Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ted Olson & David Boies Team Up To Overturn Gay Marriage Ban

by Dee Newman

The opponents to gay marriage argue that democracy means “majority rule” – that discrimination is altogether fitting and proper if the majority deems it so.

But, as David Boies states so clearly in the following interview with Larry King:
“You wouldn’t need a constitution if all you had to do is look at election results. The whole point of a constitution is to guarantee certain fundamental rights to all Americans and that is what the constitution guarantees and that is what the courts are there to guarantee . . . “

Yes, a constitutional democracy protects the rights of minorities from the ignorance, bigotry, and tyranny of the majority.

Gen. David Petraeus: "We have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions"

by BarbinMD | DailKos / Sun May 31, 2009 at 06:00:11 AM PDT

Two years ago, thirty-one Republican Senators signed on to a letter that said:

It is important that all officials in positions of responsibility speak out and defend General Petraeus as the honest and honorable military leader he is. From his years of service to our country and the important position he currently holds, he has certainly earned it.

That sentiment is certainly going to be put to the test in the coming days – assuming that the traditional media covers the stunning admission made two days ago by General David Petraeus:

Q: So is sending this signal that we're not going to use these kind of techniques anymore, what kind of impact does that have on people who do us harm in the field that you operate in?

PETRAEUS: Well, actually what I would ask is, does that not take away from our enemies a tool which again they've beaten us around the head and shoulders in the court of public opinion. When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Convention, we rightly have been criticized, and so as we move forward, I think it's important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena, and to practice those.

To read the entire post on Daily Kos click here.

Where's the Equal Justice for Gays?

by Joan Vennochi | Boston Globe Columnist / May 28, 2009

PRESIDENT OBAMA had much to say about the glass ceiling he is smashing on behalf of Hispanics and nothing to say about the glass ceiling the California Supreme Court is reimposing on gays.

On Tuesday, Obama announced that he would nominate Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals judge in New York, to the Supreme Court. In nominating the daughter of Puerto Rican parents to become the nation's first Hispanic justice, Obama said that when she "ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court of the land, America will have taken another important step towards realizing the idea that is etched above its entrance: equal justice under the law."

Those are stirring words, and ironic ones, too, given the day's other momentous judicial news: The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, last year's ballot initiative prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Asked about that ruling, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he had not spoken to Obama about it, and added, "The issues involved are ones that, ah, you know where the president stands."

On gay rights, as with other controversial issues, Obama stands where it's politically smart to stand. He finds the political sweet spot that placates the left and doesn't alienate the middle.

Obama supports civil unions, not same-sex marriage, a position he embraced as a national candidate. Earlier this year, the political website produced a questionnaire Obama filled out in 1996 for a Chicago gay and lesbian newspaper. "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages," Obama wrote in a typed, signed statement.

In what is becoming a pattern, his thinking evolved to a less-liberal stance. As president, Obama has been less than eager to take up a campaign pledge to grant equal federal rights for gay couples; or to reconsider the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy. As Andrew Sullivan, a prominent blogger and gay rights advocate, recently wrote: "I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away."

A year ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples enjoyed the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples. The decision led to Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and eventually won 52 percent of the vote last November. With this week's ruling, gay marriage advocates pledge to put the issue before California voters yet again.

In Massachusetts, the first state to recognize a legal right to same-sex marriage and the state that stopped a gay marriage referendum from going to the ballot, there is also disappointment with Obama.

Representative Carl M. Sciortino Jr. of Somerville, who went to California to work against Proposition 8, said, "What was frustrating at the time was that Candidate Obama never showed up in California and said, 'That's an outrage . . . it goes too far.' " Now, said Sciortino, "I do hope for and want to see our national leaders being more aggressive in saying discrimination is wrong and the Constitution should not be used to discriminate."

By upholding Proposition 8 in a 6-to-1 ruling, the California Supreme Court did Obama a favor - for now. Just as Obama was nominating a Supreme Court nominee whose detractors are trying to frame her as a liberal activist, California's highest court declared 'that our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board celebrated "that sigh of judicial restraint." Imagine if a majority of justices instead shared the view of the lone dissenter, Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who wrote, "The rule the majority crafts today not only allows same-sex couples to be stripped of the right to marry . . . it places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities."

That's a stirring call for equal justice under the law - what Obama said he believes in with Sotomayor at his side.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

National Guard First Lieutenant Dan Choi Protests at President Obama's Hotel in Los Angeles

He is an Arabic-Speaking linguist, a West Point graduate, and a combat veteran of the Iraq War who was fired from the military because he came out of the closet.

Valerie Sings Billy Joel's And So It Goes

And So It Goes by Billy Joel

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense

And every time I've held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns
And so it goes, and so it goes
And so will you soon I suppose

But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake
So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break

And this is why my eyes are closed
It's just as well for all I've seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows

So I would choose to be with you
That's if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Everyone Should See "Torturing Democracy"

by: Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

In all the recent debate over torture, many of our Beltway pundits and politicians have twisted themselves into verbal contortions to avoid using the word at all.

During his speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute last week - immediately on the heels of President Obama's address at the National Archives - former Vice President Dick Cheney used the euphemism "enhanced interrogation" a full dozen times.

Smothering the reality of torture in euphemism, of course, has a political value, enabling its defenders to diminish the horror and possible illegality. It also gives partisans the opening they need to divert our attention by turning the future of the prison at Guantanamo Bay into a "wedge issue," as noted on the front page of Sunday's New York Times.

According to the Times, "Armed with polling data that show a narrow majority of support for keeping the prison open and deep fear about the detainees, Republicans in Congress started laying plans even before the inauguration to make the debate over Guantanamo Bay a question of local community safety instead of one about national character and principles."

No political party would dare make torture a cornerstone of its rejuvenation if people really understood what it is. And lest we forget, we're not just talking about waterboarding, itself a trivializing euphemism for drowning.

If we want to know what torture is, and what it does to human beings, we have to look at it squarely, without flinching. That's just what a powerful and important film, seen by far too few Americans, does. "Torturing Democracy" was written and produced by one of America's outstanding documentary reporters, Sherry Jones. (Excerpts from the film are being shown on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS - check local listings, or go to the program's web site at, where you can be linked to the entire 90-minute documentary.)

Sherry Jones, a longtime colleague, and the film were honored this week with the prestigious RFK Journalism Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. "Torturing Democracy" was cited for its "meticulous reporting," and described as "the definitive broadcast account of a deeply troubling chapter in recent American history."

Unfortunately, as events demonstrate, the story is not yet history; the early chapters aren't even closed. Torture still is being defended as a matter of national security, although by law it is a war crime, with those who authorized and executed it liable for prosecution as war criminals. The war on terror sparked impatience with the rule of law - and fostered the belief within our government that the commander-in-chief had the right to ignore it.

"Torturing Democracy" begins at 9/11 and recounts how the Bush White House and the Pentagon decided to make coercive detention and abusive interrogation the official US policy in the war on terror. In sometimes graphic detail, the documentary describes the experiences of several men who were held in custody, including Shafiq Rasul, Moazzam Begg and Bisher al-Rawi, all of whom eventually were released. Charges never were filed against them and no reason was ever given for their years in custody.

The documentary traces how tactics meant to train American troops to survive enemy interrogations - the famous SERE program ("Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape") - became the basis for many of the methods employed by the CIA and by interrogators at Guantanamo and in Iraq, including waterboarding (which inflicts on its victims the terror of imminent death), sleep and sensory deprivation, shackling, caging, painful stress positions and sexual humiliation.

"We have re-created our enemy's methodologies in Guantanamo," Malcolm Nance, former head of the Navy's SERE training program, says in "Torturing Democracy." He adds, "It will hurt us for decades to come. Decades. Our people will all be subjected to these tactics, because we have authorized them for the world now. How it got to Guantanamo is a crime and somebody needs to figure out who did it, how they did it, who authorized them to do it ... Because our servicemen will suffer for years."

In addition to its depiction of brutality, "Torturing Democracy" also credits the brave few who stood up to those in power and said, "No." In Washington, there were officials of conviction horrified by unfolding events, including Alberto Mora, the Navy's top civilian lawyer, Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, who served as judge advocate general of the US Army from 2001 to 2005 and Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, a former senior prosecutor with the Office of Military Commissions.

Much has happened since the film's initial telecast on some public television stations last fall. Once-classified memos from the Bush administration have been released that reveal more details of the harsh techniques used against detainees whose guilt or innocence is still to be decided.

President Obama has announced he will close Guantanamo by next January, with the specifics to come later in the summer. That was enough to set off hysteria among Democrats and Republicans alike who don't want the remaining 240 detainees on American soil - even in a super-maximum-security prison, the kind already holding hundreds of terrorist suspects. The president also triggered criticism from constitutional and civil liberties lawyers when he suggested that some detainees may be held indefinitely, without due process.

But in an interview with Radio Free Europe this week, Gen. David Petraeus, the man in charge of the military's Central Command, praised the Guantanamo closing, saying it "sends an important message to the world" and will help advance America's strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In another revealing and disturbing development, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, has suggested what is possibly as scandalous a deception as the false case Bush and Cheney made for invading Iraq. Colonel Wilkerson writes that in their zeal to prove a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein during the months leading up to the Iraq war, one suspect held in Egypt, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was water tortured until he falsely told the interrogators what they wanted to hear.

That phony confession, which Wilkerson says was wrung from a broken man who simply wanted the torture to stop, was then used as evidence in Colin Powell's infamous address to the United Nations shortly before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Powell says that everything in his speech was vetted by the CIA and that Wilkerson's allegation is only speculation. We'll never know the full story - al-Libi died three weeks ago in a Libyan prison. A suicide.

Or so they say.

No wonder so many Americans clamor for a truth commission that will get the facts and put them on the record, just as "Torturing Democracy" has done. Then we can judge for ourselves.

As the editors of The Christian Century magazine wrote this week, "Convening a truth commission on torture would be embarrassing to the US in the short term, but in the long run it would demonstrate the strength of American democracy and confirm the nation's adherence to the rule of law.... Understandably, [the president] wants to turn the page on torture. But Americans should not turn the page until they know what is written on it."


Watch "Torturing Democracy" here.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

The Reality of a Nuclear Fueled Economy

by Donnie Safer
Chairman of the Tennessee Environmental Council

First Published in the Green Living Journal | May 22, 2008

Why bring “low-level” nuclear waste all the way from Italy to Oak Ridge for processing? Why dispose of domestic nuclear waste from states like Michigan and California in landfills across Tennessee? What about TVA receiving four million dollars from the U.S. Dept. of Energy to design a small scale nuclear waste reprocessing plant as part of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)? And if the proposed two unit TVA nuclear power plant is built at Bellefonte, Alabama did you know the Tennessee River will be used to cool nine reactors from Watts Bar to Brown’s Ferry?

Tennessee has had a special role in the birth, growth and development of the nuclear industry since the “Secret City” of Oak Ridge was born to help create the world’s first nuclear bomb. The nuclear industry has found fertile ground in the Tennessee Valley and we figure prominently in its current efforts to revive and grow to monstrous proportions.

Long lasting, incredibly toxic mutation and cancer inducing waste has been the nuclear industry’s legacy and conundrum since Madame Curie first started fooling around with radioactive elements. She ended up dying of radiation induced anemia. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) study “Out of Control - On Purpose” identifies Tennessee as a national leader in nuclear waste processing and disposal. The study says: “Tennessee is one of the few states to license the commercial incineration and thermal treatment of nuclear waste. It is the only state in which DOE is burning radioactive waste.”

Tennessee’s Bulk Survey for Release program has permitted the disposal of low level nuclear waste in up to five landfills in Tennessee. This program provides a relatively low cost but high risk solution which attracts the waste from great distances. Middle Point, near Murfreesboro along the Stone’s River, no longer accepts this waste, but this landfill designed for home garbage accepted large quantities of radioactive materials without the knowledge of local residents until the shroud of secrecy on this practice was lifted and public outrage followed.

We are on the verge of becoming a world-wide, international leader in a dubious category if we continue down our current path. Many of the players in Tennessee’s nuclear waste industry are international companies looking for the lowest cost ways to dispose of their problems. EnergySolutions has applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to bring 20,000 tons of nuclear waste from Italy to Oak Ridge for processing. The waste will be burned, melted or otherwise magically reduced to a projected 1600 tons. Processing is the trickiest part, with the most risk of unplanned radioactive releases. The original plan was for the 1600 tons to be shipped for disposal in Utah, but they don’t want it and are refusing to take it. Do they know something we don’t? Representative Bart Gordon is co-sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to ban the importation of this waste.

GNEP is a proposal to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from all over the world into plutonium fuel for use in new generation reactors still in development. Oak Ridge is one of about eleven sites in the U.S. being considered for the first full-sized plant. TVA’s announcement of a $4 million DOE grant to design a small pilot plant to do this in Oak Ridge is a possible indication of front runner status in the GNEP decision. The spent fuel is insanely radioactive and very tricky to handle. The resulting plutonium is incredibly toxic, long lasting and is easily fashioned into nuclear weapons.

TVA has made the decision that nuclear power is the biggest part (in sheer dollar investment) of their response to carbon induced climate change with virtually no public debate or input. Out of the frying pan and into the fire! This is astonishing when you consider the costs: they (we) still owe $25 BILLION for the first go-round of nuclear construction in the 1970’s and 80’s. The bill for the proposed 2,000 mega-watts at Bellefonte is currently estimated at between 14 and 16 BILLION.

Nuclear power offers unique challenges to all who are working toward a clean, sustainable energy future on a healthy planet earth. The reality of a nuclear fueled economy is totally inconsistent with that vision. The legacy of nuclear power is waste remaining dangerous for 100,000 or more years, a world with widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons and a biosphere increasingly contaminated with dangerous radiation. It is crucial to create the green alternative but unfortunately we have to directly confront the beast that is the nuclear industry before it renders all our efforts futile.

The NYTimes Finally Reports the Economic Disaster of New Nukes

by Harvey Wasserman

This article was first published by The Free Press.

In a devastating pair of financial reports that might be called "The Emperor Has No Pressure Vessel," the New York Times has blazed new light on the catastrophic economics of atomic power.

The two Business Section specials cover the fiasco of new French construction at Okiluoto, Finland, and the virtual collapse of Atomic Energy of Canada. In a sane world they could comprise an epitaph for the "Peaceful Atom". But they come simultaneous with Republican demands for up to $700 billion or more in new reactor construction.

The Times's "In Finland, Nuclear Renaissance Runs Into Trouble" by James Kanter is a "cautionary tale" about the "most powerful reactor ever built" whose modular design "was supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build" as well as safer to operate.

But four years into a construction process that was scheduled to end about now, the plant's $4.2 billion price tag has soared by 50% or more. Areva, the French government's front group, won't predict when the reactor will open. Finnish utilities have stopped trying to guess.

Finnish inspectors say Areva allowed "inexperienced subcontractors to drill holes in the wrong places on a vast steel container that seals the reactor." The Finns have also cited Areva for "the attitude or lack of professional knowledge of some persons."

Areva hopes to build similar reactors in the US. Its boosters have promised cheaper, cleaner, faster nuke construction with standardized designs like the one at Okiluoto. But "early experience suggests these new reactors will be no easier or cheaper to build than the ones a generation ago" whose price tags soared by 700% and more, and whose completion schedules ran into the decades.

Areva's second "new generation" project at Flamanville, France, is also over budget and behind schedule. Cracks have turned up in critical steel and concrete components, along with revelations that critical work has been done by unqualified welders.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not approved the Areva design in use at Okiluoto and Flamanville. Four other designs under consideration are also mired in process. Some are still being altered. A post 9/11 issue is their ability to withstand a jet crash, which the 104 US reactors currently licensed to operate were not forced to consider.

The fiascos in Finland and Flamanville have thrown Areva into economic chaos now being mirrored at the Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited. Once touted as a global flagship, AECL sucked up 1.74 billion Canadian dollars in subsidies last year and has been a long-term money loser which the government has now announced it wants to sell.

AECL's natural uranium/heavy water design has flopped in the world market. "Design issues" with its installed plants require heavy maintenance. AECL's Chalk River research facility, which suffered a major accident in 1952 (in which former President Jimmy Carter served as a "jumper") needs 7 billion Canadian dollars for clean-up work. Its 51-year-old medical isotope facility recently popped a major leak that may close it forever.

The Paris-based energy expert Mycle Schneider reports that of 45 reactors being built worldwide, 22 are behind schedule and nine have no official ignition schedules.

Despite the torrent of bad economic indicators, Republicans like Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continue to demand massive government funding for new reactor construction. Alexander says he wants the US to build as many as 100 new reactors here, even though the private sector won't finance or insure them. The media is citing the idea as a $700 billion package, but in fact the project price of building new reactors is on the rise, and by some estimates has already exceeded $10 billion each. The Department of Energy has cited four finalists for $18.5 billion in loan guarantees voted in with the 2005 Bush Energy Plan. Florida and Georgia have raised rates to pre-pay proposed new reactors.

But Missouri has turned down a proposed rate hike for a new Areva project. And green activists have three times beaten proposed $50 billion federal loan guarantee packages to fund "new generation" construction. Grassroots battles are now raging to prevent the re-licensing of aging reactors like Vermont Yankee and New York's Indian Point.

As Congress deals with a wide range of energy-related legislation, the nuclear industry is desperately grabbing for any federal money it can get. One bill after another has been floated with nuclear hand-outs hidden in various nooks and crannies.

As the comparative price of efficiency and renewables plummets, the window may be closing fast on the possibility of building new nukes in the US, raising the industry's desparation level.

This battle will certainly rage for years to come. But the appearance of such brutally bad news from Finland and Canada in the Business Section of the New York Times bodes ill for an industry that, after fifty years, cannot get private funding or liability insurance, cannot deal with its wastes, and now cannot demonstrate the ability to produce new product anywhere near on time or budget.

At very least, Paul Joskow of MIT tells the Times, the rollout of new nukes may be "a good deal slower than a lot of people were assuming."


Friday, May 29, 2009

Valerie Sings Blue Bird

Here is another video recording of Valerie singing. The song was written by her aunt, Sydney.

Even Severed Heads Can Bite

by Dee Newman

For those of you who do not know, I live atop a narrow ridge over-looking the Harpeth River valley in middle Tennessee in a hand-hewn log house I designed and helped construct.

Early, one spring morning, I was reconnecting the hot and cold waterlines that lead to the old claw-foot-bathtub and shower that sits on the deck just outside my kitchen window. To reach the lines I had to prop-up and climb a ladder against the house.

As I backed down the ladder, after completing the connections, I was surprised by something that I had not initially seen coiled-up at the foot of the ladder – a very large copperhead.

Fortunately, it had been a cool night and the morning sun had not, as yet, awakened the snake’s metabolism. With a great deal of care and caution, I slowly stepped off the ladder and backed away from the unconscious copperhead.

Standing there contemplating the situation, I soon realized that the snake needed to be moved to a new location and that the longer I waited the more difficult the removal would be.

Thinking logically (?), I reasoned that as long as it remained in a lethargic state, it might be possible to simply scoop it up and carry it off to the nearby woods.

Looking to my right, I noticed my long-handle hoe hanging on the side of the house. It was not ideal for the operation but I thought it might be sufficient.

With a great deal of care and dexterity, I slowly moved the working-end of the hoe beneath the snake. To my surprise, it remained unresponsive (as if it were dead), which, I must confess, provided me the necessary motivation to go on with the mission.

Gradually, I began to lift the coiled-creature from its resting place. Though the snake’s body began to slowly rap-around the hoe handle, it remained relatively relaxed.

It was not until I was about halfway to the edge of the woods that the cold-blooded creature’s temperature warmed sufficiently enough to revive its survival instincts and aggressive character.

Instead of dropping off the end of the hoe and slithering away, the four-foot-long pit viper began to move up the hoe-handle towards me. Suddenly, my survival instincts kicked-in and using the hoe-handle as a catapult, I flung the large reptile into the air. It landed a good fifteen feet from me.

Now, I realize that what I am about to tell you will be difficult for many of you to believe. For some reason beyond my understanding that snake decided that it wanted a piece of me. With the speed of a blue-tail-skink, the likes of which I had never before or since witnessed from any snake, that damn copperhead came at me with a vengeance. I did not have time to even blink, let alone, turn and run.

My reaction was purely defensive. I had no desire to harm the copperhead. I had risked my life and limb, by trying to transport that dangerous and venomous reptile to another location.

So, when I swung the hoe that was still clutched in my hands at the snake to defensively ward off its attack, it was purely an accident that I severed its head from its body.

In fact, if I had been truly trying to accomplish such a feat, I would have, most likely, missed the snake entirely.

Nevertheless, though it was neither my motive nor my intent, I must confess, I did kill the copperhead. I am guilty of taking the life of another living sentient creature. And, for that, I am deeply sorry.

The moral to this story may seem evident to many of you. But, if it is not, please allow me to offer my observations.

No matter how pure your motives may be, actions always have consequences. So, before you act, take some time to ponder the possible ramifications of your deeds, whether your motives are bad or good. And remember, there’s no telling how others may react to your kindness. Not even you best friend can truly know what is in your heart and vice versa.

There is a postscript: Bites from any pit viper may prove to be fatal; even severed heads can bite.

So remember, consequences can last a long time. What you believe to be dead and gone may come back to bite you when you least expect it.

Life Lines

by Jack Reeves

"Life is difficult.... Once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."--Dr. M. Scott Peck

"Everybody hurts sometime," the song says. It's the human condition. We get differing advice on how to deal with difficulty and hurt in life: "Forget about it," or "Get over it," or "Get on with it."

But we can't always forget life's hurts and crises. They can be caused by relationships, traumas, tragedies. Many are indelible, enduring, and profound; they can't be forgotten.

"Get over it" is tough. A severe wound to the body scars; to the self, it can leave lasting moral or emotional injury. To get over it--beyond it--is equally hard.

"Get on with it" seems best. We can get on with life when we accept that wrongs, suffering, and difficulties are part of life. Then we move from life as problem to life as possibility.

Continually viewing life as a problem is a mindset for disappointment.

"We must...appreciate the truth that often 'Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.'"--Dr. M. Scott Peck

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Valerie Sings O Mio Babbino Caro

I discovered this week the talent of a young woman I have known since her birth. She is the niece of one of my closest and dearest friends. I know you will enjoy listening to Valerie sing as much as I enjoyed recording her.

I will be posting two other recordings of Valerie singing in the near future.

Yet Another Bogus 'Terror' Plot

by Robert Dreyfuss | The Nation
on 05/22/2009 @ 07:56am

By the now, it's maddeningly familiar. A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.

I've seen this movie before.

In this case, the alleged perps -- Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen -- were losers, ex-cons, drug addicts. Al Qaeda they're not. Without the assistance of the agent who entrapped them, they would never have dreamed of committing political violence, nor would they have had the slightest idea about where to acquire plastic explosives or a Stinger missile. That didn't stop prosecutors from acting as if they'd captured Osama bin Laden himself. Noted the Los Angeles Times:
Prosecutors called it the latest in a string of homegrown terrorism plots hatched
after Sept. 11.

"It's hard to envision a more chilling plot," Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Snyder
said in court Thursday. He described all four suspects as "eager to bring death to
Actually, it's hard to imagine a stupider, less competent, and less important
plot. The four losers were ensnared by a creepy FBI agent who hung around the
mosque in upstate New York until he found what he was looking for. Here's the New
York Times account:
Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the
confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were active
in the mosque. ...

Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.

He had no way of knowing that the stranger's path to the mosque began in 2002,
when he was arrested on federal charges of identity theft. He was sentenced to
five years' probation, and became a confidential informant for the F.B.I. He began
showing up at the mosque in Newburgh around 2007, Mr. Muhammad said.

The stranger's behavior aroused the imam's suspicions. He invited other worshipers
to meals, and spoke of violence and jihad, so the imam said he steered clear of

"There was just something fishy about him," Mr. Muhammad said. Members "believed
he was a government agent."

Mr. Muhammad said members of his congregation told him the man he believed was the
informant offered at least one of them a substantial amount of money to join his
So a creepy thug buttonholes people at a mosque, foaming at the mouth about violence and jihad? This is law enforcement? Just imagine if someone did this at a local church, or some synagogue. And the imam says the people "believed he was a government agent."

Preying on these losers, none of whom were apparently actual Muslims, the "confidential informant" orchestrated the acquisition of a disabled Stinger missile to shoot down military planes and cooked up a wild scheme about attacking a Jewish center in the Bronx.

It gets even more pathetic:

The only one of the four suspects who appears to have aroused any suspicion was
Payen, a Haitian native who attended the Newburgh mosque. Assistant imam Hamid
Rashada said his dishevelment and odd behavior disturbed some members, said the
assistant imam, Hamid Rashada.

When Payen appeared in court, defense attorney Marilyn Reader described him as
"intellectually challenged" and on medication for schizophrenia. The Associated
Press said that when he was asked if he understood the proceedings, Payen replied:
"Sort of."

Despite the pompous statements from Mayor Bloomberg of New York and other politicians, including Representative Peter King, the whole story is bogus. The four losers may have been inclined to violence, and they may have harbored a virulent strain of anti-Semitism. But it seems that the informant whipped up their violent tendencies and their hatred of Jews, cooked up the plot, incited them, arranged their purchase of weapons, and then had them busted. To ensure that it made headlines, the creepy informant claimed to be representing a Pakistani extremist group, Jaish-e Muhammad, a bona fide terrorist organization. He wasn't, of course.

It is disgusting and outrageous that the FBI is sending provocateurs into mosques.

The headlines reinforce the very fear that Dick Cheney is trying to stir up. The story strengthens the narrative that the "homeland" is under attack. It's not. As I've written repeatedly, since 9/11 not a single American has even been punched in the nose by an angry Muslim, as far as I can tell. Plot after plot -- the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge! bombing the New York Subways! taking down the Sears Tower! bombing the Prudential building in Newark! -- proved to be utter nonsense.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Olbermann Interviews Muller About Being Waterboarded

Muller reveals in the interview that his friend Sean Hannity had called him and said, "it's still not torture."

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Food Critic Learns To Eat His Vegetables

by Mark Bittman | NPR
Listen Now [3 min]

Weekend Edition Sunday, April 19, 2009 · A couple of years ago, I had the typical experience of every normal, middle-aged American guy. My doctor told me I had to lose weight and lower my cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In other words, take drugs or stop eating.

But since I eat and cook for a living, and because I wanted to avoid the drug thing, I needed a different route. As it happens, the fix is pretty straightforward, and not only does it work — when the recession arrived, I was already eating on the cheap. It's just about making the right food choices.

But before you call me a nutritionist, think about this: The nuts-and-berries stories of our ancestors — the eating-turnips-and-cabbage-all-winter stories of our great-grandparents — these aren't myths. Until recently, most people struggled to get enough calories to thrive. Meat was a feast food; sugar, a luxury; fat, a treasure. As we got smarter, we converted plant energy into high-calorie food that kept well — things like cooking oil, meat, cheese and alcohol. And by the 20th century, we were doing that so efficiently that we started to eat in a way that makes us fat and unhealthy.

We now produce a billion animals like they were widgets; animals that produce 18 percent of all greenhouse gases. And we've ended up paying more for food that's bad for us than we do for what actually sustains us.

I'm not exactly a back-to-the-earth type, but it's clear that the key to avoiding the lifestyle diseases that plague many of us — even me — is the same key to saving money on food: Go to the source. Eat more plants, fewer animals, less processed foods. That's easy to say, but tempted by delicious burgers, fries and hazelnut gelato at every turn, how do you do it?

For me, the answer turned out to be simple: I began to eat plants and only plants. Vegetables and fruits, mostly. But beans and whole grains too, all day. At night, I reverted to the indulgent omnivore and let myself eat the food I love most, but with a little restraint.

I lost 30 pounds. My cholesterol and blood sugar went back to normal, and my doctors love me. I go to the supermarket and spend half as much money for twice as much food. I have a smug smile on my face, because by an infinitesimal amount, I'm reducing the pace of global warming. And all by doing what my mother told me: I eat my vegetables.

Mark Bittman is a food columnist for The New York Times.

Mark Bittman: What's wrong with what we eat?

The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia

by Noam Chomsky | The Nation | May 19, 2009

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

There's no way of knowing if the White House is planning war in Iran. But stopping Bush from sparking intentional or accidental war requires the promotion of democracy--this time at home--in a way that allows public opinion to shape policy.

For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantánamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law--a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for the Bush administration's "black sites," or secret prisons, and for extraordinary rendition, and they were fulfilled.

More importantly, torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire"--as George Washington called the new republic--extended to the Philippines, Haiti and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion and economic strangulation that have darkened US history, much as in the case of other great powers.

Accordingly, what's surprising is to see the reactions to the release of those Justice Department memos, even by some of the most eloquent and forthright critics of Bush malfeasance: Paul Krugman, for example, writing that we used to be "a nation of moral ideals" and never before Bush "have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for." To say the least, that common view reflects a rather slanted version of American history.

Occasionally the conflict between "what we stand for" and "what we do" has been forthrightly addressed. One distinguished scholar who undertook the task at hand was Hans Morgenthau, a founder of realist international relations theory. In a classic study published in 1964 in the glow of Camelot, Morgenthau developed the standard view that the US has a "transcendent purpose": establishing peace and freedom at home and indeed everywhere, since "the arena within which the United States must defend and promote its purpose has become world-wide." But as a scrupulous scholar, he also recognized that the historical record was radically inconsistent with that "transcendent purpose."

We should not be misled by that discrepancy, advised Morgenthau; we should not "confound the abuse of reality with reality itself." Reality is the unachieved "national purpose" revealed by "the evidence of history as our minds reflect it." What actually happened was merely the "abuse of reality."

The release of the torture memos led others to recognize the problem. In the New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen reviewed a new book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, by British journalist Geoffrey Hodgson, who concludes that the US is "just one great, but imperfect, country among others." Cohen agrees that the evidence supports Hodgson's judgment, but nonetheless regards as fundamentally mistaken Hodgson's failure to understand that "America was born as an idea, and so it has to carry that idea forward." The American idea is revealed in the country's birth as a "city on a hill," an "inspirational notion" that resides "deep in the American psyche," and by "the distinctive spirit of American individualism and enterprise" demonstrated in the Western expansion. Hodgson's error, it seems, is that he is keeping to "the distortions of the American idea," "the abuse of reality."

Let us then turn to "reality itself": the "idea" of America from its earliest days.

"Come Over and Help Us"

The inspirational phrase "city on a hill" was coined by John Winthrop in 1630, borrowing from the Gospels, and outlining the glorious future of a new nation "ordained by God." One year earlier his Massachusetts Bay Colony created its Great Seal. It depicted an Indian with a scroll coming out of his mouth. On that scroll are the words "Come over and help us." The British colonists were thus pictured as benevolent humanists, responding to the pleas of the miserable natives to be rescued from their bitter pagan fate.

The Great Seal is, in fact, a graphic representation of "the idea of America," from its birth. It should be exhumed from the depths of the psyche and displayed on the walls of every classroom. It should certainly appear in the background of all of the Kim Il-Sung-style worship of that savage murderer and torturer Ronald Reagan, who blissfully described himself as the leader of a "shining city on the hill," while orchestrating some of the more ghastly crimes of his years in office, notoriously in Central America but elsewhere as well.

The Great Seal was an early proclamation of "humanitarian intervention," to use the currently fashionable phrase. As has commonly been the case since, the "humanitarian intervention" led to a catastrophe for the alleged beneficiaries. The first Secretary of War, General Henry Knox, described "the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union" by means "more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru."

Long after his own significant contributions to the process were past, John Quincy Adams deplored the fate of "that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty...among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement." The "merciless and perfidious cruelty" continued until "the West was won." Instead of God's judgment, the heinous sins today bring only praise for the fulfillment of the American "idea."

The conquest and settling of the West indeed showed that "individualism and enterprise," so praised by Roger Cohen. Settler-colonialist enterprises, the cruelest form of imperialism, commonly do. The results were hailed by the respected and influential Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in 1898. Calling for intervention in Cuba, Lodge lauded our record "of conquest, colonization and territorial expansion unequalled by any people in the 19th century," and urged that it is "not to be curbed now," as the Cubans too were pleading, in the Great Seal's words, "come over and help us."

Their plea was answered. The US sent troops, thereby preventing Cuba's liberation from Spain and turning it into a virtual colony, as it remained until 1959.

The "American idea" was illustrated further by the remarkable campaign initiated by the Eisenhower administration virtually at once to restore Cuba to its proper place, after Fidel Castro entered Havana in January 1959, finally liberating the island from foreign domination, with enormous popular support, as Washington ruefully conceded. What followed was economic warfare, with the clearly articulated aim of punishing the Cuban population so that they would overthrow the disobedient Castro government; invasion; the dedication of the Kennedy brothers to bringing "the terrors of the earth" to Cuba (the phrase of historian Arthur Schlesinger in his biography of Robert Kennedy, who considered that task one of his highest priorities); and other crimes continuing to the present, in defiance of virtually unanimous world opinion.

American imperialism is often traced to the takeover of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hawaii in 1898. But that is to succumb to what historian of imperialism Bernard Porter calls "the saltwater fallacy," the idea that conquest only becomes imperialism when it crosses saltwater. Thus, if the Mississippi had resembled the Irish Sea, Western expansion would have been imperialism. From George Washington to Henry Cabot Lodge, those engaged in the enterprise had a clearer grasp of just what they were doing.

After the success of humanitarian intervention in Cuba in 1898, the next step in the mission assigned by Providence was to confer "the blessings of liberty and civilization upon all the rescued peoples" of the Philippines (in the words of the platform of Lodge's Republican party)--at least those who survived the murderous onslaught and widespread use of torture and other atrocities that accompanied it. These fortunate souls were left to the mercies of the US-established Philippine constabulary within a newly devised model of colonial domination, relying on security forces trained and equipped for sophisticated modes of surveillance, intimidation and violence. Similar models would be adopted in many other areas where the US imposed brutal National Guards and other client forces.

The Torture Paradigm

Over the past sixty years, victims worldwide have endured the CIA's "torture paradigm," developed at a cost that reached $1 billion annually, according to historian Alfred McCoy in his book A Question of Torture. He shows how torture methods the CIA developed from the 1950s surfaced with little change in the infamous photos at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. There is no hyperbole in the title of Jennifer Harbury's penetrating study of the US torture record: Truth, Torture, and the American Way. So it is highly misleading, to say the least, when investigators of the Bush gang's descent into the global sewers lament that "in waging the war against terrorism, America had lost its way."

None of this is to say that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld et al. did not introduce important innovations. In ordinary American practice, torture was largely farmed out to subsidiaries, not carried out by Americans directly in their own government-established torture chambers. As Allan Nairn, who has carried out some of the most revealing and courageous investigations of torture, points out: "What the Obama [ban on torture] ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system's torture, which is done by foreigners under US patronage. Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so."

Obama did not shut down the practice of torture, Nairn observes, but "merely repositioned it," restoring it to the American norm, a matter of indifference to the victims. "His is a return to the status quo ante," writes Nairn, "the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more US-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years."

Sometimes the American engagement in torture was even more indirect. In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that US aid "has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their the hemisphere's relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights." Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation. Not surprisingly, US aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, commonly improved by the murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.

These studies took place before the Reagan years, when the topic was not worth studying because the correlations were so clear.

Small wonder that President Obama advises us to look forward, not backward--a convenient doctrine for those who hold the clubs. Those who are beaten by them tend to see the world differently, much to our annoyance.

Adopting Bush's Positions

An argument can be made that implementation of the CIA's "torture paradigm" never violated the 1984 Torture Convention, at least as Washington interpreted it. McCoy points out that the highly sophisticated CIA paradigm developed at enormous cost in the 1950s and 1960s, based on the "KGB's most devastating torture technique," kept primarily to mental torture, not crude physical torture, which was considered less effective in turning people into pliant vegetables.

McCoy writes that the Reagan administration then carefully revised the International Torture Convention "with four detailed diplomatic 'reservations' focused on just one word in the convention's twenty-six printed pages," the word "mental." He continues: "These intricately-constructed diplomatic reservations re-defined torture, as interpreted by the United States, to exclude sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain--the very techniques the CIA had refined at such great cost."

When Clinton sent the UN Convention to Congress for ratification in 1994, he included the Reagan reservations. The president and Congress therefore exempted the core of the CIA torture paradigm from the US interpretation of the Torture Convention; and those reservations, McCoy observes, were "reproduced verbatim in domestic legislation enacted to give legal force to the UN Convention." That is the "political land mine" that "detonated with such phenomenal force" in the Abu Ghraib scandal and in the shameful Military Commissions Act that was passed with bipartisan support in 2006.

Bush, of course, went beyond his predecessors in authorizing prima facie violations of international law, and several of his extremist innovations were struck down by the courts. While Obama, like Bush, eloquently affirms our unwavering commitment to international law, he seems intent on substantially reinstating the extremist Bush measures. In the important case of Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008, the Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional the Bush administration claim that prisoners in Guantánamo are not entitled to the right of habeas corpus. columnist Glenn Greenwald reviews the aftermath. Seeking to "preserve the power to abduct people from around the world" and imprison them without due process, the Bush administration decided to ship them to the US prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, treating "the Boumediene ruling, grounded in our most basic constitutional guarantees, as though it was some sort of a silly game--fly your abducted prisoners to Guantánamo and they have constitutional rights, but fly them instead to Bagram and you can disappear them forever with no judicial process."

Obama adopted the Bush position, "filing a brief in federal court that, in two sentences, declared that it embraced the most extremist Bush theory on this issue," arguing that prisoners flown to Bagram from anywhere in the world (in the case in question, Yemenis and Tunisians captured in Thailand and the United Arab Emirates) "can be imprisoned indefinitely with no rights of any kind--as long as they are kept in Bagram rather than Guantánamo."

In March, however, a Bush-appointed federal judge "rejected the Bush/Obama position and held that the rationale of Boumediene applies every bit as much to Bagram as it does to Guantánamo." The Obama administration announced that it would appeal the ruling, thus placing Obama's Department of Justice, Greenwald concludes, "squarely to the Right of an extremely conservative, pro-executive-power, Bush 43-appointed judge on issues of executive power and due-process-less detentions," in radical violation of Obama's campaign promises and earlier stands.

The case of Rasul v. Rumsfeld appears to be following a similar trajectory. The plaintiffs charged that Rumsfeld and other high officials were responsible for their torture in Guantánamo, where they were sent after being captured by Uzbeki warlord Rashid Dostum. The plaintiffs claimed that they had traveled to Afghanistan to offer humanitarian relief. Dostum, a notorious thug, was then a leader of the Northern Alliance, the Afghan faction supported by Russia, Iran, India, Turkey and the Central Asian states, and the US as it attacked Afghanistan in October 2001.

Dostum turned them over to US custody, allegedly for bounty money. The Bush administration sought to have the case dismissed. Recently, Obama's Department of Justice filed a brief supporting the Bush position that government officials are not liable for torture and other violations of due process, on the grounds that the courts had not yet clearly established the rights that prisoners enjoy.

It is also reported that the Obama administration intends to revive military commissions, one of the more severe violations of the rule of law during the Bush years. There is a reason, according to William Glaberson of the New York Times: "Officials who work on the Guantánamo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies." A serious flaw in the criminal justice system, it appears.

Creating Terrorists

There is still much debate about whether torture has been effective in eliciting information--the assumption being, apparently, that if it is effective, then it may be justified. By the same argument, when Nicaragua captured US pilot Eugene Hasenfuss in 1986, after shooting down his plane delivering aid to US-supported Contra forces, they should not have tried him, found him guilty and then sent him back to the US, as they did. Instead, they should have applied the CIA torture paradigm to try to extract information about other terrorist atrocities being planned and implemented in Washington, no small matter for a tiny, impoverished country under terrorist attack by the global superpower.

By the same standards, if the Nicaraguans had been able to capture the chief terrorism coordinator, John Negroponte, then US ambassador in Honduras (later appointed as the first Director of National Intelligence, essentially counterterrorism czar, without eliciting a murmur), they should have done the same. Cuba would have been justified in acting similarly, had the Castro government been able to lay hands on the Kennedy brothers. There is no need to bring up what their victims should have done to Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan and other leading terrorist commanders, whose exploits leave Al Qaeda in the dust, and who doubtless had ample information that could have prevented further "ticking bomb" attacks.

Such considerations never seem to arise in public discussion.

There is, to be sure, a response: our terrorism, even if surely terrorism, is benign, deriving as it does from the city on the hill.

Perhaps culpability would be greater, by prevailing moral standards, if it were discovered that Bush administration torture had cost American lives. That is, in fact, the conclusion drawn by Major Matthew Alexander [a pseudonym], one of the most seasoned US interrogators in Iraq, who elicited "the information that led to the US military being able to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq," correspondent Patrick Cockburn reports.

Alexander expresses only contempt for the Bush administration's harsh interrogation methods: "The use of torture by the US," he believes, not only elicits no useful information but "has proved so counter-productive that it may have led to the death of as many US soldiers as civilians killed in 9/11." From hundreds of interrogations, Alexander discovered that foreign fighters came to Iraq in reaction to the abuses at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, and that they and their domestic allies turned to suicide bombing and other terrorist acts for the same reasons.

There is also mounting evidence that the torture methods Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld encouraged created terrorists. One carefully studied case is that of Abdallah al-Ajmi, who was locked up in Guantánamo on the charge of "engaging in two or three fire fights with the Northern Alliance." He ended up in Afghanistan after having failed to reach Chechnya to fight against the Russians.

After four years of brutal treatment in Guantánamo, he was returned to Kuwait. He later found his way to Iraq and, in March 2008, drove a bomb-laden truck into an Iraqi military compound, killing himself and thirteen soldiers--"the single most heinous act of violence committed by a former Guantánamo detainee," according to the Washington Post, and according to his lawyer, the direct result of his abusive imprisonment.

All much as a reasonable person would expect.

Unexceptional Americans

Another standard pretext for torture is the context: the "war on terror" that Bush declared after 9/11. A crime that rendered traditional international law "quaint" and "obsolete"--so George W. Bush was advised by his legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, later appointed Attorney General. The doctrine has been widely reiterated in one form or another in commentary and analysis.

The 9/11 attack was doubtless unique in many respects. One is where the guns were pointing: typically it is in the opposite direction. In fact, it was the first attack of any consequence on the national territory of the United States since the British burned down Washington in 1814.

Another unique feature was the scale of terror perpetrated by a non-state actor.

Horrifying as it was, however, it could have been worse. Suppose that the perpetrators had bombed the White House, killed the president and established a vicious military dictatorship that killed 50,000 to 100,000 people and tortured 700,000, set up a huge international terror center that carried out assassinations and helped impose comparable military dictatorships elsewhere, and implemented economic doctrines that so radically dismantled the economy that the state had to virtually take it over a few years later.

That would indeed have been far worse than September 11, 2001. And it happened in Salvador Allende's Chile in what Latin Americans often call "the first 9/11" in 1973. (The numbers above were changed to per-capita US equivalents, a realistic way of measuring crimes.) Responsibility for the military coup against Allende can be traced straight back to Washington. Accordingly, the otherwise quite appropriate analogy is out of consciousness here in the US, while the facts are consigned to the "abuse of reality" that the naive call "history."

It should also be recalled that Bush did not declare the "war on terror," he re-declared it. Twenty years earlier, President Reagan's administration came into office declaring that a centerpiece of its foreign policy would be a war on terror, "the plague of the modern age" and "a return to barbarism in our time"--to sample the fevered rhetoric of the day.

That first US war on terror has also been deleted from historical consciousness, because the outcome cannot readily be incorporated into the canon: hundreds of thousands slaughtered in the ruined countries of Central America and many more elsewhere, among them an estimated 1.5 million dead in the terrorist wars sponsored in neighboring countries by Reagan's favored ally, apartheid South Africa, which had to defend itself from Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups," as Washington determined in 1988. In fairness, it should be added that, twenty years later, Congress voted to remove the ANC from the list of terrorist organizations, so that Mandela is now, at last, able to enter the US without obtaining a waiver from the government.

The reigning doctrine of the country is sometimes called "American exceptionalism." It is nothing of the sort. It is probably close to a universal habit among imperial powers. France was hailing its "civilizing mission" in its colonies, while the French Minister of War called for "exterminating the indigenous population" of Algeria. Britain's nobility was a "novelty in the world," John Stuart Mill declared, while urging that this angelic power delay no longer in completing its liberation of India.

Similarly, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Japanese militarists in the 1930s, who were bringing an "earthly paradise" to China under benign Japanese tutelage, as they carried out the rape of Nanking and their "burn all, loot all, kill all" campaigns in rural North China. History is replete with similar glorious episodes.

As long as such "exceptionalist" theses remain firmly implanted, however, the occasional revelations of the "abuse of history" often backfire, serving only to efface terrible crimes. The My Lai massacre was a mere footnote to the vastly greater atrocities of the post-Tet pacification programs, ignored while indignation in this country was largely focused on this single crime.

Watergate was doubtless criminal, but the furor over it displaced incomparably worse crimes at home and abroad, including the FBI-organized assassination of black organizer Fred Hampton as part of the infamous COINTELPRO repression, or the bombing of Cambodia, to mention just two egregious examples. Torture is hideous enough; the invasion of Iraq was a far worse crime. Quite commonly, selective atrocities have this function.

Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that still lie ahead.

The Sage of Bucksnort

Playing the Stock Market is Like Playing Powerball
by Jack Reeves

Mayor Homer Cox is trying to lead a coalition of the willing to ban the sale of lottery tickets in Bucksnort. He says he’s doing it “on Christian grounds.”

Homer barely squeaked by incumbent Mildred Rainwater in the last mayoral election. At the last minute he found an issue that turned the tide in his favor. He made a promise to enforce the nuisance animal regulations.

But Homer has been long connected to fringe issues. He was adamantly against electronic voting machines, actually protesting in front of a poll. This and other matters have caused some to label Homer “a has-been.” Be that as it may, he’s trying to persuade the public and the city council to close down the state-run lottery at the Bucksnort Mall.

This past week he was at the Bucksnort Bugle arguing the issue with editor Roy Seabrook Jr. Several citizens hanging around the office followed the exchange with great interest.

“Homer, why are you so riled up about this? The lottery helps the school system,” Roy said.

“Because it’s un-Christian. It’s wagering,” Homer replied.

“My Bible says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ It says ‘Honor thy father and thy mother.’ It tells me to ‘Remember the sabbath to keep it holy.’ Where’s it say ‘Thou shalt not wager?’”

“Well — you can’t find any verse that outright says you shouldn’t gamble. It just goes against the grain of what’s right,” Homer said.
“How’s that?”

“It appeals to greed. That’s ungodly. It feeds on weakness of character. It takes food out of the mouths of families. It’s addictive, like liquor,” Homer said emphasizing each point with a different finger.

“What’s the difference between gambling and playing the stock market? A lot of folks lost their britches recently in the market. Isn’t investing your hard-earned money in the stock market gambling?” Roy suggested.

There was a protracted pause as Homer grappled with the question. The office staff stopped working and looked at Homer.

“Homer, it seems like the same should apply to bettin’ on Home Depot stock as bettin’ on the Power Ball,” Roy continued.

“I say you’re right, Roy. Both are contrary to the Scripture. They prey on weakness and greed and lead to corruption. Just look at the recent Wall Street scandal if you have any doubt.”

“Well, if that’s so, Homer, what would you say if I told you that the churches — the Methodists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, you name ‘em — are under the covers with the Wall Street crowd?””

“I’d say you’re blowin’ smoke out your ear!”

“Homer, this may ruin your day. Go ask any preacher in this town if his church headquarters is invested in the stock market and see what he tells you.”
“You mean they’re using collection-plate money to bet on stocks?”

“Hundreds of millions, Homer. And they lost millions and millions in recent weeks.”

“So they’re all playing roulette? Christians?”


“You really ruined my day, Roy. I’ll see ya in church.”

(Guest columnist Jack Reeves is an award-winning free-lance journalist. In his work heading communications programs for the World Bank and U.N. Development Program International’s agricultural research centers, he has lived around the world. However, he retains a particular fondness for Southern small-town life and writes regularly about it. He has a law degree from John Marshall School of Law and various other degrees from Emory and West Georgia universities. Contact him via e-mail:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Keith Olbermann: Conservative Radio Host "Mancow" Muller Waterboarded! Says It's ABSOLUTLY TORTURE!

by Dee Newman

It has been nearly a month since the right-wing torture-apologist for Fox News, Sean Hannity, agreed to be waterboarded for charity, claiming “it is not torture.”

Despite the fact that Keith Olbermann from MSNBC’s Countdown offered to give $1000 to a charity for our troops for every second Hannity lasted, the cowardly conservative refused to live up to his feign bravado.

In Hannity’s absence, Chicago radio host, Erich "Mancow" Muller, decided he would prove that waterboardering wasn't torture.

As you will see from the video below, it did not quite turn out the way “Mancow” had expected. In fact, he lasted no more than six or seven seconds, declaring that it was “worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke!"

He went on to tell his listeners, "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back . . . It was instantaneous . . . and I don't want to say this: [it's] ABSOLUTELY TORTURE!"

Last night on Countdown, Keith Olbermann told his audience:

Mancow Muller had the guts to put his mouth where his mouth was, and the guts to admit he was dead wrong. As you saw, he not only said it is torture, but that he had nearly drowned as a boy, and it is drowning, and that he would have admitted to anything to make it stop.

So the offer to the coward Hannity — a thousand dollars a second he lasted on the waterboard — is withdrawn.

And to Mr. Muller, whose station’s publicity person contacted us yesterday saying she’d heard I’d offered ten thousand dollars to anybody who would do what he did –

You got it. Ten thousand dollars to the military-families charity of the man who did the waterboarding, Veterans Of Valor.

As to Hannity, you are now unnecessary.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama Vs. Cheney: Truth Vs. Untruth – No Contest!

by Dee Newman

On one side we have an extremely popular and trustworthy sitting President delivering an important speech on U. S. foreign policy at the National Archives with the United States Constitution as a backdrop.

On the other side we have a disgraced former Vice President with a 13 percent approval rating from the American people trying, once gain, to unsuccessfully defend the indefensible for a fee to a small room full of political cronies.

Now, to describe this so-called historic event as NBC’s Chuck Todd did to his colleague, David Gregory, as the “ultimate debate” between “the most credible people you could have arguing each side” seems to be a bit ludicrous.

Dick Cheney, credible? If he is the most credible person the GOP can find to defend their position, they have a major problem.

Here are the two speeches. You decide if this was the “ultimate debate” between the most "credible" people you could have arguing each side?

I had only one concern about the President's speech – "prolonged detention" to prevent future attacks. How could that be Constitutional?

Watch below as Cheney, once again, uses fear, falsehoods and “keeping us safe” from another 9/11 attack to justify torture and other crimes against humanity, while linking the invasion of Iraq and Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and weapons of mass destruction (including nuclear weapons).

In another lame attempt to try to explain and defend their use of “harsh interrogation techniques,” Cheney argues the Bush administration focused on Iraq because al Qaeda was seeking nuclear weapons and since Iraq had nuclear weapons and "known ties" to terrorists, they "might transfer such weapons to terrorists."

It should not be a huge surprise to anyone that Cheney would lie, once more, about Iraq’s ties to al Qaeda and WMD’s, but to tell those lies while trying to defend torture and discredit President Obama’s national defense efforts should, once and for all, render him a pathetic, pathological liar.

For those of you who did not see the Steve Kroft Interview with President Obama on 60 Minutes where he described the former Vice President's policies as essentially a complete and utter failure – view the following:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hannity Goes Head-To-Head With Ventura

And, Ventura comes out more than a head above Hannity.

Hannity tries to defend Bush with an absurd counter to Ventura's argument that Obama inherited the worst economic disaster since the Great depression. He tells Ventura "George Bush inherited the negative impact of 9/11."

Believe it or not, that's what Hannity asserted. He actually tried to convince his audience that Bush "inherited" the fallout of an event that happened nine months into his term.

Ventura, was stunned! Momentarily, lost for words. But, he recovered quickly.

Hannity then launched into a weird and rambling diatribe about how the Clinton administration's inattention to terrorists had caused 9/11.

Ventura calmly repudiates it:

HANNITY: There were a group of radicals that were at war with the United States and we weren't at war with them. We saw the first Trade Center bombing, the Embassy bombings, the USS Cole, and we think radicals that think God is going to reward them in Heaven with virgins. Jesse, how do you stop them?

VENTURA: Well, you pay attention to memos on August 6 that tell you exactly what bin Laden's gonna do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New York Times: Credit Card Industry Aims to Profit From Sterling Payers

An article written by Andrew Martin quotes Edward L. Yingling, the chief executive of the American Bankers Association, “It will be a different business,” said Mr. Yingling, “Those that manage their credit well will in some degree subsidize those that have credit problems.” The American Bankers Association has been lobbying Congress for more lenient legislation on behalf of the nation’s biggest banks.

Click here to read the entire New York Times article.

Groups Seek Disbarment for Bush's Top Lawyers

From: CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A coalition of progressive groups sought Monday to have 12 Bush administration lawyers disbarred for their roles in crafting the legal rationale for so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that many view as torture.

"It is time to hold these lawyers accountable for violating their legal oath," Kevin Zeese, an attorney for the coalition, said in a written statement.

"Just as the bar would suspend an attorney who advised a police officer to torture and brutalize a detained immigrant or criminal defendant, the bar must suspend these attorneys for advocating and causing the torture of war detainees. The disciplinary boards that hear these complaints must act or they will be seen as complicit in the use of torture."

Zeese called disbarment "an important step toward the ultimate accountability of criminal prosecution."

The group registered formal complaints against David Addington, John Ashcroft, Stephen Bradbury, Jay Bybee, Michael Chertoff, Douglas Feith, Alice Fisher, Timothy Flanigan, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes II, Michael Mukasey and John Yoo.

Ashcroft, Gonzales and Mukasey served as attorney general in former President George W. Bush's administration. Chertoff served as homeland security secretary.

The complaints, filed with the bars in California, the District of Columbia, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, also seek other forms of disciplinary action in addition to disbarment.

A preliminary internal report on the Justice Department investigation into the authors of the Bush administration's "torture memos" indicated that the federal government might also urge state bar associations to take sanctions against the memo writers, according to two government sources.

The draft, which has been sent to Attorney General Eric Holder for approval or revisions, reportedly does not call for criminal prosecutions.

Sources said investigators for the Justice Department's ethics unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility, have focused heavily on internal communications involving Bradbury, Bybee and Yoo.

The three former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers were top officials who provided legal guidance, including permissible interrogation procedures to the CIA and other executive branch agencies. Guidance written by Bybee and Yoo in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks allowed for harsh interrogation techniques that later were withdrawn.

The draft report is said to be critical of Yoo and Bybee in particular.

Yesterday I received an email from VELVETREVOLUTION.US: The DisbarTortureLawyers Campaign asking me to sign a petion to disbar a number of Bush Administration lawyers including John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Stephen Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, William Haynes II, Douglas Feith, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan, and David Addington.

To learn more about click here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Update: Maureen Dowd Admits Inadvertently Lifting Line From TPM's Josh Marshall

From HuffPo's Markus Baram:

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in an email to Huffington Post, admits that a paragraph in her Sunday column was lifted from Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall's blog last Thursday.

Dowd claims that she never read his blog last week but was told the line by a friend of hers. In a follow-up email, she forwarded her desire to apologize to Marshall, writing that had she known, she would have gladly credited Marshall.

josh is right. I didn't read his blog last week, and didn't have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now. i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent -- and I assumed spontaneous -- way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me. we're fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

NY Times' Maureen Dowd Plagiarizes TPM's Josh Marshall

From Joshua Blog | TPM
May 17, 2009, 3:57PM

Maureen Dowd in today's NY Times wrote:
"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."

TPM's Josh Marshall on Thurs wrote:

"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."

All Dowd did was change "we were" to "the Bush crowd was".

Click here to read Joshua Blog's entire post on TPM.

Click here to go to thejoshuablog.