31 December 2005

The 4th Circuit falls out of favor

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has been Bush's judicial venue of choice for some some, is now breaking ranks by challenging Bush's unchecked power.

This is encouraging news.

But now Bush is running, kicking and screaming, to the Supreme Court, in an effort to have them bless his perceived right to unbridled power.

From Thursday's Christian Science Monitor:
Hoping to overturn a federal appeals court ruling last week, the Bush administration Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to allow the immediate transfer of accused terrorist Jose Padilla from a military prison to civilian custody. The New York Times reports that in its brief to the high court, the Justice Department called the appeals court ruling that blocked the transfer an "unwarranted attack" on presidential discretion.

The 4th US Circuit Court of appeals in Richmond said that, by seeking to transfer Mr. Padilla to civilian custody after holding him for more than three and a half years without charge as an enemy combatant, the Bush administration appeared to be trying to "manipulate" the system to prevent the higher court from hearing the issue. The opinion, written by Judge Michael Luttig, a conservative jurist who had recently been considered a possible Supreme Court nominee, was considered a setback for the Bush administration.


The Washington Post reports that the dispute between the White House and the 4th Circuit court is unusual because the Richmond court had been the White House's "venue of choice" for high-profile terrorist cases after 9/11.

The appeals court had earlier this year upheld the government's right to hold Padilla as an enemy combatant. Then the government announced criminal charges against Padilla and four others for being part of a "violent terrorism conspiracy," without mentioning any of the reasons he had been held as an enemy combatant (such as seeking to build a dirty bomb). When the government asked to transfer Padilla from military prison to a civilian jail, the appeals court blocked the request.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the government's petition does more than ask for permission to transfer Padilla to civilian custody – some legal analysts say it "could set precedent over an array of legal disagreements between the White House and civil liberties advocates, particularly over the administration's aggressive use of executive power without seeking prior approval from the courts or Congress."

The Post reports that the government's petition came one day after Padilla's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to use the case to decide how much unchecked power the president should have when the nation is at war. Lawyers Donna Newman and Andrew Patel said the high court's ruling was crucial because of the amorphous and drawn-out nature of the war on terrorism.
[Read more.]

The Bush administration prepares to shoot more messengers

When a person gets caught doing something illegal or immoral, often he will react bitterly and attempt to shift blame.

True to Bush administration tradition, Gonzales's Justice Department is now seeking to prosecute (or perhaps I should say "persecute") those responsible for leaking the news about Bush's policy of spying on you and me without court approval.

Um, shouldn't the Justice Department be investigating Bush's actions, not the actions of the whistleblowers?

The White House is saying that the Justice Department launched this investigation on its own, without prompting from the White House. But hasn't Attorney General Gonzales pretty much devoted his life to being a loyal servant of George W?

From the Associated Press via truthout:
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday.

The officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the inquiry will focus on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Times revealed the existence of the program two weeks ago in a front-page story that acknowledged the news had been withheld from publication for a year, partly at the request of the administration and partly because the newspaper wanted more time to confirm various aspects of the program.

The story unleashed a firestorm of criticism of the administration. Some critics accused the president of breaking the law by authorizing intercepts of conversations - without prior court approval or oversight - of people inside the United States and abroad who had suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.

The surveillance program, which Bush acknowledged authorizing, bypassed a nearly 30-year-old secret court established to oversee highly sensitive investigations involving espionage and terrorism.

Administration officials insisted that Bush has the power to conduct the warrantless surveillance under the Constitution's war powers provision. They also argued that Congress gave Bush the power to conduct such a secret program when it authorized the use of military force against terrorism in a resolution adopted within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Justice Department's investigation was being initiated after the agency received a request for the probe from the NSA.

The administration's legal interpretation of the president's powers allowed the government to avoid requirements under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The act established procedures that an 11-member court used in 2004 to oversee nearly 1,800 government applications for secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage.

Congressional leaders have said they were not briefed four years ago, when the secret program began, as thoroughly as the administration has since contended.
[Read more.]

30 December 2005

William Rivers Pitt: Going too far

Will Pitt remains one of my favorite columnists. In his latest, he tells how he got through to the bouncer at his local bar, who had been an ardent Bush supporter.

He illustrates how much more effective we can be sometimes when we put aside the intellectual arguments and instead illustrate in practical terms how the Bush administration's policies can impact people's own lives in a scary way.

An excerpt:
The bouncer at my bar is named Ty. A native of New Orleans, he speaks with the slow drawl unique to the region, and he is huge. Not outlandishly huge, not freakishly huge, but definitely one of the larger specimens of human one is likely to meet. He works the door at my joint, as well as at another bar down the street a ways. Ty is smart, funny as all get-out and a marvelous spinner of tales.

Each night Ty works he regales my friends and me with stories of mayhem and bouncer-justice, of the drunken boobs stupid enough to think they can push him around at the other establishment. My bar, one gets the sense, is too peaceful for his tastes; he has never been forced to exercise his talents while working at my joint.

Ty and I have assiduously observed the tenets of that invisible sign which hangs over the door of every drinking establishment in America: "Thou Shalt Not Discuss Religion Or Politics In This Place." The two reasons for this are straightforward: I don't particularly relish the idea of discussing work when I am in my cups; also, Ty is an ardent Bush supporter, so the first reason becomes doubly significant. If I want to get frustrated and annoyed, I can just turn on CNN and listen to the Know-Nothings ply their wares.

A funny thing happened the other night, however - something that changed the whole dynamic of our relationship. I was passing by Ty, and he grabbed me by the arm to pull me aside. He knows what I do for a living, and wanted to discuss politics in defiance of the invisible sign. "What do you think of the Patriot Act?" he asked me

"I think it's a damned troubling thing," I said after a moment. "There are aspects of it that have been on the books for years because of the War on Drugs. There are aspects of it that are brand new to American law. Overall, I think it is tremendously invasive and not in line with how we have done things in this country. As a Republican," I said with a bit of the needle in my voice, "the issues of personal freedom and governmental interference should bother you."

"I ain't no Republican," he said. "I'm an Independent. I think they're all crooks."

"Fair enough," I said, "but you are a Bush supporter."

"Yep," he drawled. "So what parts of the Patriot Act don't you like?"

"Well," I said, "one scary part of it is Section 215, the thing people call the 'Sneak-and-Peek' provision. Section 215 says law enforcement can enter your house, search your stuff, bug your phone, bug your computer - and they never have to tell you they were there. The FBI could have 215'd their way into my house and I'd never know it. Hell, they could be there right now. All they need to do it is a warrant signed by a judge somewhere."

"That ain't right," he said after a moment's consideration. "But at least they have to talk to a judge."

"Well," I said, "have you heard about all this stuff with the National Security Agency spying on people here in America?"

"Little bit, yeah," he said.

"You know that the NSA can spy on pretty much anyone, tap their phones, do total surveillance?" I asked, and he nodded. "Well, back in 2002, Bush told the NSA to start spying on Americans. Lots of them. But he did this without going through the FISA court."

"FISA court?" he asked.

"FISA stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in 1978," I said. "After Watergate and all that craziness, they wanted to make sure our intelligence services weren't being used by people in power to spy on Americans. If you want to get the NSA to spy on Americans, you have to get a warrant from what's called the FISA court. They're a few judges who hear arguments for special FISA warrants."


"Now here's one of the crazy parts with this Bush-NSA thing," I said. "To get a warrant from this FISA court, you don't need to have probable cause. You don't need to have evidence. The FISA court has handed out more than 19,000 warrants since it was set up, and has only denied four. And they do it quickly, because obviously if you go before the FISA court for a warrant, you're probably pressed for time. It's the easiest court in America to get a warrant from. Bush totally blew past them, said he didn't need warrants from the FISA court, and just had the NSA start spying away on Americans."

Ty's response to this was too profane to be printed here.

"Why the hell'd he do that?" he finally asked.

"Good question," I said. "There are two probable reasons, neither of which are very comfortable. The first reason is that he and Cheney want to expand the power of the Executive Branch. Cheney, specifically, has always felt that the Executive let go of too much power after Watergate and Vietnam, gave too much power to Congress and the press, and these guys have been trying to get it back. So they decided that since we are 'at war,' they were going to do whatever they damned well pleased."

"Seems smart," he said.

"Maybe," I said, "but that's a different debate. Ask yourself this, though. Imagine a Democrat wins the White House in 2008. These Bush guys will have left this Democrat with outrageously broad powers. His people can spy on whom they like, because Bush did it. They don't have to get warrants, because Bush did it. They can lie to the press, because Bush did it. They can bulldoze Congress, because Bush did it. That make you comfortable?"

"Hell no," he said.

"Right," I said. "Too much power is too much power, no matter who is in power. The separation of powers is there for a reason."

"So what's the other reason you think he didn't get the FISA warrants?" he asked.

"That," I said, "is actually the scarier part. Like I said, FISA has given out those 19,000 warrants and has only denied four. It's incredibly easy to get a warrant from them. The only reason they're there at all is to safeguard your privacy and mine, to make sure some crazy maniac in the White House doesn't start spying on Americans, on personal enemies, on you and me. The NSA can do that, so the FISA court is there as a firewall."

"OK," he said.

"So maybe," I said, "Bush didn't go to the FISA court because he knew they wouldn't give him the warrants. Maybe he didn't go to the FISA court because he wanted to spy on enemies like Patrick Fitzgerald, like Joe Wilson, like Cindy Sheehan, like Tom Daschle or Harry Reid, or anyone else who was messing with him. Maybe he didn't go to the FISA court because he knew the surveillance he wanted was illegal, but he was damned well going to do it anyway."

"That ain't right," said Ty, his face reddening.

"Now take this all one step further," I said, "since you asked about the Patriot Act. Think about that Section 215 and the sneak-and-peek stuff. I told you they need to see a judge first to come into your home, to search and bug your stuff. But this whole NSA deal shows that Bush and these guys don't give a hoot in hell for judges, warrants or the process of law. They're going to do what they want to do, warrant or not. We've got a situation now where Bush and his people could not only be ordering the surveillance of Americans, but could also be authorizing home invasions, and all without any kind of warrants and oversight. What does that sound like to you?"

"Fascism," he said without hesitating.
[Read more.]

New Fiore animation - "The Twelve Days of Whoopsmas"

When looking at the current state of this country, sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying. Political cartoonist Mark Fiore is here to help, with his latest animation.

To experience "The Twelve Days of Whoopsmas", click here.

Robert Steinback: Fear destroys what bin Laden could not

In a brilliant column in Monday's Miami Herald, Robert Steinback looks at the state of this country and wonders if Osama didn't win after all.

An excerpt:
One wonders if Osama bin Laden didn't win after all. He ruined the America that existed on 9/11. But he had help.

If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution - and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it - I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled.

Had anyone said our president would invade a country and kill 30,000 of its people claiming a threat that never, in fact, existed, then admit he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat - and expect America to be pleased by this - I would have thought our nation's sensibilities and honor had been eviscerated.

If I had been informed that our nation's leaders would embrace torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, hold prisoners for years without charges and operate secret prisons overseas - and call such procedures necessary for the nation's security - I would have laughed at the folly of protecting human rights by destroying them.

If someone had predicted the president's staff would out a CIA agent as revenge against a critic, defy a law against domestic propaganda by bankrolling supposedly independent journalists and commentators, and ridicule a 37-year Marie Corps veteran for questioning U.S. military policy - and that the populace would be more interested in whether Angelina is about to make Brad a daddy - I would have called the prediction an absurd fantasy.

That's no America I know, I would have argued. We're too strong, and we've been through too much, to be led down such a twisted path.

What is there to say now?

All of these things have happened. And yet a large portion of this country appears more concerned that saying "Happy Holidays" could be a disguised attack on Christianity.

I evidently have a lot poorer insight regarding America's character than I once believed, because I would have expected such actions to provoke - speaking metaphorically now - mobs with pitchforks and torches at the White House gate. I would have expected proud defiance of anyone who would suggest that a mere terrorist threat could send this country into spasms of despair and fright so profound that we'd follow a leader who considers the law a nuisance and perfidy a privilege.

Never would I have expected this nation - which emerged stronger from a civil war and a civil rights movement, won two world wars, endured the Depression, recovered from a disastrous campaign in Southeast Asia and still managed to lead the world in the principles of liberty - would cower behind anyone just for promising to "protect us."
[Read more.]

29 December 2005

NSA even spied on UN diplomats (and the media ignored it)

They didn't just spy on people with real ties to terrorism. They didn't just spy on ordinary Americans. They even spied on UN diplomats prior to the invasion of Iraq, to try to gain some leverage!

So much for "diplomatic immunity". So much for any kind of rights, for that matter.

It's just all about furthering the Bush administration's own agenda at any cost.

And our national reputation sinks even further.

But the mainstream media roll over and ignore it.

From Counterpunch:
Despite all the news accounts and punditry since the New York Times published its Dec. 16 bombshell about the National Security Agency's domestic spying, the media coverage has made virtually no mention of the fact that the Bush administration used the NSA to spy on U.N. diplomats in New York before the invasion of Iraq.

That spying had nothing to do with protecting the United States from a terrorist attack. The entire purpose of the NSA surveillance was to help the White House gain leverage, by whatever means possible, for a resolution in the U.N. Security Council to green light an invasion. When that surveillance was exposed nearly three years ago, the mainstream U.S. media winked at Bush's illegal use of the NSA for his Iraq invasion agenda.

Back then, after news of the NSA's targeted spying at the United Nations broke in the British press, major U.S. media outlets gave it only perfunctory coverage -- or, in the case of the New York Times, no coverage at all. Now, while the NSA is in the news spotlight with plenty of retrospective facts, the NSA's spying at the U.N. goes unmentioned: buried in an Orwellian memory hole.

A rare exception was a paragraph in a Dec. 20 piece by Patrick Radden Keefe in the online magazine Slate -- which pointedly noted that "the eavesdropping took place in Manhattan and violated the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the Headquarters Agreement for the United Nations, and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, all of which the United States has signed."

But after dodging the story of the NSA's spying at the U.N. when it mattered most -- before the invasion of Iraq -- the New York Times and other major news organizations are hardly apt to examine it now. That's all the more reason for other media outlets to step into the breach.

In early March 2003, journalists at the London-based Observer reported that the NSA was secretly participating in the U.S. government's high-pressure campaign for the U.N. Security Council to approve a pro-war resolution. A few days after the Observer revealed the text of an NSA memo about U.S. spying on Security Council delegations, I asked Daniel Ellsberg to assess the importance of the story. "This leak," he replied, "is more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers." The key word was "timely."

Publication of the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, made possible by Ellsberg's heroic decision to leak those documents, came after the Vietnam War had been underway for many years. But with an invasion of Iraq still in the future, the leak about NSA spying on U.N. diplomats in New York could erode the Bush administration's already slim chances of getting a war resolution through the Security Council. (Ultimately, no such resolution passed before the invasion.) And media scrutiny in the United States could have shed light on how Washington's war push was based on subterfuge and manipulation.

"As part of its battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq," the Observer had reported on March 2, 2003, the U.S. government developed an "aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the e-mails of U.N. delegates." The smoking gun was "a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency -- the U.S. body which intercepts communications around the world -- and circulated to both senior agents in his organization and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency." The friendly agency was Britain's Government Communications Headquarters.

The Observer explained: "The leaked memorandum makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the U.N. headquarters in New York -- the so-called Middle Six' delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the U.S. and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for U.N. inspections, led by France, China and Russia."

The NSA memo, dated Jan. 31, 2003, outlined the wide scope of the surveillance activities, seeking any information useful to push a war resolution through the Security Council -- "the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises."

Noting that the Bush administration "finds itself isolated" in its zeal for war on Iraq, the Times of London called the leak of the memo an "embarrassing disclosure." And, in early March 2003, the embarrassment was nearly worldwide. From Russia to France to Chile to Japan to Australia, the story was big mainstream news. But not in the United States.
[Read more.]

28 December 2005

Bush flip-flops on court warrants

Last week, George W. Bush admitted that he had authorized a program for the NSA to spy on us without court warrants, and he vowed to continue the program, for our own safety and security.

But David Shuster from Hardball put together an interesting video compilation of past statements by Bush and his cronies, in which they had adamantly insisted that wiretaps and similar measures would be done only with judicial approval.

More lies. No apologies.

[Click to download the video in WMP or QT format.]

Many thanks to the Crooks and Liars blog for posting this video.

27 December 2005

Bush continues to thumb his nose at global treaties

Bush certainly knows how to alienate the world.

The following article provides an alarming overview of so many international treaties (all for the betterment of mankind) that the U.S. has refused to ratify.

Our government has refused to support treaties that protect women, children, cultural rights, fair trade, the environment, international justice, and on and on.

And with Bolton the Bully representing us at the United Nations, it will likely only get worse.

Shame on us!

From OneWorld.net:
Twenty-six years ago, the United Nations adopted a treaty that is often described by human rights experts as the international "Bill of Rights" for women.

Today that treaty has been endorsed by more than 170 nations. However, while the entire industrial world fully supports the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United States is the only developed nation that continues to oppose it.

Opponents of U.S. ratification fear that it might affect U.S. policies, but most women's rights groups in the United States and abroad reject this notion.

"There is no good reason why the United States is not ratifying CEDAW," says Ritu Sharma, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Women's Edge Coalition, an umbrella group representing 180 non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

"It simply lacks the political will" to ratify the treaty, she adds.

Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, the treaty defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets an agenda for national action to end abuse of women's human rights.

But CEDAW is not the only international treaty that Washington is reluctant to sign on to.

Recently, when the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to a adopt a new treaty that protects cultural rights worldwide, the United States stood alone in its opposition.

The treaty allows nations to maintain, adopt, and implement policies they deem appropriate to protect the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory.

The U.S. rejected the treaty by arguing that it could have a chilling effect on the ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"This convention invites abuse by enemies of democracy and free trade," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told UNESCO members in a letter in October.

And just a few days ago when government leaders from around the world gathered in the Canadian city of Montreal to take further steps to curb global warming, once again the U.S. turned its back on the international community.

Despite strong persuasion efforts from other nations, the U.S. persisted in its refusal to embrace the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement setting targets for industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Though responsible for some 35 percent of worldwide emissions, the U.S. pulled out of the treaty in 2001, saying that implementing it would gravely damage the national economy. Many treaty proponents argue, however, that transitioning the U.S. economy to emit fewer greenhouse gases would create jobs.

The Bush administration has also called the Kyoto treaty "deeply flawed" because it does not require developing nations to commit to emission reductions.

The list of U.N. treaties that Washington opposes goes on and on. U.S. leaders continue to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons, the Treaty Banning Antipersonnel Mines, a protocol to create a compliance regime for the Biological Weapons Convention, the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the International Criminal Court treaty, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Washington is also not complying with the Chemical Weapons Commission and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and refused to let the U.N. Human Rights Commission conduct a probe into the alleged torture abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo and other detention centers.

While the vast majority of U.N. member-states support these treaties, U.S. opposition can almost always be expected whenever diplomatic talks are held to improve international agreements.


The current U.S. administration's propensity for isolationism in the arena of international affairs has not only angered its critics among the diplomatic community and civil society leaders, but also those who have been Washington's allies for a long time.
[Read more.]

Pentagon says gays are a "credible threat"

Warning: Gay people are a serious terrorist to our national security!

So says the Pentagon.

Osama bin Laden runs free. But that's OK, because our leaders are busy protecting us from those scary homos.

Your tax dollars at work. Now don't you feel all safe and secure?

From the New York Blade:
[Pentagon] officials have spied on student groups opposed to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on openly gay military personnel, according to media reports.

A February protest at New York University was one of the events under government surveillance, NBC News reported last week.

The network reported that the law school’s gay advocacy group, OUTlaw, was classified as "potentially violent" by the Pentagon.

Ellen Kranke, a Department of Defense spokesperson who handles issues regarding sexual orientation at the Pentagon, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

[OUTlaw Co-chair Rebecca Fisher] said the Bush administration continues to display an attitude that is anything but democratic.

"For all its talk about democracy and free speech, this administration seems to feel very threatened by our peaceful exercise of our First Amendment rights," Fisher said. "This does not reflect the values of our Constitution. It's what you'd expect to see in a totalitarian police state, not in a country founded on freedom of conscience."

NBC also reported that a "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" protest at University of California Santa Cruz, which included a gay kiss-in, was labeled as a "credible threat" of terrorism by the Pentagon.
[Read more.]

26 December 2005

Imagine... Arabs and Israelis living in peace (with Bill Clinton)

Can music conquer hate? Maybe so!

Someone just sent me a link to a video that everyone must watch: 40 Jewish children, 40 Arabic children, and Bill Clinton, singing John Lennon's "Imagine". Very moving.

[Watch it now!]

Bush pressures newspaper editors about what they can/cannot publish

Beware, sweet freedom of the press!

Now Bush is going so far as to bully the editors of major newspapers in attempt to control what they publish.

Perhaps he fears a new Woodward and Bernstein might break a new Watergate-like story. (Then Bush would be the new Nixon, which some believe he already is.)

From today's Washington Post via truthout:
President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to national security.

The efforts have failed, but the rare White House sessions with the executive editors of The Washington Post and New York Times are an indication of how seriously the president takes the recent reporting that has raised questions about the administration's anti-terror tactics.

Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, would not confirm the meeting with Bush before publishing reporter Dana Priest's Nov. 2 article disclosing the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe used to interrogate terror suspects. Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, would not confirm that he, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman had an Oval Office sit-down with the president on Dec. 5, 11 days before reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed that Bush had authorized eavesdropping on Americans and others within the United States without court orders.

But the meetings were confirmed by sources who have been briefed on them but are not authorized to comment because both sides had agreed to keep the sessions off the record. The White House had no comment.
[Read more.]

24 December 2005

U.S. has been doing secret radiation tests on private properties

Bush's thugs are not only monitoring our phone calls and e-mail without court warrants. They are also conducting secret radiation tests on private property without warrants.

So far, that latter program seems to be targeting only Muslims. So not only is it possibly unconstitutional, it's based on racial profiling, which has its own set of problems.

From the Associated Press via MSNBC:
A classified radiation monitoring program, conducted without warrants, has targeted private U.S. property in an effort to prevent an al-Qaida attack, federal law enforcement officials confirmed Friday.

While declining to provide details, including the number of cities and sites monitored, the officials said the air monitoring began after the Sept. 11 attacks and was conducted from publicly accessible areas, which they said made warrants and court orders unnecessary.

U.S. News and World Report first reported the program on Friday. The magazine said the monitoring was conducted at more than 100 Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C. area — including Maryland and Virginia suburbs — and at least five other cities when threat levels had risen: Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Seattle.

The magazine said that at its peak, three vehicles in Washington monitored 120 sites a day, nearly all of them Muslim targets identified by the FBI. Targets included mosques, homes and businesses, the magazine said.

The revelation of the surveillance program came just days after the New York Times disclosed that the Bush administration spied on suspected terrorist targets in the United States without court orders. President Bush has said he approved the program to protect Americans from attack.


Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights group, said Friday the program "comes as a complete shock to us and everyone in the Muslim community."

"This creates the appearance that Muslims are targeted simply for being Muslims," he said. "I don't think this is the message the government wants to send at this time."

Hooper said his organization has serious concerns about the constitutionality of monitoring on private property without a court order.
[Read more.]

NSA spy program broader than Bush admitted

According to an article in today's New York Times, the National Security Agency's Bush-mandated program of spying on us without court warrants is more widespread than what Bush ("Mr. Freedom-is-on-the-march") has acknowledged.

This new information is very disturbing, but (sadly) not surprising.

Our privacy is a thing of the past.

From Reuters via MSNBC:
The volume of information gathered from telephone and Internet communications by the National Security Agency without court-approved warrants was much larger than the White House has acknowledged, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Citing current and former government officials, the Times said the information was collected by tapping directly into some of the U.S. telecommunication system’s main arteries. The officials said the NSA won the cooperation of telecommunications companies to obtain access to both domestic and international communications without first gaining warrants.

A former telecommunications technology manager told the Times that industry leaders have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks.


President Bush and his aides have said his executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to monitoring international phone and e-mail communications linked to people with connections to al-Qaida. What has not been acknowledged, according to the Times, is that NSA technicians combed large amounts of phone and Internet traffic seeking patterns pointing to terrorism suspects.


Some officials described the program as a large data mining operation, the Times said, and described it as much larger than the White House has acknowledged.
[Read more.]

New animation: It's a Less Wonderful Life

Just in time for the holidays, People for the American Way has released a short animation video that illustrates what your life could be like if we get one more ultra-conservative judge (like Alito) on the Supreme Court. [Watch the video.]

Americans pumped record levels of pollution into the environment in 2004

A study of 2004 emissions of global warming gases shows U.S. pollution at a record high.

From an article on the subject from Common Dreams:
Emissions of global warming gases from the United States have nearly doubled in 14 years and reached an all-time high in 2004, according to figures released by the American government. But new analysis suggests Europe is also falling behind in its attempt to meet legally binding United Nations targets.

The US energy department report shows emissions rose 2% in 2004 and stood one year ago at 7,122.1m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year - about 25% of the world total. The rise was the greatest in five years and is part of an accelerating trend. Revised figures also published showed emissions in 2003 were at the second highest level. This year's figures have not been published but are expected by analysts to be similar or greater because of strong US economic growth.

The data, released just two weeks after the US government claimed at the Montreal climate talks that its voluntary approach to cutting emissions was working, drew immediate criticism from European environment groups and academics.
[Read more.]

Shame on us!

But that was last year. This year we've had very high gas prices. I wonder if that has made a difference. Keep fingers crossed and stay tuned for next year's report.

(In many cases, unfortunately, if the high gas prices did make a difference, it's not because people didn't want to pollute, but rather because they didn't want to pay an extra dollar per gallon to do so. What a sad, sad thing!)

23 December 2005

PATRIOT Act extension down to a month

After writing yesterday about the Senate's six-month extension of the PATRIOT Act, I learned that the House had passed an alternative one-month extension, to which the Senate agreed. [Read story.]

Hopefully during that month they will be able to effectively rework the Act to reduce the threats to our civil liberties.

They would do well to keep in mind the words of Benjamin Franklin, who said: "He who gives up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

Chris Cronin: Who needs the ACLU? Cheney just banned Jesus from the Senate

Sometimes you have to laugh at the pathetic state of this country in order to keep from crying.

To the rescue comes Chris Cronin of American Dissent Radio with a great guest column published Wednesday on BuzzFlash.

Ironically, somehow the best humor often provides deep insights into the harshest tragedies.

An excerpt:
The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of fighting for the civil liberties of citizens and residents of the United States of America. Notoriously, their fight for the separation of church and state has been at the forefront of this fight, and has recently been featured by a judge in Pennsylvania who said Nyet! to creationism in public school science classes.

And now, today, Jesus is finally gone from the Senate chambers, never again to haunt that godless space. For today, Dick Cheney stepped into the Senate and cast his vote in favor of reducing funding for the poor and those who are fighting for a leg up in society.

You see, Jesus -- a radical, Jewish religious figure from days of yore (his birthday is coming up if I recall from a recent rant on Fox News) -- used to tell people that helping poor people was good, and hoarding wealth was bad. He even said that camels pass through eyes of needles easier than rich men get into heaven. He also said things like, what you do to the least of my brothers you have done to me. A real radical, for sure.

But George Bush, President of the United States, fought hard alongside Dick Cheney and Congressional Republicans for the separation of church and state throughout his tenure as president by granting tax breaks which favored the wealthy, despite the commands and advice from his radical religious mentor and favorite philosopher, Jesus Christ.
[Read more.]

Cheney plays Scrooge

On Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney (who gives a whole new meaning to the "Vice" part of his title) cast the deciding vote for passage of a bill to cut federal deficits. [Read story.]

This is a reverse-Robin-Hood kind of legislation, locking in tax cuts for the wealthest few folks in this country while taking billions of dollars away from Medicaid, Medicare, and student loans.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

22 December 2005

PATRIOT Act extended for six months

The good news: The Senate did not vote for a permanent extension of the PATRIOT Act.

The bad news: We've now got six more months of the PATRIOT Act, and six more months in which we must vigoriously continue the fight for civil liberties.

Today's Los Angeles Times asserts that "[the] Senate's six-month extension effectively kills a deal to make key provisions permanent." I am not so confident.

We can hope. But we can't stop working on this.

An excerpt from that Los Angeles Times article:
In a major setback for the White House on a top domestic priority, the Senate on Wednesday passed a six-month extension of the Patriot Act, due to expire Dec. 31, even though President Bush had demanded that most of the law become permanent.

The move effectively killed a House-Senate compromise that would have made permanent 14 of the 16 provisions of the statute, which gives law enforcement officials sweeping power to track and prosecute suspected terrorists. The House adopted the compromise last week.

But senators from both parties balked, saying the compromise legislation failed to include enough safeguards of civil liberties and privacy. They began filibustering the measure Friday and sustained the filibuster through the end of a tumultuous session Wednesday night, withstanding blistering public attacks by Bush, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who said that allowing the provisions to expire would put the American people at risk.

Ultimately, the Senate agreed to the six-month extension without opposition.

"We had a pretty broad coalition and it held together," said Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, one of four Republicans who joined 43 Democrats on Friday to launch the filibuster.

The Senate Democratic minority seemed delighted by the rare and hard-fought victory over a president who since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has built his presidency around the pursuit of terrorists.

"The White House - couldn't break the filibuster, couldn't break the bipartisan group," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), who led the fight against the House-Senate compromise legislation.

"It was only the president, the White House and Atty. Gen. Gonzales who wanted to play that game of chicken - and they lost that game," Feingold said. The administration had made it clear, he added, that "it was their way or the highway, but they did not prevail."

Frist, who said Tuesday that he would not agree to a temporary extension, said Wednesday night that he had changed his mind when faced by what he described as a decision by Democrats "to kill the Patriot Act." He said he decided that he wasn't "going to let the Patriot Act die."

In a written statement late Wednesday, Bush said that he appreciated the Senate's work "to keep the existing Patriot Act in law" but that "the work of Congress on the Patriot Act is not finished."

"The act will expire next summer, but the terrorist threat to America will not expire on that schedule," Bush said.
[Read more.]

Federal surveillance court judge resigns in protest

A federal judge is the latest in a long string of notable officials who have resigned in protest over Bush administration policies.
[Click for a long list of others who have left or been fired from this corrupt administration.]

It's not always easy to speak truth to power, especially when your paycheck is at stake. Those who choose to stand up for justice are to be commended for their bravery and their integrity.

From yesterday's Washington Post:
A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.

Two associates familiar with his decision said yesterday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work.

Robertson, who was appointed to the federal bench in Washington by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and was later selected by then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to serve on the FISA court, declined to comment when reached at his office late yesterday.

Word of Robertson's resignation came as two Senate Republicans joined the call for congressional investigations into the National Security Agency's warrantless interception of telephone calls and e-mails to overseas locations by U.S. citizens suspected of links to terrorist groups. They questioned the legality of the operation and the extent to which the White House kept Congress informed.
[Read more.]

21 December 2005

The Dover case: Intelligent design banned from science class

In a landmark victory for science and reason, a federal judge ruled yesterday to ban intelligent design from the science classroom in Dover, PA. [Read story.]

While I have no problem with "Intelligent Design" being presented in a philosophy class or a comparative religions class, it has no place in a science class. This is because, unlike true scientific theories, Intelligent Design is a matter of faith and cannot be investigated or verified using the scientific method of rigorous testing under controlled conditions.

Faith is not science. Faith has its own place, but that place is not in science class.

20 December 2005

Will Pitt: Radical militant librarians and other dire threats

In an article published yesterday on truthout, William Rivers Pitt provides some interesting and alarming insight into Bush's extreme domestic surveillance habits.

Some excerpts:
There was an internal FBI email sent in October 2003 that speaks volumes about why our legal system has been arranged the way it has. An unnamed agent was railing via email against the Department of Justice's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Specifically, the agent was frustrated by OIPR's failure to deliver authorization to use Section 215 of the Patriot Act for a search. "While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR's failure to let us use the tools given to us," wrote the agent.

Radical militant librarians?

Radical militant librarians?

This, right here, is why the legal system is arranged the way it is. This is why officers must obtain warrants from a judge before they can conduct a search. Even in this time of watered-down civil liberties, warrants serve a vital purpose. At a minimum, the warrant firewall keeps walleyed FBI agents with wild hairs about radical militant librarians from bulldozing through the Fourth Amendment.

The President of the United States of America, it seems, does not agree with the sentiment.

It has been widely reported that Bush personally authorized the super-secretive National Security Agency to conduct surveillance against American citizens. "The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval," wrote the New York Times upon breaking the story, "was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches."

As if this were not outrageous enough, Bush, during his weekly radio address, bluntly admitted to violating the laws governing surveillance of American citizens and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution not once, but some thirty times. "I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks," said Bush, "and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups."

These revelations hit Congress like a dung bomb, and caused what would likely have been an easy rubber-stamping of the renewal of the Patriot Act to go flying off the tracks and into the puckerbrush. "Disclosure of the NSA plan had an immediate effect on Capitol Hill," reported the Washington Post on Saturday, "where Democratic senators and a handful of Republicans derailed a bill that would renew expiring portions of the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law. Opponents repeatedly cited the previously unknown NSA program as an example of the kinds of government abuses that concerned them, while the GOP chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he would hold oversight hearings on the issue."

The most disturbing aspect of this situation is, simply, how totally unnecessary it was. The provisions of the Patriot Act, along with several other laws, allow the administration to get warrants for the surveillance of anyone, anywhere in the country, with little trouble. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) set up a special court for the dispensation of warrants with no need for evidence or probable cause. This court has almost never denied the issuance of such warrants when asked, and said warrants are usually delivered in a matter of hours.

"Why would the President deliberately circumvent a court that was already wholly inclined to grant him domestic surveillance warrants?" asked columnist David Sirota in a recent essay. "The answer is obvious, though as yet largely unstated in the mainstream media: because the President was likely ordering surveillance operations that were so outrageous, so unrelated to the War on Terror, and, to put it in Constitutional terms, so 'unreasonable' that even a FISA court would not have granted them. This is no conspiracy theory - all the signs point right to this conclusion. In fact, it would be a conspiracy theory to say otherwise, because it would be ignoring the cold, hard facts that we already know."

Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, widely known for her revelations about the inner workings of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and its manipulation of Iraq war evidence, spent two years working at the National Security Agency. On Sunday, I asked her what the ramifications are of a President throwing aside the firewalls that have blocked governmental surveillance of citizens for the last twenty five years.

"It means we are in deep trouble," said Kwiatkowski, "deeper than most Americans really are willing to think about. The safeguards of mid-1970s were put in place by a mobilized Democratic congress in response to President Richard Nixon's perceived and actual contempt for rule of law, and the other branches of government. At that time, the idea of a sacred constitution balancing executive power with the legislative power worked to give the Congress both backbone and direction."

"Today," continued Kwiatkowski, "we have a President and administration that has out-Nixoned Nixon in every negative way, with none of the Nixon administration's redeeming attention to detail in domestic and foreign policy. It may indeed mean that the constitution has flat-lined and civil liberties will be only for those who can buy and own a legislator or a political party."
[Read more.]

19 December 2005

Former gov. blasts MD's racist death penalty

Parris Glendening served as governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003. In an excellent article in yesterday's Washington Post, he provides some insights into the racial disparities inherent in that state's criminal justice system, and how it appears that we value white life more than black life. [Read the article.]

A study that Glendening cites in his article has thus far gone ignored by the newer powers in Maryland, as have similar studies around the country (including here in Pennsylvania). This suggests that our 50 governors are not interested in true justice.

18 December 2005

Bush says that the government must curtail our liberties in order to protect our liberties

In his weekly radio address yesterday, George W. Bush admitted that he had authorized secret surveillance on Americans without judicial oversight. Then he condemned the press for leaking that information, saying that the release of that information posed a threat to our security.

Well, George, so does outing a covert CIA agent.

Bush vowed to continue spying on us. He said it's for our own good. But if it's so justifiable, as Bush alleges, why is he so afraid of judicial oversight?

Then, in the same address, Bush criticized the Senate for voting against renewal of key PATRIOT Act provisions that are set to expire at the end of this year. They, too, according to Bush (Mr. "bring 'em on"), are jeopardizing our security.

No, it's not about our security. It's about unbridled power for Bush and Gonzales, with no accountability.

They want the power to do whatever they want to without judicial oversight, without the checks and balances that our founding fathers recognized as necessary in a democracy.

In a democracy, the government derives its power from the consent of the governed. But we can't consent if we don't know what's going on because they're acting in secret.

So what does that say about the state of our democracy?

17 December 2005

Anti-death penalty victory in New Jersey

On Thursday, the New Jersey Senate voted overwhelmingly (30 to 6) to suspend all executions in the state while the death penalty's flaws are studied and addressed.

The Assembly will vote in a few weeks, and hopefully New Jersey will become the first state in the U.S. to legislatively impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

[Read more.]

This should set an example for other states to take similar measures to ensure justice, not revenge, and to stop risking the execution of innocent people who may be unjustly convicted. (We know it's happened.)

16 December 2005

More fun with Big Brother

For the past five years, George W. Bush has been acting as if he's above the law. More and more atrocities are coming to light. This time we learn that Bush may have ordered a secret program by which the National Security Agency has been spying on hundreds or thousands of ordinary Americans without warrants.

Why would Bush feel the need to override our legal protections that require a court warrant in order to intercept our e-mail and phone calls. What does he want to hide from the courts?

Is it all reaching critical mass? Will Congress finally say "enough"?

President Bush refused to say whether the National Security Agency eavesdropped without warrants on people inside the United States but leaders of Congress condemned the practice on Friday and promised to look into what the administration has done.

“There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said there would be hearings early next year and that they would have "a very, very high priority."

He wasn’t alone in reacting harshly to the report. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the story, first reported in Friday’s New York Times, was troubling.

Bush said in an interview that "we do not discuss ongoing intelligence operations to protect the country. And the reason why is that there's an enemy that lurks, that would like to know exactly what we’re trying to do to stop them.

"I will make this point," he continued. "That whatever I do to protect the American people — and I have an obligation to do so — that we will uphold the law, and decisions made are made understanding we have an obligation to protect the civil liberties of the American people."


The Times reported Friday that following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Bush authorized the NSA to monitor the international phone calls and international e-mails of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people inside the United States.

Before the program began, the NSA typically limited its domestic surveillance to foreign embassies and missions and obtained court orders for such investigations.
[Read more.]

Senate rejects PATRIOT Act reauthorization!

Another victory for human rights! Could the tide be turning?

From the Associated Press via MSNBC:
The U.S. Senate on Friday rejected attempts to reauthorize several provisions of the nation's top anti-terror law as infringing too much on Americans' privacy, dealing a major defeat to President Bush and Republican leaders.

In a crucial vote early Friday, the bill's Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a threatened filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies. The final vote was 52-47.

Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and GOP congressional leaders had lobbied fiercely to make most of the 16 expiring Patriot Act provisions permanent, and add new safeguards and expiration dates to the two most controversial parts: roving wiretaps and secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries.

Feingold, Craig and other critics said that wasn't enough, and have called for the law to be extended in its present form so they can continue to try and add more civil liberties safeguards. But Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have said they won’t accept a short-term extension of the law.

If a compromise is not reached, the 16 Patriot Act provisions expire on Dec. 31. Investigators will still be able to use those powers to complete any investigation that began before the expiration date, according to a provision in the original law.
[Read more.]

Bush relents on torture!

A victory for human rights: Bush gave in yesterday and endorsed John McCain's anti-torture amendment, which he had previously threatened to veto. [Read story.]

Perhaps his low ratings and Congressional pressure did the trick. Let's hope that this is the beginning of a general change of attitude.

U.S. has tied with Myanmar for sixth place in number of imprisoned journalists

Remember the good ol' days when we had freedom of the press?

I know from my work with Amnesty International that Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma) has a huge record of human rights violations. And this is the company we keep.

From the New York Times via the Arizona Republic:
The United States has tied with Myanmar, the former Burma, for sixth place among countries that are holding the most journalists behind bars, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Each country is jailing five journalists. The United States is holding four Iraqi journalists in detention centers in Iraq and one Sudanese, a cameraman who works for Al-Jazeera, at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of the five has been charged with a specific crime.
[Read more.]

Another December, another "war on Christmas"

It's that time of year again.

Why are the conservative pundits wasting our time with a non-issue? Nobody wants to stop "Christians" from celebrating Christmas. But that's not the only holiday this time of year. Why not be inclusive? Are they that insecure in their own faith?

There are so many real issues that we should be worrying about instead.

From an essay by M. Kane Jeeves / Ed Naha:
Ah, Christmas is upon us. You can feel it in the air: the crispness of the breeze, the laughter of children, the sounds of caroling, the cling-clanging of Salvation Army Santas' bells, the whining of right-wing religious whack-jobs and the stench of the crap being flung at us by Fox News.

Yes, Christmas is upon us, once again. And, once again, Christmas is UNDER ATTACK! Run for cover, baby Jesus, you're being pummeled by stores and people who say the blasphemous... "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas!" Oh, the horror! The horror!

Ayup. It's seasonal schizophrenia time again, wherein self-proclaimed Christians attack and slur anybody or any corporation using the more inclusive "Happy Holiday" greeting instead of "Merry Christmas." (Forget the war in Iraq, this one is personal!)

The American Family Association has called for a boycott of all stores, including Target, that fails to use the word Christmas in their advertising or in-store promotions. "Target doesn't want to offend a small minority who oppose Christmas," says chairman Donald Wildmon. "But they don't mind offending Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ.

I don't know about you, but when I think celebrating the birth of Christ? I think Target. I mean, who needs churches for that kind of thing?

And, then (as always), there's Jerry Falwell, one of America's Most Addled, who wants us all to shop only in stores that say "Merry Christmas" and play carols. His Liberty Counsel is running a "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign."

The Liberty Counsel has been involved in many of the various local Christmas disputes and operates the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," which includes "free legal assistance by Liberty Counsel to individuals facing persecution for celebrating Christmas" and "a pledge to be the 'Friend' to those entities which do not discriminate against Christmas and a 'Foe' to those that do."

So, the question is: Who would Jesus bitch-slap? Or sue?
[Read more.]

15 December 2005

The Pentagon is spying on ordinary Americans

Don't think that it can't happen to you.

The Bill of Rights is being trampled. This will not make us safer.

A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a "threat" and one of more than 1,500 "suspicious incidents" across the country over a recent 10-month period.

"This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible," says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project.

"This is incredible," adds group member Rich Hersh. "It's an example of paranoia by our government," he says. "We're not doing anything illegal."

The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.

"I think Americans should be concerned that the military, in fact, has reached too far," says NBC News military analyst Bill Arkin.

The Department of Defense declined repeated requests by NBC News for an interview. A spokesman said that all domestic intelligence information is "properly collected" and involves "protection of Defense Department installations, interests and personnel." The military has always had a legitimate "force protection" mission inside the U.S. to protect its personnel and facilities from potential violence. But the Pentagon now collects domestic intelligence that goes beyond legitimate concerns about terrorism or protecting U.S. military installations, say critics.


The increased monitoring disturbs some military observers.

"It means that they’re actually collecting information about who’s at those protests, the descriptions of vehicles at those protests," says Arkin. "On the domestic level, this is unprecedented," he says. "I think it's the beginning of enormous problems and enormous mischief for the military."

Some former senior DOD intelligence officials share his concern. George Lotz, a 30-year career DOD official and former U.S. Air Force colonel, held the post of Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight from 1998 until his retirement last May. Lotz, who recently began a consulting business to help train and educate intelligence agencies and improve oversight of their collection process, believes some of the information the DOD has been collecting is not justified.
[Read more.]

House backs McCain on torture

Good news: In an non-binding measure, the House of Representatives yesterday voted to endorse Senator John McCain's measure to explicitly prohibit the mistreatment of prisoners in U.S. custody.

George W. Bush has threatened to veto the defense spending bill if it included McCain's amendment. In other words, Bush would use his first veto ever as president in order to reserve his perceived "right" to torture people.

Maybe all the bipartisan pressure will wear him down and cause him to reconsider. Fingers crossed.

From today's New York Times via truthout:
In an unusual bipartisan rebuke to the Bush administration, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly endorsed Senator John McCain's measure to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners in American custody anywhere in the world. Although the vote was nonbinding, it put the Republican-controlled House on record in support of Mr. McCain's provision for the first time, at the very moment when the senator, a Republican, is at a crucial stage of tense negotiations with the White House, which strongly opposes his measure.

The vote also likely represents the lone opportunity that House members will have to express their sentiments on Mr. McCain's legislation. The Senate approved the measure in October, 90 to 9, as part of a military spending bill. But until Wednesday, the House Republican leadership had sought to avoid a direct vote on the measure to avoid embarrassing the White House.

The vote was on a motion to instruct House negotiators, who had just been appointed to work out differences between the House and Senate spending bills, to accept the Senate position on the McCain amendment.

The House bill, providing $453 billion for military programs, has no provision like Mr. McCain's, but if the negotiators follow these instructions to the letter, the final bill passed by Congress will.

The House vote was 308 to 122, with 107 Republicans lining up along with almost every Democrat behind Representative John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who sponsored Mr. McCain's language and who has become anathema to the administration on any legislative measure related to Iraq since his call last month to withdraw American troops from Iraq in six months.

"Torture does not help us win the hearts and minds of the people it's used against," Mr. Murtha said on the House floor. "Congress is obligated to speak out."

Unlike the tumultuous three-hour debate that Mr. Murtha's Iraq-related measure provoked last month, this measure met with just 10 minutes of statements to a nearly empty House chamber.

Mr. Murtha, a former Marine colonel who is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said Mr. McCain's legislation was essential to standardizing American interrogation methods and sending a clear signal to the world that the United States condemned the abusive treatment of detainees.

"If we allow torture in any form," Mr. Murtha said, "we abandon our honor."


"We need to have clear guidance, in law, that makes it very clear that inhumane treatment of detainees in American captivity is absolutely unacceptable," Susan Collins of Maine said. "This problem is hurting us around the world. It's contrary to our values, and we simply must have this as part of the final bill."
[Read more.]

The war in numbers: From WMD to the victims

It's one thing to sift through the blocks of so-called "war coverage" in the newspapers. It's another to see the boiled-down numbers.

And I doubt that we'll find anything this damningly concise in the American mainstream media.

From The Independent (UK):
$204.4 billion The cost to the US of the war so far. The UK's bill up until March 2005 was £3.1 billion

2,339 Allied troops killed

98 UK troops killed

30,000 Estimated Iraqi civilian deaths

0 Number of WMDs found

8 per cent of Iraqi children suffering acute malnutrition

$35,819m World Bank estimated cost of reconstruction

53,470 Iraqi insurgents killed

67 per cent Iraqis who feel less secure because of occupation

$343 Average monthly salary for an Iraqi soldier. Average monthly salary for an American soldier in Iraq: $4,160.75

66 journalists killed in Iraq. Journalists killed during Vietnam war: 63

5 foreign civilians kidnapped per month

47 per cent Iraqis who never have enough electricity

20 casualties per month from unexploded mines

20 per cent Inflation rate 2005

25-40 per cent Estimated unemployment rate, Nov 2005

251 Foreigners kidnapped

70 per cent of Iraqi's whose sewage system rarely works

183,000 British and American troops are still in action in Iraq. There are 162,000 US troops and 8,000 British with 13,000 from other nations

90 Daily attacks by insurgents in Nov '05. In Jun '03: 8

82 per centIraqis who are "strongly opposed" to presence of coalition troops

15,955 US troops wounded in action
[Go to original.]

14 December 2005

HIV/AIDS Programs Undermined by Congress

Note: This Congress is not "pro-life".

From a press release issued today by the Human Rights Campaign:
Congress put the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk today in passing the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations conference report that cuts HIV/AIDS prevention programs, flat-funds most of the Ryan White CARE Act, and actually increases funding for failed 'abstinence-only' programs. The bill heads to the Senate for approval.

"Short-changing HIV and AIDS programs puts American lives at risk," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "The health of thousands of men, women and children are threatened when our nation's leaders ignore the needs of Americans being ravaged by HIV/AIDS in neighborhoods across this country."

By a 215-213 vote, the House of Representatives passed the Labor/Health & Human Services/Education Appropriations conference report, which contains grossly inadequate funding for federal HIV/AIDS programs. The bill mostly flat funds an already stretched Ryan White CARE Act at $2.1 billion as well as cuts funding for Centers for Disease Control HIV prevention programs. Moreover, the bill provides an increase of $11 million in funding for abstinence only education programs that fail to protect youth from contracting HIV and even teach misleading and false information.

Further abandoning a scientifically-based prevention strategy, a Senate amendment to the Labor-HHS-Appropriations bill was stripped in conference committee that would have directed that all federally funded sex-ed programs teach medically accurate information.

Solmonese added, "Congress should stop putting ideology over sound science."
[Go to original.]

Former White House advisor says that torture may be necessary

This guy raises the "ticking time bomb" scenario to justify the use of torture in some situations. Never mind the fact that this argument has been discredited.

From Yahoo! News:
A former top adviser to President George W. Bush on Iraq policy said on Monday there are instances when torture may be appropriate.

Commenting on an issue that has roiled Washington and affected the U.S. image abroad, Robert Blackwill, who was deputy national security adviser during Bush's first term, said:

"Of course torture should not be widespread and of course there should be extraordinarily stringent top-down requirements in this respect. But never? ... I wouldn't say never," he told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Blackwill, answering questions from the audience, said that when he taught a class for executives at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the case which caused the most "confusion" involved a fictional detainee whose organization was threatening to detonate a nuclear weapon in New York City.

"You have reason to believe he knows where it is. Do you torture him? ... It does seem to me that circumstances matter here and ...I'm not an absolutist in this regard," he said.


Blackwill, who resigned from the administration to join a consulting firm in November 2004, is still well-regarded among many in the administration for his analytical insight, including on both Iraq and India.

When he resigned, the National Security Council issued a statement saying Bush and then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice held him in "the highest regard."
[Read more.]

Monica Benderman: What peace needs

Monica Benderman is the wife of consciencious objector Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who is currently imprisoned for refusing to return to Iraq to fight an unjust war. Yesterday she published a very good article about what her husband's predicament means to this country and to the peace movement, and what it will really take to achieve peace.

Amnesty International has declared him a Prisoner of Conscience. (See below for an Amnesty International recommended action to support Kevin.)

From the Kevin Benderman Timeline site:
The Regional Corrections Facility at Ft. Lewis, Washington is vintage World War II. The windows are cracked and can’t be closed. It’s below freezing on most nights now. I could go on – but what good will it do in this country of warmongers, idealistic pacifists, and evangelicals? Nothing like love for a cause – any cause – as long as it’s impersonal enough that everyone can remain detached, can share their emotions through the war cries and protest chants, staring out into a field of people whose gazes are just as vacant as the featured speaker of the day.

The military prison is filled with the usual criminal element, narcotics and alcohol abusers, thieves, and child molesters. It has been said that the best chance of parole from this facility is for the child molesters – tells you a lot about our society – the society that professes such a high moral standard that we can dare to invade other countries to bring that same standard to their shores.

In among the criminals, sleeping on a three inch thick mattress, sitting in plastic chairs staring at the walls all day, and waiting for months at a time to have his request for a call to his attorney fulfilled, is one who is furthest from the criminal element, a man the Anti-War movement lovingly refers to as a "Prisoner of Conscience." Labels, always the labels. Sgt. Kevin Benderman stands for everything that should be right in this country. This man stands for liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, FREEDOM to be themselves and live as they choose.

This "Prisoner of Conscience" is jailed because we have been told that we must fear him, just as we fear those who have committed crimes against society, the rapists, molesters and thieves who victimize with their lack of moral principles. Our government has told us we must fear the Conscientious Objectors because they have stood against an illegal war of aggression. Our government, threatened by Sgt. Benderman’s moral stand to defend humanity and our constitution, has imprisoned him in the hopes that the slamming of the rusty, mildewed bars will silence his message of truth.

I know I will get letters, and I know I will anger many. To quote a rather public common citizen of this country, I say "Bring It On." It’s time for America to face what it has refused to see – itself in its death throes.

War will never bring peace. War will only bring one more generation who will seek war as a solution. We hear repeatedly that victory must be achieved in this war for us to move closer to peace, and that victory means the end to all those who are our enemy now fighting against us. Where is the victory in killing? We are only creating more enemies, and the time without war that will follow will not be a time of peace.

That time will be a time of regrowth, when the wounds of the generations to come out of this war lay quiet and fester. When the anger at the crimes of humanity suffered at our hands is fed with the education of lessons learned in this most recent battle. In time, when we least expect it, the fetid smell of a people no longer willing to live with the guilt of the atrocities they allowed us to commit on their lives, will creep across the oceans and slither across our shores. Our new generation, lulled to sleep with the false sense of peace brought on by an illusion of superiority, will find itself shocked and awed that the security we thought we had was nothing more than a blanket now burning at the foot of a 100 story building built to represent success at the edge of the ghettoes we drive home to each night.

We cannot win at war. No one wins in war. Calling Sgt. Benderman a "coward" because he refuses to be a mercenary for men who do not have the courage to defend themselves, does nothing except show a person’s true colors. Relying on someone else to die so that people can sit on their sofas and grow fat on beer and chips, justifying their right by claiming they pay taxes to this country, is about as worthless an excuse as “men” can have.

Pacifism without a commitment will not achieve peace; it is a cop-out – no different than those evangelicals who go to church each week waiting in prayer believing that someone is coming to save them. Protest marches on weekend afternoons that have been planned for months so that those we speak against will be prepared with cleverly scripted comebacks, are not the way to achieve Peace. Singing the praises of the "prisoners of conscience" who wait in cells for someone to finally see the light, but not demonstrating our commitment to their stance in our own lives, is not the way to achieve Peace. The songs may be great for morale, but whose? Who benefits by songs for a cause when we forget that the "cause" has men like Sgt. Benderman as its foundation. This man speaks the truth so strongly, because he is a soldier who has been to war, and yet sits behind bars for the fear he instills in the administration when he says he will no longer be party to their destructive ways. How can we fight to end a war, and not fight as strongly to end the wrongful imprisonment of a man who dares to speak the truth for all of us?

Sgt. Benderman is wrongfully imprisoned, not for doing great things, but for doing the right thing, and standing against a corrupt system whose administration fears the statement his actions speak. He is also imprisoned because his country has done so little to demand that the principles of our constitution be upheld. He is imprisoned because the citizens of this country have shirked their responsibility by believing the work of Peace was not their job. The citizens of this country have failed, by NOT demanding that moral conscience be the foundation of all of our actions.
[Read more.]

Amnesty International is asking people to send cards and letters of support to Kevin Benderman. For more information, click here.

13 December 2005

On seeing Wesley Baker die

Here is some food for thought regarding last week's state-sponsored killing.

From CounterPunch:
No, we weren't in the room. We didn't see the technicians spread and shackle his arms. We didn't see the priest lightly graze Wesley's cheek and whisper in his ear. We didn't hear his "five or six rasping breaths" before his heart stopped. We weren't there earlier when Wesley ate his last meal, breaded fish, green beans, bread, fruit punch and milk. We weren't witness to an execution that had more in common with a lynching than anything resembling justice.

We were right outside, shivering in the lightly falling snow. We were joined by roughly fifty others, including Wesley's mother Delores who also couldn't stop trembling, but not from the snow as her quiet sobs revealed. Delores is no stranger to seeing her children die. She already had buried two other sons, swallowed whole by violence. Now the state of Maryland would snuff out a third. In an earlier interview with the press she stated, "I understand the [victim's] family, the suffering they have been through. I just don't want to lose my son. I think I've had my share."

It's horribly ironic that the state of Maryland was finally at full attention of the existence of Wesley Baker only after he was convicted of murder. The state could not be bothered when Wesley was conceived, after Delores was raped at age 13. They didn't have any kind of intervention when Wesley was sexually abused at age five and homeless on the streets at age eight sleeping in abandoned cars and motel bathrooms. The state was nowhere to be found when Wesley was repeatedly hospitalized as a child for stab wounds, eye injuries, and nose injuries that required surgery. Maryland officials were nowhere to be found when Wesley suffered his first drug overdose at the age of 12.

Governor Robert Ehrlich, a chilling man born without compassion for anything but his rabid base, said that looking at Wesley's life there were no "mitigating factors." In that respect, it was fitting that we stood together in the shadow of Baltimore's high-tech, 250-million dollar SuperMax prison as Wesley died. This is the city that can build prisons and two publicly funded stadiums while there is no money to actually intervene in the lives of people like Wesley Baker.
[Read more.]

Arnold: The real-life "Terminator"

Well, it's done. Gov. Schwarzenegger refused to grant clemency, and Nobel prize nominee Stanley "Tookie" Williams received a lethal injection just after midnight this morning (Pacific time) at San Quenton. [Read story.]

I don't have much more to say beyond yesterday's rant on the subject.

What incentive would any future criminal have to turn his life around as Tookie did? Why bother?

I feel sad and disgusted.

12 December 2005

More torture of prisoners in Iraq

Wait a minute. Hasn't George W. Bush told us time and time again that we have liberated the Iraqis from Saddam's torture chambers? Oh, yeah, they're not Saddam's torture chambers any more -- they're ours (for as long as we continue to occupy that country).

From the Washington Post via truthout:
An Iraqi government search of a detention center in Baghdad operated by Interior Ministry special commandos found 13 prisoners who had suffered abuse serious enough to require medical treatment, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday night.

An Iraqi official with firsthand knowledge of the search said that at least 12 of the 13 prisoners had been subjected to "severe torture," including sessions of electric shock and episodes that left them with broken bones.

"Two of them showed me their nails, and they were gone," the official said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

A government spokesman, Laith Kubba, said Sunday night that any findings at the prison would be "subject to an investigation," but he declined to comment on the allegations.

The site, which was searched Thursday, is the second Interior Ministry detention center where cases of prisoner abuse have been confirmed by U.S. and Iraqi officials.

U.S. troops found the first site last month when they entered an Interior Ministry building in central Baghdad to look for a Sunni Arab teenager they believed had been detained, officers said at the time. Several prisoners at that site appeared to have suffered beatings, and many were emaciated, U.S. and Iraqi officials and witnesses said.

The abuse alleged at the prison found this week appeared to have been more severe. Asked specifically what types of torture were found in the commandos' prison, the official cited breaking of bones, torture with electric shock, extraction of fingernails and cigarette burns to the neck and back.

International law, including the U.N. Convention Against Torture, bans torture in all cases. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad issued a sharp public rebuke of the Iraqi government after the secret prison was discovered last month, demanding in a statement that all detainees nationwide be treated in accord with human rights.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, under heavy pressure from Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered a nationwide investigation of detention centers after that discovery. The prison investigated Thursday was the first center examined as part of the government-ordered inquiry.

Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for U.S. military detention issues, said American authorities had already been aware that the prison searched Thursday existed. U.S. forces had not known about the previous facility.

Prison inspectors from the Ministry of Human Rights and representatives of other ministries participated in the commando prison search, the ministry said in a statement. Authorities did not say whether any Americans were involved in the inquiry.

Investigators said they found 625 prisoners at the center but declined to give details about them. Most of the detainees found at the secret prison last month were Sunni Arabs who had been picked up by forces of the Shiite Muslim-dominated Interior Ministry.

"The team discovered a number of problems, which the ministries of Interior and Human Rights are working together to correct," the statement said. "The facility was overcrowded: As a result, the Ministry of Justice has agreed to receive 75 detainees from this facility at Rusafa Prison; Iraqi judges released 56 detainees directly following the inspection. . . . Thirteen of the detainees were removed from the detention facility to receive medical treatment."

Rudisill said the 56 freed prisoners were released on the recommendation of Iraqi judges who took part in the inspection. "They quickly looked through and found in these cases specifically there were no reasons to hold these individuals," he said.

U.S. diplomatic and military officials said Iraqi officials were leading the investigation and declined to offer further comment.

Torture was routine in Iraqi prisons under former president Saddam Hussein. U.S. forces in Iraq drew international criticism for abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in which military guards photographed themselves humiliating naked Iraqi detainees. There was no suggestion of U.S. involvement in the latest abuses at the Interior Ministry prisons. The Iraqi government, led by Shiite parties with strong ties to Iran, has strongly rejected allegations of Iranian intelligence involvement in Interior Ministry prisons.
[Read more.]

Schwarzenegger refuses to grant clemency for Tookie Williams

Arnold Schwarzenegger likes to describe his political stance as "moderate". Yet there's nothing moderate about his refusal to commute the death sentence of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

During his 20+ years in prison, Williams has redeemed himself over and over again with his writing and activism about the dangers of gangs. He was nominated multiple times for Nobel prizes for peace and literature.

But that makes no difference to the Governator.

And Arnold today has shown the world that there is no redemption in the state of California, no matter how many good works you might do.

Unless, of course, you consider that a person can have a long history of sexual harrassment and still be elected governor.

This is a very sad day. Unless the Justice Department chooses to intervene in this case (I'm not holding my breath), tomorrow will be even sadder.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday refused to spare the life of Stanley Tookie Williams, the founder of the murderous Crips gang who awaited execution after midnight in a case that stirred debate over capital punishment and the possibility of redemption on death row.

Schwarzenegger was unswayed by pleas from Hollywood stars and petitions from more than 50,000 people who said that Williams had made amends during more than two decades in prison by writing a memoir and children’s books about the dangers of gangs.

"After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency," Schwarzenegger said, less than 12 hours before the execution. "The facts do not justify overturning the jury’s verdict or the decisions of the courts in this case."

Schwarzenegger could have commuted the death sentence to life in prison without parole.

With a reprieve from the federal courts considered unlikely, Williams, 51, was set to die by injection at San Quentin State Prison early Tuesday for murdering four people in two 1979 holdups.

Williams' fate became one of the nation's biggest death-row cause celebres in decades.
[Read more.]

The Pentagon is underreporting the number of casualties in Iraq

The true cost of this war is measured not in our misspent tax dollars. It is measured in the deaths of coalition troops, the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians, and the ongoing pain it causes the physically and mentally wounded.

But most of those get swept under the carpet. Out of sight, out of mind. Gotta keep the sheep unthinking and complacent. God bless America.

From Salon.com via truthout:
A group of seven House Democrats wrote President Bush this week, accusing the Pentagon of underreporting casualties in Iraq.

It's a shocking charge. The letter writers argue that Pentagon casualty reports show only a sliver of the injuries, mostly physical ones from bombs or bullets. But war doesn't work like that, the Democrats declare, adding that the reports skip a horrible panoply of accidents, illness, disease and mental trauma.

"We are concerned that that the figures that were released to the public by your administration do not accurately represent the true toll that this war has taken on the American people," the group wrote Bush on Dec. 7. The Dems are right.

Pentagon casualty reports show 2,390 service members dead from Iraq and Afghanistan and over 16,000 wounded. By far the vast majority of the wounded and dead are from Iraq.

But by Dec. 8, 2005, the military had evacuated another 25,289 service members from Iraq and Afghanistan for injuries or illnesses not caused directly by enemy bullets or bombs, according to the U.S. Transportation Command. That statistic includes everything from serious injuries in Humvee wrecks or other accidents to more routine illnesses that could be unrelated to field battles.

Yet those service members are not included in the Pentagon's casualty reports. That's odd. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a casualty as "a military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment or capture or through being missing in action."

"We don't do Webster's," Jim Turner, a Pentagon spokesman told me in 2004 as I was reporting on counting casualties. In a written statement, the Department of Defense told me that the casualty reports describe casualties to fit the "understanding of the average newspaper reader."

In the past few weeks, I've been spending time with two soldiers currently getting treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. One is a 40-year-old man who served in Iraq with the South Carolina Army National Guard. He got hit by a truck in Iraq, fracturing a vertebra, chipping another, and hurting his shoulder. The impact also caused his brain to rock violently inside his skull. He has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. His wife can't dispatch him down the aisle of a supermarket to fetch ice cream because he often can't remember what happened just five minutes ago.

Another 46-year-old soldier who served in the West Virginia Army National Guard was in an armored personnel carrier that crashed into an eight-foot hole. Because of his traumatic brain injury, his memory is shot. He slurs his words like a drunk and walks with a cane because of dizzy spells. Given the way the Pentagon tabulates casualties, neither of these men count.
[Read more.]

11 December 2005

Mexico outlaws death penalty

Now another third-world country is showing itself to be more enlightened than the United States. Mexico has just abolished the death penalty.

From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:
The Mexican government formally abolished the last vestiges of its death penalty on Friday.

President Vicente Fox described as "historic" the publication in the official gazette of the constitutional changes, which were approved by the Mexican Congress in June and by a majority of state legislatures in the intervening months.

"Mexico shares the opinion that capital punishment is a violation of human rights," Fox said. "Today, the death penalty has been abolished."
[Read more.]

Meanwhile, the United States, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia account for over 80% of the executions recorded by Amnesty International.

What does that say about us?