An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Friday, December 29, 2006

Now you tell us

President Ford speaks from the grave

Lost amid the tributes to a mediocre President we find that Ford thought that Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney made a mistake when they launched the war in Iraq. The Washington Post published a transcript of an interview Ford did with Bob Woodward a couple of years ago.

From the article:
"I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Ford spoke candidly on the condition that his comments not be published until after his death. While alive he felt no obligation to oppose what he thought was a mistake, and one which would (and has) cost tens of thousands of lives? Cheney and Rumsfeld worked for Ford. Rumsfeld served as Secretary of Defense and Cheney remained Ford's chief of staff, as he had been under Richard Nixon after Haldeman's fall in the Watergate scandal. This is not, we learn from the same interview, the only instance of Ford's personal friendship trumping the good of the country. He admitted that his personal friendship with Nixon strongly influenced his decision to pardon the former President who attempted to turn the U.S. into a dictatorship. At the time Ford claimed that personal considerations played no part in his decision.

This draws a sickeningly familiar picture of an increasingly socially isolated ruling class that cares more for itself and its members than the people or nation it pretends to care about. What effect, realistically, would Ford's opposition to the war have had, if he had made his comments public in 2003? We will never know. We do know that he did not care enough about a disastrous mistake to denounce it at the time (nevermind over 100 public officials resigned or otherwise did make public statements in opposition to the war in 2003, some ruining their own careers in an effort to stop the madness.) Ford would have faced no financial hardships were he to have voiced opposition to the reigning Administration. In his silence Ford has not proven any different than any Democrat or Republican who opposes a reprehensible rush to war built on a foundation of lies only when "safe" to do so.

Update Dec. 30, 2006:

I had not realized that Ford played a part in the years long massacre of East Timorese by Indonesia under Suharto. Other bloggers have not only pointed this out but one also provided a scan of primary source document in which Ford gave Suharto the OK to invade. For those who do not already know about this part of history, in 1975 Indonesia East Timor, an Island in the Indonesian archipelago that attempted to declare its independence. The resulting carnage and killing of the civilian population rivaled that of Cambodia under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge going on at the same time. The East Timorese posed no threat to anyone. The Indonesians wiped out about 200,000 people (or one third of the island's population). Dennis Perrin in Red State Son writes about wiping out history in general and sanitizing Ford's presidency in particular:

"Now, a civilized country that dealt with its history honestly would mention the above in any overview of that period. And had Gerald Ford been, say, a Chinese premier who ordered a client army to wipe out a third of a smaller country's population, I'm guessing that would be mentioned in American news outlets upon his death. But being the U.S. president who ended a "national nightmare," Ford's direct hand in mass murder is completely ignored. I have yet to find any mainstream mention of this, ..."

And by the way, liberals and supporters of the democrats stop patting yourselves on the back for how much "better" democrats are than republicans. President Carter subsequently sold arms to Indonesia knowing full well what Suharto was going to do with them.

And I must thank Dennis Perrin for a description of the political power in the United and its relationship with the media as "The owners of the country and their stenographers." So remember, democrats and republicans work for the same bosses.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Evangelicals Über Alles?

Whose church would Jesus burn down?

Earlier today I read an interview with a former Air Force officer, Mikey Weinstein, who has founded and led an organization called the "Military Religious Freedom Foundation." The interview, These people should be court-martialed appears in (subscription required, or you may have to view an ad).

I hope I sound paranoid and delusional when I say that I can imagine a time when I live to see a 20-something kid in a uniform pointing an automatic rifle in my face and begging me to accept Jesus as my personal savior so he doesn't have to pull the trigger. I did not imagine anything like that before today. Thanks for that image, Mr. Weinstein.

Last week (Dec. 2006) evangelicals released a video filmed "... inside the Pentagon that featured uniformed senior military officers talking about their evangelical faith ... " And on Monday Weinstein held a press conference to denounce it. Alex Koppelman of Salon interviewed him on Tuesday. The interview is worth a read in its entirety, even if you have to view an advertisement in In it Weinstein does not mince words, describing the evangelicals who now make up about 40% of the military as "virulently dominionist" and compares the present situation with the plot of the movie Three days of the Condor in which there existed "A CIA within the CIA." I found the following passage particularly disturbing:

These are the people who, when I talk to senior members of the military at the flag-level rank -- I don't know if you're familiar with what that means, that means admiral or general -- that have looked at me and said, "Come on, Mikey, what's your problem? We have the cure to cancer. If you had the cure to cancer, wouldn't you want to spread the word?" They don't realize when they say it, they don't have the mental wherewithal to understand that to a person who isn't an evangelical Christian, you're calling our faith a cancer.

Among the cancerous faiths the evangelicals wish to cure you will find "Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians [and] Roman Catholics." And look whose burning in hell: "Mikey, OK, Anne Frank, Dr. Seuss, Jack Benny, Gandhi," evangelical Christians tell Weinstein, "they're all burning eternally in the fires of hell." Charming.

Aside from the obnoxiousness of some annoying person trying to "save" you, what's the problem? Where is the danger? Weinstein explains:

The U.S. military, which I [Weinstein] consider a noble and honorable institution, is technologically the most lethal organization ever created by Homo sapiens. When you have the leadership believing that to be a good soldier, good Marine, good airman or sailor you have to be not just a Christian but the right type of Christian, we're no better than al-Qaida. And it's hideous, beyond belief. My kids were called "fucking Jews" and accused of total complicity, they and their people, in the execution of Jesus Christ, by superiors up and down the chain of command at the Air Force Academy. [Emphasis added].

Oh, and it gets worse.

...after the press conference in the morning, I've had nine death threats since about 10 o'clock last night. I usually get about two or three a week. They're very grotesque, everything from wanting to gas all the Jews in America and send the corpses back to Israel * to threatening to blow me up, threatening my house will be blown up, raping my wife, blowing up my house. We've had our tires slashed, we've had feces and beer bottles thrown at the house, we've had dead animals placed on the front door of the house.

I was in Topeka, on a book tour, and the local Episcopal priest came out to support me and five hours later his church was burned down. And the local synagogue in Topeka, where I was to speak that night, was desecrated with spray paint saying, "Fuck you, Jews" and "KKK," all that stuff.

And whose church would Jesus blow up? Peace, love and happiness ... unless you're not one of us in which case the evangelicals can hack you into pieces and feed you to the dogs with righteous impunity. Does my whacko fantasy of conversion at gunpoint still look paranoid and far-fetched? I hope so.

Blatant partisan bias: Vote for democrats. Yes, even if they are a bunch of spineless gits who have to read three days of opinion poll results before they figure it's safe to flush their toilets. I know they're useless and I know they're every bit a bunch of corporate lackeys like any Republican. But vote for them anyway. My pagan/wiccan/tool-of-the-devil crystal ball is showing me some seriously weird and disturbing images lately. If you're not even a little nervous then you're just not paying attention.

* Update December 20, 2006: Only today did I realize the significance of the threat "to gas all the Jews in America and send the corpses back to Israel." The evangelicals believe that in order to provoke the apocalypse all Jews must return to an Isreal that has been restored to its biblical borders. The bible does not specify whether the Jews are alive when they return. That's the evangelical part of the threat: the sending the corpses "back" to Israel .

For more information about evangelicals, their influence in U.S. politics and the religious beliefs which lead them to support Israel see Is Death too good for us? and follow the links to the articles cited.

Intellectual Freedom Blog

Why we do this with a 2010 update.

This started out as a solo operation. As of June 2010 I have a co-blogger, who prefers to use the initials AR. I just use my first name: Steven. I am a librarian. I believe in freedom of speech in all its forms. I believe that censorship and the dissemination of lies constitute a major threat. And yes, I realize how pompous I sound.

AR has a wide-ranging background in life and in education. He works with audio-visual technology and he acquires a tremendous amount of news and information in multiple languages. He has graciously accepted my request to post here as our e-mail discussions have proven very interesting and I frequently thought "I'd like to see this on the blog." Now it will appear here.

This is what I mean by 2+2=4:


"Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4. If that is granted, all else follows."
---George Orwell, 1984

"If you accept his assumptions, even a madman sounds reasonable."
---Proverb of uncertain origin, possibly Russian.

"We're the teachers and two plus two can add up to five if it's our classroom."
---Jim Kouf, Gang Related

"Two plus two equals four! Two plus two equals four! Two plus two equals four!"
---Trul, from The Cyberiad by by Stanislaw Lem.

Some posts that I consider somewhat better than others:

Who was Martin Niemöller and why you should care.
Who was Ignaz Mezei and why you should care
Censorship and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11
Control the pictures
Critical thinking and polemical film
Democracy in 2004 the state we're in
Democracy in 2005 new meaning
The Ghost of Henry Kissenger
The Prisoner
The Revenge Fantasy
Signing statements - the quiet coup.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
Woodward's fall
Idiocy highlights
Older Examples

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Taxing unproductive learning

[The following is a letter to the editor I wrote to which they "printed." It was written in response to an piece titled, Iraq Study Group: Learn Arabic you morons!]

How many people remember the 80s? Anyone remember the time before the Reagan administration started to tax scholarships and financial aid? I was a grad student in the 80s (and Reagan's attack on financial aid drove me out of graduate school). I remember the implementation of taxes on financial aid. The exemptions prove very interesting: medicine, dentistry, the "hard sciences (i.e.: chemistry, physics), Business, Finance, Economics. The tax on financial aid, especially at the graduate level, penalized people for studying subjects without a clear, proven economic usefulness. In the peculiarly American contempt for education that does not have an obvious and simple link to a high income after school the Reagan administration taxed all "unproductive" learning as some sort of self-indulgent luxury that the society would not support by exempting grants to pay for it from taxes. This expressed contempt for other languages and cultures by discouraging the people who would like to study them.

One would think that someone somewhere in power would realize this. That the next place in the world where a U.S. administration may take an interest no one can predict. The attack on education that started in the 80s continues to this day and it bears fruit in the present mess that the Bush administration forced us into. Maybe while people in power are trying to figure out how to sort out the mess the Neocons made they can also do the pretty simple act of restoring support, or at least stop taxing support, for education.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Conscription revisited

No more predictions

I have been wrong about conscription before. I will avoid making predictions. My predictions of a coming draft in two previous posts prove a bit embarrassing as the draft has not come back. The Administration no doubt fully understands the opposition to the war should the children of the wealthy and middle class have to serve in it. Rep. Charles Rangel has, once again, announced plans to reinstate conscription in the coming Congress. I will not make any predictions as to whether this will happen. But I find Rangel's rationale worth examining:

"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," [Associated Press, Nov 19, 2006].

I question whether Rangel's comments address true motivations of those involved. The chicken-hawks who have cried so vehemently for war found ways to avoid going to Vietnam. Their spawn can follow their example as well. I suggest instead that the experience of the draft during the Vietnam War makes the Administration reluctant to reinstate conscription. A draft would provide the anti-war movement with a clear rallying point and serve as a motivating factor for people to oppose the war who otherwise would not. Sadly, I suspect that many people who do not voice an opinion or who may even support the war (verbally, that is) would think differently if they had to face an all expense paid trip to Iraq. And think about this: does the U.S. feel like a country at war? How has the war changed people's lives? Sadly, selfishness and indifference, to say nothing of the hypocrisy of chicken-hawks, keep the war going by the lack of opposition to it.

How has the Bush administration avoided conscription up to now? They employ a variety of methods. The first one we can recognize readily enough in simply not sending in enough troops to accomplish what an occupying force needs to do. Not that I agree with going to war in the first place, but if you're going to do so, one would expect some thought and planning beforehand. Early news reports of cooperative Iraqis walking into U.S. military compounds with information also revealed that the U.S. military did nothing to act on the reports. For example, numerous Iraqis warned U.S. intelligence officers that the Iraqi Army had abandoned its ammo dumps and that men in civilian clothing were carrying away ordinance. No one made any attempt to guard to ammo supplies. They did not have enough troops. Now the ordinance provides the explosives for IEDs. And without enough troops to patrol populated areas during the frequent blackouts (that plagued the civilian population from the start of the war) kidnapers freely preyed upon the more well-to-do Iraqis.

For another way to avoid a draft, they use "contractors" in Iraq for tasks formerly the work of soldiers. In previous wars (and previous post-war occupations) the U.S. military has its own trucks and drivers, its own cooks and latrine diggers. Paying contractors to do these jobs reduces the need for military personnel. Fair enough.

But now we come to the third method: the contractors also have their own "security forces" for protecting their personnel and work sites. Method number three for doing without conscription has the most important implications. As Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) wrote recently: "... the four "civilian" contractors" whose murders prompted the attacks on Fallujah. They were mercenaries. They work for Blackwater, and if you go to Blackwater's Web site, it's really quite interesting. They offer two courses on sniping." The use of mercenaries has come back to bite the Bush Administration. They cost far more than soldiers (we'll be paying for this war, literally as well as figuratively, for generations). They do not have the same accountability and the U.S government has less control over them.

From a story in the Washington Post: "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them [mercenaries], so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force," said Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for security in and around Baghdad. "They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place." (Security Contractors in Iraq Under Scrutiny After Shootings, By Jonathan Finer. Washington Post Foreign Service. Saturday, September 10, 2005; A01).

And worse to come. Alan Grayson, an attorney representing whistleblowers from Custer Battle who exposed massive fraud in Iraq says in a new documentary:

"If you are a U.S. soldier and you hurt an Iraqi civilian and that becomes known, you will be court-martialed. But if you are a U.S. contractor and you kill an Iraqi civilian and that becomes known, you will be sent home. And then, you can come back the following week, and you can work for a different contractor."
-- [From Iraq for sale Cf. AmericaBlog "Iraq for Sale": an exceptional new film by AJ in DC - 8/31/2006].

The Bush administration made a deliberate decision to go to war without conscription. As a result mercenaries run amok in the country that the Administration claims it wishes to help. If Saddam Hussein truly posed a threat, why not implement a draft? This represents a glaring contradiction. Although Bush considered invading Iraq vitally important he did not consider it important enough to make sure the military has sufficient personnel? But the plan to use "contractors" existed from the start. They made up for the small number of troops in the all volunteer military. This makes the use of mercenaries and the decision not to start conscription a deliberate domestic political decision.

This political strategy eerily mirrors the French use of its Foreign Legion in colonial wars in Algeria and Vietnam. If ones dying are not somehow "ours" do they not matter? And turning Iraq into what "Mr. Nice Blog" calls "... an Open-Air Abbatoir for Human Beings" does not matter? Who else thinks this is insane?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Baby pledges to sever umbilical cord

The Democrats and lobbyists

In an AP story today (Nov 10) Nancy Pelosi announced the democrats pledge to sever ties to lobbyists. As the AP story points out, that's day 1, but day 2 they will be asking the lobbyists for donations.

More than donations or the Abramov scandal I would like to find out if they will do anything about who is writing the legislation? In 1995 after Newt Gingrich and his "reformers" cut the Congress' budget for staff no one was left to do the work of crafting the legislation introduced in the House or Senate. The representatives and senators themselves have too much other work to do to devote the needed time and effort to write the laws themselves. The majority of Congresspeople do not even have time to read the legislation that they vote on. Lobbyists have been writing legislation for a given Representative or Senator to introduce to Congress. This has remained an under-reported fact of life ever since Gingrich started as Speaker of the House.

Will the democrats restore the staff budget to allow people they hire and who work for the government to do the work of writing the legislation or will they continue to outsource this essential task to lobbyists? Nancy Pelosi and the democrats can say anything they like and they can villify the lobbyists as much as they like. If the lobbyists continue to write the laws, why should they care what anyone says?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ed Bradley RIP

The loss is greater than you realize

Ed Bradley of CBS news died of complictions from leukemia on Thursday November 9, 2006. As I write this the next day the web overflows with obituaries, tributes and other laudatory verbiage. But I'll bet most of them will fail to mention one very important event. During the 2000 election Ed Bradley was the only journalist in the United States who used his head for something other than a hatrack.

Bradley was the one who noticed that Al Gore's numbers ran backwards in Florida. While everyone else looked at the percentages, which are supposed to vary and trade places relative to each other, Ed Bradley saw that an update of the raw number of votes for Gore showed an amount less than the previous one. The raw numbers are not supposed to do that. A Diebold vote tabulating machine for optical card ballots "disappeared" nearly 20,000 votes for Gore. This is the reason Gore withdrew his concession of the election. (Nevermind that most of the media played it like it was some sort of indecisiveness -- what would you have done?). We know as much as we know about the travesty that took place in Florida because Ed Bradley was paying attention and doing his job. What about the rest of them?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

No time?

Democrats fail before they begin

This just in: Nancy Pelosi has stated, regarding impeachment proceedings against the President in the event that Democrats take over the House: "We don't have time for that." I think she must have been misquoted. Most likely she actually said: "We don't have spine for that."

Yes, that sounds more accurate. For word of the popular support for impeachment, keep reading:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Visualize Impeachment

How Newsweek tried to bury reality.

Thanks to Greg Saunders post on Tom Tomorrow's blog I have learned of a wonderful example of corporate "under"-reporting. Buried at the end of a Newsweek article reporting the results of an opinion poll you can read this gem:

"Other parts of a potential Democratic agenda receive less support, especially calls to impeach Bush: 47 percent of Democrats say that should be a “top priority,” but only 28 percent of all Americans say it should be, 23 percent say it should be a lower priority and nearly half, 44 percent, say it should not be done. (Five percent of Republicans say it should be a top priority and 15 percent of Republicans say it should be a lower priority; 78 percent oppose impeachment.)"

As Saunders pointed out: 23 plus 28 equals 51! The poll also had the usual 4 points margin for error (in other words, the percentage could as easily be 55 in favor of impeachment as 47). And what does "Other parts of a potential Democratic agenda receive less support" mean? Less support than what? From earlier in the article:

" 68 percent [of respondents, regardless of party] want increasing the minimum wage to be a top priority, including 53 percent of Republicans; 62 percent want investigating impropriety by members of Congress to be a top priority; and 58 percent want investigating government contracts in Iraq to be a top priority. Fifty-two percent say investigating why we went to war in Iraq should be a top priority."

Well, it's not like we have any lack of cause for impeachment: the Geneva Convention became part of U.S. law when the Senate ratified it. Therefore, violations in Iraq under U.S. occupation at Abu Ghraib constitute commission of "high crimes and misdemeanors" specified in the U.S. Constitution. Then we also have the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Guantanamo. For perspective, consider that two Air Force attorneys for the prosecution resigned in protest over the travesty of justice the administration wanted them to commit. (Wall Street Journal, Aug 1, 2005).

And the best thing about Impeachment? The President can not appeal it to the Supreme Court!

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Proof is in the cut-off

Or, what do they think they're accomplishing?

In a recent story published in the Washington post (Gunfire breaks out after Kabul accident) U.S. soldiers allegedly fired on civilians in the aftermath of a traffic accident in which a convoy of humvees crashed into a rush-hour traffic jam in Kabul. The most interesting part of the article appears at the end:

"[Afghan] State television cut transmission of a live broadcast of parliament when one angry lawmaker interrupted the proceedings to protest the incident.

"I have seen the incident. ... I come from that area and I have to tell you," Taj Mohammed Mujahid shouted before the house speaker ruled him out of order and the screen went black."

Yikes again. Did they learn nothing from the Haditha cover-up by the Marines? The cut-off television broadcast from parliament proves very interesting. If whoever did that wanted to make absolutely certain that Afghan people will see the U.S. as an occupying and controlling force and the Afghan leaders as no more than puppets, I could not think of a more effective way than to cut off the broadcast when they did. Can a democracy exist without transparency and accountability?

What do they think they accomplished?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

This is insane

Marines killed Iraqis ‘in cold blood’ From MSNBC. There are some commentaries already. On This Modern World Tom Tomorrow writes: Holy Crap! Not-Vietnam now has its own not-My Lai

I do not know what I can add to this. Marines angry over an IED kicked in the door to a home and killed 15 people, including children. This is not liberal/lefty rumor crap. The Navy has completed an investigation and confirmed the facts. Why should the Iraqis trust the Bush Administration? I don't.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

One flu over the cuckoo's nest

Or, failing to prepare for the predictable

Updated below

A post on inspired me to write this. Bob Harris' blog entry included a link to an article describing recent developments with the H5N1 bird flu virus. The classic "good news, bad news" runs like this: The good news is that the H5N1 virus must go through two mutations in order to produce a pandemic causing strain. The bad news is that this can happen very easily. The following comes from the explanation I e-mailed to Bob:

I want to thank you for the link to the new H5N1 flu study. Although very interesting reading, I thought you would be interested in the reasons why we are still in deep trouble.

Probability and risk are likely the most poorly understood mathematical concepts in popular culture. Here are the factors that the article in question did not mention:

1.) Large parts of the world have no health reporting at all. Others have only minimal reporting in place. As a librarian I have laughed with my colleagues over questions that people ask which, by definition, have no answer. For example, "could you tell me the number of unreported cases of child abuse in Michigan in the 1990s?" If the cases are unreported, how do we count them? Most of sub-saharan Africa does not have even the most rudimentary health reporting. Likewise parts of Asia. The low number of "reported" cases of humans with bird flu becomes meaningless when you realize we have no idea how many people in Africa have died from it. Some of the species of migratory birds coming from Asia enter Africa around Ethiopia and Somalia. Neither country has health reporting procedures in place.

2.) On this planet we have about 900 million people living in over-crowded slums that make someplace like the "inner-city" in the U.S. look like country clubs. Here's how mutations of the flu happen: a person trapping wild birds in or near a slum contracts the bird flu. Call him patient zero. The incubation period for this is about a week to 10 days or so. Before showing symptoms the person enters the slum (or lives in it already) in which people sleep 5, 10, or more to a room. Malnutrition also harms immune response (along with stress, gee how stressful can never knowing where your next meal is coming from get?). Patient zero contracts the regular human to human flu virus. The two viruses encounter each other and produce a mutation. Patient zero's wife, mistress, girlfriend contracts the new virus. Now let's say the girlfriend catches the conventional virus later as well. Those two viruses find each other in her body and form another mutation. This scenario looks highly unlikely. But play out typical human behavior through millions of iterations. Add stress, malnutrition and over-crowding.

I found the article in cidrap somewhat reassuring in the sense that the H5N1 requires two rounds of mutation instead of one to start a pandemic. In theory the intermediate strain, when detected, can give us an early warning and lead to effective countermeasures. The operative words are "when detected." How many unreported cases have happened already? Think about it. The cidrap article is good, for what it does. But non-scientists re-stating and summarizing what scientists tell them sometimes leave out significant details.

If you have read this far, thank you! It's a long message. The information above comes from an interview in with Mike Davis, author of The Monster at our door and a 3 page article When Flu Flies The Coop: A pandemic threatens Ben Harder. (Science News. Washington: Sep 10, 2005.Vol.168, Iss. 11; pg. 171, 3 pgs) and my reading of science publications.

Waxing polemic
The current administration has not shown much indication of preparing for a flu pandemic. I suspect the recent study will supply an excuse not to bother, under the assumption that we will find the intermediate strain before the killer one. I hope so.

Update: September, 2009:

I just read an article from the blog Science Based Medicine which describes in very clear laymen's terms the mechanism by which the Swine Flu virus works, the level of concern that's warranted and practical precautions. It makes for good reading. And fortunately, it's now 2009 and we have an administration which, despite its flaws, will most likely take seriously any scientifically based public health concerns.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Sada stories

Who needs logic when you have unsubstantiated 2nd hand accounts?

The most recent attempt by right wing apologists for the war in Iraq to find proof that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction comes from the word of an individual named General Georges Sada. Sada, an Iraqi Air Force General, claims that two commercial jets converted to cargo carrying by removing the seats and toilets made 56 sorties in 2002 transporting yellow barrels with black scull and crossbones painted on them to Damascus. Although at the end of last February he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee in closed session we have no report of any details. If the sorties carrying WMD ingredients were fake passenger flights then what were the flight numbers and dates? Does Sada remember or care to tell us the names of the pilots? Any idea what was in those yellow barrels?

This adds to the earlier claims that U.S. spy satellites photographed a convoy of trucks moved WMDs to Syria at the beginning of the war. This also runs afoul of the logical contradiction resulting from the absolute U.S. air superiority and ability to land troops by helicopter. If the satellite claim had any veracity why did the Administration not do anything about it at the time?

Be prepared for numerous accusations that the mainstream media are "ignoring" or "supressing" this "important" source. This relates to the Right Wing Lie Factory. When you encounter this accusation you now know the wing nuts refer to an unsubstantiated account by a professional syncophant. If Administration officials start to mention this then we will lose even more credibility with the rest of the world. On the other hand, the lack of noise on this coming from the White House suggests they know better.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Intellectual Freedom Blog


"Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4. If that is granted, all else follows."
---George Orwell, 1984

"If you accept his assumptions, even a madman sounds reasonable."
---Proverb of uncertain origin, possibly Russian.

"We're the teachers and two plus two can add up to five if it's our classroom."
---Jim Kouf, Gang Related

"Two plus two equals four! Two plus two equals four! Two plus two equals four!"
---Trul, from The Cyberiad by by Stanislaw Lem.


Who was Martin Niemöller and why you should care.
Who was Ignaz Mezei and why you should care
Why I do this
Censorship and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11
Control the pictures
Critical thinking and polemical film
Democracy in 2004 the state we're in
Democracy in 2005 new meaning
The Ghost of Henry Kissenger
The Prisoner
Signing statements - the quiet coup.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
Woodward's fall
Idiocy highlights
Older Examples

Friday, January 20, 2006

U.S. Presidential Powers in the 21st Century

"Signing statements": the quiet coup

Bush (or more likely some of his minions) has found a way to cut Congress off at the knees and has been doing so since 2001. Nevermind the illegal wiretapping or secret trials. What I found will prove far worse, with implications that reach far into the future. And everything sits in plain sight with no attempt by anyone to conceal it.

The President has a little known capability called the "signing statement." When a bill becomes law the President can add a statement. What are these? According to Phillip J. Cooper in Presidential Studies Quarterly:

Presidential signing statements are pronouncements issued by the president at the time a congressional enactment is signed that, in addition to providing general commentary on the bills, identify provisions of the legislation with which the president has concerns and (1) provide the president's interpretation of the language of the law, (2) announce constitutional limits on the implementation of some of its provisions, or (3) indicate directions to executive branch officials as to how to administer the new law in an acceptable manner.

During Reagan Administration Attorney General Meese made changes to the way the government records and regards signing statements. "[Meese] managed to have these signing statements included in the legislative history published in the U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News and they were more systematically presented than before in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents." President Bush has embarked on a plan to make use of these statements to nullify select parts of legislation and expand presidential powers well beyond any previous president in history. In his article: "George W. Bush, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Use and Abuse of Presidential Signing Statements" in Presidential Studies Quarterly (Washington: Sep 2005.  Vol. 35,  Iss. 3,  p. 515-532) Cooper explains in detail what Bush is doing and the implications for the future. I can only summarize here. I urge anyone interested in democracy to read the full article.

Bush has seized upon the "announce constitutional limits" aspect of signing statements to grant himself wide ranging powers. For example, Bush added the following signing statement addressing the "no torture" amendment to military appropriations bill:

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

As Sidney Blumenthal pointed out in Bush's war on professionals (in "In short, the president, in the name of national security, claiming to protect the country from terrorism, under war powers granted to him by himself, would follow the law to the extent that he decided he would."

Cooper's article explains with specific examples how Bush's signing statements have staked out broad constitutional "concerns" which relate very broadly and all work to bring more power to the executive branch. In the process of describing how the executive branch officials should implement a given law, according to Cooper, "the White House would effectively rewrite the legislative requirements in the process of implementation." These statements also have had the effect of making mandatory provisions of legislation advisory or precatory (request not requirement). Which "is nothing less than a post-congressional amendment process without benefit of either bicameralism or presentment." In other words, revising legislation without Congressional approval or participation. Without the use of a veto the President can rob the legislature of the opportunity to invoke its power to override.

I thought that the Supreme Court was the branch of the government that interpreted law and made determinations of constitutionality. The Supreme Court may someday decide how, when and even whether the Presidential signing statement has any weight when considering the intent or constitutionality of a law. But who is the architect of the use of signing statements to allow a president to usurp Congress' role in making legislation? Samuel Alito, who in in 1986 worked as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

We can see a long term plan at work here. We need not resort to conspiracy theory: the workings all happen in plain sight. Over the decades since Reagan's election Republicans have worked to gain control of the judiciary at all federal levels through appointments of loyalists. We have already seen a Supreme Court decision giving a disputed election to the candidate with fewer votes. With a judiciary stacked with judges willing to give signing statements the full authority to determine how to interpret a given law, how much power does Congress have anymore? As Cooper writes: "The administration of George W. Bush has quietly, systematically, and effectively developed the presidential signing statement to regularly revise legislation and pursue its goal of building the unified executive." And without most of Congress, the mainstream media or the democrats even noticing. What does this say about the future of democracy in the U.S.? We, of course, continue to have the right to vote for representatives and senators--for all the good it does us.