prison sentences which in turn requires larger prisons and increased prison funding. To lower the costs of incarceration because there are too many prisoners we offer bail for those willing to be cut up. And we still try to lower Medicare costs because all these prisoners are going to go right into insured employment. * sigh *

This is like a bad science fiction novel, Dr Jail and Mr Bail.

[Hat Tip: Justin Gardner/Moderate Voice]

*I would also point out that the bodies of those executed in China have also been shown in the ‘educational exhibition’ Body Worlds. From the International Herald Tribune

There are skinless cadavers sliced in two, tarred human lungs in glass cases, dehydrated brains you can touch. One corpse is posed as a soccer player, balancing on one foot and exposing the complex connection of bones, tendons and muscles
[…]
(After the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that some of the “Body Worlds” corpses were Chinese execution victims, the show’s creator, Gunther von Hagens, said he had sought to avoid accepting such cadavers. “My orders have always been clear: no one who was sentenced to death,” he was quoted as saying last year. He added, however: “But I wouldn’t put my hand in the fire for it and say we weren’t perhaps given one or the other execution victim.”)

This has also been reported in the Daily Telegraph.

Did you buy a ticket. Did you go? Did you know? It’s a slippery slope alright.

Pace Yourself

According to Steve Chapman from the Chicago Tribute editorial board, Gen. Peter Pace’s reaction on homosexuality reported on Sunday was a ‘gut reaction.’ And he hadn’t thought through his comments.

In the original article Pace is quoted with the following,

“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” Pace said in a wide-ranging discussion with Tribune editors and reporters in Chicago. “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.

“As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior,” Pace said.

Now TV, blogs and newspapers are full of commentaries, snark, attacks, and Coulter-attacks.

First, I’d like to say, although I think his beliefs are deluded, I do think he is being utterly honest. He truly believes that it is immoral to be homosexual. It is in his bible and it is in his blood.

I would however point out the sad fact that the American military has notably never included infidelity as a reason for not serving. That policy would have gotten not only Ms. Nowak fired, but the other two officers as well. Indeed, even with an official ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy on infidelity in the American military, the pending shortage* in officers wouldn’t be – um – pending, it would be here.

Perhaps the military doesn’t “prosecute” that kind of immoral behaviour because it would decimate the current officer corps. General Pace is correct. The bible does think infidelity is bad. As a matter of fact homosexuality didn’t make even make the 10 commandments, bonking your neighbor’s wife did.

So General Pace, how about it – ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ on infidelity? Get caught with your pants down, skirt up or diapers on and you’re out. Immoral behavior right, sir?

But then again what kind of immoral behavior does the American military prosecute?

I was immediately reminded of the recent must read piece in Salon [Hat Tip: BlondSense] about the war women soldiers are fighting in Iraq. Not against the insurgents, against the ‘moral’ heterosexual men Peter Pace so supports.

As thousands of burned-out soldiers prepare to return to Iraq to fill President Bush’s unwelcome call for at least 20,000 more troops, I can’t help wondering what the women among those troops will have to face. And I don’t mean only the hardships of war, the killing of civilians, the bombs and mortars, the heat and sleeplessness and fear.
[…]
Spc. Mickiela Montoya, 21, who was in Iraq with the National Guard in 2005, took to carrying a knife with her at all times. “The knife wasn’t for the Iraqis,” she told me. “It was for the guys on my own side.”
[…]
Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. As a result, the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. The military’s definition of sexual assault includes “rape; nonconsensual sodomy; unwanted inappropriate sexual contact or fondling; or attempts to commit these acts.”
[…]
While commanders of some units are apparently less vigilant about policing rape, others engage in it themselves, a phenomenon known in the military as “command rape.” Because the military is hierarchical, and because soldiers are trained to obey and never question their superiors, men of rank can assault their juniors with impunity. In most cases, women soldiers are the juniors, 18 to 20 years old, and are new to the military and war, thus vulnerable to bullying and exploitation.

There is a “Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy here as well. Keep the dirty secrets quiet. Especially when “[a] 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military.”

Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

So. Perhaps Gen. Peter will start thinking about immorality in his soldiers. Not the homosexual ones. The other ones. We’ll even leave the ‘covet your neighbors wife’ people in the military. But perhaps we might crack down on the officers raping soldiers under their command.

On the other hand, I wonder how Condi’s lesbian translator corps is doing?

But changing these ideas takes time.

After all, it’s all about morality. You just have to pace yourself. Even if you are a general.

* What? You didn’t know that there is an expected shortage of mid-level officers? From the Indianapolis Star,

The Army, forced by five years of war to expand its ranks, faces a critical shortage in midlevel officers, interviews and military records show.

Those officers — majors and lieutenant colonels — manage troops at war. The Army expects to have an annual shortage of 3,000 such officers through 2013 as it increases its ranks by 40,000 soldiers.

Beyond the shortage of midlevel officers looms an impending shortage of entry-level officers — lieutenants — from the U.S. Military Academy and university Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs, records show. Last year, 846 cadets graduated from West Point; the goal was 900. There were 25,100 enrolled in ROTC out of a goal of 31,000, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Bearing Burdens or Just Overbearing

Two weeks ago the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond Virginia turned down the appeal by Khaled el-Masri to reinstate his civil lawsuit for his “extraordinary rendition” which had been thrown out by a lower court. The reason for refusing the lawsuit wasn’t because it wasn’t valid but because it might cause information to be divulged that would be a detriment to national security. It violated the so called state secrets privilege.

From the Washington Post,

The danger that state secrets could be revealed outweighs a German man’s claims that the CIA tortured him in an Afghan prison, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in refusing to reinstate his lawsuit.

The case centers on the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects are captured and taken to foreign countries for interrogation. Human rights groups have heavily criticized the program.

The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of Khaled el-Masri’s lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet and others.

I won’t mention the Bush friendly placement of this judgement on a Friday. You get better – um – nonexistent news coverage on Fridays.

I haven’t blogged about this for a couple of reasons: First I wanted to read the opinion (to be found here) and second because I wanted to think about the ramifications a bit.

There are a couple of things I’d like to point out. While I am neither an attorney nor do I blog as one on TV, I suspect the court had very little leeway here. As they present the case law in their opinion, they have followed fairly standard case law. This was not an activist court room. The opinion seems to be rather normal.

As far as I can see, el-Masri, the ACLU etc. are arguing that all the basic facts in the case are already part of the public record. Bush and others have admitted the ‘extraordinary rendition’ program. The fact that el-Masri was kidnapped and held also isn’t really disputed. The EU has published findings about both black sites and illegal flights. Those things aren’t being challenged.

The problem is that the defendants in the case, Tenet et al., can’t raise an effective defense without recourse to classified data or without exposing information that the government has determined to be detrimental to national security. (And they can’t tell you why because that’s classified.) The defendant’s can’t show an alibi if they can’t talk about where they really were.

El-Masri’s attorneys argued that the case could be tried without openly revealing the information. The evidence could be reviewed in court and protected using nod-disclosure agreements.

But the appellate court doesn’t have any choice but to throw the case out. From the opinion.

El-Masri’s contention in that regard, however, misapprehends the nature of our assessment of a dismissal on state secrets grounds. The controlling inquiry is not whether the general subject matter of an action can be described without resort to state secrets. Rather, we must ascertain whether an action can be litigated without threatening the disclosure of such state secrets. Thus, for purposes of the state secrets analysis, the “central facts” and “very subject matter” of an action are those facts that are essential to prosecuting the action or defending against it. [emphasis in original]

Thus, I can’t imagine that this case will be touched by the Supreme Court. I can’t imagine why.

But that isn’t what irritates me.

First. The main case being sited, United States v. Reynolds, tried in 1953. This case sheds quite a bit of light on the use of the state security privilege by the US government. From InsideDefense ,

The petition, filed last month in Philadelphia, claims the widows of three contractors who were killed in a 1948 research flight near Waycross, GA, were denied a portion of their compensation for the crash after the government refused to release accident reports relating to the case because the documents purportedly contained “military secrets” that could not be viewed by the court. After the government appealed two lower court decisions that were favorable to the widows, the Supreme Court decided in the 1953 case, United States v. Reynolds, to reverse the lower court rulings based in large part on an affidavit signed by then-Air Force Secretary Thomas Finletter and then-service Judge Advocate General Maj. Gen. Reginald Harmon. Because of the reversal, the widows were forced to settle with the government, receiving $50,000 less than the amount that had been awarded in the lower courts, according to the recently filed petition.

When the accident report and other documents relating to the 1948 crash were declassified in 2000 and appeared to contain no secret information, the victims’ families contacted the Philadelphia law firm that had represented the widows in the 1953 case, leading to the filing of the petition earlier this year.

Although the petition seeks only compensation for the money previously denied the victims and attorneys fees, and not a reversal of the legal principles that were established in United States v. Reynolds, observers of federal secrecy policy say the case highlights flaws in the way the state secrets privilege is adjudicated.

This case has been precedent for the past 50 years in cases of the government claiming state security privilege. The government was covering up the very issue the widows had claimed. That the aircraft were poorly maintained. If something is embarrassing; you simply tell people you can’t talk about it.

The similarities to the case of el-Masri are eerie; the American government has a problem that it can’t or won’t admit, and thus claims national security ‘issues.’

Not only does the US government deny litigation in its own courts. It tries to keep litigation out of foreign courts as well.

Shortly after this ruling was publicised, German news agencies reported that the American government was putting pressure on Germany to revoke the warrants for the arrests of the people involved in the kidnapping. According to n-TV [German]

The investigation by the Munich public attorney against 13 CIA-agents in the case of el-Masri is straining the German-American relations. Highly ranked US diplomats again intervened with the German government last week against the judicial prosecution of the intelligence officers, alleged to have been involved in the abduction of the German-Lebanese Khaled el-Masri at the beginning of 2004.

Der Spiegel reports further that American diplomats spoke with foreign advisors in [German] Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (CDU) chancellery. The Federal Ministry of Justice, officially responsible for international legal issues, was also visited by a representative of the US embassy. This is the US government’s reaction to Berlin’s decision to internationally issue the Munich warrants for the alleged assault and illegal restraint.

Despite substantial political concerns, responsible Federal ministries decided to release the juristically flawless warrants for an international manhunt. Since then 10 of the 13 alleged CIA-agents, who flew el-Masri from Macedonia to Afghanistan via Mallorca, are wanted in the 186 Interpol member countries for “extradition to Germany for arrest.” The warrant was also sent to Washington by Interpol according to Spiegel. Last week the John Bellinger, legal advisor in the US State Department criticized European countries for their dealings with his country. [my translation]

Thus, not only is el-Masri out of luck in America. Even when his government tries to protect its citizens, the Americans feel a need to step in. America. Home of the brave and carrying the flag of democracy and justice to every corner of the world. Except those corners where American interests might be challenged. Nice.

But perhaps most chilling is the following quote from the most recent ruling.

As we have observed in the past, the successful interposition of the state secrets privilege imposes a heavy burden on the party against whom the privilege is asserted. See Sterling, 416 F.3d at 348 (“We recognize that our decision places, on behalf of the entire country, burden on Sterling that he alone must bear.”). That party loses access to evidence that he needs to prosecute his action and, if privileged state secrets are sufficiently central to the matter, may lose his cause of action altogether. Moreover, a plaintiff suffers this reversal not through any fault of his own, but because his personal interest in pursuing his civil claim is subordinated to the collective interest in national security.

Isn’t it nice that America want its citizens to bear the burden for national security? But the American government also expects this burden to be carried by anyone in the world, American or not. And if a foreign government attempts to protect its citizens (like the American government would do), it is placed under pressure to ‘drop it.’

Just precious.

America. Justice for all some whoever America chooses. America. Love it or just be quiet and bear our burdens for us.

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