An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Saturday, September 29, 2007

New Jersey Uber Alles!

Read the NYT story about the town of Riverside, NJ and how it banned illegal immigrants. Then it's economy tanked. You would think they never even heard about the movie A Day without a Mexican. Or maybe they thought it only applied to California?

“I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden,” said Mayor George Conard, who voted for the original ordinance. “A lot of people did not look three years out.”

As quoted in the blog Bitch, Ph.D. "DUH." (Thanks, also to Bitch, Ph.D. for brining this one to my attention).

There's numerous laugh out loud bits in this article. It's worth a look. One last delicious quote from the mayor: "[the ordinance] put us on the national map in a bad way,” Mr. Conard said.

Well what did you think would happen?!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Disaster capitalism

There's an interesting interview with Naomi Klein in

In particular, this stood out:

There is a new level of integration between homeland security companies and media companies. General Electric, which owns NBC, has been in the weapons industry for some time but has become very active in the homeland security business. They recently purchased InVision, which provides bomb detection for airports. Since 9/11 InVision has received $15 billion in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security -- more such contracts than any other company. A company like that gains from the atmosphere of crisis and fear that is spread through media outlets. It's war against evil everywhere with no end. That's a war that can't be won, and you couldn't ask for a more profitable business plan. The only thing that threatens it is peace.

This reminds me of the media coverage of the Soviet Union and Nicaragua in the 1980s. No conflict of interest when the news and the arms producers are the same company. We trust them! Right.

I'm not sure how to verify this next passage, but I find the attempt to connect the dots between the events hard to dispute:

I look at torture in two ways in the book. The first is as an enforcement tool used by states that are trying to push through an economic transformation of a country that is so wildly unpopular that terror -- including torture -- must be used to control the population. Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in the 1970s are classic examples of places where very real shocks to bodies were used to spread terror, making it possible to impose economic shocks. China is another example. And I argue that the use of torture by U.S. forces in Iraq was related to the huge social unrest sparked by Paul Bremer's attempt at an extreme country makeover. Many analysts agree that his decision to dissolve the army, to fire huge numbers of public sector workers, to push through investment rules that decimated Iraqi industry, and to cancel local elections all contributed to the rise of the armed resistance. And it was at that point that the war moved into the jails and torture spread.

The whole interview is worth a look, even if makes you sit through an ad first (sorry). I find Klein gives some concrete verifiable examples of the idea that the so-called "free market" relies on government intervention, bail-outs, and various tricks to "rig the game."

Friday, September 14, 2007


I just read several blog entries on This Modern World concerning the number of Iraqis killed as a result of the war. The posts discuss the Lancet study and its contested results, as well as a new study and its methodology. You can read the original posts here, and here.

But the most revealing part of the story comes from what no one mentions anymore: the U.S. military has actively interdicted attempts to count civilian casualties. In November of 2004 the assault on Fallujah started with the capture of the cities hospitals. According to the story at the time:

One unnamed senior American officer acknowledged that the hospital had become a "center of propaganda," reflecting the military's frustration at the high death tolls doctors frequently announce after American bombing raids.

The Pentagon does not report "collateral" casualties. The Iraqis can not. So what does that mean? If you do not count them, they're not dead?

I am not surprised by the attack on factual information. Truth is, after all, truly the first casualty of war. What surprises me is the success.

Cholera comes to Iraq

Yes, a disease unknown in the parts of the world with functioning public services has now arrived in the place the Bush Administration claims has improved lately. According to the Associated Press the epidemic remains only in Northern Iraq. This is a pre-20th Century disease that literally has not been a problem in the region for over a century.

From the AP story: "As of Sept. 10, 6,000 have been reported with symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting in the province of Sulaimaniyah, another 7,000 in Tamim province, and 3,000 in Irbil province, the WHO said in a statement."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Diebold edits away computer scientists' concerns

According to a database that tracks the sources of anonymous edits to Wikipedia, Diebold, the manufacturer of defective and easily hacked touch-screen voting machines has had someone heavily edit a Wikipedia article about these voting machines. According to Virgil Griffith, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, someone from Diebold deleted "wholesale a 15-paragraph section describing computer scientists’ concerns with the devices."

Read the Chronicle of Higher Education article that alerted me to this rather unscholarly editing job.

Here's a link to Wikipedia scanner the database of the origin of edits.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Are you a good risk or a bad risk?

Most of us start out as good risks, but we all become bad ones eventually. "Good" and "Bad" here do not have pejorative meanings: they refer to concepts that insurance executives understand very well. In health insurance, those of us born without any serious health problems start out as good risks. As we age, we become more vulnerable to illness, the injuries that only slow us down a bit in our youth can prove catastrophic when our bones become more brittle and we take longer to recover. As our life spans have increased, we come down with diseases that our ancestors did not live long enough to contract. These natural and predictable changes to our bodies make us "bad" risks. Not all young people are good risks. Some have congenital conditions or genetic diseases, or even just genetically based "odds" of having a serious health problem in youth or middle age. But no matter what, we all will become bad risks if we live long enough.

For an insurance executive, you make a profit insuring the good risks and you avoid insuring the bad risks. The premiums private insurance companies offer to young healthy people cost so much less than those they offer to older people that the young healthy ones can not resist the bargain. Also, many young people starting out in life do so under a mountain of student load debt. For most of them the jobs they have usually do not pay very much either. But even when an older person has climbed the ladder and has a higher income (and not everyone does) the premiums for health insurance become astronomical. This is way out of proportion to the greater income that an older person may have. They are bad risks. They must pay more.

The structure of this system, the "rules of the game," dictate that all health insurance companies must do all they can to attract the good risks, not insure the bad risks, and then boot the good risks out of the system as soon as they become bad risks. A company that does not have enough good risks will quickly go out of business. When their competitors lure away the good risks with lower premiums the company will have mostly bad risks left, which cost more than the premiums an ordinary member of the community can afford. But if you keep the good risks pooled with the bad, it all works out. Some of the good risks die (accident or quick killing disease) early enough in their lives to create a "gain" in the pool of funds to which all contribute. New "good risks" entire the pool all the time and the "bad risks" do not live forever. Someone who lives longer and needs more health care than the person "pays" for, benefits from the funds that the unfortunate unlucky good risks contributed before their untimely deaths. In a system that pools both good and bad risks, It's all about sharing risk.

This is not conspiracy theory. By allowing "free market" rules to reign you create a structural problem. Allowing companies to compete for "good risks" and dump the "bad risks" results in lower premiums for the good risks. But if you allow for this segmentation, sectioning off the two risks into separate pools, one pool of risks generates windfall profits while the other can not pay its own expenses. This also flies in the face of sharing risk. We're all part of the same life-cycle - we all become bad risks eventually, even if we start out as "good" ones. Those who decry this criticism with accusations of "conspiracy theory" miss this point, do not understand the nature of sharing risk, or have some other agenda. The structure of the industry, the "rules of the game" compel them to separate the risks.

But what you must keep in mind is that the good risks so seldom get sick or sustain serious injuries that even with the much lower premiums, the insurance company can amass a truly huge war chest containing hundreds of millions of dollars. They can throw millions of dollars at any candidate running against any elected official who stands up to the insurance industry. The good risks' premiums make the for-profit insurance industry so flush with funds that many of them can run dozens of TV commercials a week telling you what wonderful humanitarians they are. But their humanitarian face they show to people with lots of money or to good risks. Other people see a different face. Oh, and the good risks are so good that the insurance companies even have enough funds to pay 6 and 7 figure salaries to their top executives, give bonuses to the claims examiners who deny the most coverage and pay for 4 lobbyists for each member of Congress. What if we used that money to provide health care?

The news of layoffs of Ford Motors in Business Week mentioned the cost of providing health benefits now constitutes a cost the company can no longer afford. We (the U.S.) is no longer competitive because other post-industrial countries have national health care. Their companies do not have to provide health benefits. They have no link between employment and health care. The U.S. is the only industrialized country without a national health care service.

A successful national health care service must utilize what's called the "single payer" model, or some form of it. In the single payer model, the good risks and the bad risks pay the same premiums. The "surplus" from the good risks who seldom face serious illness and heal from injuries more quickly pays for the care of the "bad" risks that we all we become some day. Everyone is part of the same cycle. Instead of political campaign contributions and TV commercials the good risks' premiums go to providing care. This system also keeps the price affordable. When you remove the incentive to charge "what the market will bear" for medical diagnostics and surgeries, etc. the prices come down. For years I have read articles about how uninsured pay more (when they can afford a hospital stay at all). The explanations from the health care industry is that they charge the same for everyone, but the insurance companies and HMOs, PPOs, etc. can negotiate a bigger discount. Think about it. If you don't realize this is insane stop reading now and please don't bother to comment. The "discount" kind of argument is called "Sophistry" and the dishonesty shines through no matter how you phrase it. Put another way: don't think of it as socialism, think of it as the uninsured negotiating a really big discount.

And all the screaming about government inefficiency does not stand up to the facts. Consumer Reports has published lengthy articles about health insurance in which it compared the "overhead" of HMOs with that of Medicare and Medicaid. The overhead measured as a number of dollars per hundred dollars of re-imbursement breaks out as follows: Medicare and Medicaid: $3 per hundred ; HMOs average around $15 per hundred with the most cost-effective one, Kaiser Permanente, holding at about $12 per hundred. Think of all the money we would have to spend on health care if the marketing executives and the upper management had to go find something useful to do. When you see Michael Moore's movie Sicko! look past the grandstanding and the PR stunts while you consider that even the insured do not receive the health care the Insurance companies promise to deliver. Anecdotal, you say? String enough anecdotes together and you have research. And when we talk about efficiency, the private corporation proves very efficient -- at taking our money then not giving us what they promised in return.

The chief criticism of our present system concerns prevention. If a person receives regular check-ups, proper diagnostic procedures and spends enough time with a physician to learn about nutrition and exercise, we can reduce costs. And the policy of only insuring people with jobs will prove self-defeating as well. Imagine a young person just starting out. The person is unemployed, or under-employed. If that person does not receive medical attention for a problem in its early stages then that person enters the insured pool with a serious chronic condition which requires far more resources and money to deal with than had we allowed the person to see a doctor in the first place. If the system no longer forces uninsured people to neglect their health then they will not have only the ER to turn to and have to wait until the condition becomes serious or life-threatening. The ERs are overloaded now because there are so many people without primary health care. That makes the ERs big money pits, which is why hospitals are getting rid of them. There are now half as many ERs in the San Francisco Bay area as there were during the Loma Preita earthquake in 1989. But the population has increased. Nice to know we're prepared.

An MRI in Japan costs less than half as much as one done in the U.S. Grossly overweight patients need a whole different machine - one that is not only larger but also uses more radiation to make a picture. MacDonald's spends hundreds of millions of dollars advertising its food, not as an occasional treat, but as a staple. I can tell you as an insider in the education business that education costs money. If we want people to live more healthy lives those hundreds of millions that MacD's has to throw at advertisement directed very specifically at children would really come in handy.  No exaggeration: MacDonald's spends more advertising to children than the Federal Government does in aid to public elementary schools. Stopping people from eating crappy food costs money. But not as much money as the medical costs obesity incurs. Preventative care saves money.

But a National system can not work if it has to "cooperate" with private insurance. If we let private insurance poach the good risks and then dump them in the government-run part of the system as soon as they start to cost too much, the government-run system will rapidly turn into a money pit and the private companies will continue to stuff hundreds of millions of dollars into their campaign war-chests, ready to crush any politicians who try to implement a single-payer system. If we enter into a system in which each person can only have as much healthcare as they have "paid" for (health spending accounts) then we have no sharing of risk, and that system breaks down eventually too.

Which is why the democrats can not save us. Obama did not even have a health care plan until after a person embarrassed him with a question about one and all the other democrats present had an answer. Now that he has had his staff come up with something, he promises not to do away with private insurance (of course not). Edwards' rhetoric sounds good until you listen carefully. He stresses that no one "with a job" should be without health care. This panders to the element in the U.S. population that goes into apoplexy over the possibility that some lazy someone somewhere is receiving something paid for with the apoplectic's tax money. Edward's "plan" according to a June 14 Associate Press article, includes requiring health insurance companies to spend 85% of the premiums they collect on patient care. Sounds great until you remember that's the average amount that private insurance companies pay already. Phrased the same way, Medicare and Medicaid pay the equivalent of 97%. His plan ignores the reality that the profit private insurance companies gain from poaching the good risks. He promises to "tax millionaires" to pay for his plan. This may prove difficult as millionaires have resources and power they can use to squash a health plan that relies on taxing them. But all this misses the point: if you stop letting private insurance poach the good risks and then dump them into the government paid part of the system later on we will have the money to pay for a universal health care system. Private, for-profit insurance company CEOs may have to sell a summer home or two to get by after their layoffs and the people who actually do the work can join the publicly run system as auditors, fraud investigators and claims examiners. We will still need people to combat fraud and abuse of the system. And if democrats and republicans do not place adequate safeguards in the system then white collar criminals will take advantage of it (and the pundits will all cry about how that proves that government can't run a health care system).

Speaking of critics of national health care who claim that government run programs remain intrinsically inefficient, Michelle Malkin tried to argue that the scandal resulting from the revelations of how badly the Bush Administration's VA hospitals, and Walter Reed in particular, treat Iraq War veterans means that government run health care does not work. I'd like to say that only Malkin could torture logic that badly, but sadly we can expect others to take up this canard. Some interesting facts: Dr. David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs ran the VA's health care into the ground. According to

... Chu and Winkenwerder had the wrong priorities, focusing on cutting costs while greater numbers of returning soldiers struggled against an increasingly strained military health care system. Both men know how to manage costs: Chu is an economist and mathematician who once worked in an Army comptroller office. And Winkenwerder is a former health insurance industry executive. But their résumés also point to the problem, according to their detractors. "The military tried to run military health care on the cheap -- like an HMO," said Paul Sullivan, who until March 2006 was a project manager at the Department of Veterans Affairs in charge of data on returning veterans. "And the consequences are the medical catastrophe and the bureaucratic nightmare that we see right now."

Anyone can create an inefficient system. That part is always easy. The United States could create a viable, single–payer universal health care system that reduces costs and improves health. This requires oversight and public involvement. If we let a handful of people tell us what can have, we will continue to have a mess. Universal health care does not make a 100% solution. We will always have frauds, bureaucrats and hypochondriacs making the system less than 100% perfect. Instead of focusing on the lack of a perfect solution, consider an improved one. Every other industrialized country has some kind of universal health-care system. We don't we?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Big Blue's Secret memo about Sicko!

I have discovered the a VP for BlueCross wrote a memo about the movie Sicko! which someone leaked to Micheal Moore. Although Moore's web site lambasts many elements in this memo, I found a few additional points worth mentioning.

Barclay Fitzpatrick, VP for Corporate Communications for Blue Cross saw Sicko! and reported his experience in the (no longer) secret memo. The single most interesting part of his 4 page description and commentary comes from the fact that he did not take issue with any of the factual information presented in the film. He decries its "divisiveness," and "divisive tone" but does not deny the accuracy of the cases or data it presents. For example:

You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore's movie, he is an effective storyteller. In Sicko Moore presents a collage of injustices by selecting stories, no matter how exceptional to the norm, that present the health insurance industry as a set of organizations and people dedicated to denying claims in the name of profit. Denial for treatments that are considered "experimental" is a common story, along with denial for previous conditions, and denial for application errors or omissions. Individual employees from Humana and other insurers are interviewed who claim to have actively pursued claim denial as an institutionalized goal in the name of profit.

Let's take this apart one piece at a time. First, "selecting stories, no matter how exceptional to the norm..." How does one establish a norm? Is a norm true in 90% of the cases? 51% of the cases? He does not say. "Denial for treatments that are considered "experimental" is a common story." But he does not say that this "common story" is false. He also ignores (and in so doing, confirms as undisputed) that Moore shows these "exceptional to the norm" stories simply do not happen in countries with universal health care. Most importantly, the sentence: "Individual employees from Humana and other insurers ... who claim to have actively pursued claim denial as an institutionalized goal" does not in itself dispute the claim. The wording deftly implies falsehood without actually stating such outright. Think about it. If the "claims" were false and such never happened in the industry, would not the writer state such in a memo designed to give guidance for "damage control?" He also fails to mention Laura Pimo's testimony, which Moore makes the centerpiece of the film's section on the inner workings of the Health Insurance industry. She testified under oath before a Congressional committee bluntly admitting that she wrongly denied coverage to a person who died for lack of medical care. When evaluating damage control memos you should look at what the writer does not say as much as what he does. Barclay Fitzpatrick crafted an astonishing evasion of the blindingly obvious.

Second, in a list of "key areas of misperception cultivated by the movie" he mentions

"Perhaps most damaging of all, Moore completely fails to address the most significant driver of health care costs - our own lifestyle choices - and seeks to focus attention and efforts on the alluring 'quick-fix' of universal health care. It has taken a generation of poor nutrition and exercise to get obesity and related health issues - and subsequent costs - to their current levels, and Moore's movie fails to acknowledge the causal relationship or need to change (he briefly touches the subject in a non-memorable way)."

I remember the part of the movie Fitzpatrick refers to as touching on "the subject in a non-memorable way." Moore interviews a doctor in England, discovering that the doctors there receive bonuses for reducing the number of smokers in their practice, or lowering the blood pressure or cholesterol levels of their patients. Gee, I found it memorable. (Or maybe he refers to Moore's passing mention that our mortality rate is just above that of Slovakia, making us 43rd in the world. If so the fact that he failed to note the difference in physicians incentives between the U.S. and Britain speaks volumes in itself). Fitzpatrick continues:

"Contrast this to the recent Health Care Symposium held in Harrisburg - where a panel of representatives from Government, Insurance, Hospitals, Business, Physicians, and even Lawyers agreed on one thing - that there was no quick fix and that Health and Wellness was the critical area of focus."

If "health and wellness" is truly the critical factor, then why doesn't the U.S. health insurance industry reward doctors the way the British one does? And why do they expect that doctors can educate their patients about healthier living if they are forced to see so many a day that they can only spend 5 to 10 minutes with each one? Also, this Panel at the "Health Care Symposium" did not include patients (but it did include "even lawyers!"). This omission tells us how much health insurance executives cares about patients. Along the same lines, the attempt to blame costs on our poor habits fails to explain how obesity influences the cost of MRIs? The 18-month old who died while traveling from one ER to an "in-network" one did not look obese, nor did the young woman denied chemotherapy for cancer. But I understand when cancer goes untreated a person can really slim down a lot.

More guilt by omission occurs in another part of the memo:

" The Impact
Moore's movies are intentionally intense and his objective in Sicko seems to be to revive the earlier Clinton efforts - not to achieve universal coverage with this movie, but to push the topic to the top of the agenda. He will be just as successful whether proponents mount momentum or discussion entails key stakeholders defending why it won't work.
[emphasis mine]

I find the last 5 words fascinating, especially the word "defending." Not "explaining," not "proving," not "demonstrating." Also who are the "key stakeholders" anyway? My guess would be the "representatives from Government, Insurance, Hospitals, Business, Physicians, and even Lawyers" mentioned above (not patients). And the memo does not state why "it [universal healthcare] won't work" nor do the "talking points" at the end give so much as a sketchy reason why "it won't work." That "it" works in other countries Fitzpatrick does not dispute, another telling omission. If it works in France and Britain, why will it not work in the U.S.? Any concrete reasons? All the memo gives are condescending descriptions of Universal health care as an "alluring 'quick-fix'" and that in other countries "Everybody gets along and takes care of each other and life is beautiful because there is universal health care," as well as the references to Moore's "diviseness" mentioned above. My favorite quote along these lines is "Positive change to our healthcare system can be best achieved through shared responsibility, not recrimination." OK, so who's sharing responsibility for the dead people? You know, the ones that prompt medical attention (or any medical attention at all) could have saved? Who is "sharing responsibility" for the September 11th volunteers who do not have insurance? Who is sharing responsibility for Edith Rodriguez, who bled to death in an ER last may, vomiting blood while the nurses ignored her? The government managed to take responsibility for the health care of the prisoners at Guantanamo (and other prisoners in our penal system). I would never suggest denying medical care for prisoners. I only wonder why rest of us can't have the same treatment as a prisoner. For the uninsured (and uninsurable) the medical care a prisoner receives constitutes a vast improvement over his present situation.

Health insurance companies have the money and the power to dictate policy. Fitzpatrick laments that in Sicko! "Legislators are presented as bought stooges for the political agendas of insurers and big Pharma." If you didn't want us to see them as your stooges you shouldn't have shoveled millions of dollars (paid for with members' premiums) into their re-election campaigns. Universal health care works in other industrialized countries and the main reason we do not have it in the U.S. is that people like Barclay Fitzpatrick, people who occupy positions of power and influence but do not hold elective office nor find themselves subject to any accountability except to their boards or stockholders, who lie by omission or misdirection, who write secret memos, will not allow it to work.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Court of the Queen of Hearts

Updated below
In another example of the legal system imitating Alice in Wonderland the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shot down a lawsuit which challenged the warrant-less surveillance of all of us. Because the plaintiffs, a group of lawyers and journalists led by the ACLU, "had no standing to sue" (meaning that they could not prove damage). In legalese, the decision vacates an order of a lower court and sent the case back to that court for dismissal.

Remember the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Caroll's story? How else do you wrap you mind around a case in which the secrecy protects the government from challenge because the people objecting to the loss of their rights can not pierce the veil of secrecy enough to find evidence they need to proceed with any legal remedy? Any lawyers care to comment?

Glenn Greenwald posted a lengthy and excelent analysis of this decision and its implications on his blog at It's well worth the read.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The misfortune of being born Iraqi

A New York Times Magazine article by Nir Rosen about the Iraqi refugee crisis contains the following gem:

“What I find most disturbing,” [Kenneth] Bacon [president of Refugees International] went on to say, “is that there seems to be no recognition of the problem by the president or top White House officials.” But John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in the Bush administration, and later ambassador to the United Nations, offers one explanation for this lack of recognition: it is not a crisis, and it was not triggered by American action. The refugees, he said, have “absolutely nothing to do with our overthrow of Saddam.

“Our obligation,” he told me this month at his office in the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, “was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war”…

When I read John Bolton’s comments to Paula Dobriansky — the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs — and her colleague Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, they mainly agreed with him.

I immediately recalled an public appearance by former CIA agent John Stockwell which I attended in 1989. I remember during his recounting his experiences as the Vietnam War ended, he had a conversation with the CIA station chief in Saigon. In response to Stockwell's begging him to authorize the evacuation of CIA assets (English translation: Vietnamese people who worked for the CIA at great risk, who would most certainly die at the hands of the victorious North Vietnamese) the station chief refused and stated flatly, "It is not our fault that these people had the misfortune to be born Vietnamese."

Oh, and courtesy of This Modern World I read this wonderful exhibit from the memory hole: “I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America: They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq." -- George W. Bush, last January.

I suppose these kinds of disconnections must exist in order for administrations, present and past, to function at all. I wonder what the people who voted for Bush in 2004 think of this?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

George Tenet on 60 Minutes

I usually do not watch 60 Minutes as the creative editing of any given interviewee tends to show what the producers and the talking heads want the audience to see. Despite this, I could not resist watching George Tenet's interview. I had already read a juicy passage from his new book, courtesy of Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory, that woke me up this morning.

A New York Times piece recounts the passage that describes Tenet's discovery of an "off the books" operation to de-stabilize the Iranian government. During a meeting with Italian intelligence officials the Italians ask him about the recent contacts between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents living abroad. When they realize that none of the Americans at the table knew what they were talking about they quickly changed the subject.

Tenet on 60 Minutes scared the crap out of me. He refused to acknowledge that the U.S. intelligence agencies use torture. He yelled at the interviewer and insisted that "he wouldn't debate semantics" with him and repeatedly stated that they do not torture. But the use of the words "enhanced interrogation techniques" he left undefined. I also caught how he limited his comments to "just the program we're discussing" in order to confine his comments to only one operation by the CIA while under his leadership. Thus he very deftly avoided incurring any accusation of lying on TV when details of other "programs" come to light (some already have). He can always say he wasn't talking about that program. The talking head interviewing him let this pass.

His account of how the Niger uranium bogus allegation found its way into the State of the Union address sounded very fishy. He claimed that he had shot it down and insisted on its removal from two previous speeches. The State of the Union one he delegated to an underling. Oops. What does that say about the staff in the White House that they kept trying to put this bogus statement into speeches after repeated rebuffs from the CIA director? And what does it say about Tenet that after the speech he did not resign in protest? (Keep in mind that Tenet and other high ranking government officials are millionaires. He wouldn't starve or have to work as a town dog-catcher).

And one additional interesting revelation came during the part about the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. On September 12th Tenet comes to the White House with airline manifests showing the Al-Queda members on the airplane and Richard Perle tells him that Iraq is going to have to pay for this attack. In the interview Tenet stated emphatically that he told the White House that there existed no connection whatsoever between Iraq, and Saddam Hussein with Al-Queda and Bin Laden. How did it happen then, that opinion polls of soldiers on active duty in Iraq showed that over 60% of them believe that Iraq had some involvement in the September 11th attacks? How did they get that idea? Will this 60 Minutes interview find its way to the airwaves in the U.S. Military bases in Iraq (maybe they can squeeze it in between the continuous feeds of Rush Limbaugh shows?)

As a friend of mine commented recently, the rats are leaving the sinking ship, and they're really obvious about it. In his attempt to jump clear of the Bush Administration's coming train wreck Tenet did not come off very well. He and others proved willing and enthusiastic enablers to keep their positions of power and status by going along with the Bush Administration's plans and machinations. I find it very indicative of his character that by his own admission Tenet resigned not when White House staff sidelined his Agency when they opened up a Oliver North-like rouge operation and did not tell him about it. But he resigned when someone (as yet unknown) leaked an embarrassing statement to make him into the scapegoat for the intelligence failure that justified the war. The interview tonight makes clear to me that he had plenty of opportunities to see where allegiance to the Bush Administration would lead him and plenty of opportunities to resign in a way that would have allowed him to "take the high road" and preserve his integrity. If he didn't want to go down with the cult then he shouldn't have drunk the Kook Aid.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Capital Eye

In the 90s I enjoyed reading through web sites such as The Coin Operated Congress by Mother Jones (discontinued in 2001) and The best congress money can buy from the Center for Responsive Politics (Discontinued in 1994). I recently discovered the legacy of one of these sites: The Capital Eye. Although it does not include a searchable database such as the ones from the 90s, it has loads of factual information from the Center for Responsive Politics. Find out who's buying Edwards, Clinton and Obama (as well as Giuliani, McCain and Romney - to name a few).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Freedom of Speech vs. the Public Airways

I highly recommend to anyone who can find a copy, that you watch the Bill Moyers' documentary Free Speech For Sale. He reviews three instances of the freedom to say whatever you like enjoyed only by those who can afford it. In particular, the Telecommunications reform act of 1996 (a monstrosity signed into law by President Clinton, for those who are keeping score of Republican v. Democratic misdeeds) consolidated a still growing monopoly of broadcast media in the hands of a few billionaires. You can say what you like, but in many cases, you can not even Pay to be heard.

The most notorious of the examples of an advertisement that could not get on the air was in 1993 when a group of non-profit healthcare advocacy organizations could not find a network to air a 15 second spot in which a grandmother sitting in a rocking chair asked simply how much more money we would have for health care if we did not have to pay for marketing, advertising and the high salaries of top management of HMOs and other insurance companies. The do-gooders had the cash to pay for the commercial to air, but no one would take it. At the time the Nation reported that the networks feared antagonizing the Health Insurance industry and lose much more advertising revenue (you know, all those commercials telling us how wonder Kaiser or some other HMO is) than just the few hundred thousand dollars it cost to show a 15-second spot only once. (Beltway bandits: Banned in Boston The Nation. New York: Jun 14, 1993.Vol.256, Iss. 23; pg. 824, 1 pgs)

What does this have to do with some asshole in a cowboy hat making racist comments about a women's college basketball team? I find most the discussion about free speech implications of this incident somewhat absurd. The loud-mouths like Imus or Howard Stern or others have little or nothing to say of any interest to anyone. But they prove entertaining in their pointless rants and pursuit of cheap laughs. They sell advertising. I read this morning that CBS has pulled the plug on Imus' radio show. Does this constitute censorship? No more than Me not having a radio show constitutes censorship. If Imus thinks he has something important and/or entertaining to say he can do his own podcast, just like the rest of us. Imus comes under the same sort of rules that govern the rest of us. We can have a radio or TV show if we can find advertisers to sponsor us. Both inflicting Imus on the airwaves as well as removing him from broadcast media resulted from business decisions.

The networks have a government enforced license to broadcast at a given power level on a given frequency in a given geographic area. Our tax money pays for the FCC and other law enforcement agencies to kick down doors (sometimes literally) to shut down pirate radio stations that "step" on the license holder's frequency. In order to keep the airwaves usable, and not a constant buzz of static as a mass of heterodynes cancel each other out, the FCC and some sort of orderly system for allowing a given party to use a given frequency in a given place must exist. But because the airwaves belong to the pubic, the license holders must provide some form of public service. In theory we should receive a variety of views and investigative reporting that actually reveals something important. Instead they gave us Imus. That the networks pulled the plug on Imus does not constitute censorship. That they inflicted him on us in the first place was the censorship. The empty place in the airwaves that should contain some better service to the public, the empty place in the airwaves where the commercials such as the one mentioned above should have run, the empty space in the airwaves where the public good demands investigative reporting -- they have to fill that empty space in the airwaves with something. If Imus had ever said anything worth listening to in the first place the networks would have pulled the plug on his show ages ago. No one would mention any content or comment as the cause, only "declining advertising revenues." The same reason they have pulled the plug on him now.

The excuse that the networks only give us what we "want" remains absurd on its face. GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. If sponsors refuse to advertise on Air America or Hightower Radio then how can we know what we are missing? Does the world lack dynamic speakers who call attention to aspects of the day's news that others do not? Does the world lack people who can speak eloquently about issues of interest to most of us? How can we know if no one will sponsor a radio show for them? A media monopoly has effectively filtered out anyone who in any way challenges or does not support the corporations that control the airwaves. For the rest of us there are podcasts and blogs. Some asinine shock-jock got his racist ass kicked off the corporate media gravy-train. Imus is nothing more than a monkey who shit on one welcome mat too many. The real problem we have is with the organ grinder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What if a Clinton did this?

Standard disclaimer: I am not a fan of the Clintons. I regard Hilary Clinton's "promises" of a national health care system the way that Charlie Brown should regard Lucy's offer not to pull the football away instead of letting him kick it. I do not perceive the Clintons or most any democrat as "liberals." After the fall of labor unions the democrats had to go to the same trough as the the Republicans to gather enough money to run a campaign for public office and had to rely more heavily on privileged white college students for campaign workers. This turned the U.S. into a de facto plutocracy resulting in the degree of cluelessness and paralysis that our government displays, regardless of which "party" happens to be in power. That said, the democrats have proven considerably less toxic than the neocons that the GOP has installed into the Presidency.

And the question of whether the same standards apply to everyone still stands. Do the Republicans' followers and the voters fail to see how inane they look when they have a cow over something that a Clinton does then not raise an eyebrow when one of their own does the exactly the same? I would never seek to defend President Clinton's administration (but my disapproval comes from very different reasons than the silly-assed scandals that Kenneth Star & co. manufactured). But I am certain that if all the people who scream about morality and ethics and "does he have the character to lead" would apply the same principles to everyone more-or-less equally we would have a very different (and somewhat improved) government.

Take a look at this entry in the blog: Neocons in Love. Paul Wolfowitz, currently President of the World Bank and previously the architect of the present war in Iraq, installed his girlfriend in a high position within the World Bank, gave her raises in contradiction to Bank policy. When caught, she landed in a job in the State Dept. (while still on the payroll of the World Bank). Presently, she earns more than Condoleeza Rice.

Now imagine if a Clinton did something like this. To paraphrase one of my favorite bloggers, (Bob Harris : "We'd hear howling and hissing from the right-wing that would frighten wildlife."

Definition: Government run by and for the wealthy.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

What they didn't teach us in Library School

Libraries as 19th century lunatic asylums

This essay in Tomsdispatch describes why I do not work in public libraries anymore. People use them for anything but places to read or research. People use them as free day-care for their children, and also as day facilities for homeless mentally ill people. We're not trained for this and caring for possibly dangerous deeply disturbed people is not what most expect when entering the library profession. But the unwillingness of the rest of the society to deal with this population means, at least during operating hours, we librarians have to.

Librarian Chip Ward wrote an incredible and very imporant essay on his real life experiences dealing with homeless mentally ill people on a day to day basis. Read the essay and introduction for yourself.

The most interesting part of this was the reference to studies that show we pay between $20,000 and $150,000 per mentally ill homeless person per year, depending on the city, for the costs of caring for them when they do go to the hospital or have to be incarcerated. I hope to find more information about these studies and will post them here if I can. If the figures prove verifiable then we are paying an awful lot to ignore people.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hidden subtexts and innocence is no defense published an editorial by one of the fired U.S. Attorney, Bud Cummings, which contained a reminder of the power that the people have given the government. I must admit, this consideration remained hidden to me until I read a passage of Mr. Cummings' editorial which hit me like a brick:

"When a federal prosecutor sends FBI agents to your brother's house with an arrest warrant, demonstrating an intention to take away years of his liberty, separate him from his family, and take away his property, you and the public at large must have absolute confidence that the sole reason for those actions is that there was substantial evidence to suggest that your brother intentionally committed a federal crime. "

I almost forgot: due to another draconian piece of legislation, The RICO Act, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies can, with only an arrest, strip you of your property. It's called "Civil Asset Forfeiture" and various State and Local police have used it to fund their agencies, even reviewing old cases looking for "seizure opportunities." In the 1990s, Barlett and Steele of the Philadelphia Inquirer reviewed about 10,000 such cases and found a disproportionate number of people who were not really part of organized crime had their property confiscated without a trial or conviction. RICO's asset forfeiture provisions specifically target the suspect's assets before trial because of the resources available to organized crime members to hire high-priced lawyers. But the actual application of this has hit people like cancer or glaucoma patients who grow their own weed for their own use in self-medicating. My favorite is a case that reached the Supreme Court: "Bennis v. Michigan" in which a woman lost the family car she needed to go to work to support her children because her husband was arrested in it-- caught in the act with a prostitute. The majority opinion upholding the confiscation amounted to "innocence is no defense."

Years of the rest of us allowing blatant injustices and draconian legislation come to pass will come back to bite us all. Imagine this sort of power in the hands of someone intent upon using the agencies of government to punish and harass his political opponents. Oops! Already happened. Nixon, whose administration spawned the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, already tried that. And now the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to bring about a "unitary President." The steady erosion of civil liberties and protections may someday reach a saturation point (if it hasn't already) resulting in a President who can crush any political opposition with confication of property, IRS audits, and unfounded accusations gone unexplained because of the FBI's policy on not commenting on an ongoing investigation.

For years I have read or heard the rationalization: but if you're innocent you have nothing to worry about. Sorry, but innocence is no defense.

Another historical footnote:

I recall throughout the 80s and 90s the FBI would have a former agent accuse anti-war groups of "links with terrorist organizations" or "involvement in terrorist activities." Every time someone asked for substantiation, the official FBI spokesmen would say the standard disclaimer that the FBI has a policy of not commenting on an ongoing investigation. But starting in the late 1990s the National Security Archive at Georgetown University and the ACLU obtained documents showing no evidence of terrorist or violent activities by these groups. While trying to tack the "terrorist" label on Mothers Against Nuclear War the FBI wasted time and resources in addition to smearing people whose politics the FBI dislikes. One of my favorite references to verify this comes from an FBI agent named John Ryan, who in the 80s the FBI dismissed due to his refusal to follow orders to investigate anti-war groups such as Veterans Fast for Life and Swords to Plowshares. (He worked out of the Peoria, IL office and received the orders from the Chicago office). He stated flatly "I believe that in the past members of our government have used the FBI to quell dissent, sometimes where the dissent was warranted." (Herbert Mitgang's Dangerous Dossiers, NY : Fine, 1988, pp. 312-313).

Those interested in more information about the FBI and its practice of "bad-jacketing" take a look at Churchhill and Wall's Agents of Repression [corrected edition] (Boston : South End, c1990).

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Airbrushing history

Enemies of reality

What is Google [or its management] thinking? A recent AP story points out that "Google Earth" maps used to show satellite images of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina now show pre-Katrina New Orleans. What's up with that? Does Google hope to curry favor with the Bush Administration for some reason? I write that as a joke, but now I wonder. What could Google possibly hope to accomplish with this?

The House Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on investigations and oversight asked Google's CEO some pointed questions about this. I especially like the subcommittee's chairman's comment when he accused Google of "airbrushing history."

Down the memory hole

There exists some precedence for this sort of concealment of reality. In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Panama the photographic services destroyed all the pictures of the devastation of Panama City and other parts of that Country, including the tent cities that sprang up in the wake of the U.S. military's destruction of poor people's homes. Without having to "store" loads of print photographs or negatives, those who, for whatever reason, wish to cover up the images of reality need a better excuse than whatever Google cooks up. Storage space for bits and bytes has never been cheaper.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stealth regulation

In the 90s I first learned of the tactic of "stealth legislation:" Legislation that the general public does not know about and Congress would like to keep it that way. When last I actively tracked this tactic I found changes to bankruptcy law, attempts to link clear-cutting forests to school funding and John McCain repeatedly trying to slip internet censorship into various funding bills.

Now found a major bit of stealth regulation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency attempted to keep a draft of the proposed destruction of the Endangered Species Act secret but someone leaked a copy. Although regulations, in theory must have a public review (meaning they can't keep it a secret forever) an Agency can stage a press conference without releasing the proposal far enough in advance to allow for anyone to mobilize against the proposed changes until after the PR battle has already started. This is not democracy.

Here are some highlights from
Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act

The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: "Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation."

Administration critics characterize the secrecy as a way to maintain spin control, says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. "This administration will often release a 300-page-long document at a press conference for a newspaper story that will go to press in two hours, giving the media or public no opportunity to digest it and figure out what's going on," Suckling says. "[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne will give a feel-good quote about how the new regulations are good for the environment, and they can win the public relations war."

Call or write your Representatives and Senators now. And the full article is worth reading. Salon makes you sit through an ad (sorry) in order to read the full text without a subscription.

Also, if anyone knows of any mainstream news outlet reporting on this please put that information in a comment on this post!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

It's a big gang

I originally intended to write this as an update to the post about the Haditha murders but realized this new bit of tragedy and irony deserves its own post. While listening to Sergeant Frank Wuterich on 60 minutes he said something that I almost missed: a reference to the men fleeing from the car (who he shot and killed) as "military age men." Why should that matter? Then, a few days ago, I read about the court martial of another soldier, Staff Sergeant Ray Girouard, in which the phrase "military age men" appeared again. Girouard and three other soldiers face murder charges over the killing of three Iraqi prisoners on May 9, 2006. Girouard is the only one who has not entered a guilty plea. All of them point the finger at their fearless leader, Col. Michael Steele. As the news story reports:

"Military investigators found several witnesses who said they heard Colonel Michael Steele tell his troops to "kill all military-aged males" in the assault on a suspected insurgent base on an island in the Tigris River north of Baghdad.

Oh, and it gets worse. This lunatic managed to go so far into his delusional world that he allowed someone to film him giving the "pep talk" from which reporters have extracted this gem:

"Don't let them live to fight another day. They’re going to breed, multiply . . .,’You'll be eaten unless you act like the dominant one on the food chain...rely on your training to do what's right, do not’re the hunted … don't bring any of them back."

Does any of this ring a bell? In another war against a civilian population the U.S. military routinely searched for "military age males" in a given village and arrested all such men they found. If they were military age, the were supposed to enlist in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. If they did not, they were assumed to be the enemy. The Bush administration sent the U.S. military into the Iraqis country and now soldiers such as Girouard and Wuterich get to decide who lives or dies, based on assumptions fed to them by people like Col. Steele. A "military age" Iraqii is Not free to choose Not to join a military or police force? The Military spokespeople have played this one as a rouge officer acting as a bad influence over the men in his command. Also, statements about the U.S. soldiers suffering under stress and fatigue play into their defense.

Another gratuitous pop-culture reference:
How many remember the character of the helicopter gunner from the movie Full-Metal Jacket? He fired his machine gun at every Vietnamese they flew past. He said to the others: "If they run, it means they're VC. You know what we call the ones who don't run? Disciplined VC."

Which brings us back to Haditha. Military age males ran. Did that made them guilty of being undisciplined insurgents?

And the best part comes from a direct quote from one of the soldiers in the May 9, 2006 incident comparing what he did to a gang initiation: "That's what the army is, a big gang," said Private Corey Claget ..."

If these incidents constitute some inevitable effect of war, should President Bush have unleashed "a big gang" in the first place? Those of us who do not believe that war should ever start many can dismiss as naive or "moonbats" etc. But even those who believe that war is sometimes necessary usually also agree that one should not start the horror without a clear and present danger to the U.S. or its citizens. The right wing has reduced itself to screaming lies that only a handful of narrow-minded lunatics believes anymore. Sorry wing-nuts, but no one found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no one found evidence of collaboration by Iraq with Al-Queda or the Sept. 11th attacks. (Despite these facts, opinion polls of U.S. military personnel in Iraq have revealed that the majority of them believe that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had something to do with the Sept. 11th attacks). And while the Democrats dither around -- fearing that pulling the plug on the war will brand them as cowards allowing Republicans to win elections for the next 50 years by calling them defeat-crats -- the death and horror continues.

US officer "upset" Iraqi suspects taken alive, court hears
Mar 14 08:44 AM US/Eastern

The Training And Conviction Of Staff Sergeant Raymond Girouard

Commander's Comments Draw Sharp Criticism: Colonel Will Not Testify In Soldier's Case
Reported By Demetria Kalodimos
POSTED: 4:40 pm CDT March 12, 2007
UPDATED: 11:48 am CDT March 13, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chiquita and Terror

A longer history than you think

How many people even recognize the name "Michael Gallagher" now? I admit, I had to do some research to find his name because I too had forgotten. But when I read that Chiquita has to pay a $25 million fine for hiring terrorists (of the right as well as the left. Well, at least Chiquita has an equal opportunity policy when it comes to hiring homicidal maniacs) to protect its plantations in Colombia.

Almost 10 years ago two men (that I know of) Michael Gallagher of The Cincinnati Enquirer and George Ventura, a former lawyer for Chiquita, received criminal convictions for illegally obtaining Chiquita company voice-mail messages that confirmed the sGallagher's story about how Chiquita routinely did business with right-wing terrorists and oppressive governments to make sure that any workers on their plantations in Central America who attempted to form a union or go on strike died horribly. He could connect the dots between Chiquita and death.

How much "harm" does a $25 million fine do to a company like Chiquita? Sounds like a lot of money? Chiquita makes $25 million in less than 2 working days. And besides, judgements against a company count as "losses" on its balance sheet and consequently reduce its taxes. Unlike most of the rest of us when we have to pay a parking ticket, the corporation gets to pay out of "pre-tax" earnings. No one at Chiquita goes to jail or has criminal convictions on their records. Remember that the next time you read about a corporation paying a big fine.

And almost lost in the memory hole: The Cincinnati Enquirer apologized to Chiquita and paid it a $10 million settlement over the story by Michael Gallagher that turned out to be the truth.

UPDATE: I found a link to an old salon story that is still live: Rotten Banana, by Bruce Shapiro

Debt and Doublespeak

In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Today's News, March 16, 2007, available by subscription only) I read that the New York State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, sent a warning letter to 400 colleges and universities concerning "problematic practices" he office has uncovered in the deals between lenders* and higher-education institutions. He has found evidence of kickbacks and other corrupt practices including colleges which have:

Received referral fees and a percentage of revenue for recommending particular loans to student borrowers.

Steered students to "preferred" lenders that may not offer the best terms and conditions.

Solicited money or other benefits from lenders in exchange for inclusion on their preferred-lender lists.

Delayed the certification of loans from lenders not included on their lists.

But here's the good part, and it's worth quoting at length:

"But some lenders say the attorney general's efforts could hurt the borrowers who depend the most on the advice of their financial-aid offices: low-income and first-generation students. If those students feel they can't trust their colleges' counsel, they may make unwise borrowing decisions based on misleading marketing, the lenders say."

So let me see if I undertand this. Calling attention to corrupt practices can disuade students from trusting the financial aid officials, some of whom deliberately mislead them, thereby allowing the students to fall prey to some other sharks than the ones who paid good money (to the school) to be the sharks who get to lend the students money at usurous rates?!

* On a personal note, I co-signed a student loan for my nephew. The sharks charge 8.5% interest compounded daily with repayment "generously" deffered until he is no longer enrolled as a full-time student. A $10K loan (with a $900 lending fee added) will cost between $30,000 and $40,000 in 4 to 5 years. And people wonder why the middle class has started to buckle under the weight of enormous debt. What did you think would happen?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Haditha nightmare

First impressions of the 60 minutes interview

I just finished watching the 60 minutes interview with Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the man principally responsible for the killing of 24 civilians in the city of Haditha on November 19, 2005. He said he would do it again. His defense relies on the assertion that he followed his training.

Sadly, the unmistakable similarity to Vietnam struck me most during the interview. In the statements by Vietnam veterans, in writing and in documentaries, you can read and hear that they "cleared hooches" by throwing grenades into them. These and other details one can read on books such as Bloods and in the compilation of The Winter Soldier affidavits. Wuterich, sadly, tells much the same story.

The killing of 5 men who were in a car near the IED explosion that killed one of the Marines I found especially distressing. Wuterich stated that "Iraqis know the drill, they know what they're supposed to do." They are supposed to lie flat on the ground and put their hands up. I remember a Vietnam veteran interviewed on the documentary about Vietnam done in the 1980s describing how he shot an old woman who ran at the sight of him. He realized in retrospect that she just panicked and ran in terror. He shot her without giving it a second thought at the time but during the interview he admitted (in tears) that she must have been "running from the big bad American" and nothing more. The Iraqi men Wuterich shot dead were unarmed. Maybe they just did not want to go to Abu Ghraib. Would you?

Wuterich found nothing wrong with "clearing" two houses by throwing grenades into them without warning and then shooting everyone inside. There's an old Doonesbury cartoon involving the "Uncle Duke" character who one night shoots Zeke Brenner. While explaining this to a police detective in the next day's cartoon Duke says, "I'm cautious by nature. I don't like to walk into a dark room until I've softened it up." Life imitates art?

How does the presence of U.S. troops in Haditha make Iraq safer?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What the news forgot to tell us about the Plame scandal

The memory hole:

I have a podcast of an interview Al Franken did on Air America with Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent. Johnson "graduated" from the same training group as Valerie Plame. (7/21/05 Al Franken Show interview with Larry Johnson)

I have listened to this again and have a compilation of facts, all well established parts of the public record, that the mainstream news forgot to mention this week in the aftermath of Valerie Plame's appearance before Congress.

First, a quick re-cap:

Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece pointing out that he had determined, long before President Bush's 2003 State-of-the-Union address, that the evidence (the only evidence anyone has ever had) indicating that Saddam Hussein had re-started his nuclear weapons program, proved totally bogus. The letter in question has already had a thorough debunking*.

Shortly after the publication of the letter, right-wing columnist Robert Novak published an editorial which revealed that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert operative for the CIA and made the assertion that she recommended her husband for the task of meeting with the President of Niger, therefore she sent her husband on a junket, and therefore his information was "tainted" by the nepotism and misconduct of his wife in having him sent to confirm the "intelligence" in question.

The list of what I have not seen reported in the Mainstream Media:

1.) The CIA, and NOT left wing bloggers or liberals, took the matter of the leak to the Justice Department. The CIA collectively "wigged out" over the leak and insisted on an investigation. This is not some "liberal" plot against the White House.

2.) The leak of her identity as a CIA agent could have killed Plame. She was a "non-official cover" agent, meaning there was no "visible" link to the CIA. NOC: Non-official cover. For this and other reasons, Larry Johnson characterizes the leak of her identity as an act of treason.

3.) The damage extends well beyond Plame herself. Johnson points out that Plame acted as if a private citizen. The leak of her identity compromised everyone she worked with. The smear campaign that the right wing has raged for the last 4 years characterizes her as a "desk jockey" in order to minimize what Plame's job actually was. She worked in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division (according to a Senate Intelligence committee report mentioned by Johnson in the interview) working to detect and identify people offering to sell uranium, chemical agents or biological precursors of weapons. "She worked directly to identify individuals who were involved with those transactions or were offering to help us [The CIA] put a mole inside those transactions." Important work, is it not? And all of it blown to hell by the leak of her identity. Enemies can "follow a trail of bread crumbs" to her assets and contacts and possibly kill people who were trying to help the CIA interdict ingredients for weapons of mass destruction.

4.) Bush reversed his initial assurances that he would fire anyone in his administration who had anything to do with outing a CIA agent. When the investigation started to reveal direct involvement by his underlings he revised his stand and "lowered the bar" by saying that only if someone were convicted of criminal acts in connection with the leak would he fire them.

Additional background and interesting bits

1st time since 1948 when CIA established that an agent was outed within the government.

The CIA did not let recruits in training tell each other their last names. Johnson did not know her last name while in the CIA. Another former CIA agent told him shortly after the leak "this is our Valerie."

Johnson is (was at the time of the interview anyway) a Registered Republican. He worked on the gubernatorial campaign of Kit Bond and was recommended to the CIA by Orin Hatch. Johnson voiced his disgust with their continuing smear of Plame and Wilson. "To watch Hatch and Bond participate in this smear is one of the most sickening, disgusting spectacles I've seen," he stated bluntly during the interview, "Right now, in The Republican Party there is no honor."

Gratuitous Pop-Culture reference:

I recall the speech that Al Pacino gave in the recent movie The Recruit: [Addressing a group of CIA trainees, and I paraphrase] : "We do not hope for recognition. We will never have a parade. The best you can hope for is after you risk your life and nearly get yourself killed, they may take you to a damp, dusty basement, feed you stale cookies and warm lemonade, and then show you your medal - you don't get to keep it, they show it to you. Then they put your medal back in the vault and you go back to work."

Larry Johnson explains that Plame did her job, as most members if the CIA do, without expectation of any recognition, commendation or public accolades. Then someone in the Bush Administration betrayed her. And all of us, too.

* On the web site of the Federation of Atomic Scientists you can see a number of interesting examples: A Congressional Record enumeration of 237 misleading statements by the Bush Administration, and you can read in the Report on the Commision on Intelligence Capabilities that the the letter that formed the basis of the claim that Saddam Hussein had re-started his nuclear weapons program was forged. The letter in question, supposedly from a government official from the African country Niger, looks incredibly bogus on its face. The person(s) responsible for it flunked forgery 101. The letter has a form of the name of the government agency from 10 years before the date. The letter is signed by a government official who has not been in office for over 10 years. This constituted the "evidence" that President Bush used to convince the nation to go to war. If right-wing nuts think there's any other evidence I'd like to know what it is. Such would contradict a National Security Council document, declassified in 2006, which indicated that the NSC told President Bush 10 days before the State-of-the-Union address in 2003 that no credible, believable evidence existed that indicated Saddam Hussein had any capability to produce weapons of mass destruction at that time.

one last bit: If anyone has an exact transcription of Al Pacino's speech above, please send it to me.

[Note: updated for clarity on March 24, 2007]

The Lives of Others are Ours

You can read on Glenn Greenwald's blog (recently moved to a detailed analysis of the scandal involving the FBI's abuse of "National Security Letters" to obtain private citizens' and legal alien's personal information without warrants or oversight. He gives proper credit to Silent Patriot for noticing that

"... the NSL reporting requirements imposed by Congress were precisely the provisions which President Bush expressly proclaimed he could ignore when he issued a "signing statement" as part of the enactment of the Patriot Act's renewal into law. Put another way, the law which the FBI has now been found to be violating is the very law which George Bush publicly declared he has the power to ignore."

I also wrote about signing statements and the slide toward dictatorship earlier. But that's not what this post is about. I found myself once again struck by the speed with which the right (or in some cases the left) will adopt the tactics they once denounced. In the theaters as I write this you can see a German film called (translated into English) The Lives of Others. The movie deals with the East German secret police in the days before the wall fell. The Lives of Others dramatizes the intrusiveness and the harm the East German Stazi did to ordinary people, all in the name of national security. Some people in the U.S. foolishly believe that the FBI can not do any harm if you're not guilty. But as Greenwald points out, the FBI has compiled records it has obtained into a database. This database contains at least 30,000 people's records to date.

The writer and journalist Eric Larsen wrote a book called "The Naked Consumer," in which he explains "Larsen's 4 Laws of Data Dynamics" with examples to verify and illustrate each one.

The First Law (also the "law of data coalescence"): Data must seek and merge with complementary data.
The Second Law: Data always will be used for purposes other than originally intended.
The Third Law: Data collected about individuals will be used to cause harm to one or more members of the group who provided the information or about whom it was collected, be it minor or major.
The Fourth Law: Confidential information is confidential only until someone decides it's not.

From:Larson, Erik. The naked consumer : how our private lives become public commodities. 1st ed. (New York : H. Holt, 1992.), p.

Once your personal information enters a computer database of any kind, you will find it impossible to extricate it. And the process by which data "merges" with other data we have already seen in the seriously defective "no fly" list which has branded infants and U.S. Legislators as terrorist threats. The way your personal data can come to harm you is a book in and of itself. From unscrupulous individuals to identity thieves (no, we never had a person with a high security clearance go bad, have we?) just the unsanctioned mis-use looks scary enough. And what if we have another President such as Nixon who maliciously uses the agencies of government to attack his political opposition? As we recently discovered with Valerie Plame "Confidential information is confidential only until someone decides it's not."

Friday, March 09, 2007

When facts just get in the way

Of all the delightful idiocy that has come out of the right wing-nuts in the wake of the revelations of how badly the Bush Administration has treated the veterans they pretend to care about, nothing quit compares with Michelle Malkin's statement that the appalling conditions at Walter Reed prove that state run healthcare can not work. Wow. When reality gives you lemons, make lemonade.

What I love most about this lunacy is that Bush appointed a free-market economist and a former insurance industry executive to run the Veterans Hospitals. They immediately set about running the VA hospitals like an HMO, denying care and benefits, pinching pennies everywhere possible and reduced costs throughout the system. Voila! They ran the VA hospitals like a privately owned HMO.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Seven Wars

I found this link on the This Modern World blog. The memo in question is something that the democrats could subpoena (if they grew a spine) in an investigation or hearing into the allegation that the President lied about the "intelligence" to draw us into a war with Iraq. The interview with Wesley Clark does not provide evidence, in and of itself, but if the democrats can find the guts to subpoena the memo mentioned below (and if the memo truly exists), then maybe we have something. I have no reason to think that Clark would lie, but without evidence, his word alone proves nothing. From the interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a replay in what happened in the lead-up to the war with Iraq — the allegations of the weapons of mass destruction, the media leaping onto the bandwagon?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, in a way. But, you know, history doesn’t repeat itself exactly twice. What I did warn about when I testified in front of Congress in 2002, I said if you want to worry about a state, it shouldn’t be Iraq, it should be Iran. But this government, our administration, wanted to worry about Iraq, not Iran.

I knew why, because I had been through the Pentagon right after 9/11. About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

The interview itself
This Modern World blog that provided the excerpt above

Think about this for a moment. If this memo truly exists it means that Bush, Rumsfeld and their band of merry neocons truly thought that they could Americanize 7 Islamic countries by force of arms (plus setting loose a hord of carpet baggers in the aftermath of Seven (?!), wars).

Maybe if enough people raise hell over the memo the mainstream media will have to pick-up on it? Maybe the memo does exist? Maybe a reality-based echo-chamber can force an investigation? Just a thought. I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Iraq Insurgency for Beginners

Iraq Insurgency in 2007

The interview in with Evan Kohlman, a man who works as a consultant for the DoD, Dept. of Justice, FBI and CIA gives a clear and rational picture of the insurgency in Iraq and how it happened. President Bush and his Administration look like complete idiots. Some highlights (comments in brackets [ ] are mine):

it was almost like Osama bin Laden was trying to vibe into George Bush the idea: "Invade Iraq, invade Iraq." This was an opportunity they seized with amazing alacrity. As brutal and terrifying as what they've done is, you have to acknowledge they capitalized on an opportunity that we handed them.
[actually the Bushites] thought that if we get rid of Saddam Hussein, people would come together and celebrate and democracy would reign throughout the Middle East. The people who thought that up are people who think Iraq is like Texas. Iraq is not Texas. To Iraqis, tribal affiliations, religion and family mean a lot more than saying, "I'm from Iraq." You know we're doing a bad job of communicating our own message when we're losing the propaganda war to people who cut other people's heads off on camera. Think about it: People in one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East would rather trust al-Qaida than the United States. That's a terrible sign of things to come.
But if you want to know who is responsible for the fact that al-Qaida is succeeding in Iraq, it's Saudi Arabia. The most common nationality of foreign insurgents in Iraq has been Saudis. Where do you think all the money comes from to pay for these operations? It's from Saudi donors. I'm not blaming this necessarily on the Saudi government. But they have made some very provocative statements about the idea that if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, they're going to actively aid Sunnis in their war against Shiites. If we're going to put pressure on Iraq's neighbors, let's put pressure on all of Iraq neighbors to stop contributing to the violence.
I thought perhaps, in invading Iraq, they had some long-term view that nobody else could see. But that hope faded very quickly. The Bush administration didn't reach out to anyone credible when they were asking about, for instance, the connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Anybody with any real knowledge of the region would have told them there are no connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The only people who believed that nonsense were lunatics.

If I was going to invade Iraq, the first thing I would do is commission the top history experts, top geographical experts, top cultural experts, and sit them down at a table and say, "This is what I'm thinking about doing. Is this feasible?" That was never done. Nobody in their right mind would have taken a look at Bush's plan and said, "Oh, yeah, that's going to work." It's not possible that it could work. Every historic precedent works directly against Bush's plan. I know it's easy to say, but the best solution is not to have invaded at all.
[emphasis mine --2+2=4]

Thank about the significance of this: someone who actually knows something about the region and its people would want to consult a wide range of experts (real ones, not whack-jobs from a "think-tank") before trying anything.
The Bushites represent one of the very worst qualities about U.S. society *: a contempt, even hatred, for well-educated people who make an effort to know what they're talking about. The War is a kind of victory of the anti-intellectual blow-hard who "knows what's what" and doesn't need any "eggheads" to tell him anything. There exists an element within American society who vehemently hate education and educated people. But sad to say, it's the ones who despise expertise and study who have created better and more efficient organizations and demonstrate an ability to elect candidates. We can not accuse Bush's supporters of complete and total stupidity. They played hard, they played for keeps, and they won elections. Why can't more educated and knowledgeable people do that?

*No, I do not hate America. I direct my comments to certain individuals and certain groups within U.S. society, not the whole country.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Not enough censorship?

You just can't please some people

In Monroe County New York (where Rochester is) a county bureaucrat has decided that the CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) does not go far enough. According to the American Libraries story "after local television station WHEC captured on camera library computer users viewing pornography within sight of other patrons" a county administrator names Maggie Brooks decided to withhold funding for the library until it ceased its policy of unblocking lawful content for legal adults on request. The story does not specify what the TV cameras caught or why one would consider it pornographic. And even if pornographic by most people's standards, the censorware programs (euphemistically called "filtering" in the industry) have blocked web sites of the Quakers, Greenpeace, and numerous other activist or non-mainstream web sites. (Nevermind they fail to block lots of nudity and vileness as well).

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed CIPA to stand with the proviso that a library would unblock lawful content for legal adults on request. Evidently this does not censor enough. As has happened in other cases in the 90s the library must "sanitize" the internet so that everyone can have the same Disney'fied experience.

If anyone in the Rochester area reads this and can shed some light on what's going on, please post a comment with additional info.

Friday, February 16, 2007

weer legeslaters, we rite this stuf

Republicans demonstrate the they do not know or understand the law

In an AP story today I read that a "group of conservative House members" accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of copyright violation and trademark infringement by using a passage from C-SPAN on her blog. Ahem, folks, facts can not be copyrighted. Government proceedings by definition can not have copyright protection. You see, we're paying their salaries (and for the cameras that shot the footage).

Aside from the usual question - are they lying or stupid - I find this another interesting example of the nearly monarchist behavior of the "Republican Study Committee" in its consideration of government deliberations as somehow a commercial commodity for their select group to control with legal protections. What does this mean? If C-SPAN puts their trademark protected label on government deliberations then that corporation "owns" the record of what transpired and the rest of us must pay to see and to show clips of it?! And this from people who vote on laws? OK folks, lying or stupid, take your pick.

(You can find it in most sources that have AP feeds, such as Yahoo news,, etc.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Does Reality Matter?

Pentagon investigates itself and admits to lies

In a recent Yahoo News article, brought to my attention by a great new blog I discovered recently (Peace takes Courage), The Defense Department's inspector general released a devastating report that implicates Pentagon officials in the lies that led the U.S. into war. The following is a Bureaucratese - English dictionary to help you understand what the officials are actually saying when you read the story: Report says Pentagon manipulated intel

[Bureaucratese]: Gimble's report said Feith's office had made assertions "that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community."

Translation: he lied!

[Bureaucratese]: Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman denied that the office was producing its own intelligence products, saying they were challenging what was coming in from intelligence-gathering professionals, "looking at it with a critical eye."

Translation: The information was not what we wanted it to be so we questioned everything that did not support what we wanted to believe.

[Bureaucratese]: Republicans on the panel disagreed. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the "probing questions" raised by Feith's policy group improved the intelligence process.

Translation: But not the intelligence itself, which was horseshit. The process was greatly improved.

[Bureaucratese]: Feith said in a telephone interview that he had not seen the report but was pleased to hear that it concluded his office's activities were neither illegal nor unauthorized.

Translation: Well duh! It was not illegal to lie like rugs as we were not under oath (unlike the adulterer scum).

[Bureaucratese]: "The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow 'unlawful' or 'unauthorized' and that some information it gave to congressional committees was deceptive or misleading," said Feith.

Translation: We're either lying or incompetent. Take your pick.