Friday, December 30

Blairwatch

There are two documents circulating the internet, confidential e-mails, leaked by Whistleblower Craig Murry, who is a former British ambassardor to Uzbekistan. I'm posting them here because bloggers all over the world are posting them to make it impossible to shut them down:
-------------
Confidential letters from Ambassador Craig Murray...

Letter #1
Confidential
FM Tashkent
TO FCO, Cabinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts
16 September 02
SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism

SUMMARY
US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.

DETAIL
The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.

Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim. Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the security services.

Similarly, following US pressure when Karimov visited Washington, a human rights NGO has been permitted to register. This is an advance, but they have little impact given that no media are prepared to cover any of their activities or carry any of their statements.

The final improvement State quote is that in one case of murder of a prisoner the police involved have been prosecuted. That is an improvement, but again related to the Karimov visit and does not appear to presage a general change of policy. On the latest cases of torture deaths the Uzbeks have given the OSCE an incredible explanation, given the nature of the injuries, that the victims died in a fight between prisoners.

But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform. The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than in Brezhnev's time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion. This policy is doomed to failure. Karimov is driving this resource-rich country towards economic ruin like an Abacha. And the policy of increasing repression aimed indiscriminately at pious Muslims, combined with a deepening poverty, is the most certain way to ensure continuing support for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They have certainly been decimated and disorganised in Afghanistan, and Karimov's repression may keep the lid on for years – but pressure is building and could ultimately explode.

I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our" side.

If Karimov is on "our" side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary – the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the World's old communist leaders.

We need to think much more deeply about Central Asia. It is easy to place Uzbekistan in the "too difficult" tray and let the US run with it, but I think they are running in the wrong direction. We should tell them of the dangers we see. Our policy is theoretically one of engagement, but in practice this has not meant much. Engagement makes sense, but it must mean grappling with the problems, not mute collaboration. We need to start actively to state a distinctive position on democracy and human rights, and press for a realistic view to be taken in the IMF. We should continue to resist pressures to start a bilateral DFID programme, unless channelled non-governmentally, and not restore ECGD cover despite the constant lobbying. We should not invite Karimov to the UK. We should step up our public diplomacy effort, stressing democratic values, including more resources from the British Council. We should increase support to human rights activists, and strive for contact with non-official Islamic groups.

Above all we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.

MURRAY
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Letter #2
Confidential
Fm Tashkent
To FCO
18 March 2003
SUBJECT: US FOREIGN POLICY

SUMMARY
1. As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.

DETAIL
2. Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.

3. Uzbekistan's geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power. That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.

4. Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov's vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

5. I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at American urging).

6. From Tashkent it is difficult to agree that we and the US are activated by shared values. Here we have a brutal US sponsored dictatorship reminiscent of Central and South American policy under previous US Republican administrations. I watched George Bush talk today of Iraq and "dismantling the apparatus of terror… removing the torture chambers and the rape rooms". Yet when it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadilloes, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in international fora. Double standards? Yes.

7. I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.

MURRAY
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Letter #3
CONFIDENTIAL
FM TASHKENT
TO IMMEDIATE FCO
TELNO 63
OF 220939 JULY 04
INFO IMMEDIATE DFID, ISLAMIC POSTS, MOD, OSCE POSTS UKDEL EBRD
LONDON, UKMIS GENEVA, UKMIS MEW YORK
SUBJECT: RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

SUMMARY
1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.

DETAIL
4. In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

5. I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.

6. On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood.

7. Sir Michael Jay's circular of 26 May stated that there was a reporting obligation on us to report torture by allies (and I have been instructed to refer to Uzbekistan as such in the context of the war on terror). You, Sir, have made a number of striking, and I believe heartfelt, condemnations of torture in the last few weeks. I had in the light of this decided to return to this question and to highlight an apparent contradiction in our policy. I had intimated as much to the Head of Eastern Department.

8. I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that without informing me of the meeting, or since informing me of the result of the meeting, a meeting was convened in the FCO at the level of Heads of Department and above, precisely to consider the question of the receipt of Uzbek intelligence material obtained under torture. As the office knew, I was in London at the time and perfectly able to attend the meeting. I still have only gleaned that it happened.

9. I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact.

11. The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

"The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights." While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present
question also.

12. On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

13. Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

14. I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.

15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

16. I have been considering Michael Wood's legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.

17. The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points. I should be grateful to hear Michael's views on this.

18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit. 19. This is a difficult and dangerous part of the World. Dire and increasing poverty and harsh repression are undoubtedly turning young people here towards radical Islam. The Uzbek government are thus creating this threat, and perceived US support for Karimov strengthens anti-Western feeling. SIS ought to establish a presence here, but not as partners of the Uzbek Security Services, whose sheer brutality puts them beyond the pale.
------------------------------------------------

Summary of legal opinion from Michael Wood arguing that it is legal to use information extracted under torture:


From: Michael Wood, Legal Advisor

Date: 13 March 2003

CC: PS/PUS; Matthew Kidd, WLD

Linda Duffield

UZBEKISTAN: INTELLIGENCE POSSIBLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

1. Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.

2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing is article 15 which provides:

"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.

[signed]

M C Wood
Legal Adviser

I *heart* my Senator

From the Brattleboro Reformer:
Friday, December 30, 2005 - COLCHESTER (AP) -- Sen. Patrick Leahy wants the Defense Department to give him the details about two Vermont anti-war protests that were monitored by government officials.

Leahy, a Democrat, said Vermont had a long tradition of peaceful political protest.

"I want to know the extent of it. I want to know under what conceivable, conceivable legal justification they are doing it," Leahy told Vermont Public Radio.

"And even if they could legally justify it, what dunderhead policy reason (is there) for doing it," he said. "And again, I'd like to know how much it cost. The Department of Defense says we don't have enough money to get the kind of armor and protection our troops need in Iraq, but we've got money to go around and spy on Quaker meetings?"

Pentagon policy allows it to take the legal steps necessary to protect military installations and personnel from violence.

Earlier this month, NBC News reported that the Pentagon has monitored anti-war protests as part of a stepped up intelligence collection effort. The efforts included monitoring two Vermont protests.

I'm certain I've been to one of the protests they're talking about here. I know our local Brattleboro police had a guy at one protest with video camera, pretending (badly) to be a film student. A local reporter got his numer real fast and followed the lead, getting to the truth (remember when that was what reporters do?).

Monday, December 26

Cenk Uygur says it all

I don't think I can add much to this commentary. An excerpt:
Brave men have defended that constitution for hundreds of years through many more wars far bloodier than this. And for all that sacrifice, we are ready to roll up those rights they died for at the first sign of trouble. Will we be remembered as the generation of cowards who gave up our freedom after the first volley?

It’s easy to succumb to an authority figure who promises more security. It’s hard to stand together against what might be more violence directed at all of us. It’s easy to give up your rights for what you think is a little more safety. It’s hard to fight for those rights in the face of bullies and enemies, foreign and domestic.

Sunday, December 25

Unspeakable Facts

In America there are words so true and powerful that the government thinks that we should not speak them aloud, lest our Security be Threatened.




Our Fearleader-in-Chief tells us that it is a "Shameful Thing" for a media outlet to have run a story that indicates that the Men Behind The Curtain may be breaking the law, illegally spying on American citizens, allegedly to keep us all safe.




News reports indicate that the intelligence services have been secretly set to the task of surveilling American citizens by casting a digital dragnet, broadly snooping through millions of innocent people's phone conversations and emails.




The Men Behind the Curtain say that they have enacted safeguards - it's not what it looks like, honest! Surely they wouldn't misuse a powerful tool to protect us from terrorism for crass political purposes. Pay no attention to the fact that the NSA reports to the Pentagon, the same bunch that has been caught this week improperly running a domestic investigation into "terrorism" targetted against Quakers and other anti-war groups. According to the database, the Pentagon thinks that a college campus gay group sponsored "kiss-in" is a "credible threat" of terrorism.



So, America's fate in the War on Terra as well as the fate of our civil liberties rests in the hands of a bunch of morons who think that gays kissing and Quakers peacefully demonstrating represents a credible threat of terrorism.



Comforting, huh?



Can there be any doubt now that American has been dragged to despotism's doorstep by this administration?




How different in attitude our Fearleader-in-Chief is from The Last Good Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower:

“If all that Americans want is security, they can go to prison. They'll have enough to eat, a bed and a roof over their heads.”


We have been enjoined by our Fearleaders that all Americans, "need to watch what they say, watch what they do." We must not say words that would imperil our efforts to git the Terriss; we are not even allowed to approach the subject with the critical mindset of a comedian. "This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is," said the Mouthpiece of the Men Behind the Curtain when a comedian had the nerve to challenge the Holy Propaganda that the Terriss were cowards, noting that it took some intestinal fortitude to go through with being a suicide bomber.




Back in the early days of The Catalyzing Event, the Fearleaders telegraphed to us the new terms of our rights to free speech and transparency in government. From an article published by the New York Times in October of 2001 there is this gem:

It is a sign of the times that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld stood at a Pentagon podium last month and cited Winston Churchill's famous words that "in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." Mr. Rumsfeld, who has repeatedly said from the same podium that disclosing classified information is not only dangerous but against federal law, added that he did not "intend to" lie to the press about present and future military operations.

It is a more bizarre sign of the times that Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters three times as he uttered Churchill's words that he did not want to be quoted — as he was appearing live on CNN.


Was Don Rumsfeld's statement that he did not want to be quoted while speaking before a television audience a gaffe? Probably not. It was more like a wink. Later in the same article:

Mr. Fleischer acknowledged that the officials were not always forthcoming, but said the public liked it that way.

"It's not what government officials are saying that's the issue," he said. "It's the type of questions that reporters are asking that's the issue. The press is asking a lot of questions that I suspect the American people would prefer not to be asked, or answered."


Wink, wink. The American people like being mushrooms. The American people like sausage but wish to be spared the infelicity of knowing how it's made.

Have these people no shame?




Where the hell is Congress? Do they like being irrelvant?



Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly Colin Powell's chief of staff, said recently, "the people's representatives over on the Hill in that other branch of government have truly abandoned their oversight responsibilities [on national security] and have let things atrophy to the point that if we don't do something about it, it's going to get even more dangerous than it already is."



The article that I found that quote in compares the number of House Government Reform Committee subpoenas of the previous denizen of the Oral Office with our current Dear Leader; the score is 1052 to 3.




Where the hell are the Democrats? Don't they know that one of the roles of the opposition party is to, um, oppose?



If the Democrats, our slim reed of hope, won't do their job, where does that leave us?




It seems to me that these things happen in cycles. America has been dangling over the abyss of a despotism several times before (Alien and Sedition acts of 1798, the Red Scares of the 20's, McCarthy, Nixon, Iran-Contra). The unsettling thing about the process is that the despotic acts have often been popular and enthusiastically supported by large numbers of american citizens until a tipping point came in public opinion.



I think that we may be near one of those tipping points now, and that it may be more up to us as citizens and shapers of public opinion to get us out of this, rather than the spectacularly useless Democrats who have been neutralized by their fear of being labelled as "soft on terra." Surely some Democrats will have be prodded, kicked and dragged screaming into doing their jobs, but it's up to us to raise a ruckus and provide some cover for them and the few Republicans with principles that might stand up on their hind legs and defend America from creeping executive royalism.



We should also be notifying the useless Congressworms who will not stand up for freedom and civil liberties and against this administration's sham "War on Terra," that the grassroots gravy train is leaving the station without them and may even work to promote primary challengers from the democratic wing of the party. People like Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton among others need to be sent a clue.



Often in the past in the aftermath of an episode of governmental overreach there is a high-profile public attempt to put things right, create legislation to limit the chance of BadThings(tm) being done again and restore public confidence in government. I think that at the moment that this current government is reined in, due to the vast scale of the criminality of this administration and the party apparatus around it, there will be an opportunity to correct quite a lot of things, restoring checks and balances, media reform (and preventing the government from using the media to disseminate disinformation), stopping government intrusion into privacy, lobbying reform and reform of the election system.



The stakes are high. I wonder if our Fearleaders will go down without a struggle or more Catalytic Events. Well, there's only one way to find out. Stay tuned.




"It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad." -- James Madison



"Lead this people into war, and they'll forget there was ever such a thing as tolerance. To fight, you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fibre of national life, infecting the Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street." -- Woodrow Wilson


“A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility. I don’t believe there is such a thing, and frankly I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.” -- Dwight Eisenhower

Saturday, December 24

Oops. Turns out this was all a great big fake.

The student recanted; turns out he made the whole damned thing up.

Idiot.

Original post:

Wow. What a surprise. Federal agents harassing a student:
NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

Tell me again how this helps keep us safe from terrorism.

Monday, December 19

Merry Fucking Christmas

Congress' gift to the poor this year? A big fat lump of coal.

Some choice bits:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Monday narrowly voted to cut $39.7 billion from federal spending over five years, including health care and other social welfare, as part of a conservative push to contain these growing programs.
...
A large chunk of the spending cuts, about $11.2 billion over five years, would come from Medicare and Medicaid, the health-care programs for the elderly and poor.
...
Additional savings would come in student loan programs, which Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), a Democrat, called "the biggest cuts to student aid programs ever."
...

Throughout this year, the Republican-led Congress has been pushing some form of spending reductions, which they said were necessary in light of huge U.S. budget deficits and unexpected hurricane clean-up and rebuilding costs.

The $39.7 billion in savings would be dwarfed, however, by an estimated $14 trillion the government is expected to spend over the next five years under a Republican budget plan approved last April.

Democrats argued that the spending cuts were falling disproportionately on the poor as Republicans also were pushing through Congress tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Sunday, December 18

The Tom Delay School of Fundraising

According to this Associated Press piece, Frist's own charity was used to pay consultants in his inner circle:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's AIDS charity paid nearly a half-million dollars in consulting fees to members of his political inner circle, according to tax returns providing the first financial accounting of the presidential hopeful's nonprofit.

The returns for World of Hope Inc., obtained by The Associated Press, also show the charity raised the lion's share of its $4.4 million from just 18 sources. They gave between $97,950 and $267,735 each to help fund Frist's efforts to fight AIDS.

The tax forms, filed nine months after they were first due, do not identify the 18 major donors by name.

Frist's lawyer, Alex Vogel, said Friday that he would not give their names because tax law does not require their public disclosure. Frist's office provided a list of 96 donors who were supportive of the charity, but did not say how much each contributed.

The donors included several corporations with frequent business before Congress, such as insurer Blue Cross/Blue Shield, manufacturer 3M, drug maker Eli Lilly and the Goldman Sachs investment firm.

World of Hope gave $3 million it raised to charitable AIDS causes, such as Africare and evangelical Christian groups with ties to Republicans — Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse and the Rev. Luis Cortes' Esperanza USA, for example.


The article goes into a lot more depth, and it begins to look like a Rube Goldberg device of fundraising: much more like an incredibly elaborate scheme via which to launder money than a genuine fundraising effort.

Saturday, December 17

A new standard for chutzpah

The choice bit:

For its part, the administration is urging the Fourth Circuit to do just the opposite: to vacate its September decision that upheld presidential authority to keep Mr. Padilla in open-ended detention and to "recall the mandate," depriving the decision of any legal force.

Since the Fourth Circuit had handed the administration a sweeping victory in that decision, the request would seem to run counter to the administration's interests. But the request, if granted, would have the effect of ensuring that the Supreme Court would be unable to review Mr. Padilla's case because there would be no decision to review.

That amounts to "the extraordinary action of interfering with the Supreme Court's consideration of the case" while Mr. Padilla's appeal is pending, his lawyers told the Fourth Circuit. The government should not be allowed to claim the case is moot, the brief said, because the administration has not withdrawn Mr. Padilla's designation as an enemy combatant and has refused to foreclose the prospect of sending him back to military detention if he is acquitted in a civilian trial.

The lawyers told the Fourth Circuit that in its treatment of Mr. Padilla, "the government has repeatedly altered its factual allegations to suit its goals, and it has actively manipulated the federal courts to avoid accountability for its actions."

Of course, the brief was filed late on Friday.

"They Think I'm a Hottie"

Argh. Via the National Enquirer (with a warning from Crooks and Liars):
"It's amazing. There have been three marriage proposals and lots of dates. They think I'm a hottie," she said. "Of course, I denied all of them. Have you met my husband and know how cute he is? ... Well, he's a hottie, come on!"
I only have one question: which prison did the proposals come from?

Thursday, December 15

Pentagon's propaganda drive

Pentagon in global propaganda drive

Thursday December 15, 2005

The Guardian



The Pentagon is to spend $300m (£170m) planting pro-US messages in media outlets around the world, including those of its allies, without disclosing the US government as their source.


The aim is to sway foreign audiences to support US policies by targeting newspapers, websites, radio and television. T-shirts and bumper stickers will also be produced.


An official from the Pentagon's psychological operations unit said it would not always reveal its role in distributing pro-American messages. Meanwhile, NBC television network claimed to have obtained a secret Pentagon database of US citizens who oppose the Iraq war.

News Roundup

Interesting things I've read today:

And life goes on...

Saturday, December 10

On Eugene McCarthy ...

The news came through a few hours
ago that Gene had died at age 89.
Here was a seminal figure in my younger
life - I worked on his 1968 campaign in
Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Illinois and
New York - whom I got to meet three
times in my campaign years. The first
time was during a campaign stop of his
in Omaha, and several of us went to his
hotel to meet the guy we were all working
for. He read some poetry while we there,
and was a bit diffident but polite.

The second time was a speech he gave in
Portland,OR and I was one of those
fortunate enough to be on stage when he
gave his speech (mistaken by a reporter
for being his speechwriter, which was
flattering) and then to a reception
afterward where I got to meet the poet
Robert Lowell and talk with him. McCarthy
was totally inaccessible save to the media
that night, so I really didn't get to speak to
him (ironically four of us working in the
Portland headquarters did get to meet and
speak with his opponent Senator Robert
Kennedy in a Portland restaurant for some
twenty minutes just a day or so before the
Oregon primary - the only defeat handed
to a Kennedy between 1948 and 1980).

The last time I ever encountered Senator
McCarthy was on 24 April, 1971, at perhaps
one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in
DC from 1966 to 1973. He was lurking at the
back of the crowd, and I spotted him, ending
up asking him what he thought about all those
people and all the speakers and he replied
that he was pleased that folks had finally
gotten the message about the war and that so
many were standing up for what they believed.

I always thought he erred in running again for
President a couple of more times - he had
already made history by losing a primary (New
Hampshire in 1968, by some 4%) and still was a
primary cause IMO of LBJ's withdrawal from
the Presidential race that March. As some have
said, he wasn't a superlative poet, but he wasn't
a bad poet, and he was an interesting guy. I
recall in 1968 the pundits saying that Gene
didn't really want to be President, and I think
they were right. McCarthy was an American
Don Quixote, tilting at windmills and mostly
failing, although he did give RFK and LBJ a
run for their money, and demonstrated a
certain dignity at the mess that was Chicago
that August.

He will be remembered, one suspects, for his
graciousness, slow drawl and dry humor, and
the fact that he was one of the first to take on
the Democratic party establishment about the
war in Vietnam. He became a late cultural icon
of the 1960s, and largely forgotten after the
1970s. VMS

Richard Pryor RIP

Richard Prior died today.

I've always liked Pryor. Even in his really bad movies (and there are lots of them), he was always someone with a lot of character and spirit. Though still, my favorite thing he did was behind the scenes, as one of the writers for Blazing Saddles, the movie that almost never got released because the studio was scared of some of the racist language in it.

Friday, December 9

Sexism demonstrated clearly

Old news, from January 2005, from Polling Report, reporting on a Fox News poll:
"If your party were to nominate a woman for president, would you vote for her?"

Overall: 61% yes, 14% no, 25% unsure
Democrats: 76% yes, 7% no, 17% unsure
Republicans: 48% yes, 20% no, 32% unsure
Independents: 59% yes, 15% no, 26% unsure
Now... I think it's silly to agree to vote for anyone whom you don't know, but I also think it's fascinating that Republicans, who tend to have incredibly fierce party loyalty are so reticent to commit to the concept of having a woman president. The other interesting thing is the breakdown by gender. If you look at the original poll data, men and women break down within the margin of error. There's no statistical difference between men and women in this poll, nor is there a statistical difference between overall results, independents, men and women.

Torture doesn't work, except as propoganda...

Well, this fits:
The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

Thursday, December 8

25 years ago today...

John Lennon was shot and killed.

I was young at the time; didn't know a lot about who Lennon was, but I remember the next morning on the bus and how quiet and subdued the older kids were. There was something fundamentally surreal about that day, as though the whole day was spent walking through treacle-- slow, confusing and disorienting.

It was that day that I really listened to the Beatles for the first time, and I am not exaggerating when I say that the Beatles changed my life. It's music that really brought me into guitar and the art of it.

Go Russ!

"I will do everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report, which does not include adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms,"




Death and Paranoia

A lot of news reports are covering the story about the airstrip shooting. Most of them do seem to be covering the fact that the man shot was bipolar.

What I have to say about this is very simple: I don't know whether or not the man represented any real danger, though it appears as though he did not. I just feel like something has gone terribly wrong here. The man was not on the plane. Even if he really had had a bomb, no one was in danger at that moment except himself. Killing him served no purpose.

Sunday, December 4

No birth control for you, young lady!

Amanda Blake believes in being prepared.

So, when she turned 18 and started dating, she got the blessing of her father and went to get birth control pills even though she had no plans to have sexual relations with anyone.

She didn’t count on seeing a doctor who she said gave her a lecture about morality and her religious beliefs and didn’t prescribe any kind of birth control for her.
Apparently, you now need to check the religious affiliation of any clinic you go to if you want to get actual medical treatment rather than a sermon. That'll be $68 for the sermon, BTW.

Amanda Blake is correct in saying that her religious beliefs are none of her doctor's business. I'd recommend that next time she go to Planned Parenthood.

the corporate media are as useless as...

So, I was surfing around at some of my usual news feeds and I came across an article at commondreams about the corporate media failing to cover the aclu's recent report which presented significant hard evidence, gained through extensive foia requests, that the cia, military intelligence and the navy seals have been murdering detainees in a variety of nasty ways. There is also clear evidence that decisions made at the top of the food chain (Rumsfeld, Sanchez and others) have authorized the techniques that led to these murders.

The aclu's report was apparently picked up by AP and UPI wire services immediately, but 95% of America's corporate media ignored it. A few newspapers covered the story, though it was not front-page news for any of them. MSNBC put it on their website, but did not air it on television. The story hit the wires on October 25, 2005. I wonder how long it will take for it to be reported on TV.

The news media are supposed to perform a function in America. I think that is supposed to be one of the big reasons why the electronic media are favored with free bandwidth.

Well, perhaps you, the dear readers, can help me out here.

I'm looking for a proper description of how useless the corporate media have become in helping the citizenry to be fully informed about what the government is doing. The first thing that popped into my head was the ever useful, "as useless as tits on a mailbox." Well, that's ok, but it's not quite good enough. Then, "as useless as a competent biology teacher in a Kansas classroom," came to mind. Good, but still not just exactly perfect.

Help fill in the yawning void; "as useless as..."

Let's drop Peter Ackerman a line, shall we?

First, read this story:
BEAVERTON -- A municipal judge found a 19-year-old woman guilty Friday of filing a false police report after she said she was raped by three young men.

Even though the woman never said she lied or recanted her story, city prosecutors say they took the unusual step of filing charges against her because of the seriousness of her accusations.
Then drop Peter Ackerman, the judge in the case, an e-mail, telling him just what you think of the case. His e-mail is peter@peterackerman.com

Saturday, December 3

Schadenfreude

In this recent reuters article, we discover that:
U.S. intelligence officials in 1964 skewed evidence of an attack on two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to support claims of communist aggression that led to a massive escalation of the Vietnam War, according to a newly declassified government document.
Is anyone still capable of being surprised by this sort of thing?

Friday, December 2

rip rule of law?

I was reading an article about the legal wranglings over Jose Padilla yesterday which made this startling paragraph:

"Yesterday's New York Times, quoting unnamed current and former government officials, said the main evidence of Mr Padilla's involvement in the plots against US cities had come from two captured al-Qaida leaders, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, and Abu Zubaydah, a leading al-Qaida recruiter. But the officials told the newspaper Mr Padilla could not be charged with the bomb plots because neither of the al-Qaida leaders could be used as witnesses as they had been subjected to harsh questioning and could open up charges from defence lawyers that their earlier statements resulted from torture. Officials also feared that their testimony could expose classified information about the CIA prison system in which the men were thought to be held."


What popped into my mind as I read it was a statement of Bush's, "We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice." Hmmm... Perhaps he has a new definition of "justice," like he has found a new definition for "torture."

It strikes me that the Bush administration has done all that it can to avoid the traditional justice system and that the course he has embarked upon will only make the rule of law more difficult to reimpose in the wake of his "fixing" the world.

Well, this is my first attempt at using this blog thingy. I hope it turns out allright.

I Remember When This Happened, but...

...I didn't remember that it was about "Duke" Cunningham.

The Washington Blade is reporting that Duke is, in fact, the closet case whom Elizabith Birch accidentally outed two years ago:
Cunningham, who is married with grown children, has admitted to romantic, loving relationships with men, both during his Vietnam military service and as a civilian. That was the remarkable story that this publication reported two years ago, when Elizabeth Birch, the former Human Rights Campaign leader, inadvertently outed Cunningham at a gay rights forum

Jews Against Christmas Defamation?

I was just watching CNN this morning. There was a reference to some Jewish group which supposedly defends Christmas. The group opposed Jews who want to take the Christ out of Christmas.

Does anyone else's astroturf detector go off at this? My guess is that this group does not, in fact, exist except as a front for a conservative Christian group, but is trying to get influence by faking it into media stories.